The ACC regular season is complete and all that remains of conference play in 2013 is the ACC Championship that pits unlikely Duke against a Florida State team ranked first in the country for the first time since 2000. Overall, 2013 was a good year for the Atlantic Coast Conference although the final week was not a particularly good one. Looking back at the final full slate of games in the ACC, here are five things we learned:
1. The SEC Still Has a Decided Edge on the ACC
With four match-ups versus the SEC and three that had the potential to be favorable for the ACC over the weekend, the ACC went just 1-3 against the SEC in the final week of the regular season. Florida State dominated rival Florida 37-7, but both Georgia Tech and Wake Forest let late leads slip away. While Wake Forest was surprisingly competitive with Vanderbilt, the Demon Deacons allowed the Commodores to convert a long fourth down before kicking the game-winning field goal with under a minute to play for a 23-21 Vandy win. Georgia Tech led Georgia, who was playing without starting quarterback Aaron Murray, 20-0, but were outscored 27-7 over the final 30:34 of regulation before falling in the second overtime 41-34. Clemson didn’t help itself in a 31-17 loss to South Carolina. The Tigers turned the ball over six times with four coming in the fourth quarter. Clemson turnovers led to three of South Carolina’s four touchdowns. The SEC finishes the regular season 5-3 against the ACC with two of the three losses coming from Florida.
2. Stacy Coley May Be the ACC’s Next Sammy Watkins
While Miami has certainly been hurt offensively by injuries to running back Duke Johnson and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, freshman Stacy Coley has emerged as a playmaker for Miami and is making plays in a number of ways. In Miami’s 41-31 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday, Coley scored touchdowns on his first three touches from scrimmage. Coley had touchdown receptions of 32 and 34 yards before breaking a 73-yard run for a score. Coley has now scored five touchdowns in the last four weeks which includes an 81-yard touchdown against Virginia Tech on a short screen pass and a 62-yard catch for a touchdown against Virginia. Like Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Coley has also been used in the return game where he has returned both a kickoff and a punt for a score this season.
3. Duke Deserved to be Coastal Champions
Perhaps the best story of the season in the ACC is Duke’s Coastal division title. The Blue Devils used a short field goal by Ross Martin on Saturday to beat rival North Carolina 27-25 and earn a trip to Charlotte. Under head coach David Cutcliffe, Duke showed grit and the ability to win the close ones all season long. Duke won its final eight games of the year after a 2-2 start and an 0-2 start in ACC play. Despite inconsistent play at quarterback, Duke managed to win three of its final fives games by seven points or less. Duke also overcame second half deficits to beat Miami and N.C. State. Saturday’s victory came against a red-hot North Carolina team that had won five straight games entering the contest. Duke has clinched its first winning season in nearly two decades and can earn a BCS bid with a monumental upset over Florida State in Charlotte.
4. The ACC Will Have More Bowl-Eligible Teams than Any Other Conference
While the ACC has more teams than most of the other conferences in America, it will have the most bowl-eligible teams this season. Thanks to Syracuse’s 34-31 win over Boston College on Saturday, 11 of the ACC’s 14 teams will likely be making bowl appearances. The SEC finished second with 10 bowl-eligible teams. The only teams not bowl-eligible in the conference are N.C. State and Virginia, who each failed to notch a conference win and Wake Forest, who dropped its final five games after a 4-3 start.
5. Terrel Hunt Saved His Best for Last
Syracuse entered Saturday needing a win to become bowl-eligible. At home against Boston College, sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt delivered the Orange with both his arm and his legs for a dramatic 34-31 victory. Boston College was able to shut down Syracuse running back Jerome Smith for most of the day forcing Hunt, who is typically a game manager, to carry Syracuse. Hunt led the Orange with 90 yards rushing and a touchdown and also passed for a career-high 270 yards. With Syracuse trailing 31-27, Hunt’s 8-yard touchdown toss, his second of the game, to Josh Parris with six seconds remaining turned out to be the game-winner as Syracuse improved to 6-6. After beginning the season as Syracuse’s backup, Hunt won six of his 10 starts for the Orange and showed great leadership in Saturday’s regular season finale accounting for 75 percent of Syracuse’s offense.