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ACC Rooting Guide: Week Nine

The conference race is entering its’ final stretch.

Notre Dame v Virginia Tech Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The ACC race is shaping up as the season enters its’ final few weeks. Wake Forest and Pittsburgh are the two clear favorites to face off in the ACC title game in Charlotte. This week represents some teams’ final chances to get back in the conference race, and key losses for others could eliminate them from the conference race.

Saturday, October 30

Virginia Tech Hokies (3-4, 1-2 ACC) vs Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-4, 2-3 ACC), 12:00 p.m., ESPN 3

Justin Fuente’s seat is officially scorching hot at Virginia Tech, where the Hokies have seen their season go off the rails after three consecutive losses. Virginia Tech will enter as a road underdog against Georgia Tech, the team picked to finish second-to-last in the division, and it is easy to see why. The Hokies have been inconsistent on offense all season, and a defense that started strong has given up an average of 34 points per game over their three game losing streak. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech has improved each week this season, and almost upset Virginia last weekend. The Yellow Jackets remain in contention to reach a bowl, and back-to-back games against Virginia Tech and Miami, which are both easily winnable, could determine if Georgia Tech will participate in the postseason.

Miami will play both of these teams later in the season, but root for Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech currently sits ahead of the Hurricanes in the Coastal Division standings.

Florida State Seminoles (3-4, 2-2 ACC) vs Clemson Tigers (4-3, 3-2 ACC), 3:30 p.m., ESPN

Florida State v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Florida State enters this weekend feeling a lot better about their chances against Clemson than they did three weekends ago. A home win over Syracuse got the Seminoles headed in the right direction, and FSU has been much improved since; defeating UNC on the road before a 59-3 blowout victory over UMass last weekend. FSU’s offense has been much more organized in each of those games which will be key on Saturday against a Clemson defense that has been excellent this season, despite the Tigers’ 4-3 record.

Clemson’s offense, or lack thereof, has defined their season. Last weekend against Pittsburgh the Tigers offense managed just 17 points and 315 yards. D.J. Uiagalelei was replaced in that game by backup Taisun Phommachanh, and Clemson will head into Saturday’s matchup planning to play both quarterbacks. The Tigers will hope the changes on the offensive side of the ball will lead to scoring, or each of their remaining games will be tough to win.

This game doesn’t have an impact on Miami’s chances to win the conference, but a loss effectively eliminates FSU from contention to win the ACC, so root for Clemson.

Boston College Eagles (4-3, 0-3 ACC) vs Syracuse Orange (4-4, 1-3 ACC), 3:30 p.m., ESPN 3

Boston College’s woes continued with a 28-14 loss to Louisville last weekend. The Eagles will hope to turn things around against Syracuse this weekend, but a five touchdown performance from quarterback Garrett Shrader last weekend has given the Orange some much needed confidence. This is most likely a must-win game for either team to reach bowl contention, so expect a close, hard fought contest on Saturday afternoon.

Miami won’t be impacted by the outcome of this game. Root for whichever one of these teams you prefer.

Duke Blue Devils (3-4, 0-3 ACC) vs No.13 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (7-0, 4-0 ACC), 4:00 p.m., ACC Network

Duke entered conference play at the start of October on a three game winning streak, but that hasn’t translated into the Blue Devils’ ACC games. Duke has lost all three conference games they’ve played, and they’ve already lost to the team picked to finish directly in front of them in the conference, Georgia Tech. As a result, Duke is in danger of going winless in the ACC this season, which would give them one conference win over their last two seasons combined. Things have gone the exact opposite way for Wake Forest, who enters week nine a perfect 7-0. The Demon Deacons are the clear favorite in the Atlantic Division after Clemson and NC State both lost last weekend; barring a disaster Wake Forest will travel to Charlotte in December for their second appearance in the ACC Championship Game.

Wake Forest is the team to root for here. The Demon Deacons are on the opposite side of the conference from Miami, and a win for them would help the Hurricanes, even if Duke is unlikely to be a factor in the race for the division title.

North Carolina Tar Heels (4-3, 3-3 ACC) vs No. 11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-1), 7:30 p.m., NBC

USC v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

North Carolina’s season has been defined by inconsistency, the Tar Heels have alternated between a win and a loss for the last five weeks, but a road trip to Notre Dame gives them a chance to turn things around in the second half of the season. Sam Howell has been a source of much of the team’s inconsistency, and being disciplined with the ball and avoiding negative plays, two things he’s struggled with all season, will be key against Notre Dame this weekend.

Notre Dame’s lone loss of 2021 came in the first weekend of October against Cincinnati. Back-to-back wins have restored faith in the Fighting Irish, but North Carolina will be the toughest test Notre Dame has faced since their loss. Notre Dame’s rushing game had a much better game against USC last weekend, rushing for 170 yards, and that will need to continue on Saturday night.

Notre Dame is no longer a member of the ACC in football, so root for North Carolina in this game.

Louisville Cardinals (4-3, 2-2 ACC) vs NC State Wolfpack (5-2, 2-1 ACC), 7:30 p.m., ACC Network

NC State returns home after a shocking road loss to Miami last weekend. The Wolfpack were the co-leaders in the Atlantic Division, but will now need to win every game remaining on their schedule to guarantee a spot in the ACC title game. Louisville rebounded with a 28-14 win last weekend after two consecutive losses, and the Cardinals are hoping to win out and contend for the Atlantic Division, but this is a must-win game to reach that goal.

This is another game that doesn’t impact Miami’s conference outlook very much. However, this is one of the most underrated games on the ACC schedule this weekend, and it could be a key game in the conference title race.

Virginia Cavaliers (6-2, 4-2 ACC) vs No.25 BYU Cougars (6-2), 10:15 p.m., ESPN 2

Georgia Tech v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Virginia Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall will return to his former school BYU for what could be a great late-night matchup. The Cavaliers started the season 2-2, but four straight wins have put UVA right back in the conference title race and in contention for a major bowl berth. A road win against BYU would give the Cavaliers even more momentum heading into the regular season’s final month.

Defeating BYU on the road will be easier said than done for Virginia. The Cougars started the season 5-0 before back-to-back losses to Boise State and Baylor, but got things back on track with a win over Washington State last weekend. BYU has already defeated ranked Power Five opponents Utah and Arizona State at home earlier this season, and the Cougars will be looking for another win over a major conference opponent this weekend.

Root for Virginia in this game. A road win for UVA would be a good win for the ACC to earn late in the season.

The ACC race will come down to the last few weeks of the season, but both divisions have clear favorites who are hoping to keep that status this weekend.