National respect, BCS bowls and the Coastal Division title are all up for grabs in the ACC this Saturday.
With four games against the SEC, the ACC has a chance to earn some national respect, especially if Clemson can go on the road and beat South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won four in a row in this series, but the Tigers’ explosive offense will be tough to contain.
Florida State looks to add to Florida’s miserable season with a win in the Swamp, while moving one step closer to the national championship.
Georgia Tech won’t have to face Aaron Murray, but the Bulldogs still have plenty of talent on the roster. The Yellow Jackets have not defeated their in-state rivals since 2008.
Duke travels to Chapel Hill in need of a victory to clinch a spot in the ACC Championship. With a win over their in-state rival, the Blue Devils will claim the Coastal Division title. However, if Duke stumbles, Virginia Tech has a chance to claim the division crown with a victory against Virginia.
ACC Week 14 Game Power Rankings
1. Clemson (+5) at South Carolina (7:00 ET, ESPN2)
The Iron Bowl is stealing the headlines — and rightfully so — but the annual battle for bragging rights in the Palmetto State should be just as intense. For the first time ever, these two teams will meet with both schools ranked in the top 10. Clemson, at 10–1, is on the fringe of the national title chase, but the Tigers can put themselves in position to earn an at-large invite to a BCS bowl with a win over South Carolina. The Gamecocks will no doubt be focused on winning this game, but they will also have an eye on the scoreboard. If Missouri loses at home to Texas A&M — in a game that kicks off 45 minutes later — South Carolina will represent the East in the SEC title game. Diving into the matchup in Columbia, you might be surprised to learn that South Carolina has been the more efficient team on offense on a per-play basis (6.6 for the Gamecocks to 6.3 for the Tigers) and Clemson has been better on defense (5.1 to 5.4). The schedules haven’t been the same — South Carolina’s has been more difficult — but these stats seem to contradict the national perception of both teams.
2. Duke (+5) at North Carolina (Noon ET, ESPN2)
Excitement over a Duke-North Carolina game is usually reserved for the hardwood, but this season’s game has major implications on the ACC and national level. The Tar Heels have won five in a row and can spoil the Blue Devils’ Coastal Division title hopes with a victory. Not only is Duke a win away from playing in the conference championship, it needs a victory to set a school record for most wins in a season. North Carolina’s offense has been on a tear over the last five games, averaging 44 points per contest in that span. Quarterback play is crucial for both teams on Saturday, as Marquise Williams stepped into the starting lineup for an injured Bryn Renner, and North Carolina’s offense hasn’t missed a beat. Duke’s Anthony Boone struggled in wins over Virginia Tech and NC State but rebounded with a strong performance against Wake Forest last week (24 of 29, 256 yards, three touchdowns). The Blue Devils won 33-30 in Durham last season, but the Tar Heels have claimed eight out of the last nine meetings. Duke’s last win in Chapel Hill came in 2003.
3. Georgia (+3) at Georgia Tech (3:30 ET, ABC)
For the first time since December 2009, someone other than Aaron Murray will be starting at quarterback for Georgia. Murray, one of the top quarterbacks in SEC history, is sidelined with a torn ACL suffered in Georgia’s win over Kentucky last Saturday. In steps Hutson Mason, a junior who has thrown a combined 82 passes in his three seasons. Mason’s task will be simple this week: Don’t make many mistakes and hand the ball off to Todd Gurley on a frequent basis. Todd Grantham has had his struggles as the defensive coordinator at Georgia, but his defenses have done a solid job against Georgia Tech’s option attack in his three seasons. Georgia has won all three by an average score of 38–20.
4. Florida State (+27) at Florida (Noon ET, ESPN)
The annual meeting for bragging rights in the Sunshine State is usually one of the most-anticipated matchups of rivalry week. However, the 2013 matchup has a feeling of two teams headed in opposite directions. Florida State is two wins away from playing for the national championship, while Florida is having its worst season since a 0-10-1 record in 1979. The Gators enter Saturday’s contest on a six-game losing streak, including a 26-20 defeat to FCS opponent Georgia Southern last week. Injuries have hampered Florida’s season, and quarterback Tyler Murphy is questionable to play with a shoulder problem. Backup Skyler Mornhinweg has struggled in his two starts and faces a Florida State defense that leads the nation with 23 interceptions. Florida ranks second in the SEC in total defense, but the Seminoles average 7.9 yards per play and have scored at least 40 points in every game this year.
