NCF Nation: Kevin Alexander
CLEMSON, S.C. -- The tailgating is in full swing here in Death Valley, and it’s a beautiful evening for it -- finally. It has rained at some point during each of the first five Clemson home games this year. If the game lives up to the pregame excitement and buzz, it should be a great one. The Atlantic Division standings are on the line, and it’s Clemson’s division to lose. FSU has some momentum, though, and can still sneak in. The Noles will move into second place with a win.
Here are three keys to this game:
1. Pressure on Ponder. This is the biggest key. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder has been one of the top performers in the country in recent weeks, but only he knows how much pain he’s truly in from the bruised ribs he suffered in last week’s win over NC State. Clemson’s defensive line is one of its deepest units and biggest strengths. Their backup defensive ends are good enough to start for some other ACC teams. Guys like Kevin Alexander, Malliciah Goodman and Andre Branch are still going to bring the heat. Clemson leads the ACC in sacks.
2. Turnovers and penalties. These could be the X factor. Clemson is the least penalized team in the ACC. Florida State is the worst. All Florida State needs in this kind of game is a little bit of help from a fumble or an interception. Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker has shown marked improvement over the past couple of weeks, but he’s also got eight interceptions and 10 touchdowns this year. FSU has a plus-four turnover margin, but Clemson is one of the best teams in the country when it comes to interceptions with 15.
3. Will FSU’s defense show up? It was an emotional week with the announcement of Mickey Andrews’ retirement, so you’d think the Seminoles would be driven to play for him in one of their most critical games of the season. You don’t morph from one of the country’s worst defenses, though, into one of the best in a matter of four quarters. What the Noles need to do is stay fundamentally sound, make their tackles, stay away from penalties, and limit the big plays from Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There are some teams in the ACC that are stacked at a particular position or positions -- meaning there's not just depth there, but depth and legitimate all-conference talent. Here's a quick look at who in the conference is simply loaded:
UNC front seven: All four starters return on the defensive line, and there is outstanding depth both there and in the secondary. On the line, tackle Cam Thompson is coming off his best season at UNC, tackle Marvin Austin and end E.J. Wilson both started the majority of games last season, and Robert Quinn had 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant both started every game last season, and the position is the deepest it's been in recent years. Carter led the team with 11 tackles for loss and Sturdivant led the nation with 87 solo tackles.
Georgia Tech secondary: Morgan Burnett, Rashaad Reid, Mario Butler, Dominique Reese, and Cooper Taylor all have experience, and the group also welcomes back Jerrard Tarrant from a suspension.
Boston College secondary: The Eagles return DeLeon Gause, Wes Davis and Roderick Rollins, who have combined for 32 career starts. This should be the best group BC has had in a while.
Clemson defensive line: The Tigers return three starters across the front, and coach Dabo Swinney has said this unit could be the strength of the entire team. Ricky Sapp is the leader, senior Kevin Alexander is a returning starter, and there are really three starters returning for the two defensive end positions, including DaQuan Bowers, who started six games last year and finished with 47 tackles, the most among the linemen.
Miami wide receivers: Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson, Thearon Collier, LaRon Byrd, Kendal Thompkins, Tommy Streeter ... the Hurricanes could field a team that consists entirely of receivers.
Florida State offensive line: The Noles are oozing with talent here. Tackle Andrew Datko, guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon combined to start all but one game last season. What was the youngest offensive line in the FBS last season could be one of the best this year. For the first time since 2004, all five starters return.
Wake Forest offensive line: The Demon Deacons return eight offensive linemen with a total of 118 career starts among them. Jeff Griffin and Joe Birdsong are Wake's returning starters at tackle while Barrett McMillin and Joe Looney each started at guard in 2008. Russell Nenon, who started the season at guard, moved to center at midseason following an injury to Trey Bailey. Bailey returns after fully healing from a broken ankle. The Deacons also welcome back Chris DeGeare who missed the 2008 season while getting his academics in order.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
They're dwindling, but they're not gone yet ...
Butch Davis was right, and everyone else was wrong. That's not necessarily a good thing, considering the way his scholarship equation was finally balanced: One troubled teen was released from his letter of intent, four players were dismissed from the team, and a few recruits are likely heading to prep school.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is scheduled to face his former team, Georgia Southern, in 2015.
Clemson's defense is going to be good -- dare I say very good -- but there are a few issues the Tigers still have to work out. Like making the transition from a base nickel package to three linebackers, and figuring out whether moving defensive end Kevin Alexander will help.
