- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Backup quarterbacks have taken center stage for several Atlantic Coast Conference programs, and many have their team’s postseason fortunes in their hands.

Redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien leads Maryland into an Atlantic Division showdown with Florida State on Saturday. O'Brien has led the Terrapins’ resurgence since replacing injured starter Jamarr Robinson earlier this season.

One year after Maryland finished 2-10, O'Brien has Maryland in the thick of the Atlantic Division race. The Terps (7-3, 4-2) are battling the Seminoles (5-2) and North Carolina State (4-2) _ and they have O'Brien to thank. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and had one interception in his last four games.

“Just seeing his demeanor, I think he helps the huddle and helps the coaches,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “He’s kind of a cool guy. ‘Yeah coach, I got it, no problem.’ Or ‘That one’s on me.’ He’ll come up with some thoughts. He came up with a pretty good thought in the game against Virginia, and we changed some things around. He’s growing at a very rapid rate right now.”

Count Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher among the admirers of O'Brien’s work.

“He’s a very good player,” said Fisher, who has also turned to his backup this season.

E.J. Manuel, subbing for the injured Christian Ponder, led the Seminoles past Clemson last week. Ponder returns this week, but if he re-injures his elbow, Florida State knows Manuel will be ready. The sophomore has started five times in his career, and Florida state is 4-1 in those games.

Also Saturday, No. 24 Miami will host No. 14 Virginia Tech, and the Hurricanes will start freshman Stephen Morris for the third consecutive week. Starter Jacory Harris hasn’t played since he suffered a concussion at Virginia, but Morris has been impressive in his place.

Morris nearly led the Hurricanes back from a 24-0 fourth-quarter deficit at Virginia, but came up short as the Cavaliers hung on for a 24-19 win. But he has led Miami past Maryland and Georgia Tech since.

The Yellow Jackets have also had to turn to a backup, Tevin Washington. The sophomore was pressed into action after starter Joshua Nesbitt broke his forearm in a Thursday night loss at Virginia Tech. Nesbitt is the ACC’s all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks.

In the loss at Miami, which was Washington’s first career start, he ran for 122 yards and threw for 101 yards and a touchdown.

Morris has had a little more success at Miami, even though he wasn’t even coach Randy Shannon’s first option when Harris was injured. Shannon turned to Spencer Whipple, the son of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, but pulled him after two interceptions.

Morris’ play highlights the importance of having a good backup, Shannon said.

“Backup quarterback and center. They’re key to your success,” he said. “Centers don’t get many snaps with the backup quarterback and the backup quarterback doesn’t get as many reps as the No. 1 quarterback. It’s difficult. It’s tough. But that’s how it is.”

Tougher still, Hokies coach Frank Beamer said, is finding time to get a backup quarterback who could become critical to the season meaningful playing time in advance.

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