In terms of excitement, the ACC might have provided its best weekend of the season with Florida State-Louisville and Duke-Pittsburgh. Here’s what we learned from those two games, as well as across the conference.
1. Florida State is not going quietly into the night.
And it would have been easy Thursday night after falling behind 21-0 at Louisville in front of the second-biggest crowd in Cardinals history. Yet, for the fourth time in the past six games, FSU came back from a halftime deficit to win. In the spirit of Halloween, it’s fair to call this team the Michael Myers of the 2014 college football year. The Seminoles just don’t die, and just when it looks to be over and you take a breather, Florida State rises from the floor and catches you by surprise. The Noles are not nearly as good as they were a season ago, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capable of winning the inaugural College Football Playoff in a season that so far hasn't seen one truly dominant team emerge. With Jameis Winston at quarterback, there’s no reason to believe FSU can’t win every game left on its schedule and two playoff games. If the Seminoles make the playoff, they’ll enter with college football’s best player (barring any disciplinary measure stemming from the code of conduct hearing).
2. Miami will test the Noles one last time before the postseason.
A fair amount of analysts saw a loss somewhere on the FSU schedule before the season began. It might have been Oklahoma State, Clemson, Notre Dame or Louisville. Few believed the Hurricanes could upset the rival Noles, and that bandwagon dwindled after embarrassing losses at Louisville and Nebraska. Since the loss to the Huskers, though, Miami has played its best football and played its most complete game in a 47-20 win against North Carolina on Saturday. The offense, powered by the conference’s best duo at running back and a vastly improved quarterback, eclipsed 30 points for a third consecutive game, and the defense played the best it has all season considering the opponent; UNC was averaging 40 points per game over its past three contests.
Now, Miami has a bye week before hosting FSU on Nov. 15. Florida State fans need no reminder of how many times in the ’80s and ’90s Miami cost the Noles a national title. Miami coach Al Golden said the focus will be on Miami this week before turning his attention to Florida State.
“It’s really going to be about us,” Golden said. “We have to get better this week and worry about Florida State next week.”
3. The Coastal is now a three-team race between Duke, Georgia Tech and Miami.
I will follow that statement up by pointing out this is still the Coastal, and until math says otherwise, no team is ever truly out. However, with all three teams winning Saturday, they have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the division. Duke, a 51-48 winner in double overtime against Pitt, still sits in the best possible position, as the Blue Devils should be favored in all of their remaining games. Georgia Tech will receive a visit from Clemson, and Miami has to host Florida State. Duke already holds a one-game advantage over those two, as well. If Duke loses and Georgia Tech and Miami win out within the conference, it would set up some interesting tiebreakers. The Coastal might not let us down there. But it will almost certainly be one of those three facing FSU in Charlotte.
4. The feel-good Virginia story could be coming to an end.
First, Mike London deserves credit for the job he has done in Charlottesville coming off a 2-10 season and winless record in the ACC. The Cavaliers have played really good football all season long, and it should be taken into account the nonconference schedule Virginia loaded onto its plate. While Virginia certainly has the look of a bowl team, its hope of getting to six wins is beginning to look bleak after a 35-10 loss to Georgia Tech. The Cavs, now sitting at 4-5, close out the season with back-to-back games against Florida State and Miami and then the annual rivalry game against Virginia Tech. The Hokies are abysmal, but it’s tough to see the Cavaliers beating FSU or Miami. That should not take away from what London has done this season, and there is reason for optimism for 2015. A few lucky bounces and Virginia is bowl eligible and maybe wins the Coastal.
5. NC State coach Dave Doeren can win in the ACC.
Good for the Wolfpack and second-year coach Doeren, who lost his first 12 conference games. It didn’t look good in the second half on Saturday as Syracuse took a lead, but the Wolfpack responded to score the next 15 points and secure a 24-17 win. Nobody wants to see a team go without a win within the conference, and it was not as if the Wolfpack were not close in some games. They almost knocked off Florida State in September. While this season still hasn’t gone as planned for Doeren, he earned himself a night of relaxation after notching his first ACC win.