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November 3, 2011

Week 10 preview in the ACC

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Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson finally has faded from the Heisman conversation after back-to-back heartbreaking losses, but the former North Carolina State star remains the talk of the ACC this week.

No, Wilson won't be going back to his old school to haunt the North Carolina team he once dominated. But now that the Tar Heels' chief nemesis has headed to the Big Ten, North Carolina fans want to know if their history of frustration in this in-state rivalry is over.

Florida State at Boston College, 8 p.m.
Virginia at Maryland, 12:30 p.m.
North Carolina at N.C. State, 12:30 p.m.
Duke at Miami, 3 p.m.
Notre Dame at Wake Forest, 8 p.m.
Wilson threw a combined eight touchdown passes with only one interception while leading North Carolina State to victories over North Carolina in each of the past three seasons. But UNC still isn't taking anything for granted.

"I don't think we're taking it like, 'OK, Russell's gone. Now we for sure are going to beat them,' " Tar Heels defensive end Quinton Coples told reporters. "They're going to come out. They're going to give us their best game. This is what they live for and thrive off of. They already feel they're going to beat us just because of the past."

Now that Wilson has moved on, this game features a quarterback duel between former Virginia high school products Bryn Renner of North Carolina and Mike Glennon of North Carolina State.

Renner starred for West Springfield (Va.) High and Glennon played for Centreville (Va.) Westfield. They faced off in the 2007 Virginia state high school playoffs, with Glennon's team winning 58-34.

This will mark the first time either quarterback has started in the North Carolina-North Carolina State rivalry. It also represents Everett Withers' first shot at the Wolfpack as North Carolina's coach, though he took his lumps in this rivalry as former Tar Heels coach Butch Davis' defensive coordinator.

Withers hasn't tried to downplay the significance of this game.

"Yes, it's important," Withers said. "Sometimes you want to stay so focused that you want to say, 'It's the next game. It's the next game.' But these kids were recruited by NC State, a lot of them. Some of them may not have been offered by State. They may not have had the opportunities, so I think it's important when you have a school that's only 20-25 miles down the road to be a rivalry."

NCSU coach Tom O'Brien certainly understands the importance of this rivalry. Although he has guided the Wolfpack to only one winning record in his first four seasons on the job - a 9-4 mark last season that included a Champs Sports Bowl victory - O'Brien has redeemed himself with his 4-0 record against the Tar Heels. He may need to beat North Carolina (6-3, 2-3 ACC) again to make sure his job remains secure.

[Ranking them all: Latest Rivals 120 rankings]

North Carolina State (4-4, 1-3) has two wins over FCS programs this season, so the Wolfpack must go at least 7-5 to guarantee bowl eligibility. O'Brien has taken plenty of heat across the country for naming Glennon his starting quarterback and allowing Wilson to move on. A fifth consecutive victory over North Carolina would take at least some of the heat off him.

"It's an important game here," O'Brien said in his weekly news conference. "It's an important game because it's important to our faculty, our staff, our alumni and our fan base. I think that's what makes it different. There are games throughout the year where you can just tell. You can look at all you guys here [in the media] today and you know that it's not just a normal game that you play during the season.

"Every school has a team that is probably their No. 1 opponent that they play during the course of the year. You have to play all 12 games, but there is certainly a game that is more important than any of the others, and this fits that for our school."

Best matchup: Virginia C Anthony Mihota vs. Maryland DT Joe Vellano. While these guys won't necessarily be matched up against each other on every snap, they should be facing off quite a bit Saturday. Mihota is a two-time ACC offensive lineman of the week who plays a vital role in Virginia's ground attack, while Vellano leads all FBS defensive linemen with 7.8 tackles per game. The history of this series suggests Virginia's ability to run the ball will determine the winner. Virginia is 22-8 against Maryland since 1937 when it rushes for at least 150 yards. Virginia has lost 16 of the past 17 times it has failed to run for at least 100 yards against Maryland. Those figures would seem to favor Mihota's team. Virginia currently is averaging 4.6 yards per rush and 186.4 yards per game. Maryland is allowing 4.9 yards per carry and 234.8 rushing yards per game to rank 118th nationally in run defense, ahead of only Kansas and New Mexico.

