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November 2, 2005

Road to Jacksonville clearing up

The road to Jacksonville will get a lot clearer this week. Florida State can assure itself of a spot in the ACC's first title game in the River City with a win against N.C. State. The winner of the showdown between No. 3 Virginia Tech and No. 5 Miami in Blackburg, Va., will be virtually guaranteed the other spot in the historic game.

Here's a breakdown of those two matchups and the other four games involving ACC teams:

No. 19 Boston College (6-2, 3-1 ACC) at North Carolina (3-4, 2-2)
Saturday, noon, Jefferson Pilot
The Daily Line: Boston College -4.5

Boston College players to watch: If you see linebacker Brian Toal in the game, expect a quick touchdown or a new set of downs. Toal, one of the few players in college football who plays on the both sides of the ball, is a short-yardage specialist. Make that a very effective short-yardage specialist. On 20 carries this season, he has nine first downs and six touchdowns. He is also third on the team in tackles (47).
North Carolina players to watch: The interior defensive linemen. Beating Boston College starts with slowing down its massive offensive line (averages 6-foot-6, 310 pounds) and that job falls on defensive tackles Shelton Bynum, Kyndraus Guy, Khalif Mitchell and Chase Page.
The inside scoop: This is a rematch of the 2004 Continental Tire Bowl where the Eagles scored 16 fourth-quarter points to come away with a 37-24 win in Charlotte in front of a sold-out crowd packed with UNC fans. The Eagles need a win to have a shot at going to a better bowl game after a 30-10 loss at Virginia Tech last week. The Tar Heels need a win to just to make it back to a bowl game after a 34-16 loss at Miami. The 'Heels don't have the front seven to neutralize the Eagles' O-line, so look for them to try to control the game offensively. Ronnie McGill and Barrington Edwards are bruising backs that can consistently grind out chunks of yardage. Each will get a solid amount of carries. With UNC's top cornerback Jacoby Watkins out for the season after breaking his right leg, look for the Eagles to make a big effort to get the ball in the hands of dangerous receiver Will Blackmon. If senior quarterback Quinton Porter struggles early on, don't be surprised if backup Matt Ryan replaces him.
Boston College will win if …Porter shows he can run the offense and the O-line plays to its potential.
North Carolina will win if … Edwards and McGill combine for at least 175 rushing yards.
Notes: Boston College leads the all-time series 2-1 …Blackmon has been responsible for 13 plays of 20 yards or more … UNC has the sixth-toughest schedule in the nation according to the Sagarin computer … UNC has a +3 turnover margin at home.
The pick: Boston College 30, North Carolina 14

Duke (1-8, 0-6) at Clemson (4-4, 2-4)
Saturday, 1 p.m.
The Daily Line: Clemson -31

Duke players to watch: The Blue Devils may have found a catalyst for their inept offense in Ronnie Drummer. The sophomore is averaging 8.3 yards per carry and has produced 11 plays of 20 yards or more.
Clemson players to watch: Will Charlie Whitehurst play? Clemson's three-year starting quarterback is questionable with a sore arm. If he can't get healthy enough by kickoff, junior Will Proctor will start in his place. The Tigers need Whitehurst to get back soon with Florida State coming to Death Valley next week followed by a road trip to arch-rival South Carolina.
The inside scoop: A lot of revenge is at stake in this matchup. The Blue Devils pulled off a shocking 16-13 upset of the Tigers in Durham, N.C., last year, thanks to a 53-yard field goal from Mark Brooks as time expired. But Duke has gotten much worse since that game. Their offense has been pathetic at times and Clemson, with or without Davis, should be able to move the ball at will. Expect the Tigers to roll to a rout and for running back Reggie Merriweather to have a huge game.
Duke will win if … The offense can start to generate some first downs and the defense puts together its best performance of the season.
Clemson will win if … Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst avoids injury for the first three quarters.
Notes:Whitehurst is sixth on the ACC's all-time passing list with 9,019 yards … The Blue Devils have intercepted nine passes in their last eight games … Clemson leads the all-time series 32-16-1
The pick: Clemson 37, Duke 10

Wake Forest (4-5, 3-3) at Georgia Tech (5-2, 3-2)
Saturday, 1:30
The Daily Line: Georgia Tech -8.5

Wake Forest player to watch: Junior safety Josh Gattis has emerged as one of the ACC's top players. He is tied for the league lead with five interceptions and leads the league with 11 special-teams tackles.
Georgia Tech player to watch: Eric Henderson's performance against Clemson will worry the rest of the offensive coordinators that face the Jackets. The senior defensive end, who has battled injuries for much of his career, looked like the dominating player of two years ago, making two sacks and forcing two fumbles.
The inside scoop: It's time to find out if Wake Forest has really improved. The Demon Deacons are riding their first two-game winning streak of the year, but the victories came against teams that occupy last place in each of the ACC's divisions, N.C. State (27-19) and Duke (44-6). Beating a solid Yellow Jackets team would command a new level of respect. Stopping P.J. Daniels will be the key. Daniels took over the last meeting, running for 175 yards and a touchdown in a 24-7 win in Winston-Salem, N.C. Daniels ran for 100 yards and another score against the Tigers. The Deacons will counter with one of the league's other top backs in Chris Barclay, who became the school's all-time leading rusher against the Blue Devils. Another intriguing aspect of this matchup will be how Wake coach Jim Grobe's complicated offense fairs against Jackets' defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's aggressive schemes.
Wake Forest will win if … It can protect quarterback Cory Randolph and get Barclay at least 25 touches.
Georgia Tech will win if … Star receiver Calvin Johnson has another big game and the defense doesn't allow long, clock-killing drives.
Notes:Georgia Tech leads the all-time series 19-7 … Barclay is eighth on the ACC's career rushing list with 3,903 yards … Henderson has 22 career sacks and 55 career tackles for loss.
The pick: Georgia Tech 23, Wake Forest 13

