ACC second-half preview

October, 17, 2012
10/17/12
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The first half of the season did not go perfectly. OK, that may be an understatement, but there is plenty to look forward to in the second half.

First and foremost is the real possibility that the ACC could land two teams in the BCS for a second straight year. National folks may lament the state of the ACC at this point, with only two ranked teams and a conference that is not as strong as the Big East in the latest set of power rankings.

But if Florida State and Clemson win out, the ACC will have the very real possibility of landing both in the marquee bowl spots: one as the conference champion and the other as an at-large selection. To get an at-large berth, a team must finish with at least nine wins and in the top 14 of the final BCS standings.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State's EJ Manuel
AP Photo/Gerry Broome)EJ Manuel and the Seminoles are in line to win the Atlantic Division, should they win out the second half of the season and NC State loses.
As it stands today, Florida State is ranked No. 14 and Clemson No. 19 in the BCS standings. But a whole lot will change between now and December. Last year, Virginia Tech finished 11-2 and No. 11 in the final BCS standings. Clemson, the ACC champ, was No. 15 at 10-3. Also keep in mind, the SEC can get only two teams into the BCS, so that should open spots up for other conferences looking to get a second team in.

If the ACC can get two into the BCS, things would look a whole lot rosier for this league than they do today. (Winning those BCS games is another issue for another day.)

Secondly, there are very real races happening in both the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions. That should make for a topsy-turvy, unpredictable and fun end to the season. Right now, Maryland, Florida State, NC State and Clemson all have designs on playing in the ACC championship game out of the Atlantic.

To make things simple: Maryland needs to win out to get there; NC State needs to win out to get there; Florida State needs to win out and have NC State lose; Clemson needs to win out and have Florida State lose.

Over in the Coastal, Miami, Duke and Virginia Tech -- yes Virginia Tech! -- have a shot at representing their division in the title game. In the simplest scenario, Miami and Virginia Tech can win out to get there; Duke needs to win out and have Virginia Tech lose again.

Given what we've seen to start this year and in seasons past, one thing that we can definitely look forward to in the second half: more unpredictability.

Bold prediction: Florida State will win out. The Seminoles have not won 11 games since 2000, but I think this is the year they can do it. Yes, I know what happened at NC State, but the Seminoles had a bad game. They are still the best team in the ACC and leave the state of Florida just twice in their final five games. Games at Miami and Virginia Tech will be tough, and so will the finale at home against Florida. But I still think this team is capable of running the table.

Looking forward to: Will the Hokies be the comeback kings of the ACC? Things have not gone well for Virginia Tech this season. Nobody predicted a 4-3 record at this point with losses to Pitt and Cincinnati. But Virginia Tech is 2-1 in ACC play and very much in the hunt for the Coastal Division crown. Its only loss is to North Carolina, ineligible for the postseason. Hurdles remain, with consecutive games at Clemson, at Miami and versus Florida State. That is the toughest stretch of any team in the ACC. How Virginia Tech handles that three-game set will determine what type of season the Hokies will have.

Top five games:

Virginia Tech at Miami, Nov. 1. This one should have an impact on the outcome of the Coastal Division. The road team is 1-4 in the past five meetings.

Florida State at Virginia Tech, Nov. 8. Both are going to need to win this game to keep their division hopes alive in this huge Thursday night game in Blacksburg. This will be the second straight Thursday night game for the Hokies.

NC State at Clemson, Nov. 17. This one could end up deciding the Atlantic Division. NC State needs to win out to play in the ACC title game. But the last time the Tigers lost two straight to NC State was 2002-2003.

Florida at Florida State, Nov. 24. This could very well be a matchup of two top-10 teams when this game rolls around. Florida State has won two straight and held the Gators to a combined 14 points in those games.

South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 24. If the Tigers hold out hope of getting an at-large berth, beating the Gamecocks will be huge. South Carolina has won three straight in the series. Most looking forward to the barbs traded between Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney.

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