The Washington Times - October 9, 2008, 08:39AM

It’s the season’s midpoint, and the only ACC team I’ve had pegged perfectly since the start of the season is Florida State.

The Seminoles, by the way, played two teams from the former Division I-AA and met a team coming two-thirds of the way across the country, so they haven’t been the toughest team to figure.

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Hopefully a few teams become a little easier to figure out. Topping that list is Maryland, for whom I’m 2-4 in trying to project this season.

Fortunately, the Terps are off this week, so there’s no way they can provide a blemish on the predictions record this time around.

Onto the picks, which start with a game a lot of folks in the league have looked forward to since the start of the season. (all games Saturday unless otherwise noted)

* Clemson at Wake Forest (Tonight, 7:30 p.m., ESPN): Demon Deacons 27-21. It would not help Wake Forest if kicker Sam Swank can’t play, but this has the look of a game that could easily be decided up front. The Demon Deacons might own the best defense in school history, while Clemson’s offensive line still hasn’t shown much (the first half of the Maryland game notwithstanding).

Wake’s big problems in a home loss to Navy two weeks ago were (a) turnovers and (b) defending the option. The first has to be fixed, and the second really isn’t an issue against the Tigers. Look for Wake to deal a knockout blow to the Tigers’ conference title hopes.

* East Carolina at Virginia (Noon, Raycom): Cavaliers 17-14. Virginia is not as bad as its 31-3 loss at Duke indicated, and it probably isn’t as good as its 31-0 rout of Maryland hinted.

But if the Cavaliers come out and do what is probably realistic – play better defense than their numbers indicate and play slightly better offense than their numbers say – then they can beat East Carolina.

That’s because the Pirates are the second straight schizophrenic team to visit Charlottesville. This team beat Virginia Tech and West Virginia, then lost to N.C. State and Houston. East Carolina is down its No. 2 receiver because of suspension as well.

So here’s a nod for Virginia, which usually plays demonstrably better at home than on the road (moreso than anyone else in the ACC). But no pick is going to change this from being a toss-up game.

* Gardner-Webb at Georgia Tech (3:30): Yellow Jackets 38-0. The fun really begins next week for Paul Johnson’s new team. But for now, Tech should get itself to 5-1 with a relatively easy victory.

* Notre Dame at North Carolina (3:30, ABC regional): Tar Heels 24-17. Welcome to the Fraud Bowl, a meeting of a pair of 4-1 teams a lot people would like to believe are actually as good as their records. North Carolina’s set of victories – Rutgers, Miami, Connecticut – seem to lose value each week, and the Tar Heels probably shouldn’t be ranked just yet.

Beating Notre Dame at home would not constitute a great victory, either. The Fighting Irish beat four .500 or worse teams in South Bend, and were walloped when they dared head to East Lansing last month to play Michigan State. The jury very much remains out on Charlie Weis‘ team as well.

Someone’s emerging from this game a victory away from bowl eligibility, which is nice for two teams that were so middling last year. But it’s hard to say whether either could be anointed as a truly good team just yet, even if they are 5-1.

* Central Florida at Miami (3:45, ESPNU): Hurricanes 24-10. Miami’s youth provides a great explanation as to why the Hurricanes can be so up-and-down, even within games. But it’s worth pointing out that Randy Shannon’s crew played well at Florida, nearly beat North Carolina on the game’s final play and overcame a brutal first half to put a scare into Florida State last week.

This is no longer the team that rolled over and lost 48-0 to Virginia last year. The Hurricanes have been competitive in all their losses, and it bodes well for the team to have a solid second half.

Miami still probably has a dumb (but close) loss in them at some point, along with a surprising (but close) victory. But a head-scratcher isn’t coming this week.

Last week’s record: 5-1 (3-1 conference games)
Season record: 36-14 (7-5 conference)
Preseason picks record: 34-16 (7-5 conference)
Preseason picks changed for this week: Notre Dame-North Carolina

Patrick Stevens