ACC: snapping the streak 2014

Time to move on in our look at recent streaks in some of the biggest ACC rivalries. The vote on this one should be interesting …

Up today: Clemson vs. South Carolina

The series: Clemson leads 65-42-4.

Last meeting: Nov. 30, 2013: South Carolina 31, Clemson 17. The game was tied at 17 in the fourth quarter, but Clemson couldn’t overcome a ghastly six turnovers -- three fumbles and three interceptions. Quarterback Tajh Boyd threw a pair of interceptions in the final four minutes.

The streak: South Carolina has won five straight over Clemson. It was the first time in the series that Clemson had lost five consecutive games to their rival in a series that began in 1896. With the loss, Boyd finished his career 0-for-4 against the Gamecocks.


Will Clemson beat South Carolina in 2014?


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The skinny: Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney have both taken their respective programs to new levels, but Spurrier has further distanced his program from the Tigers with the head-to-head results. Regardless of Clemson’s national ranking, the team always seems to come unraveled during rivalry week with a turnover-prone performance. Spurrier has had three straight 11-win seasons, and the Gamecocks should again be one of the top teams in the SEC East. Clemson should mirror that role in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but has to contend with defending national champs Florida State. Last year, Clemson earned an impressive win against Georgia -- an accomplishment South Carolina failed to do. In the end, though, the loss to South Carolina lingered with Clemson fans more than the win over Georgia. Until Swinney starts to turn the tables on the school’s biggest rival, his résumé in Death Valley will be incomplete by Clemson standards.

The prediction: South Carolina wins six in a row. Ouch. If Clemson couldn’t beat South Carolina WITH Sammy Watkins and Boyd, why should we give them the benefit of the doubt without their record-setting quarterback, leading receiver and leading rusher? Clemson’s defense is going to be its strength this year, and one would think that by the time November rolls around, the offense will look like a seasoned group and have closed the gap. It’s not like South Carolina doesn’t have questions of its own, having to rebuild the defensive line and secondary. Key playmakers Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Bruce Ellington have all moved on. The difference is that South Carolina has continued to win in spite of previous losses like that. Clemson has more to prove.
Time to move on in our look at recent streaks in some of the biggest ACC rivalries.

Up today: North Carolina vs. Duke

The series: North Carolina leads 58-38-4.

Last meeting: Nov. 30, 2013 in Chapel Hill, N.C. Ross Martin kicked a 27-yard field goal with 2:22 to go to give the Blue Devils a 27-25 victory and a spot in their first ever ACC championship game. North Carolina had a shot to get into field-goal range to win the game, but Marquise Williams threw an interception at midfield to end the rally. Duke players carried coach David Cutcliffe off the field on their shoulders in celebration.

The streak: Duke has won two straight. The last time the Blue Devils won more than two in a row in the series was when they took three straight between 1987-89. The longest Duke winning streak in the series is seven straight, between 1950-56.

The skinny: Duke? Streaking? Practically unheard of over the last 20 years. Before going on this two-game win streak, Duke dropped 21 of 22 to its hated rivals (two North Carolina victories were later vacated because of NCAA sanctions). Even when Duke was good in 1994, it could not beat the Tar Heels. But the truth is, most of this era of UNC dominance coincided with the deep decline of the Duke football program. Between 1990-2011, Duke posted one winning season (the aforementioned 1994) and became an ACC doormat. In the eight seasons before Cutcliffe took over the program, Duke won more than two games just once and posted three winless seasons.


Will North Carolina beat Duke in 2014?


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But given all the progress we have seen Duke make in the last two years, it is hard to envision going back to those bleak days. Cutcliffe has molded the program into a Coastal Division champion, and has his sights set even higher. He has recruited athletes all over the field, and he also has radically improved the players and depth on the offensive and defensive lines. Duke has ceded its spot as perennial ACC pushover, renewing the competitiveness in the rivalry.

Because North Carolina is not going anywhere, either. The Tar Heels are building under third-year coach Larry Fedora and have talent all over the field -- at the skill positions, in particular. Despite losing to Duke to close out the regular season, this team overcame a 1-5 start to make a bowl game -- and then dismantled Cincinnati in said bowl game. Confidence is soaring, and so is the belief that the Tar Heels have what it takes to make their first ACC championship game in 2014.

The prediction: The two are set to play Thursday night football Nov. 20 in Durham, N.C., with the expectation that the Coastal Division title will be up for grabs. The feeling this spring is that Duke and North Carolina have a chance to be the two best teams in the Coastal Division based on the players returning. At this point, the game remains a toss-up, so I reserve the right to change my pick come November. For now, I am leaning toward Duke based on its recent success and home-field advantage.
We started a series this week looking at some of the ACC’s most meaningful rivalries, and predicting whetherthe most recent trends are going to change in 2014. Can the underdogs stop the losing streaks?

It’s Georgia Tech’s turn to answer:

The series: Georgia leads, 64-39-5

Last meeting: Nov. 30, 2013: Georgia 41, Georgia Tech 34 (2OT)

The streak: Georgia Tech has five straight losses to the Bulldogs and seven consecutive losses at home to UGA. The Jackets have not beaten their in-state rival since a 45-42 win in Athens in 2008. It was Georgia Tech’s first win in the series since 2000.


Will Georgia Tech beat Georgia in 2014?


