It’s another light week of games in the ACC for Week 12. Florida State clinched the Atlantic Division title with last Saturday’s win over Wake Forest, and the Seminoles can bolster their national championship position with an impressive win over Syracuse this week.
While the Atlantic Division is already decided, the Coastal Division is up for grabs. Virginia Tech’s win over Miami created a four-way tie atop the Coastal, with four teams having two losses heading into Week 12.
There could be some separation in the Coastal this week, as Miami travels to Duke and Georgia Tech plays at Clemson. The Yellow Jackets are a double-digit underdog to the Tigers, but an upset win would keep their Coastal title hopes alive.
Outside of the title picture, North Carolina-Pittsburgh and Boston College-NC State are key ACC games this week. Both contests will help to shape the conference’s bowl picture.
ACC Week 12 Game Power Rankings
1. Miami (-3) at Duke (3:30 ET, ESPNU)
At the beginning of the season, not many expected Miami-Duke to be one of the ACC’s marquee games in November. But with a wide-open Coastal Division, and the Blue Devils recording their first winning season since 1994, this game will factor prominently into the division title. The Hurricanes have owned this series, winning nine out of the ten matchups against Duke. The Blue Devils’ last victory came in 1976 and only one out of the last six meetings has been decided by a touchdown. Duke’s defense has stepped up at key moments this year, scoring two touchdowns in the second half to beat NC State last week, while the last four opponents have been held to 22 points or less each game. The Blue Devils need another inspired effort on defense this week, as Miami is the best offense Duke has played this year. In last week’s loss against Virginia Tech, Miami rushed for only 28 yards on 24 attempts. With Duke Johnson sidelined, Dallas Crawford and Gus Edwards have to shoulder the workload in the backfield against a Duke defense allowing 191 rushing yards per game in conference play. Quarterback Stephen Morris averaged 20.3 yards per completion against Virginia Tech, but the senior has eight picks in conference play. If Morris and the rushing game are back on track, Duke will have a tough time slowing down Miami’s offense. But the Blue Devils will have opportunities to move the ball on a Hurricane defense allowing 290.8 passing yards per game. Quarterback Anthony Boone struggled against NC State, and Duke will likely go to a two-quarterback system against Miami, with Brandon Connette mixing into the lineup. Last year’s meeting between these two teams featured 97 points and 1,229 yards of total offense. Saturday’s meeting may not feature the same point total, but this is clearly the best game of the week in the ACC.
2. North Carolina (-1) at Pittsburgh (12:30 ET, ACC)
The first meeting between North Carolina and Pittsburgh as ACC opponents is a huge matchup for both team’s bowl prospects. The Tar Heels have a three-game winning streak and need two victories to get bowl eligible. The Panthers defeated Notre Dame last Saturday to snap a two-game losing streak and to move to 5-4 overall. North Carolina’s offense is averaging 35.3 points a game in its last three matchups, and sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams was steady in his second start of 2013, completing 15 of 28 passes for 185 yards against Virginia. Williams faces a Pittsburgh defense that struggled early in the year but has held its last six opponents to 24 or fewer points. The offense hasn’t been the only side of the ball improving for North Carolina in recent weeks. The Tar Heels’ defense has limited their last three opponents to 321.7 yards per game. But Pittsburgh is the best offense this unit will have faced since playing Miami on Oct. 17. The Panthers average 225.6 yards per game through the air, and if he has time to throw, quarterback Tom Savage is capable of hitting big plays downfield to receivers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd. North Carolina’s run defense is last in the ACC (194 ypg), so expect to see plenty of James Conner and Isaac Bennett, especially as Pittsburgh hopes to keep some of the pressure off of Savage (sacked 30 times in 2013).
