Thursday, October 31, 2013
What to watch in the ACC: Week 10
By David M. Hale
For the second time in three weeks, the ACC has the national stage with a top-10 matchup. Florida State and Miami will be the headlining act, but there’s plenty to watch across the conference in Week 10.
1. Winston in a rivalry: We’ve seen Jameis Winston embrace the big stage of his first spring game, his first regular-season game and his first top-five game. Now the Florida State quarterback gets introduced to his first true rivalry game when the Seminoles host No. 7 Miami. Winston has thrown for at least 290 yards and three touchdowns in all five of his ACC matchups, and another big performance against a longtime rival on a national stage could go a long way toward winning over Heisman Trophy voters.
2. Return of the rivalry: There’s plenty more to watch in this rivalry game than just Winston, of course. It’s the first time in nine years that FSU and Miami are both ranked in the top 10 at the time of their meeting, giving the ACC a matchup it dreamed about when the Hurricanes first joined the league. For FSU, it’s a chance at another marquee victory as the Seminoles try to sway voters in the razor-thin BCS standings. For Miami, it’s a chance at a signature victory in the Al Golden era and an opportunity to go 4-0 against in-state opponents.
3. Johnson versus FSU defense: Perhaps the most intriguing matchup in Saturday’s top-10 showdown is Miami’s Duke Johnson going against the stout Florida State defensive front. Johnson was the hero in last Saturday's rally over Wake Forest, carrying a career-high 30 times and scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns. FSU’s defense has improved dramatically in the past month, particularly up front. Still, the Seminoles' success came largely against spread offenses. Johnson and Miami bring more of a power attack. Boston College gained 200 yards on the ground and scored 34 points against the Seminoles in September with its power-based approach.
Bryn Renner and North Carolina have shown signs of life heading into their matchup against in-state rival NC State.
4. That other rivalry: Well outside the spotlight of FSU and Miami’s top-10 matchup of in-state rivals is North Carolina and NC State. The two programs are a combined 1-7 in ACC play this year, serving as two of the conference’s bigger disappointments. But for two schools separated by only 25 miles, there’s always a lot at stake. UNC finally showed signs of life in last Saturday's victory over BC, while NC State continued to fight even after FSU jumped out to a big lead. Neither program will be taking this week's showdown lightly.
5. Doubting Thomas: It’s been a rocky two years in Blacksburg for Logan Thomas, but last week’s disaster against Duke might have been a low point. Virginia Tech dominated the game by virtually any statistical measure, but the Blue Devils still emerged with a 13-10 victory, at least in part due to another shaky performance from Thomas, who threw four interceptions, including a game-clincher late in the fourth quarter. Thomas will look to rebound this week against a Boston College pass defense that ranks last in the ACC in QB rating allowed.
6. Williams versus Hokies: The conference’s leading rusher faces off against the ACC’s best rushing defense as both sides look to remedy ugly Week 9 losses. Virginia Tech is allowing just 2.6 yards per carry and has given up just five rushing touchdowns. Andre Williams scored five times in one game against Army, and he’s one of just six players nationally to have cracked the 1,000-yard mark.
7. Battle for a bowl: Wake Forest and Syracuse face off at the Carrier Dome in a game that could push the winner toward bowl eligibility and leave the loser with long-shot odds at a postseason berth. With a loss, Wake would need to win two of its final three games (FSU, Duke, Vanderbilt). Syracuse would need three of its last four (Maryland, FSU, Pitt, BC). The Deacons are playing better football at the moment, but both teams have much to lose.
8. Clemson’s playmakers: After a rocky performance against Florida State, Clemson’s big three responded with monster performances in last Saturday's victory over Maryland. Tajh Boyd collected his 15th career 300-yard game, Sammy Watkins reeled in 14 passes for 163 yards and Roderick McDowell rushed 30 times for 161 yards and two TDs. The trio gets a crack at Virginia this week. The Cavaliers have allowed at least 468 yards of offense to five of their past six FBS opponents.
9. Pitt versus the option: If nothing else, the beleaguered Panthers will at least be ready for what’s in store when they travel to Georgia Tech this week, having just faced Navy, which runs a similar option offense. But that Navy game didn’t go too well -- Pitt allowed 220 rushing yards in a 24-21 loss -- and Georgia Tech appears to have righted the ship after a rocky stretch. Tech has won its past two games by a combined 91-25, racking up 788 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs in the process.