The ACC race is starting to get narrowed down a bit. Miami helped their chances by knocking off Virginia Tech last night. This weekend North Carolina travels to Maryland, and one of those teams will leave the field with their third conference loss.
Duke (4-5) vs. Clemson (4-5)
Why Duke might win: It appears the Blue Devils’ bowl bubble burst with last week’s loss to NC State at home. Does that mean head coach David Cutcliffe is taking his foot off the gas? Nope. The Blue Devils had a full-contact, full pads practice on SUNDAY to work on their red-zone offense that ranks dead last in the ACC (converting 25 of 36). If Clemson is expecting Duke to lay down this weekend, Cutcliffe is making sure that will not be the case. Duke can win this game by winning the time of possession battle (currently 3rd in ACC at 31:41 per game) and ultimately limiting the number of touches Clemson’s playmakers, such as C.J. Spiller, Aaron Kelly and Jacoby Fords, have. QB Thaddeus Lewis should have plenty of time in the pocket while leading the ACC’s top passing offense (221 ypg) this weekend. Clemson still ranks dead last in sacks with only nine on the year. The Tiger pass defense ranks 3rd in the ACC allowing 172 ypg, but comes in tied at 7th with nine interceptions. Clemson currently ranks last in the ACC in turnover margin, so given the opportunities Duke could steal this game by converting turnovers into points.
Why Clemson might win: Is Clemson entirely focused on the task at hand knowing coaching candidates are being interviewed? Can they reel off three straight wins to become bowl eligible? Do they care? The Tigers have won 12 straight home games against Duke. Duke and Clemson are statistically even in regards to the offensive side of the ball, although Clemson has slight advantages in scoring, total yards, rushing offense and passing offense. The big difference is on the defensive side of the ball, where Duke is giving up 34 ppg in their last four ACC games. Clemson, meanwhile, is allowing 23.75 ppg in their past four ACC contests. The key for Clemson is limiting their turnovers (Harper 12 ints) and getting the run game going, or at least better than the 2.2 ypc they produced last week against FSU. Clemson’s special teams return men Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller’s speed could really exploit Duke’s coverage teams.
Clemson 27, Duke 20
Boston College (6-3) vs. Florida State (7-2)
Why Boston College might win: This marks the fourth time these teams will square off as ACC opponents, with the three previous games won by the visitor. The Boston College defense will have to bring their A game this weekend. Can the Eagles’ rush defense slow down Florida State’s rush offense? B.C.’s rush defense ranks 12th nationally allowing 101.8 ypg, while Florida State’s rush offense ranks 19th nationally, garnering 205.2 ypg. If they can slow the run game down and force QB Christian Ponder to throw more than they want him throwing, they are more than capable of making a play in the secondary. The Eagles have 18 interceptions on the year, which ties for the lead nationally. In the last four weeks, the Eagles have returned an interception, a fumble and two punt returns for touchdowns. That good fortune will have to continue this week due to the struggles they will surely have on offense against the number one defense in the ACC. QB Chris Crane will probably see the most pressure that he has all year, and how he handles himself will be critical. The past two weeks Crane has not thrown an interception after throwing at least one in his previous five games against D1 opponents.
Why Florida State might win: The Seminoles need to continue winning games to keep pace with Wake Forest and Maryland in the Atlantic division. All the games are huge from here on out for FSU. It appears the Seminoles have unearthed an ultra-talented tailback in Jermaine Thomas just in time to provide a boost down the stretch run. Thomas is averaging 112 ypg the past two weeks, averaging 11.2 ypc. Teaming Thomas with the touchdown machine Antone Smith (13 tds) creates a dynamic duo. It will be extremely interesting to see how this smallish FSU offensive line deals with the two massive B.C. defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace. In passing downs they will need to roll Ponder outside because the pocket will collapse quickly. The big advantage for Florida State will be their defense matched-up with Chris Crane and the Eagle offense. As mentioned earlier, Florida State has the top defense in the league, allowing 265 ypg. Defensive end Everrette Brown is hot on the heels of Clint Sintim for the sacks title, with nice sacks to Sintim’s eleven. Brown has been a disruptive force and un-blockable in obvious passing downs. Florida State, as a defense, ranks 7th nationally in sacks and 8th in tackles for loss.
