The final ACC contest of the season pits Atlantic Division champion Florida State (10-2) (7-1) against Coastal Division champ Georgia Tech (6-6) (5-3). While FSU has sat atop the conference standings virtually all season, it’s been a long road back from the bottom for the Yellow Jackets, who arrive in Charlotte due to Miami and North Carolina‘s respective postseason ineligibility. These two teams have not faced each other since 2009, a 49-44 barnburner won by Tech. But trust that there’s no love lost here, and both are anxious to earn a trip to the Orange Bowl.
Florida State possesses more offensive weapons than any ACC team not named Clemson, and yet, their production has been sporadic all season. Yes, they put up 41.3 points per game, but keep in mind that number’s padded by two games against FCS opponents, too. Quarterback EJ Manuel also may have fallen off from his Heisman form earlier in the season, however, when he’s given the reigns to really run this offense (not always the case), he usually impresses. In a season full of positive growth and noted accuracy, last week’s four-turnover debacle must be quickly pushed out of his mind if FSU hopes to leave this game as ACC champs. The best way to beat Georgia Tech is putting them behind early, and with Manuel’s arm, the ‘Noles are more than capable of doing so.
On the Tech side, it’s all about involving the passing game. The biggest criticism with Paul Johnson’s offense has been predictability. Every defense knows they’re going to run the triple-option, so the game-plan hones in on it, and dismisses the pass. Neither Tevin Washington or Vad Lee have the best arms, either, which means they’ll have to pick their spots and throw when the defense gets too comfortable defending the run. As I’ve maintained before, efficiency when throwing the ball — even if it’s just 10-12 times per game — is what makes the triple-option most effective. The Wreck’s struggled with that concept all year, unfortunately, which doesn’t bode well for them here. Advantage: Florida State
Despite last weekend’s horrendous performance against Florida in the fourth quarter, Florida State still has one of the nation’s best defensive units. That group took a hit when they found out that Tank Carradine would be out for the season, but I’d argue he’s most effective rushing the passer (not necessarily an issue here). The Seminoles are fourth in the country in terms of stopping the run, allowing just 85 yards per game and nine TDs on the ground all season. And while they’ve held five teams to under 50 yards rushing this year, it’s hard to ignore the Gators’ 244 rushing yards last week either.
Georgia Tech’s passing defense leaves much to be desired — again, a terrible sign against a veteran quarterback like Manuel. Over the course of the season, the group has allowed 244 yards per game on 61.3-percent completions, with 22 touchdowns put up against them through the air. In terms of run defense, Tech’s allowed 144 yards per game (respectable), but has also seen 24 rushing scores against them (among the worst in the country). The Yellow Jackets have only held three opponents to under 20 points, and have have let six teams score 40 or more. It could be a long night. Advantage: Florida State
Florida State has one of college football’s best kickers in Dustin Hopkins, who’s hit 24 of 28 field goals this year, while also connecting on 58 extra points (in 59 tries). In limited duties (just three games this year), Georgia Tech kicker Chris Tanner is three of four on field goal tries, with none outside of 39 yards. Both teams’ return games are sound — each ranks among the FBS’s top-30 in average yards per kickoff return — and neither is incredibly active blocking punts or kicks. Advantage: Florida State
Tech’s Paul Johnson is a proven one-trick pony, with a predictable (yet effective) offense, and a defense that can’t really stop anyone. On the Florida State sideline, Jimbo Fisher has an aggressive defensive front and skilled playmakers on offense, yet his overly-conservative play-calling has really hurt the Seminoles at points this season (hello, NC State game). The difference here may end up being FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who it’s reported will end up coaching in the game this weekend, despite being named as the new head coach over at Kentucky. Advantage: Florida State
Breaking down these teams, we arrive at an unsurprising result: Georgia Tech is over-matched in this one, and will struggle to hang in there against the Florida State defense. Maybe the Yellow Jackets have some magic up their sleeve (passing game?) to combat the ‘Noles. But I just don’t see it happening. Florida State obviously came into this season with some pretty lofty expectations, and while the Orange Bowl may ultimately fall short of those, I’m sure the ‘Noles will be happy to celebrate their first ACC title since 2005. If they fail to, it’ll be yet another black eye on a dreadful season for the conference (no offense, Tech fans). Prediction: Florida State 41, Georgia Tech 20
Last Week: 8-2; 2012 Record: 83-33