Athlon previews Week 13 in the ACC.
Florida State clinched the Atlantic Division title last Saturday, and there’s a possibility for clarity in the Coastal depending on what happens on Thursday night in Durham. If Duke beats North Carolina, the Blue Devils need to win their regular season finale to claim the division title. But if Duke loses to the Tar Heels, Georgia Tech would clinch a spot in the championship game.
North Carolina-Duke is the game with the most impact on the conference standings this week in the ACC, but Notre Dame-Louisville should be most intriguing matchup to watch. The Fighting Irish has struggled in recent weeks, while the Cardinals are hoping to win out and have a shot at the Orange Bowl.
Outside of those two games, it’s a light slate of action in the ACC. Florida State hopes to earn a few style points against Boston College, Miami travels to Virginia, Pittsburgh needs a win over Syracuse to keep its bowl hopes alive, while Clemson should have an easy win over Georgia State.
Week 13 Previews and Predictions:
ACC Week 13 Game Power Rankings
1. Louisville at Notre Dame (-3.5)
3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
The ACC’s top game in Week 13 is a non-conference tilt in South Bend between Louisville and Notre Dame. The Cardinals have completed their conference schedule and need wins in their final two games to have a shot at a berth in the Orange Bowl. Notre Dame is reeling after losses in three out of its last four games. The Fighting Irish has struggled with turnovers by losing nine over their last two contests. In addition to the turnover problems, Notre Dame’s defense has struggled since a 6-0 start. The Fighting Irish has allowed at least 31 points in four consecutive games. Both teams are dealing with some uncertainty at quarterback in this matchup. Notre Dame’s Everett Golson is dealing with a sprained shoulder, while Louisville lost starter Will Gardner to a season-ending knee injury against Boston College. Reggie Bonnafon will replace Gardner in the starting lineup, and the true freshman has completed 51 of 92 passes for 662 yards and four scores this year. Bonnafon’s previous experience this season, along with a bye week should help him prepare for this road test in South Bend. And Bonnafon’s job has been made easier with the return of standout receiver DeVante Parker, and Louisville’s defense is holding opponents to just 17.8 points per game. This will be the first meeting between these two programs.
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2. North Carolina at Duke (-6)
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Thursday)
Duke’s Coastal Division title hopes took a hit by losing to Virginia Tech last Saturday. However, coach David Cutcliffe’s team still controls its destiny within the division and can clinch a repeat trip to the ACC Championship to Charlotte by winning its last two games. This in-state rivalry has been controlled by the Tar Heels, but the Blue Devils have won the last two in this series. Turnovers will be critical to both teams on Thursday night, as Duke lost only six prior to Week 12 and surrendered three against Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils struggle to stop the run (197.6 ypg allowed), but North Carolina ranks near the bottom of the ACC in rush offense. Quarterback Marquise Williams has recorded at least 300 total yards in four out of the last five games and posted in 327 in last year’s matchup between these two teams. Williams needs to have a big day against Duke’s defense, as the Tar Heels rank at the bottom of the ACC in yards per game allowed (6.5 ypp) and will have trouble containing the Blue Devils’ balanced attack. There’s plenty on the line for both teams on Thursday night. Duke needs to win to take the Coastal, while a victory over the Blue Devils would get North Carolina bowl eligible with a game remaining. And if that's not enough, in-state bragging rights and the Victory Bell are up for grabs between these two rivals.
3. Boston College at Florida State (-19)
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
Florida State remained No. 3 in this week’s playoff rankings, and with no ranked opponents remaining (pending what happens in the ACC Championship), style points could matter for coach Jimbo Fisher’s team over the next three weeks. The Seminoles used another second-half rally to defeat Miami 30-26 last Saturday, extending its winning streak to 26 games. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team certainly has its flaws, but one area this team could improve upon over the next few weeks is turnovers lost. Florida State leads the ACC with 22 lost turnovers in 10 games. On the flipside of that stat is Boston College. The Eagles have lost only 12 turnovers this year and played the Seminoles tough in Chestnut Hill last season. Coach Steve Addazio’s team features a rushing attack that ranks second in the ACC with 264 yards per game, with quarterback Tyler Murphy (1,006 rushing yards) leading the way as the catalyst for the offense. The Eagles’ rushing attack will challenge a Florida State defense that has been vulnerable to run (139.7 ypg), but if Addazio’s team falls behind, can Murphy throw well enough to keep Boston College in the game? The Eagles create a lot of havoc around the line of scrimmage (76 tackles for a loss), and the Seminoles shuffled their offensive line prior to the matchup against Miami to solidify the front five. Freshman Rod Johnson is now the starter at left tackle, while Cameron Erving has shifted from tackle to center. If the Eagles can’t get to quarterback Jameis Winston with pressure, Florida State should be able to take advantage of a secondary that ranks near the bottom of the ACC in pass efficiency defense.
