After a week in the spotlight for the anticipated Florida State-Clemson matchup, the ACC lacks a marquee game for Week 9.
Florida State ranks No. 2 in the first release of the BCS standings, and the Seminoles look to stay unbeaten with NC State coming to Tallahassee this Saturday. The Wolfpack upset Florida State last season, but it seems unlikely NC State will make it two in a row.
Clemson looks to get back on track, traveling to College Park to take on Maryland for the final time as an ACC opponent. The Terrapins are reeling after back-to-back losses and have a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball.
In a week without a game drawing national interest, matchups like Boston College-North Carolina and Duke-Virginia Tech get the nod as the top contests for Week 9. While neither will register on the national radar, there is some intrigue within the conference. The Blue Devils’ offense will give the Hokies a battle on defense. And the Boston College-North Carolina game is huge for both program’s bowl hopes.
ACC Week 9 Game Power Rankings
1. Boston College (+7) at North Carolina (3:30 ET, ACC RSN)
With a light week of action in the ACC, there’s not an easy pick for the No. 1 must-see game. However, this battle in Chapel Hill is crucial for both teams, as the jockeying for bowl positioning is underway. Boston College has made significant progress under first-year coach Steve Addazio, already surpassing last year’s win total (2) with three wins, and close losses to Clemson and Florida State. The Eagles have not defeated North Carolina since joining the ACC, and this is only the seventh meeting between these two schools. The Tar Heels nearly upset Miami last week, but coach Larry Fedora’s team is desperately in need of a win, as a 1-5 start has this team in danger of missing out on the postseason. North Carolina’s rush defense ranks last in the ACC (203.3 ypg) and will be challenged by Boston College running back Andre Williams, who leads the ACC with an average of 139.7 yards per game. The Tar Heels aren’t as explosive on offense as they were last season, but the emergence of freshman running back T.J. Logan should help this unit establish more balance. On paper, North Carolina’s offense should move the ball against Boston College’s defense, which is allowing 425.5 yards per game. However, the Eagles’ numbers are slightly skewed on defense after playing the ACC’s best offenses in Clemson and Florida State.
2. Duke (+13.5) at Virginia Tech (3:30 ET, ESPNU)
The Blue Devils enter Saturday’s contest against Virginia Tech riding a three-game winning streak. While Navy, Troy and Virginia certainly isn’t the toughest of schedules, Duke is one win away from securing its sixth win and likely back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in school history. But the Blue Devils may have to wait a week on their sixth victory, especially since they have never won in Blacksburg and five of the last six losses at Virginia Tech have been by 20 or more points. The Hokies aren’t setting the world on fire on offense, but quarterback Logan Thomas has not tossed an interception in three games and is completing 65.5 percent of his passes in ACC contests. Thomas faces a Duke defense allowing 383.1 yards per game (5.3 yards per play) and has held opponents to only 216.3 passing yards a contest. While the yardage totals indicate a struggling defense, the Blue Devils have stepped up in the second half the last two weeks, as they held Navy and Virginia without a point the final two quarters. Duke does most of its damage through the air with quarterback Anthony Boone, but an offensive line that has allowed just nine sacks deserves credit. Virginia Tech’s defense might be the best in the nation, and its secondary is expected to regain the services of cornerback Antone Exum, who has missed all of 2013 recovering from a torn ACL.
3. Pittsburgh (-5.5) at Navy (1 ET, CBS Sports Network)
Playing an option team with a week to prepare is no easy assignment, but Saturday’s trip to Annapolis could work out for Pittsburgh, especially with a conference game against Georgia Tech in Week 10. The Panthers struggled to put away Old Dominion last week, eventually winning 35-24. Injuries to running back James Conner and receiver Devin Street prevented both players from suiting up, but both are expected to return to the lineup against the Midshipmen. Navy already played one ACC opponent this season, losing 35-7 to Duke on Oct. 12. Pittsburgh’s rush defense ranks fifth in the ACC against the run, allowing just 3.8 yards per attempt and 136 yards per game. The Panthers have not played an option team since 2009, so there will be an adjustment period for this defense. Assuming Street and Conner are healthy, the Panthers should have no trouble moving the ball against Navy’s defense. The Midshipmen’s secondary is allowing 204.7 yards per game. However, against BCS competition (Indiana and Duke), Navy allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 63 of 82 throws for 658 yards and seven touchdowns. Pittsburgh’s best strategy is to score early and force the Midshipmen out of their element on offense.
