ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week Nine (UPDATE: With Devin Burns Injury Note)

Can NC State Continue Its Hot Streak Against UNC, Or Will the Wolfpack Finally Cool Off?

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

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ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week Five

Duke Johnson and the Miami Hurricanes Look to Extend Their Surprising Start with Another ACC Win

Byes aplenty this week, as the ACC has just 10 teams in action amidst what ends up being a fairly dull slate of games nationwide, somehow. In fact, the guys over at Shutdown Fullback will tell you it’s downright awful (like Ibis-on-a-jet-ski-plus-explosions awful). Still, we trek on and highlight the best of ACC action, in the hopes that it surpasses the pure boredom that will be College Gameday this week (OSU-MSU). The B1G: Where they can’t field a postseason-eligible team that could finish in the top 15.

Game of the Week

NC State Wolfpack (3-1) (0-0) at Miami Hurricanes (3-1) (2-0): Both of these teams have fared poorly in their big non-conference tests thus far. For the Wolfpack, they were run off the field by Tennessee to open the season and Miami was embarrassed by Kansas State in week two. Since those losses, however, both teams appear rejuvenated, relying on some unexpected skill players to show them the way, in freshmen Duke Johnson (Miami) and Shadrach Thornton (NC State). If the ‘Canes can generate an efficient rushing attack with Johnson and veteran back Mike James, they’ll have a shot against the Pack. But, given how porous the Miami defense is, Thornton and senior QB Mike Glennon may be all NC State needs to win their first conference game of the year. Prediction: NC State 24, Miami 21

The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (2-1) at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-2) (1-2): Middle Tennessee State allows over four yards per carry, which is going to be a bit of a problem against Georgia Tech’s triple-option. Despite their loss to Miami last week, the Wreck still ran for 287 yards; no small number, and they’re likely to equal or surpass that figure this week. So the Blue Raiders obviously have an uphill battle ahead. The only saving grace may be their own respective ability to move the ball on the ground — but it’s also against some pitiful competition. Tech’s looking to bounce back after their disappointing result on Saturday, and will definitely do so. Prediction: Georgia Tech 45, MTSU 17

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ACC Power Rankings, Week 13

Virginia's Now One Win Away From Its First ACC Title Game Berth

In these conference rankings, I list the ACC teams, one through 14, as if Pitt and Syracuse were already in the league. Yes, adding the additional teams may seem pointless now, but wait until they officially join. Then it’ll seem like old news and we can get past that initial awkwardness. No, I won’t reconsider. On to this week’s rankings!

1. Virginia Tech Hokies (10-1) (6-1) (LW: 2): In spite of some fourth quarter concerns, the Hokies pulled off another conference victory last Thursday and are now just a win away from the ACC title game. While revenge against Clemson would be sweet for the Hokies, unlike most years, they can’t afford to look past Virginia. Their in-state rivals are ranked for the first time since 2007 and look awfully dangerous, especially as underdogs.

2. Virginia Cavaliers (8-3) (5-2) (LW: 5): The Cavaliers have been the state’s “little sister” in football for years — even more so since the Hokies joined the ACC. That could all change Saturday, though. If Virginia can beat Tech, they’ll earn the school’s first trip to the league championship game and possibly its first BCS bid as well. Playing dangerously well against favored teams (owning three such wins already), the Hokies will have to be at their best to pull out the win in Charlottesville. In a game of two defenses, the difference-maker might be the Cavs’ much-maligned offense.

3. Clemson Tigers (9-2) (6-2) (LW: 1): What has happened to Clemson? Well, a lot. As mentioned before, the blueprint’s been written and now, finally, everyone’s following it to success. NC State racked up nearly 400 yards of total offense against the Tigers, and scored 27 points in the first half — trouncing Clemson at their own game (running the offense through one man until you can stop him). Now with every facet of their game being called into question with three straight subpar performances, they’ll need to right the ship in a hurry if they expect to win another game this season.

4. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-3) (5-2) (LW: 4): Following a very strong first half, the Yellow Jackets’ defense nearly collapsed against Duke‘s passing attack in the second on Saturday before getting bailed out by Tevin Washington. As has been the case all year, the team rises and falls on the legs of their quarterback, Washington, but it would’ve been no fault of his if they’d lost this past weekend. With 321 yards of total offense from the junior, he did all he could. But as stated, the defense has to improve next season if they expect to take the next step and contend.

5. Florida State Seminoles (7-4) (5-3) (LW: 3): What was supposed to be a banner year for Florida State has turned into a bit of a nightmare — failing right back down to the middle of the ACC pack they’ve inhabited for the better part of the last decade. While Virginia’s defense is certainly better than average, it’s hard to excuse FSU getting held to just 13 at home in Tallahassee (their first ACC home loss all season). Now needing a win against Florida just to get to a half-decent bowl, this squad has a lot of thinking to do in the offseason.

6. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (6-5) (3-4) (LW: 6): Saturday’s game was as ugly as they come, needing a last-second field goal to beat USF 6-3, in spite of knocking Bulls’ QB B.J. Daniels out of the contest. And though the defense put in an impressive performance against a team that had put up 37 points the previous week, you have to wonder what’s going on with the Hurricanes’ own offense. Scoring 25 points in two games usually won’t get it done, and with the weapons they possess on that side of the ball, it’s maddening for fans.

7. NC State Wolfpack (6-5) (3-4) (LW: 11): Does NC State regularly underachieve this season, or periodically overachieve? Saturday’s game against Clemson was masterful in every aspect, controlling the line of scrimmage, taking Tigers’ QB Tajh Boyd well out of his comfort zone and forcing turnovers that swung the tide of the matchup early. Most impressive of all was QB Mike Glennon. With 253 yards and three touchdowns, the senior was nearly flawless and he now has his team one victory from the postseason.

8. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-5) (2-5) (LW: 7): Aside from a strong fourth quarter against the Hokies, UNC’s offense looked putrid once again this weekend as the team continued to struggle in conference play. The Heels’ defense has played fairly well since getting rocked by Clemson a month ago, but with an offense that has only been scoring 15 points at a clip these past few games, it’s increasingly difficult to come out with wins.

9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-5) (5-3) (LW: 9): Like some sort of magic cure for losing streaks, Maryland gave Wake Forest a big win Saturday. Desperately needing something positive after four straight lackluster performances, the Demon Deacons looked like the team that started the year 4-1 as quarterback Tanner Price shredded the Terps’ D for 320 yards and three touchdowns. Removing the must-win mentality from the last game should now do wonders for their chances against Vanderbilt next week.

10. Pittsburgh Panthers (5-5) (0-0) (LW: 9): The Panthers remain in the Big East hunt, mostly due to the conference’s own ineptitude. If Pittsburgh manages to win their final two games and receive a little help however, rest assured they will be the worst team to ever play in a BCS game (where they’ll lose to the ACC’s champion).

11. Syracuse Orange (5-5) (1-0) (LW: 10): As basketball season begins and the Orange football team becomes an afterthought, fans are starting to understand the reality that SU’s “resurgence” may have been short-lived. With too many fundamental errors and not nearly enough discipline to go around, coach Doug Marrone’s system suddenly appears broken and who knows how much more time he’ll be granted to fix it again.

12. Duke Blue Devils (3-8) (1-6) (LW: 12): Of course Duke is still losing football games this season, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been competitive. While they have lost six straight, the Blue Devils have been involved in close calls with Wake, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, and came within 10 of Virginia. For this Saturday’s near-miss, credit QB Sean Renfree rather than fault Duke’s defense, which allowed 520 yards of offense.

13. Boston College Eagles (3-8) (2-5) (LW: 13): After one horrendous start to this season, the Eagles have kept things pretty close in three of their last four games (2-2) and even managed to hold a ranked Notre Dame team to 16 points Saturday. With the 112th-ranked offense in FBS, of course it’s difficult to really win games. But holding three of four opponents under 20 will at least aid the cause.

14. Maryland Terrapins (2-9) (1-6) (LW: 14): Nearly every Terps fan is begging for 2011 to be over at this point. Their offense hasn’t topped 21 points in a game since October 15. The defense has allowed at least 28 points in every game after October 8. They’ve been throttled by everyone, and if not for Miami’s first-game suspensions, they’d probably only possess one victory (and zero FBS wins). NC State should be salivating.

ACC Previews & Predictions (Week 11)

A Win Thursday Would Aid Virginia Tech in Their Quest for an ACC Title

The postseason picture could start to sort out a whole bunch after this weekend. As we mentioned in our tiebreakers article, several ACC teams have a shot to clinch, solidify or enhance their chances to play for the league title, starting with Clemson. One win away from wrapping up the Atlantic Division, they just need to get by Wake Forest Saturday. Virginia Tech can clinch the Coastal by winning out — a process that starts Thursday night against Georgia Tech. Virginia and Miami are also in the mix for the Coastal crown, though it’ll take a few more cards to fall just right (especially for the ‘Canes).

