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November 10, 2011
Consider this the biggest week of the season in the ACC.
Clemson (8-1 overall, 5-1 in the ACC) can clinch its second Atlantic Division title in three seasons Saturday with a victory over Wake Forest (5-4, 4-2), which also remains in control of its destiny in the division race. Virginia Tech (8-1, 4-1) can protect its Coastal Division lead Thursday by winning at Georgia Tech (7-2, 4-2).
"This is what it's all about," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
While Clemson is the only team in position to clinch a division title this week, the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech showdown might qualify as the week's most intriguing conference game.
Since the ACC moved to the division format in 2005, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are the only Coastal teams to reach the championship game. These teams have won the past four ACC crowns. Virginia Tech won the title in 2007, 2008 and 2010, and Georgia Tech won a 2009 championship that since has been vacated.
Virginia Tech has won 11 consecutive games on an opponent's home field, the longest current streak in the FBS ranks and an ACC record. The Hokies haven't lost a true road game since the last time they visited Georgia Tech, a 28-23 decision on Oct. 17, 2009.
"Since I've been here, this game has been a big, big game every year," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "This game has been a big part of the division race. Again this year, if we lose we're out of the race, so it's a big game for us."
The Coastal isn't just a two-team race this season because of Virginia (6-3, 3-2). Virginia already has beaten Georgia Tech and plays host to Virginia Tech on Nov. 26.
The Cavaliers remain in control of their destiny, though they arguably have the toughest road remaining of any of the three Coastal contenders. After playing host to Duke this week, Virginia goes on the road next week to face a red-hot Florida State team. And don't pencil in that Duke game as a Virginia victory just yet, as the Cavaliers have lost to the Blue Devils each of the past three seasons.
But if Virginia and Virginia Tech keep winning, their showdown in Charlottesville would determine the Coastal champion.
Cavaliers coach Mike London said his players understand what's at stake.
"I think they know that," he said. "I think they know that in order to do that, you have to win all the way up to the last one. We take care of what we have to do. Then the other teams will play other games and other teams, and it will decide their own fate.
"We need to understand we control our own fate, that's for sure. But as I said, this is a game against a team that has beaten us three years in a row. They beat us last year [55-48]. Tough, tough loss down there toward the end of the game. We're focused on the Blue Devils."
Yes, this is a big week in the ACC. But if Virginia and Virginia Tech keep winning, Nov. 26 could prove even bigger.
BEST MATCHUP: Georgia Tech run offense vs. Virginia Tech run defense. Georgia Tech ranks second nationally in rushing, while Virginia Tech ranks fifth nationally in run defense. The Yellow Jackets are averaging 328.0 rushing yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry. Virginia Tech allows 86.3 rushing yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry. This isn't the same Virginia Tech defense that started the season. The Hokies have endured season-ending injuries to T Antoine Hopkins and LB Bruce Taylor, who still has a team-high 53 tackles. But this remains a good run defense that's had a few extra days to prepare for Georgia Tech's option attack. Then again, the Yellow Jackets also have had a few additional days to get ready for Virginia Tech.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Wake Forest WR Chris Givens. Although he continues to lead the ACC with 985 receiving yards, Givens has cooled off a bit the past couple of games. He had a combined 12 catches for 99 yards and no touchdowns in back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Notre Dame. Givens had scored touchdowns in five consecutive games and had at least 100 receiving yards in four consecutive contests before this two-game skid. Wake Forest's Atlantic Division showdown with Clemson features the ACC's two top receivers in Givens and Sammy Watkins. It's hard to imagine Wake Forest having any chance of winning unless Givens at least matches Watkins' production. Frankly, Givens probably must outperform Watkins for Wake to have a realistic shot at pulling the upset.
NUMBERS GAME: North Carolina State CB David Amerson picked off a pass for the ninth time this season Saturday in the Wolfpack's 13-0 victory over North Carolina. That gives Amerson three more interceptions than any other FBS player. Amerson's big pick last week helped him break a 73-year-old school record for interceptions in a season. Art Rooney, the nephew of the Pittsburgh Steelers founder with the same name, had eight interceptions for North Carolina State in 1937 and matched that total the following season. No other Wolfpack player had made as many as eight interceptions in a season since. Amerson is two interceptions away from the ACC record held by Dre' Bly, who picked off 11 passes for North Carolina in 1996. Amerson seems on his way to becoming the second consecutive ACC player to lead the nation in interceptions. Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosley led all FBS players with nine interceptions last season.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Miami RB Lamar Miller: The Hurricanes' chances of beating Florida State could depend on how well Miller runs the ball against the nation's third-ranked run defense. While the magnitude of the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game made us choose the Hokies' attempts to stop the Yellow Jackets' option attack as the ACC's top matchup this week, Miller's efforts to find running room against Florida State could prove equally compelling. Miller, the Hurricanes' first 1,000-yard rusher since Willis McGahee in 2002, rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-14 rout of Duke last week. FSU is allowing just 78.9 rushing yards per game and 2.2 yards per carry.
