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Wednesday, November 23, 2011
What to watch in the ACC: Week 13

By Heather Dinich

This is it. Enjoy every minute of it, because it’s the final week of the regular season and it’s going to be a long, long time before these rivalry games come along again. There’s plenty to keep an eye on this weekend, but here are 10 things worth watching:

1. The scoreboard against the SEC. The ACC has not had a winning record against the SEC since 2003. It’s off to a 1-0 start with Clemson’s victory over Auburn, but No. 12 South Carolina and No. 13 Georgia are both ranked higher than the ACC rivals they face Saturday, Vanderbilt will be playing for bowl eligibility against Wake Forest, and Florida, well, the Noles look like the better team in that matchup. Can the ACC finally turn the tables on the SEC?

2. The magic seven. NC State needs to beat Maryland in order to become bowl-eligible. Can the Wolfpack avoid a letdown after knocking off then-No. 7-ranked Clemson? The Atlantic Division was on the line last year when NC State lost at Maryland, and coach Tom O’Brien is 1-3 against the Terps. NC State has only had back-to-back victories once this season. Can the Wolfpack do it again when it matters most?

3. Turnovers for Clemson. The Tigers now have 11 turnovers in the past three games after having just eight in the first eight games. Clemson is 1-2 in those games, and the Tigers can’t afford to continue that trend against a South Carolina defense that is tied for No. 6 in the country in turnovers gained with 29.

4. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. Coach Chad Morris said this week that the Tigers needed a spark. Could Watkins’ return to the lineup be it? Watkins said Tuesday that he thinks he will be close to 100 percent by game time, and that the late kickoff should give him even a little more time to heal. While Watkins’ absence last week didn’t entirely explain the Tigers’ meltdown, it did play a role in the second half when Clemson was trying to come from behind and didn’t have him as a vertical threat.

Luke Kuechly
BC linebacker Luke Kuechly needs six tackles Friday to set an NCAA record for tackles per game.
5. Florida State’s offense.There have been too many missed blocks in the past two weeks, both by linemen and running backs, and the passing game has gotten out of sync. FSU has just two offensive touchdowns in the past two games. In the victory over Miami, FSU’s best offense was a punt return for a touchdown and three field goals. In the loss to UVa, FSU was just 3-of-13 on third downs. Florida ranks fourth in the nation in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 29.14 percent of the time, the best number that UF has posted since the 2001 season (26.7 percent).

6. BC linebacker Luke Kuechly. Kuechly, who is averaging 16.55 tackles a game, needs only 6 against Miami to set the NCAA’s record for stops per game in a season. He had  14 tackles in Saturday’s 16-14 loss at Notre Dame and now has an ACC-record total of 523 in his career. That is the third-highest on record with the NCAA, which began tracking the statistic in 2000. Kuechly is 22 stops from tying the NCAA record, held by Tim McGarigle of Northwestern (2002-05).  This is his last game of the season, but it could also be the last in a BC uniform if he leaves early for the NFL.

7. Georgia Tech’s defense. Six Georgia receivers have more than 200 yards receiving, and four have at least 29 catches. Georgia has also had four different 100-yard rushers this season. This is going to be a big test for Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh, whose defense has been average this season and is allowing 359.5 yards per game.

8. The No. 2s. Georgia Tech ranks No. 2 nationally in rushing offense (323.6), while Georgia ranks No. 2 nationally in rushing defense (81.3). Something’s gotta give.

9. First downs in Charlottesville. UVa has averaged 21.2 first downs per game, which ranks No. 3 in the ACC behind Clemson (23.1) and Virginia Tech (22.3). UVa’s opponents are averaging only 16.5 first downs a game, which ranks as the third-fewest in the ACC and No. 14 nationally. Of Kris Burd’s 53 receptions on the season, 36 have resulted in a first down. That is a rate of 67.9 percent. Clifton Richardson has seven rushes on third down and all seven have resulted in a first down.

10. Virginia Tech’s pressure on quarterback Michael Rocco. The Hokies are averaging three sacks per game, which ranks tied for eighth nationally. UVa’s offensive line has played well this season, and is tied for 16th in the country with one sack allowed per game. Last week against FSU marked the 11th consecutive game that Virginia had the same five starters in the offensive line. UVa hasn’t gone through an entire season with the same starting lineup on the offensive line since 2004.