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Friday, November 25, 2011
Blogger debate: ACC vs. SEC Challenge

By Heather Dinich and Chris Low

Jimbo Fisher, Will Muschamp
Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles and Will Muschamp's Gators are one of four ACC vs. SEC matchups Saturday.
The final weekend of the regular season features four ACC versus SEC battles, which means SEC blogger Chris Low and ACC blogger Heather Dinich can't be in the same room together this week.

Instead of trading blows, though, they hash it out in a blogger debate.

Chris Low: Heather, forget the chaos in the BCS right now and all the talk about how we need a playoff. We have our own little SEC versus ACC playoff this weekend to close the regular season. It was a 2-2 split last season. I’m on record that the ACC will be lucky to win one this season. Two of the matchups are between nationally-ranked teams. No. 17 Clemson travels to No. 12 South Carolina, and No. 13 Georgia visits No. 23 Georgia Tech. Also, Vanderbilt pays a visit to Wake Forest, while Florida State plays at Florida. All right, Heather, here’s your chance to convince me that the ACC can win at least two games again this year.

Heather Dinich: Lucky to win ONE? Last I checked the ACC wasn't playing the only three teams in the SEC anyone has paid attention to this year. I will admit, that before the season began, I said the ACC would have a winning record against the SEC this season, but I wasn't predicting Georgia's SEC East title, nor Vanderbilt's bowl hopes in the first season under James Franklin, or South Carolina's defense leading the way. I think we could all see what was in store for Florida. I can, however, argue that the ACC will win at least TWO games against the SEC this weekend: against Vanderbilt and Florida. Jimbo Fisher is a step ahead of his friend Will Muschamp when it comes to getting their programs in order, but clearly this will be a defensive game and FSU's defense is better. So is its special teams. As for Wake-Vandy, Jim Grobe has beaten that team before, and quarterback Tanner Price is on a hot streak. What makes you so confident the SEC will come out on top this weekend?

CL: Well, since I wound up picking two ACC teams this weekend, maybe we should revisit my original proclamation. I like Georgia simply because the Bulldogs have been on such a hot streak and their defense has been terrific under second-year coordinator Todd Grantham. That said, it's a whole different game when you're facing that option offense. I also like Vanderbilt. This game means more to the Commodores than it does to the Deacons. Vanderbilt needs one more win to qualify for a bowl game, and Franklin has brought a different mindset to that program. The Commodores are also very good on defense with a lot of veterans who understand what this game means to their season. I had a hard time with Florida and Florida State, but the Gators simply haven't been able to score against anybody that counts. I also picked Clemson over South Carolina. I just don't see the Tigers losing three in a row in this series. How well do you think Clemson will fare against a South Carolina defense that has been rock-solid for most of the season?

HD: I almost picked Clemson. Almost. The one thing that held me back was during my conversation with offensive coordinator Chad Morris earlier this week, he talked about confidence. Because of 11 turnovers in the past three games, Clemson has lost some of its swagger, and I'm not sure they can get it back in time to beat that South Carolina D. I honestly have a hard time believing they will lose three straight in this series, too, but I can't get over how the offense has bumbled its way through the past three games. The timing just doesn't add up in favor of Clemson. Quarterback Tajh Boyd needs to make better decisions, and they need to win the turnover battle. With Sammy Watkins back in the lineup, their biggest advantage might be in the kicking game. What's interesting to me is that Clemson has to be more concerned about South Carolina's defense than its offense. But SEC defenses are having a great year, at least from where I sit. Both FSU and Florida have had their share of struggles offensively. How do you think the Gators will fare against EJ Manuel? The Noles' passing game hasn't been in sync lately. Low-scoring game in the Swamp?

CL: Well, the Gators' offense hasn't been in sync -- period. This is a very big game for Muschamp and the Gators. They need something out of this season they can hang their hat on, and right now, there's nothing. As you might imagine, 6-6 seasons don't go over too well in Gainesville, and they're even worse when two of the losses are to Georgia and Florida State. Now, I'm one of those who thinks Muschamp walked into a bigger mess than anyone will ever know there. He needs a chance to get his players in there, so he can play the way he wants to. But you still need to generate a little momentum going into the offseason. Again, that's why this is such a big game for Florida, which believe it or not, has only lost once at home this season ... to No. 2 Alabama.

HD: You're right, Florida needs the win, but not as bad as the ACC needs to come out of this weekend with a respectable record against the SEC. With your league being so top-heavy, this is a good year for the ACC to do that. I think Vandy might give the ACC the biggest fight for all of the reasons you just mentioned, but Wake Forest has come too far this season to fold in the finale. The Deacs have lost too many close ones. It's almost like they're due. I think the ACC's best hope this weekend lies with Wake Forest, Florida State and Clemson, though I picked the Tigers to lose. Most if not all of these games could go either way. Don't forget that the ACC has a head start with Clemson's win over Auburn earlier this year. Here's the bottom line: Unless the final scores indicate otherwise, and these games are blowouts in favor of the SEC --which I don't see happening -- I don't think there is THAT much of a gap between the SEC and ACC in the teams that are playing this weekend. There is obviously a gap between the conference in its entirety, considering the top three teams in the BCS standings, but as far as this weekend goes? I think the ACC will at least close the gap if not come out on top, but I'll give you the final word.

CL: The SEC has been pretty weak at the bottom this season. There's no debating that. But I still think the top 5 teams in the SEC would take down the top five from any other conference if you paired the No. 1 seeds, No. 2 seeds and on down the line. In an ACC versus SEC Challenge this season, that would probably look something like LSU versus Virginia Tech, Alabama versus Clemson, Arkansas versus Georgia Tech, Georgia versus Florida State and South Carolina versus Virginia. The best the ACC would do, in my mind, would be 2-3, and I could see a scenario where the SEC would sweep all five games. On the flip side, not in my wildest dreams, could I see the ACC sweeping. What makes three of the four matchups this weekend different is that they're bitter rivalries. Anything's possible. But top to bottom, the SEC hasn't been as strong this season. Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt all have to win this weekend just to become bowl eligible. But in the SEC, they don't measure success based on bowl appearances. They measure success based on rings. The bling is the thing, and something tells me that the SEC's ring collection is only going to grow this season.