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Sunday, October 28, 2012
What we learned in the ACC: Week 9

By Heather Dinich

Boston College won't go winless in the ACC. Maryland will have trouble getting to a bowl with a fourth-string quarterback. What else did we learn this week?

Here’s a look at five lessons learned from Week 9 in the ACC, in no particular order:

Giovani Bernard
Giovani Bernard (304 all-purpose yards vs. NC State) is giving Sammy Watkins a run for his money.
1. The ACC’s Player of the Year race just got more interesting. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins had a record-setting, breakout game in a win over Wake Forest, but North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard had a more impressive all-around performance in a victory over rival NC State. After missing three games because of suspensions and an illness, Watkins finally looked back in form Thursday night against a struggling Wake Forest defense. Bernard, though, looked like a legitimate Heisman candidate against the Wolfpack. He was that good.

2. NC State stepped aside in the Atlantic Division race. The Wolfpack put themselves front and center in the ACC race with their upset of Florida State on Oct. 6, but their loss to UNC on Saturday was a step back, as NC State now has two league losses while FSU and Clemson have only one each. Despite the loss to the Wolfpack, Florida State remains the team to beat in the Atlantic Division, and NC State’s loss Saturday further reinforced that. If NC State beats Clemson, though, and Florida State loses to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on a Thursday night, the Pack will be right back in it.

3. Georgia Tech’s problems go deeper than defense. Not only couldn’t the Jackets stop BYU in a 41-17 loss, they also couldn’t move the chains. Georgia Tech was 0-for-10 on third down and did not score an offensive touchdown for the first time since Dec. 31, 2008, against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Georgia Tech allowed 40-plus points for the fourth time this season, the fourth time in its past five games. The defense allowed 411 yards, as Georgia Tech now has its first losing record after eight games since 1994.

4. The gap between the Atlantic Division and Coastal Division this year is as wide as the FSU-Duke score indicated. Florida State pummeled Duke 48-7, but the difference is that heading into the game, Duke was the best team the Coastal Division had to offer. It’s still the only bowl-eligible team in the division (UNC has six wins but is banned from the postseason this year) and is leading the standings, but plenty of important games remain. There’s a reason the ACC’s only two ranked teams are in the Atlantic Division. The conference is top-heavy this year, but Saturday’s game in Tallahassee was a reminder as to just how much of a gap actually exists between the division leaders.

5. Florida State’s running game will survive without leading rusher Chris Thompson. When Thompson suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week’s 33-20 win at Miami, the running game became a question, but sophomores James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman rose to the occasion in Thompson’s place against Duke. Freeman finished with 105 yards rushing and scored on runs of 9 and 14 yards; Wilder had 70 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run. Since Thompson’s injury, Wilder and Freeman have averaged 6.8 yards per carry.