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What we learned: Week 12 in the ACC

11/22/2009

Here’s a look at what we learned in the ACC in Week 12:

The ACC is not so hard to figure out this year. Clemson and Georgia Tech are the two best teams in the conference, and will meet again in the Dec. 5 ACC championship game. The Tigers clinched the Atlantic Division when Boston College lost to North Carolina, but they made sure there weren’t any doubts about it by defeating Virginia in their home season finale, 34-21. This refreshing matchup will give the ACC championship game a much-needed boost in both interest and attendance.

Duke will have to wait another year to try for a bowl. The Blue Devils still have a chance at a six-win season when they finish with Wake Forest on Saturday, but because NC Central is a provisional FCS team, Duke needed seven wins to become bowl eligible this season. That slipped away in the fourth quarter against Miami on Saturday, when Duke relinquished its lead and was outscored 21-0. It’s still a successful season for Duke, which earned one more win than it did a year ago, but it’s not the finish it was aiming for.

BC’s offense hasn’t made enough progress against better defenses. It’s not as if the Eagles haven’t faced tenacious defenses this season. They played Clemson and Virginia Tech before hosting North Carolina on Saturday. But BC lost all three of those games, never scoring more than 14 points in the process. We knew the Eagles had issues when they left Death Valley with just 54 yards of total offense in September, but the turnovers have only gotten worse. BC has racked up 13 turnovers in those three losses, and this time, the home-field advantage didn’t help.

Florida State isn’t ready for Florida. OK, so most of us realized this long before the Noles were almost embarrassed at home on Senior Day by a two-win Maryland team using its backup quarterback, but it’s a question I get asked every week since Florida State won four of its past five games and became bowl eligible. The gap between Florida State and Florida is as big as it is in the rankings right now. Backup FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel looked good in the win at Wake Forest, but he reminded us on Saturday with three interceptions that he’s still a rookie, and Florida’s defense will humble him in the Swamp.

It’s time to give Dabo Swinney some credit. After his quick promotion from receivers coach to head coach, many questioned whether Swinney was the right man for the job. After a 2-3 start to the season, those doubts grew louder. As far as job descriptions go, though, Swinney has accomplished one major task his predecessor did not: earning the school’s first trip to the ACC championship game. He made a good hire in first-year offensive coordinator Billy Napier, another move that was questioned this offseason, and he made one of the best hires of the offseason in defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. This staff has gotten better as the season progressed, and in turn has made the players better. For that, it’s time they get some credit.