On a Saturday in which the ACC was its ever-unpredictable self, Florida State was once again a model of consistency.
The Seminoles, just one week after further distancing themselves from the rest of the ACC with a convincing road win against then-No. 3 Clemson, gave the conference exactly what it needed in Week 9 -- a chest-bumping, spear-throwing, old school national title contender. Florida State looked no different in its 51-14 dismantling of Clemson last week than it did in its 49-17 win over unranked NC State on Saturday, and that’s what’s different about the Seminoles this year.
They don’t fit into the ACC’s familiar old shoe anymore.
While Florida State was laughing its way through a 35-point first quarter, the rest of the ACC was collectively holding its breath. No. 7 Miami needed a touchdown in the final minute against lil ol’ Wake Forest to beat the Deacs at home. Pitt wasn’t as fortunate and fell to Navy 24-21, fitting right into its new conference by losing a game it shouldn’t have. Georgia Tech turned the ball over five times in Charlottesville and still beat Virginia 35-25. Clemson’s offense was stagnant early against a depleted Maryland team, but the Tigers finally asserted themselves in a 40-27 win -- with three turnovers.
The biggest surprise, of course, was Duke.
The Blue Devils marched into Blacksburg, notoriously one of the most difficult places to play in the ACC, turned the ball over four times and beat the No. 14 Hokies, 13-10. It's the first time in school history that the program has been bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons. It was also the first time since 1971 that Duke beat a ranked team on the road.
And they did it without converting one third down.
It was undoubtedly a win that Duke and coach David Cutcliffe should be commended for, a true turning point for the program under his direction and a milestone that was so monumental, the team will need its bye week to celebrate and digest it. What happened, though, to the Hokies? Logan Thomas threw four interceptions. There were two missed field goals, costly penalties.
The ineptitude of both offenses was glaring, but Duke’s historic win should overshadow Virginia Tech’s collapse.
FSU was the only team to earn any style points on Saturday, but in the end, the ACC avoided disaster again. Instead of surrendering to an epic upset, Miami did its part to set up what will be the league’s second top 10 game between undefeated teams in three weeks. ESPN’s College GameDay crew will be heading to Tallahassee, the show’s third stop in ACC country this season.
And Clemson didn’t let the Noles beat it twice. The Tigers started the game with just one touchdown in six trips to the red zone, and they held a precarious 16-13 lead against a team that was missing its top two wide receivers, top running back and quarterback to injuries -- not to mention 13 other scholarship players. Quarterback Tajh Boyd said his ankle was still bothering him from the Florida State game -- and he tweaked his knee against Maryland -- but that he has played with worse. He got lots of help from running back Rod McDowell, who had 30 carries for 161 yards.
“It’s never been easy up here, never has been,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “… It’s hard to win, period, but especially up here. Everybody knows the history here, but our guys responded to every situation. If there was a hangover [from the FSU game] when we had a couple lulls and this team wasn’t focused, it could have gone south in a hurry. But it didn’t and they responded. That’s what great teams do.”
The ACC has several good ranked teams, but as of right now, it has one great one. And that’s all it needs.