Up For Grabs

Maryland, FSU and NC State can all still win the Atlantic.

Maryland, FSU and NC State can all still win the Atlantic.

Dustin Hopkins just experienced a week he won’t soon forget. Seven days after the sophomore kicker came up short — or more accurately, wide right — in Florida State’s 37–35 loss to North Carolina, he redeemed himself in a big way.

Hopkins made a career-long 55-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Seminoles past Clemson 16–13 and keep his team’s Atlantic Division title hopes alive.
Hopkins had a similar opportunity the previous week against the Tar Heels, but he missed from 40 yards with two seconds remaining. He also had missed from 42 yards earlier in the fourth quarter of that game.

Coaches and teammates rallied around Hopkins in the aftermath of his disappointing performance against North Carolina, and he responded. Hopkins also connected on field-goal tries of 28 and 39 yards against the Tigers, providing a big boost to a Florida State offense that was operating without starting quarterback Christian Ponder.

Backup quarterback E.J. Manuel was solid in place of Ponder, who sat out after missing practice all week because of an injured right elbow, but Florida State’s advantage in the kicking game was the biggest factor in its victory. While Hopkins shined, Clemson’s Chandler Catanzaro was just 2-for-4 on field goals as the Tigers’ season-long kicking struggles continued.

Boston College 21, Duke 16
Miami 35, Georgia Tech 10
NC State 38, Wake Forest 3
Maryland 42, Virginia 23
Virginia Tech 26, North Carolina 10
Florida State 16, Clemson 13

Atlantic Division race update
Florida State’s win means the Tigers won’t repeat as Atlantic Division champions, narrowing the race for first place to three teams. The Seminoles (7–3, 5–2), who sit a half-game game ahead of NC State (7–3, 4–2) and Maryland (7–3, 4–2) in the standings, still need the Wolfpack and Terrapins each to lose in order to earn a spot in the ACC championship game.

That said, the Seminoles could clinch the division this week, when they travel to Maryland and NC State plays at North Carolina. Wins by Florida State and North Carolina would clinch the division title for the Seminoles before the final week, when NC State will play at Maryland.

The good news for the Terrapins is that they will win the division with victories in their final two games, both at home, but the bad news for them is that they have no margin for error. If they lose to either Florida State or NC State, they won’t play in the ACC championship game.

“Here we are with two games to go in the season, and we have a shot to win our division,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “We were picked to finish last by all of the experts, and that itself is an accomplishment. We’re not looking to stop there, though.”

NC State also will win the division with victories in its final two games, but that’s not the only scenario that would send the team to its first ACC title game. The Wolfpack also could win the division even if it loses this week at North Carolina — as long as Maryland beats Florida State and then NC State beats Maryland in the regular-season finale. That scenario would put all three teams at 5–3 in the conference, but the Wolfpack would own the tiebreaker because of head-to-head victories over the Seminoles and Terrapins.

Coastal Division race update
The situation is much clearer in the Coastal Division, where Virginia Tech (8–2, 6–0) has a firm grip on first place thanks to its eight-game winning streak. The Hokies forced six turnovers and put together a dominant third quarter that included two touchdown catches by Marcus Davis in their victory over North Carolina. They need to win just one of their two remaining games — at Miami and home against Virginia — to earn a spot in the ACC championship game for the fourth time in six seasons.
Miami (7–3, 5–2) is the only pursuer with a mathematical chance of catching the Hokies. The Hurricanes will win the division if they beat Virginia Tech this week and Virginia Tech loses to Virginia the following week.

Bowl eligibility update
Boston College continued its push for the postseason, defeating Duke for its third consecutive victory. The Eagles survived some rare mistakes by tailback Montel Harris, who rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown but also lost two fumbles in the red zone. Duke’s August Campbell returned the second fumble 95 yards for a touchdown — the longest fumble return in school history — to make the game close in the fourth quarter.

“Montel has certainly carried us for a lot of instances, and we dodged a bullet for him today,” Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said. “He’ll be fine.”

So might the Eagles (5–5, 3–4). They have bounced back from a five-game losing streak that put their chances of playing in a bowl game for the 12th consecutive season in serious jeopardy.

“It’s big,” said defensive end Max Holloway, who secured the victory by batting down Sean Renfree’s pass on fourth down from the BC 4-yard line with 46 seconds remaining. “Before, we were trying not to lose. Now we’re focused on winning. Our whole mindset is different.”

Boston College needs to win one of its final two games — home against Virginia and at Syracuse — to become bowl-eligible.

Clemson and Georgia Tech, which squared off against each other in the ACC championship game last year, face the same situation. The Tigers (5–5, 3–4) play at Wake Forest and home against South Carolina, and the Yellow Jackets (5–5, 3–4) host Duke before traveling to Georgia to wrap up the regular season.

