You think you’ve got it all figured out in the ACC? Watch the end of the Florida State-Virginia game again. Or Clemson in the second quarter. It was a crazy weekend all across college football, but there are always lessons to be learned. Here’s a look at what we know after Week 12:
Virginia is the most improved team in the ACC. Look no further than the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech for proof. The Coastal Division title and the Commonwealth Cup will be on the line in Charlottesville on Saturday, as the in-state rivalry will take on more meaning than it has in recent years. The Cavaliers beat Florida State 14-13 in Tallahassee, and they earned it -- some might even argue twice. It was one of the most bizarre finishes this season, complete with untimely penalties, a lengthy official review and a missed field goal by Florida State. Regardless of how it happened, UVa put itself in position to play for the ACC title for the first time, and coach Mike London boosted his résumé for the ACC’s coach of the year honors.
Virginia Tech is now the ACC’s team to beat. Aside from Clemson’s 23-3 win over Virginia Tech in the regular season, there is one major difference between the two programs this year and every year -- the Hokies’ consistency. Virginia Tech took care of business on Thursday night against a relentless North Carolina team and remains in contention to win its fifth Coastal Division title. With Clemson’s loss to NC State, the Hokies should now be the ACC’s highest-ranked team in the BCS standings, and they are the league’s only remaining one-loss team. Clemson’s loss was the most untimely, as three of the top five teams in the BCS standings lost Saturday night. The ACC could have had a strong presence in the top 10, but now the Hokies likely will stand alone.
Clemson is still Clemson. Yes, the Tigers have won the Atlantic Division for two of the past three seasons, and they made a remarkable turnaround from last year’s 6-7 finish, but if you’re the No. 7 team in the nation, you have to play like it for the entire season. Clemson was unable to do that against NC State and lived up to its reputation of suffering a big letdown instead of finishing strong. The absence of star receiver Sammy Watkins -- while obviously a setback to the offense -- wasn’t the reason for the loss. Clemson’s defense had no answer for quarterback Mike Glennon, and the Wolfpack’s defense took away the Tigers’ big-play capabilities. Clemson was trying to go from good to great, but the Tigers have instead gone from good to average and look as though they’re going backward at the most critical part of the season.
NC State has nine lives. Coach Tom O’Brien has been a magician in the second half of not just this season but also in years past. While London is getting a lot of attention for the ACC’s Coach of the Year title, O’Brien should work his way into that conversation if the Wolfpack become bowl-eligible. NC State can do that by beating Maryland at home on Saturday in the regular-season finale. NC State has been one of the league’s most inconsistent teams this year, but on Saturday against Clemson, it looked like one of the best.
Miami and Wake Forest are both bowl-eligible. Welcome back, Wake Forest. After missing out on the postseason each of the past two years, the Demon Deacons became bowl-eligible on Saturday with a 31-10 win over Maryland. It was a relief for the program, which must close the season against an improving Vanderbilt team that will have bowl eligibility on the line. Miami and its fans can also exhale after a 6-3 win over South Florida. The Bulls beat Miami in overtime a year ago, contributing to the firing of former coach Randy Shannon, and this year’s game came down to Jake Wieclaw’s game-winning 36-yard field goal as time expired. The question is whether Miami will self-impose a bowl ban to get ahead of NCAA sanctions.