5. Miami (-2.5) at Pittsburgh (Friday, 3:30 ET, ABC)
Miami and Pittsburgh are former Big East rivals, but these two teams meet for the first time as ACC foes on Friday. The Hurricanes own a sizeable 22-9-1 series edge over the Panthers and claimed a 31-3 win over the Panthers in 2010. Miami still has an outside shot at playing for the ACC Championship, but Al Golden’s team needs a lot to go its way. The Panthers are trying to improve their bowl position, as well as win more than six games for the first time since 2010. Miami’s defense snapped a three-game streak of allowing 40 points or more by holding Virginia to 26 points last week. But the Hurricanes are shorthanded at cornerback due to injuries and have generated only 11 sacks in ACC games. Pittsburgh has struggled to protect quarterback Tom Savage, but the receiving tandem of Tyler Boyd and Devin Street has combined for 78 catches (eight touchdowns) this season. Miami’s offense ranks second in the ACC by averaging 6.8 yards per play, but turnovers (21) and inconsistent play have hindered this group’s production. Both teams are struggling to establish the run in recent weeks, which puts even more pressure on Savage and Miami quarterback Stephen Morris to produce.
6. Boston College (-2) at Syracuse (3:30 ET, RSN)
Syracuse needs one win to become bowl eligible, but the Orange has a tough assignment to earn win No. 6 on Saturday. Led by senior running back Andre Williams, Boston College has a four-game winning streak. Williams has 2,073 yards on 320 carries this season and has at least 263 yards in each of his last three games. Syracuse ranks sixth in ACC-only games against the run, allowing 149.7 yards per game. But a deeper look into the numbers shows the Orange has been vulnerable on the ground, as Georgia Tech gashed Syracuse for 394 yards and Florida State rushed for 225 yards on 19 attempts. Williams could find running room limited against the middle of the Orange’s defense, which is anchored by senior tackle Jay Bromley. Syracuse’s offense plans to have a similar blueprint of attack, relying on Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley to anchor a rushing game that averages 210.9 yards per game. Both teams should have no trouble establishing the run, so this game could be decided by whichever quarterback – Chase Rettig, Boston College or Terrel Hunt, Syracuse – is more efficient and makes plays with the game on the line.
7. Virginia Tech (-13) at Virginia (3:30 ET, ESPNU)
The Commonwealth Cup and bragging rights in the state of Virginia are on the line when the Hokies and Cavaliers meet on Saturday. While Virginia Tech has to be focused on winning this game, the Hokies have to keep an eye on the scoreboard, as a North Carolina win over Duke would send Frank Beamer’s team to the ACC Championship. While there are reasons to be excited in Blacksburg, Virginia is looking for answers after a 2-9 start. The Cavaliers have lost eight consecutive games, with a struggling offense (4.4 yards per play) the primary culprit. Virginia Tech’s offense has faced its share of struggles on offense, but quarterback Logan Thomas has been solid in the Hokies' last two games. Thomas doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards each week, especially with a defense that holds conference opponents under 300 yards per game (268.2), has generated 34 sacks and forced 24 turnovers. If Virginia can force a couple of turnovers, the Cavaliers will have a chance to snap a nine-game losing streak to their in-state rivals. But if Virginia Tech controls the turnover margin, its defense is capable of pitching a shutout against Virginia.
8. Maryland (-2.5) at NC State (12:30 ET, ACC Network)
Saturday’s road trip to Raleigh will be the final game for Maryland as an ACC member. The Terrapins are off to the Big Ten next season, but there’s more at stake than just another conference game. Maryland is on the bowl bubble in the ACC, and a win over NC State would help the Terrapins land in the postseason. The Wolfpack is still searching for their first conference win, and first-year coach Dave Doeren hopes to snap a seven-game losing streak to build momentum for spring practice. NC State’s offense showed some signs of life in the fourth quarter against East Carolina, but the Wolfpack is averaging only 16.3 points in ACC games this season. Maryland’s offense has been hit hard by injuries at receiver, while turnovers (18) have also slowed this unit’s production. The Terrapins have lost three out of the last four against NC State, with their last win in Raleigh coming in 2007.