3. Georgia Tech (+10.5) at Clemson (Thursday, 7:30 ET, ESPN)
Florida State has clinched the Atlantic Division title, but Clemson still has plenty to play for. The Tigers are in position to play in a BCS bowl and rank No. 8 in the latest BCS standings. With recent losses by Miami and Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech is back in the Coastal Division title picture. The Yellow Jackets have a three-game winning streak after losing three consecutive matchups earlier this year. Clemson catches a break by playing Georgia Tech after a bye, as defensive coordinator Brent Venables had an extra week to prepare for the option. This series has produced quite a few entertaining games and 12 out of the last 18 matchups were decided by five points or less. The Yellow Jackets lead the ACC in rushing offense (311.2 ypg), which will test a Clemson defense holding opponents to 140.8 yards per game on the ground. The Tigers are athletic and fast in the front seven, but this unit has to be disciplined against an offense that is difficult to defend. Georgia Tech’s defense has improved under first-year coordinator Ted Roof, ranking third in the ACC in yards allowed per game (329.6) and third in scoring defense (18.8). However, the secondary is a concern for Roof. The Yellow Jackets are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 62.9 percent of their throws. With one of the nation’s top pass-catch duos ahead in Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, Georgia Tech has to generate pressure and prevent the Tigers from hitting on big plays.
4. Maryland (+15) at Virginia Tech (12:30 ET, ACC)
The all-time series between Maryland and Virginia Tech is tied at 15. With the Terrapins moving to the Big Ten next season, this is likely the final matchup between these two teams for the foreseeable future. Virginia Tech’s win in Miami last week has changed the outlook of the Coastal Division once again. The Hokies need help to win the division, but Frank Beamer’s team is in better shape than it was just a week ago. Maryland heads to Blacksburg reeling after losses in four out of its last five games. The Terrapins started 4-0, but injuries and a tougher slate of opponents have caused this team to slide to 1-4 in conference play. Maryland’s offense scored 159 points through the first four games but has just 67 through the last five. Getting the offense back on track on Saturday will be tough, especially with Virginia Tech’s defense leading the ACC in fewest yards allowed per game (263.1). The Hokies lead the way in rush defense (95.2) and have recorded 31 sacks this season. The Terrapins need a near-perfect effort from both sides of the ball to score the upset, while Virginia Tech hopes to have another mistake-free performance from quarterback Logan Thomas. In the 42-24 win over Miami, Thomas threw for 366 yards and two scores, while adding 42 yards on the ground. If Thomas continues to play like he did last week, the Hokies will finish the regular season at 9-3.
5. NC State (+7.5) at Boston College (12:30 ET, RSN)
This matchup is the second of two critical games for bowl hopes in the ACC. Behind 295 yards from running back Andre Williams, Boston College survived New Mexico State’s upset bid in Las Cruces. With three games remaining, the Eagles need one win to get bowl eligible for the first time since the 2010 season. The Wolfpack still has faint bowl hopes but must win their final three games to get to 6-6. Points could be at a premium on Saturday, as both teams are averaging less than 24 points a game in ACC contests. NC State running back Shadrach Thornton has two 100-yard efforts in his last three games, but the passing attack has struggled. The Wolfpack have ditched their two-quarterback system for this week, with senior Brandon Mitchell (1 TD, 6 INTs, 48.7%) expected to play the full game. Mitchell has the ability to make a difference on the ground, but he has to give the offense more punch through the air. When Boston College has the ball, expect to see plenty of Andre Williams. NC State is tied for 12th in ACC-only games against the run, with opponents averaging 5.3 yards per carry. These two teams have played 10 times, and Boston College is 4-0 against NC State in Chestnut Hill.
