QBs in the spotlight in showdown

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CLEMSON, S.C. --- Cullen Harper learned all he needed to know about Boston College's Matt Ryan in a 10-second span at Death Valley two seasons ago.

Clemson's Cullen Harper (front) celebrates with James Davis and Rendrick Taylor after scoring in last week's victory over Wake Forest. Harper has thrown 26 touchdowns and only four interceptions in his first year as a starter for the No. 15 Tigers.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Clemson's Cullen Harper (front) celebrates with James Davis and Rendrick Taylor after scoring in last week's victory over Wake Forest. Harper has thrown 26 touchdowns and only four interceptions in his first year as a starter for the No. 15 Tigers.

Former Clemson linebacker David Dunham had just delivered a crunching hit, striking Ryan square in the chest as the quarterback threw the ball, lifting him off the ground before he fell on his side and rolled onto all fours. Ryan's helmet flew off the moment Dunham struck, bouncing around near the passer.

There was a loud gasp from the Memorial Stadium crowd. Ryan was down, but far from out.

He returned a series later and led Boston College to a 16-13 overtime win, the school's first Atlantic Coast Conference victory.

"That's the hardest hit I've ever seen, in person or on TV," Clemson's quarterback marveled this week. "I can't believe he got up and continued to play. That was unbelievable."

Since that hit, the Boston College senior has become one of the country's top quarterbacks. He ranks sixth in the NCAA with 3,269 passing yards.

Harper and Ryan square off Saturday night when No. 15 Clemson (8-2, 5-2) faces 18th-ranked Boston College (8-2, 4-2). The winner advances to the ACC's title game, and the winning quarterback likely moves to the front for the league's player of the year award.

Harper, who's thrown 26 touchdowns and four interceptions his first year as a starter, said he'd like some of the spotlight that's gone to Ryan and other ACC passers this year. He knows his chance comes this weekend.

"I guess you could say that," Harper said. "But I really feel like with what I've done throughout the year, if I can just continue to do that, all the extra attention will come eventually."

Ryan has had little trouble attracting attention, particularly with his play during Boston College's 8-0 start.

Behind Ryan, the Eagles rose to No. 2 in the country and the quarterback was among the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy. The capper looked like a furious fourth-quarter rally when Ryan threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:11 of Boston College's 14-10 win at Virginia Tech.

But the Eagles have lost their past two games, setting up Saturday's showdown.

"People know what's on the line," Ryan said.

Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning was as amazed as anyone with Ryan's recovery after Dunham's hit.

"He had his coming out party a couple of years ago," Koenning said. "He got us then."

Koenning compares Ryan to Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

"He looks like he's spent all off-season there with the Patriots because he looks like that cat they got in a lot of ways, a lot of mannerisms," Koenning said.

What Koenning's most impressed with is how well Ryan sees the field.

"I don't know how he sees some stuff," he said. "We've got to be absolutely perfect" on defense or Ryan will find some holes.

That's what Ryan did against the Hokies, leading a comeback that seemed to point to a special season on Chestnut Hill. Ryan spent much of the two TD drives scrambling from Virginia Tech defenders before finding an open receiver.

Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski will stick with that game plan despite the two-game losing streak.

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