Week 11 in the ACC was one of questions and answers. Could Duke get over the six-win barricade at which they found themselves last year? The Blue Devils answered that question with a resounding “yes”. Would Pitt snap their three-game slide against the Fighting Irish? To the surprise of many, they did. Would we be any closer to finding out who could make reservations in Charlotte? We now know — to no great shock — that Florida State will be there, but we still have no better idea of which team will represent the Coastal.
One or two conference dates remain for ACC clubs, and there is still much to be decided. Georgia Tech has one last chance to lock up the Coastal, while Virginia Tech, Miami and Duke all remain alive — to varying degrees, of course. Just one team, the grossly-underachieving Virginia Cavaliers, has been eliminated from postseason play. Though the chances of 13 ACC teams becoming bowl-eligible are next to nonexistent, teams will begin to slot themselves before Thanksgiving. We’ll lay out this week’s important matchups…right after this trivia question!
ACC Trivia, Week 12 (answer at the end of the column): The series between Georgia Tech and Clemson began in 1898. In which city was the first game played between the two teams?
Top of the Ratings
Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2 ACC) at #8 Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC), 7:30pm ET Thursday, ESPN
Last week’s episode: Georgia Tech 21, Pitt 10 (11/2); Clemson 59, Virginia 10 (11/2)
Program guide: On the surface, there appears to be very little drama in this matchup. Both teams have reached bowl eligibility. Clemson has been eliminated from a trip to Charlotte. Georgia Tech can only reach Charlotte if they win Thursday and can stay away from a tie with either Miami or Virginia Tech. Those two teams own the only victories over the Yellow Jackets.
The two teams had last week off, and they will end their ACC schedule in Death Valley. Clemson allows just 137 rushing yards per game against ACC teams (141 overall), but they have allowed one 300-plus yard rushing game already this season. Syracuse ran for 323 yards against the Tigers on October 5th. Georgia Tech leads the conference in rushing, having run for 2,801 yards. No other ACC team has rushed for greater than 2,000 yards on the season.
Georgia Tech averages 5.4 yards per carry against ACC teams. Clemson has only allowed a total greater than the Ramblin’ Wreck’s average twice this season (Georgia and Syracuse). To provide further context on the difference in rushing between the two teams, note that Clemson’s leading rusher, Roderick McDowell, has 677 yards on the season. Georgia Tech has 670 yards over the last two games. The task for Clemson is obvious — Tech ranks 119th in passing offense — but whether it is attainable remains to be seen.
Clemson, on the other hand, wants to throw the ball. They want to throw a lot. The Tigers are tenth in the FBS in passing offense (332.7 yards per game), 15th in scoring offense (39.8 points per game and 11th in total offense (507 yards per game). Georgia Tech offers a somewhat pedestrian passing defense, ranking 53rd in the FBS at 226.1 yards per game. This is one of those interesting instances where Georgia Tech’s defensive strength is Clemson’s offensive weakness — Clemson ranks 62nd in rushing offense — so, again, the task is clear, but its attainability remains to be seen. Clemson has thrown for fewer than 300 yards just once in the last six games. Georgia Tech has surrendered fewer than 200 passing yards just once in their last seven.
At the risk of sounding like a cliche, all signs seem to point to a Clemson victory. If there is one thing the ACC has shown us, though — particularly this year — passing judgment on what you see on paper is a dangerous proposition. After all the questions from last week, here’s this week’s question: Will Georgia Tech be in the driver’s seat for a rematch of last year’s conference championship game, or will Clemson play spoiler and keep their BCS bowl hopes alive? Tune in and find out.
Maryland (5-4, 1-4 ACC) at Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 ACC), 12:30pm ET, ACC Network
Pointing fingers: Maryland has experienced their share of offensive injuries, including losing both starting wide receivers. That said, the Terps have been outscored 94-40 in their last three games. Maryland has allowed 1240 yards of total offense in those contests, and Clemson racked up a staggering 98 offensive plays against the Terps on October 26. Maryland averaged 39.8 points and 498.5 yards of total offense against non-conference opponents, while averaging 13.4 points and 348.2 yards of offense against ACC foes.
Suffocating: Virginia Tech has allowed greater than 200 passing yards in just three games this season, including 324 in last week’s outing against Miami. The Hokies’ passing average against is fourth-best in the FBS. Hokie opponents have rushed for fewer than 100 yards in six games this season. Virginia Tech has allowed fewer than 60 offensive plays to each of their last four opponents.
