It’s almost Rivalry Weekend in the ACC! The final week of the college football regular season is here and it is chock full of some enticing ACC rivalry action. In conference play, we have the two Coastal Division contenders facing off against in-state rivals having down seasons and desperate to pull off the upset. Of course, headlining the weekend, there are the four ACC-SEC in-state showdowns. The ACC is in a pretty good position as they host three of the four games and should pick up two easy wins. The two games to watch are Clean, Old Fashioned Hate at noon and the Sunshine State Showdown at 8:00 pm. Both games look pretty evenly matched on paper and should be exciting games. Before we look to far ahead, let’s take one more look at last weekend and see how the ACC stacks up heading into Thanksgiving.
Tier 1: National Contender
1 - Clemson Tigers (10-1, 7-1) LW: 2
One week after suffering their first regular season loss since 2014 (against Georgia Tech) Clemson bounced back and clinched the Atlantic division title with a convincing win against Wake Forest. The Tigers jumped all over the Deacons early, getting out to a 28-0 lead. The Clemson defense was the star of the game, holding Wake under 200 total yards. RB Wayne Gallman led the way on offense, rushing for a season-high 161 yards and two touchdowns. The Tigers are still in great position for a playoff spot if they can win out.
Last week: defeated Wake Forest 35-13
This week: Saturday, 7:30 pm vs South Carolina
Tier 2: Coastal Contenders (plus the top of the Atlantic)
2 - Louisville Cardinals (9-2, 7-1) LW: 1
Any hopes the ACC had of slipping a second team into the playoffs disappeared Thursday night when Louisville was blown out by Houston. The Cougars got after the Cardinals and actually managed to make Lamar Jackson look human. Jackson is still the Heisman front-runner, but there probably won’t be too many plays from this game in his highlight reel. Houston manhandled Louisville’s offensive line, sacking Jackson 11 times. The Cardinals still have a shot at a 10-win regular season and will likely play in the Orange Bowl, but it’s hard not to be disappointed by the lackluster play last week.
Last week: lost at Houston 10-36
This week: Saturday, 12:00 pm vs Kentucky
3 - Florida State Seminoles (8-3, 5-3) LW: 3
The Seminoles dominated this game from the start behind a record-setting performance from RB Dalvin Cook. The junior running back broke Warrick Dunn’s FSU career rushing record early in the first quarter on his way to a 225 yard, 4 touchdown day. It kind of feels like Cook has flown a little bit under the radar nationally since Florida State is not an elite team this season, but he really should be more involved in the Heisman conversation. He has a pretty good chance at topping 2,000 total yards and 20 TDs with a big day this weekend against Florida.
Last week: defeated Syracuse 45-14
This week: Saturday, 8:00 pm vs Florida
4 - Virginia Tech Hokies (8-3, 5-2) LW: 5
It took some time, but Virginia Tech was eventually able to shake off the stink of their loss to Georgia Tech, coming back to defeat Notre Dame. The Hokies started slow, spotting the Irish a 17-0 lead and were trailing 31-21 to start the fourth quarter but QB Jerod Evans led his team on three long scoring drives to steal the victory. Evans was an efficient 22/29 passing, though he did throw an interception. The key to the game was the improved play of Virginia Tech’s defense in the second half. Notre Dame was able to break off a long touchdown run, but the Hokies otherwise shut down the Irish and QB DeShone Kizer. The Hokies have a chance to clinch the Coastal this weekend against Virginia. t down
Last week: defeated Notre Dame 34-31
This week: Saturday, 12:00 pm vs Virginia
5 - North Carolina Tar Heels (8-3, 5-2) LW: 4
The Tar Heels had little trouble defeating an FCS opponent as they tuned up for their season finale against NC State. The Citadel entered the game undefeated and was given the #6 seed in the FCS playoffs on Sunday, but they couldn’t keep up with UNC’s athletes. All that said, the box score from this game is a really strange one. The Citadel out gained North Carolina 371-356 and held the ball for over 42 minutes, while holding the Tar Heels to 1-8 on third down. The Tar Heels won the game because they were able to force turnovers, including their first interception of the season, and made enough big plays to wrap up the victory early.
Last week: defeated The Citadel 41-7
This week: Friday, 12:00 pm vs NC State
Tier 3: Bowl Contenders
6 - Miami Hurricanes (7-4, 4-3) LW: 6
Miami needed a big second half to pull away from the Wolfpack but they came away with a big road win. The Hurricanes were carried by RB Mark Walton, who gashed the ACC’s top run defense for 120 yards and 3 second half touchdowns. Miami’s defense limited the effectiveness of NC State QB Ryan Finley and forced two second half turnovers.
Last week: defeated NC State 27-13
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs Duke
7 - Pittsburgh Panthers (7-4, 4-3) LW: 7
James Conner ran his way into the ACC record books on Saturday, adding another chapter to his amazing comeback from a season ending knee injury and a cancer diagnosis. The junior running back scored his 52nd and 53rd touchdowns against Duke, which was enough to give him the ACC record for career touchdowns. The record is even more impressive considering that Conner essentially did this in three years of action. If he were to return to school next season he could put the record comically out of reach.
