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Thursday, November 15, 2012
What to watch in the ACC: Week 12

By Andrea Adelson

Here are the top storylines to watch in the ACC heading into Week 12.

1. Can Virginia keep up its momentum? Week 12 begins tonight when the Hoos host Coastal Division rival North Carolina in the 117th meeting between the schools. After losing six in a row this season, Virginia has won two straight. Why? First, more production out of the offense. UVa has 928 total yards over the past two games with 10 offensive touchdowns. Second, the Hoos are doing much better taking care of the football. For the first time all season, they have gone consecutive games without losing the turnover battle. North Carolina has won two straight in the series. But the last time ESPN came to Charlottesville for a Thursday night game was back in 2006. The opponent? North Carolina. Virginia won 23-0.

2. Duke faces big test. Folks, the biggest ACC game this weekend is in Atlanta, where Duke has a chance to take control of the Coastal Division against Georgia Tech. If the Blue Devils win out, they go to the ACC championship game. The last time the stakes were this high? Back in 1989, when Duke beat NC State and North Carolina to close out the season and win a share of the league title. That was the Blue Devils' final season under Steve Spurrier.

Duke's David Cutcliffe
Duke and coach David Cutcliffe control their own destiny in the ACC's Coastal Division.
3. Georgia Tech is hot. The Jackets have a shot at the Coastal Division with a victory, making this game a virtual must-win for both teams. Georgia Tech has won three of its past four games to get itself in position to compete for the division after being written off. At the very least, Georgia Tech has assured itself an 18th straight non-losing season in conference play -- the longest active streak in FBS. A win also would make the Jackets bowl-eligible for the 16th straight year -- the nation’s fourth-longest streak.

4. Meanwhile, in the Atlantic ... Ho hum, no drama on the other side of the division race, where Florida State gets into the championship game with a win over severely depleted Maryland. Though the Terps have lost four straight, there is no such thing as a "slam-dunk Florida State road win." The Noles have survived a scare in each of their away games this season. The latest happened in Blacksburg last Thursday night, when EJ Manuel threw his first career game-winning touchdown pass on the team's final possession.

5. Can NC State slow down Clemson? After scoring 45 points against Maryland last week, Clemson became the only team in ACC history to score 37 or more points in nine consecutive games. Clemson has averaged 44.8 points a game during the streak. Florida State opened the 1995 season with seven straight games of 42 or more points and averaged 56.1 points per game during that span.

6. Can the Hokies win their first road game? The ACC has three of the four longest active bowl streaks in the nation with Florida State (31), Virginia Tech (19) and Georgia Tech (15). But the Hokies and Jackets are not bowl-eligible just yet. The last time Virginia Tech missed a bowl was in 1992, when most -- if not all -- of the team's freshman class was not born yet. The Hokies travel to Boston College hoping for better road results. Virginia Tech is 0-5 away from home this year.

7. Duke Johnson, encore? Johnson had the best day for a freshman in ACC history last week, with 368 all-purpose yards against Virginia. The previous mark of 345 yards was set by Sammy Watkins last year. So what will Johnson do against a USF defense that has been inconsistent for the entire season? Miami clinches bowl eligibility with a victory.

8. Hello again, Notre Dame. For the second straight week, an ACC team gets a chance to knock off the No. 3 Irish. This time, the task falls to Wake Forest, which played the Irish close in a loss last year. The last time the Deacs beat a team with zero or one loss in November was back on Nov. 4, 2006, in a 21-14 win over Boston College. Wake Forest was ranked at the time and ended up in the ACC title game. But before that win, the last time the Deacs accomplished that feat was in 1967 with a 31-24 victory over Tulsa, which came into the game 5-1.

9. More special teams? For the first time in league history, the ACC had three kickoff returns of 90 yards or more on the same day last Saturday. Georgia Tech's Jamal Golden returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against North Carolina; NC State’s Tobais Palmer also returned one 100 yards against Wake Forest; and Miami’s Duke Johnson ran a kickoff back 95 yards for a score against Virginia. The previous high of two returns was 11 years to the day -- Nov. 10, 2001 -- when Clemson’s Derrick Hamilton (against Maryland) and Virginia’s Tavon Mason (against Georgia Tech) each had 100-yard kickoff returns for scores.

10. Third downs at Clemson. When the Tigers have the ball against NC State on third down, it will be a battle of team strengths. Clemson is third in the nation in converting on third down at 53.21 percent (83-156), while NC State is third in the nation on defense when it comes to third down, allowing opponents to convert just 25.33 percent (38-150) of the time.