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Lot at stake Saturday / December 04, 2013
By Tucker McLaughlin Jr.

News & Record

The Atlantic Coast Conference has a great deal at stake Saturday night when No. 1 Florida State meets 20th-ranked Duke in the ninth annual football championship in Charlotte.

The ACC expects to land a berth in the BCS national title game if FSU, now 12-0, rolls past Duke, 10-2 in the showdown for the conference championship. At this point, it appears FSU and Ohio State, which stand 1-2 in the next-to-last BCS standings, will settle the last BCS national championship race before the new playoff format takes effect next year. Duke, the outright champion of the Coastal Division, is seeking to spoil FSU’s national title dreams.

FSU is the first ACC team to be ranked no. 1 in the BCS standings since the ‘Noles held the top spot on December 5, 1999, the final standings in that season. That FSU went on to take out Michael Vick and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

FSU is 12-0 for only the second time in school history, matching the 1999 national champions. FSU also has a barrage of eye-popping numbers in its corner. The ‘Noles set a single-season scoring record with 644 points in 12 games, breaking last year’s mark (550), also established by FSU. That mark was set in 14 games, compared to 12 for the Atlantic Division champions this season.

FSU also leads the nation in scoring defense (11.0) and is second nationally in scoring offense (53.7). FSU freshman quarterback Jameis Winston leads the nation in passing efficiency (192.6).

Here’s another amazing statistic: FSU has outscored the opposition 352-62 in the first half of its games this year. At that point, a total of 57 teams in the NCAA’s FBS have not scored 352 points this season. FSU scored 84 touchdowns this season, the most in league history by a wide margin.

Overall, FSU is ranked third or better in nine major national statistical categories this week. Florida State has the national lead in scoring defense, passing yards allowed (153.00) and red zone offense (.969). The Noles are second nationally in pass efficiency (179.47), scoring offense (53.7), and pass efficiency defense (93/52). FSU is also third nationally in turnover margin (1.4), third down conversion (.552), and third down conversion defense (.295). And FSU comes to Charlotte riding a 14-game consecutive win streak, the nation’s second longest.

And the highly efficient, explosive FSU operation can boast of the receipient of the 2013 Jacobs blocking trophy, junior tackle Cameron Erving. This recognition goes annually to the league’s top blocker in a vote of the ACC defensive coordinators or head coaches.

QB Jameis Winston ranks first nationally in pass efficiency (192.6), and the potential Heisman trophy hopeful has thrown for an ACC-best 3,490 yards and 35 touchdowns, while completing 68.8 percent of his passing attempts.

Running back Devonta Freeman leads the rushing attack with 852 yards and wideout Rashad Greene is sixth among ACC receivers with 61 catches for 914 yards and nine touchdowns.

Florida State, which has the clear edge in overall athleticism, is a heavy favorite over the upstart Blue Devils, who confounded the experts by winning the Coastal Division.

FSU has won 14 games in a row, the nation’s second-longest run of success, while Duke has an eight-game streak, the fourth longest streak across the land. The Blue Devils have also won ten games for the first time in school history.

FSU is seeking its 14th ACC championship, while Duke is hunting its first league crown since 1989, when the Blue Devils shared the title with Virginia. The Blue Devils’ last outright title came in 1962, and the program owns seven ACC championships overall.

The Blue Devils have shown remarkable overall improvement under Cutcliffe, and the Duke team has several high profile performers.

Redshirt freshman DeVon Edwards has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season and leads the nation with an average of 32.7 yasrds per kickoff return. Wideout Jamison Crowder has returned two punts for touchdowns this season.

Crowder leads the ACC in pass receptions with 88 in 12 games. Duke’s effective quarterback tandem of Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette has combined to pass for 23 touchdowns and rush for 17 more.

Both teams have tremendous impact players on defense as well. Duke has 16 pickoffs this season, the most in Cutcliffe’s six seasons in Durham. Safety Jeremy Cash has four interceptions to lead the team. FSU corner Lamarcus Joyner leads a ball-hawking Noles secondary that leads the nation with 23 picks.

FSU is trying to cap a high-octane season for the ACC, which may have 11 bowl teams. The ACC is also in position to take several of the leading national individual awards, including the Heisman Trophy. FSU also seems a lock for the BCS national title game with a win Saturday night in Charlotte, while the resurgent Blue Devils would likely fall no lower than the New Year’s Eve Chick-fil-A bowl in Atlanta.

The bowl pairings will be set this Sunday after the final conference championships play out. FSU’s spot in the national title game appears to hinge on one more game, this ACC title showdown with the Blue Devils. Duke would land in the Orange Bowl as ACC champion with an upset.

Clemson, which finished 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the ACC, also appears to be a strong possibility for a second BCS bowl for the conference.

Clemson appears possibly headed to the Orange Bowl, which has a strong tie-in with the ACC, although national will be official until the bowl pairings are set.

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