The ACC continues to battle perception this weekend, as teams looking to differentiate themselves face tough in-conference tests. While it would be great for Duke’s feel-good story to continue versus FSU, obviously the league would suffer mightily with a Seminoles loss. And while the Heels may be the Coastal division’s best hope to finish with a team above .500, they might just be outmatched by a Wolfpack team gunning for their first division title. At any rate, just another exciting weekend of ACC football…
Game of the Week
NC State Wolfpack (5-2) (2-1) at North Carolina Tar Heels (5-3) (2-2): Opinions differ on whether or not this is an actual rivalry, and given State’s recent 5-0 run, maybe the real mistake is the Heels discounting it. And if their recent cold streak against the Wolfpack wasn’t enough, UNC also has a score to settle after last week’s last-minute loss to Duke; a crushing loss made worse by the Blue Devils clinching a bowl bid with the victory. If they hope to stop NC State, though, the Tar Heels must play better defense than they did last week. Duke came into that game with one of the worst rushing attacks in the country, yet managed over 230 yards on the ground. If State’s similarly terrible running game can have a performance like that, coupled with a serviceable effort from Mike Glennon, UNC has little hope to pull this one out. Prediction: NC State 26, UNC 23
The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):
Clemson Tigers (6-1) (3-1) at Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-3) (2-3): Did Clemson’s defense wake up last weekend, or did the offense shut down? The answer is crucial for the Tigers, as they hope to finish the regular season on a much more positive note than last year. And it all starts tonight. If it weren’t already enough that Wake gets star receiver Michael Campanaro back, both of the Tigers’ starting cornerbacks are inactive tonight. So suddenly, an easy matchup between Clemson’s improving defense and the Deacs’ stagnant offense gets a lot more hairy. It’ll all come down to stopping the pass, but if Wake Forest can get a running game going — not out of the question against a questionable front four for Clemson — it could be a very long night for Dabo Swinney’s team. Prediction: Clemson 31, Wake Forest 27
Temple Owls (3-3) at Pittsburgh Panthers (3-4): Temple has surprised many in the Big East, mostly on the strength of its running game (led by former BC starter Montel Harris). Pitt, on the other hand, has taken its fair share of lumps in an up and down season currently teetering on the brink. Amidst of a collection of issues, however, the most glaring has been the Panthers’ lack of a running game, despite possessing one of the country’s strongest backfields on paper. Pitt currently ranks 85th in rushing offense, and as proven in their victories, they rely heavily on a strong running game to be successful. Ray Graham has been quiet for weeks now, and it’ll be up to him to lead the way against a surprisingly effective Owls defensive front. Prediction: Pitt 24, Temple 17
Maryland Terrapins (4-3) (2-1) at Boston College Eagles (1-6) (0-4): How will the Maryland offense perform after losing starting quarterback Perry Hills for the season? The jury’s still out, but after a furious comeback attempt last Saturday, there’s certainly hope that it’ll be an easy transition.
Backups Caleb Rowe and Devin Burns both have their respective strengths, but I’m most impressed with Burns’s rushing ability first and foremost. The Terps ground game has been awful all season, and there’s a chance his presence in the backfield may kick-start things. While definitely not a sure thing, it certainly helps he’ll get his first full game of action against the second-worst run defense in the country (allowing over 268 rushing yards per game). Prediction: Maryland 20, Boston College 17 So with Devin Burns out, Caleb Rowe is the only passer left on the roster. Their only gameplan now: throw deep to Stefon Diggs on most plays. Obviously this most recent bout of bad luck turns the tables and really helps Boston College’s chances. This will not be a pretty game, but for what it’s worth, I believe the Eagles now come away with the win. Maryland’s offense will be in disarray and will surely lack the focus they need this week to come out with a win under fire. Prediction: Boston College 17, Maryland 10.
BYU Cougars (4-4) at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-4) (2-3): BYU has had issues scoring points all season, which should be a good sign for the Yellow Jackets, whose defense has clearly struggled all season. So with a shootout off the table, the Cougars have to bet on their defense being able to stop the triple-option, no easy feat without an extended break to prepare (say what you want about that theory, but it has some credence). There’s also the added fold of the Tech offense becoming too predictable, as Tevin Washington‘s pass attempts have plummeted, Vad Lee‘s have increased. If that trend continues, the offense becomes an easy read, and the aggressive Cougars defense ends up with some effortless takeaways. Hopefully that’s not Paul Johnson’s strategy, though. Prediction: Georgia Tech 28, BYU 20
Duke Blue Devils (6-2) (3-1) at Florida State Seminoles (7-1) (4-1): This could very well be a preview of the ACC Championship Game, so with that in mind, let’s hope it at least manages to be a close game. While they’re certainly carrying a lot of momentum with them after last Saturday’s huge, bowl-clinching victory, Duke has still proven itself to be a bit shaky against elite opponents. The defense, which has only appeared to be just competent enough against ACC foes, lacks a real ability to generate pressure, and with a mobile QB like FSU’s EJ Manuel, that becomes even more difficult. Should Sean Renfree overcome his own ineffectiveness against aggressive pass rushes, the Blue Devils stand a chance. But with a one-dimensional attack solely keyed-in on just two receivers, it’s hard to picture how they pull this upset. Prediction: Florida St. 38, Duke 17
Syracuse Orange (3-4) at USF Bulls (2-5): USF hasn’t won a game since early September, and Syracuse can’t seem to string together two consecutive wins for the life of them. But at the same time, there’s plenty of reasons both could respectively win this Saturday night matchup. For Syracuse, it’s all about exploiting a suspect Bulls’ secondary, letting Ryan Nassib put the ball wherever he chooses, while also staying true to an effective run game (a big factor in every victory this year). USF, on the other hand, gets the mobile QB advantage with BJ Daniels. SU managed to shut him down two years ago in Tampa, though he proceeded to light them up in 2011, so there’s no telling which performance you’ll get. While I may regret this, I think USF’s a team in turmoil, while Syracuse is starting to get its act together — especially on the defensive side. Prediction: Syracuse 27, USF 23
Last Week: 7-1; 2012 Season: 55-21