Friedlander: What's at stake for the ACC in Week 13
Thanksgiving is all about tradition. And not just the kind involving turkey, stuffing and obnoxious relatives you only have to see once a year.
There’s also a feast of football.
The menu in the ACC includes some of the nation’s most intense traditional rivalries. It begins with a Friday appetizer and concludes with a Saturday main course that will determine whether the conference still has a chance at enjoying dessert in this year’s playoff.
But there’s plenty more on the table than just bragging rights.
For a final time during the 2022 regular season, here’s a look at what’s at stake (with predictions) …
NC State at North Carolina
Even without a catchy nickname or the national attention some of the other traditional matchups on the ACC schedule this weekend will attract, no rivalry in college football sparks as much passion in its participants as the one between the Wolfpack and Tar Heels.
This year’s Black Friday renewal promises to have even more juice than usual, especially from the State perspective.
Dave Doeren’s team was predicted to be the squad heading for next week’s championship game. But things didn’t work out as planned. The sting of that disappointment is even greater because of UNC’s surprise run to its division title.
The Wolfpack would love nothing better than to send the hated Tar Heels off to Charlotte with a 2nd straight loss. NC State also would like to put quarterback Drake Maye in his place for some inflammatory comments he made about State earlier in the year.
As for UNC, there’s a score to settle for the way last year’s game ended. Mack Brown’s team had the game all but won with a 9-point lead with just over a 1 1/2 minutes left until State stormed back to steal the victory. A win also would keep the Tar Heels in line for a possible New Year’s 6 bowl no matter what happens against Clemson next week.
Prediction: UNC 38, NC State 27
Florida at Florida State
The Seminoles are the hottest team in the ACC and can close out the regular season on a high note while serving notice that they’re well on their way back to prominence under coach Mike Norvell.
FSU hasn’t lost since emerging from a 3-game midseason slump and has outscored its 4 most recent opponents by a combined margin of 173-39. Florida, meanwhile, comes in at 6-5 with a loss to Vanderbilt in its most recent game.
A win would send the Seminoles into the postseason with a chance at a 10-win season. Even more important, they can end a 3-game losing streak to the Gators and gain a tactical edge on their rival in recruiting their talent-rich state. On a macro level, an FSU victory would help improve the ACC’s national profile in 1 of 4 head-to-head matchups against SEC opponents.
Prediction: Florida State 41, Florida 38
South Carolina at Clemson
This is by far the most important game on this week’s schedule for an ACC team. A win against the Gamecocks won’t guarantee the Tigers a spot in the upcoming College Football Playoff. It won’t even catapult them into the top 4 of next week’s rankings. But a loss would eliminate Dabo Swinney’s team – the ACC along with it – from any chance of getting into the semifinal bracket.
Two long streaks also will be at stake Saturday at Death Valley. Clemson has won 7 straight Palmetto Bowls against its in-state rival and is looking to extend its ACC-record 40-game home winning streak that dates all the way back to 2016.
The Tigers might need all the advantages they can get this time around. South Carolina has made significant strides in its 2nd season under Shane Beamer. And the Gamecocks already have knocked a top team out of playoff contention by upsetting Tennessee last week in a game that saw them put up 63 points against the Volunteers.
Prediction: Clemson 27, USC 24
Pittsburgh at Miami
The matchup between the reigning ACC champions and the preseason Coastal Division favorites has fizzled in importance because of the varying degrees of disappointment of the teams involved. But there’s still a major prize left to be decided by the outcome.
The 5-6 Hurricanes can salvage something positive from an otherwise forgettable rookie season for coach Mario Cristobal by earning bowl eligibility with a victory. They would be the 10th league team to qualify for the postseason if they can snap their 4-game home losing streak, their longest since 1973.
Pitt already has clinched its spot in the postseason and a 2nd straight league title is out of reach, so other than winning the game, the emphasis is on individual accomplishments.