4. Miami (-6) at Virginia
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Both teams enter Week 13 coming off losses to Florida State. Miami lost 30-26 to the Seminoles last Saturday, while Virginia was defeated 34-20 in Tallahassee on Nov. 8. The Hurricanes were eliminated from Coastal Division title contention last week, but coach Al Golden’s team has a chance to improve its bowl positioning with wins in their last two games. The Cavaliers need to win their last two games to get bowl eligible, which is no easy task with remaining matchups against Miami and Virginia Tech. Miami has lost three of its last four trips to Charlottesville and hopes to reverse that recent trend by relying heavily on running back Duke Johnson (1,343 yards, 10 TDs in 2014) and quarterback Brad Kaaya (2,403 yards, 22 TDs). The Hurricanes average 32.3 points per game, but this offense will be tested by a Virginia defense limiting opponents to five yards per play. The Cavaliers also rank fourth in the ACC against the run and have recorded 27 sacks through 10 contests. Defense is clearly the strength of Virginia, as its offense has not averaged more than 5.3 yards per play in its last three matchups. Miami coach Al Golden worked at Virginia from 1994-96 and 2001-05.
5. Syracuse at Pittsburgh (-7.5)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
If the last two matchups between these two schools are any indication, this year’s game could be another low-scoring affair with a small margin of victory. Syracuse won 14-13 in 2012, but Pittsburgh claimed a close 17-16 win last season. The Panthers have lost six out of their last seven games this year, including a 40-35 thriller at North Carolina last week. While the losses are piling up for coach Paul Chryst, four of Pittsburgh’s defeats have been by five points or less. Running back James Conner (156.2 ypg) continues to have a standout year for the Panthers, and the sophomore will test a Syracuse defense holding opponents to 127.3 rushing yards per game. And the Orange has not allowed a rushing touchdown in four contests. In addition to the strength in the front seven, Syracuse has forced 18 takeaways, which is a concern for a Pittsburgh team that ranks last in the ACC with a -7 turnover margin. Syracuse’s offense is averaging only 14.8 points per game in conference matchups, with injuries significantly hampering the offensive line. Quarterback has been a revolving door this season, and true freshman AJ Long (727 yards, 4 TDs, 6 INTs) is expected to start on Saturday. Pittsburgh needs to win both of its remaining games to reach bowl eligibility, while Syracuse is looking to build momentum after its first losing record since 2011.
6. Virginia Tech (-15) at Wake Forest
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network/ESPN 3
Offense is expected to be at a premium when Wake Forest and Virginia Tech meet on Saturday for the first time since 2011. The Hokies are averaging 21.3 points per game in ACC contests, while the Demon Deacons rank last in the league at 11.7 per game. Virginia Tech’s win over Duke last week left coach Frank Beamer’s team just one win short of bowl eligibility. The Hokies need to beat Wake Forest or Virginia to extend its bowl streak to 22 consecutive years. Virginia Tech’s offense has been hit hard by injuries this year, and the bad luck continued last Saturday with running back Marshawn Williams suffering a torn ACL against the Blue Devils. With Williams out, J.C. Coleman, Jerome Wright and Joel Caleb will shoulder the workload at running back. The strength of Wake Forest is its defense, and this unit could create a few headaches for quarterback Michael Brewer and the Hokies offense. However, the Demon Deacons have scored more than 17 points only once since Sept. 20. Wake Forest has not defeated Virginia Tech since 1983.
7. Georgia State at Clemson (-41)
3:30 p.m. ET, RSN/ESPN3
Coming off last week’s loss to Georgia Tech and a matchup against South Carolina upcoming on Nov. 29, this game against Georgia State comes at a perfect time for coach Dabo Swinney’s team. Quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a sprained LCL against the Yellow Jackets and will miss this matchup, allowing Cole Stoudt and Nick Schuessler to build confidence against a defense allowing 6.6 yards per play and 43.8 points per game. The Panthers lead the Sun Belt in passing offense behind first-year starter Nick Arbuckle, but coach Trent Miles’ team has lost 24 turnovers and averages just 2.9 yards per rush. Even though Stoudt has struggled in relief of Watson, Clemson shouldn’t have much trouble with Georgia State on Saturday.
Week 13 ACC Predictions
|UL (+3.5) at ND||UL 31-21||UL 30-24||ND 27-24||ND 27-20|
|UNC (+6) at Duke||Duke 35-21||Duke 38-34||Duke 34-31||UNC 28-24|
|BC (+19) at FSU||FSU 38-28||FSU 41-21||FSU 38-20||FSU 34-20|
|Miami (-6) at UVa||UVa 21-17||Miami 30-20||Miami 31-20||Miami 40-17|
|Syracuse (+7.5) at Pitt||Pitt 28-21||Pitt 29-21||Pitt 30-20||Pitt 28-21|
|Va. Tech (-15) at Wake||VT 35-7||VT 40-13||VT 31-10||VT 17-3|
|Georgia State (+41) at Clemson||CU 49-10||CU 41-3||CU 52-7||CU 55-10|