CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) The final weekend of the Atlantic Coast Conference season means nothing.
It all depends on perspective. Clemson and Miami have already clinched spots in the ACC championship game on Dec. 2, a contest that could also end up serving as a play-in matchup for the College Football Playoff.
So in terms of the top of the standings, no, the results this weekend won’t change anything. But for some teams like Florida State, Georgia Tech and Duke, bowl-eligibility is at stake. And nearly everyone in the ACC is playing a rivalry game as well – which means the regular season is almost certain to end with some intensity.
”We’re looking forward to it,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. ”This is a week that everybody gets excited about all across the country. You’ve got rivalries taking place this week – Alabama-Auburn, Virginia-Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Mississippi State-Ole Miss, Michigan-Ohio State. It’s that time. It’s fun to be a part of it. I’ve been a part of it my whole life, and it’s great.”
The Tigers play South Carolina, so the state title will keep Clemson’s mind off the looming ACC title and potential repeat national title opportunities. And that’s hardly the only battle for state bragging rights: Georgia Tech plays Georgia, Louisville meets Kentucky, Florida State visits Florida, Virginia Tech goes to Virginia, Duke heads to Wake Forest and North Carolina wraps its season at North Carolina State.
The other two games on the slate are former Big East rivalries: Miami plays at Pittsburgh and Boston College heads to Syracuse.
”The records will go out the window, as they say, when it’s a rivalry game,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Florida and Florida State would love to throw their records out the window; this season has been a disaster for both, and it’s possible that both the Seminoles and Gators miss bowl season. Georgia Tech needs to beat Georgia to earn a postseason invite, and same goes for Duke – which knows getting that sixth win won’t come easily.
”Everybody is aware of it, but it’s not the premium,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. ”The premium is Wake Forest. It’s a big game for us every year. They’re also a very good football team. It’s a conference game. That overrides your emotions and your thought process. … But you have to focus on the fact that it is a rival, conference game and road game. It’s always a challenge.”
There’s also going those teams that know the season ends this weekend, no matter what.
Syracuse beat Clemson and hasn’t won since, so while the Tigers go to the ACC title game next month and a major bowl – or two – after that, the Orange are going into the offseason. North Carolina is playing better but knew its season was doomed weeks ago. And Pitt has lost three games by a touchdown or less, which is why the Panthers’ season ends on Friday.
”It’s going to be the last time that 2017 football team plays together,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. ”It’s kind of a sad, really sad deal when you’re playing your last football game, and there will be a lot of emotions that go into also playing a tremendous (Miami) football team with a ton of speed, a ton of confidence, and obviously playing at a high level right now.”
So maybe they all mean something.
The biggest win of Clemson’s season a year ago was obviously the win in the national championship game over Alabama. The second-biggest win, that might be argued by Tigers fans. Some would probably say the CFP semifinal against Ohio State, some might say Florida State – and some would surely say the one over South Carolina.
”Nobody was running up to us at church going, `Hey, congratulations on the national championship, but hey, you lost to Pittsburgh,”’ Swinney said. ”Everybody moved on. But this is one that nobody moves on from. I’ve been on both sides of it, obviously. It doesn’t take long for everybody to figure that out, because this is what people talk about everywhere they go.”
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