14 teams started the season off with hopes of winning an ACC title. Two teams, Florida State and Georgia Tech, are one game away from achieving that goal, as both teams are headed to Charlotte, North Carolina to compete for the conference championship this weekend. Let’s take a look at how we got to this point, and a preview of this weekend’s all important matchup for the crown of ACC Champion.
As the defending national champions, Florida State has been playing a game of Russian roulette this entire season, and they played that all too dangerous game once again this past Saturday against their rival Florida. As we have seen several times throughout this season, FSU looked like they were in a position to lose for the first time since November 2012, but once again, they managed to climb out of the hole they put themselves in.
Despite having arguably the worst game of his career, Jameis Winston once again pulled a rabbit out of his hat and led his team to a comeback victory. Winston threw a career-high four interceptions, but his two timely touchdowns proved to be the difference against a Florida squad that has struggled offensively all season. Florida State defeated Florida 24-19, capping off their second consecutive undefeated regular season. They will represent the Atlantic division of the ACC in the conference championship game this weekend.
For Florida State, it is pretty simple. As long as they are within striking distance and have Jameis Winston on the field, they have a chance. Winston has had a lackluster season compared to his Heisman campaign last season (2013: 40 TDs to 10 INTs, 2014: 21 TDs to 17 INTs), but he has made the biggest plays in the biggest moments this season, which has helped FSU stay clean to this point. With a chance to defend their national title in the inaugural College Football Playoff on the line, Jameis will have to make some big plays once again if FSU hopes to be one of the final four teams standing when the official announcement comes down on Sunday evening.
Standing in Florida State’s way is Georgia Tech. Tech is coming off of their own big victory against a state rival, as they defeated Georgia 30-24 in overtime on Saturday. Georgia Tech, who is 10-2 on the season, will represent the Coastal division in the ACC title game.
Georgia Tech last won the ACC Championship in 2009, but that win was vacated by the NCAA, so technically, their last conference championship came in 1998 when they shared the title with, you guessed it, Florida State. Two years ago, these two teams met for the title and the Seminoles defeated the Yellow Jackets 21-15.
Tech has won all of their games this season with the exception of two losses in the middle of the season to Duke and North Carolina by a combined 11 points. But thanks to a late loss by Duke, who led the ACC Coastal division standings throughout most of the regular season, Tech replaced Duke in the ACC Championship picture and will now get their shot to knock off the defending champs.
Tech will present an interesting challenge for FSU. As a run heavy team, they operate an unconventional style of offense that leaves defenses perplexed on a weekly basis. While Florida State isn’t terrible against the run, they aren’t elite against it either. FSU is ranked 44th in the country against the run (145.8 yards a game), while Georgia Tech has the third ranked rushing offense in the country (333.8 yards per game).
With a brunt of the rushing yards being shared by committee, Tech has three players with at least 100 carries and 600 yards on the season. Quarterback Justin Thomas is the team’s leading rusher, with 861 yards and five rushing touchdowns. Backs Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days have combined for 267 carries, 1,434 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Because of Tech’s propensity to hold the ball for long periods of time, Jameis Winston should avoid making mistakes because Tech is a ball control offense and the amount of opportunities FSU might have could be impaired because of Tech’s ability to run the clock. So Winston should avoid making the big mistakes that could lead to Tech scoring and putting them in a big hole.
Luckily for Winston though, he has several reliable targets to get the ball to, including wide receiver Rashad Greene (86 catches, 1183 yards, five touchdowns) and tight end Nick O’Leary (44 catches, 517 yards, five touchdowns). Winston also has some reliable guys behind him to hand the ball off to in running backs Dalvin Cook (728 yards, seven touchdowns) and Karlos Williams (if cleared to play; concussion), (609 yards, 10 touchdowns).
With so much on the line, this game should be one of the more entertaining ones of the weekend, especially considering the tight rope act that the Seminoles have been utilizing all season. With one game between FSU and a spot in the College Football Playoff, that should tell you that they will come ready to play their A game on Saturday. But FSU has struggled to start games all season, and with the uniqueness of their opponent, this game will probably be one of the most difficult ones of the season.
Tune in on Saturday to watch Florida State and Georgia Tech duke it out for the title at 8 P.M. eastern on ABC.