The Heisman front-runner has a chance to pad his stats this week, and one of the QBs on his tail has a chance to add a signature performance on the big stage. But Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson aren’t the only stars with noteworthy games this week. Here’s a look at what to watch for in the ACC in Week 9.
Who’s North Carolina’s Coastal competition? Three teams still have a legitimate shot at winning the Coastal Division, and two of them go head-to-head Thursday night. Virginia Tech already owns a head-to-head win over UNC, so a win at Pittsburgh would put the Hokies squarely in the driver’s seat for the division. If the Panthers win, they’ll have more than a few folks ready to jump on the bandwagon, but they’ll still need the Tar Heels to lose another conference game, given a last-second loss to UNC in Chapel Hill.
Jimbo’s last stand. Florida State’s critics have gotten louder throughout an inconsistent season, but Jimbo Fisher can silence a lot of them and create a little tension in the ACC Atlantic Division to boot by toppling mighty Clemson in Tallahassee on Saturday. The Tigers haven’t won at Doak Campbell Stadium since 2006, but Watson & Co. have too much to play for to let this one get away. This one doesn’t have quite the same high drama of recent showdowns between the Atlantic’s elite, but it could still prove to be the ACC’s best game of the year.
Who’s going bowling? Duke’s trip to Georgia Tech might be an unofficial play-in game for bowl eligibility. The Blue Devils (3-4) might need the win a bit more, particularly with a fairly daunting final stretch of games, but their academic success could put them in line for a waiver at 5-7, too. Either way, this game is crucial. For the Yellow Jackets (4-3), who are 2-10 in conference play the past two years, simply getting another ACC win would be huge and would mean they’d need to win just one of their last four to gain bowl eligibility.
Party like it’s 1988. Back in the day, Miami and Notre Dame would mean big ratings and terrific football. This year? Not so much. Still, the Canes and Irish have plenty to play for. Miami is trying to halt a three-game skid after reaching No. 10 in the AP poll earlier this season, while Notre Dame is simply trying to stop the bleeding in a brutal season that could leave the Irish without a bowl bid. If nothing else, the game features two QBs in DeShone Kizer and Brad Kaaya who could be atop draft boards in next year’s NFL draft.
Wake aims for No. 6. The Demon Deacons host Army on Saturday with a chance to become bowl eligible with a win. That would be an immense accomplishment, considering Dave Clawson’s crew had just six wins in his first two years on the job. With QB Kendall Hinton expected back, this should be an interesting test for the Deacons, but after the strong start to this season, bowl eligibility seems like the bare minimum expectation for Wake.
Can NC State rebound? A missed field goal at the end of regulation at Clemson cost NC State its biggest win under Dave Doeren. A week later, it looked like the Wolfpack hadn’t quite recovered, getting shelled by Jackson and Louisville. So which NC State team shows up Saturday against Boston College? Given the Eagles’ offensive woes, it would be surprising if Bradley Chubb and the Wolfpack didn’t put up a much improved performance.
Jackson’s Heisman campaign continues. What happens when you put the Heisman front-runner up against a defense ranked 111th in yards per pass and 100th in scoring? We’ll find out when Jackson and Louisville head to Virginia on Saturday. Jackson has 34 touchdowns already this season, the most by an FBS quarterback through seven games. He figures to add to those numbers against a Cavaliers’ defense that has surrendered at least 35 points in five of seven games this year.