[Viewer's guide: Boise State's last big test]
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"Obviously this week we are going to be worst enemies because we play each other and we are going to compete against each other, but I am extremely happy for him. He took a lot of heat early on, and he had injuries, too. A lot of people don't account for the injuries. I have been in that situation. It's hard to deal with. But whenever you come back and still have success, it's good." - Florida State QB E.J. Manuel to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about Miami QB Jacory Harris
"That's very important, to go out with a bang. With a championship not possible, this is our championship game." - Miami QB Jacory Harris, discussing Saturday's game with Florida State to The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post. Miami technically isn't out of ACC championship contention, but a Virginia Tech victory Thursday night would eliminate Miami from the Coastal race
"From watching film, I would say Tevin is a little bit sneakier, just not knowing what he's going to do, whether it's pass the ball or running the ball and ducking, things like that." - Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller, comparing current Georgia Tech QB Tevin Washington to predecessor Joshua Nesbitt, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Although he normally plays cornerback, Fuller is lining up at outside linebacker this week as the Hokies attempt to stop Georgia Tech's option attack
"It's totally different than anywhere we've played before. You really have to have a tough mindset to go in there and play in that football game." - Wake Forest TE Cameron Ford, on the atmosphere at Clemson's Death Valley
POLL WATCH: Clemson is ninth and Virginia Tech 10th in the BCS standings, as each school moved up two spots from last week. They moved ahead of South Carolina and Nebraska, who each lost last week while Clemson and Virginia Tech were off. Georgia Tech also moved up two spots, to No. 21.
[Predicting winners: Expert picks]
ETC.: Boston College LB Luke Kuechly and Virginia CB Chase Minnifield were included among the eight semifinalists for the Lott Impact Trophy, which is given annually to a defensive player who combines exceptional athletic performance with outstanding character. Kuechly also has been named one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation's top lineman or linebacker. The other finalists are Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower, Stanford OT Jonathan Martin and Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw. ... Kuechly has recorded at least 10 tackles in 31 consecutive games. He has averaged 14.9 tackles per game during that stretch. ... Clemson TB Andre Ellington will play Saturday against Wake Forest after missing the loss to Georgia Tech two weeks ago with a sprained left ankle. ... Traveling to Charlottesville this week shouldn't be a problem for Duke QB Sean Renfree, who has been better away from home this season. Renfree has averaged 294.7 passing yards and has thrown five touchdown passes plus two interceptions in three road games. He has averaged 216.8 passing yards and has thrown for two touchdowns with six interceptions in six home games. ... Florida State's 38-7 victory over Boston College last week made the Seminoles bowl eligible for the 30th consecutive season. Florida State currently leads all FBS programs with 29 consecutive bowl appearances. ... Georgia Tech ranks second nationally in rushing even though it doesn't have any individual averaging as many as 71 rushing yards per game. The only team since 1970 to lead the nation in rushing without having an individual average at least 71 rushing yards per game is the 2007 Navy squad that also was coached by Johnson. ...Maryland DT Joe Vellano made 11 tackles against Virginia and continues to lead all FBS defensive linemen with eight tackles per game. Vellano is the only linemen ranked among the nation's top 100 tacklers. ... Miami LB Jordan Futch is doubtful for Saturday's game with Florida State because of a shoulder injury. ... Miami S Ray Ray Armstrong won't play against Florida State while school officials determine whether his recent dinner with the owner of a public relations firm constituted an NCAA violation. ... North Carolina never has produced a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver in the same season, but that drought likely will end this year. Gio Bernard already has rushed for 1,012 yards, while Dwight Jones has 913 receiving yards. ... North Carolina State WR T.J. Graham could become the ACC's leader in career kickoff return yardage this week. Graham has 2,929 yards on kickoff returns. The record is held by Maryland's Torrey Smith, who had 2,983 yards in kickoff returns from 2008-10. ... In Virginia's 31-13 victory over Maryland last week, SS Rodney McLeod became the first Cavalier with three interceptions in one game since Anthony Poindexter did it in a 62-14 rout of North Carolina State in 1996. Poindexter now is Virginia's safeties coach and special teams coordinator. ... Virginia Tech is one win away from becoming the third school in ACC history to win at least five conference games in eight consecutive seasons. The others are Florida State (1992-2005) and Virginia (1993-2000). ... Wake Forest is seeking its first win at Death Valley since 1998. Clemson has won its past five home games with Wake Forest by a combined 205-73.
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