ACC Football Overview
Georgia Tech's upset of Clemson not only took the Tigers out of the national championship race, but it kept both division races in the ACC alive and well. Had Clemson won, they would have taken a two-game lead on fading Wake Forest, who was obliterated by North Carolina. Now Wake is still with in a game in the Atlantic Division and a head-to-head showdown with Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and the Tigers coming up on November 12. The very fact Wake is fading–Tanner Price was picked three times by the Tar Heel defense–makes it unlikely this will be much of a game, but Clemson isn't home free for Tampa and the ACC title game just yet. Georgia Tech also kept themselves alive in the Coastal, staying within one game of frontrunning Virginia Tech and a head-to-head battle ahead a week from Thursday.
There's one more team left in the mix in the Coastal, but it isn't Miami or North Carolina. No, it's Mike London's pesky Virginia Cavaliers, who shocked Miami last Thursday night and tied in the loss column with Tech–a team they've beaten already, and the Cavs still have their season-ending rivalry game with the Hokies ahead. Only in the ACC could we not only have five teams in contention come November, but every single one controls their own destiny.
Virginia and Wake aren't likely to make any more noise, given the Deacons current downward trend and the fact the Cavs still have a game at Florida State before they deal with Virginia Tech. That leaves three teams leading the way for not just the conference title, but the better bowl bids on the conference hiearchy. Presuming no ACC team receives an at-large BCS bid (a circumstance that's never happened since the BCS took its current form in 1998). The Chick-fil-A-Bowl is the runner-up prize, a good time slot on New Year's Eve Night and a good opponent in the #5 team out of the SEC. Last year Florida State got the chance to play Steve Spurrier and South Carolina and took full advantage of the opportunity with a big win. Even if you feel Clemson is destined to win the ACC title, the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech winner could still decide who gets to spend New Year's in Atlanta. The next slot down is the Champs Sports Bowl. Playing the runner-up out of the Big East probably doesn't stir anyone's juices, but the Orlando-based game may also get the chance to pick Notre Dame, who looks likely to be around 8-4. Again, a good game to get.
The fourth pick is the Sun Bowl, and that's where this is going to get wide-open. North Carolina is 6-3 and has a good shot, with Miami not being completely out of the running at 4-4 if they can close strong. This is a key dividing line, because the Sun Bowl gets you a chance to play Pac-12 #4 (let's say Washington or Arizona State), while the next spots down move you into the middle rungs of mediocre conferences or the dregs of the power leagues. Overall, the ACC controls nine bowl slots, and has precisely that many teams at .500 or better, including N.C. State. All nine have to hold form, because it doesn't look like Duke, Maryland or Boston College have any kind of November spurt in them.
In the race for Conference Player of the Year, Clemson quarterback Boyd appears likely to win the award going away, but I think we need to keep his favorite target Sammy Watkins on the radar, along with Virgina Tech running back David Wilson. Whether to pick Boyd or Watkins can be a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, but I think it's worth noting that even though Boyd didn't have a stellar game on Saturday night, Watkins still got his numbers. The Clemson passing game is heavy on Watkins and that indicates maybe he, more than the quarterback, deserves credit for the numbers. Wilson has kept the Virginia Tech offense rolling even with the fits and starts that have marked quarterback Logan Thomas' development. Right now I give a slight edge to Watkins in this race, but Boyd could certainly overtake him with a great performance against both Wake and again in the ACC title game.