The ACC was rattled to its foundations in college football Week 6, and it wasn’t just the seismic upset that N.C. State hung on Florida State. The league’s powers-that-be had a rough Saturday and an up-and-comer in Durham might end up being the beneficiary.
Virginia Tech has been obviously vulnerable this year, losing non-conference games to Pitt & Cincinnati, but with no ACC losses on their resume there was a hope they could get it turned around coming into conference play. Those hopes went by the board in a 48-34 loss to North Carolina, where the Tar Heels pummeled the Hokies on the ground. As a team, Carolina went off for over 300 yards rushing, 262 of them belong to Giovanni Bernard, who put himself in the discussion for conference Player of the Year.
So if it’s not Virginia Tech coming out of the Coastal, then who? UNC is on probation. Georgia Tech lost its third conference game when their defense was overrun by Clemson in the final ten minutes on Saturday. Furthermore, two of the Yellow Jackets’ losses are to Virginia Tech & Miami, so they’d lose a tiebreaker. Speaking of Miami, they might be 3-0 and a good pick to win the division, but they were embarrassed by Notre Dame, a result will touch on further down.
Why not Duke? The Blue Devils came out against Virginia with quarterback Sean Renfree unable to play with an injured elbow, but David Cutliffe’s team didn’t miss a beat, as backup Anthony Boone went 18/31 for 212 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. The defense made life miserable for Virginia, getting a pair of picks themselves, and a 17-14 deficit was turned around into a decisive 42-17 win. Duke fans will be happy with getting to a bowl game, but they can be forgiven if they start asking “Why not us?”, when it comes to making it to the ACC Championship Game.
Now, back to Florida State. The Seminoles led N.C. State 16-0 at half, playing at home and only needed to close out the win for the Atlantic Division to all but be theirs, with the rest of the season about playing for a national championship. Instead, a high-efficiency offense run by Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon was able to chip away at the lead and eventually pull out a 17-16 win when Glennon flipped a two-yard TD pass with 16 seconds left.
The Atlantic’s now up for grabs. N.C. State has a shot and Clemson is back in the discussion, as the Tajh Boyd-to-DeAndre Hopkins combo helped the Tigers score 17 points in the final ten minutes, and turn a 31-30 deficit to Georgia Tech into a 47-31 win.
We might still get the long-awaited Florida State-Miami battle in the ACC Championship Game, but right now Duke-N.C. State is still on the board as a possibility.
Around the rest of the power conferences…
SEC: South Carolina pounded Georgia on the ground, with Connor Shaw needing to complete only six passes in the 35-7 smackdown in Columbia. Marcus Lattimore rushed for 109 yards and the Gamecocks doubled the Dawgs in rush-yard production.
It was a trend throughout the conference, as teams won games the old-fashioned way. Florida got a big game from Mike Gillislee, while denying LSU any movement on the ground. And even Arkansas got in the act, outrushing Auburn 130-40 in a win that likely means John L. Smith just dragged Gene Chizik down with him on the list of embattled coaches.
Pac-12: Sloppiness reigned supreme out west. UCLA turned it over six times and was hammered in a winnable spot against Cal. Oregon State played its worst game of the year, but coming against Washington State, they were able to survive 19-6. Washington couldn’t afford mistakes at Oregon and instead turned it over five times.
While Stanford’s 54-48 overtime win over Arizona was exciting, the failure of the Cardinal to contain the spread offense of the Wildcats speaks poorly to their ability to match up at Oregon next month. Finally, USC took a quarter to get in gear on Thursday night before beating Utah.
Big 12: Texas did about as good a job against Geno Smith as could be expected on Saturday night in Austin. West Virginia’s Heisman front-running quarterback was 25/35 for 268 yards. But the Longhorns broke down against the run with Andrew Buie rushing for 207 yards, so UT wastes a nice outing from David Ash along with the pass defense.
Another team with reason to be pleased with the secondary is Oklahoma, who picked off prolific Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege three times in a decisive win. And I suppose Kansas State should be happy with the fact that a fairly pedestrian game from them still ended up in a 56-16 win over Kansas. The Wildcats didn’t stop the run very well, and relied on five UK turnovers to win. But when you’re not playing your best and winning by 40, I’d say that’s reason to feel good.
Big Ten: The season continues to shape up as Jim Delaney’s nightmare scenario, with Ohio State and Penn State playing the best football in the league while on probation. Ohio State’s crazy 63-38 win over Nebraska came about because Braxton Miller outplayed Taylor Martinez in the battle of versatile quarterbacks, giving the Buckeye offense an extra dimension on a night when both teams ran the conventional running game well. And Penn State’s Matt McGloin rallied his team from 28-17 down against Northwestern and the Lions won 39-28.
It’s shaping up to be an ugly conference championship game, with Purdue turning it over four times and letting Denard Robinson run wild in a blowout loss at home to Michigan, and Wisconsin outlasting Illinois in a game neither team wanted to win. With Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois the candidates for the Leaders Division title, the probations are going to kill the Big Ten Championship Game.
Big East: If you’re ready to conclude the conference race is about Rutgers, Cincinnati and Louisville, this Saturday provided no reason to change our mind. Even though the Scarlet Knights weren’t sharp offensively and penalty problems, they still ran the ball, played defense and beat UConn 19-3. Cincy beat up on non-conference Miami-Ohio 52-14. Keep in mind that Miami (OH) is a competitive MAC team, a league that’s already given the Big Ten fits.
Louisville was off, but potential challengers like South Florida lost, and Pitt-Syracuse played a colossal bore on Friday night in the Carrier Dome, a game that provided little reason to turn away from the baseball controversy over the infield fly rule that was brewing that night.
Before we wrap things up with our check-in on the mid-majors, let’s revisit the smackdown Notre Dame laid on Miami. If you’d have told me that Stephen Morris wouldn’t make any mistakes in the passing game, I’d have figured the Hurricanes would have had a good chance to win. The ‘Cane quarterback was a little inefficient, but at 18/35 for 201 yards and no interceptions, he played well enough to at least keep his team in the game. That is, if not for the fact the Irish absolutely annihilated Miami in both trenches.
Notre Dame had close to 400 yards rushing and was well over 300 early in the fourth quarter. George Atkinson Jr. and Cierre Wood both went over the century mark. On the other side, Miami did nothing on the ground. This game, along with the results from the SEC showed us that the game may have evolved into more a quarterback-friendly and speed-oriented place, but there’s still victories to be had by outhitting someone at the line of scrimmage. Notre Dame won 41-3, and is only team outside the SEC-Pac-12-Big 12 troika that needs to be accounted for in the national championship race.
The Best Of The Rest: The search for a possible challenger to Boise State in the Mountain West has to come to Fresno State. The Bulldogs played a good game, albeit against a below average Colorado State team, but are consistently getting good offensive balance with Derek Carr’s passing game and Robbie Rouse running the ball. Boise is still the favorite and they smoked Southern Miss 40-14, but the run defense did not look good, something that could trip them up one more time before the season is over.
Tulsa is now 3-0 in Conference USA, having pulled a rabbit out of its hat against Marshall. The Thundering Herd got over 570 yards of total offense, with Rakeem Cato having another huge day. But Tulsa scored on defense, scored on special teams and ran the ball well enough with Trey Watts and Andre Singleton to steal a 45-38 win.
We’ll wrap it up with UL-Monroe. College football fans learned about Kolton Browning’s passing proficiency in the upset at Arkansas and near-miss at auburn. The Warhawks won a key conference game against Middle Tennessee by going on the ground with Jyruss Edwards and Centarius Donald leading an attack that produced over 200 yards.