- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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The most important and most obvious thing to watch this week is the ACC standings, where somebody will be eliminated. It’s a big weekend in the ACC, with plenty to watch:
Florida State’s defensive line vs. Maryland’s offensive line: Florida State leads the nation with 39 quarterback sacks, an average of 3.9 per game. The Noles have 77 tackles for loss -- for minus 323 yards -- through 10 games. FSU’s 7.70 tackles for loss per game ranks seventh nationally. Maryland has finally found some consistency on its offensive line, which has had the same starting lineup the past four games. Injuries caused some shuffling earlier in the season, but their protection of redshirt freshman Danny O’Brien will be key.
Turnovers in College Park: Maryland is 6-2 when winning the turnover battle this year, and is No. 3 in the country in turnover margin. Florida State’s three primary ball-carriers have not lost a fumble since Nov. 7, 2009, when Chris Thompson lost one at Clemson -- a span of 12 games. Somebody is going to be forced into an uncharacteristic mistake.
Miami’s running game against Bud Foster’s defense: Statistically, Virginia Tech’s run defense has been better, but the Canes have excelled up front in two straight wins with more than 200 yards rushing in each game. The Hokies’ D has started off slow this year, and is allowing 155 rushing yards per game.
Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson. He is one touchdown reception away from setting the school record, which was set by Michael Irvin in 1986. Hankerson is currently tied with Irvin at 11. He is the only ACC player -- and one of just nine players nationally -- with 11 or more receiving touchdowns.
Rookie quarterbacks. It’s possible Florida State backup E.J. Manuel could see some playing time on Saturday at Maryland. Against Virginia Tech, Miami backup Stephen Morris will be making his third career start. For Morris, a win over the Coastal Division leader would be the biggest statement he could make to permanently replace injured starter Jacory Harris.
Clemson in the red zone. The Tigers have scored touchdowns in just three of their past 14 red-zone trips. Clemson was 0-for-4 in touchdowns once inside the 20-yard line at Florida State, and came away with just six points, missing two field goals and throwing an interception. Clemson should have the edge over Wake Forest, but the Tigers have yet to win on the road this season and that’s a big reason why.
The Nagurski finalists. Two of the five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy are in the ACC -- Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers and BC’s Luke Kuechly. Both should be considered frontrunners for the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year race. The award is given to the best defensive player in the country, and will be presented by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on Dec. 6.
Bowl seekers. Clemson, Georgia Tech and Boston College are all playing for bowl eligibility this weekend, and chances to reach six wins are running out. All should be favored in their respective games, but Clemson and Georgia Tech will have a particularly difficult time reaching the postseason if they don’t do it this weekend. Both face their SEC rivals in the final week of the regular season.
Duke’s defense vs. Georgia Tech’s option offense. The Blue Devils have already had success defending it in a win over Navy, and with all due respect, Tevin Washington is not Ricky Dobbs -- not yet, anyway. The Middies entered the Duke game ranked ninth nationally in rushing offense with 274.4 yards per game, but the Blue Devils held the Midshipmen to 148 yards on the ground -- 126.4 below their season average. The Blue Devils limited Navy to 41 rushing yards on 19 carries in the first half while building a 24-0 lead. The Midshipmen had just 67 yards of total offense in the first half. Duke linebacker Kelby Brown and safety Matt Daniels will be the key to stopping the Georgia Tech option.
Quarterbacks in Chapel Hill. It’s senior day in Kenan Stadium, and UNC quarterback T.J. Yates would love nothing more than to go out with a win over rival NC State. In order for that to happen, he can’t afford to throw four interceptions like he did last weekend against Virginia Tech. It could also be NC State quarterback Russell Wilson’s final game against the Tar Heels, as he hasn’t decided yet if he’s going to return for his final year of eligibility or join the Colorado Rockies. The Pack has the Atlantic Division title on the line.