The ACC is back under the national spotlight in Week 10. Florida State-Clemson was the marquee national game two weeks ago, but the Seminoles easily handled the Tigers in Death Valley.
Is the stage set for another Florida State blowout on Saturday night? The Seminoles are a three-touchdown favorite over in-state rival Miami, with the Hurricanes needing a couple of late comebacks to beat North Carolina and Wake Forest – a combined 6-9 this season.
A blowout victory against Miami would serve Florida State well in the national title picture, but the Hurricanes also have the chance at a rematch – assuming they win the Coastal – in the ACC Championship.
Elsewhere around the ACC, Clemson travels to Virginia, while Wake Forest and Syracuse meet in an important game for bowl positioning. Pittsburgh looks to bounce back after a disappointing loss to Navy, meeting Georgia Tech for the first time as ACC opponents.
Virginia Tech travels to Boston College, and North Carolina makes the short trip to in-state rival NC State.
ACC Week 10 Game Power Rankings
1. Miami (+22) at Florida State (8 ET, ABC)
Normally, a matchup of two top-10 teams and in-state rivals wouldn’t produce a point spread of nearly three touchdowns. But that’s the hurdle facing Miami on Saturday night, as Florida State has clearly showed its one of the top-three teams in the nation. The Hurricanes are also undefeated, but close victories over North Carolina and Wake Forest have raised plenty of doubts on whether or not this team is worthy of its top-10 ranking. Florida State has a talent advantage at nearly every position in this game. On offense, quarterback Jameis Winston is already one of the best signal-callers in the nation, and the Seminoles have surrounded the freshman with a strong supporting cast. Although Miami’s defense has improved since last year, it will have its hands full against Winston. The biggest area of concern for the Hurricanes is the secondary, which ranks eighth in the ACC games against the pass. If there’s one area of vulnerability for Florida State, the rush defense could be it. The Seminoles struggled to contain Boston College running back Andre Williams, and NC State’s Shadrach Thornton rushed for 172 yards last week, although some of that yardage came with the starters out of the lineup. Miami needs a big day from running back Duke Johnson, which would allow the Hurricanes to shorten the game and keep Florida State’s offense on the sidelines. Johnson has to be the workhorse for Miami, but quarterback Stephen Morris also has to play better (six interceptions in three ACC games). The Seminoles have won four out of the last five in this series, with Miami’s last victory in Tallahassee coming in 2009.
2. North Carolina (-3.5) at NC State (12:30 ET, ACC Network)
Even though the combined record of these two teams is just 5-9, this is a huge game for bragging rights in North Carolina and for recruiting within the state for both teams. North Carolina won its first ACC game last week, handling Boston College in a 34-10 victory. The Wolfpack is 0-4 in conference play, but first-year coach Dave Doeren’s team has been shorthanded with quarterback Brandon Mitchell missing five games due to a foot injury. Mitchell returned last week against Florida State and completed 17 of 33 throws for 128 yards. The senior’s return should give the Wolfpack offense much-needed balance. Running back Shadrach Thornton is coming off a 100-yard performance against the Seminoles (173), and the sophomore will test a North Carolina defense that ranks last in the ACC against the run. The Tar Heels have one of the ACC’s top passing offenses (305.9 ypg), but balance has been an issue with a struggling rushing attack. Neither team holds an edge in turnover margin (tied for seventh in the conference), so this game could come down to which quarterback can make the most plays and avoid a costly mistake. This rivalry has been a one-sided affair in recent years. NC State has won five out of the last six, but the Tar Heels claimed a 43-35 victory last season.
3. Pittsburgh (+10) at Georgia Tech (7 ET, ESPNU)
After losing to Navy last week, Pittsburgh gets another dose of the option offense at Georgia Tech on Saturday. This is the first meeting between these two schools since 1976 and the first as ACC opponents. After losing three consecutive games, the Yellow Jackets have won their last two games by a combined score of 91-25. The rushing offense has led the way for coach Paul Johnson, recording 394 yards in each of Georgia Tech’s last two games. Pittsburgh’s defense should have a good idea of what to expect from the Yellow Jackets after playing Navy last week, and the Panthers did a respectable job against the Midshipmen (4.7 ypc). However, Georgia Tech’s offense is even tougher to defend and will challenge Pittsburgh’s front seven, including standout tackle Aaron Donald. The Yellow Jackets’ defense has improved under first-year coordinator Ted Roof, but the secondary ranks 10th in the ACC against the pass. If the Panthers can protect quarterback Tom Savage (24 sacks this year), opportunities for big plays for receivers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd should be available. Pittsburgh also needs running back James Conner to rebound, as the freshman has just 56 yards in his last three games.
4. Virginia Tech (-4.5) at Boston College (Noon ET, ESPN/ABC)
Virginia Tech’s trip to Chestnut Hill last season nearly cost the Hokies a chance to go to a bowl. Virginia Tech needed overtime to beat the 2-10 Eagles, and the Hokies are headed back to Alumni Stadium once again this year. While these two teams are meeting in the same stadium for the second consecutive season, much has changed since last year. Boston College has improved under first-year coach Steve Addazio and is in good shape to make a bowl game. Virginia Tech lost to Duke last Saturday but still has a chance to win the Coastal Division. This matchup is a battle of strength versus strength, as Boston College running back Andre Williams leads the ACC with an average of 144.3 yards per game. But the Hokies lead the ACC in rush defense, allowing just 2.6 yards per game. With running room expected to be limited, the Eagles need more from quarterback Chase Rettig. The senior threw for just 57 yards against North Carolina last week. Quarterback play for Virginia Tech is also under the spotlight, as Logan Thomas is coming of his worst performance in an ACC game this year. Thomas tossed four picks and completed just 55.3 percent of his passes against Duke. Virginia Tech doesn’t need Thomas to throw for 300 yards, but the senior has to be more efficient. Expect a low-scoring game, with turnovers and quarterback play the deciding factors.
