College football: ACC title game will match surprising and predictable
BOSTON (AP) — Maybe the Atlantic Coast Conference should change the names of its divisions from Atlantic and Coastal to Predictable and Surprising.
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With one week to go in the regular season, the ACC's division champions have already been decided. Clemson (11-0, 8-0), which has clinched the Atlantic, is the No. 1 team in the country (No. 1 College Football Playoff) and the Atlantic Division champion for the third time since 2009.
The only other school to top the division in that period is Florida State. But over in the Coastal, North Carolina (10-1, 7-0) is the fourth different school to emerge as the champion in the past five years.
North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren, who faces the Tar Heels in a rivalry game this weekend, said the difference for them is the improvement of their defense since former Auburn coach Gene Chizik took over as coordinator.
"Last year ... they were the same way on offense, top 3 in every category," Doeren said. "Defensively, they were giving up a ton of points. That's the biggest difference in their team because they're not getting scored on. That's the thing that has made them a much better team."
The only team to repeat in the Coastal in the past five years is Georgia Tech, which won in 2012 and again last year. The Yellow Jackets, who won 11 games last year, were favored to reach the conference title game again in 2015 but they went 1-7 in the league and finished last.
"Last year, the offense was good enough to carry the whole team," coach Paul Johnson said. "You want a shootout? Let's go. We'll play a shootout with you. You'll miss your turn before we will. And this year, we can't. We're not that good. You're not going to be with six or seven freshmen. You're just not."
Here are some other surprises from the ACC this year:
BEAMER BOWS OUT: The second-biggest disappointment in the conference was Virginia Tech, which had been the second choice in the preseason poll. The Hokies (5-6, 3-4) need a victory over Virginia to finish with a .500 record and extend their record consecutive bowl game streak to 23.
A win against their in-state rival would also prolong the career of coach Frank Beamer for one more game. Beamer, 69, announced his retirement earlier this month.
"I didn't want to let Hokies down," Beamer said then. "And that's the hardest part about being average here for the last few years, and that's another thing I'm proud of: At one time average was not so bad, but now average is unacceptable, really. And that's a good thing."
PITT RUNNING BACKS: James Conner ran for more than 2,500 yards in his first two seasons, but he tore his MCL in the 2015 season opener and the Panthers (8-3, 6-1) were forced to look elsewhere.
Enter Qadree Ollison, a redshirt freshman who had yet to touch the football when Conner went down. He finished off the Youngstown State game — gaining 207 yards with a touchdown in the second half alone — and has 1,011 yards rushing heading into the regular season finale against Miami.
"I hear everybody talk about the next man up and all of that, whatever term you want to use," coach Pat Narduzzi said. "Our kids never looked back. They didn't go, 'Oh, my gosh. What are we going to do?' And come into the team meeting the next day and go, 'Coach, do we really have to practice today? Can't we just give up and quit?'"
"It's not like we had one scholarship tailback in the program," he said. "It didn't surprise me at all that Qadree rushed for 1,000. It's something that we have to do to win football games, run the football."
BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles won six games combined in 2011-12 and then seven apiece, reaching a bowl game, in in back-to-back. This year, the defense kept BC (3-8, 0-7) in most games — including a 14-0 loss to Florida State and a 19-16 loss to Notre Dame — but the offense never recovered after quarterback Darius Wade was injured against the Seminoles in Week 3.
"We did not figure out (the) other side of the ball," coach Steve Addazio said. "We knew that this year our strength would be on defense. We knew this year that we would be young on offense. We didn't anticipate the injuries that we received. ... We're fighting through that."
AP Sports Writers Charles Odum and Joedy McCreary contributed to this story.