What to watch in the ACC: Week 4

Here are your top 10 things to keep an eye on this week in the ACC, in no particular order.

1. Florida State’s quarterback. If it’s starter EJ Manuel, how confident and prepared does he look following a week in which his status was in question because of a shoulder injury? If it’s backup Clint Trickett, how does he handle the pressures of a road game against a ranked division opponent? There’s a reason Manuel is the starter, but Trickett performed admirably in a tough situation last weekend against the No. 1-ranked Sooners. Regardless of who it is, Clemson cannot underestimate FSU’s passing game.

2. Florida State’s running game. The Seminoles know it’s an area they must improve if they are going to repeat as Atlantic Division champs, and right now, they rank No. 100 in the nation in rushing offense at 96.33 yards per game. Clemson’s defense, though, has struggled to stop the run this season. The Tigers are taking too long to get off their blocks, and this could be the week FSU has a breakthrough in the running game.

3. Georgia Tech’s offense against North Carolina’s defense. It’s the storyline and key to the entire game. The Yellow Jackets lead the nation in scoring offense, rushing offense and total offense. The Tar Heels have the nation’s No. 16 rushing defense, but last week, Virginia ran for 170 yards against them. UNC won’t stop an offense that averages 60 points and almost 700 total yards a game, but can it slow it down enough to win?

4. Third-down defense in Atlanta. It’s one area coach Paul Johnson would like to see improvement on against UNC, as the Yellow Jackets are No. 104 in the country in third-down conversion defense. Georgia Tech has allowed its opponents to convert 47.92 attempts. The Yellow Jackets, however, lead the country in third-down conversions, completing 70.59 percent of their attempts. UNC’s D will have to make some critical stops.

5. NC State’s secondary against Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros. Collaros has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions in 69 pass attempts, but NC State is third in the nation with seven interceptions and cornerback David Amerson is tied for the national lead in interceptions with three.

6. Maryland’s protection of quarterback Danny O’Brien. The Terps have not allowed one sack in their first two games, and they’ve done it with two new faces in the starting lineup. Maryland hasn’t gone back-to-back games without yielding a sack since 2000. Temple is tied for eighth in the FBS with four sacks per game.

7. BC’s kicking game. It’s been a rough start to the season for BC kicker Nate Freese, whose miss on a 23-yard chip shot in the 20-19 loss to Duke last week was devastating. Freese also was 1-for-3 in the season-opening loss to Northwestern, and he has also missed an extra point this year.

8. Virginia Tech receiver D.J. Coles. He’s the next man up, and after Dyrell Roberts broke his left arm last weekend against Arkansas State, Coles answered the call. He recorded his first collegiate touchdown with a 49-yard touchdown catch in the game. Coles had a career-high 61 yards receiving in the game.

9. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris. He threw two interceptions against Ohio State, and coach Al Golden said on Sunday “I expect him to be much improved against Kansas State.” Aside from the turnovers, Golden said Harris managed the game well, made good throws on third down, and played well in the red zone. Eliminating turnovers is the next step.

10. Virginia’s freshman rushing record. Redshirt freshman tailback Kevin Parks has five rushing touchdowns this season. The school record for rushing touchdowns in a season by a freshman is seven by Howard Petty (1983) and Marcus Wilson (1987). Parks ran for three touchdowns in the season opener against William & Mary. Can he do it again?