Each week, Clemson student Brad Adams gives us an inside look at Clemson football in his column “Behind Enemy Lines.”
Who Will Win the ACC?
The Florida State Seminoles were considered by many to be a national title contender this season, the ACC’s first legitimate threat to win the BCS since a Matt Ryan-led Boston College team five years ago. The Seminoles certainly have passed the smell test in most of their games this season, including a 51-7 thrashing of BC last week.
But the Seminoles had a major hiccup in Raleigh a week ago. Florida State led 16-0 at halftime, but the Wolfpack didn’t allow another point and pieced together just enough offense in the second half to put themselves in position for a heroic final drive. Down 16-10, Mike Glennon led a 57-yard march, capped by a two-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Underwood on fourth down with just 16 seconds to play. The extra point gave the Wolfpack a 17-16 lead, and Florida State’s desperation heave fell harmlessly to the turf as time expired.
Wasn’t FSU supposed to run the table and win out in the ACC? No one saw it coming, but the FSU offense was shut down by the nation’s 40th-ranked defense. The Seminoles still have trips to Miami, Virginia Tech, and Maryland on the schedule in conference play. What effect will these games have on the ACC title picture?
As unlikely as it seemed following the Tigers’ September loss in Tallahassee, Clemson still has a chance to play for a conference championship in December. But they’d need to win out in conference play and get some help to do it. Clemson has been dominant at home this season and still has winnable games remaining at Death Valley against Virginia Tech, Maryland, and NC State. Road matchups include Wake Forest and a surprisingly talented Duke team that is just one win from bowl eligibility for the first time in nearly two decades. For the Tigers to win the ACC’s Atlantic Division and return to Charlotte, they need to win all of their remaining conference games and hope Florida State drops another game on the road. Many fans think FSU’s loss to NC State was a fluke and won’t happen again. But the experts aren’t so sure. Quarterback EJ Manuel struggled, throwing one touchdown, one interception, and amassing negative rushing yards in the loss in Raleigh. Receivers didn’t play like themselves, and even though running back Chris Thompson rushed for 141 yards, he was the only Seminole player with positive yardage on the ground.
This opens up the door for discussion in the ACC. Who will step up and take control of the conference? No one thought Maryland would be the only undefeated team in conference play this late in the season. NC State’s win acts as a motivational tool for other ACC teams. The second half of the season will be exciting, and with no more clear-cut favorites to meet in Charlotte for the conference title game, December could bring a surprise or two for ACC fans.
Another conference foe: Virginia Tech
Clemson hosts Virginia Tech this weekend in a rematch of last year’s ACC Championship Game, hoping to improve to 3-1 in conference play. Clemson’s offense has been clicking with Chad Morris in his second year as offensive coordinator. Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, and DeAndre Hopkins are all nationally recognized offensive weapons, anchoring this offense thus far. Virginia Tech limps into this game after struggling for most of the season. Quarterback Logan Thomas has underperformed with a low completion percentage, and the Hokies are struggling to establish the run. With early losses to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and North Carolina, Virginia Tech is looking to recapture the offensive rhythm that has made them so successful in years past.
The Tigers are coming off a bye week, and they have had two weeks to prepare for this ACC match up. Historically, this game has been one both teams have circled on the calendar during the summer. This year, Clemson is the sure favorite. Virginia Tech is suffering from the losses of running back David Wilson and five defensive starters from the 2011 Coastal Division Championship team. Clemson should be able to take care of business at home with the way the offense has improved. Virginia Tech is no joke, but I don’t think they will have enough to get it done this weekend. My prediction: Clemson 42, VT 28.
Photo Credit: Raleigh News & Observer