(NOTE: Several ACC schools will be playing SEC schools this weekend. Any ACC schools that are home this weekend will be included in this column. Any ACC road teams will be covered in this week’s SEC column.)
In yet another ridiculously fast-moving college football season, we find ourselves at Thanksgiving week, with the Gobblers (fittingly) at home and a matchup locked in for the ACC Championship in Charlotte. There are still many matchups with significance, however, whether it be for bowl spots, rivalries or the possibility of saving — or costing — a coach his job. Let’s take a quick spin around the conference, but before we do…it’s trivia time!
ACC Trivia, week 13 (answer at the bottom of the article): Which two opponents this week are tied for the fourth-longest active bowl streak among NCAA schools?
Top of the Ratings
#6 Florida (10-1) at #10 Florida State (10-1), 3:30pm ET, ABC
Last week’s episode: Florida 23, Jacksonville State 0; Florida State 41, Maryland 14
Program guide: Will Muschamp brings his somewhat resurgent Gators into Doak Campbell Stadium for a rather interesting matchup. Muschamp’s charges posted a disappointing 6-7 record last year, including a bowl loss and a 21-7 loss to the Seminoles, but things are quite different in 2012. Both teams had a chance to catch a bit of a breather last weekend, with the Gators defeating the FCS-level Gamecocks. Jacoby Brissett started under center for Florida, completing 14-of-22 passes for 154 yards. Mike Gillislee continued his march through his opponents this year, carrying 20 times for 122 yards and a score.
The Gator defense has starred all year, and last week was no exception. Florida has a top-20 unit in every measure (and top-five in many), and that defense held Jacksonville State to 242 yards of total offense last weekend. The Gamecocks converted just 4-of-16 third downs last week, which helped contribute to the Florida dominance on the defensive side of the ball. JSU running back DaMarcus James was held to just 30 yards on 13 carries, with that crippling Gator run D effectively preparing for this contest.
They will need every last bit of that preparation for the Seminoles, who sport the nation’s 24th-ranked rushing offense. Running back Devonta Freeman toted the rock 16 times for 148 yards and two scores in a decisive victory over injury-riddled Maryland last week, and has broken the 70-yard mark four times in the five games since taking over as the featured Seminole rusher. Freeman has six rushing scores in those five games. Quarterback EJ Manuel has continued his efficient ways, going 17-for-23 for 144 yards against the Terps, adding two touchdowns and a pick.
As great as Florida’s defense has been, Florida State’s has been even better. The Seminoles rank in the nationwide top five in every major category, guiding Jimbo Fisher’s club to Charlotte to compete for the ACC crown. Despite Maryland’s offensive shortcomings (which we have thoroughly chronicled in this space in weeks past), Florida State held the Terrapins to just 170 total yards and ten first downs on offense. Discounting sacks, Maryland rushed for just 66 yards, while only passing for 136. The key in this game is that this is Florida State’s most complete team in recent memory, and it remains to be seen as to whether or not Florida’s occasional offensive shortcomings can be conquered in this contest against their in-state rival.
#12 South Carolina (9-2) at #11 Clemson (10-1), 7:00pm ET, ABC
Last week’s episode: South Carolina 24, Wofford 7; Clemson 62, NC State 48
Program guide: The Gamecocks got quite the scare for three quarters from FCS playoff participant Wofford last week, finding themselves tied 7-7 at Williams-Brice before scoring 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for a 24-7 victory over the Terriers. Wofford attempted just three passes (completing one) against South Carolina, but managed 259 rushing yards in the game. The Gamecocks were outgained 330-293, but did force three Terrier turnovers, including an Eric Breitenstein fumble that led to the final score of the game. Akeem Auguste returned that fumble 31 yards for a touchdown.
Carolina running back Kenny Miles finally had the breakout game those within the program expected after he took over the featured role for the injured Marcus Lattimore. Miles carried 27 times for 127 yards and a touchdown in the first game this year in which he received more than 14 carries. If Carolina is to run their winning streak in the Battle of the Palmetto State to four, exploiting the 72nd-ranked Clemson rush defense is a must. Clemson allowed 287 rushing yards to Florida State in their only loss, surrendering a staggering five rushing touchdowns. Carolina has struggled without Lattimore, seeing their rushing offense fall to 81st in the nation.