Last week: defeated Duke 56-14
This week: Saturday, 12:30 pm vs Syracuse
8 - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-4, 4-4) LW: 8
On a day where Virginia’s starter-turned backup-turned starter again, Matt Johns, picked apart Georgia Tech’s secondary and the option offense struggled to string together long drives, the Yellow Jackets needed big plays on both sides of the ball to pull out the Senior Day win. Long touchdowns from Marcus Marshall, Clinton Lynch, and Qua Searcy plus interceptions from Corey Griffin and Lance Austin were the difference for the Jackets. Tech now has 15 plays of 50+ yards this season, tied with the high-flying Louisville and Oklahoma offenses for most in the FBS (stat courtesy of Andy Demetra). Not exactly the stereotypical slow moving, ball controlling, Paul Johnson offense.
Last week: defeated Virginia 31-17
This week: Saturday, 12:00 pm at Georgia
9 - Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-5, 3-4) LW: 9
Wake Forest got rolled by an angry Clemson team looking to reestablish themselves as the class of the ACC. The Demon Deacons had their worst offensive output since their opener against Tulane, failing to top 200 yards of total offense. Winning this game was always going to be a long shot, but chances got slimmer when starting QB John Wolford was ruled out with an ankle injury. In his place, redshirt freshman QB Kyle Kearns got his first start against an elite Clemson defensive front. Wolford was available if needed, so he should be able to be back under center this week against Boston College.
Last week: lost to Clemson 13-35
This week: Saturday, 3:00 pm vs Boston College
Tier 4: The Basement
10 - North Carolina State Wolfpack (5-6, 2-5) LW: 11
Yet again, mistakes doomed the Wolfpack in a key game. NC State was able to shut down the Miami offense in the first half, entering the break tied at 3-3. In the second half, the Hurricanes ran all over the Pack, aided by several drive-extending penalties. The offense and special teams weren’t excluded from the second half meltdown, as QB Ryan Finley threw an interception in the end zone and Bra’Lon Cherry lost a fumble on a punt return. The 2016 season is setting up to be a pretty big disappointment in Raleigh as the Wolfpack will have to upset North Carolina on the road to reach bowl eligibility.
Last week: lost to Miami 13-27
This week: Friday, 12:00 pm at North Carolina
11 - Duke Blue Devils (4-7, 1-6) LW: 10
Duke was unable to capitalize on any momentum derived from their rivalry win over North Carolina, getting dominated in all phases of the game by Pittsburgh. The Blue Devils were unable to move the ball on the ground against a very good Pitt run defense. The Panthers’ pass defense has been weak, but they made things difficult on Daniel Jones, preventing him from hitting a big play. Despite the loss, there is good news for the Blue Devils. If Duke can upset Miami on Saturday, there is a very good chance they will qualify for a bowl game despite finishing 5-7 as they lead the FBS in APR.
Last week: lost to Pittsburgh 14-56
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm at Miami
12 - Syracuse Orange (4-7, 2-5) LW: 12
Playing a second consecutive game without starting QB Eric Dungey, the Orange stood no chance against the Seminoles, falling behind early and never quite finding their footing. Backup QB Zach Mahoney struggled against Florida State’s defense, completing only 44% of his passes and throwing two interceptions. Syracuse sorely misses Dungey’s presence under center as the offense has been listless in his absence.
Last week: lost to Florida State 14-45
This week: Saturday, 12:30 pm at Pittsburgh
13 - Boston College (5-6, 1-6) LW: 14
Boston College continued their up and down season last week, completely shutting down UConn en route to a 30-0 win. The Eagles find themselves one win from bowl eligibility thanks almost entirely to dominating performances against an extremely weak non-conference schedule. Boston College went 4-0 in non-ACC games, outscoring their opponents 133-20 and giving up an average of 104 yards of offense per game. In ACC play, they gave up an average of 431 yards per game including 3 games of more than 500 yards. The Eagles’ defense absolutely dominates bad teams but they get picked apart by good offenses. If Wake Forest doesn’t have John Wolford, the Deacs could be in for a long day.
Last week: defeated Connecticut 30-0
This week: Saturday, 3:00 pm at Wake Forest
14 - Virginia Cavaliers (2-9, 1-6) LW: 13
New-old quarterback, same results for Virginia. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall announced early in the week that starter Kurt Benkert would be benched in favor of former starter Matt Johns, allowing Benkert to rest and heal some nagging injuries and giving Johns a chance to start down the stretch of his senior season. Johns started off hot, taking advantage of soft coverage to lead the Cavaliers to a 10-7 halftime lead. In the second half, the old Johns returned, throwing three interceptions and failing to keep pace with the explosive Yellow Jacket offense. The Wahoos have one more chance to salvage something from this season; ending a 12 game losing streak to the rival Hokies while ending VT’s Coastal Title hopes.
Last week: lost to Georgia Tech 17-31
This week: Saturday, 12:00 pm at Virginia Tech
I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving! I wish safe travels, good food, and better football to all!