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September 4, 2008

ACC: Opening weekend proves tough to watch

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

Two days after opening the season with a convincing victory over Baylor, Wake Forest's players sat down to watch their conference rivals on television.

They didn't like what they saw.

Defending conference champion Virginia Tech lost to Conference USA member East Carolina. Preseason ACC favorite Clemson got embarrassed by Alabama. USC pounded Virginia thoroughly enough to soar to the top of the national rankings. Maryland and North Carolina struggled to beat Division I-AA programs. And this all happened two days after N.C. State lost 34-0 to South Carolina.

The ACC's dreadful weekend resulted in an avalanche of negative publicity for a league that already has taken a beating nationally for its inability to win a BCS game since Florida State's 1999 national championship season.

"In the past, you used to root against them and I was glad to see them lose," Wake Forest wide receiver Chip Brinkman said. "Not anymore. Everyone is coming down on the ACC, and we really need to step it up."

Wake Forest now finds itself having to defend the conference's reputation Saturday when it plays host to Ole Miss. If the only ACC team in the Associated Press rankings loses at home to a Southeastern Conference team that failed to win a single conference game last year, the chorus of criticism could reach rock-concert decibels.

And it won't matter how much coaches try to defend their conference's lack of early season success.

"I think you just have to take a look at who they played,'' Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "I don't know that there are too many teams in the country or too many coaches in the country that would choose to open with Alabama, Southern Cal, East Carolina or South Carolina. If coaches had their druthers, they'd open with junior high teams and make sure they get a win under their belt.''

While the tough schedules offer one reason for the ACC's struggles, the uncertain quarterback situations around the league are the bigger culprit.

Virginia Tech's loss to East Carolina caused Hokies coach Frank Beamer to rethink his decision to redshirt Tyrod Taylor. Injuries are forcing North Carolina State and Maryland to make changes at quarterback this week, while Miami redshirt freshman Robert Marve makes his debut Saturday after serving a one-game suspension. Christian Ponder will make his first career start in Florida State's opener Saturday against Western Carolina.

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • Georgia Tech running game vs. Boston College run defense: Georgia Tech introduced Paul Johnson's option attack to the ACC last week by rushing for 349 yards on 46 carries in a 41-14 triumph over Jacksonville State, but the real test comes Saturday. That's when the Yellow Jackets try to move the ball against a Boston College defense that ranked second in the nation against the run last year. The Eagles opened the season last week with a 21-0 victory over a Kent team that featured Eugene Jarvis, the top returning rusher in the nation. Jonathan Dwyer looked like a star in the making last week when he rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns against Jacksonville State, but the presence of Boston College defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace could make it tough for him to find running room.

    ACC SCHEDULE
    SATURDAY
    Georgia Tech at Boston College, noon
    Furman at Virginia Tech, 1:30 p.m.
    Ole Miss at Wake Forest, 3:30 p.m.
    The Citadel at Clemson, 3:30 p.m.
    Richmond at Virginia, 3:45 p.m.
    Western Carolina at Florida State, 6 p.m.
    William & Mary at N.C. State, 6 p.m.
    Northwestern at Duke, 7 p.m.
    Maryland at Middle Tennessee State, 7 p.m.
    Miami at Florida, 8 p.m.

