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August 28, 2008

ACC: Conference has plenty to prove

MORE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Even though no ACC team has won a BCS bowl game since Florida State's 1999 national championship season, ACC players and coaches have insisted their league remains one of the best in the nation

Now is their chance to prove it.

The opening week of the season gives the ACC plenty of chances to improve the national perception of the league. The ACC has two head-to-head matchups with the SEC (North Carolina State at South Carolina and Clemson vs. Alabama). In addition, Virginia plays host to USC, which has won at least a share of the Pac-10 each of the past six years.

Nobody realistically expects Virginia to beat USC, but the ACC still could earn some positive publicity by winning both of its games with the SEC, almost universally regarded as the nation's top conference.

"It's an opportunity to showcase the talent we have in our conference," North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien said. "Whenever you have that opportunity, I think it's important you do well. Hopefully we can all play well."

This week also offers the opportunity for embarrassment.

What if defending ACC champion Virginia Tech loses its season opener? The Hokies have no experienced receivers or running backs as they travel to Charlotte, N.C., to face East Carolina, which won the Hawaii Bowl and played the Hokies tough in Blacksburg last season.

Wake Forest also could be ripe for an upset. The Demon Deacons open the season in the national rankings for the first time, but they have a tricky Thursday night opener on the road against a Baylor team with a new coaching staff.

"With the expectations through the roof for this football team, I think there's a little bit of pressure," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "I hope we handle it better than we did last year (when they started 0-2)."

  • Virginia RBs Cedric Peerman and Mikell Simpson vs. USC run defense. Peerman and Simpson comprise one of the nation's most underrated tailback tandems. Peerman was leading the ACC in rushing last year before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Simpson took over from there and rushed for eight touchdowns in the Cavaliers' last six games, closing the season with a 170-yard effort in the Gator Bowl. Peerman and Simpson are both healthy and splitting carries, but they may not have much room to run against a USC defense that ranked fourth in the nation against the run last year. Virginia's passing game won't scare the Trojans, which should allow them to concentrate on shutting down the run.

  • North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson: NCSU quarterbacks have combined to throw 69 interceptions and 50 touchdown passes in the four seasons since the departure of Philip Rivers. Wilson is the latest candidate to try to end the Wolfpack's run of quarterback futility. Wilson, a 5-foot-11 redshirt freshman, lacks the height that Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien usually favors in his quarterbacks. However, Wilson threw for 3,009 yards and rushed for 1,132 yards his senior year at Richmond (Va.) Collegiate. North Carolina State's late-season surge last fall indicated the Wolfpack could earn a bowl bid this season if they shore up their run defense and get consistent production from their quarterback. A big performance by Wilson on Thursday night against South Carolina would go a long way toward solving the latter problem.

    Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech, 7:30 p.m.
    Charleston Southern at Miami, 7:30 p.m.
    N.C. State at South Carolina, 8 p.m.
    Wake Forest at Baylor, 8 p.m.
    Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina in Charlotte, N.C., noon
    USC at Virginia, 3:30 p.m.
    Delaware at Maryland, 3:45 p.m.
    McNeese State at North Carolina, 6 p.m.
    James Madison at Duke, 7 p.m.
    Boston College vs. Kent State in Cleveland, 7:30 p.m.
    Alabama vs. Clemson in Atlanta, 8 p.m.

  • "You know what? I actually ran into (Alabama freshman receiver) Julio (Jones) in the spring recruiting. I said hello to him and said, 'I guess I'll be seeing you at the end of August.' Then he got out and got in his Escalade and drove off. That's (being) serious. And then I went over and watched (Alabama freshman receiver) Burton Scott at Vigor (Ala.) High School at the track over there, and Burton Scott was running around. He went and got in his Escalade out at track practice and drove off." Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, making an ill-advised joke Monday to a group of reporters.

    "I can't say strongly enough that I went back to make sure everyone that was there knew I was just kidding around. I tried to make the effort to make sure that this didn't get the legs that you talked about. I hope it doesn't cause any ill feelings with those kids. That's the last thing you want. I shouldn't have been kidding around." Koenning explaining his remarks the next day.

    "That's their strength and that's our strength. It's going to be a great matchup for us and them." Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski on the matchup against Kent State running back Eugene Jarvis, the nation's top returning rusher after running for 1,669 yards last season. BC was second in the nation against the run last season.

    "It was a decision that me and my family had to make. (The coaches) thought it would be best for me to redshirt than to play part-time and get a year under my belt, so I can be better physically and mentally. It was hard at first, but at the same time it was for the best." Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, speaking to the Roanoke (Va.) Times about the decision to try redshirting this season after Sean Glennon was named the Hokies' starter.

    "People are saying this is the kid who had all of the chances in the world, and he blew it. They're right. I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing. People have this image of me that I've created. And it's up to me to change it." Jacksonville State quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, speaking to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his exit from LSU. Perrilloux will lead Jacksonville State against Georgia Tech tonight.

  • ETC.
  • North Carolina State tailback Jamelle Eugene won't play tonight because of an ankle injury. Eugene rushed for a team-high 667 yards last season and was named the Wolfpack's most valuable player. Virginia coach Al Groh still hasn't announced his starting quarterback for Saturday's game with USC, though sophomore Peter Lalich is expected to get the call over senior Scott Deke and sophomore Marc Verica. Miami offensive tackle Reggie Youngblood has been listed as doubtful for tonight's season opener against Division I-AA Charleston Southern. Although Miami coach Randy Shannon has selected redshirt freshman Robert Marve as his starting quarterback, true freshman Jacory Harris will lead the Hurricanes in their season opener while Marve serves a one-game suspension. Miami will be playing its first game with Dolphin Stadium as its home stadium. Dolphin Stadium replaces the legendary Orange Bowl, which was torn down after the 2007 season. Clemson defensive end DaQuan Bowers the No. 2 prospect in the nation in the 2008 recruiting class is listed behind junior Kevin Alexander on the depth chart, but both should see ample playing time Saturday against Alabama. Ranked second in the coaches' poll and third in the AP poll, USC is the highest-ranked team Virginia has faced since a 35-10 loss to top-ranked Florida State in 1999. Maryland senior quarterback Jordan Steffy will start the Terrapins' opener against Delaware on Saturday. Steffy won a preseason battle with Chris Turner and Josh Portis.

    MORE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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