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September 11, 2006

ACC home to the hottest seats

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The hottest seat in college football just got toastier.

North Carolina State coach Chuck Amato already was receiving the brunt of the criticism for his program's fall from grace since the departure of record-setting quarterback Philip Rivers.

Although Amato led the Wolfpack to their first 11-win season in school history four years ago, North Carolina State has won only half its last 28 games.

North Carolina State's stunning 20-17 loss to Akron only turned up the heat.

The three-point margin of defeat stung because North Carolina State could have attempted a 21-yard field goal while leading 10-7 late in the fourth quarter. The Wolfpack instead failed to convert on fourth-and-1 from Akron's 4-yard line.

And after regaining the lead with 1:07 remaining, the Wolfpack allowed Akron to march down the field and score the winning touchdown as time expired.

"If I had to do it all over again, I'd have done the same thing. In my wildest dreams I never thought they could have gone 96 (yards)," Amato said of the fourth-and-1 call. "And they did. I didn't think it was a gamble."

Amato doesn't have to look far to find someone in a similar situation.

North Carolina coach John Bunting couldn't afford to get off to a slow start this season, but the Tar Heels have opened the season with two consecutive home losses.

The Tar Heels won't improve until they get consistency from the quarterback position. Joe Dailey and Cam Sexton each threw two interceptions Saturday in a 35-10 loss to Virginia Tech.

One thing in Bunting's favor is that he has defeated North Carolina State each of the last two years. A bowl berth and a job might be at stake when the two teams meet again Nov. 18 at Chapel Hill.

The precarious job security of Amato and Bunting was only one of the top 25 storylines in college football to come out of this weekend. Here's a rundown of the rest of the headlines:

2. It's not over: Texas struggled to throw and defend the pass in its 24-7 loss to Ohio State, but the Longhorns can take comfort in recent history. The losers of the two most recent No. 1 vs. No. 2 regular-season showdowns Florida State in 1993 and Florida in 1996 - went on to win national championships.

And those two teams lost their games in November not September.

3. Quarterback comedowns: Texas quarterback Colt McCoy threw three touchdown passes against North Texas last week, but the redshirt freshman didn't look nearly as comfortable Saturday.

He wasn't the only first-year starting quarterback to fall back to earth after a dazzling debut performance. Penn State's Anthony Morelli missed open receivers deep and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in a 41-17 loss to Notre Dame.

4. ACC's soft underbelly: The Atlantic Coast Conference prided itself on its competitive balance last year. Although Virginia Tech was the only team to finish among the top 16 teams in the final Associated Press poll, Duke was the conference's lone pushover.

Not this year.

Virginia, North Carolina and North Carolina State all have taken a step back. Duke and Wake Forest are starting freshman quarterbacks. That explains why the ACC is 2-3 in non-conference games against BCS teams and has losses to Richmond and Akron this season.

5. Gamble backfires: For the second consecutive week, an underdog failed on a late two-point conversion when kicking an extra point could have forced overtime. Air Force lost to Tennessee 31-30 by copying the strategy that backfired for Illinois State last week in a 24-23 loss to Kansas State.

Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry probably made the right move by deciding to win or lose in regulation time. Considering Air Force didn't force Tennessee to punt all night, it's tough to imagine the Falcons would have won in overtime.

6. No controversy here: Arkansas' Mitch Mustain and Georgia's Matthew Stafford already have apparently won starting jobs as true freshman quarterbacks, but Florida's Chris Leak appears intent on making sure Tim Tebow doesn't join them. Leak threw for four touchdowns and a career-high 352 yards Saturday in the Gators' 42-0 drubbing of Central Florida.

Although Leak is consistently described as an awkward fit for Urban Meyer's offense, the senior has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,664 yards with 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions in his last seven games.

7. Nowhere to run: Although Florida has passed the ball well in its first two games, the Gators' search for a featured back continues.

How bad are the Gators' tailback problems? Wide receiver Percy Harvin was their top rusher in the season opener, while Tebow led them in rushing Saturday. It will be interesting to see whether Florida runs the ball effectively against a Tennessee team that allowed Air Force to gain 5 yards per carry.

