What should you watch in the ACC this week? Glad you asked.
1. Coastal Division clash. Virginia Tech travels to play Miami tonight in a game that could end up determining who wins the Coastal Division. If one of these teams wins out, then it will end up in the ACC championship game. This is only the sixth time in 29 meetings between the two schools that neither team is ranked going into the matchup. But Virginia Tech has a few things going in its favor. First, the Hokies have won three straight in the series. Second, they are 19-5 in Thursday night games on ESPN -- including 2-0 last season.
2. Quarterback uncertainty. This is a position to watch for several ACC teams this week. The biggest headliner is the Maryland-Georgia Tech game. The Terps have no scholarship quarterbacks remaining, so they are going with converted linebacker Shawn Petty, the third true freshman they have played at that position. The Maryland sports information department says no other school in the nation has faced such an unprecedented situation at quarterback this season or last. As for the Yellow Jackets, coach Paul Johnson may end up starting Vad Lee over Tevin Washington. One other quarterback situation to watch: Will Duke start the banged -p Sean Renfree against Clemson?
3. Can Duke play better against Clemson? Speaking of this matchup, the Blue Devils get their third crack at a Top 25 team this season and hope for much better results. Their first two games did not exactly go well, as they lost to then-No. 25 Stanford and then-No. 12 Florida State by a combined 98-20. But those two games were on the road, and Duke has played much better at home. In fact, Duke is averaging 42.6 points per game at home, compared to just 13.3 points in its three road games. Duke has now scored 213 points in its five home games in 2012, the highest five-game home total in school history.
4. Bounce-back time. Eight of the 10 teams playing this weekend are coming into their games off a loss. Would you believe Boston College is one of two teams that is not?
5. Now or never. Virginia (2-6) and Boston College (2-6) have to win out in order to keep their bowl hopes alive. The Eagles travel to play Wake Forest, a team that had major problems slowing down the Clemson passing game. That could be problematic for the Deacs this week, as Boston College has a good quarterback in Chase Rettig and one of the most productive receivers in the ACC in Alex Amidon. As for the Hoos, they got an extra week to prepare to play NC State, which has won three of the past four meetings in the series. Their young secondary is sure to be tested by Mike Glennon, who threw for 467 yards last week against North Carolina.
6. Bowl eligibility. On the flip side, NC State is the only team playing this weekend with an opportunity to clinch bowl eligibility. The Wolfpack are coming into the game off a tough loss to in-state rival North Carolina and could very well feel the effects of a "letdown" game as they are playing an overmatched opponent. But after previous losses this season, NC State bounced back the following week with a win.
7. Hokies' run game vs. Miami's run defense. We all know coach Frank Beamer is playing coy about his running back rotation going into tonight's game, but will it matter? The Hurricanes rank No. 119 in the nation in rushing defense, giving up an average of 249.3 yards per game on the ground. Miami has allowed fewer than 200 yards rushing just once this season -- 96 to Boston College in the season opener.
8. Georgia Tech run game vs. Maryland run defense. For the second straight week, the Jackets are facing one of the best run defenses in the nation. Last week in a loss to BYU, they were held to a season-low 117 yards rushing. Can they improve on that mark against the No. 4 run defense in the nation? Five times this season, the Terps have held their opponent to under 100 yards rushing, including back-to-back games. For Maryland to stand a chance, its defense is going to have to play a near-flawless game.
9. Can Clemson keep rolling? The Tigers were virtually unstoppable in a 42-13 win over Wake Forest last week, as Tajh Boyd threw for a school-record 428 yards, and Sammy Watkins set a school record with 202 yards receiving. Though Duke has made strides in the secondary, the Blue Devils are going to have to find a way to slow down Boyd, Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins to keep their Coastal Division hopes alive.
10. Record watch. Duke receiver Conner Vernon needs 82 yards to pass former Florida State standout Peter Warrick and become the leading receiver in ACC history. Warrick's mark stands at 3,517 yards. With one catch this week, Vernon will tie the ACC record for consecutive games with at least one reception, matching the mark of 45 held by Corey Holliday of North Carolina.