Is it possible that in 2018, each division of the Atlantic Coast Conference will be won by spoilers, making the ACC Championship Game a contest for New Year’s Six qualification instead of a College Football Playoff bid?
The Atlantic division will probably be decided in Saturday’s showdown between unbeaten Clemson and upstart Boston College. Though the Eagles may be heavy point spread and moneyline underdogs against the visiting Tigers, if BC were to prevail in an upset, it would be hard to imagine Syracuse or North Carolina State catching up in the standings. It would also be tough for Clemson to pull out a conference title after losing head-to-head to the squad nipping at its heels. BC would have the driver’s seat.
Given that the ‘dog from Massachusetts can potentially eliminate Clemson – widely thought to be Alabama’s biggest potential threat in the playoffs – from the CFP, you can call the scrum at Alumni Stadium the “spoiler alert” game of the year so far.
But can we really say that the ACC Coastal will be won by a “spoiler” when there’s no program having a great season that could get ruined to begin with?
Pittsburgh is currently leading the Coastal with a 4-1 league record, but the Panthers lost to Central Florida by a bundle, were upset by last-place North Carolina before that, and allowed 6 touchdowns to Duke in the opening 3 quarters before squeaking by 54-45 in their most-recent outing.
Virginia and Virginia Tech are each in the hunt with only 2 conference losses each, but to say the least, neither program looks like a major bowl contender in 2018-19. Then again, winning the ACC means that you’ll go to a nice bowl game even if your record out-of-conference is winless.
Finally there’s Georgia Tech and Miami, 2 schools hoping that the chaos in the standings might just give them an opening to contend in the division. But time is running out. Mark Richt’s Hurricanes are 4-1 at home but have lost 3 in a row, and must visit a Ramblin’ Wreck team on the upswing.
To say it’s a “must win” for both teams would be to overstate the obvious. Let’s look at the betting lines, series results, and the narrative surrounding each program as Saturday in Atlanta approaches.
Miami at Georgia Tech: Betting Odds and Analysis
Vegas is perpetually skeptical of Georgia Tech, a school with academic restrictions that make recruiting 5-star athletes almost impossible. But thanks to Richt’s team struggling to pass the ball and stop tough offenses when the chips are down, Sin City is even more skeptical of the ‘Canes right now.
BetOnline’s point spread for the contest takes (-3) points from the host Yellow Jackets, with a (-165) moneyline on the hosts to prevail and a (+145) payoff promise on a straight-up win by the underdog visitors. The Over/Under total is at (55) for the 7 PM kickoff after opening slightly higher.
A (-120) payoff on Georgia Tech against the spread indicates that the sports betting site is either taking a lot of wagers on GT to cover, or that the house handicapper is confident that Miami will not be able to put the pieces together against a team that better Hurricane rosters have struggled to beat.
But Miami has won 3 in a row in the series. The Hurricanes fell to a 4th-down gamble and a solid defensive outing from Georgia Tech’s dynamite Orange Bowl unit in 2014, but rebounded to win by 2+ touchdowns in 2015 and 2016.
Last season’s outcome was dramatic. Competing in a driving rain, the Yellow Jackets led almost the entire way until a desperate pass bounced off a helmet and into the arms of a Miami receiver to set up a winning field goal with seconds left on the clock.
Why are this year’s point spread and moneyline defying the W/L trend? Miami’s road record has a lot to do with the numbers. The Hurricanes lost tight conference games at Boston College and Virginia in Weeks 8 and 9. In Week 10, however, Miami looked just as bad on its home field, losing to Duke 20-12.
Richt is a coach without a reliable QB. He has spent the entire season (and preseason) vacillating between Malik Rozier and N’Kosi Perry, the former a veteran who has never improved enough and the latter a youngster who isn’t getting better fast enough to contribute at a high level.
In fact, the quarterbacks are key to successfully handicapping the match-up in 2018…even with 1 of the 2 teams utilizing a run-heavy option attack.
From Ramblin’ Dreck to Snapping Necks
Georgia Tech had a lousy start to its season, losing 3 in a row to UCF, Pittsburgh, and Clemson. Head coach Paul Johnson patiently endured the criticism that he always seems to get when the squad faces a slump.
