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Va Tech has work cut out as it turns to ACC play

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Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer sounds the same refrain every year when the Hokies lose a game that knocks them out of the national championship picture: They still have the ACC championship to chase.

It's a reminder not only to his players, but to fans who tend to react harshly to unfamiliar failure, calling for assistant coaches to be fired, the run-first offense to be brought into the 21st century and other panic-driven measures.

Most years, though, the Hokies are not only ACC title contenders, but also the favorites.

Not this year, even if the preseason polls said they should be.

Virginia Tech (3-2, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) has struggled offensively and defensively, lost twice to Big East teams and, with a rigorous slate of Atlantic Coast Conference games the rest of the way, a sixth divisional title in eight years might be tough to get.

Virginia Tech plays at improving North Carolina (3-2, 0-1) on Saturday in Chapel Hill. N.C. It's the start of a gauntlet that eventually includes meetings with No. 3 Florida State, No. 15 Clemson and Miami.

''Well, the facts are this: We're one up in ACC play,'' Beamer said Tuesday, noting the Hokies season-opening victory against Coastal Division rival Georgia Tech, then expected to be its top divisional challenger. ''I guess a couple people are tied with us, but we're gonna end up playing them, so we control that part of it.''

Miami is a surprising 3-0 in league play, and equally surprising Duke is 1-0.

''I think the other part of it is every area has been good at some point in time,'' Beamer said, citing games where each unit has played well. ''Now we just got to put it together for four quarters and play as a football team in that fashion. That's what we're really working at this week and it's gonna take that.''

The Tar Heels have rebounded from early season losses to Wake Forest and No. 19 Louisville by beating East Carolina and last week setting a school scoring record in a 66-0 victory against Idaho.

Quarterback Bryn Renner expects to see a different Hokies team than the one that was manhandled 35-17 at Pittsburgh, or the one that lost 27-24 last week to Cincinnati on a 39-yard touchdown pass in the closing seconds.

''Coming off a tough loss like they lost, we know how it is on the opposite end,'' Renner, a junior, said. ''You're one play away from winning a game and you've got to kind of regroup and it makes you hungry to get back on the field. ... They're a great, great team and we're really looking forward to the challenge.''

It figures to be plenty steep for the Hokies, too.

Renner is throwing for more than 284 yards per game and has 14 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. The Tar Heels' victories have come by an average of more than 49 points, and their defense hasn't given up a touchdown in 10 quarters and ranks 16th nationally, allowing just 296 yards per game.

The Hokies, however, figure this is their time to get it all together. They have represented the Coastal Division in three of the last four ACC championships, and promise to be ready on Saturday.

''Before practice, we always break it down how many ACC championship games we've won, how many titles we won, so that right there is a big factor into why I think we turn it up come ACC play,'' wide receiver Marcus Davis said. ''I really don't know why we do some of the things we do in nonconference games, but those are in the past. Those are over, so we're just looking forward to the ACC games now.''

Beamer, in his 26th season, has looked weary in recent weeks, the losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati taking their toll. On Tuesday, though, he looked invigorated, as if the season was finally beginning.

''At the start of the year, I thought we could be a good football team, but we weren't that right then,'' he said. ''I feel the same way right now. I do think we can be a good football team. I think the team really cares. They're extremely hurt, disappointed after the (Cincinnati) game, but we did some things better in this game, so the message is keep working. We've got some critical ACC games coming up.''

---

Follow Hank Kurz Jr. on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr

--- AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary contributed from Chapel Hill. N.C.

Tagged: Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Bryn Renner

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