Clemson’s run of eye-popping offensive numbers continued last week against NC State, as the Tigers scored 62 points in a victory over the Wolfpack. The Tigers amassed 754 yards of offense and 34 first downs in the win, as Tajh Boyd accounted for an ACC-record eight touchdowns (five passing, three rushing). Four Tiger receivers hauled in those touchdowns, with DeAndre Hopkins inching ever closer to the ACC’s single-season record of 17. Boyd has thrown for five touchdowns in three of his last four games, tallying 18 of his 33 touchdowns for the season in those contests. The Tigers’ conference-record streak of 37-plus point games extended to nine last week, and Chad Morris’ offense shows absolutely no sign of slowing down.
The true question is Clemson’s defense, and that defense has severe depth issues with injuries in the defensive backfield. NC State’s Tobais Palmer caught seven passes for 219 yards and three scores last week against this defense, while tight end Mario Carter had seven additional grabs for 105 yards and a score. South Carolina is not usually considered a threat to throw the ball around the yard, but Clemson ranks in the middle of the pack both nationally and in their conference in most defensive categories. The real challenge for Clemson will be to make sure they allow fewer points than they score.
Set Your DVR
Vanderbilt (7-4) at Wake Forest (5-6), 3:30pm ET, ESPNU
Program guide: James Franklin’s Commodores arrive in Winston-Salem with the very real possibility of reaching the eight-win plateau, which has been virtually impossible for Vanderbilt over the last three decades. The program’s transformation under Franklin has been every bit as rapid as it has been real. The Commodores are getting things done with a defense that ranks in the top 20 in scoring defense, passing defense and total defense. That defense matches up against a Demon Deacon offense that ranks in the hundreds in most categories. Seeing Vanderbilt hold a Tennessee offense that ranks second in the SEC to just 303 yards of offense while turning them over three times cannot be a welcome sight for Jim Grobe’s club.
Wake’s offense has struggled almost as mightily as their defense, and they enter this one coming off a 38-0 whitewash at Notre Dame last week. The Deacs managed just nine first downs and 209 yards of offense against the Irish. Wake actually recorded more punts in the game (ten) than first downs (nine). Wake Forest inexplicably teeters on the edge of bowl eligibility at 5-6, with a win landing them the bowl spot they desire and the extra practice time they surely require. The Deacons, though, have been outscored 75-6 in their previous two games. They also have one win against an FBS team with a winning record. The task appears quite daunting for Wake Forest in this one.
Virginia (4-7, 2-5) at Virginia Tech (5-6, 3-4), noon ET, ESPNU
Program guide: This year’s Commonwealth Cup game is still significant, though maybe not for some of the same reasons as years past. The Hokies are trying for their 20th-straight bowl appearance under head coach Frank Beamer, and the Cavaliers would love nothing more than to be the school that denies that trip. Virginia will have some work to do on both sides of the ball to make this happen, however. The ‘Hoos were on the receiving end of a 37-13 beating by North Carolina last Thursday, and the quarterback rotation that had witnessed recent success suffered a bit of a letdown. Michael Rocco was 11-of-16 for 155 yards and an interception, while Phillip Sims was just 8-of-17 for 50 yards and a score. Virginia also had no real running game to speak of, as their top two backs combined for just 103 yards on 28 carries. The Cavs were a miserable 2-of-15 on third down, and while their defense may have slowed Tar Heel running back Giovani Bernard (15 carries, 57 yards), they had no answer for quarterback Bryn Renner. Renner completed 29-of-36 passes for 315 yards and three scores.
The Hokies have won 12 of the last 13 Commonwealth Cups, including eight consecutive victories in the series. Extending this streak means extending their bowl appearance streak, and quarterback Logan Thomas will again be at the controls. Thomas completed 16-of-33 passes in an overtime victory against Boston College last week, going for 247 yards and two scores. Rivalry games are always good for wacky results, and with Virginia’s inconsistencies on both sides of the ball, turnovers may tell the tale in this one. Virginia is last in the ACC and 111th in the nation in turnover margin, and they turned the ball over four times last year against the Hokies at Scott Stadium.