Doak Walker Award semifinalist Israel Abanikanda is on track to win the ACC rushing title with 1,320 yards and 8 100-yard games. He also is tied for the national lead with 19 touchdowns despite missing a game because of injury.
Defensive tackle Calijah Kancey also will be trying to boost his award prospects as a semifinalist for the Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award, each presented to the nation’s top defensive player, and the Outland Trophy as the top interior lineman in college football.
Prediction: Pitt 23, Miami 13
Wake Forest at Duke
The Deacons and Blue Devils are both bowl eligible and enter their regular-season finales with 7-4 records.
That’s where the similarities end.
For Duke, 2022 already is an unmitigated success. It has more than doubled its win total from last season, ended a long conference losing streak and put Mike Elko in a position to win ACC Coach of the Year honors in his 1st season on the job. Beating an in-state rival on Senior Day would be a happy exclamation point.
Wake, on the other hand, had visions of a 2nd straight double-digit win season and a New Year’s 6 bowl trip when it began November. That goal went down the drain with a 3-game losing streak, so a win simply would be a nice way to finish the season and send its heralded senior class out in style.
One member of that group, quarterback Sam Hartman, needs only 3 more touchdown passes to tie former Clemson star Tajh Boyd’s career ACC record of 107.
Prediction: Wake Forest 41, Duke 38
Louisville at Kentucky
Another of the SEC rivalry matchups the ACC needs to at least try to alter the narrative surrounding the league’s depth and strength. The Cardinals have lost 4 of their past 5 Governor’s Cup meetings with the Wildcats, including the past 3 by lopsided margins – 56-10 in 2018, 45-13 in 2019 and 52-21 last year.
Louisville is a slight underdog, mainly because it is playing on the road. But it comes in having played better football over the 2nd half of the season. Scott Satterfield’s team has won 5 of its past 6 behind an aggressive defense that leads the nation with 41 sacks and ranks 2nd in takeaways with 28. Kentucky, meanwhile, is 2-5 since a 4-0 start that earned it as high as a No. 7 ranking.
Individually, linebacker Yasir Abdullah can strengthen his case for ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors with another dominating performance to finish the season. He has recorded 8 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and 4 forced fumbles this season.
Prediction: Kentucky 17, Louisville 14
Georgia Tech at Georgia
The rivalry between the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs is known as “Clean Old-Fashioned Hate.” Old-Fashioned Butt Kicking might be a better description for it lately, though. Georgia’s 2 most recent wins – in 2019 and last year – have come by a combined 97-7 margin.
So let’s not even waste the time considering what’s at stake with a Georgia Tech victory.
A more realistic goal for the Yellow Jackets is beating the 35-point spread. If they can keep this game at least semi-competitive, it could prove beneficial for interim coach Brent Key. He already has put together a strong resume by going 4-3 since taking over in the wake of Geoff Collins’ Week 4 firing. A strong showing between the hedges could strengthen his case for keeping the job on a permanent basis.
Prediction: Georgia 45, Georgia Tech 10
Syracuse at Boston College
There’s a lot more at stake, at least potentially, for the Orange in general and coach Dino Babers in particular.
For the team, it’s an opportunity to snap a frustrating 5-game losing streak and clinch a winning season for the 1st time since 2018 no matter what happens in its bowl. For Babers, the consequences are much more serious.
After getting off to an encouraging 6-0 start to the season, it was assumed the 7th-year coach had succeeded in saving his job. But after going through the entire 2nd half without a victory, Babers very well could be back on the hot seat. Losing yet again, this time to the ACC’s worst team, would not bode well for him.
BC might be just the right team to help Babers and the Orange get back on the winning track. The Eagles were shellacked 44-0 by Notre Dame last week and have little to lose or gain as they play out the string of a disappointing 2022 season.
Prediction: Syracuse 18, BC 13
Virginia at Virginia Tech
The Governor’s Cup showdown between the Cavaliers and Hokies was canceled in the aftermath of the shooting that claimed the lives of UVA players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.