[Video: Week 10 upset watch]

Player on the spot: Wake Forest NT Nikita Whitlock. Notre Dame breezed to a 56-14 victory over Navy last week in part because its offensive line dominated the Midshipmen's smaller defensive line. Now the Irish match up against a Wake Forest defensive line that's led by the undersized Whitlock. Although Whitlock is only 5 feet 11 and 260 pounds, he hasn't let his relative lack of size prevent him from making an impact. Whitlock has 11 tackles for loss in his past five games and leads the ACC in that category. Notre Dame has committed 20 turnovers this season and ranks 118th nationally in turnover margin, but the Irish have been tough to beat when they're taking care of the ball. Assuming the Irish aren't coughing the ball up frequently Saturday, the Deacons probably won't win the game unless their little nose guard comes up big.

Keep an eye on: Virginia's ability to handle prosperity: Throughout Mike London's two-year tenure as Virginia's coach, the Cavaliers have followed up their biggest wins with disappointing efforts. Virginia followed up a 24-19 victory over Miami last season by losing its last four games of the season. After handing Georgia Tech its first loss this season on Oct. 15, the Cavaliers lost 28-14 at home to North Carolina State the following week. Virginia bounced back last week by winning 28-21 at Miami to put itself in the thick of the Coastal Division race, but the Cavaliers must prove they can put two solid performances together. The victory over Miami won't mean much if Virginia loses at Maryland this week.

[Viewer's guide: Week 10's best games]

Numbers game: Virginia Tech's 14-10 victory over Duke last week marked the 11th consecutive time the Hokies have won on an opponent's home field. That represents the longest road winning streak in the FBS ranks. Virginia Tech hasn't lost at an opponent's home stadium since falling 28-23 at Georgia Tech on Oct. 17, 2009. The Hokies return to Georgia Tech next week in a Thursday night game.

Quotes of the week

"He's a big guy, and he can throw and run. He's kind of like Cam Newton in a lot of ways. They don't ask him to do as much running, but certainly if they did, he could do it. They have a little bit different attack, but he's got it all. I don't see many - I don't see any flaws in him, to be honest with you." - Boston College coach Frank Spaziani, on Florida State QB E.J. Manuel

"In a nutshell, we have a lot of work to do. We're a very average defense." - Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, to TigerIllustrated.com

[Video: Pat Forde and Eddie George on the nation's best defenses]

"I don't want to disagree with what he says, but I have high expectations for myself, and I had them last year before I played a down. That hasn't changed now. You can't let that affect you. You have to go out there and prepare like you've always prepared and do what's been proven successful. I feel like expectations are something that are going to be there, and they're always high and it really doesn't affect me." - Maryland QB Danny O'Brien, to The Washington Times in response to Maryland coach Randy Edsall's suggestions that preseason expectations were too high for the 2010 ACC rookie of the year

"We'll probably be an underdog. That's OK. It's just motivation. I prefer it that way because when nobody gives you a shot, you can go out and prove them wrong." - Georgia Tech QB Tevin Washington, to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, looking ahead to next week's game with Virginia Tech after the Yellow Jackets' 31-17 upset of Clemson

"I love it here. My wife and kids are happy here. I think our staff is happy here. The president, this administration, Mr. Eichorst [athletic director Shawn Eichorst] have all been ultra-supportive. I'm certain, I'm positive that support will continue in a myriad of ways moving forward. Again, I don't think it's something I really have to address too long. I think since I've been here, I've been committed to turning Miami around and implementing a process and a structure and a culture that will endure. We're just out of the blocks. We're just out of the gates. I wish these types of things would go away. We don't need any distractions. We're just trying to move forward with the program." - Miami coach Al Golden, responding to a CBSSports.com report in which his agent, Brett Senior, indicated Miami had made overtures about adjusting Golden's contract. In the report, Senior also said he and his client had "options available to us" if Miami received major NCAA sanctions

