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Monday, September 5, 2011
Back and forth in the ACC: Weeks 1/2

By Heather Dinich

Every week we’ll take a look back at the weekend’s games and fastforward to the week ahead. Here’s a recap and preview of Weeks 1 and 2 in the ACC:

EJ Manuel
EJ Manuel and Florida State took care of buisiness in their opener.
The good: Ranked teams roll. Kudos to No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 6 Florida State for taking care of business this past weekend and looking good in the process. There were probably some FSU fans out there who were looking for more of the kind of romp we saw in Blacksburg, but it was a great opportunity for coach Jimbo Fisher to get EJ Manuel some quality passes against a live rush and take a look at some of his younger players. At Virginia Tech, there was no hint of a letdown or ghosts of 2010 as the Hokies rolled against Appalachian State.

The bad: Losses to BCS conferences. Why, somebody asked me on Twitter, would I expect a 3-9 Wake Forest team to beat Syracuse on the road? Because this Wake Forest team, as Jim Grobe has said all offseason, is better than it was a year ago. Because Syracuse was 0-4 against FBS teams in the Dome last season, and because the Orange hasn’t had a winning season overall at home since 2004. Instead, the Deacs squandered a 15-point fourth-quarter lead and lost in overtime. Boston College, meanwhile, didn’t look all that different from a year ago and depended too heavily on its defense to win the game. Luke Kuechly tried to do it himself, but BC lost to a Northwestern team playing with its backup quarterback.

The ugly: Another loss to an FCS opponent. Sigh. Duke lost to Richmond. Again. For the third time in the past six seasons. And for the third straight year, the ACC has a loss to an FCS opponent on its record. Duke struggled inside the red zone, committed two turnovers, and lost to a team whose coach resigned on Aug. 23. Duke should have won this game, or at least should have been expected to.

The record-setter: North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner tied a school record with 14 straight completions in his debut, and set an ACC record for completion percentage in a single game when he completed 22 of 23 passes in the win against James Madison. It was a great start, and he certainly didn’t play like a rookie.

The replacement: Filling in for injured starter J.R. Sweezy, NC State defensive tackle Brian Slay put on quite a show. He had five tackles, including 1.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, and two fumble recoveries, including one that was returned 52 yards for a touchdown -- the school’s longest fumble return for a touchdown in 16 years and the first since 2007.

Top three games of Week 2

1. Virginia Tech at East Carolina: This will be the Hokies’ biggest challenge of the nonconference schedule, especially considering ECU was beating South Carolina 17-0 before the Gamecocks rallied to win 56-37. The Pirates defeated NC State last season, and they’ve knocked off the Hokies before. If Virginia Tech is going to trip up in the first four weeks, this would be the place.

2. Rutgers at North Carolina: The competition is raised a notch this week after the Tar Heels’ successful debut against James Madison. Both teams are coming off wins against lesser opponents, and this is a good chance for UNC to build upon its Week 1 success. Rutgers was picked by the media to finish last in the Big East’s preseason poll, but with 10 starters returning on offense, the Scarlet Knights could surprise some people this season.

3. NC State at Wake Forest: Wake Forest running back Josh Harris told me (@ESPN_ACC) on Twitter that the team shook off its heartbreaking loss to Syracuse and bounced right back with a good practice session on Saturday. We’ll be able to tell quickly if that loss will beat them twice. Liberty exposed some of NC State’s weaknesses, and the offense isn’t where it needs to be yet under quarterback Mike Glennon. Both Wake and NC State will need to show improvement this week, and whichever one does will gain an edge in the Atlantic Division standings.