A crazy race for division titles has some long-awaited clarity. Four teams are still in contention. Clemson and Boston College in the Atlantic Division, with the Tigers having the edge. In the Coastal Division, Georgia Tech has the drop on Miami. Here’s how it shakes out…
Georgia Tech has only one league game left, Saturday at Duke (Noon, ESPN2). If they win, they clinch the division. If the lose, it drops them back into a three-way tie with Miami & Virginia Tech. In that scenario, the ‘Canes have the advantage. The three teams have split amongst each other, canceling out head-to-head as a tiebreaker. But Miami’s other loss was to a non-division opponent in Clemson, meaning they will have a superior Coastal Division record and take the spot in Tampa on that basis. Miami has two remaining ACC games, at North Carolina on Saturday (ABC regional, 3:30 ET) and at home against Duke.
You may be wondering about Virginia Tech. The Hokies cannot win the division under any scenario because they can’t win the three-way tiebreaker. Even if Miami lost a third game, Va Tech cannot overtake Ga Tech, because the latter won the head-to-head game. And since the Yellow Jackets have only one league game left, Frank Beamer’s team cannot pass them.
Clemson and Boston College each have two losses and have a two-game lead on the rest of the Atlantic. The Tigers won the head-to-head meeting so they control the race. Clemson visits N.C. State and hosts Virginia. If they stumble, Boston College has to sweep three games—road games at Virginia & Maryland and a home date with North Carolina. As well as the Tigers have started to play, it looks unlikely they will lose either game, and even if they do, BC hasn’t show the consistency necessary to suggest they can win three in a row, even if you think they are the better team in each game individually.
So the folks in Tampa can expect Clemson to arrive for the first time since this title game was instituted in 2005. Georgia Tech is the likely opponent, but Miami is still breathing. The Hurricanes have never made the final game before, a circumstance no one would have ever predicted when they joined the league. And the Miami-Florida State championship game that was the reason for splitting the two rivals into separate divisions has still never materialized. The ACC is the league of the common man, as the middle class programs have effectively thrown over the traditional powers and become the establishment themselves.
For Saturday’s key game, Duke won’t be a pushover. The Blue Devils can throw the ball and if they are successful, can force Tech out of their game plan. But Paul Johnson’s option attack, quarterbacked by Josh Nesbitt and powered by Jonathan Dwyer has overwhelmed better defenses than the one it will see on Saturday. Given the stakes, I see the Jackets rising to meet the moment and winning this one 42-17.
THE BOWL PICTURE
The conference champ will be Orange Bowl-bound and it looks very unlikely this league will get one of the four at-larges available to the BCS. In the post below, I outlined who I think will get the bids, and that didn’t even include a potential 10-2 Oklahoma State team and a potential 12-0 Boise State. So the math is not good for the ACC. They are hurt by the fact that the only attractive option would be a 10-2 Miami for the Orange Bowl…but the Orange would not choose the ‘Canes to rematch with a fellow conference school.
With that out of the way, the league’s next bids go to the Chick-fil-A and the Gator. Even though the latter game has the juicy January 1 slot, it’s the former that gets first pick. The Chick-fil-A is on New Year’s Eve night, so it’s not a bad slot and getting to play a midlevel SEC team isn’t a bad opportunity. The game is held in Atlanta, which works against Virginia Tech, given their fans already traveled there for the Alabama game in September. Presuming a Georgia Tech-Clemson title game, I see Miami getting the nod for this spot. Look for the Hokies to be chosen by the Gator. You can see the post below about the BCS and conference championship game losers to understand why I think Va Tech goes over the runner-up in Tampa. The one exception would be if Georgia Tech beats Georgia in its finale to finish 11-1, then loses the title game, while the Hokies lost one more time to drop to 8-4. At that point, the record differential is too dramatic to ignore. Whomever ends up in the Gator will play either the Big East runner-up or Notre Dame.
The next spot down is the Champs Sports Bowl, where I see the championship game loser falling to, against a Big Ten opponent. Remaining bowls are the Music City, Meineke, Emerald, Eagle Bank & GMAC, in that order. Contenders for the bids will be led up by North Carolina, who is 6-3. Beyond that, the conference has problems. Duke, at 5-4, is the only other team with a winning record and getting that one extra win won’t be easy. Even if the Blue Devils make it, there are still three more bids to be filled. Disappointing teams in Florida State, N.C. State & Wake have a shot. Virginia could run the table and still qualify. But the odds say that the ACC will fail to fill at least one, and probably two of these berths, opening them up for the midmajors.
There’s been some nice individual performances in this league, even if none of them are Heisman caliber. Ryan Williams (Va Tech) and Dwyer at Georgia Tech have been tough runners. C.J. Spiller is starting to get some attention at Clemson and even mentioned in Heisman talk. This is overblown, and Spiller has not been as good as either of the other two backs. At quarterback, Christian Ponder was putting together a good year at Florida State, the one bright spot in an otherwise sorry campaign for the Seminoles, but it was announced this week that he’s out for the year. Another blow to Bobby Bowden. But perhaps the finest quarterback performance has come from Thaddeus Lewis at Duke. He hit a big bump on the road last week when he couldn’t get anything going at North Carolina, but otherwise the Blue Devil signal-caller has been the principal reason that fans have something to watch before basketball season starts for real. Lewis & Dwyer have the best cases for MVP right now and they go head-to-head on Saturday.