This is the point in the season where we start talking about scenarios for how the race to Jacksonville might play out. And this weekend could be one of the bigger weekends in deciding that well at least in the Atlantic division, I think the Coastal division is pretty much a done deal unless Georgia Tech gets to seven wins overall and collapses opening the door for Miami or Virginia Tech. Otherwise I think even if GT were 6-2 they would still win the division because Virginia Tech and Miami will probably end up with three losses apiece. The Atlantic division is, shall we say, murky at this point. I think two losses at most wins the Atlantic. NC State, Wake Forest, Clemson, and Boston College are all in the mix. When you consider BC beat Clemson who beat Wake who beat NC State who beat BC then you get the feeling the tiebreaker, if there is one, will be fun. Here are how the divisions are shaking out at the midpoint of the season.
Clemson, 6-1 overall, 3-1 in the ACC
Remaining Schedule: Georgia Tech, at Va Tech, Maryland, NC State, South Carolina
With three of their final four conference games at home, Clemson is in the proverbial driver's seat. The next two games are crucial for Clemson since they play Coastal division leader Georgia Tech and then must travel to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech five days later. Clemson should beat Virginia Tech but coming five days after what has become a rivalry game with the Yellow Jackets and the Hokies needing to prove something on the field, the Tigers could get jumped. I am sure they would have loved to have one of those byes like FSU, NCSU, BC, and VT got before their Thursday game. After that they return home for the whole month of November with NC State game being the only conference challenge they will see and that could have major divisional implications riding on it. As well as Clemson is playing and given the built-in advantages of their schedule(except for the Thursday night game) I think the Tigers end up 7-1 assuming they beat GT this weekend.
Wake Forest, 6-1 overall, 2-1 in the ACC
Remaining Schedule: at UNC, Boston College, at Florida State, Virginia Tech, at Maryland
Wake has the opposite issue in that they are on the road for three of their final five conference games. And no offense to Wake Forest, but I still view them with this nagging feeling that the wheels are going to come off and they will revert to the Wake of old. That being said they should beat UNC in Chapel Hill and have a good chance to beat Maryland on the road. So they would need to hold serve at home against BC and VT and hope they can knock of FSU on the road. The biggest problem for Wake is the loss to Clemson which places them squarely behind the tiebreaker eight ball if they end up in a tie with the Tigers. However, they need to get to 6-2 or 7-1 for that to happen and I just think there are at least two more losses out there for the Deacons to drop them to 5-3 by season's end. Then again I am a robust 1-2 when picking against Wake Forest so take it for what it is worth.
Boston College, 5-1 overall, 2-1 in the ACC
Remaining Schedule: at Florida State, Buffalo, at Wake Forest, Duke, Maryland, at Miami
Once again the road schedule down the stretch is going to hurt BC more than it helps them. Duke at home is a no brainer, Maryland at home will be a little tougher but should not be a problem. As for the other games BC has to travel to Florida twice and North Carolina once for road games. The effort against VT last week showed that BC is more than capable of dealing with the kind of defense Miami and FSU play and since both of those schools have an offense on virtually the same level as VT. BC should win those games leaving the matchup in Winston-Salem as the most important of the season for the Eagles. It should be noted Wake almost beat BC last season before the Eagles rallied for two scores in the final minutes to escape with the win. BC also owns the head-to-head with Clemson for tiebreaking purposes so if they can find a way to 6-2 and hope Clemson loses this weekend then BC could be making a third trip to Florida in December.
NC State, 3-3 overall, 2-1 in the ACC
Remaining Schedule: at Maryland, at Virginia, Georgia Tech, at Clemson, at UNC, East Carolina
This is the reverse of the Clemson schedule. The Wolfpack is on the road for four of its final five conference games. The only home game they get is Ga Tech, who they beat in Atlanta last season, which makes it a very winnable game for NC State since they seem to get up for the big games. NC State should win at Maryland and Virginia assuming they show up mentally. If they win the next three then the game at Clemson is for all the divisional marbles. So much depends on the Clemson-Ga Tech game this weekend. If Clemson has two losses and NC State heads to Death Valley at 5-1 then even a loss there would not dash their title game hopes but a win for sure would put Clemson to bed. NC State owns the head-to-head with BC but would lose one with Wake Forest. The UNC game could be the fly in the whole oinment since Bunting seems to have the Pack's number despite not having anyone else's besides Duke's.
