- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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It’s the penultimate week of the regular season, and there’s still plenty left to be decided. Three teams are pushing for bowl eligibility, five teams remain in the mix for the Coastal and three teams are tuning up for rivalry showdowns against the SEC. Here’s what to watch for as the ACC gets set for Week 13.
1. Who gets No. 6?: The showdown between the two ACC newcomers isn’t exactly a headlining act nationally, but for both Syracuse and Pitt, it’s a potentially huge game. Both teams sit at 5-5, and the winner safely secures bowl eligibility. Both teams enjoyed big wins two weeks ago (Syracuse over Maryland, Pitt over Notre Dame) before losing tough games last week.
2. North Carolina rolling: After opening the season 1-5 (0-3 in the ACC), the Tar Heels have found their rhythm behind new starting quarterback Marquise Williams. They’ve won four straight and could secure bowl eligibility this week with a win over Old Dominion. The game also serves as a warm-up for the regular-season finale, in which UNC, miraculously, could stake its claim to a share of the Coastal Division lead with a win over Duke.
3. Duke at the top: Speaking of the Blue Devils, they’re riding high after last week’s win over Miami. Duke is firmly in command of the division and well on its way to a 10-win season and a trip to the ACC title game if it can win out. And while most outsiders look to the showdown with UNC next week, Duke’s first step is toppling reeling Wake Forest this week. The Demon Deacons have had an extra week to prepare, making this potential trap game a big test of just how far the Blue Devils have come.
4. Williams' quest for 2,000: What can Andre Williams do for an encore? It’s almost silly to wonder what comes next since the Boston College running back continues to top himself so consistently. After rushing for an ACC-record 339 yards a week ago, Williams is now just 190 yards shy of 2,000. No running back in the nation has reached that plateau since Connecticut’s Donald Brown in 2008.
5. Eagles soaring and Terps improving: The BC-Maryland game might be a good bit more interesting than most fans should’ve expected a few weeks ago. The Eagles have won three straight and have already tripled their win total from a year ago. After starting 4-0, Maryland lost four out of five but appeared to salvage its season with a win over Virginia Tech last week. Now both teams are bowl eligible and looking to establish themselves as the clear No. 3 in the Atlantic Division.
6. Miami on the ropes: Remember when the Hurricanes were the No. 7 team in the country? That seems like a long time ago. Miami fell to Florida State, lost its top offensive weapon in Duke Johnson, then lost two more games, coughing up control of the Coastal in the process. But if there’s a cure for what ails the Canes, it’s probably Virginia, which hasn’t won an ACC game in more than a year. Of course, that last conference win for the Hoos? It came against Miami.
7. Early exits in Tallahassee: If you’re a fan of Florida State’s stars on offense and defense, you better tune in early Saturday. They aren’t likely to be in the game for long. Jameis Winston didn’t play in the second half of last week’s game, and he has had no more than one series in the third quarter of three of his past four. FSU is a 56-point favorite this week against lowly Idaho, so Winston & Co. figure to be on the sidelines early once again.
8. Final tune-up for Clemson: If the Tigers are to make it to a BCS bowl game, it will all come down to next week’s rivalry game with South Carolina. This week’s foe, the Citadel, is simply that pesky speed bump beforehand. Still, it’ll be one last chance for Tajh Boyd and the Tigers to get ready for the Gamecocks, even if it doesn’t figure to be a particularly close game.
9. Tech tunes up, too: Like Clemson, Georgia Tech has a rivalry game with an SEC foe on the horizon, and the Yellow Jackets are also tuning up for Georgia with some lighter fare. But after Tech fell to Clemson last week, Paul Johnson’s crew has a lot more work to do to get things right in advance of its SEC showdown.
10. State’s hopes for bragging rights: It’s been a rough debut season for coach Dave Doeren and the Wolfpack, but there’s at least one final shred of Carolina dignity to be salvaged. After NC State lost its first three in-state showdowns this year -- to Wake Forest, UNC and Duke -- East Carolina looks to make it a clean sweep. It’s a step out of conference for NC State (which is 3-0 nonconference but 0-7 in the ACC) but it’s no easy win. The Pirates are 8-2 overall and pushed Virginia Tech to the brink earlier this season.