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College Football Picks: How our panel sees the Commonwealth Clash
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College Football Picks: How our panel sees the Commonwealth Clash

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UVA at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente (center) and his team celebrated their 33-15 victory over rival Virginia last year in Blacksburg. The Hokies took back the Commonwealth Cup after UVA ended a 15-year drought by winning it in Charlottesville the previous season.

Virginia got its star quarterback, Brennan Armstrong, back but still couldn’t fix its defense in a 48-38 loss at Pittsburgh, giving the Panthers the Coastal Division title. Virginia Tech fired its coach, Justin Fuente, then lost on the road – in the rain – at Miami.

The Hokies must beat the Cavaliers for the 17th time in the last 18 meetings to become bowl eligible under interim coach J.C. Price. For UVA and Armstrong, capturing the “state championship,” as they call it, is the biggest goal remaining now that the division title is out of play.

For our panel, the Richmond Times-Dispatch duo of Mike Barber and David Teel are tied atop the leader board going into the final week of the regular season, both at 30-18.

Each week, Barber, Teel, Roanoke Times columnist Aaron McFarling and Charlottesville Daily Progress sports editor John Shifflett make their predictions for UVA, Virginia Tech and other key ACC games. To create a little separation in the standings, each week they’ll also offer up an upset special from anywhere on the FBS schedule.

Here are this week’s picks:

Virginia Tech at Virginia, 3:45 p.m., Scott Stadium, Charlottesville

David Teel, Richmond Times-Dispatch (30-18): The Hokies yielded a season-high 357 passing yards in last week’s setback at Miami. Talk about poor timing. Now they brace for the Cavaliers’ Brennan Armstrong, in the midst of the greatest passing season in ACC history (404 yards per game). All Armstrong could muster last week at Pitt in his return from a rib injury was 487 yards and three touchdown passes.

THE PICK: Virginia 38, Virginia Tech 28

Mike Barber, Richmond Times-Dispatch (30-18): Virginia’s struggling defense might be just what the Hokies’ struggling offense needs to get on track. Still, even if the Braxton Burmeister/Connor Blumrick-led Tech attack has one of its best days to date, it’s hard to imagine them outscoring Brennan Armstrong and company. This one will be close for about a half, as the Hokies will play hard again for interim coach J.C. Price, but ultimately, the Cavaliers claim the Cup because they have too much firepower to lose.

THE PICK: Virginia 42, Virginia Tech 27

Aaron McFarling, Roanoke Times (25-23): The Cavaliers are have been a mid-range favorite (7 to 13.5 points) twice this year and have taken care of business in both, dragging Duke 48-0 as a 10-point chalk and blasting Illinois 42-14 as an 11.5-point fave. Look for the Hokies to try to shorten this game with a lot of running, but UVA’s offense is going to be a major problem for Tech.

THE PICK: Virginia 40, Virginia Tech 28

John Shifflett, Daily Progress (23-21)*: Both teams enter the Commonwealth Cup off of disappointing road losses. There were more silver linings for Virginia in its setback, mainly the return of QB Brennan Armstrong, who showed no ill effects from the rib injury he suffered against BYU. Two years ago, then-UVA QB Bryce Perkins almost single-handedly beat Virginia Tech at Scott Stadium. I think we will see a similarly inspired performance from Armstrong on Saturday.

THE PICK: Virginia 38, Virginia Tech 31

*Includes Bennett Conlin’s 16-16 mark

North Carolina at North Carolina State, 7 p.m., Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, N.C.

Teel: A Black Friday victory over the Tar Heels plus a Wake Forest loss at Boston College the next day sends the Wolfpack to their first ACC championship game and puts them a win away from their first league title since 1979. State’s Devin Leary and Carolina’s Sam Howell make both offenses potent, but the Wolfpack field a far better defense.

THE PICK: North Carolina State 40, North Carolina 31

Barber: This certainly has all the familiar earmarks of a game North Carolina State finds a way to lose, and would go a long way to salvaging what had been expected to be a big year for the Tar Heels. But this year’s version of the Wolfpack will get it done at home, in a close one, doing just

THE PICK: North Carolina State 31, North Carolina 24

McFarling: The Wolfpack have the nation’s 13th-ranked defense, but there still figure to be a ton of points in this one. Venue is a big deal here. The Tar Heels (+5.5) have covered just once in their past seven as a road underdog and are 0-4 ATS in their past four road games overall.

