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ACC tops in TDs, at least in the passing game

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CORAL GABLES, FLA. (AP) - Of the last 38 quarterbacks to hear their name called at the NFL Draft, none have hailed from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Texas A&M has had more than that.

Heck, West Texas A&M has had more than that.

Times are changing, it seems, in the ACC _ which may have more depth at quarterback than ever before, or at least since the advent of the 12-team league.

So far, the ACC leads the nation with 102 touchdown throws, and if that trend holds it'll mark the first time in this megaconference era that the league has set the pace when it comes to finding end zones through the air. The Big 12 has seen its quarterbacks throw for 96 touchdowns so far, the Big 10 has thrown for 93, and the Southeastern Conference has connected on 91 TD throws.

"I said it before the season started, there are a lot of good quarterbacks in this league _ and there are," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said Wednesday. "We like ours, but there's guys certainly playing at a very high level for other teams, too."

North Carolina State's Russell Wilson is second in the country with 14 touchdown passes. Miami's Jacory Harris and Duke's Sean Renfree each had thrown for 10 scores already, while Florida State's Christian Ponder and Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor have thrown for eight apiece.

In all, 21 players from the ACC have at least one touchdown pass, and 64 players have caught balls in the end zone.

"There's a lot of good quarterbacks and a lot of good receivers," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "And that's why we're seeing a lot of good production."

The ACC is on pace to throw for nearly 300 touchdowns by season's end, after not having more than 226 in any of the past five years.

And Miami coach Randy Shannon _ a defense guy _ saw this coming.

"A few years ago, we had all these quarterbacks probably about the same age," Shannon said. "Now they're older and you see the development. N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State, Clemson ... it's all young guys who got older and in this league, the quarterbacks all seem to be expanding their games and are dual-threat guys as well, running and throwing."

Two of the league's best will be on display in a prime-time, nationally televised game Saturday night, when Ponder and No. 23 Florida State head south to face Harris and the 13th-ranked Hurricanes in a potential preview of the ACC championship game.

Harris has 46 touchdowns in his career, tied for 12th-most among active major college players. Ponder is tied for 21st on that list with 37 TD throws.

They're hardly the only ones playing at a high level.

Wilson has thrown a scoring pass in 16 straight games going back to last season, throwing for at least three TDs in 10 of those contests. Maryland's Danny O'Brien has made 63 collegiate throws; six have gone for touchdowns. And just last weekend, Taylor and Georgia Tech's Joshua Nesbitt had touchdown passes in the final 90 seconds to win ACC games.

Top to bottom, the depth at quarterback across the league is obvious.

"I think it's a lot better than it's been before," Ponder said. "A lot of good guys, a lot of guys that are playing really well. Jacory's playing well, and Russell Wilson, Nesbitt's making a lot of plays, there's a lot of guys out there, Tyrod had a big last-minute touchdown in that game against N.C. State. A lot of guys playing really well and it definitely helps the league, and makes the league better."

At Clemson, coach Dabo Swinney can't help but wonder if the added emphasis on passing comes from the simple fact that many defenses across the league are just tougher against the run.

"You can't run it," Swinney said, "you've got to throw it."

ACC teams have picked up 93 touchdowns on the ground so far, which sets up another potential first since the league expanded: Teams across the conference have rushed for 134 more TDs over the past five seasons than they've managed in the passing game, always getting more on the ground than through the air.

"This has been a defense league at least for the past several years," Swinney said. "I don't think you're going to see us become the Big 12 any time soon."

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said this isn't a fluke, either.

Numbers don't always tell the entire story, Fisher said, but the way he sees it, the stats getting put up by quarterbacks around the ACC are getting earned the hard way, without a bunch of gimmicks and throwing the ball 50 or 60 times every outing.

"When a team's got a great quarterback, man, they can always win the football game," Fisher said. "A team's always got hope. Like I said, this game is no fun to play or coach if you don't have a good quarterback. And there's a lot of them in this league right now. It is a very good crop."

___

Associated Press Writer Jeffrey Collins in Clemson, S.C. contributed to this report.

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