The ACC lucked out with their football schedules this season. Initially, it looked like all the key conference games would happen back in September and early October – Florida State vs. Clemson, Virginia Tech vs. Miami, and Clemson vs. Virginia Tech. Instead, the first week of November has four teams controlling their own destines for the two spots in Charlotte, and the four meet in two games this weekend, all but deciding the race to the conference championship.
Those four teams, of course, are Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech in the Coastal, and Clemson and Wake Forest in the Atlantic. The Atlantic is pretty dull; judging by their respective performances against Carolina, Clemson should win easily, and clinch the division title then and there. Of the other four teams, only FSU hasn't been mathematically eliminated from contention, and they'll need a pretty unlikely series of events to get them over the line.
The Coastal Division is a bit more wide open, as all six teams can technically win the title. UNC has the most complicated path ahead of any team, which is saying something if you realize what desperate straits Duke is in. But for the optimists among us, here's what has to happen for UNC to frustrate college football fans everywhere and contend for a BCS game:
- Carolina has to win their final three football games. This isn't as hard as you might think, as two of their opponents, State and Duke, are 1-3 in conference. (And we can just ignore the Heels' recent ineptitude regarding the folks from Raleigh for the time being.) The third game against Virginia Tech is a tougher hurdle, but they could catch the Hokies as flat-footed as they were last week against Duke.
- Virginia Tech must beat Georgia Tech this weekend. My loyalties in a game like this naturally lean towards the Yellow Jackets, but they're currently a game up UNC plus will win a two-way tiebreaker by virtue of their win in Atlanta. Carolina fans are forced to root for the Hokies if they want this scheme to work.
- Virginia must beat Virginia Tech. Tech has only one ACC loss with three games remaining, while UNC already has three. Since VT must take Georgia Tech down a peg, it's up to the Cavaliers to get them to three losses.
- Virginia must lose one and only one ACC game. This is the complicated part. Carolina needs a four-way tie at the top of the Coastal Division, so UVa, now 2-2, must also finish 5-3. The Cavaliers can lose to any of Florida State, Duke, or Maryland, but only one of the three. FSU is the most likely one, of course.
- Miami must lose once. A five-way tie, as hilarious as that would be, also doesn't help UNC. So 2-3 Miami must drop a game. I'd say FSU is the only viable option, as the other two games are against bottom dwellers Duke and Boston College
If all of this happens – five games ending in the required way plus a couple of other conditions being met – UNC, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech will al be 5-3. The first tiebreaker is the records amongst the four teams, where the two Tech's records of 1-2 will eliminate them. That makes it a race between UNC and Virginia, which the Heels win by virtue of having beat the Cavaliers in the regular season.
Nothing to it, right? Just root against every instinct you have and hope for a few miracles.