Georgia Tech, which has suffered three consecutive losses for the first time since its final three games of the 2006 season, must end the skid before it can play in a bowl game for the 14th consecutive season.

“You keep playing. You don’t quit,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said after watching his team surrender four touchdown drives of at least 79 yards against Miami. “What are you going to do? You don’t have any other alternatives. You either keep playing or you quit.

“We aren’t going to quit. I can promise you that I’m not going to quit. We still have the chance to salvage and have a winning season.”

The same can’t be said for Duke (3–7, 1–5) and Virginia (4–6, 1–5), each of which were eliminated from bowl contention on Saturday. The Cavaliers still have a chance to get six wins and finish at .500, but they won’t be eligible for the postseason because two of their victories came against Football Championship Subdivision opponents.

Can you top this?
Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly and Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers continue to dominate opposing offenses. Unfortunately, only one of them can be the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Bowers made his latest case for the award against Florida State, registering a team-high nine tackles (including 2.0 tackles for loss). He also had an interception and a sack, tying the school record with at least one sack in eight consecutive games. Bowers leads the nation in sacks (1.35 per game) and tackles for loss (2.20 per game).

Kuechly was just as dominant against Duke, wreaking havoc all over the field. He helped the Eagles hold the Blue Devils to 4 rushing yards on 24 attempts, tallying 21 tackles, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Kuechly continues to lead the nation in tackles (14.6 per game) after making at least 10 stops for the 19th consecutive game.

Count Duke coach David Cutcliffe among those who was impressed. He called Kuechly “the best defensive college football player in the land.”

Like Mike: Miami’s Hankerson
It’s looking like Leonard Hankerson made a great decision when he chose to return to Miami for his senior year rather than declaring for the NFL draft. Hankerson had three catches for 132 yards and a touchdown against Georgia Tech, becoming the third player in school history to post back-to-back 800-yard receiving seasons.

The other two? Pro football Hall of Fame member Michael Irvin (1985-86) and Andre Johnson (2001-02), one of the top wide receivers in the NFL today.

Hankerson, who leads the ACC in receiving this season (87.9 yards per game), has scored a touchdown in five consecutive games. He tied Irvin’s school record with his 11th touchdown grab of the year, a career-long 79-yarder against the Yellow Jackets.

Hankerson went to Irvin’s high school, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the similarities between the two don’t end there. Like Irvin, Hankerson has good size at 6-3, 205 pounds. Like Irvin, Hankerson lacks blazing speed. But like Irvin, Hankerson is fast enough to be extremely productive.

“They said Mike Irvin was a 4.65 runner (in the 40-yard dash), but when he got the football in his hands, nobody could catch him,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “Same with Hankerson. People say he doesn’t have speed, but when he has the ball in his hands, he can get past people. Hankerson has enough speed to make some special things for him.”

Extra points

• Clemson’s defeat at Florida State was rare, considering the circumstances. The Tigers, who got 143 rushing yards from Jamie Harper and 106 receiving yards from DeAndre Hopkins, saw their streak of 20 consecutive wins end in games in which they had a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver. Clemson had not lost such a game since falling 21–20 against North Carolina on Nov. 9, 1985.

• Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon came back strong against Boston College after leaving the previous week’s game against Virginia with a head injury. Vernon had a career-high 12 catches for 134 yards in his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season.

• Critics of Jacory Harris will emphasize that true freshman Stephen Morris led Miami to a season-high yardage total for the second week in a row, but much of the credit should go to the Hurricanes’ running game. Miami ran for 277 yards against Georgia Tech, getting one touchdown run each from tailbacks Damien Berry, Lamar Miller, Mike James and Graig Cooper.

• North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates broke Darian Durant’s school record for career completions against Virginia Tech, but Yates also tied a career high with four interceptions in the game. Before Saturday, Yates had thrown just four interceptions all season.

• NC State reached seven wins in the regular season for the first time since 2003, benefiting from a dominant performance by linebacker Nate Irving against Wake Forest. Irving made 13 tackles, including a school-record 8.0 tackles for loss, and the Wolfpack closed the game with 35 unanswered points.

• Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman became the first Virginia duo with at least 600 receiving yards in the same season since 1989, when Herman Moore (848 yards) and Bruce McGonnigal (634 yards) accomplished the feat. Burd (47 catches for 686 yards) and Inman (41 catches for 654 yards) also became the first set of Virginia wide receivers to post at least 40 receptions apiece in the same season.

• Wake Forest suffered its eighth consecutive loss, its longest losing streak since 1978, after another poor performance on the road. The Demon Deacons (2–8, 1–6) dropped to 0–5 away from home, having allowed an average of 50.2 points in those games while getting outscored by an average margin of 37.8 points per game. With two games left to play, Wake Forest already has allowed school-record totals of 387 points and 51 touchdowns this season.

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Athlon recaps the week of action in the ACC. Florida State, Maryland and NC State all kept their title hopes alive.

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