Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
There are plenty of things worth keeping an eye on this week in the ACC. Here are a few of them:
1. Injured quarterbacks. Wake Forest’s Riley Skinner is listed as day-to-day for the Georgia Tech game with a mild concussion, and FSU’s Christian Ponder is expected to play through the pain of bruised ribs at Clemson. Whether or not Ponder’s pain will be noticeable will have an effect on the outcome of the game, and Wake’s chances of beating Georgia Tech increase significantly if Skinner is in the game. Their health, though, is the first priority, and right now neither is 100 percent.
2. Teams of destiny. Georgia Tech, Duke and Clemson each control their own fate if they win out, and while Georgia Tech is favored heavily to beat Wake Forest, the other two games are less convincing. If Duke pulls off the win at rival UNC, it sets up a showdown next week against the Yellow Jackets in the Coastal Division. And right now, the Atlantic Division is the Tigers’ to lose, but FSU has momentum -- and Ponder -- on its side. If there’s going to be a shakeup again in the conference standings, it starts this week in Death Valley and Chapel Hill.
3. Final bowl chances. For NC State and Maryland, who happen to be playing each other on Saturday in Raleigh, this is it. Both of them have to win out in order to become bowl eligible, but somebody’s gotta lose. The Terps (2-6) need four more wins, as does the Pack (3-5), which needs seven wins for bowl eligibility because it scheduled two FCS schools. Whoever comes out on top keeps their bowl chances alive for at least one more week. Right now, they’re on life support.
4. Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel. He is tied for the national lead in interceptions with seven in eight games. He also leads Clemson in tackles and is trying to become the first Tiger to lead the team in both categories in the same year since 1982 when College Football Hall of Famer Terry Kinard accomplished the feat. McDaniel will be a great matchup for Ponder, who averages an ACC-best 306.6 passing yards per game.
5. Duke’s Killer V’s. Sophomore Donovan Varner and freshman Conner Vernon, former high school teammates at Gulliver prep in Miami, have been instrumental in Duke’s three-game winning streak. Over the past three games, Varner has caught 22 passes for 387 yards and one touchdown while Vernon has 22 receptions for 291 yards and two scores. On the season, Varner has a team-best 42 receptions for 660 yards and five touchdowns while Vernon has set a new Duke freshman record with 38 receptions for 562 yards and three touchdowns.
6. Virginia Tech’s time of possession. Part of the Hokies’ problem over the past two losses was that they couldn’t sustain drives and their defense was on the field for too long. In the past two games, opponents have run 141 plays to the Hokies’ 101 while controlling the clock for 74:36 to the Hokies’ 45:24, a difference of 29:12. Can Virginia Tech stop that trend against East Carolina?
7. Virginia’s pass defense vs. Jacory Harris. The Cavaliers’ defense hasn’t been their problem this year. They’ve allowed just four passing touchdowns all season, including one to Duke last week, and the Blue Devils entered the game with 18. Only Air Force, Penn State and Nebraska have allowed fewer (three). Miami is averaging two touchdown passes per game and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has kept things entertaining with throwing downfield whenever the mood strikes him.
8. Third downs in Atlanta. Both Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are two of the ACC’s best teams when it comes to converting third downs. The Jackets lead the ACC with 54.2 percent and the Deacs are third with 45.3 percent. It’s no coincidence then, that Georgia Tech and Wake Forest rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the conference in time of possession. Both defenses have struggled this year, so the one that’s on the field the longest will have the uphill battle.
9. Records in Death Valley. C.J. Spiller needs one reception to become Clemson’s career leader in receptions by a running back, and he needs one kickoff return for a touchdown to set an all-time NCAA record. Kyle Parker needs one touchdown pass to break Charlie Whitehurst’s record for touchdown passes by a Clemson freshman in a season. He also needs just 132 yards passing to break Whitehurst’s freshman passing yardage record. He can also break the school record for starting wins by a freshman quarterback.
10. Ryan Williams’ rebound. Williams was so devastated by his costly fourth-quarter fumble in last week’s nationally televised Thursday night loss to North Carolina that he didn’t go to classes on Friday. How he responds against East Carolina in another nationally televised Thursday night game will be critical.