Can Clemson run the table?
The ACC has been a little off the national radar for most of this season, but at least for one weekend (Oct. 19), the spotlight will be on this conference. Clemson-Florida State is a huge top-five showdown and should be one of the best games of the second half of the 2013 season.
The winner of Saturday’s showdown in Death Valley should win the Atlantic Division, while Virginia Tech-Miami on Nov. 9 should decide the Coastal. The Hokies have quietly won six in a row after losing to Alabama in the season opener, while the Hurricanes are off to a 5-0 start.
The top four teams in the ACC are clear, but there’s a host of programs vying to working their way into the next tier. Maryland is clearly improved after a 4-8 record last season, while Pittsburgh is 3-2 in its first year in the ACC.
Syracuse, Boston College, Wake Forest and NC State are all 3-3, with Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina also in bowl contention. The Yellow Jackets started 3-0 but have lost three straight games.
The ACC has a drop in overall strength after the top four teams, but this league seems to be a little deeper than it has been in recent years.
ACC 2013 Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions
Coach of the Year: Randy Edsall, Maryland
This award could go to a couple of different coaches, but we’ll give the nod to Edsall at the midpoint of 2013. After winning just six games through his first two years, Maryland is off to a 5-1 start. The Terrapins haven’t faced the nation’s most challenging slate, but Edsall’s team has clearly made progress after a dismal 2-10 campaign in 2011. Injuries have started to take a toll on Maryland’s defense, and quarterback C.J. Brown missed last week’s game against Virginia with a concussion. However, even with a few pieces missing on defense, the Terrapins should make a run at an 8-4 final record. Boston College's Steve Addazio is another name to consider here.
Newcomer of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
After five games, it’s clear Winston is already one of the best quarterbacks in college football. The redshirt freshman opened his career with an impressive performance at Pittsburgh, completing 25 of 27 throws for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Since then, Winston’s play hasn’t slipped any, as he has only two picks this year and has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in four out of Florida State’s five games. Winston ranks fourth nationally in yards per play (9.9) and second in passing efficiency (213.9).
Offensive Player of the Year: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
It’s a close call between Boyd and Winston for this honor, but let’s give the nod to the senior. Boyd has Clemson positioned for its second ACC title in three years, throwing for 1,783 yards, 15 scores and only two interceptions. The senior is completing 66.5 percent of his throws and averages 9.6 yards per attempt, which ranks ninth nationally. Boyd also has 187 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground. In Clemson’s win over Georgia, Boyd threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns and didn’t throw a pick on 30 attempts. Outside of throwing for 169 yards in a blowout win over South Carolina State, Boyd has topped at least 270 yards in every game this year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Beasley has grabbed the headlines in the ACC, but let’s not forget about Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Virginia Tech defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins. Through six games, Beasley has 23 tackles (12 for a loss) and nine sacks. The junior also has five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one defensive touchdown. Beasley’s nine sacks rank first nationally, and his 12 tackles for a loss rank third. And the junior’s play so far this year is a big reason why Clemson ranks fourth in the ACC in total defense (5.1 yards per play).
Midseason Disappointment: North Carolina
The Tar Heels have faced a difficult schedule (South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech), but this isn’t the same team that finished in a three-way tie atop the Coastal Division. Both sides of the ball have been problematic for coach Larry Fedora. The offense, which was expected to be one of the best in the ACC, is ranked ninth in the conference in total yards per game. Replacing three starters on the offensive line and running back Giovani Bernard has been a challenge, as the Tar Heels rank last in the ACC in rushing offense. The defense has allowed at least 20 points in every game this season, and opponents are averaging 5.6 yards per play against this unit. An easier schedule in the second half will allow North Carolina to make up some ground on the rest of the Coastal. However, the Tar Heels – as some predicted in the preseason – won’t challenge for the division title in 2013.
Midseason Surprise: Boston College
Don’t let the 3-3 record fool you: Boston College is a much-improved team. New coach Steve Addazio has brought back a brand of tough football to Chestnut Hill, and the Eagles have leaned on a veteran core of players, which features running back Andre Williams, receiver Alex Amidon and quarterback Chase Rettig. Boston College’s wins – Army, Villanova and Wake Forest – aren’t particularly overwhelming. However, the Eagles lost to a talented USC team and were defeated by 14 points to Florida State and 10 to Clemson – clearly the top-two teams in the ACC. With winnable games against New Mexico State, North Carolina, NC State, Maryland and Syracuse remaining, Boston College should make a bowl in 2013.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
Atlantic and Coastal Division title races
The Atlantic Division could be decided on Saturday in Death Valley, as Clemson hosts Florida State in a battle of two top-five teams. The Coastal Division picture may take a while to clear, at least until Miami and Virginia Tech meet on Nov. 9. Will any of these four teams suffer an upset loss? Or will the top four teams in the ACC at the midpoint finish that way in December? For a conference that has struggled to earn respect at times, the race to win both divisions should be among the top storylines to watch in the national landscape.
