Just two games left in the regular season. Virginia Tech has hit the skids, losing back-to-back games to Miami and Georgia Tech. The Hokies return home where they’ll play Pittsburgh on Senior Day, looking to get back on track. Virginia struggled offensively and lost at Louisville. The Cavaliers already have their bowl-securing sixth victory and that’s a good thing, because the schedule is rough the final two weeks. They play at No. 3 Miami this weekend, then host rival Virginia Tech on Black Friday.
It’s a light slate in the ACC, with lots of teams playing soft non-conference opponents this weekend, giving themselves de facto open dates.
This panel needs to bounce back. We all picked Virginia Tech to beat Georgia Tech and Notre Dame to handle Miami last week, and we were all wrong on those two games. By correcting picking Louisville over Virginia, Andy Bitter and I picked up a game on John Shifflett. The result? After 11 weeks and 33 games, we’re all tied with the exact same record.
Here are this week’s picks…
Virginia at No. 3 Miami, 12 p.m., Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
Mike Barber, Richmond Times-Dispatch (23-10): The atmosphere probably won’t be the same at Hard Rock Stadium as it has been the past two weekends, when Miami was establishing itself as a national title contender by winning night games against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. The fans might not show up for a noon kickoff against Virginia, but the Hurricanes need to. Miami has a huge advantage on the line of scrimmage, where it’s defensive line should give U.Va.’s front five all day long. That could lead to mistakes by quarterback Kurt Benkert. And mistakes by opposing quarterbacks against Miami leads to everyone’s favorite sideline shtick – the turnover chain. I expect it the gaudy bling to make a few appearances in this one.
Pick: Miami 34, Virginia 17
Andy Bitter, Roanoke Times (23-10): A noon game against U.Va. after back-to-back exhilarating night contests against Virginia Tech and Miami? It feels like the ‘Canes are due for a little bit of a letdown, doesn’t it? I don’t think U.Va. has the horses to win this game, but I do think Miami might not be its sharpest throughout. The ‘Canes still win it and keep chugging toward the ACC title game.
Pick: Miami 30, Virginia 21
John Shifflett, Charlottesville Daily Progress (23-10*): I learned the hard way last week not to pick against the Hurricanes, who hammered Notre Dame (who I picked to win) to remain unbeaten. The only thing working in Virginia’s favor in this one is Miami could be primed for a letdown after big back-to-back wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. However, with the way Virginia’s offensive line has been struggling, I don’t think the Cavaliers will be able to pull off the upset in this one. The Hurricanes and their turnover chain remain unbeaten.
Pick: Miami 31, Virginia 17
*Includes Andrew Ramspacher’s 9-3 record
Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech, 12:20 p.m., Lane Stadium, Blacksburg
Barber: Virginia Tech got ripped by Miami in South Florida, then came out flat against Georgia Tech in Atlanta and lost again. This weekend, the Hokies are at home against a Pittsburgh team that isn’t nearly as good as either of those clubs. The Panthers’ pass defense is particularly atrocious, which could mean a big Senior Day game for Cam Phillips, Tech’s all-time leading receiver. The last two times Tech played someone other than U.Va. on Senior Day, it lost. I don’t see it happening in this one.
Pick: Virginia Tech 34, Pittsburgh 17
Bitter: The Hokies have struggled against good defenses this year. Fortunately for them, Pitt’s defense has not been good. Perhaps that jumpstarts what’s been a lagging Tech offense lately. Pitt seems to have found something in freshman running back Darrin Hall. That just so happens to be going right into the teeth of a strength on the Hokies’ defense. I think VT gets back on track in this one.
Pick: Virginia Tech 27, Pitt 19
Shifflett: After tough back-to-back losses to Miami and Georgia Tech, the Hokies get what appears to be the perfect tonic for their recent woes with Pittsburgh coming to town. The Panthers (4-6) are coming off a loss to lowly UNC and need to win their last two games to become bowl eligible. It’s not happening. The Hokies get right with a convincing win on Senior Day and regain some momentum heading into their Black Friday clash with rival Virginia.
Pick: Virginia Tech 41, Pittsburgh 21
North Carolina State at Wake Forest, 7:30 p.m., BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Barber: It wasn’t that long ago that we were debating whether or not North Carolina State could overthrow Clemson in the Atlantic Division. A blowout loss to Notre Dame and a narrow defeat by Clemson and suddenly, the Wolfpack’s profile dipped. Barely escaping against an improved Boston College team this past weekend didn’t change things. Wake Forest is no slouch, but I’m betting that North Carolina State is closer to the team we thought they were early on. Plus, the Wolfpack has beaten Wake soundly each of the past three seasons.
Pick: North Carolina State 34, Wake Forest 24
Bitter: The Demon Deacons won’t go up and down the field against N.C. State like they did putting up 734 yards and 64 points on Syracuse last week. But they’re still a pretty good team, and one I was surprised to find out was actually favored by 1.5 points in this one. N.C. State hasn’t looked great lately, losing to Notre Dame and Clemson and just getting by Boston College. I still like the Wolfpack to get things going in this one, however. I think State is a better team than its record might indicate right now.
Pick: N.C. State 31, Wake Forest 30
Shifflett: If the Demon Deacons’ recent games are any indicator, this one is going to be a shootout. Last week, Wake Forest rolled to 734 yards of total offense in a 64-43 win over Syracuse. Throw in a 48-37 loss to Notre Dame the week before and a 42-32 win over Louisville before that and you get the idea of how things have been going for the Deacons. N.C. State will counter with an offense that is averaging 31 points per game and has a good QB in Ryan Finley (2,665 yards, 15 TDs, 4 INTs). This could be one of those games where whoever has the ball last wins.
Pick: Wake Forest 42, N.C. State 35