Not much left to be decided on the last regular season weekend of ACC action. Florida State and Georgia Tech have their respective division titles clinched, and Miami and UNC are officially staying home for the postseason. But luckily, it’s Rivalry Week, so still plenty on the line for many schools. It’s also a prime weekend for the ACC to help out its reputation. Four teams go up against SEC foes this week. If the ACC can come out ahead in at least two of those (three are against teams in the top 13 of the BCS rankings), it would be a huge statement to close a forgettable regular season.
Game of the Week
Florida Gators (10-1) at Florida State Seminoles (10-1) (7-1): With both teams ranked in the top 10, there’s an extra spark in this rivalry not seen in a few years. The Gators, currently ranked fourth in the BCS standings, could very well be playing for a chance at a national championship shot. Florida State, on the other hand, is looking to take home the Florida Cup for the second straight year, and would love to put a damper on UF’s aspirations. Florida has struggled in recent weeks, but with starting quarterback Jeff Driskel back on Saturday, they’re hoping the offense receives a shot in the arm. They’ll need it if they hope to get by the ‘Noles stifling defense, which has allowed 20 points or more just three times all season. Prediction: Florida State 26, Florida 21
The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):
Syracuse Orange (6-5) at Temple Owls (4-6): The Orange are riding high after two straight victories earned them bowl eligibility. Can they keep up momentum in their final Big East football game, though? It’s tough to tell. There’s a 90-percent chance that regardless of what happens, SU is headed to the Pinstripe Bowl, and Temple also has no means to get to the postseason themselves, with only 11 games on the schedule. Still, given the number of seniors taking the field for the Orange, we may see another rave-worthy performance — to give a boost to draft stocks if nothing else. In particular, offensive stars Alec Lemon and Ryan Nassib have been getting buzz to go on the first or second day of the NFL Draft next spring. They’d hate to slip up now, especially with just two games remaining. Prediction: Syracuse 38, Temple 20
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-5) (5-3) at Georgia Bulldogs (10-1): If there was any way the SEC could get shut out of the National Championship Game, this matchup could be the key. A Georgia loss, followed by a Bulldogs victory over Alabama next week would remove two of the conference’s top three from contention. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see the first upset happening at all. Georgia’s defense has only allowed 33 points in the past four games combined, and star linebacker Jarvis Jones is a simply terrifying pro prospect. If anyone was capable of sniffing out the triple option all by himself, it’s probably Jones, and the Jackets will get tested to throw the ball efficiently if they hope to win. Senior Tevin Washington was passing well last week, but he’s been streaky all season and could be pulled quickly if he fails to establish a rhythm. Prediction: Georgia 44, Georgia Tech 31
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-1) at Pittsburgh Panthers (4-6): The Panthers are playing for their postseason lives against a ranked team. And yet, they find themselves in a pretty advantageous position anyway. When they’re running the ball effectively, Pitt has been incredibly difficult to stop. And though Rutgers has an impressive run defense, they still need to figure out how to score points on Pitt — who can also throw the ball when called upon. Scarlet Knights QB Gary Nova has thrown for over 200 yards just twice since the start of October. If the Panthers can limit him — as Cincinnati did last week — they stand a chance to pull the big upset and keep their bowl hopes alive. Prediction: Pitt 24, Rutgers 21
Virginia Cavaliers (4-7) (2-5) at Virginia Tech Hokies (5-6) (3-4): It’s been a miserable season for both Commonwealth teams, but this intrastate grudge match should still be an entertaining one. UVA’s come on strong of late, winning two of their last three, and the secondary — terrible for most of the season — has actually looked impressive over the past three weeks. Virginia Tech, while dealing with their own defensive struggles, is always tough at home and appears resilient in their efforts to make it to a bowl game. The Hoos’ inconsistent quarterback play helps them get it done on Saturday, but barely. Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Virginia 28
Be sure to check out part two for the rest of the week’s predictions.