Clemson, FSU bringing the ACC back to the spotlight

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For the second year in a row, Clemson and Florida State will put the ACC under the national spotlight in a contest of top ten teams. The last time the ACC had two top-ten teams play each other in a conference game before last year’s top ten clash between Clemson and Florida State was when Matt Ryan was leading Boston College on an improbable BCS Championship run. The Eagles were ranked second in the AP poll and traveled to No. 8 Virginia Tech for a Thursday night football game. Boston College escaped the game with a 14-10 victory but their BCS dreams were shattered a couple of weeks later with a home loss to Florida State. That game between the Hokies and Eagles was played on October 25, 2007.

Now it is up to Clemson and Florida State to show off just what the class of the conference is capable of doing once again.

No. 3 Clemson hosts No. 5 Florida State in one of the biggest games in the conference’s history, at least in recent memory. The showdown has all of the makings for a classic battle with division bragging rights and a chance to pursue a BCS Championship awaiting the winner. The winner of this particular match-up has gone on to play in the ACC Championship each of the last four seasons, and the two have won the last two ACC championships.

ACC championships are nice of course, but it has been a while since the ACC had a national title contender. Could the winner of this game enter that role last filled by Florida State in 2000*?

If Clemson wins…

The ball is in Clemson’s court. Or, to use a football metaphor instead of a basketball analogy, the Tigers will be in the red zone. A win will give Clemson two wins over top five teams, including the season opening win over Georgia. A quick glance at the remaining schedule shows some favorable match-ups the rest of the way in ACC play. Clemson plays their next two games on the road but they come against Maryland and Virginia. Clemson should be the favorite in those games, and despite looking to be an improved team this season the Terrapins of Maryland were blasted by Florida State, 63-0. Clemson may not put together that same kind of result, but the Tigers should be a solid favorite in each of their two games heading in to a bye week.

The rest of the November schedule could set Clemson up nicely for a final push in the rankings, if they end up needing it. Getting Georgia Tech at home after a bye week will be a nice bonus. Georgia Tech may be able to play some defense, but Clemson’s offense should be able to overcome any threat. The big test will come against rival South Carolina. Clemson travels to Columbia for the rivalry game. South carolina enters this weekend ranked 11th in the country. Could the Gamecocks move up a few more spots to give Clemson one more win over a top 10 team?

A win over South Carolina would help push Clemson over the edge, but a win over a top ten Miami team in the ACC Championship Game would also help the cause. Clemson’s best bet would be to have Miami continue to run the table, which would include a win over Florida State.

Tajh Boyd would likely benefit in the Heisman race with a win as well. Clemson has never had a Heisman Trophy winner.

If Florida State wins…

The road back to national prominence will continue, but heir path to a potential spot in the BCS Championship Game should be trickier to navigate. Rivalry games against Miami and at Florida will not be easy, but are certainly games Florida State can win. Aside from Miami, the ACC schedule the rest of the way is favorable for the Seminoles. Florida State gets North carolina State, Miami and Syracuse at home and the only ACC road game left is at Wake Forest. Florida State also gets a home game against Idaho before traveling to Gainesville to play Florida.

The the question becomes who would Florida State play in the ACC Championship Game, and would that opponent be able to help push Florida State past a conference champion from the Pac 12 (Oregon?) or Big Ten (Ohio State?). If all goes to plan for Florida State, they will have already beaten Miami, but the Hurricanes could realistically be set up for a rematch in Charlotte. Or would it be best to beat Miami and hope Virginia Tech does the same the following week? The Hokies are ranked in the top 20 right now, and could start moving up the rankings enough to crack the top ten if things work out. That would be the scenario Florida State fans would be hoping for to pad their BCS profile.

Like Boyd for Clemson, a win over the Tigers would help push freshman quarterback Jameis Winston in to the leading candidate category for the Heisman Trophy. The Seminoles have had two players win the award before (Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke), and the freshman stigma has already been shattered, so the door is open.

* Miami played for the BCS National Championship in the 2001 and 2002 seasons, but did so as a member of the Big East.

Oregon State reportedly finds new head coach in Beau Baldwin

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As coaching vacancies are opening up, one report Friday night says Oregon State has filled their vacancy in the football program. Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin is reported to be slated as the next head coach of the Beavers, according to Football Scoop.

The hire is expected to happen quickly at the conclusion of this weekend’s Pac-12 action. Cal is playing UCLA Friday night in the season finale for the Bears, and Oregon State plays Oregon on Saturday.

Baldwin joined the Cal staff under new head coach Justin Wilcox after eight seasons as the head coach at Eastern Washington, one of the top FCS programs over that span. Baldwin will be no stranger to the Pac-12 North, having competed against a handful of Pac-12 opponents over the years and even winning. As a head coach at Eastern Washington, and before that at Division 2 Central Washington, Baldwin has a record of 95-35 with a national championship at Eastern Washington in 2010.

Oregon State’s head coaching position opened up on October 9 when Gary Andersen mutually agreed with the university to part ways, leaving behind a buyout as part of the agreement.

