As the ACC heads into Week 10, it does so with three bowl-eligible teams: No. 9 Florida State, No. 13 Clemson, and … Duke.
With only four games remaining in the regular season, it’s crunch time for some programs, and the margin of error is rapidly decreasing for others. NC State, which hosts Virginia, is the only team from the conference that can become bowl eligible this week. Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Wake Forest all need to win two of their last four games. The programs facing the most pressure are Georgia Tech, which needs to win three of its next four, and Boston College and Virginia, who both need to win out.
"Without question, we have to win out,” said UVa linebacker Steve Greer. “Every season, we always talk about winning the month of November and finishing strong, and to make a bowl game we’ve got to win these last four games. Talent-wise, there’s no question we can do that, but we just have to play together, and eliminate mistakes."
It’s not going to be easy for the Hoos, who have to play in Raleigh this weekend, and also must face the Coastal Divison’s three best teams in Miami, North Carolina and rival Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Virginia coach Mike London said he is less concerned about reaching the six-win mark right now, and more concerned about beating NC State for win No. 3.
“Where we sit right now, our approach is beyond looking at bowl games,” said London, who led his program to a bowl game last season for the first time since 2007. “Our approach is being better and improving from the last several games and eliminating those things that have kind of caused us to not come out on top. That's us taking care of the ball, getting the ball, and reducing penalties. You can look down the road at those things, but my main concern is the most and the immediate.”
Georgia Tech might not make the cut, either, as the Yellow Jackets have back-to-back road trips to Maryland and North Carolina, followed by a home game against a feisty Duke team, and then the regular-season finale against No. 6-ranked Georgia.
“It’s important,” coach Paul Johnson said of extending the season. “I don’t look at it as much as practice for the next year as I do putting a positive end to the season. Certainly this year hasn’t gone as we have envisioned or how we would’ve liked, but sometimes that happens.”
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe can attest to that.
The Deacs missed bowl games in 2009 and 2010. With trips to NC State and No. 3 Notre Dame still on the schedule, along with a home game against Vanderbilt (4-4), the Deacs are in a must-win situation against Boston College.
“We feel like here bowl games are kind of a measure of how successful you are,” Grobe said. “So I think it's very, very important. Yeah, I think we missed a couple opportunities earlier in the season. I think we're disappointed that we had great opportunities against Duke, against Maryland, didn't get it done. Our backs are against the wall right now.
“With four games left, we have four really good teams to play,” he said. “We'll have to play our best football to win any of them. To win two of them is going to be a challenge. But I think we're capable of winning all four. It's a matter of staying healthy, playing good, having a good plan as coaches, having the kids go execute it.”
Just like Duke already did.