You can’t win with that High School offense! (Even though Georgia Tech has suffered very few losing seasons with Johnson in charge.) The defense is awful! (Even though lots and lots of non-awful defenses have failed to stop Central Florida, Clemson, and even Pitt this year.)
Ultimately, Johnson and the ‘Jackets are just a different animal, and people tend to hate what is different. But it’s true that the program must deal with a small margin of error on a weekly basis. Johnson has a hard time pulling elite defensive talent into the program, and GT’s special teams are never flawless due to a lack of athletic backup linebackers and low overall numbers.
It’s up to the head coach’s Flexbone offense to carry the day, and though we think of offensive linemen and running backs as the key to a ground game, QB is still the most important position on the team. Johnson’s quarterbacks must excel in triple-option reads and running the ball without fumbling, but their ability to pass is just as crucial even when the play-calling leans heavy to the run.
If an option QB can’t pass over the top, he’s doomed. Defenses will simply run-blitz and put 9 or 10 players in the box until the running game in ineffective or the QB is knocked out, or both. Johnson disciple Ken Niumatalolo forgot that principle at Navy this year, starting the campaign with an electrifying runner at QB (Malcolm Perry) who couldn’t pass a lick. Several weeks later, and an injured Perry is trying to work his way back into the lineup as a WR while the Mids languish in the cellar of the American Athletic Conference.
Georgia Tech has tried a couple of QBs this season, starting with TaQuon Marshall – another fine runner who struggles to pass downfield. He went 5-of-11 for less than 100 yards in a loss to Duke on 10/13.
Frosh replacement Tobias Oliver got the nod against VT the following Thursday and shined, though he wasn’t asked to throw the ball much at all. When North Carolina tried stacking the LOS in Chapel Hill, Oliver rushed for 100+ yards and 2 touchdowns anyway, and was able to zing a long ball over the top for a key momentum-changing touchdown as the Jackets prevailed to run their record to 5-4.
Defense will always be an issue. But Georgia Tech is ranked in the top 3rd of FBS defenses in 2018 so far.
Not so Rozi(er) at QB for Miami
If the Yellow Jackets are trending up behind center, the ‘Canes are sinking to untold depths at the same position. Rozier and Perry were handed a prolific ground game to work with in the Duke game, with Travis Horner racing for 133 yards and DeeJay Davis sprinting for 124. Yet neither QB found the end zone, and finished the day with a miserable 4.0 ypa average with 13-of-28 combined completions.
Richt is planning to go with Perry this Saturday. Does it even matter if neither of his signal-callers are any good on an ACC level? The freshman is at least mobile and can execute read-option plays, but that’s nothing Georgia Tech hasn’t seen before. The GT defense inhabits a dressing room and a practice field full of mobile QBs…those who can’t run are not recruited to play there.
Can the ‘Canes put on a classic defensive performance and win in a low-scoring scrum? Perhaps. Richt’s strength vs Georgia Tech is his willingness to call wild run-blitzes and get the Flexbone attack out of its preferred down-and-distances. Oliver has a knack for making the GT offense work, but he’s not polished enough as a passer to punish safety blitzes and stunts by carving-up a talented secondary.
Miami couldn’t stop the 2-headed monster of Anthony Brown and J.J. Dillon when the ‘Canes visited the Boston College Eagles. I’m thinking they’ll make some stops against Georgia Tech this Saturday, but not enough to force the host defense to defend a short field.
And I’m not confident in either Miami QB’s ability to drive the ball 70+ yards on the road.
Georgia Tech vs Miami Moneyline and O/U Picks
I’m liking the Jackets on the moneyline. Georgia Tech’s special teams isn’t proficient enough to make an ATS worthwhile when the margin is around a field goal.
But a better wager is the Under (55). That market is taking action for a reason. Oliver will be picked off if he lobs-up any more hot air balloons while trying to burn the Hurricanes deep, leaving Miami with the ball but not any better field position than from fielding a punt. Meanwhile, Miami is simply a disaster in the passing game and it won’t get better on the road in Atlanta.