4. Clemson (-14) at Maryland (3:30 ET, ESPN)
A week after a blowout loss to Florida State, Clemson heads to College Park looking to get back on track. Although the Tigers need a lot of help to win the Atlantic Division, a BCS bowl as an at-large selection is still within reach. In order for that to happen, Clemson has to win out. Three weeks ago, Maryland appeared to be the No. 3 team in the Atlantic Division. But injuries have decimated this team on both sides of the ball, with receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long suffering season-ending injuries in last week’s loss to Wake Forest. Quarterback play is also a concern for the Terrapins, as C.J. Brown was pulled last Saturday due to injury, and the junior has struggled in his last two outings (21 of 38, 219 yards and two picks). If Brown struggles or can’t go due to injury, backup Caleb Rowe is a capable option. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is coming off one of the worst performances in his career, as Florida State’s defense held the senior to just 156 passing yards, 45.9 completion percentage and forced two interceptions. Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins should find Maryland’s defense more accommodating, especially with the Terrapins down both starting cornerbacks from their preseason depth chart.
5. NC State (+31.5) at Florida State (3:30 ET, ABC/ESPN2)
After a huge road win over Clemson, it’s easy to pencil Saturday’s matchup against NC State as a trap game for the Seminoles. But there’s a different feeling surrounding Florida State this year. The Seminoles ranked No. 2 in the first release of the BCS standings, and this team is on track to win the Atlantic Division and finish with an unbeaten record in the regular season. Revenge should be on the mind for Florida State against NC State, especially after the Wolfpack won 17-16 in Raleigh last year. NC State has won two out of the last three meetings in this series but has lost three in a row at Tallahassee. The Wolfpack will have some reinforcements for their struggling offense this week, as quarterback Brandon Mitchell is slated to return from a broken foot. Mitchell was injured against Louisiana Tech and has missed the last five games. The senior is the best fit for NC State’s spread attack, but rust is an issue since he has not played since August. While the offense has struggled, the Wolfpack’s defense has been respectable, allowing 17 touchdowns through six games. But Saturday’s game against Florida State will be NC State’s toughest challenge of the season, as stopping quarterback Jameis Winston and the Seminoles’ plethora of skill players is something no defense has been able to do. And as if Florida State needed any extra motivation to have a good showing, former coach Bobby Bowden will make his return to Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday.
6. Wake Forest (+23) at Miami (12 ET, ESPNU)
With a showdown looming against Florida State next week, is Miami on upset alert against an improving Wake Forest team? The Demon Deacons started 2-3 but has rebounded with back-to-back ACC victories, including a 34-10 blowout over Maryland last Saturday. Quarterback Tanner Price has led the turnaround for Wake Forest, throwing for 499 yards and four touchdowns over his last two games, with only one interception. Miami’s defense has improved after a disastrous 2012 campaign, but the Hurricanes are still allowing 5.6 yards per play and have managed only four sacks in ACC games. Price and receiver Michael Campanaro need to have a big game for the Demon Deacons to hang around, especially with Wake Forest’s struggling ground game (69 yards per game in ACC play). Miami quarterback Stephen Morris is off to a slow start and has already surpassed his interception total (seven) from last year with eight picks in six games. The Hurricanes hold a talent edge on the Demon Deacons’ defense, but Wake Forest has allowed only one opponent (Clemson) to score more than 13 points in three out of its last four games. This will be the first meeting between these two teams since 2008, and the last two matchups in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less.