5. Wake Forest (+3.5) at Syracuse (12:30 ET, RSN)
With just one month left in the regular season, every game for teams on the bowl bubble like Wake Forest and Syracuse grow in importance. The Demon Deacons started the year 1-2 but rebounded with wins in two out of their last three games and nearly upset Miami last Saturday. Quarterback Tanner Price and a revamped approach on offense have led the turnaround for the Demon Deacons. In his last three games, Price has thrown for 801 yards and six touchdowns, with just two interceptions on 120 attempts. The senior quarterback and receiver Michael Campanaro are one of the top pass-catch combinations in the ACC. Syracuse has struggled to stop the pass this season, ranking last in the ACC by allowing 242 yards per game. While the Demon Deacons want to throw to win, the Orange need to lean on their ground attack. Quarterback Terrel Hunt has completed only 25 of his last 58 passes and does not have a touchdown pass in ACC play. Behind running backs Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley, Syracuse is averaging 253.3 rushing yards per game in conference action. Expect the Orange to challenge a Wake Forest defense that allowed 200 rushing yards to Miami last week.
6. Clemson (-17) at Virginia (3:30 ET, ESPN)
In a slight surprise, a matchup of a 7-1 team (Clemson) against a 2-6 squad (Virginia) doesn’t have the biggest point spread of the week. Regardless of the line, the Tigers shouldn’t have much trouble against Virginia. The Cavaliers have lost five in a row, and despite a few signs of life, the offense still ranks 10th in the ACC in passing and total yards per game. The problems for Virginia aren’t relegated to the offense, as the defense ranks 11th in the ACC (allowing 5.5 yards per play). Injuries have played a role in the defensive struggles, as tackle Brent Urban and cornerback Demetrious Nicholson have missed games due to injury. Urban and Nicholson are questionable for this week’s game. Clemson rebounded from its loss to Florida State with a 40-27 victory over Maryland last Saturday, and the Tigers should have the upper hand in this game. For Virginia to hang around, getting pressure on quarterback Tajh Boyd is a must. Clemson has allowed 21 sacks this year, so expect defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta to bring the pressure against Boyd. With the Cavaliers struggling on offense, an early 14-0 or 17-0 lead by the Tigers might be too much to overcome.
ACC Week 10 Pivotal Players
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Panthers weren’t terrible against the run in last week’s loss to Navy, holding the Midshipmen to 220 yards on 47 carries. The experienced gained by playing Navy and the option offense should pay off this week, as Pittsburgh travels to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech. Donald is one of the top defensive tackles in the nation, and he’s been disruptive and tough to block all season. Stopping the option starts in the trenches. If the Panthers want to hold the Yellow Jackets’ ground game in check, Donald needs to dominate at the point of attack.
DreQuan Hoskey/Tim Harris, CB, Virginia
With Demetrious Nicholson questionable to play, Hoskey and Harris will be assigned the task of trying to slow down Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. Hoskey has six starts under his belt, recording 22 tackles and three pass breakups this year. Harris, a true freshman, has three starts and 13 tackles to his credit. Stopping Watkins and quarterback Tajh Boyd will be a difficult task, and it's up to Hoskey and Harris to eliminate any big plays from the Clemson passing attack.
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Florida State has one of the nation’s best offensive lines, but Miami isn’t too far behind. The Hurricanes have allowed only three sacks in ACC games, and Miami rushers are averaging 5.6 yards per carry. But the Florida State front seven is one of the best in the ACC, loaded with depth and talent at every position. Stopping the run has been an issue for the Seminoles at times this year, and the Hurricanes will likely lean on a heavy dose of running back Duke Johnson on Saturday night. Getting a good push from Jernigan would go a long ways to helping Florida State contain Miami’s ground game.
Stephen Morris, QB, Miami
Miami’s offense is averaging 32 points a game in conference play, but as strange as it sounds, the Hurricanes simply can’t afford to get into a high-scoring shootout with Florida State. Running back Duke Johnson should expect to see 25-30 carries, and quarterback Stephen Morris has to have his best game of the year if Miami is going to pull off the upset. Morris threw only seven picks in 2012 but has eight through seven games in 2013. The transition to new coordinator James Coley hasn’t been completely smooth for Morris, but the senior has also dealt with an ankle injury. Morris doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards on Saturday. However, against a Florida State secondary that is among the best in the nation, the senior’s margin for error is virtually non-existent.
Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
Even with Boston College’s passing offense struggling to get on track last week, Williams still managed 172 yards in a 34-10 loss against North Carolina. The senior leads the ACC with an average of 144.3 yards per game, but Virginia Tech’s defensive line will be the toughest Boston College has faced this year. The Hokies have allowed just five rushing scores and opponents are managing only 2.6 yards per carry. Virginia Tech’s interior line is deep with tackles Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy, while ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins have combined for eight sacks. In order for the Eagles to have a shot at winning on Saturday, Williams has to get over 100 yards.
ACC Week 10 Predictions
Va. Tech at Boston College
Va. Tech 28-10
Va. Tech 20-17
Va. Tech 27-17
Va. Tech 24-20
UNC at NC State
NC State 14-10
Wake Forest at Syracuse
Clemson at Virginia
Pittsburgh at Ga. Tech
Ga. Tech 35-24
Ga. Tech 34-30
Ga. Tech 34-27
Ga. Tech 38-28
Miami at Florida State