You don’t have to be a fan of ACC football to take guilty pleasure in the annual unpacking of Coastal Chaos.
When Virginia Tech dipped in the late-stages of the Frank Beamer era and Miami flailed away as it had for much of its time in the conference, it opened the door for all sorts of wackiness. And there has been a certain appeal to determining the winner of a potential four- or five-team tiebreaker for the right to be smoked by Clemson or Florida State the first Saturday in December.
The holy grail of Coastal Chaos — all seven teams in arguably college football’s most even division going 4-4 — remains unrealized, though the possibility existed just two weeks ago. Now, Pittsburgh could close out the Coastal with a week to spare if it beats Virginia Tech (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU) and Wake Forest. For its part, Virginia Tech still controls its own destiny despite being fresh off losses to Georgia Tech and Boston College.
The possibility of Pittsburgh (5-4, 4-1) earning its first ACC title game trip is fitting for a division defined by parity: It would be the sixth program to win the Coastal in as many years. Virginia is the only other team that hasn’t finished in first in that time, and it also remains in Coastal contention this season.
Coach Pat Narduzzi’s team has outlasted Syracuse in overtime, dropped 56 points on Duke and then outslugged Virginia, 23-13, behind Darrin Hall’s 229 rushing yards last week.
That’s hardly a path through 21st century college football powers. But it would be perfectly Coastal if a team that opened the year 2-3 and accounts for North Carolina’s only victory found its way to Charlotte.
Last week’s list of 21 teams with even a sliver of playoff hope was trimmed to 15. The group of plausible candidates if even a dash of chaos ensues — basically, any power conference team with two or fewer losses plus any undefeated Group of Five school — will get winnowed a bit again by Saturday.
This week adds a new group: one-loss teams that wouldn’t get shut out if they avoid a misstep. For example, Michigan’s only loss came at Notre Dame, and it would be nearly impossible to exclude if it wins the next four weeks. Same goes for Georgia, which must defeat Alabama to get to 12-1.
Undefeated teams that won’t be left out if they run the table (3): Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame
One-loss teams that won’t be left out if they run the table (2): Georgia and Michigan
One-loss teams with varying degrees of earning a playoff berth if they win out (4): Ohio State, Oklahoma, Washington State and West Virginia
Will need plenty of help even if they win out (6): Boston College, Central Florida, Kentucky, LSU and Syracuse
There are a fair number of remaining games pitting two of these 15 teams, including Clemson-Boston College (Saturday), Syracuse-Notre Dame (Nov. 17), Oklahoma-West Virginia (Nov. 23), Syracuse-Boston College (Nov. 24), Michigan-Ohio State (Nov. 24) and Alabama-Georgia (Dec. 1)
What next for Kansas?
David Beaty entered the season with a 3-33 record as head coach at Kansas and a new boss in Athletic Director Jeff Long, making the announcement on Sunday that Beaty wouldn’t return for a fifth year feel inevitable from the start. That’s even with the Jayhawks sitting at an improved 3-6 entering this week’s trip to Kansas State.
Two things are worth noting: One, it is commendable that Long permitted Beaty to finish the season; two, Beaty inherited such a forlorn situation that it’s difficult to imagine anyone could have found success in Lawrence over the past four seasons. The Jayhawks are no one’s idea of good, but they are more competitive now than when Beaty arrived.
Wherever Kansas turns, it direly needs a combination of competence and continuity. The Jayhawks will be on their fifth head coach in 11 seasons next year. Since 2009, they are 6-79 in the Big 12. Long’s next hire still has plenty of work to do to make Kansas a bowl contender, let alone relevant in its conference.
Collapse and return
Louisville’s laughable season doesn’t have new lows. The whole thing is a three-month exercise in dredging the bottom, and the Cardinals found themselves on the wrong end of a 77-16 loss to Clemson last week. It was the second-most lopsided conference game in ACC history.
Speaking of ACC history, with three more losses to finish the season Louisville will join a group of only seven teams since the conference was established in 1953 that have slipped by six victories or more year over year. Considering the Cardinals finish with Syracuse (7-2), N.C. State (6-2) and Kentucky (7-2), there’s a good chance it happens. That motley crew:
|1956 Maryland||2-7-1||10-1||Tommy Mont (‘56), Jim Tatum (’55)|
|1973 North Carolina||4-7||11-1||Bill Dooley|
|1993 Wake Forest||2-9||8-4||Jim Caldwell (‘93), Bill Dooley (’92)|
|1995 N.C. State||3-8||9-3||Mike O’Cain|
|2009 Maryland||2-10||8-5||Ralph Friedgen|
|2011 Maryland||2-10||9-4||Randy Edsall (‘11), Ralph Friedgen (’10)|
|2015 Georgia Tech||3-9||11-3||Paul Johnson|
The extraordinary quirk in this chart is that every one of the coaches who presided over a collapse returned the following season (granted, three were first-year coaches). If Louisville’s Bobby Petrino is to do the same, chances are it will be his massive buyout that permits it to happen.
Five games to watch
No. 23 Fresno State at Boise State (Friday, 10:15 p.m., ESPN2): It’s going to be difficult for the host Broncos (7-2, 4-1 Mountain West) to track down Utah State in the Mountain Division if they fall to West Division leader Fresno State (8-1, 5-0). While Central Florida remains the favorite for the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six bowl structure, a 12-1 Fresno State or Utah State team would be a capable alternate if the Knights slip.
No. 10 Ohio State at No. 18 Michigan State (Saturday, noon, Fox): It’s a playoff eliminator for the Buckeyes (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten), who have it in their own hands to reach the conference title game by winning out. Michigan State (6-3, 4-2) mustered little against Michigan last month, though it did have its best rushing day of the season last week at Maryland.
Oklahoma State at No. 6 Oklahoma (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC): The visiting Cowboys (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) already helped derail Texas’s playoff chances. Could they do the same to Kyler Murray and the Sooners (8-1, 5-1) in the annual Bedlam game?
No. 24 Auburn at No. 5 Georgia (Saturday, 7, ESPN): The newly minted SEC East champion Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1) close out league play against the Tigers (6-3, 3-3), whose season unraveled early. However, Auburn still has its rivalry games against Georgia and Alabama, and with those games come the opportunity to ruin someone else’s playoff hopes.
No. 2 Clemson at No. 17 Boston College (Saturday, 8, ABC): The only thing between Dabo Swinney’s Tigers (9-0, 6-0) and a fourth consecutive ACC Atlantic title is Boston College (7-2, 4-1), which hasn’t won more than seven games in a season since 2009. Two major questions for the Eagles: Will banged-up tailback A.J. Dillon play, and how effective will he be at Clemson’s stingy defensive front?