7. Georgia Tech (-10) at Virginia (12:30 ET, ACC)
With four straight losses, Virginia is looking for something positive. Georgia Tech snapped a three-game losing streak last week and needs to beat the Cavaliers to keep its faint ACC Coastal title hopes alive. Virginia has won eight out of the last nine matchups against Georgia Tech in Charlottesville, including a 24-21 victory in 2011. Stopping the run is always critical with a matchup against the Yellow Jackets, and the Cavaliers are allowing just 108 yards per game in ACC contests this season. But the defense is shorthanded this week, as defensive tackle Brent Urban is expected to sit out Saturday’s game due to a lower extremity injury. Without Urban, Virginia will have its hands full against Georgia Tech, who is averaging 305.2 rushing yards per game in conference play. As if the defensive concerns weren’t enough, the Cavaliers have struggled mightily on offense. After three ACC games, Virginia has scored just five touchdowns and ranks 11th in the conference with an average of 17 points a game. Quarterback David Watford has played better recently, but Georgia Tech’s defense has been stingy under the direction of new coordinator Ted Roof, with only one ACC opponent scoring more than 20 points against the Yellow Jackets in 2013.
ACC Week 9 Pivotal Players
Takoby Cofield/Laken Tomlinson, OL, Duke
The Blue Devils’ offensive line has made significant improvement over the last few years, and this unit is a big reason why Duke is likely headed for another postseason appearance in 2013. Cofield and Tomlinson are two of the key cogs, combining for 54 career starts. Virginia Tech has one of the nation’s best defensive lines, with potential all-conference selections at end (James Gayle and J.R. Collins) and at tackle (Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy). For Duke to have a chance at winning, the front five needs to give quarterback Anthony Boone time to throw, along with opening up lanes for the Blue Devils’ backfield.
Levern Jacobs, WR, Maryland
With Stefon Diggs and Deon Long out for the rest of the season, Jacobs has to assume the No. 1 role in Maryland’s receiving corps. The sophomore ranks fourth on the team with 13 catches for 245 yards and one touchdown, and he will have a chance to improve on those numbers Saturday against Clemson’s secondary that allowed 444 passing yards to Florida State last week. The Tigers are thin on depth in the defensive backfield, and even with some uncertainty at quarterback, Jacobs has a chance to make plays against the Tigers.
Brandon Mitchell, QB, NC State
NC State is a longshot to win at Florida State on Saturday, but there’s hope behind Mitchell’s return under center. In the opener against Louisiana Tech, Mitchell completed all three of his passes for 93 yards and rushed for 19 yards on five attempts. However, the senior suffered a broken foot and missed the Wolfpack’s next five games. If NC State has any shot at winning, Mitchell has to have a mistake-free performance, while providing a spark on offense.
Nikita Whitlock, DT, Wake Forest
Miami’s offensive line has played a big role in the team’s 6-0 start. The front five has helped rushers average 5.7 yards per carry, and Miami quarterbacks have been sacked just five times. Led by Whitlock – one of the nation’s most underrated defenders – Wake Forest’s front seven has held its own this year. Opponents are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry, and the Demon Deacons have allowed only five rushing scores. Controlling the line of scrimmage will be critical to Wake Forest’s upset bid. Whitlock has 13.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks this year and will face a strong interior line for Miami, which features guard Jon Feliciano and center Shane McDermott. If Whitlock has a strong showing, the Demon Deacons will have a chance to keep quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson in check.
Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
The ACC’s leading rusher has to be licking his chops for a chance at North Carolina’s defense. The Tar Heels rank last in the ACC against the run, and opponents are averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Williams leads the ACC in rushing and has at least 140 yards in two out of his last three games. Boston College is 0-2 away from Chestnut Hill, but with a struggling Tar Heel rush defense, Williams has a chance to carry the Eagles to their fourth win of the season.
ACC Week 9 Predictions
Wake (+23) at Miami
Ga. Tech (-10) at Virginia
Ga. Tech 28-10
Ga. Tech 31-21
Ga. Tech 31-20
Ga. Tech 34-21
Pittsburgh (-5.5) at Navy
Clemson (-14) at Maryland
Duke (+13.5) at Va. Tech
Va. Tech 38-14
Va. Tech 27-10
Va. Tech 30-13
Va. Tech 27-7
NC State (+31.5) at Florida State
Boston College (+7) at N. Carolina