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The skinny: Georgia’s biggest offseason recruit might have been former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. He’s got a tough task, turning around a defense that has struggled in the past two seasons, while Georgia Tech’s defense has shown significant improvement in the past year under coordinator Ted Roof. Still, the Jackets have to replace three starters on the defensive line, including standout end Jeremiah Attaochu, while Georgia returns 10 starters to its defense. Offensively, Georgia has to replace record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, as well as three starters on the offensive line. Georgia Tech will also have a new starting quarterback following the transfer of Vad Lee, and Justin Thomas is the leading candidate this spring. Like Georgia, the Jackets also have to replace three starting offensive linemen. While there are several similarities on paper, expectations are much higher for Georgia this season.

The prediction: Georgia Tech has a bye week to prepare for a road trip to Georgia, but it won’t be enough to overcome Georgia’s defense -- or a healthy Todd Gurley, who could be a Heisman contender. Dawgs win. Pruitt didn’t have the pleasure of scheming for Paul Johnson’s spread option offense while on Florida State’s staff last year, so there’s no advantage from that aspect, but there is an edge in the fact that he’s been part of three straight national titles. An SEC East title could be next.
Time to move on in our look at recent streaks in some of the biggest ACC rivalries.

Up today: Florida State vs. Miami

The series: Miami leads, 31-27

Last meeting: Nov. 2, 2013 in Tallahassee. Florida State and Miami met as Top-10 teams for the first time since 2004, reigniting buzz that both programs were headed back to national prominence. But the Seminoles are the only ones who proved they indeed are back as national players. Florida State took control in the second half, routing its rivals 41-14. Miami played it close in the first half, trailing 21-14 at halftime. But after the Hurricanes lost star running back Duke Johnson to a broken ankle in the third quarter, they fell apart. Florida State ended the game on a 28-0 run, showing everyone just how big a gap there appears to be between the two programs. Miami ended up dropping three straight to fall out of the Top 25.

The streak: Florida State has won four straight and seven of the last nine. But before this recent run of success, the Hurricanes won six straight between 2000-2004. Florida State owns the longest streak in the series, winning seven straight between 1963-72. Twelve times between 1987 and 2004, Miami and Florida State met as Top-10 teams -- including seven straight from 1987-93. Miami went 5-2 in those Top-10 matchups.

The skinny: This game used to get top billing nationally, when both programs were fighting for national championships every season. But since its heyday ended 10 years ago, the teams have been unable to recreate the brilliance that made their annual matchups so compelling. The fact that both programs fell out of the Top 10 for an extended period has much to do with that. While Florida State stormed back to the national championship last season, Miami continues to play catch up.


Will Miami beat Florida State in 2014?


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The Canes lag behind the Seminoles for a host of reasons. They have not recruited at the same consistent level as Florida State, nor have they produced as much NFL talent as Florida State. Depth remains an issue, and there also is a big difference between the way the teams play in the trenches. Florida State imposes its will, both on the offensive and defensive lines. The same cannot be said for the Hurricanes.

Miami has played Florida State close during stretches in its most recent matchups. But as was the case in the last two meetings, Miami simply got physically worn down as the game progressed. Losing Johnson last season was a huge, debilitating blow. Still, in this recent four-game winning streak, Florida State has won by double digits three times.

The prediction: Florida State. The teams meet in Miami this season on Nov. 15, the third time in the last four years they are scheduled to play in November. The Seminoles are expected to go into the season ranked No. 1, with an eye on another championship. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston returns, giving Florida State an edge in just about every game it will play. Miami, meanwhile, will most likely start the season unranked for the fourth-straight season and has questions at quarterback and across the defense. Given what we have seen out of both programs, it is hard to envision Miami putting an end to the losing streak in 2014.
We’re starting a series this week taking a look at some of the ACC’s most meaningful rivalries, and predicting whether or not the most recent trends are going to change in 2014. We’ll look at the Commonwealth Cup, the Georgia-Georgia Tech series, and, of course, Clemson-South Carolina, to name a few. Can the underdogs finally reverse the roles this fall and snap their losing streaks?

Today, we pose that question to Virginia

The series: Virginia Tech leads 53-37-5

Last meeting: Nov. 30, 2013: Virginia Tech 16, Virginia 6

The streak: The Hokies have won 10 in a row against Virginia and have beaten the Cavaliers 14 times in the past 15 games. Virginia has not beaten the Hokies since Matt Schaub was quarterback and led the Cavaliers to a 35-21 victory in 2003.


Will Virginia beat Virginia Tech in 2014?


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The skinny: Both of these teams have something to prove this fall, starting with their quarterbacks. At Virginia, David Watford is an experienced candidate to start, while Mark Leal takes over for Logan Thomas in Blacksburg this spring. The questions go well beyond the unheralded quarterbacks, though, for both programs. Virginia is coming off a 2-10 season and has won just six games in the past two years. Virginia Tech is also trying to improve upon back-to-back mediocre seasons by the Hokies’ standards, and the future is uncertain for both head coaches, Mike London and Frank Beamer.

Virginia has holes to fill on the offensive line, especially following the departure of Morgan Moses, and the Cavaliers are waiting for running back Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell to show his track speed against the Hokies. Virginia Tech has several big names to replace in the front seven, where it will lose James Gayle, J.R. Collins and Jack Tyler. While there has been no confidence lost in defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s ability to reload, the offense remains a concern heading into the second season under coordinator Scot Loeffer.

The prediction: The Commonweath Cup stays in Blacksburg. Sorry, Hoos, but this streak isn’t going to end in Lane Stadium on Nov. 28. This game will continue to mean more to in-state bragging rights and recruiting than it will the Coastal Division standings.