A lot of trends continued last week in the ACC. NC State and Georgia Tech’s recent slides were extended. Virginia lost their final ACC matchup against rival Maryland in heartbreaking fashion. Clemson and Virginia Tech created some additional space in their respective divisions before the latest iteration of the Game of the Century this week.
This week features that contest that will likely decide one half of the teams playing in Charlotte, along with another Thursday ESPN appearance for the conference. As the eyes of the conference — and the nation — turn toward southwest South Carolina, we’ll take you there and to the five other ACC outposts this week. Before we start the trip, it’s time for this week’s trivia question!
ACC trivia, Week 8 (answer at the end of the column): Miami has the best winning percentage (.842) of any ACC team on ESPN Thursday night games, notching a 16-3 record. Against which team do the Hurricanes own the most Thursday night victories?
Top of the Ratings
#5 Florida State (5-0, 3-0) at #3 Clemson (6-0, 4-0), 8pm ET, ABC
Last week’s episode: Florida State 63, Maryland 0 (10/5); Clemson 24, Boston College 14
Program guide: The first-ever matchup of top-five teams in the Palmetto State takes place on a national Saturday night stage, as the Seminoles make their way to Clemson. The storylines in this game are relatively obvious — Winston vs. Boyd, the top two offenses in the conference squaring off and all the rest. The Seminoles enter this game coming off a bye following their thrashing of Maryland on October 5th, a game in which Jameis Winston became the first FSU quarterback in four seasons to throw for five scores in a game. Winston and the ‘Noles have put up gaudy offensive numbers thus far, though some may argue that none of his opponents are anywhere near the quality of the Tigers.
Florida State is a top-30 team in every category, and a team the likes of which Clemson has not seen since the season-opener against Georgia. Winston’s exploits are certainly noteworthy, but the real advantage for Jimbo Fisher’s club comes on the ground. The Seminoles rush for 228.2 yards per game, 17th-best among FBS schools. FSU features three rushers in the top 20 in the conference, led by Devonta Freeman. Freeman holds the fifth-highest rushing average in the league (77 yards per game), and will get his chances against the nation’s 64th-ranked rushing defense. That defense has been extremely hit-and-miss this year, allowing two rushing efforts (Georgia and Syracuse) greater than 200 yards and three (South Carolina State, Wake Forest and Boston College) fewer than 100 yards. Then-leading rusher Andre Williams was held to just 70 yards by the Tigers.
Let it not be understated how large of a chance Clemson has to flip the proverbial script in this game. Despite that Georgia win, very few non-Solid Orange football fans trust Dabo Swinney’s troops, with many advancing the term “Clemsoning” to describe the team’s apparent inevitability of losing a game it should win at some point in the season. Clemson has not stood atop the college football world since 1981, and a victory here at least gets them into the conversation with Alabama and Oregon. With all of the hyperbole around this week’s matchup — the biggest game in ACC history, according to some — this is a program-defining game for Clemson.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has been mentioned as an up-and-coming name for possible head coaching openings this coming offseason, and for good reason. The Tigers join the Seminoles as the only two teams in the conference to average over 500 yards a game in total offense, fielding a top-20 club nationally in scoring offense, passing offense and total offense. Quarterback Tajh Boyd leads the conference in total offense, averaging 328.3 yards per game, and Boyd’s veteran leadership will provide an interesting contrast to the high-profile freshman (Winston) who is ranked second in the conference in the same category. Much as with the Seminoles on the other side of the ball, Clemson’s rushing game will be a key item of focus in this contest. Will we see the Florida State that allowed 33 yards of rushing against Maryland two weeks ago, or the team that allowed 200 yards to Boston College the prior week?
The true statistic to watch is the defenses’ ability to limit the big play. Florida State had nine plays of greater than 20 yards against Maryland, giving them 45 such plays on the season. Clemson has logged 34 plays of greater than 20 yards on the season. The Seminoles have eight plays of greater than 40 yards, while Clemson has five plays greater than 50 yards and five greater than 60.
#10 Miami (5-0, 1-0 ACC) at North Carolina (1-4, 0-2 ACC), 7:45pm ET Thursday, ESPN
- Zero Dark Thursday: The Tar Heels will be wearing all-black uniforms for the game, with “Zero Dark Thursday” the name the university has chosen for the affair. Head coach Larry Fedora said of the apparel, “We wanted to design a uniform that connected our team to The Tar Pit, our name for the student section. Make no mistake, Carolina Blue and white will always be our traditional colors.”