The ultimate tiebreaker?: The two schools have played 30 times in their history, with each side winning 15 games. As Maryland is leaving the conference to move to the Big Ten, this game may decide the series, as well as conference seedings, bowl berths and other consequences.
North Carolina (4-5, 3-3) at Pitt (5-4, 2-3), 12:30pm ET, ACC Network
Hello, it’s me: North Carolina may not have played Pitt since 2009, but they have faced off against Pitt’s signal caller. Tom Savage was at the helm for a 17-13 Rutgers loss in 2010 in Piscataway before transferring away from the school. Savage completed 16-of-29 passes for 150 yards in that game, throwing for two interceptions.
Off to a great start: Pittsburgh receiver Tyler Boyd is 17 receptions away from breaking the Panther freshman record of 69, held by Larry Fitzgerald. Boyd has 19 receptions over the last two games against Georgia Tech and Notre Dame.
Good news, bad news: North Carolina has three straight ACC victories. In those three victories, they have outscored their opponents by a 106-43 margin. These three opponents (Boston College, NC State and Virginia), however, have a combined conference record of 2-15.
NC State (3-6, 0-6 ACC) at Boston College (5-4, 2-3 ACC), 12:30pm ET, RSN (regional)
Long may you run: Boston College’s Andre Williams leads the conference in rushing with 1,471 yards and 12 touchdowns. No other ACC rusher has greater than 1,000 yards. Williams ran for 295 yards against New Mexico State last week, which places him in the top five career ACC single-game performances. Williams has 761 yards in five ACC games.
Carolina in my mind: The Wolfpack will leave North Carolina to play a game for just the second time this year. The only other time NC State has played outside of the Tarheel State was October 26th at Florida State. NC State has allowed 423 yards per game on the road this season, which is over 60 yards more than they allow in Raleigh. Dave Doeren’s team also gains 65 fewer yards per game on the road than at home.
A new leader: BC receiver Alex Amidon has 57 catches for 726 yards this season, and he is the new all-time leader in receiving yards in Chestnut Hill with 2,494. Amidon has just three games of greater than 100 receiving yards this season, however (Villanova, Army and Clemson).
#23 Miami (7-2, 3-2) at Duke (7-2, 3-2 ACC), 3:30pm ET, ESPNU
Two decades: The last time Duke won seven games in a season took place in 1994. Duke went 8-4 that season. The wins came against Maryland, East Carolina, Army, Georgia Tech, Navy, Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia.
Just once: Miami and Duke have faced off ten times, with Duke winning only one of those matchups. Duke’s win came in the first matchup between the teams, which took place on October 9, 1976. The Blue Devils defeated the Hurricanes 20-7. Then-Hurricane coach Carl Selmer was fired after the season, having won just five of the 21 games in which he coached at Miami.
All-around accolades: Miami receiver Allen Hurns was named one of the ACC Receivers of the Week last week, going for 142 yards on four grabs against Virginia Tech. Hurns also scored a touchdown against the Hokies. Duke’s Kenny Anunike (11 tackles) was the Defensive Lineman of the Week, joining teammates Kolby Brown (Co-Linebacker of the Week) and DeVon Edwards (Rookie of the Week) as recipients of honors from the league office.
Syracuse (5-4, 3-2 ACC) at #2 Florida State (9-0, 7-0 ACC), 3:30pm ET, ABC/ESPN2 (reverse mirror)
Leaders of the pack: Florida State’s spot near the top of the polls has been in place all year, but the Seminoles hold high rankings in many statistical categories. The Seminoles rank second in scoring offense, ninth in total offense, fourth in scoring defense, first in pass defense, fourth in total defense and fourth in turnover margin. Aside from the ‘Noles, only Virginia Tech has four or greater categories in which they are ranked in single digits in the FBS.
Ball control: Florida State has forced a turnover in 14 straight games. Syracuse, meanwhile, has an even turnover margin. The Orange recorded a turnover margin of minus-five in three October contests, but is plus-three in two November games.
Keep the streak alive: Syracuse has registered a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last five seasons. Orange running back Jerome Smith has 705 yards on the season, meaning he needs 295 yards in the final three games to become the sixth consecutive runner on this list. Smith averages 78.3 yards per game, and rushed for more yardage in his most recent outing (118) than the previous two combined (105).
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: The series between Georgia Tech and Clemson began in 1898. In which city was the first game played between the two teams?
The first of 78 games between Georgia Tech and Clemson was played on November 24, 1898. The 23-0 Tiger victory took place in Augusta, Georgia.