A look at five things to watch in the Atlantic Coast Conference during Week 8 of the season:
GAME OF THE WEEK: Duke at No. 16 Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils (5-2, 1-2) have a shot to become bowl eligible for the second straight season – something that has never happened at the school – after rallying from 22 down last week at Virginia. They’re going on the road to play the Coastal Division-leading Hokies (6-1, 3-0) for the second straight season. The Hokies haven’t lost since falling to No. 1 Alabama in the season opener. “We’re playing a team that sets the tone physically in the league,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
BEST MATCHUP: Pittsburgh at Navy. It takes a tough defense to slow down the Midshipmen’s triple-option offense and the Panthers have been solid against the run, giving up an average of just 136 yards on the ground. It will be up to Pitt DT Aaron Donald, who leads the nation in sacks (1.33 per game) and tackles for loss (2.08), to find his way into the Navy backfield.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: North Carolina’s maligned defense has the tough job of slowing the league’s top two rushers in consecutive weeks. The Tar Heels allowed Miami’s Duke Johnson to gain 83 yards on eight carries before leaving with an injury – when Dallas Crawford took his turn shredding them – and now they have to deal with Boston College’s Andre Williams. He leads the league and ranks fifth nationally, averaging 139.7 yards. North Carolina is the only ACC team that gives up more than 200 yards rushing per game.
LONG SHOT: Wake Forest could stick around against a Miami team that could have a few excuses for being distracted. The Hurricanes, three-touchdown favorites who finally learned their punishment from the NCAA earlier this week, could be tempted to look ahead to No. 3 Florida State and No. 19 Virginia Tech in the next two weeks. They gave up a season-worst 500 yards to a North Carolina team that may have exposed a few cracks. Wake Forest may have found its offensive rhythm after averaging 32 points in two wins against lesser ACC competition.
IMPACT PLAYER: North Carolina State quarterback Brandon Mitchell drew the unenviable task of playing at No. 3 Florida State for his return from a broken left foot suffered in the opener. Mitchell’s return should give N.C. State some added punch running first-year coach Dave Doeren’s no-huddle system that utilizes the quarterback in the running game. “I don’t think this stage will be too big for me,” Mitchell said. “Just have to play within myself and trust my teammates to make plays.”