It's rivalry week, and the unofficial ACC/SEC Challenge kicks off tomorrow. If the lordly SEC is truly the best conference in the land, they'll sweep all four games, as the matchups favor them this weekend - Florida and Georgia are simply better than FSU and Georgia Tech, while Wake and Clemson travel to Vandy and South Carolina. Anything less than three wins by the SEC clubs tomorrow should cause some rethinking about the perceived strengths of each conference by pundits and bloggers aplenty.
WAKE FOREST (7-4) at VANDERBILT (5-6)
Saturday, 11/24/07, 2pm ET - Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN
Series Record: Vanderbilt leads 7-3; the Commodores won the last meeting, 24-20, in 2005
Storyline: Vandy shoots for their first non-losing season - along with a possible bowl bid - in 25 years.
Brief Overview: Of the four ACC/SEC clashes this weekend, losing this one would do the most damage to the ACC's reputation. And that's not entirely fair, as Vandy has risen from their Duke-like depths and has played competitive football the last few seasons, ala Wake Forest under Jim Grobe prior to 2006. The Deacons are now the model for Vandy to follow in terms of a small private school navigating a the waters of a BCS league year-in and year-out. And the Commodores first giant milestone toward that could kind of success would be decapitating Wake in mano-a-mano combat, Highlander-style. After all, the legend says that only one small, pesky BCS-conference upstart can truly exist at one time. As for the Deacs, this one is all about bowl placement and conference pride. It's clear that Vanderbilt has more to play for on Saturday.
Prediction: Vandy has had their chances already to get that sixth win, losing in crunch time to Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia over the last month. Like Wake, the Commodores tend to play to the level of their opponent...and this will be no different. Wake Forest 23, Vanderbilt 21
GEORGIA (9-2) at GEORGIA TECH (7-4)
Saturday, 11/24/07, 3:30pm ET - Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Series Record: Georgia leads 54-37-5; the Bulldogs won last year's meeting, 15-12
Storyline: The Dawgs can keep their miniscule national title hopes alive with a victory; likewise, Tech's Chan Gailey can keep his continued employment hopes alive with a victory.
Brief Overview: At quick glance, this one looks to be the biggest mismatch of the four ACC/SEC clashes, as the Bulldogs are rolling into Atlanta on a five-game winning streak, having scored 40+ in three of their last four games. Meanwhile, the Jackets have been clunking along all season. They first relied on their defense to bail out the sputtering offense, however as the season winds down, it's the offense that is now picking up the slack from the recently lax defensive efforts. But, when you look at the official NCAA stats, the following mystery emerges: Total Offense (Georgia Tech #61, Georgia #71), Total Defense (Georgia Tech #7, Georgia #22), Turnover Margin (Georgia +2, Georgia Tech -2). Those are the three most important team stats, in my opinion, and they all point to two evenly matched teams...which just goes to show that stat comparisons can sometimes be a pointless load of bullcrap.
Prediction: I can't pick Chan to actually beat the Dawgs until he actually does so. And this could be his last shot. Georgia 30, Georgia Tech 17
FLORIDA STATE (7-4) at FLORIDA (8-3)
Saturday, 11/24/07, 5pm ET - Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL
Series Record: Florida leads 30-19-2; the Gators won last year's meeting, 21-14
Storyline: Will Tim Tebow clinch the Heisman Trophy on a banged-up Seminole defense?
Brief Overview: I'm a Seminole through and through, but for whatever reason this little factoid had escaped me until this week: in 233 passing attempts on the season, Drew Weatherford has thrown just one interception, to go with eight TD tosses. Keep that in mind when you consider that Weatherford is going against a fairly horrid Gator secondary (#94 in the nation); whatever problems the Noles will have on Saturday, it shouldn't be in the passing game. No, the real problem is Tim Tebow going against a collapsing FSU defense that over the last month made Kirby Freaking Freeman look like John Elway, gave up a 38-yard QB scramble on 3rd-and-31 to Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor, and has coughed up nearly 900 passing yards over the last three games. One interesting subplot should be how UF and FSU utilize their uber-versatile offensive talents in Percy Harvin and Preston Parker. And the first time Tebow takes off running and sees Geno Harris in space should be interesting. Umm, Geno...Tebow's got 20 lbs. on you.
Prediction: Tebow will torch the FSU secondary, but the 'Noles will put points on the board too...just not nearly enough. Florida 41, Florida State 24
CLEMSON (8-3) at SOUTH CAROLINA (6-5)
Saturday, 11/24/07, 7pm ET - Williams Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC
Series Record: Clemson leads 63-37-4; the Gamecocks won last year's meeting, 31-28
Storyline: The loser's season will be considered an abject failure; the winner ends an up-and- down year on a big up.
Brief Overview: The specter of the Darren McFadden/Felix Jones obliteration of the Gamecock defense a few weeks ago weighs heavily on this matchup, and Clemson OC Rob Spence has to be burning the midnight oil in film study in order to construct all new ways for James Davis and CJ Spiller to unleash hell. Sure, that's an easy matchup to peg, and it's not like Carolina DC Tyrone Nix hasn't come up with a wrinkle or two as well. The winner of this one is the team who has the quicker recovery time....Clemson's coming off the heartbreaker to BC, while the Cocks are reeling after three straight defeats. Steve Spurrier's nit-picky, patronizing style of coaching apparently works when his teams are 10-1 or 9-2; does it work when his team is 6-5? We'll see.
Prediction: I'm very tempted to call this one for the Gamecocks, but they just don't appear to have the horses to pull it off. Clemson 24, South Carolina 17
And thus endeth the regular season in ACC-land. The ACC Championship Game and bowl games are all that's left.