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Pictured: Miami Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman (right) celebrates a tackle. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
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7. Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt vs. Maryland’s Secondary
Last week, Hunt engineered a rout of Central Michigan with his legs, rushing for 92 yards and three touchdowns. This Saturday, he might want to loosen up his live right arm. Maryland just got bounced for 511 yards and four touchdown passes by West Virginia QB Clint Trickett. Hunt won’t air it out as often as the Mountaineers, but he’ll get a handful of downfield opportunities to incite an Orange passing attack averaging a mere 5.5 yards per attempt.
6. Virginia Tech’s O-line vs. Georgia Tech’s D-line
The Hokies struggled at the point of attack in last week’s loss to East Carolina. The Yellow Jackets were ineffective at generating pressure on Georgia Southern. The two units go head-to-head in this Saturday’s key Coastal Division showdown. For Virginia Tech to get back on track, it must run the ball better by creating more seams for precocious rookie backs Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie. And if Williams and McKenzie are gobbling up yards, QB Michael Brewer’s passing efficiency will climb.
5. Pitt RB James Conner vs. Iowa’s Front Seven
Conner’s toughest test of the year so far comes this weekend when the Hawkeyes soar into Heinz Field. It’s going to be a significant challenge as well for a Panther offensive line still adjusting to the season-ending injury to C Artie Rowell. Spearheaded up front by DE Drew Ott and the blue-collar tackle tandem of Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, Iowa is allowing just 2.2 yards per carry, and has yet to give up a rushing touchdown.
4. North Carolina’s DBs vs. East Carolina QB Shane Carden
Virginia Tech couldn’t stop Carden or his bevy of playmakers last Saturday. Carolina must buck the trend to stay unbeaten. The Tar Heel secondary was heroic in the 31-27 escape of San Diego State two weeks ago; CB Brian Walker and FS Tim Scott combined for three interceptions, including a 100-yard pick-six from Walker and a game-sealing takeaway from Scott with 14 seconds left. But Carden and receivers Justin Hardy and Cam Worthy will be an entirely different hurdle for the Heels.
3. Virginia’s Linebackers vs. BYU QB Taysom Hill
Three ranked teams in four weeks. Three terrific opposing quarterbacks, each with different styles. If nothing else, the Cavaliers are battle-tested as they hit the road for the first time in 2014. UVa has dominated on defense, especially from the second level, where Henry Coley, Max Valles and Daquan Romero roam from sideline-to-sideline. The trio is now being tasked with stalling Hill’s budding Heisman campaign. The quarterback, who plays with a linebacker’s mentality, has accounted for 10 touchdowns and over 1,000 total yards in three games.
2. Miami LBs Denzel Perryman and Thurston Armbrister vs. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah and QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.
He who runs the ball better in Lincoln on Saturday night will get out of Memorial Stadium with a statement win. The Huskers are justifiably worried about Duke Johnson and Joe Yearby. The Canes, meanwhile, have spent this week scheming to stop Abdullah and Armstrong. Nebraska’s backfield duo averages 7.8 yards per carry, while Abdullah can be lethal as a receiver as well. Perryman and Armbrister must contain Abdullah, yet never lose sight of Armstrong, an explosive orchestrator of the read-option.
1. Florida State’s O-Line vs. Clemson’s D-Line
There are countless compelling matchups whenever Florida State and Clemson share a stadium. None, though, will have a bigger impact on Saturday’s outcome than the one at the line of scrimmage when the Noles have the ball. The Seminoles’ O-line versus the Tigers’ D-line is a who’s who of future NFL draft picks, like FSU’s Cameron Erving and Tre’ Jackson and Clemson’s Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett. The Noles have got to spring RB Karlos Williams, while keeping the heat off QB Sean Maguire in his first career start.