N.C. State (3-4, 1-4) at No. 9 Florida State (7-1, 5-1)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC
The Daily Line: Florida State -14

N.C. State player to watch: What will true freshman Andre Brown do for an encore performance? After racking up 248 rushing yards - three short of school record - in a 21-17 win over Southern Miss last week, it is worth finding out. Brown had just 13 carries going into that game, but he has earned a spot in the 'Pack's deep rotation of ball carriers and maybe a starting job.
Florida State player to watch: The Seminoles have found another playmaker. Senior Willie Reid had shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, nearly returning a handful of kicks for touchdowns. But last week in the Seminoles' 35-27 win over Maryland, he turned all that potential into production, catching seven passes for 90 yards - both career-highs - and racking up 227 all-purpose yards with a returned punt for a score.
The inside scoop: Florida State can lock up a coveted spot in the first ACC title game in Jacksonville with a win, but that isn't as likely as it might appear. The Wolfpack are certainly struggling, but no team in the ACC (not counting Miami who joined the league in 2004) has given the Seminoles more problems in the last four years. Each of the last four meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less and the 'Pack emerged with 34-28 and 17-7 wins in 2001 and 2002. Head coach Chuck Amato, a former FSU assistant, seems to know exactly how to prepare for his former coach, Bobby Bowden. But that advantage might not matter anymore. The 'Pack have been one of the nation's most undisciplined teams this season, racking up penalties and making poor decisions on the field. In Doak Campbell Stadium with 80,000-plus fans doing the warchant, there is little chance of that suddenly changing.
N.C. State will win if … Brown or one of the other talented young backs dominates.
Florida State will win if … The offense stays patient and takes advantage of blown assignments and pre-snap mistakes.
Notes: N.C. State's star defensive end Mario Williams has played great as of late, racking up seven sacks in his last two games … Florida State freshman Greg Carr leads the ACC with nine touchdown catches and 21.4 yards a catch … FSU senior running back Leon Washington will probably miss the game with a sprained ankle ... FSU leads the all-time series 10-3.
The pick: Florida State 34, N.C. State 13

Temple (0-9) at Virginia (4-3)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC
The Daily Line: -35

Temple player to watch: Defensive ends Christian Dunbar and Mike Mendenhall would start for a lot of Division I-A teams. Both are capable of making plays.
Virginia player to watch: Forget about Ahmad Brooks. The Cavaliers' best linebacker is Kai Parham. While Brooks has been injured for most of the season, Parham has held the defense together and started to finally get some of the attention he has always deserved.
The inside scoop: Is there a less intriguing game in any major conference this week? Virginia rolled to a 44-14 win at Temple last season, scoring 30 points in the first half. Expect a similar outcome this weekend. Miami (Ohio) crushed the Owls 41-14 last week and the independent program has lost by double-digits seven times. The Cavaliers should try to race out to a big lead so they can rest their starters for upcoming games against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami.
Temple will win if …Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans decides to give up football in the next 48 hours.
Virginia will win if …Half of the starters avoid getting suspended the night before the game.
Notes: Virginia leads the series 1-0 … This is the third consecutive game in Scott Stadium for the Cavaliers, who are 19-3 at home over the last four seasons … Virginia's Wali Lundy rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns against the Owls last season.
The pick: Virginia 51, Temple 14

No. 5 Miami (6-1, 3-1) at No. 3 Virginia Tech (8-0, 5-0)
Saturday, 7:45, ESPN
The Daily Line: Virginia Tech -6

Miami player to watch: Greg Olsen is the one player that can create big mismatch problems for the Hokies' great defense. The Hurricanes next great tight end shredded Florida State's D for eight catches for 137 yards. The 'Canes need a similar performance this weekend.
Virginia Tech player to watch: Tight end Jeff King won't be a first-round pick like Olsen, but he could be taken on the first day of the draft. The Hokies often rely on King, who also plays on the basketball team, on key third downs and in the red zone. He has 16 catches for 199 yards (12.4 yards per catch) and four touchdowns.
The inside scoop:Everybody expects a defensive war in this matchup, and it's hard imagine the game materializing into something else. The Hurricanes lead the nation in total defense, allowing 221 yards per game. The Hokies are second, giving up 231. The Hokies' 30-10 win over a then-No. 13 Boston College team in Blacksburg last week had to be a bit alarming for the 'Canes. The Hokies dominated most of the game and Vick had one of his best games ever, going 22-of-28 for 280 yards and a touchdown. To eventually jump Texas in the BCS standings, Vick and teammates may have to do the same against Miami. But, the Hokies could actually lose a close game and still remain in the hunt for an at-large BCS bid. The 'Canes must win to have any shot at the BCS. It's doubtful that their running back Tyrone Moss, who had nearly 200 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-16 comeback win over North Carolina last week, will be able to move the ball consistently. Quarterback Kyle Wright, who has shown flashes of greatness, must prove he can carry the offense and make big throws. The team that sustains long drives and can score a touchdown or two will win.
Miami will win if …Wright passes for more than 200 yards with less than two interceptions.
Virginia Tech will win if …They stick to their normal game plan. Beat the 'Canes with defense and special teams.
Notes:The Hokies have won seven of the last ten meetings ...Miami's Sinorice Moss is averaging 20 yards a catch ... The Hokies have won 16 consecutive regular-season games ...
The pick: Virginia Tech 23, Miami 17

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