Rivalry week is usually reserved for the last full Saturday of action in November, but three intriguing rivalry matchups in the ACC headline a slate with national and conference title implications.
Florida State travels to Miami, and with a win over the Hurricanes, the Seminoles would clinch a spot in the ACC Championship. And of course, there are bigger goals for Florida State ahead, as coach Jimbo Fisher’s team hopes to climb higher than No. 3 in the playoff committee rankings.
Clemson-Georgia Tech has potential Orange Bowl implications, while NC State hosts Wake Forest in a key game for bowl eligibility for the Wolfpack.
Elsewhere in the ACC, Pittsburgh travels to North Carolina and Duke hosts Virginia Tech.
Week 12 Previews and Predictions:
ACC Week 12 Game Power Rankings
1. Florida State (-2) at Miami
8 p.m. ET, ABC
With Florida State riding a 25-game winning streak, combined with Miami’s improvement in 2014, there’s some spark returning in this rivalry. This game is always huge in terms of recruiting, but this rivalry has lost a little of its luster in recent years, largely due to Miami’s decline on the gridiron. The Seminoles have won four in a row over the Hurricanes and seven out of the last nine in this series. Coach Jimbo Fisher is undefeated against Miami, and Florida State has won the last two meetings by at least 13 points. This year’s matchup should be closer, as the Seminoles aren’t as dominant as they were in 2013, and the Hurricanes have improved in coach Al Golden’s fourth year. Florida State’s biggest problem in 2014 has been the play of its offensive and defensive lines. And stopping the run is a huge concern for the Seminoles on Saturday night, as Miami running back Duke Johnson is averaging 168.6 rushing yards over his last five games. Florida State is giving up 135.7 yards per game on the ground, but Johnson will be the best running back this team has played. In addition to Johnson’s performance, two other areas are worth noting in Miami’s improvement. Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya leads the ACC in rating (157.64), and the defense is allowing only 4.3 yards per play in conference games. Miami is certainly improved on defense, but the Hurricanes have not played an offense of Florida State’s potential. The Seminoles average 39.3 points per game in conference action, and quarterback Jameis Winston should be able to attack a secondary that has allowed back-to-back games of at least 60 percent completion percentage. There’s no doubt Miami has improved. But will the Hurricanes’ recent play against weaker Coastal teams translate against one of the best squads in the nation? Or will Florida State resume its dominance in the series?
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2. Clemson (-3) at Georgia Tech
Noon ET, ESPN
This matchup may not seem like a huge game in terms of national importance, but assuming Florida State reaches the college football playoff, Clemson or Georgia Tech could play in the Orange Bowl against a team from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame. With major bowl implications and a rivalry aspect between these two teams, there’s plenty on the line in Atlanta this Saturday. Clemson is expected to get true freshman Deshaun Watson back at quarterback, and the offense has received a boost from running back Wayne Gallman (back-to-back 100-yard efforts) over the last two games. The Yellow Jackets are allowing 6.4 yards per play but have helped their defensive woes by forcing 21 turnovers. While Georgia Tech’s defense will have its hands full against Watson and a potent offense, the Yellow Jackets create plenty of challenges for Clemson’s defense. The Tigers are first in the nation in third-down defense, while Georgia Tech is converting 59.3 percent of its third-down opportunities (best in the nation on offense). Clemson allows just 69 yards on the ground in ACC contests, but that number should be challenged by the Yellow Jackets’ option attack, which is averaging 335.6 yards per game. Quarterback Justin Thomas is the offensive catalyst for coach Paul Johnson, but Synjyn Days has three 100-yard efforts, and Zach Laskey (595 yards) and Charles Perkins (10.9 ypc) are expected to return from injury this week. Clemson has won three out of the last four meetings in this series but lost its last trip to Atlanta (31-17 in 2011).
3. Pittsburgh at North Carolina (-2)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network/ESPN3
With Pittsburgh and North Carolina each sporting a 4-5 record, Saturday’s meeting is critical to bowl eligibility. The Panthers have lost five out of their last six games, while the Tar Heels won two in a row before a 47-20 defeat at Miami. Scoring points shouldn’t be an issue for both teams. Pittsburgh and North Carolina each average 29 points per game in ACC contests, and both squads allow six yards per play in conference matchups. The Tar Heels should expect a heavy dose of Pittsburgh running back James Conner. The sophomore averages 149.1 yards per game, and North Carolina is allowing 218.6 rushing yards in ACC contests. The Panthers have been vulnerable to a few big plays in the secondary (eight plays allowed of 40 yards or more), and the Tar Heels average 291.9 yards per game through the air. Quarterback Marquise Williams is tied for third in the conference with 17 touchdown passes. Tempo and pace of play will be critical in this matchup. North Carolina wants to go fast, while Pittsburgh wants to turn to its ground attack and control the time of possession.
4. Virginia Tech at Duke (-5.5)
Noon ET, ESPNU
How’s this for a role reversal? Duke is fighting to win the Coastal Division, while Virginia Tech needs to win two out of its last three to earn bowl eligibility. Most years, that narrative is usually flipped, but the Blue Devils won the Coastal last year and are in great shape to repeat in 2014. Last year’s meeting was a low-scoring 13-10 affair, with Duke winning without a third-down conversion (0-11) and four lost turnovers. Two key components of the Blue Devils’ 8-1 record is only six lost turnovers and a balanced attack on offense. On the other sideline, Virginia Tech has lost 18 turnovers, and its offense is recording just 4.8 yards per play in ACC contests. Defensively, the Hokies have allowed 23 plays of 30 yards or more but are still active around the line of scrimmage (31 sacks). Stopping the run has been a challenge for Duke (203.4 ypg), and Virginia Tech should benefit from a healthy Marshawn Williams at running back. The Hokies need a big game from Williams, while getting a flawless effort from quarterback Michael Brewer. An individual matchup to watch is standout Virginia Tech cornerback against Duke receiver Jamison Crowder. Fuller is one of the ACC’s top defensive backs, while Crowder is a dangerous all-purpose threat and has at least eight receptions in each of his last three games. Only one game during Duke’s four-game winning streak was decided by more than seven points. If Virginia Tech can limit its mistakes and establish the run, coach Frank Beamer’s team should have a shot at the upset.
5. Wake Forest at NC State (-15)
3 p.m. ET, RSN/ESPN3
The home team has won the last seven meetings in this series and only one of the last four matchups was decided by seven points or less. The history seems to fit appropriately with the spread and the overall landscape of both teams. Wake Forest could be headed for a winless season in ACC play, while NC State needs one more win to get bowl eligible. The Demon Deacons continue to struggle on offense, but the defense has held its own in conference play. Freshman quarterback John Wolford has showed promise for first-year coach Dave Clawson and threw for two touchdowns in the 34-20 loss to Clemson. Wolford needs more help from a rushing attack that is recording less than one yard (0.7) per carry in ACC games. NC State’s offense scored 40 or more points in four of its first five games but has not recorded more than 24 in each of its last five games. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett had his first multi-interception game this season (two) in last week’s loss to Georgia Tech. If Brissett takes care of the ball, NC State should have too much firepower for a Wake Forest team that is good on defense, but struggling to find production on offense.
ACC Week 12 Predictions
FSU (-2) at Miami
Clemson (-3) at GT
Pitt at UNC (-2)
VT at Duke (-5.5)
Wake at NC State (-15)
NC State 28-7
NC State 38-21
NC State 30-17
NC State 24-14