The stakes are high for the ACC in Week 14. The Florida State-Florida matchup has lost some of its national appeal with the Gators hovering around .500, but the Seminoles need to win to stay alive for a spot in college football’s four-team playoff.
Clemson has lost five straight to South Carolina, but coach Dabo Swinney’s team has a good opportunity to reverse the trend in this series if quarterback Deshaun Watson is able to play. Georgia Tech and Louisville take on SEC rivals this Saturday and both need wins to have a shot at a berth in the Orange Bowl if Florida State does not make the college football playoff.
In addition to the four ACC-SEC rivalry games, there are five conference matchups slated for Week 14. Virginia-Virginia Tech is the matchup with the most importance in conference play, with the winner earning bowl eligibility. Pittsburgh is battling for postseason hopes in a road trip to Miami.
ACC Week 14 Game Power Rankings
1. Florida at Florida State (-7.5)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The annual rivalry matchup between Florida and Florida State has lost some of its national appeal this year, but there’s still plenty at stake for both programs. All of the pressure in this game is on the Florida State sideline, as the Seminoles need to win out to claim a spot in college football’s playoff. For Florida, this will be coach Will Muschamp’s last game. The Gators want to send Muschamp out a winner and spoil Florida State’s unbeaten record and national title hopes. And despite Florida’s struggles this year, the oddsmakers are giving the Gators plenty of respect with a line just over a touchdown. Florida’s upset hopes hinge on its ability to establish the run. The Seminoles have struggled at times to stop the run, allowing 4.7 yards per carry in last week’s win over Boston College. If the Gators establish their ground attack, they can limit Florida State’s possessions and keep quarterback Jameis Winston on the sidelines. In addition to stopping the run, the Seminoles can’t afford turnovers to give the Gators any early confidence and will need receivers outside of Rashad Greene to step up. All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III could spend most of his snaps covering Greene, which opens the door for freshman Travis Rudolph and sophomore Jesus Wilson to pickup the slack in the passing game. Florida State has won three out of the last four in this series, including a 30-point victory in 2013.
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2. South Carolina at Clemson (-4.5)
Noon ET, ESPN
South Carolina has dominated the Palmetto State rivalry in recent years by winning five in a row over the Tigers since 2009. The gap between the two teams during that span has been wide, as South Carolina has won each of the last five meetings by at least 10 points. Despite the recent history between these two programs, Clemson is a slight favorite for Saturday’s game. But coach Dabo Swinney’s team has uncertainty at quarterback, as freshman Deshaun Watson is questionable to play due to a knee injury. If Watson doesn’t start, senior Cole Stoudt (1,576 yards, 6 TDs, 9 INTs) would get the nod under center. Regardless of whether Stoudt or Watson is under center, Clemson’s offense will have opportunities to move the ball against a South Carolina defense allowing 6.1 yards per play. The strength of the Gamecocks is an offense averaging 34 points per game in SEC contests. Quarterback Dylan Thompson leads the SEC with an average of 275.5 yards per game, but Clemson’s defense leads the nation by limiting opponents to just 3.9 yards per play. The turnover battle will be one area to watch on Saturday. Over the last four matchups, South Carolina owns a +11 edge over the Tigers.
3. Georgia Tech at Georgia (-13)
Noon ET, SEC Network
Georgia Tech will play for the ACC Championship next week, but the Yellow Jackets have some unfinished business in the regular season. Georgia has won 12 out of the last 13 matchups against Georgia Tech in their annual in-state rivalry. Can coach Paul Johnson’s team reverse the trend in the series? The Yellow Jackets rank fourth in the nation in rush offense, and the Bulldogs have been susceptible to the run at times this year. Georgia allowed 418 yards to Florida and gave up 214 against Kentucky. Quarterback Justin Thomas leads the ground attack for Johnson, with Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days each capable of rushing for 100 yards. While Georgia Tech’s option attack will be tough to stop, a bigger problem for Johnson is on defense. The Yellow Jackets allow 6.1 yards per play and rank 10th in the ACC in rush defense. That’s an issue against a Georgia team averaging 260.6 rushing yards per game, largely on the shoulders of freshman running back Nick Chubb. In order to pull off the upset, Georgia Tech needs to force a couple of turnovers against a Bulldog offense that has lost just eight all year.
4. Virginia (-1) at Virginia Tech
8 p.m. ET, ESPN (Friday)
The in-state rivalry between Virginia and Virginia Tech has been a one-sided affair in recent years. The Hokies have recorded 10 wins in a row in this series and claimed seven consecutive victories in Blacksburg against the Cavaliers. However, there’s very little separating the two programs in 2014, and the winner of Friday night’s matchup will earn a bowl bid. Points could be at a premium between two offenses that average less than 22 points a game in ACC contests. Virginia Tech’s defense has allowed 12 plays of 40 yards or more this year, but coordinator Bud Foster’s group has limited opponents to 20.5 points per game. Virginia’s offense has been inconsistent at times this year but averaged five yards per play in the 30-13 win over Miami. The health of running back Kevin Parks is critical on Friday night, as the senior missed most of last week’s game due to concussion-like symptoms. Injuries have been a major issue for Virginia Tech all year, as running backs Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams were lost for the year, and Trey Edmunds has played in only six contests. In a tight game, quarterback play – especially between two struggling signal-callers – and turnovers will be crucial to the outcome. These two teams have lost 45 turnovers this year and an edge in this department could be the difference in the game on Friday.