No. 25 Virginia Tech defeats Virginia for 14th straight year

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It’s been a long time since the last time Virginia handed their in-state rivals from Blacksburg a loss, and it will be at least another year more until they do so again. No. 25 Virginia Tech (9-3, 5-3 ACC) extended their winning streak against Virginia (6-6, 3-5 ACC) to 14 with a 10-0 win in Charlottesville on Friday night.

Josh Jackson‘s eight-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cunningham was the only touchdown scored in the game and padded a lead to 10-0 for Virginia Tech in the third quarter. A week after making big plays for a half against Miami, Virginia’s offense was finding little opportunity with the football. Virginia Tech held the hosts to fewer than 200 yards of offense.

The last time Virginia Tech lost to Virginia was in 2003. The Cavaliers upset the No. 21 Hokies 35-21 with a 28-7 advantage in the second half. Virgina Tech’s shutout of Virginia was the third shutout victory in the series for the Hokies since 2006, all with Bud Foster as defensive coordinator.

Both Virginia Tech and Virginia will be participating in the bowl season this year. What bowl games that are heading to remains to be determined.

Iowa clobbers Nebraska in what appears to be end of the road for Mike Riley

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The Iowa Hawkeyes have been one of the weirdest teams to figure out this season. On Friday, the Hawkeye faithful were thankful the good Iowa showed up in Lincoln. Iowa (7-5, 4-5 Big Ten) blasted Nebraska (4-8, 306 Big Ten) on the strength of a 28-point outburst in the third quarter of a 56-14 victory over the Huskers. For Nebraska, it was a fitting end to a disappointing season and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the Mike Riley era in Lincoln.

Iowa became the third team to win three straight games played in Lincoln, Nebraska in the last 40 years. Oklahoma and Texas are the only two programs to pull off that once-unthinkable feat. But since Nebraska joined the Big Ten and paired up with Iowa for a regular season rivalry in the Big Ten schedule, the Hawkeyes have enjoyed their trips to Nebraska. This just happened to be the biggest blowout in the Big Ten series, and it came one year after Iowa blew out Nebraska by a 40-10 score the previous season. For those counting at home, Nebraska has now lost two straight games to Iowa by a combined score of 96-34.

Nebraska managed to show some fight late in their road game at Penn State last week, but Iowa was having none of that this week. The Hawkeyes out-gained Nebraska 505-267 in offensive yardage and Iowa forced three Nebraska turnovers while picking up 23 first downs and allowing just 12. Nebraska went the entire second half without scoring a point, while Iowa went on a roll. This game was tied 14-14 at halftime, believe it or not.

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley took over the game for the Hawkeyes. Wadley rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns, with two of those scores coming in the third quarter.

Iowa will now go to a bowl game, while Nebraska is tasked with figuring out what to do next. Unlike at Arkansas, where the plug was pulled on Bret Bielema minutes after losing a regular season finale at home, Mike Riley is still employed by Nebraska. But for how much longer? Rumors about where Nebraska is going next continue to swirl, with UCF head coach Scott Frost being a trendy name to attach to the Nebraska job (Frost just completed an undefeated 11-0 season at UCF), but there has been no official change just yet in Lincoln.

But with an AD change this year and the way this season devolved, Riley’s days are all but over in Lincoln.

No. 15 UCF remains perfect after wild win over USF clinches AAC East

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I’ll allow you to try catching your breath before we try to recap exactly what happened in the final minutes of the War on I-4 between two AAC championship contenders. No. 15 UCF (11-0, 8-0 AAC) came out on the positive end of a wild and crazy ending to keep the regular season spotless in the loss column. UCF scored a go-ahead touchdown, gave up a tying touchdown, scored the game-winning touchdown and recovered a late fumble to close the books on a 49-42 victory over rival USF (9-2, 6-2 AAC) in the span of just two minutes.

UCF and USF combined for over 1,100 yards of offense in the back-and-forth game, but UCF scored three touchdowns in the first and fourth quarters to get off to a fast start and find a way to grab the game by the horns and drive it home. McKinzie Milton passed for 373 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 56 yards and a score to help the Knights outlast a valiant effort from Quinton Flowers and a record-setting day for USF wide receiver Tyre McCants. Flowers passed for 503 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 102 yards and a score. McCants broke the USF record for most receiving yards in a game in the first half, but ended his day with 227 yards.

USF had their opportunities to win this game. The Bulls missed a field goal in the first half and Flowers threw his only interception late in the first half when it appeared the Bulls could have taken a lead into halftime. The fumble by Mitchell Wilcox came at the end of a play that was moving the ball across midfield in the final moments. USF, the preseason favorite in the AAC, will still be going to a bowl game and should be a threat to whomever they face, but two losses along the way prevented them from living up to the lofty expectations placed on them this season.

UCF will host Memphis in the AAC Championship Game next week. The winner of that game will be nearly guaranteed a spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up as both teams are currently the highest-ranked teams in the playoff selection committee’s weekly rankings. UCF defeated Memphis earlier in the season with a 40-13 victory in Orlando, but the Tigers have been playing much better since that game. The rematch should be much more competitive next week.

UCF wrapped up a perfect regular season on the same day No., 2 Miami suffered its first loss of the year. UCF is now the only undefeated team in the state of Florida this season.