The ACC dominated the college football spotlight last Saturday, as Florida State-Miami took center stage as a top-10 matchup. The Seminoles handled the Hurricanes with ease, essentially locking up the Atlantic Division.
Miami’s Coastal Division title hopes are still alive, with a key matchup against Virginia Tech ahead this Saturday. The Hurricanes won’t have running back Duke Johnson due to injury, which means the offense needs more from quarterback Stephen Morris. The Hokies have lost back-to-back games, and the offense has struggled to get consistent play from quarterback Logan Thomas.
Elsewhere in the ACC, Pittsburgh hosts Notre Dame in a key game for the Panthers’ bowl hopes. Duke needs a win over NC State to have a shot in the Coastal Division, while Syracuse-Maryland is crucial for both teams to reach the postseason.
Florida State should roll over Wake Forest, and Boston College will have little trouble with New Mexico State.
ACC Week 11 Game Power Rankings
1. Virginia Tech (+6.5) at Miami (7 ET, ESPN)
Despite Miami’s loss to Florida State, and Virginia Tech’s recent setbacks against Boston College and Duke, this matchup is still the game of the year in the Coastal Division. And for the second year in a row, the Hurricanes host the Hokies in Miami, but Virginia Tech has claimed three out of the last four in this series. With the Hurricanes losing running back Duke Johnson to an ankle injury for the rest of the year, and Virginia Tech struggling on offense, points could be at a premium on Saturday night. With Johnson sidelined, Miami will turn to capable backup Dallas Crawford (4.4 ypc) to lead the way on the ground. Quarterback Stephen Morris will also shoulder more of the workload, but the senior will be going against one of the top defensive backfields in the nation. Virginia Tech is holding opponents to just 161.6 yards per game through the air, and the secondary could get a boost with the return of Kyle Fuller from a groin injury. Crawford has played well in limited action, but the Hokies are holding opponents to just 3.4 yards per carry. Virginia Tech’s offense has scored over 20 points in just three out of the last seven games. Quarterback Logan Thomas has six interceptions in his last two starts, but the senior doesn’t have a strong supporting cast. Miami’s defense is allowing 5.9 yards per play against ACC teams, so there will be opportunities to make plays for Thomas. With both teams dealing with concerns on offense, this one could come down to which team wins the turnover battle or makes a key play on special teams.
2. Notre Dame (-4.5) at Pittsburgh (8 ET, ABC)
Close games have defined the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh series, with each of the last five meetings decided by five points or less. A similar result is expected on Saturday night, as the Panthers need a win to stay alive for the postseason, while the Fighting Irish have to win out to keep their BCS bowl hopes intact. Since losing to Oklahoma on Sept. 28, Notre Dame has won four in a row, including games over Michigan State and Oklahoma. The Fighting Irish aren’t as dominant on defense as they were in 2012, and this unit is dealing with a handful of injuries this week. Linebacker Ben Councell is out for the year with a knee injury, while linemen Sheldon Day and Louis Nix III are questionable, and Kona Schwenke is out with an ankle sprain. With a banged up defense, Pittsburgh will try to get its rushing game back on track. The Panthers were held to -5 yards against Georgia Tech, and freshman running back James Conner has only 32 yards in his last three games. The Fighting Irish are allowing 164.9 yards per game on the ground, but those numbers are skewed slightly by playing Air Force and Navy in back-to-back weeks. If Pittsburgh gets its ground game going, it should help take some of the pressure off of quarterback Tom Savage. The senior has been sacked 29 times this year and does not have a completion longer than 28 yards in his last three games. Notre Dame’s offense has scored 37 points or more in three out of the last four games, with balance a key part of the attack. Quarterback Tommy Rees is completing only 55.6 percent of his passes, but the senior has 22 touchdown tosses. The Fighting Irish have four players with at least 193 rushing yards, including freshman Tarean Folston who led the team with 140 yards last week. Considering the series trend, another nail-biter should be expected in the Steel City.