5. Kentucky at Louisville (-12.5)
Noon ET, ESPN2
Bragging rights in the Bluegrass State are on the line when Kentucky and Louisville meet on Saturday. Additionally, there’s plenty at stake in terms of bowls and postseason positioning. The Wildcats need a win to go bowling for the first time since 2010, while the Cardinals are still alive for a spot in the Orange Bowl (provided Florida State makes the college football playoff). For Kentucky to defeat Louisville for the first time in four years, coach Mark Stoops’ team has to find ways to stop the potent Cardinals’ offense. Louisville freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon completed only 8 of 21 passes for 180 yards in last week’s win over Notre Dame, but he had plenty of help from a rushing attack that recorded 229 yards on 50 attempts. Stopping the run has been a challenge for Kentucky this year, and the Wildcats (201 ypg) will have trouble containing a Cardinals’ ground attack that features Michael Dyer and Brandon Radcliff. The Wildcats started fast on offense this year but have not averaged more than 4.5 yards per play over the last three weeks. That’s not a good sign against a Louisville defense limiting opponents to 4.6 yards per play and one that has forced 26 turnovers in 11 games.
6. NC State at North Carolina (-7.5)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network/ESPN3
There’s some added appeal to the annual battle between NC State and North Carolina this year, as both teams are bowl eligible and looking to improve their standing in the ACC’s crowded postseason picture. For the second year in a row, the Tar Heels have played better over the second half of the season. Coach Larry Fedora’s team has scored at least 40 points in three out of its last five games, with quarterback Marquise Williams leading the way by recording at least 300 yards of total offense in five out of his last six starts. NC State’s defense has been prone to giving up big plays (25 of 30 yards or more) and allows ACC opponents to score 34.7 points per game. While those numbers are problematic for the Wolfpack, North Carolina’s defense has been equally porous. The Tar Heels rank last in the conference by allowing league opponents to score 36.6 points per game, and this unit is giving up 6.2 yards per play (ACC-only games). Quarterback Jacoby Brissett (19 TDs, 5 INTs) has energized NC State’s offense, but his numbers have dipped in conference play and in road contests. Considering the play of both defenses, a shootout would not be surprising in Chapel Hill. North Carolina has won the last two meetings in this series.
7. Pittsburgh at Miami (-10)
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The Panthers and Hurricanes began 2014 with expectations of competing for the Coastal Division crown, but these two teams enter the season finale with a combined 11-11 overall record and just a 6-8 mark in conference play. This matchup features the ACC’s top running backs in Pittsburgh’s James Conner and Miami’s Duke Johnson. Conner is questionable to play with a hip injury suffered last week against Syracuse, but even if he plays, running room could be limited against a defense holding opponents to 3.6 yards per carry. With Johnson eligible to declare for the draft, this game is expected to be his final appearance in a Miami uniform at Sun Life Stadium. The junior has six 100-yard efforts over his last seven games and faces a Pittsburgh defense allowing 5.2 yards per carry in ACC contests. Stopping the run is critical for both teams on Saturday, but the turnover battle is also worth monitoring. Miami and Pittsburgh both rank near the bottom of the ACC in lost turnovers, with the Panthers owning a negative margin (-5) in 11 contests. The Hurricanes have won 16 out of the last 17 in this series, but Pittsburgh needs a win to get bowl eligible.
8. Syracuse at Boston College (-11)
12:30 p.m. ET, RSN/ESPN3
Boston College fell short in its upset bid against Florida State, but the Eagles are clearly on the right track in coach Steve Addazio’s second year. With a win over Syracuse on Saturday, Boston College would earn back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2009-10. While the trajectory of the program in Chestnut Hill is clear, there’s uncertainty on the other sideline. The Orange went 7-6 last season but have slipped to 3-8 in 2014. Injuries and offensive issues have plagued coach Scott Shafer’s team this year, limiting Syracuse to just one ACC win (30-7 Wake Forest). The battle in the trenches is critical for both teams on Saturday, as Syracuse has limited opponents to just seven rushing scores and 3.4 yards per carry in 2014. Boston College ranks second in the ACC by averaging 261.8 rushing yards per contest, with quarterback Tyler Murphy leading the team with 1,054 yards. Even if the Orange limits the Eagles on the ground, Shafer’s team has to find a spark on offense. Syracuse has not scored more than 17 points in each of its last four games and averages just 4.4 yards per play in ACC contests. The Eagles allow 5.3 yards per play on defense and limit opponents to 23.9 points per game in league play. The Orange has won three out of the last four meetings against Boston College.
9. Wake Forest at Duke (-18)
7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Seven out of the last eight meetings between Wake Forest and Duke have been decided by 11 points or less. The Demon Deacons controlled this rivalry from 2000-11, but the Blue Devils have won two in a row. Despite the recent trend in this series, Duke is a heavy favorite for Saturday’s game. Coach David Cutcliffe’s team appeared to have the inside track to the ACC Championship in early November but back-to-back losses ended the hopes of a repeat trip to Charlotte. Turnovers have been a problem for the Blue Devils in their three losses this year. Duke committed nine turnovers in defeats and three in victories. Assuming the Blue Devils can hold onto the ball, they should win their third game in a row over their in-state rivals. Wake Forest is averaging just 2.8 yards per play in ACC games and has scored only 19 points in its last two league contests. The Demon Deacons are rebuilding under first-year coach Dave Clawson but picked up their first conference win by beating Virginia Tech 6-3 in double overtime last Saturday.
ACC Week 14 Predictions
UVa (-1) at VT
SC (+4.5) at Clemson
GT (+13) at UGa
UK (+12.5) at UL
Syracuse (+11) at BC
NC State (+7.5) at UNC
Florida (+7.5) at FSU
Wake (+18) at Duke
Pitt (+10) at Miami