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ACC With Much to Lose vs. SEC

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James Wilder Jr. and Florida State are expected to roll rival Florida. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

It’s the final Saturday of the regular season for both the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences. The conferences are 2-2 against one another this season and Saturday will have four match-ups pitting the ACC against the SEC. On the final weekend of the 2012 regular season, the SEC swept the four contests, but in 2013, it’s the ACC that comes in with everything to lose.

While few expect Wake Forest to go into Nashville and beat Vanderbilt, the three in-state rivalry games featuring Florida and Florida State, South Carolina and Clemson, and lastly Georgia and Georgia Tech will have huge implications for the ACC.

Prior to Jimbo Fisher replacing Bobby Bowden as the head coach at Florida State, the Sunshine State rivalry was woefully one-sided in favor of Florida. This season, Florida State is 11-0 for the first time since 1999 while Florida has clinched its first losing season in over three decades.

The Seminoles will need to beat Florida to keep their dreams of a national championship alive. Florida won in Tallahassee a season ago, 37-26, thanks largely to a strong rushing effort and five FSU turnovers.

Fisher is 2-1 thus far against Florida and will be facing a Gators’ team that has had to endure two losses not previously seen since the end of World War II.

While Florida has been competitive with the likes of Miami, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina, a 17-point loss at home to Vanderbilt — the first for the Commodores in Gainesville since 1945 — and an embarrassing 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern on Saturday has sealed Florida’s fate in its hopes of playing in a 23rd straight bowl. The loss was also the first for Florida to a current FCS school since 1946.

Ending Florida State’s dreams of a national championship is all that Florida has left to play for. While the Seminoles have had to deal with off-the-field distractions surrounding redshirt freshman quarterback and Heisman hopeful, Jameis Winston and allegations of sexual battery, any perceived lack of focus has yet to show up on the field.

While Florida State can clinch an automatic BCS berth with a win in the ACC Championship next week, the Seminoles are just two wins away from Pasadena barring any major shift in the polls. Fisher cannot allow his former colleague at LSU, Will Muschamp, who is now his in-state rival at Florida to be a stumbling block.

In a game between top 10 teams, the battle for the Palmetto State will certainly have BCS at-large implications for Clemson and could for South Carolina as well. Thanks to senior quarterbacks Tajh Boyd and Connor Shaw, the Tigers and Gamecocks have become contenders on an annual basis.

South Carolina has won three straight in the series and for Clemson’s seniors, Saturday’s contest in Columbia will be the final shot at beating their in-state rivals. The Gamecocks could get a BCS at-large spot with a win over Clemson, but South Carolina could get a chance to earn an automatic berth should Missouri slip up at home against Johnny Football and Texas A&M.

A victory for South Carolina could mean a BCS at-large only if Missouri takes care of the Aggies. For Clemson, the victory would essentially cement a second BCS bid for the ACC. It would also be a huge statement for the ACC as the Tigers would have a pair of wins over top 10 SEC schools this season.

In the grand scheme of things, there is a lot less on the line in Atlanta as rivals Georgia and Georgia Tech clash. The Yellow Jackets could still get to the ACC title game for the third time in five years, but need losses by Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech. Nothing that Georgia Tech does on the field against the Bulldogs will alter its ACC hopes.

With that said, Saturday’s contest is one that Georgia Tech needs to win especially considering that Georgia will be without quarterback Aaron Murray, the SEC’s first-team quarterback in the preseason.

Known as “Clean, Old Fashioned Hate”, the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry was once one of the better in-state rivalries in college football. For more than the last decade however, it has become one-sided in favor of Georgia. The Bulldogs have won 11 of the last 12 in the series with the lone Georgia Tech victory in that span coming in 2008, head coach Paul Johnson’s first year in Atlanta.

With Murray, arguably Georgia’s best offensive player, out for Saturday’s contest at Bobby Dodd Stadium, this is one that Johnson and the Jackets cannot afford to lose.

With four total and three big match-ups for the ACC against the SEC upcoming on Saturday, the reputation of the Atlantic Coast Conference will be on the line. Of the three SEC schools mentioned (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina), only the Gamecocks have come close to living up to expectations this season.

While Florida and Georgia are down thanks partially to injury, the two schools along with South Carolina have combined to represent the SEC East in the last five SEC Championships and seven of the last eight. If the ACC were to sweep those three match-ups on Saturday, it would be a combined 5-1 this season against the three biggest names in the SEC East.

2013 to this point, has been a very good year for the ACC and Saturday will provide a huge opportunity for the conference to stake its claim of being vastly improved. Clemson certainly has a shot at a BCS at-large bid while Florida State and Georgia Tech are expected to win and perhaps, win big. Though the final week of the regular season looks to be one that the ACC can hang its hat on, it’s the ACC schools that have everything to lose on Saturday after a solid season.

Mike Ferguson is an ACC staff writer for the College Sports Network and can be followed on Twitter @MikeWFerguson. Also, be sure to LIKE College Sports Net’s ACC page on Facebook!

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