6. Syracuse (+39) at Florida State (3:30 ET, ABC/ESPN2)
Another week, another game where Florida State is a heavy favorite. The Seminoles were favored by 35 points against Wake Forest last week and won by 56. Syracuse beat the Demon Deacons 13-0 earlier this year, but the Orange still face an uphill battle on Saturday. Syracuse does have momentum by winning three out of its last four games. However, the Orange lost 49-14 to Clemson and 56-0 to Georgia Tech - two of the top six teams in the ACC this year. Syracuse’s strength on offense is its rushing attack, which is averaging 244.4 yards per game in its five victories. Florida State’s rush defense allowed 151.5 yards per game through the first four games of 2013, but coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has made a few tweaks to his defense, and the Seminoles are allowing just 106 yards per contest over the last five games. After throwing for only 159 yards and two touchdowns against Wake Forest last week, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston should have an opportunity to pad his stats against the Orange – provided the defense doesn’t score twice in the first half. Syracuse’s secondary ranks 11th in the ACC against the pass and will have its hands full against the Seminoles’ dynamic offense. The Orange are heavy underdogs, so shortening the game with the run and forcing the Florida State offense to sustain long drives instead of hitting on big plays might be the only shot at hanging around.
ACC Week 12 Pivotal Players
Jeremiah Attaochu, DE, Georgia Tech
Clemson’s offensive line has allowed 17 sacks in ACC play, and Georgia Tech’s best shot at limiting quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins starts with a good pass rush. Attaochu has started all nine games for the Yellow Jackets, recording 9.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks. The senior also has one forced fumble. In last year’s meeting, Attaochu recorded 13 tackles and two sacks. Georgia Tech needs a similar effort from Attaochu on Thursday night to keep Boyd from his third consecutive 300-yard passing effort.
Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina
North Carolina’s offensive line will have its hands full with Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald on Saturday. Donald leads the nation by averaging 2.2 tackles for a loss a game and is one of the top defensive players in the ACC. Bodine has started all nine games in 2013 and has 23 starts in his career. The junior was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list earlier this year, and he could be matched against Donald for a good chunk of snaps on Saturday.
Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
With running back Duke Johnson sidelined, Miami struggled to run the ball in last week’s loss to Virginia Tech. Without their top rusher for the rest of the year, the Hurricanes could ask more of quarterback Stephen Morris. The senior averaged 20.3 yards per completion against the Hokies last week and threw for 324 yards and two scores. Cockrell is one of the ACC’s top cornerbacks, recording 33 stops and two interceptions in 2013. Expect Cockrell to be matched up against Allen Hurns or Stacy Coley most of the game, and it’s up to the senior to keep those two receivers in check, as well as force Morris into a few bad throws.
Tracy Howard, CB, Miami
Miami’s secondary has been under fire in its last four games. The Hurricanes limited their first five opponents to just two passing scores. But over the last four games, Miami has allowed four consecutive opponents to reach at least 300 passing yards. The Hurricanes were gashed by Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas for 366 yards and two scores, which prompted coach Al Golden to open up the competition on the depth chart. Regardless of whether he starts or not, Howard will play a critical role in slowing down Duke receiver Jamison Crowder. The junior is tied for first in the ACC with 67 receptions and is averaging 13.5 yards per catch. Even with quarterback Anthony Boone struggling, Crowder is still a dangerous matchup for Miami.
Brandon Mitchell, QB, NC State
The two-quarterback system at NC State is gone – at least for now. After Pete Thomas shared snaps against Duke, coach Dave Doeren has decided to hand the reigns solely to Mitchell this week. Mitchell is completing only 48.7 percent of his throws and has six interceptions, but his rushing ability could be a difference-maker for NC State’s offense (172 yards on 51 attempts). With a tight game expected at Boston College, Mitchell needs to limit his mistakes and deliver his best passing performance of the year for the Wolfpack to win their first conference game of 2013.
ACC Week 12 Predictions
Ga. Tech (+10.5) at Clemson
Maryland (+16) at Va. Tech
Va. Tech 24-13
Va. Tech 27-11
Va. Tech 34-13
Va. Tech 28-13
UNC (-1) at Pittsburgh
NC State (+7.5) at Boston College
Miami (-3) at Duke
Syracuse (+39) at Florida State