3. NC State (+9.5) at Duke (4 ET, ESPNU)
The Blue Devils are riding a four-game winning streak and have momentum from the Oct. 26 victory at Virginia Tech. With Miami losing to Florida State, Duke actually controls its destiny in the Coastal Division. The Hurricanes and Blue Devils meet in Durham next Saturday, but Duke still has one obstacle to clear before turning its focus to the Hurricanes. NC State is a team desperately looking for a win in ACC play. The Wolfpack are 0-5 in the conference in coach Dave Doeren’s first season. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell missed five games due to a foot injury, and the senior made his return to the lineup against Florida State. Mitchell rushed for 105 yards against North Carolina last week, but he has yet to throw for more than 130 yards in his last two starts and tossed four picks during that span. Junior Pete Thomas replaced Mitchell late in last week’s loss and may split time under center on Saturday. Duke’s defense doesn’t look particularly solid on the stat sheet (12th in the ACC in total defense), but this unit has allowed only 10 points in the second half in the last three games. With NC State’s struggles through the air, the Blue Devils should prepare to be tested on the ground. Duke’s offense has scored at least 30 points in four out of the last five games, and its balanced attack is a tough matchup for a Wolfpack defense allowing 30.8 points a game in ACC play. These two teams haven’t met since 2009, but NC State has won 11 out of the last 12 games in this series.
4. Syracuse (+6) at Maryland (3:30 ET, RSN)
With Syracuse at 4-4 and Maryland at 5-3, Saturday’s game is crucial to both team’s bowl hopes. The Orange scored a key win against Wake Forest last Saturday, while the Terrapins have lost three out of their last four games. Syracuse’s defense rebounded after a bad showing against Georgia Tech (56 points) to shut out the Demon Deacons. But Maryland should present a tougher challenge. The Terrapins should regain the services of quarterback C.J. Brown, who had a bye to heal from injuries that forced the senior to miss the 40-27 loss to Clemson. Brown started the year by throwing seven touchdowns in his first four games but has yet to score in an ACC game this year. With receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long sidelined for the season, Brown will be throwing to an inexperienced group of weapons. But opportunities for plays in the passing game should be available, especially with a Syracuse secondary allowing 233.4 yards per game. When the Orange has the ball, expect a run-first attack. Syracuse averages 235.8 rushing yards per game in conference play and will test a Maryland defense hit hard by injuries. The Terrapins rank 10th in ACC-only games against the run, which should allow running backs Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley plenty of room to maneuver. Quarterback Terrel Hunt is also a threat on the ground, but the sophomore has to avoid mistakes through the air (six interceptions in 131 attempts). These two schools have a connection, as Maryland coach Randy Edsall played at Syracuse and coached there as an assistant. This is also the first meeting between these two teams since 1994.
5. Florida State (-35) at Wake Forest (Noon, ABC)
After handling Miami 41-14 last Saturday, the Seminoles jumped to No. 2 in the BCS standings. But Florida State’s stay there could be brief if Oregon beats Stanford on Thursday night. Regardless of what happens around the nation, the Seminoles need to win impressively the rest of the way. And even though Wake Forest has won four out of the last seven games in this series, Florida State should have little trouble with the Demon Deacons on Saturday. Wake Forest’s offense has struggled throughout 2013, and top receiver Michael Campanaro is likely out for the rest of the year. Just how valuable was Campanaro? The Demon Deacons had 184 completions through nine games, and Campanaro had 67 catches and six of the 13 touchdown receptions. With Campanaro sidelined, quarterback Tanner Price needs more help from receivers Matt James, Tyree Harris Jonathan Williams, Sherman Ragland III and Jared Crump. For Wake Forest to have any shot at the upset, the offense has to play keep away and limit Florida State’s possessions. However, the Seminoles are averaging eight yards a play, and even if the Demon Deacons have any success with their quick, short-yardage passing attack, it’s hard to see quarterback Jameis Winston and one of the nation’s best supporting casts have much trouble scoring points on Wake Forest’s defense.
6. Virginia (+13.5) at North Carolina (12:30 ET, ACC Network)
The Oldest Rivalry in the South has seen better days. Virginia limps into this game at 2-7 with a six-game losing streak, and North Carolina is fighting to get bowl eligible. The Tar Heels will have to play the rest of the season without quarterback Bryn Renner, who suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s win against NC State. However, backup Marquise Williams is a good fit for coach Larry Fedora’s spread attack and has one start (Virginia Tech) this year. Williams has led North Carolina’s offense in rushing in the last two games, but freshman back T.J. Logan averaged 8.6 yards per carry last week and should have a bigger role in the offense moving forward. Finding a spark on offense has been a season-long experiment for the Cavaliers. Quarterback David Watford completed just 16 of 35 throws last week and has tossed 10 picks to just seven scores. Watford will have a chance to rebound against North Carolina’s defense, which is allowing 423 yards per game. But the Tar Heels have showed signs of life on defense the last two weeks, holding Boston College to 10 points on Oct. 26 and NC State to 19 last week. North Carolina has claimed the last three meetings in this series by a combined score of 109-40.