9. Wake Forest (+14) at Vanderbilt (12:21 ET, SEC TV)
Vanderbilt returns home after its thrilling win in Knoxville with a chance to win eight games in the regular season for the second straight season — something that hasn’t been done since 1927-28. Here’s an interesting stat: Vanderbilt has averaged 289.4 yards in its last five games, but the Commodores are 4–1 during that stretch with wins over Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. Wake Forest has shown sings of life in the last month — they lost by three at Miami and by seven to Duke — but the Deacons have lost four straight and will miss a bowl game for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Vanderbilt has won two straight over Wake by a combined score of 96–28.
ACC Week 14 Pivotal Players
Anthony Boone, QB, Duke
Boone didn’t play particularly well in a recent three-game stretch, tossing seven picks to no touchdowns. But the junior had a solid performance against Wake Forest, completing 24 of 29 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Boone will be matched against a North Carolina secondary allowing 210.6 yards per game, and this unit has held four out of its last five opponents to 204 passing yards or less. Duke’s defense has showed improvement after last season, but the Blue Devils will have trouble containing North Carolina’s offense. There should be no shortage of points scored in this game, and with the Tar Heels catching fire over the last few games, Boone may need a huge day through the air to keep up with North Carolina.
Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse
No team has held Boston College running back Andre Williams under 263 yards in his last three games. Will Syracuse have more success than New Mexico State, NC State and Maryland? Statistically, the Orange has been relatively solid against the run (149.7 ypg). However, the Orange has been gashed at times, including 225 yards to Florida State and 394 to Georgia Tech. Bromley is one of the ACC’s best defensive tackles and needs to be disruptive at the line of scrimmage for Syracuse to slow down Williams.
Anthony Chickillo, DE, Miami
Protecting quarterback Tom Savage has been a huge problem for Pittsburgh this year. The Panthers have allowed an ACC-worst 40 sacks in 11 games. Chickillo is Miami’s best defensive end and has generated 43 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2013. If Savage has time to throw, he will have chances to take advantage of an injured Hurricane secondary. With concerns in the defensive backfield, ends Chickillo and Shayon Green need to get pressure on Savage and not allow the senior to hit on big plays downfield to receivers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd.
Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
The Seminoles are heavy favorites over their in-state rival but playing in the Swamp in a rivalry game is never an easy assignment. Florida State receiver Rashad Greene has been the go-to target for quarterback Jameis Winston, catching 57 passes for 889 yards and nine scores. Florida has arguably the best secondary the Seminoles will play all year, which includes standouts Loucheiz Purifoy and Vernon Hargreaves III. If Florida State wants to score 40 points for the 12th consecutive game, Greene and fellow receivers Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin need to win one-on-one battles against the Florida defensive backs on Saturday.
Brandon Thomas/Isaiah Battle, OT, Clemson
In last year’s loss to South Carolina, Clemson allowed four sacks and seven tackles for a loss. End Jadeveon Clowney had his way with the Tigers’ line, and even though the junior is having a disappointing season, he's capable of dominating the line of scrimmage once again. Thomas and Battle are expected to start at tackle, and this pair will be challenged to stop Clowney and senior Chaz Sutton. For Clemson to stop South Carolina’s four game winning-streak in this series, Thomas and Battle have to keep the Gamecocks’ ends away from quarterback Tajh Boyd.
ACC Week 14 Predictions
Miami (-2.5) at Pittsburgh
Duke (+5) at North Carolina
Florida State (NL) at Florida
Wake Forest (+14) at Vanderbilt
Maryland (-2.5) at NC State
NC State 27-25
NC State 27-24
Georgia (-3) at Georgia Tech
Ga. Tech 35-21
Boston College (-2) at Syracuse
Virginia Tech (-13) at Virginia
Va. Tech 27-17
Va. Tech 24-10
Va. Tech 34-10
Va. Tech 30-7
Clemson (+5) at South Carolina
So. Carolina 31-21
So. Carolina 38-34
So. Carolina 30-24