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October 24, 2006

October slides leave many asking questions

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The first two months of the season have been rough on the ACC.

Clemson has struggled with injuries, but will welcome back a key offensive player Thursday against Virginia Tech.

At the same time, North Carolina which fired its coach - and Florida State are wondering where to go from here. The Seminoles have nowhere to go but up after dropping to last place in the Atlantic Division.

Here are the top five questions and answers that will shape the final week of October and the top five games of the week:

Five Questions for Week 9
1. How will injuries shape the rest of Clemson's season?
For once, Clemson will get some good injury news this week with top wide receiver Chansi Stuckey returning in time for Virginia Tech on Thursday. Stuckey still leads the team with 25 receptions for 331 yards and three touchdowns despite missing the last three games with a broken foot. The Tigers offense is moving just fine without him, but will have to deal with the loss of starting guard Roman Fry. An Outland Trophy candidate, Fry is out for the season with an ACL tear. He is the fourth starter Clemson has lost for the season. Linebackers Anthony Waters (knee) and Tramaine Billie (ankle) and wide receiver Rendrick Taylor (arm) are all sidelined. The defense has fared fine without Waters and Billie. The Tigers lead the ACC in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense. In the absence of Fry, who will be replaced by junior Chris McDuffie, the offensive line may struggle a bit.
2. What's next for North Carolina?
The Tar Heels became the first team to start looking for a new coach for 2007 by firing John Bunting on Sunday. North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour has not commented on possible candidates, but sources told CarolinaBlue.com there is mutual interest between North Carolina and former Cleveland Browns and University of Miami coach Butch Davis. Among other names of interest early in the North Carolina coaching search are West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, Navy coach Paul Johnson, Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe and LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher.
3. What is wrong with Florida State?
Florida State is in uncharted territory as one of three ACC teams with at least three conference losses (the others are North Carolina and Duke). The main causes of FSU's plight have been a woeful offense and a rash of injuries on the defense. On Saturday, the Seminoles abandoned the run game by handing the ball off a mere eight times against Boston College. That was a low point for a team that hasn't been ranked higher than No. 50 nationally in rushing offense since 2002. Lorenzo Booker hasn't emerged even after four years at FSU, while sophomore Antone Smith hasn't been able to beat him out for more carries. Meanwhile, injuries have hit the defense hart. Against Boston College, the Seminoles were forced to start four true freshman and one redshirt freshman.
4. What is wrong with Garrett Wolfe?
The Northern Illinois running back started to climb into Heisman Trophy contention with a 353-yard, three-touchdown game against Ball State on Sept. 30. However, October has likely wiped out his hopes of going to New York. He ran for 162 yards then a season-low the next week against Miami (Ohio), but really bottomed out the last two weeks. He gained just 25 yards against Western Michigan and 45 against Temple. Teams have stuffed eight and nine defenders in the box to stop Wolfe, who is still the nation's rushing leader. The senior will need more support from quarterback Phil Horvath and the passing game to regain the pace he set earlier this season. Saturday's game against Iowa might be just the cure for Wolfe. He has averaged 241.7 yards from scrimmage in three career games against Big Ten teams (Ohio State, Michigan and Northwestern).
5. Which school gained the most from late-game dramatics in Week 8?
Notre Dame, Texas, Tennessee and Cal all preserved one-loss seasons with late wins last week. Miami (against Duke) and Georgia (against Mississippi State) avoided embarrassing losses by forcing game-sealing turnovers. Michigan State's John L. Smith and Texas A&M's Dennis Franchione will avoid hot seat talk for at least one more week after late wins, and Notre Dame and Cal will ensure their games against USC late this season will mean something. I'm going to go with Baylor as the most important comeback. The Bears trailed 35-17 going into the fourth quarter against Kansas, but won 36-35 to reach three Big 12 wins for the first time in school history. Baylor needs two wins to play in its first bowl game since 1994. The Bears will face Texas A&M and Oklahoma at home and Texas Tech and Oklahoma State on the road. Two of those games are winnable. Three victories would be a stretch.
Top Five Games of Week 9
1. Miami (5-2, 2-1 ACC) at No. 21 Georgia Tech (5-2, 3-1 ACC), 3:30 p.m., ABC
Georgia Tech will have little time to lick its wounds after being dominated by Clemson. The Yellow Jackets and Hurricanes are likely playing for the ACC Coastal Division title.
2. Georgia (6-2, 3-2 SEC) vs. No. 9 Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC) in Jacksonville, Fla., 3:30 p.m., CBS
Georgia would love to play the spoiler for the Gators' hopes of going to the SEC title game.
3. No. 10 Clemson (7-1, 4-1 ACC) at Virginia Tech (5-2, 2-2 ACC), 7:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN
Every game is a must-win for Clemson if it hopes to go to the ACC Championship Game, and the Tigers still need a Boston College loss.
4. No. 19 Oklahoma (5-2, 2-1 Big 12) at No. 23 Missouri (7-1, 3-1 Big 12), noon, ABC
The only game this week between two ranked teams. Missouri will look to pad its impressive start with a win over the Sooners.
5. No. 3 USC (6-0, 4-0 Pac-10) at Oregon State (4-3, 2-2 Pac-10), 3:30, ABC
The Trojans have been living on the edge the last three games. Can the Beavers finally pull the upset of USC in Corvallis, Ore.?

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