7. Boston College (-24) at New Mexico State (3:30 ET, ESPN3)
In one of the strangest road trips of 2013, Boston College has to make a lengthy trek to Las Cruces, N.M. this weekend for a late-season non-conference game. This will be the first meeting between these two schools, which are separated by just over 2,300 miles. However, there is a connection for the two programs, as New Mexico State coach Doug Martin served as Boston College’s offensive coordinator in 2012. Even though this is an extended road trip for the Eagles, the Aggies shouldn’t put up much of a fight. New Mexico State is 1-8, with its only win coming against Abilene Christian. The Aggies are struggling on the stat sheet, ranking 85th nationally in total offense and 123rd nationally in scoring defense. Boston College running back Andre Williams has at least 149 yards in four out of his last five games and should have no trouble finding running room against a New Mexico State defense allowing 312.1 rushing yards per game.
ACC Week 11 Pivotal Players
Kelby Brown, LB, Duke
NC State’s passing attack has struggled the last two weeks, but quarterback Brandon Mitchell is capable of rushing for 100 yards. Mitchell could share time with Pete Thomas on Saturday, but the senior will still be utilized on the ground. In addition to Mitchell, running back Shadrach Thornton has rushed for at least 60 yards in each of NC State’s last three games. Duke’s defense ranks 12th in ACC-only games against the run, allowing 197.8 yards per game, but opponents have managed only five rushing scores. Considering the Wolfpack’s struggles with their passing game, the Blue Devils need to shut down the rushing attack and force Mitchell or Thomas to win this game through the air. Brown and linebacker mate David Helton were outstanding in the win over Virginia Tech and need another standout performance on Saturday.
Trey Edmunds, RB, Virginia Tech
Quarterback Logan Thomas has struggled with turnovers in each of his last two games, and the senior passer needs more help from his supporting cast. Edmunds is the top running back for Virginia Tech but has only 447 yards and five scores through nine games. Miami’s rush defense allowed 192 yards to Florida State last week, and ACC opponents are averaging 4.1 yards per carry against this unit in 2013. Edmunds has not recorded more than 14 carries in an ACC game this year. With Thomas coming off back-to-back sluggish performances, Edmunds needs to step up and give Virginia Tech’s offense a little balance.
Cory King, OG/Artie Rowell, C, Pittsburgh
The Panthers have struggled to get consistent production from their offensive line this year. Quarterback Tom Savage has been sacked 29 times this year, and Notre Dame’s defensive line could have reinforcements back this week, as Louis Nix III could return from a knee injury. Teammate Sheldon Day is questionable with an ankle injury, which makes Nix III and end Stephon Tuitt’s performance even more critical to Notre Dame’s defensive success on Saturday night. Pittsburgh’s line could hold the key to a victory, especially if the front five can get a good push on the Fighting Irish and open rushing lanes for running backs James Conner and Isaac Bennett.
Stephen Morris, QB, Miami
With running back Duke Johnson sidelined for the rest of the year due to an ankle injury, the Hurricanes will probably ask Morris to shoulder more of the offensive workload. The senior completed 16 of 28 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State last week but also threw two interceptions. After struggling with an ankle injury earlier in the year, Morris looked closer to 100 percent in last week’s game. However, Morris has another tough assignment ahead this week, as Virginia Tech’s secondary ranks as one of the best in the nation. The Hokies are led by seniors in Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum at cornerback, but freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller have combined for nine picks this year. With Phillip Dorsett sidelined, Morris and receiver Allen Hurns should be the go-to combination against Virginia Tech’s suffocating secondary.
Sherman Ragland III, WR, Wake Forest
With Michael Campanaro out for the season with a collarbone injury, Ragland III and injured freshman receiver Tyree Harris have to pickup the slack in the passing game. Ragland III led the team with 10 receptions for 91 yards in last week’s game against Syracuse and should be the No. 1 option on Saturday. Florida State’s secondary is arguably the best in the nation, so Ragland III and quarterback Tanner Price won’t have much room for error. But if the Demon Deacons have any hope of scoring the upset, the passing attack has to keep the chains moving, especially with a lackluster rushing game.
ACC Week 11 Predictions
FSU (-35) at Wake
Virginia (+13.5) at UNC
Boston College (-24) at NMSU
Syracuse (+6) at Maryland
NC State (+9.5) at Duke
Virginia Tech (+6.5) at Miami
Va. Tech 24-17
Notre Dame (-4.5) at Pittsburgh