- You shall not pass: The Hurricanes lead the league in pass defense, allowing only 141.4 yards per game through the air. Miami has allowed just two passing touchdowns on the season, tying them with UCF for the national lead. The only two passing touchdowns Miami has allowed came against Florida and South Florida. North Carolina has thrown for 11 touchdowns on the season.
- You shall not run: North Carolina has struggled on the ground all season. The Tar Heels have registered three games of fewer than 100 rushing yards (South Carolina, East Carolina and Virginia Tech), with their highest output (134 yards) coming in their lone win against Middle Tennessee. Carolina’s 100 yards per game is the lowest rushing output in the ACC by ten yards.
Syracuse (3-3, 1-1 ACC) at Georgia Tech (3-3, 2-2 ACC), 12:30pm ET, ACC Network
- Unfamiliar territory: Syracuse has never lodged a victory against the Yellow Jackets in their two prior meetings (2001 in Giants Stadium and 2004 in the Champs Sports Bowl). This is also the Orange’s first-ever trip to Atlanta and outing against Georgia Tech as an ACC opponent.
- Born to run: Syracuse ranks third in the conference in rushing yards (221.7 per game), and has rushed for 685 yards in their last two conference outings against Clemson and NC State. Georgia Tech has allowed their two largest rushing totals of the season in their last two games, allowing 227 yards to Miami and 189 yards to BYU. The Ramblin’ Wreck has only allowed five plays of greater than 20 yards on the ground, however.
- Three little feet: Just one yard separates Syracuse and Georgia Tech in total offense on the season. The Yellow Jackets have 2528 yards of offense, while the Orange have 2527. The two teams are seventh and eighth, respectively, in total offense in the conference.
Maryland (5-1, 1-1 ACC) at Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2 ACC), 3:30pm ET, ESPNU
- Coming off a career-high: Maryland running back Brandon Ross had a tremendous game against Virginia last week. Ross compiled 169 total yards against the Wahoos in the Terps’ 27-26 victory.
- One of two at two bills: Wake Forest wideout Michael Campanaro joins former Deac Desmond Clark as the only two receivers in school history to have 200 or more career grabs. Campanaro leads the league in yards per game (116.4) and receptions per game (8.8).
- Winning at Wake: Wake Forest has not lost to Maryland at BB&T Field since 2005. The last three games in Winston-Salem have resulted in Demon Deacon victories (2007, 2009 and 2011). Wake has scored 31 or greater points in each game.
Duke (4-2, 0-2 ACC) at Virginia (2-4, 0-2 ACC), 3:30pm ET, RSN (regional)
- Remember 1994?: Duke’s victory against Navy last week gave the Blue Devils a long-awaited distinction. Duke had not defeated all of their non-conference foes in a single season since ’94, and they own victories over NC Central, Memphis, Troy and Navy this season.
- Remember 1890?: (Writer’s note: I would hope no one reading this remembers 1890!) This is the 65th time Duke and Virginia have met on the gridiron, with Virginia holding the 33-31 edge. That first meeting on November 27, 1890 resulted in a 10-4 Virginia victory.
- Remember 2008?: 2008 started a string of success for Duke against the ‘Hoos. David Cutcliffe’s team has won four of the last five outings against UVa, scoring 28 or greater points in each win.
Old Dominion (4-2) at Pitt (3-2, 2-2 ACC), 7:00pm ET, RSN (regional)
- Taking a second crack at the ACC: ODU plays their second ACC opponent this week in the Panthers. Maryland defeated the Monarchs 47-10 in College Park in week two. ODU closes their season at North Carolina on November 23rd.
- Lighting up the scoreboard: Old Dominion averages 45 points per game. The university is playing as an FCS independent this season before joining the FBS and Conference USA next season. ODU’s 45 points per game would be good for tenth in the FBS, were they to play at that level. The Monarchs have scored 38 points or greater in four of their six games.
- Reigning award winner: Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke was the Walter Payton Award winner in 2012. The award is given to the most outstanding offensive player at the FCS level.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Miami has the best winning percentage (.842) of any ACC team on ESPN Thursday night games, notching a 16-3 record. Against which team do the Hurricanes own the most Thursday night victories?
Miami has four Thursday night victories over Pittsburgh. The Panthers won their first Thursday night meeting in 1997, but Miami scored victories in 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2010.