Florida State, 4-2 overall, 2-2 in the ACC
Remaining Schedule: Boston College, at Maryland, Virginia, Wake Forest, Western Michigan, Florida
Somehow Florida State gets only four road games this season and only one of them in the second half of the season. Let's be honest. FSU has a pulse...barely. They need to beat BC this weekend or they will be flatlined. Three losses is not going to win this division and even if they find themselves in a three way tie if those three losses are Clemson, NC State, and BC then they cannot win the division. And was anyone else shocked to see Western Michigan right before the Florida game?
Maryland, 4-2 overall, 1-1 in the ACC
Remaining Schedule: NC State, Florida State, at Clemson, Miami, at Boston College, Wake Forest
Other than playing spoiler to someone Maryland does not escape this schedule with fewer than three losses. 3-5 in the ACC gets them into a bowl and that is all they can hope for at this point.
Georgia Tech, 5-1 overall, 3-0 in the ACC
Remaining Schedule: at Clemson, Miami, at NC State, at UNC, Duke, Georgia
Like I said in the intro, this is GT's division to win and they can probably get away with two losses assuming one of them is not Miami. The UNC and Duke games should be mortal locks. Losing at Clemson is not unexpected so that leaves the home game with Miami and the trip to Raleigh as the most important games to ensure a trip to the ACC title game and a probable rematch with Clemson. Tech has been very good defensively and should have little trouble with Miami's offense. NC State has been more of a challenge for defenses but cannot seem to break 24 points in any given game. I would think GT would put up more than that against them. The key for the Jackets is if Reggie Ball can continue to play smart and give the freaking ball to Calvin Johnson at least five times a game for more than 100 yards.
Miami, 4-2 overall(1 by TKO), 1-1 in the ACC
Remaining Schedule: at Duke, at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, at Maryland, at Virginia, Boston College
Let's not forget that Miami only has one conference loss and if they can find an offense they might suprise the Yellow Jackets in two weeks. If GT loses to Clemson though it really dampens the possibility that they would come back home and lose to Miami. Of course Miami needs to worry about getting out of Durham with 13 players sitting back in Coral Gables. You would think it would not be a problem but stranger things have happened. If Miami is sitting at two losses after next week then the game with VT is essentially an elimination game for them because three losses is not going to get it done in the Coastal. That all being said, I think BC will win in the Orange Bowl come November 23rd to make the rest of it moot.
Virginia Tech, 4-2 overall, 2-2 in the ACC
Remaining Schedule: Southern Miss, Clemson, at Miami, Kent St., at Wake Forest, Virginia
The Hokies are on life support. Basically they need to beat Clemson and Miami back-to-back and then travel to Wake Forest and win there to get to 6-2. One more loss and I think they are done because I do not think Georgia Tech is going to lose three times in the conference. And even if they end up tied with the Jackets, the tiebreaker belongs to GT.
Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, 3-16 overall, 1-9 in the ACC
Remaining Schedule: Does it really matter?
As much as I would like to think one of these schools might play spoiler I really do not think so. Duke could end up 0-12, UNC is headed for 2-10 or if they lose to Duke then both are 1-11. UVa might win tonight against UNC and it also may be the last time they win until 2007. In fact it is entirely possible these three teams will win only twice more this season and that is against each other. Welcome to the Coastal division cellar.
Now for the weekend picks...
Virginia 28 UNC 10
No great mystery here. The sharks in the media are circling the boat for Bunting.
NC State 24 Maryland 20
More Daniel Evans heroics? Actually it will probably be more of a Maryland rally that falls short.
Miami 28 Duke 20
Close enough scare Miami fans senseless but still not enough to get Duke off that W column zero.
Boston College 23 FSU 20
BC keeps finding a way and FSU really starts to think Bowden nepotism is a bad idea.
Virginia Tech 28 Southern Miss 14
No way the Hokies lose three straight.
Clemson 33 Georgia Tech 26 (OT)
Why not overtime? As close as these two play each other this game will have all of the great elements of a classic college football matchup. Why this is not the ABC Saturday night game is a genuine mystery.