The ACC vs. SEC
In terms of the overall ACC title picture, this storyline means nothing. However, the ACC wants national respect and games against the SEC are a perfect opportunity to make a statement. So far, ACC teams are 2-2 against the SEC this year. And four games remain between these two conferences: Florida State-Florida, Wake Forest-Vanderbilt, Clemson-South Carolina and Georgia-Georgia Tech. Can the ACC earn a split in these games? If Florida State beats Florida and Clemson beats South Carolina, it would be a huge boost for the perception of the ACC.
How many bowl teams?
The ACC has eight bowl tie-ins and could have more eligible teams than available spots. Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and Miami are locks for the postseason, while Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech should be in good shape. But how many other teams will get to six wins? Syracuse, Boston College, Wake Forest and NC State all have three wins, and Duke needs two to return to the postseason. Even though North Carolina is 1-4, don’t count out the Tar Heels reaching six wins. And here’s the other wildcard: Can the ACC get two teams into the BCS?
Bonus: Brandon Mitchell’s return for NC State
The Wolfpack started 3-1 but has lost back-to-back games against Wake Forest and Syracuse. A big problem for NC State has been the offense, which is averaging just 12.3 points a game in conference play. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell suffered a foot injury in the season opener and has not played in the last five games. The senior is the best fit for NC State’s spread offense and would be an upgrade over Pete Thomas. It’s not too late for the Wolfpack to make a run at bowl eligibility, and Mitchell’s return should be a boost for this offense.
Top Five Games in the Second Half
Florida State at Clemson (Oct. 19)
Jameis Winston vs. Tajh Boyd. Two top-five teams. National spotlight. This game has it all. Virginia Tech and Miami are solid teams, but the winner of this game should win the conference title and will stay alive in the national title conversation. Clemson has won the last five against Florida State in Death Valley.
Miami at Florida State (Nov. 2)
Bragging rights in the Sunshine State are always on the line when these two teams face off. This game is crucial for both in recruiting, and for Miami to show the gap with Florida State is closing. The Seminoles have won four out of the last five in this series, including a 33-20 win at Miami last year. This matchup is important for the Hurricanes, but maybe not as key as the next one…
Virginia Tech at Miami (Nov. 9)
If Florida State-Clemson on Oct. 19 is the defacto ACC Atlantic championship game, this game is the defacto Coastal Division title matchup. This contest features one of the league’s best offenses (Miami), against perhaps the best defense in the nation (Virginia Tech). The Hokies have won five out of the last seven in this series, but the Hurricanes won 30-12 last year.
Clemson at South Carolina (Nov. 30)
This space is usually reserved just for conference games, but it’s hard to ignore how important this matchup is for the ACC. If Clemson beats Florida State, the Tigers should be unbeaten going into this game, and a win over South Carolina would be a huge resume boost for the Tigers in the national title picture. The Gamecocks have dominated this series in recent years, winning four in a row, all by 10 points or more.
Florida State at Florida (Nov. 30)
As we mentioned above, this space is normally reserved for conference games, but Florida-Florida State could have national title implications. The winner of the Clemson-Florida State game should be unbeaten heading into Nov. 30, and a victory over SEC rival Florida wouldn’t hurt the Seminoles’ case for a BCS title bid. The Gators have won seven out of the last nine in this series.
ACC 2013 Second-Half Predictions
(Logos are of projected winner for each game)
|Florida State||at Maryland||at UVA||Ga. Tech||Citadel||at So. Carolina||Final Record|
2. Florida State
|at Clemson||NC State||Miami||at Wake||Syracuse||Idaho||at Florida||Final Record|
|at Wake||Clemson||Syracuse||at Va. Tech||BC||at NC State||Final Record|
4. Boston College
|at UNC||Va. Tech||at NMSU||NC State||at Maryland||at Syracuse||Final Record|
5. NC State
|at FSU||UNC||at Duke||at BC||ECU||Maryland||Final Record|
|at Ga. Tech||Wake||at MD||at FSU||Pittsburgh||BC||Final Record|
7. Wake Forest
|MD||at Miami||at Syracuse||FSU||Duke||at Vandy||Final Record|
|at UNC||Wake||at FSU||Va. Tech||at Duke||UVA||at Pitt||Final Record|
2. Virginia Tech
|Duke||at BC||at Miami||MD||at UVA||Final Record|
3. Georgia Tech
|Syracuse||at UVA||Pittsburgh||at Clemson||Alabama A&M||UGA||Final Record|
|ODU||at Navy||at Ga. Tech||ND||UNC||at Syracuse||Miami||Final Record|
5. North Carolina
|Miami||BC||at NC State||UVA||at Pitt||ODU||Duke||Final Record|
|at UVA||at VT||NC State||Miami||at Wake||at UNC||Final Record|
|Duke||Ga. Tech||Clemson||at UNC||at Miami||Va. Tech||Final Record|