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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 9:11 AM

Earlier this season the ACC fell off the map. Florida State was picked as high as #5 in the preseason polls, but they lost at home to Oklahoma then couldn't hang on the road with Clemson either. Virginia Tech was supposed to be a power once again...but they didn't impress in board games in September...then the Hokies started October with a 20-point loss to Clemson.

Miami of Florida wasn't in the top 25 to start the season. But, both major polls had them in the top 30 before a game was played. The Hurricanes failed to live up to their season hype with losses to Maryland and Kansas State even though they did beat Ohio State.

North Carolina State was top 35 in the AP poll...and they've been a disaster until very recently (a good win in their last outing).

North Carolina got votes in the USA Today poll...but is off to a 1-3 start in ACC play.

The league as a whole was in danger of completely falling off the map this year because of player suspensions, spotty coaching, and all-around poor play. But underrated Clemson has used those victories over FSU and Virginia Tech to springboard into the BCS picture. We'll provide expanded coverage of that storyline later this week to get you ready for a big Saturday TV challenge against Georgia Tech (it's not a marquee week for TV matchups...so Clemson/Ga. Tech is one of the big ones!). Today we're going to look at the ACC as a whole to get you ready for tonight's Virginia/Miami telecast on ESPN.

Since Virginia and Miami are in the ACC Coastal division, let's start with that group. Here are the won-lost records in league play for the Coastal heading into this weekend.

ACC COASTAL DIVISION (Conference Records Only)
Virginia Tech 3-1
Georgia Tech 3-2
Miami 2-2
Virginia 1-2
Duke 1-2
North Carolina 1-2

One of these teams will play in the ACC championship game for the right to represent the ACC in a BCS bowl. Virginia Tech is the favorite to do so given that they already have a straight up win over Miami...and that they'll be favored at Georgia Tech on November 10th (another Thursday Night TV game in the ACC). Miami would have to hope Virginia Tech loses two more times because they'd lose the heads-up tie breaker.

Last week we ran the national offense and defense rankings in a Big East rundown. That worked out very well in terms of painting an accurate picture...so let's do the same thing right now in the ACC. Note that the strength of schedule rankings we're using come from Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings at USA Today.

ACC COASTAL DIVISION (National Rankings, all games)
Virginia Tech: 42nd on offense, 13th on defense, 45th schedule
Miami: 81st on offense, 61st on defense, 10th schedule
Georgia Tech: 17th on offense, 34th on defense, 77th schedule
North Carolina: 59th on offense, 52nd on defense, 36th schedule
Virginia: 49th on offense, 19th on defense, 93rd schedule
Duke: 69th on offense, 74th on defense, 96th schedule

Disappointing numbers for the most part. You can make a case that none of these teams deserve to be ranked in the top 20. Virginia Tech's average stat ranking is 27th...and they haven't exactly played a brutal schedule. Miami's played a killer schedule, but has horrible stat rankings. Georgia Tech's stats are respectable, but they've played a very soft schedule. This is really a group where you have to make strength of schedule adjustments on a game-by-game basis because everyone's all over the map.

In short...Virginia Tech is the best of the lot...and Miami gets the nod for now over Georgia Tech given their heads up win over that team last week. On the whole, this isn't a very good group. Virginia Tech's defense is the most successful "unit" on that chart. Duke's defense is the least successful.

What do those numbers suggest about TONIGHT'S game? How do you compare the 10th ranked schedule to the 93rd ranked schedule?! Further complicating matters is the inconsistency of Virginia. Look at their last two games:

Virginia (+7) beat Georgia Tech 24-21
Virginia (-3) lost to NC State 28-14

Double digit misses both times, once in each direction.

Miami has covered three straight games as they seem to be getting their mojo back. That's why the Hurricanes are favored by 13 points here. With Virginia involved, a double digit miss against those expectations in either direction wouldn't be much of a shocker. Miami at its best can cover this spread and coast. Virginia at its best can pull off another upset.  

Here's how things are shaping up in the Atlantic Division, which has become very interesting with the resurgence of Clemson.

ACC ATLANTIC DIVISION (Conference Records Only)
Clemson 5-0
Wake Forest 4-1
Florida State 2-2
NC State 1-2
Maryland 1-3
Boston College 0-4

Wake Forest is also a nice story, but they laid a very big egg when they lost to Virginia Tech a few weeks ago. That pretty much established them as a non-contender in terms of being championship material. They may keep grinding out wins vs. lesser lights (like they did last week in a non-cover against Duke).

Otherwise, the "interesting" in this group has been interesting disappointments! NC State dropped much further that expected after Russell Wilson left. Maryland didn't do much to consolidate its win over Miami in a nationally televised season opener. Boston College looks like its running a high school offense most of the time. Florida State has a chance to rally back to respectability and a decent bowl. But, the division seems out of reach given a two-game deficit in the loss column to Clemson and a tie-breaker loss if they end with the same mark.

Here are the national stat rankings.

ACC ATLANTIC DIVISION (National Rankings, all games)
Clemson: 15th on offense, 60th on defense, 44th schedule
Florida State: 37th on offense, 12th on defense, 53rd schedule
Wake Forest: 70th on offense, 40th on defense, 80th schedule
NC State: 80th on offense, 66th on defense, 83rd schedule
Maryland: 73rd on offense, 109th on defense, 8th schedule
Boston College: 105th on offense, 99th on defense, 62nd schedule

Clemson's defense may become a problem as the season drags on. It's tough to ask your offense to keep winning shootouts, even in a softer than expected conference. The average stat ranking for Clemson is in the high 30's...which is a red flag suggesting "pretender" rather than one waving "these guys are for real!" Clemson IS for real in terms of the ACC given their wins over FSU and Virginia Tech. But, NATIONALLY, it's a much dicier call given those rankings.

We're a bit skeptical that Maryland has actually played the 8th ranked schedule. Towson was one of their opponents! Sagarin does show mathematical respect to a slate that's included West Virginia, Temple, and none of the ACC weaklings yet.

Look at how horribly Boston College grades out on both sides of the ball vs. what equates to an "average" national schedule. Really ugly numbers there once you get past Florida State.

Here are the matchups for this weekend that you can study with those stat rankings in mind...

THIS WEEK IN THE ACC

Tonight: Virginia at Miami

Saturday:
Wake Forest at North Carolina
NC State at Florida State
Clemson at Georgia Tech
Virginia Tech at Duke
Boston College at Maryland

We'll definitely have something for you tonight in the ACC posted online a few hours before kickoff. Clemson/Georgia Tech could easily be part of our very popular (and red hot!) TV Triple Crown on Saturday. We may be stepping out in an additional ACC game too given the developments in recent form that are happening across the league (we didn't discuss that today because we want to protect this potential monster!). 

The only way to be sure you get ALL OF JIM HURLEY'S BIG JUICY WINNERS is to sign up for service. You can do so here at the website with your credit card. Or, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. We have a big "Bill Collector's Special" Saturday in the colleges, and an "Under the Radar" game Sunday in the NFL. We'll already give you a heads up now that our SEC Showdown of the Year is set for the LSU-Alabama game a week from Saturday on November 5.

NETWORK covers all the bases in stats, trends, angles, on-site information, and Wise Guy money moves to make sure our clients get the best games on the board. Put this exclusive team handicapping approach to work for you TONIGHT and for the rest of the season!

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