How ACC Championship Race Could Get Turned on Its Head in Week 6

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 21:  Defensive back A.J. Hendy #19 of the Maryland Terrapins returns an interception for a touchdown against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the first half at M&T Bank Stadium on September 21, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The ACC is billed as a two-team race between Clemson and Florida State, with just one legitimate darkhorse, Miami, lurking in the weeds with a chance to bring them down.

So far this season, little has been done to discredit that billing. Those three teams have combined to go 12-0 with wins over teams like Georgia and Florida. Before the crux of ACC play even begins, the conference appears to be headed toward chalk.

That could all change in Week 6, though, as a couple of those teams face tricky games against sneaky-good opponents.

A loss from any of them—in this or any week—would turn the ACC on its head:

All lines courtesy of VegasInsider – LVH


No. 25 Maryland (4-0) at No. 8 Florida State (4-0)

COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 17: Running back Devonta Freeman #8 of the Florida State Seminoles eludes the tackle of linebacker Kenneth Tate #6 of the Maryland Terrapins during the first half at Byrd Stadium on November 17, 2012 in College Park, Maryland.
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Everyone knows about the Terps' quarterback struggles last year, when a rapid succession of injuries forced Shawn Petty, a redshirting freshman linebacker, to assume starting duties under center.

What they don't know is that—even with prospective (and current) starter C.J. Brown injured in the preseason—UMD was surprisingly not awful for much of its 4-8 campaign.

It started the year 4-2 with a three-point loss to Connecticut, which would eventually beat Louisville on the road, and a 10-point loss to West Virginia, back when it looked like a BCS contender.

Even after that, as the season started spiraling out of control, it lost two games by a combined five points to NC State and Boston College.

September 15, 2012; College Park, MD, USA; Connecticut Huskies tackle Ryan Wirth (53) and linebacker Yawin Smallwood (33) attempt to tackle Maryland Terrapins wide receiver Stefon Diggs (1) at Byrd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sport
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the crazy rash of injuries, the Terps almost went 6-2 to start last year. Which is all a long-winded way of saying this: Randy Edsall can coach. Like, he can really coach. And now that fate isn't so pitted against his depth chart, the 4-0 Terps have put that on display.

Especially after West Virginia beat Big 12 favorite Oklahoma State (one week after UMD beat the Mountaineers 37-0 in Baltimore) it looks like this team might be for real.

As good as Jameis Winston has been this year, which—make no mistake—has been very good, Brown makes the quarterback battle interesting.

Winston is the No. 2-rated passer in America, but Brown is close behind at No. 9. And the latter has done much more with his legs (283 yards, six TDs) than the Seminoles' star.

Maryland will also have the best skill position player on the field in Stefon Diggs, a former top-10 overall recruit who spurned the likes of USC to play at nearby UMD. He has the potential to take any touch to the house, and this will be the biggest game of his career.

Florida State is favored by 15 points, and with good reason. Maryland's defense has played well, in spots, but it's also been decimated by injuries. There's a chance Winston & Co. can ravage that unit and coast to a win.

But if BC was able to hang with the Seminoles, you best believe Maryland can too. If it's able to make this a four-quarter game, anything can happen.


Georgia Tech (3-1) at No. 14 Miami (4-0)

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 22: Stephen Morris #17 of the Miami Hurricanes passes the football against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on September 22, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. Miami won 42-36 in overtime. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Im
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Folks are down on Georgia Tech right now after watching it lose an ugly affair to Virginia Tech last Thursday night.

That seems fair—the Jackets did look bad—but it would be foolish to discount their chances of an upset at Miami. After all, had they won that game against a very good Virginia Tech defense, they probably would have been ranked in this week's poll.

Also, since its coming off a Thursday game, Georgia Tech has had extra time to rest up and prepare for Miami. It has had extra time to look at the tape and figure out a game plan. And even without that: It matches up with Miami fairly well.

This game went to overtime in Atlanta last year, the Hurricanes winning a shootout 42-36. Say what you will about Miami's improvement, but the defense still remains a problem. It created was gifted five turnovers against Florida, but otherwise allowed an inept offense to generate 400-plus yards.

Georgia Tech's big, physical, triple-option attack is set to challenge Miami's questionable toughness on defense. And in Vad Lee, for the first time in a while it has a quarterback who can make opponents pay for overplaying the run.

If Miami is to win this game, it will either need to score a lot of points or get an unforeseen game from its defense.

Both of those things could very well happen, but neither is exactly worth betting on.


No. 3 Clemson (4-0) at Syracuse (2-2)

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 29:  Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers reacts after a call during the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 29, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

On the surface, there's no reason this game should be even discussed. Clemson is light years better than Syracuse and is rightfully favored by double digits on the road.

Then again, they are still the Clemson Tigers. Expectations are high, the opponent's skill is low and the game is not at Memorial Stadium.


For those who dispute "Clemsoning" as a concept, or the love-drunk Tigers fans who claim, implacably, that this team is different, here's some food for thought from 2011:

Yes, the key pieces are older, but that 2011 team was led by Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. They were not born immune to the Clemsoning gene; the question is whether or not they've developed an immunity over the years.

It certainly looked like they had against Wake Forest last week. But it also looked a lot like they hadn't a couple of weeks ago against North Carolina State.

Clemsoning, by definition, cannot come in a game where people expect it might happen. That's the whole point of the theory: The losses need to come out of left field.

No one is talking about an upset at Syracuse this weekend—and that's exactly why people should start talking about it.