Florida State 28, Boston College 13
Wake Forest (6-3) vs. North Carolina State (3-6)
Why Wake Forest might win: Wake Forest hits the road after winning two straight over Duke and Virginia at home. Last week, the Demon Deacons got the benefit of four UVA turnovers for a +3 turnover margin, which was key to their victory. For the year the Deacons rank 2nd nationally at +1.56. Their 103rd ranked offense relies heavily on the defense creating turnovers and even scoring from time to time. The biggest offensive weakness is their offensive line and the lack of a running game. Their top two running backs, Josh Adams and Brandon Pendergrass, are both averaging less than 3.5 ypc. They can’t sustain drives because they struggle to pick up short yardage 3rd downs that move the chains. NC State does rank dead last in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing 28.7 ppg, so even though Wake struggles on offense they should be able to punch a few in the endzone. Defensively, Wake ranks first in scoring defense (17 ppg) and first in rush defense (90 ypg) in ACC games.
Why North Carolina State might win: NC State has more career wins over Wake Forest with 60 than any other team. State recorded their first ACC win last week at Duke, winning 27-17. The State defense bent but did not break, giving up 411 total yards, but only 17 points. It’s no coincidence the defense played much better with the return of LB Nate Irving. Irving is hands down their top defensive player and he led the charge in holding the Duke rush offense under 100 yards. State’s mantra for the final weeks is to win the state crown after already defeating East Carolina and Duke, with the Wake and UNC games coming up. Who is your ACC first team quarterback? Even as a red-shirt freshmen and playing on the worst team in the conference, Russell Wilson has to garner some attention. For the year, Wilson is completing 56.5% of his passes for 1,118 yards 10 passing touchdowns (2 rushing tds) and only 1 interception. Wilson leads the ACC in passing efficiency with a rating of 130.9. State can keep this game close by protecting the football, where they have only one turnover in their last four games. State is playing much better recently, losing to MD on a late field goal and hanging with both Boston College and Florida State late into the game.
NC State 23, Wake Forest 17
North Carolina (7-2) vs. Maryland (6-3)
Why North Carolina might win: North Carolina is the ACC’s highest ranked team, checking in at #16 this week. The Tar Heels’ successful mid-season run is in part due to the resurgence of their run game that was missing at the beginning of the year. The Tar Heels rushed for a season high 186 yards last week against a Georgia Tech defense that was giving up 121 ypg. The Terrapin rush defense ranks 11th in the ACC, allowing 152.3 ypg. RB Shaun Draughn gets most of the carries and is averaging 4.7 ypc, but in short yardage and goal line situations they hand it off to the big fella, Ryan Houston. Houston has accounted for seven rushing touchdowns on the year and still maintains a 4.4 ypc as the short yardage back. The run game makes Hakeem Nicks (ACC’s leading receiver with 94.9 ypg) that much more dangerous. It’s the same old thing with UNC’s defense, while they rank 10th in the ACC allowing 349 ypg. They lead the nation in interceptions (18) and are 4th in turnover margin (+13). Can the Tar Heels make the Terps one dimensional on offense by shutting down RB Da’Rel Scott?
Why Maryland might win: Should we start with Maryland’s recent success against ranked opponents where they have won their last five in a row? Or go with the fact that the Terps are 5-0 at home this year outscoring their opponents, 153-82. Or Ralph Friedgen’s 4-1 record against North Carolina? None of that will matter if they can’t stop the run any better than they did versus Virginia Tech. There were line-up changes made along the defensive line after the VT game: Coach Friedgen is moving Travis Ivey (6’4 325) to DT, DT Jeremy Navarre to end, and at nose tackle Dion Armstrong (6-1, 303 pounds) will start over Bemi Otulaja (6-0, 285). In essence, they are putting more size on the line after getting shoved around last Thursday. The Terps are only allowing 16 ppg at home this year. The offense will have to be clicking, which of course starts with RB Da’Rel Scott. The Tar Heels are giving up a good chunk of yardage per game at 349 ypg, and the Terrapins will need to convert those yards into points. Look for QB Chris Turner to bounce back this week at home.
Maryland 31, North Carolina 28