What goes around comes around, all the way from College Park to Berkeley. The Golden Bears had to play a football game at 9 a.m. their time when they visited Maryland last year. This fall, the Terps will be kicking off in California at 10 p.m. their time.
Virginia Tech lured both of the Peak brothers in their latest recruiting classes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
In a word, quarterbacks. They're the plotline of the week. Check it out:
1. Virginia Tech's quarterbacks: The staff has kept this under wraps all week, and neither Tyrod Taylor nor Sean Glennon were available for interviews. With the offensive line's pass protection still struggling (they've allowed six sacks so far), will Taylor get more snaps than Glennon again?
2. NC State QB Russell Wilson: How Wilson responds in his first game back since suffering a concussion will go a long way in determining how long the Pack can hang with Clemson. Wilson threw just five passes against South Carolina, so this will be like his season opener again, only in Death Valley.
3. Virginia QB Marc Verica: He's never thrown a pass in a college game before, but will start on the road against Connecticut in place of Peter Lalich. He played one series against USC, but is said to be the most athletic of the Cavaliers' three quarterbacks.
4. Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers: The standout freshman has impressed Tommy Bowden enough to earn his first career start and will bring some pressure on Wilson. He's the only one on the team who has recorded a sack.
5. Duke WR Eron Riley: He's listed as probable with a "leg" injury, but he will need to be 100 percent if the Blue Devils are going to have a chance against Navy. His connection with quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is how the Blue Devils "almost won" this game a year ago.
6. Florida State's offensive line: This is the last chance for Rick Trickett to figure out who goes where before Wake Forest rolls into town, and he hasn't been entirely pleased so far. An injury to backup center A.J. Ganguzza has forced right guard Will Furlong to practice as a second center.
7. Former track stars in College Park: Cal's Jahvid Best and Maryland's Da'Rel Scott should provide some highlight-worthy runs. Both rank in the top seven nationally in rushing yardage. Scott has had two straight 100-yard rushing performances and Best had two runs of at least 80 yards against Washington State.
8. Tough tacklers in Death Valley: Clemson safety Michael Hamlin and NC State linebacker Nate Irving are tied for the conference lead in tackles with 11.5 per game. Hamlin had a career-high three interceptions against The Citadel and Irving had 13 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery against William & Mary.
9. Clemson's do-it-all Jacoby Ford: Tommy Bowden said Ford had his best week of practice catching the ball and wants to be known as a receiver as much as he is as a returner and a runner. The staff wants to get the ball in his hands this week.
10. Georgia Tech's defensive scheme: Enough about the offense. Check out what the Yellow Jackets are doing under first-year coordinator Dave Wommack and how he has tweaked the scheme. It allows the front four a little more freedom. And those guys are very good.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Caulton Tudor says this is the time for Butch Davis to shine. The Tar Heels lost this game two seasons ago, but a win tonight could "turn UNC's fortunes around." This game will be about more than just football, though.
- Elsewhere in the state of North Carolina, Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson said he's ready to make his comeback against the Clemson Tigers.
- It looks like Da'Quan Bowers has earned the starting nod for this game, and Kevin Alexander has moved to the "bandit end" position to replace injured starter Ricky Sapp. All of that can be found at the end of this story about Durrell Barry. Clemson is expected to use three redshirt freshmen offensive linemen on Saturday.
- What's up with suspended Florida State defensive lineman Budd Thacker? Something, but Bobby Bowden won't tell. If he's back for Wake Forest, it will definitely help the Noles.
- Georgia Tech is still working on learning the triple option, but once they figure it out, look out.
- In case you missed it last night, Peter Lalich will not play against Connecticut. Two thoughts on this -- well, OK, three: 1. Good move. 2. Should've done it last week. 3. I love the line in this story "seldom used" to describe Marc Verica, whose bio in the media guide reads: 2007 -- Did not appear in any games. 2006 -- Redshirted. Yeah, I'd say that's seldom.
- I watched the Miami/Florida game last weekend on a TV. Apparently most of you did, too.
- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has left his spot in the tower and is getting in a few faces at practice this week. And Bryan Stinespring is" challenging their manhood." Where is highly touted RB Ryan Williams? It looks like he might steal Tyrod Taylor's redshirt.
- It looks like leather lungs will be starring in the next Under Armour commercial for the Terps.