*Game of the Week*

Virginia Tech Hokies (8-1) (4-1) at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-2) (4-2): Based on the previous game’s results, these two teams would appear to be headed in opposite directions. Georgia Tech demolished previously-unbeaten Clemson, and the Hokies struggled to put away Duke. So which anomaly do we stand by? While the offense didn’t impress against the Blue Devils, the Hokies did show up on D again, maintaining their top-10 national ranking in that department. As for Georgia Tech, Clemson had struggled to stop the run prior to the ‘Wreck optioning them to death. Given how much better VPI is at stopping the run than Clemson, and the one-dimensional nature of the Yellow Jackets’ offense, this pick’s more cut-and-dry than originally thought. Prediction: Virginia Tech 23, Georgia Tech 14

The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):

USF Bulls (4-4) at Syracuse Orange (5-4): Two squads in a freefall, and only one can stop their season from careening out of control Friday night. Last time the Orange played on Friday night, it scored a pretty impressive win versus West Virginia. That’s ancient history now, though. In USF, the Orange face a formidable defense and a quarterback that can beat them both in the air and on the ground. It’s a must-win for both teams, but if Syracuse can put pressure on B.J. Daniels like they did to Geno Smith and maybe force a few turnovers, I see them clinching bowl eligibility (please don’t prove me wrong!). Prediction: Syracuse 23, USF 20

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-4) (4-2) at Clemson Tigers (8-1) (5-1): Wake Forest understands what’s at stake here. After three straight lackluster efforts (one win and two losses), the Demon Deacons will try to salvage a season that at one point was filled with promise. Clemson, as mentioned above, would love to wrap up the Atlantic Division this week, so the goal of most seasons: beating South Carolina. Given Wake’s suspect passing defense, and Tajh Boyd‘s considerable skills in that category, expect the Tigers offense to have a great bounce-back performance. Prediction: Clemson 38, Wake Forest 21

Pittsburgh Panthers (4-5) at Louisville Cardinals (5-4): Pitt’s final three games are no picnic — not the news any team looking to clinch a bowl berth wants to hear. And Louisville isn’t looking to make things any easier. After a rough 2-4 start, the Cardinals are now in second place in the Big East and riding a three-game winning streak on the strength of solid defensive and special teams play. The big question will be whether the Louisville D can put pressure on Pitt QB Tino Sunseri early. If they succeed, they’ll make short work of the Panthers’ limited passing attack, and with sparse options in the running game, Pitt could be in trouble. Prediction: Louisville 27, Pittsburgh 21

North Carolina State Wolfpack (5-4) (2-3) at Boston College Eagles (2-7) (1-5): Was last week’s shutout over UNC a sign of things to come for the Wolfpack, or should we expect results closer to the previous week, when they were crushed by Florida State? I’d trend toward the middle — with the team more relying on QB Mike Glennon to out duel the opposing offense than leaning on the defense to hold down the fort. Lucky for them this week, they’ve got BC, who doesn’t score all that many points (18.4 points per game — 113th in the country). Prediction: NC State 28, Boston College 17

Duke Blue Devils (3-6) (1-4) at Virginia Cavaliers (6-3) (3-2): One disappointing loss to NC State aside, Virginia has continued to impress week-in and week-out. Given that the Blue Devils rarely impress, this shouldn’t be too tough of a test for Virginia. Like in-state rivals Virginia Tech, UVa controls its own fate in the race for the Coastal Division — win out, and they’re in the title game. It would be a magical ride for them, but it all starts with getting it done against an inferior opponent this weekend. While they’ve faltered in this situation before, I believe they’ve learned from it and the defense, specifically, will be in rare form. Prediction: Virginia 26, Duke 14

Miami (FL) Hurricanes (5-4) (3-3) at Florida State Seminoles (6-3) (4-2): When Miami first joined the ACC, this was supposed to be the matchup that decided ACC titles and national championships. And though neither has really come to fruition, the intensity of this year’s end-of-season races, along with the usual bad blood in this rivalry does crank things up a bit. Facing their first quality opponent in over a month, can FSU respond with a dominant defensive performance? Can Miami display consistency in league play and notch another impressive win to pair with their drubbing of Georgia Tech a few weeks back? I know we’ve said this before, but the ‘Noles have been revitalized, and thus, will be victorious. It won’t be easy, though. Prediction: Florida St. 41, Miami 35

Maryland Terrapins (2-7) at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-3): Notre Dame continues their open auditions for the ACC by taking on sacrificial lamb, Maryland. The Terps, once respectable, even in the face of mediocrity, have been a laughing stock for about a month now. The Irish, on the other hand, have taken an 0-2 start and turned it into a slightly compelling/entertaining campaign. While not worldbeaters by any stretch of the imagination, ND’s junior receiver Michael Floyd could probably defeat Maryland on his own, and will attempt to do so Saturday (half-joking). In all seriousness though, I’d be shocked if the Terrapins managed to stop Notre Dame’s balanced, efficient attack. Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Maryland 20

Last Week’s Record: 5-2; 2011 Record: 17-9