Half of the equation has been solved in the 2011 ACC race. There are always answers each week, but we got an important one in Week 11:
Clemson won the Atlantic Division. It wasn’t easy, and the Tigers lost their top playmaker and one of the country’s best receivers in the process, as Sammy Watkins sprained an AC joint in his shoulder during the 31-28 win over Wake Forest. Though the injury isn’t said to be serious, Watkins’ status for Saturday’s game at NC State is uncertain. Clemson’s status, though, has been solidified as the best in the Atlantic Division. The Tigers finished the season with a perfect 7-0 record at home, the first undefeated home season since 1990. It was the third time this season that Clemson had overcome a deficit of 14 or more points (Auburn and Maryland). Clemson is heading to Charlotte.
Rivals Virginia Tech and Virginia are the last two standing. The Commonwealth owns the Coastal Division this year. With Virginia Tech’s Thursday night win over Georgia Tech, the Hokies eliminated the Yellow Jackets and Miami from the ACC race. With Virginia’s win over Duke on Saturday, the Hoos remain in contention and can win the division if they win their final two games against Florida State and Virginia Tech. If UVa beats FSU and Virginia Tech loses to North Carolina, the regular-season finale could determine this year’s division winner. Bottom line: UVa needs to win out and the Hokies remain the team to beat.
NC State is at least consistently inconsistent. A win at Virginia. An implosion at Florida State. A fifth straight win over rival North Carolina. And then 10 points against a Boston College team in the midst of its worst season since 1998. Next up? How about an upset of Atlantic Division champ Clemson? The odds are against them, but with the way this season has gone for NC State, the Wolfpack are impossible to predict. The one thing we do know after the loss in Chestnut Hill is that NC State now needs to beat Clemson and Maryland in order to get to a bowl game.
Some ACC officials are confused, but let me double check that. No doubt, there’s indisputable video evidence, starting with five video replays in the first half of the FSU-Miami game, including a double reversal in which an initial decision to overturn a call was -- you guessed it -- overturned. And as for the Nigel Bradham hit? It was scary. It was chilling. But there was no helmet-to-helmet contact. Was he ejected for launching himself into the upper body of a receiver deemed defenseless? Don’t worry, it will be reviewed again. And probably one more time, just to make sure.
FSU and Miami are right where they’re supposed to be this year -- unranked. You can talk about what this rivalry means to the players, what it means to recruiting within the state, and the balance of power among the big three. But you can’t talk about Saturday night’s game as if it were another instant classic. It wasn’t. Turnovers, penalties, sloppy play -- all of it added up to a ho-hum game that did little more than bump FSU ahead of Wake Forest in the ACC standings and leave Miami one win shy of bowl eligibility. Again. A 7-3 team beat a 5-5 team at home.