[Video: Pat Forde and Eddie George on the nation's best offenses]

Poll watch: Clemson's loss to Georgia Tech last week dropped the Tigers from fifth to 11th in the BCS standings and basically guaranteed the ACC once again wouldn't be a factor in the national championship race. An ACC member hasn't played for the national championship since Florida State lost to Oklahoma in 2000. Clemson remains the league's highest-ranked team in the BCS standings, though Virginia Tech is only one spot behind at 12. Beating Clemson allowed Georgia Tech to re-enter the BCS rankings at No. 23. All three teams are off this week.

Etc.: Boston College LB Luke Kuechly was the only ACC player included this week among the 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award, given each year to the nation's top lineman or linebacker. Kuechly and Miami LB Sean Spence were two of the 16 semifinalists for the Bednarik Award, which goes annually to the nation's top defensive player. One week earlier, Kuechly was selected as one of the 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, awarded to the nation's top linebacker. Starting TB Andre Ellington is expected to play in Clemson's Atlantic Division showdown with Wake Forest next week after missing the Georgia Tech game with an injured left ankle. A victory over Wake Forest would allow Clemson to clinch its second division title in the past three seasons. Saturday's game at Miami represents a homecoming for Duke WRs Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon, who each graduated from Miami's Gulliver Prep. There's a remote chance both players could tie Clarkston Hines' school record for career catches during their visit home. Varner has 183 receptions and Vernon has 179. Hines caught 189 passes from 1986-89. This marks the sixth consecutive season Florida State has played a Thursday night road game. The Seminoles are 2-3 in their five most recent Thursday night road trips, including a 28-24 loss to North Carolina State last season. The Seminoles haven't played a Thursday night game at Doak Campbell Stadium since a 48-31 victory over Clemson in 2002. Georgia Tech has gone 2-0 at home against top-10 teams during Paul Johnson's four-year coaching tenure. The Yellow Jackets were 2-29-1 in their most recent 32 home games against top-10 teams before Johnson's arrival. The quarterback situation at Maryland remains uncertain. C.J. Brown and Danny O'Brien are listed as co-starters on the depth chart for Saturday's game with Virginia. Maryland DE David Mackall has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Mackall has recorded three sacks this season, giving him a tie for the team lead. ... Miami WR Travis Benjamin is about to join select company. He's 45 yards away from becoming the sixth Miami player with 2,000 career receiving yards. The others are Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Michael Irvin, Lamar Thomas and Leonard Hankerson. North Carolina has outscored opponents 49-0 in the first quarter of its six wins. The Tar Heels have been outscored 30-14 in the first quarter of their three losses. North Carolina State CB David Amerson continues to lead all FBS players with eight interceptions. Amerson, Virginia CB Chase Minnifield and Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosley were selected this week as three of the 15 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation's top defensive back. Virginia has lost each of its past 13 November games. The Cavaliers haven't won a November contest since a 48-0 rout of Miami on Nov. 10, 2007, in UM's final game in the Orange Bowl. Virginia Tech RB David Wilson has rushed for more than 100 yards in eight of his nine games this season. He needs two more 100-yard rushing performances to match the ACC single-season record of 10, set by North Carolina's Don McCauley in 1970 and Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams in 2009. Wake Forest RB Josh Harris is still bothered by a strained hamstring that has limited him to a total of three carries over the past three games. That leaves senior Brandon Pendergrass as the Demon Deacons' only healthy and experienced running back, a situation that might force them to play true freshman Orville Reynolds this week. Reynolds was expected to redshirt this season.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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