8. Juice feels the squeeze: Rivals.com rated Illinois freshman Isiah Williams as the No. 3 pro-style quarterback behind only Stafford and Mustain in the 2006 recruiting class.

An extended audition in the Illini's 33-0 loss to Rutgers only proved that this raw talent has a long way to go before catching up to Stafford or Mustain.

Williams led the Illinois offense for nine series and went 2-of-10 for 14 yards. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble.

9. No Fasano? No problem: Notre Dame apparently has found a replacement for departed tight end Anthony Fasano.

John Carlson entered the Penn State game with only 17 receptions for 123 yards in his career, but the senior tight end caught six passes for 98 yards Saturday. Those 98 receiving yards exceeded Fasano's highest single-game total from a year ago.

10. Running in place: Florida State tailback Lorenzo Booker spoke boldly this summer about how he wanted to break Warrick Dunn's single-season school record of 1,242 rushing yards.

Two games into the season, Booker remains 1,227 yards short of his goal.

But the speedy senior doesn't deserve all the blame for a stagnant Florida State rushing attack that has mustered just 46 yards on 53 carries.

An offensive line that was terrible last year hasn't fared much better so far this season. And as much as the Seminoles talked about committing to the run, they've thrown the ball nearly 60 percent of the time.

11. The son also rises: You've heard about quarterback controversies. Well, Alabama just might have a kicking controversy.

Leigh Tiffin, the son of former Iron Bowl hero Van Tiffin, continued his improbable story by kicking a 47-yard field goal that gave Alabama a 13-10 victory over Vanderbilt. Tiffin's kick cleared the uprights with several yards to spare.

Tiffin won the job only because Jamie Christensen injured his groin in the preseason. Christensen is supposed to return next weekend, but how can the Tide not turn to Tiffin again?

12. Slow starts: Although Alabama has won its first two games, the Tide won't stay unbeaten for long unless Kenneth Darby overcomes the hip injury that has limited him to 90 yards on 37 carries. Darby has gained more than 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons.

Darby isn't the only Southeastern Conference star off to a slow start. South Carolina wide receiver Sidney Rice the Rivals.com national freshman of the year last season has caught just five passes for 44 yards.

13. Kicking themselves: Anyone who says an extra-point attempt is automatic apparently didn't watch any overtime games this weekend.

Missed extra points in overtime decided Virginia's 13-12 victory over Wyoming and Boston College's 34-33 triumph over Clemson.

But the wackiest ending took place in Bowling Green's 48-40 win over Buffalo. That game went into a third extra session after both teams blocked extra-point attempts in double overtime.

14. Tigers' test: Now that Clemson has lost an overtime heartbreaker to Boston College for the second consecutive year, the Tigers must make sure history doesn't repeat itself.

Clemson followed up a triple-overtime defeat to Miami last year by losing its next two games to Boston College and Wake Forest. Two years ago, their first loss of the season triggered a four-game skid.

The Tigers next travel to Florida State, where they haven't won since 1989.

15. Soaring Eagles: Clemson received more preseason attention, but Boston College suddenly has emerged as Florida State's biggest challenger for the Atlantic Division title.

Boston College's Matt Ryan has emerged as the best quarterback in the ACC. And while Clemson's defense felt the absence of Anthony Waters on Saturday, Boston College also was playing without a star linebacker after Brian Toal hurt his shoulder in the first quarter.

The Eagles must overcome a troublesome conference schedule that includes a home game with Virginia Tech and road trips to Florida State and Miami. Florida State already has beaten Miami and doesn't face Virginia Tech.

16. Most valuable players? : Whether or not they emerge as Heisman Trophy contenders and they probably won't two seniors already have staked a claim as the nation's most valuable players.

Iowa quarterback Drew Tate proved in his absence how much he means to the Hawkeyes' offense. When an abdominal strain forced Tate to sit out Saturday's game, a team with BCS aspirations needed overtime to survive at Syracuse.

And no defensive player has helped his team more than Florida State linebacker Buster Davis, whose leaping fourth-quarter interception set up the go-ahead touchdown in a 24-17 victory over Troy. The undefeated Seminoles probably would be winless without him.

