ACC, SEC rivals collide with postseason berths on the line

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Florida Gators wide receiver Josh Hammond (10) grabs a pass during the Sunshine Showdown rivalry game against Florida State at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Nov. 25, 2017. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

The Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference have something to prove as they enter a rivalry-themed week featuring four matchups between the two leagues.

This week’s SEC vs. ACC showdowns are particularly important for No. 3 Clemson (No. 3 College Football Playoff ) and No. 4 Georgia (No. 4 CFP).

Clemson (11-0) is favored by 27 points over South Carolina (4-7) and Georgia (10-1) is a 28-point favorite at Georgia Tech (3-8). Both the Tigers and Bulldogs must keep winning to maintain their playoff hopes — and they understand rivalries sometimes produce unexpected results.

“The challenge is about the rivalry,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “So when you think about this game, records are thrown out. None of that matters.’’

This week’s other inter-conference matchups include Florida State (6-5) at No. 8 Florida (9-2, No. 11 CFP) and Louisville (7-4) at Kentucky (6-5).

Neither league has distinguished itself in nonconference play this year.

The ACC is 3-11 against teams from other Power Five leagues and Notre Dame, while the SEC is 6-5 in those types of matchups.

The SEC has an overall nonconference record of 39-13 and has its highest number of regular-season nonconference losses since 2003 and its lowest regular-season nonconference winning percentage since 2005. The ACC owns a 34-16 nonconference record that doesn’t include Wake Forest’s victory over North Carolina, a game between ACC rivals that didn’t count in the league standings.

The SEC and ACC have split their four matchups thus far. North Carolina beat South Carolina and Clemson defeated Texas A&M for the ACC’s two wins. Alabama trounced Duke and Florida edged Miami for the SEC’s two victories.

ACC teams have held their own against the SEC, going 25-25 in the matchups since 2015.

“I think it’s big for the ACC when you go out and out of conference and go get you a big win,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said. “There is no question about it. I think as you look back on the body of work, that’s huge for our conference and in our league. We’ve got to be able to do that, in particular when you’re going against an SEC school.’’

Clemson remains on pace to give the ACC a playoff berth as it continues its national title defense. The SEC has a shot at two playoff spots with No. 1 LSU (No. 2 CFP), Georgia and No. 5 Alabama (No. 5 CFP) in contention.

Here’s a rundown of the ACC vs. SEC matchups this week:

CLEMSON AT SOUTH CAROLINA

The Tigers have won 26 games in a row and will represent the ACC’s Atlantic Division for a record fifth consecutive season in the championship game. Clemson has beaten South Carolina five straight times. South Carolina won’t be going to a bowl, but bouncing Clemson out of the playoff picture would provide some solace heading into the offseason.

GEORGIA AT GEORGIA TECH

Georgia Tech is seeking to beat Georgia in Atlanta for the first time since 1999. The Yellow Jackets’ last three wins in this series all came in Athens. Georgia ranks fifth among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense. Georgia Tech is last in the ACC in total offense.

FLORIDA STATE AT FLORIDA

Florida ended a five-game skid in this rivalry by winning 41-14 at Florida State in 2018. The Gators are favored by 18 this time and have a great shot at earning a New Year’s Six bowl invitation if they win. The remote possibility that Florida State interim coach Odell Haggins could earn the full-time gig would get a bit more realistic if the Seminoles pull off the upset.

LOUISVILLE AT KENTUCKY

Kentucky won 56-10 at Louisville last season in the most lopsided game between these two teams since a 73-0 Kentucky victory in 1922 (Kentucky and Louisville didn’t face each other from 1925-93). A much closer game is expected this time. Kentucky is a three-point favorite over Louisville, which has beaten the Wildcats in each of their last four visits to Lexington.

Aside from the ACC-SEC matchups, there are several intra-conference showdowns with much at stake:

— No. 1 LSU (11-0, 7-0 SEC) tries to remain unbeaten as it hosts Texas A&M (7-4, 4-3) in a rematch of a game the Aggies won 74-72 in seven overtimes last year.

— Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) must win at Auburn (8-3, 4-3) and get help from other teams as it tries to avoid missing the playoff for the first time.

— Virginia (8-3, 5-2 ACC) seeks to end a 15-game losing streak in its annual rivalry with No. 23 Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2) in a game that determines which team represents the Coastal Division in the ACC championship game. Virginia has never reached the ACC championship game.

— North Carolina (5-6, 3-4 ACC) can reach a bowl game in the first year of Mack Brown’s second stint at the school if the Tar Heels beat North Carolina State (4-7, 1-6).

— Mississippi State (5-6, 2-5 SEC) must win its Egg Bowl matchup with Mississippi (4-7, 2-5) on Thursday to become eligible for a 10th straight bowl appearance.

— Missouri (5-6, 2-5 SEC) must beat Arkansas (2-9, 0-7) on Friday to get to .500, though the Tigers can’t play in a bowl due to NCAA sanctions.

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