THE PICK: North Carolina State 38, North Carolina 30

Shifflett: The Wolfpack bounced back nicely from their disappointing loss to Wake Forest with a resounding win over Syracuse. Now they get rival North Carolina on Black Friday under the lights in Raleigh. NC State still has a shot at an Atlantic Division title but needs to beat UNC to keep its hopes alive. The Wolfpack win a high-scoring thriller, then cross their fingers that BC can upset Wake.

THE PICK: North Carolina State 45, North Carolina 41.

Wake Forest at Boston College, Noon, Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Teel: Their undefeated season a distant memory, the Deacons now face true pressure: Win Saturday and they claim the outright Atlantic Division title and advance to the ACC championship game. Stumble again and they lose a division tiebreaker to N.C. State or Clemson. Wake has won three consecutive games at BC, and the Eagles fell at home last week to Florida State.

THE PICK: Wake Forest 38, Boston College 34

Barber: Wake Forest’s loss to North Carolina ended its slim College Football Playoff hopes. Its loss to Clemson ended its bid to be undefeated in league play. Still, Sam Hartman and the Demon Deacons can still cap the year with an impressive accomplishment if they win at Boston College on Saturday. A victory of the Eagles, and their offense that that has been rejuvenated by Phil Jurkovec, would give Wake the Atlantic Division title. Hartman outduels Jurkovec to make it happen.

THE PICK: Wake Forest 45, Boston College 31

McFarling: Don’t sleep on the Eagles, who are much better at home than they are on the road. They’ve covered in seven of their past 10 games at Alumni Stadium, and the underdog is 4-1 against the spread in the past five in this series. Wake (-5) wins a tight one.

THE PICK: Wake Forest 35, Boston College 31

Shifflett: Despite last weekend's humbling loss to Clemson, an Atlantic Division championship is still within Wake Forest's grasp. A win over the Eagles sends the Deacons to Charlotte for a matchup with Pitt in the ACC title game. With that kind of motivation and a mediocre opponent, I expect Sam Hartman and company get back on track in Chesnut Hill and punch their ticket to Charlotte.

THE PICK: Wake Forest 41, Boston College 28

Upset of the week

Teel: Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and Mississippi State’s Will Rogers combined to throw for 825 yards and five touchdowns without a pick in the Rebels’ Egg Bowl victory last season, and with both quarterbacks excelling again this year, expect similar pyrotechnics Thursday night in StarkVegas. Bulldogs coach Mike Leach and his counterpart, Lane Kiffin, could make it as stand-up comics if this football thing doesn’t work out, and with his team catching 1½ points, I’m riding the Lane Train.

THE PICK: Ole Miss 42, Mississippi State 40

Barber: I’m going back to the old alma mater well one more time, taking my school (Rutgers) to beat Aaron McFarling’s (Maryland) on Saturday in Piscataway. The Scarlet Knights’ defense has given up 52 points twice this season at home, but the Terrapins don’t have the same firepower as Ohio State or Wisconsin. Upstream, red team gets it done, in an ugly one.

THE PICK: Rutgers 24, Maryland 23

McFarling: Oregon is smarting after last weekend’s prime-time de-pantsing at the hands of Utah, and their in-state rivals are good enough to extend their misery. The Beavers (+7) have the nation’s sixth-ranked rushing attack, which should help shorten this game a bit. They’re also 10-1 against the spread in their past 11 as a road underdog. They’ve covered in six straight against teams with winning records and are 5-1-1 against the spread in their past seven meetings at Eugene.

THE PICK: Oregon State 30, Oregon 27

Shifflett: I've hit two upset picks in a row, so let's see if we can finish the regular season with a third. Kansas coach Lance Leipold has the Jayhawks playing well of late. Kansas picked up a road win over Texas and played TCU close this past weekend. They close out the regular season at home against a mediocre West Virginia team playing for bowl eligibility. The Jayhawks get to play the role of spoiler and end their season on a high note.

THE PICK: Kansas 34, West Virginia 31

mbarber@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber

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