While No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson are off this week in preparation for the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 19, a key piece of the ACC bowl picture could be decided on the field when No. 17 North Carolina visits No. 10 Miami.
Currently, the ACC’s relationship with the Orange Bowl is such that the league’s champion will play in the game if it is not selected for the College Football Playoff in years that the bowl game is not a host site for the semifinals. If the ACC champion is in the playoff, as has been the case in all six years of the new postseason format, then the Orange Bowl bid will go to the league’s “next available team.” With the potential of two ACC teams making the College Football Playoff, both Miami and North Carolina are next in line for that invitation to the New Year’s Six.
Considering the way the selection committee has valued head-to-head results and the proximity of the Tar Heels to the Hurricanes in the most recent set of rankings, Saturday’s game is, at a minimum, for the third-best bowl spot awarded to an ACC team.
As of right now, Jerry Palm’s Bowl Projections have Miami in the Orange Bowl and North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, a result that indicates he is projecting the Hurricanes to win against the Tar Heels and jump them in the bowl order. But the oddsmakers have set the line under a touchdown, giving North Carolina a decent shot at pulling the upset on the road in the same stadium that will host the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2.
Making the New Year’s Six would be affirmation for either one of these programs, who under Manny Diaz and Mack Brown have made strides forward in this strange 2020 season. So while there’s still an ACC Championship Game to decide how things break in the playoff picture, it’s quite possible the winner on Saturday in Hard Rock Stadium will be back on the field in less than a month looking to prove themselves as one of the top teams in the country.
Week 15 odds, picks
Thursday — Pitt at Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets can win this game. They might not, especially considering the importance of their run game and Pitt’s high-level run defense, but this is a game that could be a bright spot for Geoff Collins here in Year Two. But it’s a short turnaround for Georgia Tech after losing at NC State on Saturday and Pitt has been off since the loss to Clemson on Nov. 28. I expect the Panthers will be dialed in defensively, and that leads to a lower scoring game. Pick: Under 54
Wake Forest at Louisville
While Scott Satterfield’s explanation regarding his discussions with South Carolina have dominated the conversation in Louisville this week, I want to turn the page back a controversy that pre-dates his arrival. The passing of sensitive gameplan information from a former member of Wake Forest’s radio broadcast to opponents of the Demon Deacons, aka “Wakeyleaks,” involved multiple foes but really came to the attention of Dave Clawson in a loss to Louisville. Ever since then, I have vowed to take Wake Forest against the spread in this series, and that’s where we will be again. Pick: Wake Forest +2
No. 17 North Carolina at No. 10 Miami
Buckle up and root for points as two of the most prolific quarterbacks in the ACC are set to duel on a fast track in warm weather. The Hurricanes are stout defensively, especially up front, but have not faced an offense as dangerous as North Carolina’s since the loss to Clemson early in the year. D’Eriq King and Sam Howell could turn this thing into a shootout, and while I expect Miami to win, there’s enough of a chance that the game is decided by a field goal and I feel better taking the total. Pick: Over 67.5
Duke at Florida State
All of the motivation angles should be considered here between these two teams. Florida State hasn’t played in weeks and will likely allow this to be an opportunity to test its younger players while Duke has to see this as a chance to notch a second ACC win in a year that has been mostly filled with frustration. Duke has allowed 160 points in the last three games and leads the country in turnovers lost by a wide margin, but here I am telling you to bet on less points than the oddsmakers are expecting. Pick: Under 57
Virginia at Virginia Tech
Gut check game for Virginia Tech’s seniors, who don’t want to go out with a second straight loss to the rival they had a decade of wins against prior to 2019. This game is in Blacksburg, too, and takes place with plenty of fan angst around the shortcomings of the past couple of seasons. Close losses in winnable games and outright defeats as double-digit favorites are the anchors of anger for many, but even those most strident Justin Fuente supporters will be tempted to join the angry mob if Bronco Mendenhall wins the Commonwealth Cup for the second year in a row. Pick: Virginia Tech -2
Last week: 4-1 | 2020 season: 37-38
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Each week, we’ll be offering these top-half power rankings for the 15-team, one-division ACC. Results matter, but won’t match the standings necessarily as we look to identify the teams that have the best chance to contend for one of the top two spots (by winning percentage) and play for the conference championship in December.
1. Clemson (Last week — 1): The defense continues to be the biggest bright spot for Clemson after holding a second straight opponent under 20 points in a comfortable win. More concerning, as we look ahead to the rematch with Notre Dame, is the fact that Travis Etienne just had his sixth straight game under 100 rushing yards and the team is averaging about two yards per carry less than it did in 2018 and 2019.
2. Notre Dame (2): The Fighting Irish closed up shop with a perfect 10-0 regular season record and extended their home winning streak with a victory against Syracuse. Few programs in the country have been as strong in the past three seasons as Notre Dame, and given the way this team is playing down the stretch, there’s definitely belief that the Irish can take down Clemson again in Charlotte.
3. Miami (4): With the ACC Championship Game essentially shutting its doors and leaving the Hurricanes out, it would have been understandable — and maybe even predictable in previous seasons — to see a letdown performance at Duke. Credit Manny Diaz for keeping this team dialed in as they pursue that shot at a New Year’s Six appearance.
4. North Carolina (3): Not much to take away from a blowout win against Western Carolina. Tar Heel fans hope the game re-energized an offense that will need to find the end zone more often than it did against Notre Dame to beat Miami.
5. NC State (5): A strong close to the season has the Wolfpack not only 8-3 overall, but now ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings with no regular season games left on the schedule.
6. Virginia (8): Brennan Armstrong is perfect for what Mendenhall wants to do offensively and while his health has been an issue at times this season, the performance in a win against Boston College validated why he won the starting job in the first place.
7. Wake Forest (7): The Demon Deacons are back in action this week for the first time since a close shootout loss to North Carolina.
8. Boston College (6): Even with backups in at quarterback and running back, the Eagles were right in the thick of the competition against Virginia. The version of Boston College we’re getting here at the end of the season isn’t the best version its been in 2020 but it’s still good enough to be ranked in the top half of the league.
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