17. Carpenter proves his worth: Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter certainly didn't select his quarterback in the best possible manner, but it's tough to argue with his final decision.

Rudy Carpenter threw five touchdown passes Saturday as the Sun Devils buried Nevada 52-21. He has completed 68 percent of his passes this season with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.

18. New year, new story: How much can things change in a year? Just take a look at the NCAA rankings in passing efficiency.

The two guys atop the list Tennessee's Erik Ainge and Pittsburgh's Tyler Palko combined to complete 47 percent of their passes with six interceptions and four touchdowns through the first three weeks last season.

19. Sympathy for the Devils: Anyone without a Wake Forest diploma has to feel bad for Duke.

The Blue Devils already have lost their starting quarterback to plagiarism and their top two running backs to injuries. And just when it appeared Duke would finally end a nine-game losing streak, Chip Vaughn blocked Joe Surgan's 27-yard field goal as time expired to preserve Wake Forest's 14-13 victory.

Duke probably won't win a game all year, but at least Thaddeus Lewis has provided some cause for optimism. The true freshman quarterback went 21-of-32 for 305 yards Saturday.

20. Comeback team of the week: California embarrassed itself on a national stage in a season-opening 35-18 loss to Tennessee last week, but the Golden Bears bounced back in a big way Saturday.

Nate Longshore ended any quarterback controversy in Berkeley by throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-17 triumph over Minnesota. DeSean Jackson showed he may belong in the Jarrett-Samardzija-Ginn-Johnson class of receivers by catching three touchdown passes.

Most importantly, a defense that got burned by long touchdowns against Tennessee gave up only one play of longer than 21 yards.

21. Rocky Mountain low: Then again, some teams that looked bad in their openers didn't look any better this week.

The miserable start to Colorado's season continued with a 14-10 setback to Colorado State that gave the Buffaloes a six-game losing streak dating to last November.

Another game hundreds of miles away illustrated just how far Colorado has fallen. One week after beating the Buffaloes, Division I-AA Montana State lost 35-24 to Division II program Chadron (Neb.) State.

22. More fun for I-AA: The Division I-AA ranks got one more victory against a Division I program this week when New Hampshire whipped Northwestern 34-17.

Perhaps we were too quick to promote Northwestern's sudden commitment to defense under new coach Pat Fitzgerald. After holding Miami (Ohio) without a touchdown last week, the Wildcats allowed 27 first-half points Saturday.

23. No defense: Purdue may be undefeated, but the Boilermakers won't stay that way for long if they keep struggling on defense.

One week after giving up five touchdowns in a 60-35 victory over Indiana State, the Boilers allowed 384 passing yards in a 38-31 overtime triumph against Miami (Ohio). If the Boilers are allowing Division I-AA schools and Mid-American Conference programs to score at will, what will Notre Dame's Brady Quinn and Michigan State's Drew Stanton do against these guys?

24. Fake pays off: The gutsiest call of the weekend belonged to Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who called for a fake field goal with five minutes remaining in a 24-24 tie with Fresno State.

Oregon faced third-and-goal from the 4 and had an apparent chip shot to take the lead, but Fresno State already had blocked one field-goal attempt earlier in the game.

This time, Oregon holder Brady Leaf made an option pitch to kicker Paul Martinez, who ran for a touchdown that gave the Ducks a 31-24 victory.

25. BCS for BSU? : Boise State's 42-14 whipping of Oregon State might not seem important now, but it could have major BCS implications by the end of the season.

That one-sided victory over a Pac-10 team even a second-tier one shows the Bulldogs have a chance to go undefeated and earn a BCS bid. One team from a non-BCS conference can earn an automatic berth to the Rose, Orange, Sugar or Fiesta Bowl by finishing in the top 12 in the BCS standings.

Boise State's toughest remaining games are at Utah on Sept. 30, at home against Fresno State on Nov. 1 and at Nevada on Nov. 25. The Bulldogs also better hope Texas Christian loses somewhere down the road because an unbeaten TCU team almost certainly would finish ahead of Boise State in the BCS standings.

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