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What to watch in the ACC: Week 9

10/27/2011

North Carolina and Wake Forest are the only two teams in the ACC that can become bowl eligible this weekend, and they happen to be playing each other. So one thing to keep an eye on is the six-win mark in Chapel Hill. Beyond that, here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week, starting Thursday night when Miami hosts Virginia:

1. Turnovers at Miami. Miami’s past two opponents have both turned the ball over on their first touch. North Carolina fumbled a kickoff, and Georgia Tech started with an interception. UVa had four turnovers last weekend in the loss to NC State and is No. 107 in the country with 18 turnovers lost this season.

2. Special teams at Miami. In the loss to NC State, Virginia blocked a field goal attempt for the second game in a row and the third time this season. Miami defensive back JoJo Nicolas fell on a muffed punt in the end zone for a touchdown last week, highlighting a strong performance on special teams for the Canes against Georgia Tech. UVa is No. 13 in the country in kickoff return yardage defense, and Miami is No. 15.

3. BC’s bowl streak. The Eagles have already lost six games this season; a loss to Maryland would make them ineligible to compete in a bowl game for the first time since 1998. BC’s active streak of 12 consecutive bowl games is tied with Oklahoma as the seventh longest in college football and is the longest in school history, and its streak of non-losing seasons is the longest in the modern era of BC football.

4. Maryland’s quarterbacks. Coach Randy Edsall said his starter will be a game-time decision, as both Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown have been competing for the starting job this week. O’Brien played well at Florida State when he relieved the injured Brown, but Brown replaced O’Brien in the starting lineup for the Clemson game two weeks ago.

5. Clemson’s record books. With an average game on Saturday, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins could establish four freshman records, three at the ACC level and one school record. Watkins needs just five receptions, 35 receiving yards and one touchdown reception to become the ACC freshman record holder in all three areas. He also has 1,391 all-purpose yards and needs just 25 to break C.J. Spiller’s Clemson freshman all-purpose yards record for a season.

6. Long scoring drives in Atlanta. Clemson’s No. 76-ranked rushing defense could be conducive to Georgia Tech hanging on to the ball for some pretty long drives on Saturday. Over the past two weeks, Georgia Tech has produced touchdown drives consisting of 20 plays (last week at Miami) and 19 plays (at Virginia). For the season, the Yellow Jackets have five touchdown drives of 90 yards or longer and four touchdown drives that lasted at least 9 minutes, 15 seconds.

7. NC State CB David Amerson vs. FSU QB EJ Manuel. Florida State is ranked No. 115 in the nation in turnover margin, and NC State is ranked No. 7. Much of the Wolfpack’s success is a credit to Amerson, who leads the nation with eight interceptions. FSU is tied for No. 111 in the country in interceptions with 11.

8. UNC’s secondary against Wake Forest WR Chris Givens. One of the Tar Heels’ weaknesses this season has been their pass defense, which ranks No. 101 in the country and is allowing 263.38 yards per game. Givens is fourth in the FBS in receiving yards per game (126.57) and tied for fifth with eight TDs.

9. Tar Heels turnovers. North Carolina had six turnovers last weekend in the loss to Clemson, and ball security has obviously been stressed at practice this week. Did it work? Wake Forest is ranked No. 21 in the country in turnover margin. UNC is No. 103.

10. Hokies' D vs. the ‘Killer V's.’ The best thing Duke has had going for it is its passing game, thanks to the duo of Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner. They have combined for 334 receptions as teammates, the third-highest total by a duo in ACC history. Virginia Tech’s defense has been one of the best in the country, but the Hokies continue to rely on youth and inexperience because of injuries.