  • PLAYERS TO WATCH
  • Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor, Miami QB Robert Marve and Florida State QB Christian Ponder: Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer named Sean Glennon his starting quarterback before the season and announced his intention to redshirt Taylor. Those plans changed after Glennon threw two interceptions Saturday in a season-opening 27-22 loss to East Carolina. Beamer announced Tuesday that he plans to return to the two-quarterback system the Hokies used late last season on their way to winning the ACC title. How much playing time will Taylor receive Saturday against Furman? And how will Beamer alternate the two quarterbacks? Marve's debut offers more reason for intrigue. Does the redshirt freshman have enough moxie to handle the pressure of playing his first game against Florida in the Swamp? If Marve struggles, Miami coach Randy Shannon might be tempted to turn to true freshman Jacory Harris, who played well last week against Charleston Southern while Marve was serving a one-game suspension. Ponder beat out incumbent Drew Weatherford and D'Vontrey Richardson for the right to start Florida State's season opener, but all three quarterbacks are expected to play. Ponder's performance the next two weeks could determine whether he also starts the Seminoles' ACC opener Sept. 20 against Wake Forest.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner led the nation in completion percentage last season and connected on 75 percent of his passes last week in a 41-13 victory over Baylor. Skinner's .698 career completion percentage is the highest in ACC history. North Carolina WR Brandon Tate gained 397 all-purpose yards the second-highest single-game total in ACC history in the Tar Heels' 35-27 victory over McNeese State. The record is held by John Leach of Wake Forest, who gained 411 yards in a 33-32 loss to Maryland in 1993. Virginia Tech defensive back Stephan Virgil scored on a 30-yard interception return and on a 90-yard blocked extra-point attempt against East Carolina last week. Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott rushed for 197 yards on 26 carries Saturday in a 14-7 win over Delaware. North Carolina State linebacker Nate Irving had two tackles for loss and an interception last week in a 34-0 loss to South Carolina. Georgia Tech strong safety Morgan Burnett picked off two passes against Jacksonville State. .. Duke punter Kevin Jones averaged 53.5 yards per attempt last week in a 31-7 victory over James Madison. His punting average leads the nation.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Clemson's James Davis and C.J. Spiller entered the season as the nation's most celebrated running back tandem, but they combined for only 20 yards on eight carries Saturday in a 34-10 loss to Alabama. North Carolina State quarterbacks Daniel Evans, Russell Wilson and Harrison Beck went a combined 5-for-20 for 49 yards with two interceptions last week in a 34-0 loss to South Carolina. Virginia gained just 32 yards on 21 carries Saturday in a 52-7 loss to Southern Cal. Maryland kicker Obi Egekeze went 0-for-3 on field-goal attempts last week with misfires from 41, 44 and 48 yards away. Georgia Tech kicker Scott Blair was 0-for-2 on field-goal attempts against Jacksonville State after missing from 38 and 52 yards.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "It's just one game. We still have 11 more games to go. Coach (Tommy) Bowden was telling us that Virginia Tech got embarrassed like that last year against LSU and bounced back to win the conference. If we can do that, we should have a pretty good season."- Spiller to TigerIllustrated.com about Clemson's season-opening loss to Alabama.

    "We want to show them the University of Miami still rules the state of Florida. We wanted the game at 8 o'clock. Let all the other games get out of the way and everybody else can see us play. I believe it's zero and six lately for Florida. We want to keep it that way. We plan on winning this game."-Miami center Xavier Shannon, the son of Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon, to The Miami Herald about Saturday night's game with Florida. Miami has beaten Florida six consecutive times.

    "I think we have just as many playmakers (as Florida). I think everybody here could have gone to Florida. .. We don't think we're underdogs. We go in more comfortable than ever." - Miami safety Anthony Reddick to CaneSport.com about the Hurricanes' matchup Saturday with 21.5-point favorite Florida.

    "I'm not going to get into how much each is going to play or how we're going to do it. It's about our football team and being the best football team we can be. And I think Tyrod, what he can do, helps us be the best football team that we can be."- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer to The Roanoke (Va.) Times, explaining his decision to return to a two-quarterback system. Beamer had said before the season that he planned to redshirt Taylor.

    "Mike's a dear friend and he was a great colleague here. He did an awful lot for us while he was here, but for this particular week there are really no personal feelings about it.''- Virginia coach Al Groh discussing the Cavaliers' game Saturday with Richmond, whose coach is former Virginia defensive coordinator Mike London.

  • ETC.
  • North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson has returned to campus after suffering a concussion last week, but a timetable on his return remains up in the air. Daniel Evans is listed as the Wolfpack's likely starter for Saturday's game with William & Mary. North Carolina State tight end Anthony Hill will miss the William & Mary game with a chest injury, but tailback Jamelle Eugene and offensive guard Curtis Crouch could return after missing the South Carolina game. Clemson offensive guard Barry Humphries underwent knee surgery Tuesday and is out four to six weeks. Redshirt freshman Mason Cloy will start in Humphries' place. Maryland quarterback Jordan Steffy is out three weeks with ligament damage in his left thumb. Chris Turner will start at quarterback and Josh Portis also will play Saturday at Middle Tennessee. Spiller's 96-yard kickoff return against Alabama last week represented his 11th career touchdown of more than 50 yards. This marks the first week in school history that Wake Forest has been the only ACC team included in the Associated Press rankings. Duke's 31-7 victory over James Madison last week marked the first time the Blue Devils had won at home since 2005. Florida State coach Bobby Bowden enters this week tied with Penn State's Joe Paterno for the most wins (373) by any coach in major college history. Penn State plays host to Oregon State on Saturday.

    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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