Avoiding realignment talk is difficult, but we’ll try here, as there is still an actual football season still going on, with actual games being played. Due to the design of the ACC schedule, the conference championship game is set, and this week is mostly about BCS positioning and a few teams wrapping up bowl bids. The conference is bound to fall short of its allotment of bowl slots, but the question now begs how many. In an absolute worst-case scenario, the season may end up with just five bowl-eligible teams. Just pray that doesn’t happen.
1. Florida State Seminoles (10-1) (7-1) (LW: 1): Florida State took care of business last Saturday, wrapping up its third Atlantic division title via tiebreaker advantage with Clemson (who it beat back in September). But there’s still more left to do — namely beating archrival Florida in their annual grudge match for state supremacy. The Gators sit at no. 4 in the most recent BCS rankings, and FSU would love nothing more than to drop them from that perch. Vegas likes their odds, and there’s little chance the ‘Noles aren’t up for this game, which will be played at home in Tallahassee.
2. Clemson Tigers (10-1) (7-1) (LW: 2): The Tigers’ BCS chances took a bit of a hit last week when Oregon lost to Stanford, effectively slotting the Pac-12 back into two-bid territory. Still, Clemson can’t control what happens out west, and must focus on what it can control: beating South Carolina for the first time since 2008. The Gamecocks, while a bit banged-up on both sides of the ball, are still one of the country’s most formidable defenses, which should make this a fun matchup of strengths. Quarterback Tajh Boyd may still be able to put on a solid performance, but it won’t hold a candle to Saturday’s eight-touchdown day.
3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-5) (5-3) (LW: 10): It’s been a roller coaster season for the Wreck this year. And one that still has a few turns left in it as well. After clinching the ACC Coastal Division by virtue of Miami’s self-imposed postseason ban on Monday, they now have their sights set on beating no. 3 Georgia in Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate and then taking the ACC’s BCS berth, too. And in a season like this, would you really rule it out? Since their 3-5 start, the Yellow Jackets have rattled off three straight impressive wins, scoring a combined 143 points over that span. Win or lose, the ‘Dogs will certainly have their work cut out for them.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels (7-4) (4-3) (LW: 4): The Heels won a hard-fought game in the latest iteration of the South’s Oldest Rivalry, while further proving just how unpredictable they can be. After leaning heavily on running back Giovani Bernard for about seven straight games, they’ve pumped the breaks on his touches, and emphasized the passing game even more. Is Larry Fedora trying to prepare his team for life without their star back next season? Nothing’s confirmed yet, but it sure seems like that could be the case.
5. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (6-5) (4-3) (LW: 5): Miami embarrassed USF on Saturday, putting on the type of offensive display that’s been missing from this team for weeks. Stephen Morris‘s 413 yards passing and three scores amounted to his best game since September, and the Hurricanes’ young receivers also appear primed to end the year on a strong note. The hope with self-imposing a bowl ban for a second straight year is that the NCAA will view it as punishment enough. Given the talent on this team, the ‘Canes faithful certainly hope so.
6. Syracuse Orange (6-5) (LW: 7): SU’s come all the way back from the dead, after starting 1-3, and now find themselves bowl eligible for the second time in the last three seasons. Their win against Missouri — one of the least-talked about, yet most exciting matchups this past weekend — was equal parts amazing and frustrating, as it alluded to just how good this team can be. The final connection between QB Ryan Nassib and receiver Alec Lemon for the go-ahead score also reminded ‘Cuse fans just how much they’ll miss both seniors next season.
7. Duke Blue Devils (6-5) (3-4) (LW: 3): I guess the goal this season was just to get to six wins? Since their big victory over UNC to become bowl-eligible for the first time in 18 years, the Blue Devils have lost three straight, all in resounding fashion. Sean Renfree‘s passing has been flat and the defense looked severely outmatched while being outscored 146-51 over that span. The season finale is not looking great for them either, as they take on a Miami team with a chip on their shoulders. Despite all the positive vibes around the program, Duke may very well end the year below .500.
8. NC State Wolfpack (6-5) (3-4) (LW: 6): Despite flashes of offensive brilliance — several one-play drive too full advantage of blown coverage schemes — the Wolfpack were still largely outplayed by Clemson on Saturday. On offense, the early fireworks fizzled as the Tigers buckled down to make big stops come the second half. And the defense? Completely atrocious. I know it’s Clemson, but 62 points? They didn’t even score that much against their FBS opponent, Furman.
9. Pittsburgh Panthers (4-6) (LW: 8): Pitt got to recoup a bit with their bye week, and that sort of rest could do them very well against no. 21 Rutgers, who visits on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights survived a 10-3 slugfest with Cincinnati last week, and their offense has never looked more sporadic. As always, Pitt just needs to make sure they run the ball effectively behind Ray Graham, and then maintain pressure on the defensive end. Gary Nova is no star, and they should be able to rush at least a few throws.
10. Virginia Tech Hokies (5-6) (3-4) (LW: 9): It should not escape Virginia Tech just how lucky they got in their most recent victory against Boston College. Despite the Eagles’ formidable passing game being effectively shut down the entire afternoon, BC was still able to run the ball at will and control the tempo throughout. As a side note, Boston College is 122nd in the FBS in rushing yards per game, with 80.6. Virginia Tech allowed them to gain twice that — 167 yards — on the ground. When criticizing the Hokies, we keep pointing to the offense as the main problem. But it may the defense that should shoulder most of the load for this team’s steep decline.
11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-6) (3-5) (LW: 11): Wake’s offense is hapless. Make no mistake about that. The Deacons have only scored six points, while amassing just 394 total yards of offense, in their last two games combined. “Playmakers” Tanner Price and Michael Campanaro look completely shut down, and the run game remains a non-factor. Blame the rushing attack and O-line injuries all you want, but there appears to be a real problem with Price under center this season.
12. Virginia Cavaliers (4-7) (2-5) (LW: 12): For the Cavaliers, this season will undoubtedly end in disappointment, as they find themselves sitting at home for the postseason. But at least some of those lows can be replaced by the high of potentially beating Virginia Tech to close the year. Virginia hasn’t beaten its cross-state rival on the gridiron since 2003; a fact they’re keenly aware of. On top of bragging rights, a Hoos win would also keep VPI home for the postseason. Again, from an ACC perspective, praying this doesn’t happen (sorry, UVA folks!).
13. Maryland Terrapins (4-7) (2-5) (LW: 13): The Terps continue to play out the string as a ragtag bunch of injury replacements, with a linebacker-turned-quarterback who actually doesn’t look half-bad while operating the simplified offense. The talent gap, however, has looked stark in the second part of this year. Maryland’s only real highlight — the emergence of freshman receiver Stefon Diggs — is something to build on. Though he also denotes just how bad things are, when he’s the team’s most effective rusher.
14. Boston College Eagles (2-9) (1-6) (LW: 14): Chase Rettig‘s passing has gotten progressively worse over the last month, but that’s not the issue in Chestnut Hill. With a chance to get themselves in field goal range at the end of regulation, coach Frank Spaziani elected to simply run the clock out (with still about 1:15 left) and take it into overtime. The Eagles were 2-8. What did they have to lose? Nothing. And if that isn’t the Spaziani era in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.