Miami (6-5, 4-3) at Duke (6-5, 3-4), 12:30pm ET, ACC Network
Program guide: Well, Miami was in the driver’s seat for a trip to Charlotte before imposing another postseason ban earlier this week. Though there is no longer any championship significance in Durham, the Hurricanes and Blue Devils will both look to close on a positive note. Miami crushed South Florida 40-9 last week, racking up 548 yards of total offense in the process. Stephen Morris continued his outstanding season, going 21-of-32 against the Bulls for 413 yards and three scores. Punishing running back Duke Johnson was only called upon 13 times, but turned in 66 rushing yards and a score.
The Hurricanes travel to face a reeling Duke team who has lost three straight and four of their last five. The Blue Devils have been outscored 146-51 on their current three-game losing streak. Though the Devils are bowl-eligible and have just announced a contract extension for coach David Cutcliffe through the 2019 season, things are nowhere near as rosy as they may have been earlier this season. Duke has allowed 4899 yards of offense to their opponents this year, with 1727 of those yards coming in their last three games. Duke has been outscored 33.5-30.1 by opposing teams, and conference foes average 6.74 yards per play against their defense. Quarterback Sean Renfree has the ACC’s all-time leading receiver in Conner Vernon in his arsenal, and it will take big days from Vernon, Jamison Crowder, Jela Duncan and others for Duke to get that elusive seventh victory.
Boston College (2-9, 1-6) at NC State (6-5, 3-4), 3:00pm ET, ESPN3.com
Program guide: Boston College was oh-so-close to a conference victory against Virginia Tech in Chestnut Hill last weekend, only to be done in by the Hokies, and (arguably) themselves. A series of questionable events took place in the final minutes of regulation, and a Logan Thomas-to-Randall Dunn completion in overtime was the final nail in the BC coffin. A lost season for the Eagles comes to a close in Raleigh, and so, too, might the tenure of Eagle coach Frank Spaziani. Running back Rolandan Finch ran for 138 yards against the Hokies, and any spark to the 118th-ranked Eagle rushing attack would be a welcome sight against the Wolfpack.
Though we mentioned Clemson’s offensive exploits against NC State last week, the Wolfpack’s output also merits mention. NC State piled 597 yards of offense on the Tigers, with 493 of those yards — and five touchdowns — originating from the right arm of quarterback Mike Glennon. Glennon faces off against a Boston College pass defense that allows just over 242 yards per game, and he will also look to running back Shadrach Thornton against a porous BC run defense. Thornton carried 21 times for 114 yards and a score against Clemson. Boston College defeated NC State 14-10 in Chestnut Hill last season, but these are two completely different teams from just a year ago.
Maryland (4-7, 2-5) at North Carolina (7-4, 4-3), 3:00pm ET, FSN (regional)
Program guide: These two teams will also see their respective seasons end on Saturday, and sanctions aside, this has been a reasonably successful first season in Chapel Hill for Tar Heel coach Larry Fedora. Maryland, on the other hand, announced earlier this week that they will depart for greener (figuratively) pastures in the Big Ten in 2014. The Terrapins have not really been competitive since being besieged by injury, and that trend continued against Florida State last week. Maryland could muster just ten first downs and 170 yards of offense against the Seminoles, rushing 34 times for 34 yards. As good as the Terrapin defense has been — they are still ranked second in the ACC — they have simply been unable to carry an offense that has scored more than 17 points just once in the last five games (they scored 18 in a loss to NC State on October 20).
Carolina has been the antithesis to the Maryland offense this year, ranking 11th nationally in total offense. The Tar Heels hung 446 yards on Virginia, their lowest output in their last three games. Two Carolina players rank in the top 12 in the ACC in total offense, with Bryn Renner fourth and Giovani Bernard 12th. Renner has thrown for 3051 yards and 23 touchdowns, while Bernard has rushed for 1065 yards and 11 scores. Freshman receiver Quinshad Davis also had a breakout game last week, setting an ACC freshman record with 16 catches for 178 yards. Those 16 catches also tied conference and school records for receivers. Maryland has defeated Carolina five of the last six times the two have played, though the last game between the two took place in 2008. With this rivalry coming to a close soon, the Terrapins will — on paper, at least — be hard-pressed to make it six of the last seven against the Tar Heels.
ACC Trivia, Week 13: I asked earlier: Which two opponents this week are tied for the fourth-longest active bowl streak among NCAA schools?
Answer: Georgia Tech and Georgia are tied for the fourth-longest active bowl streak (16) among NCAA schools. For a breakdown of their game, be sure to read this week’s SEC edition of Clear Your Schedule.