The stage is now set for a massive weekend for the ACC -- and the possibilities aren't all positive.
That's because the stakes changed for the Clemson-NC State, Virginia Tech-Miami and the conference's College Football Playoff hopes after the No. 14 Wolfpack's 35-14 loss at No. 9 Notre Dame on Satuday.
NC State went into South Bend with an opportunity -- as the first of three straight ACC opponents for the Fighting Irish -- to ruin the one-loss team's playoff bid, and in the process strengthen the Wolfpack's own hopes.
Instead, the margin of error has shrunk. Not just for Dave Doeren's team, but for the entire conference.
Granted, Wake Forest -- 42-32 winners over Louisville to move to 5-3 -- can help matters by taking down Notre Dame on the road in Week 10. But the Irish will be heavy favorites before they finish their ACC run on Nov. 4 at Miami (and may well be favored there, too).
Without getting too convoluted, the first CFP rankings will be unveiled on Halloween night, and with the losses by No. 2 Penn State and No. 4 TCU, there's the real potential that both one-loss Clemson and unbeaten Miami will be in the top six or seven (along with Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Wisconsin and the Irish).
That paints this scenario going into Week 10: if the Tigers lose to the Wolfpack, the defending national champions would no longer be a factor having suffered a second loss. It would move NC State into the driver's seat to claim the Atlantic Division, but the finish line is likely the Orange Bowl, not the CFP.
Meanwhile, if the Hurricanes were to fall to the Hokies, Virginia Tech would vault into the Coastal Division lead as a one-loss team with a strength of schedule ranked 64th in the nation (it would still have Georgia Tech, Pitt and Virginia to play). In the hierarchy of the ACC's playoff contenders, the Hokies, whose best win is over No. 22 West Virginia, have the least-impressive resume to date.
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That could make for a difficult argument to get into the CFP with, especially if Virginia Tech won an ACC crown over a two-loss Atlantic rep (in this case, NC State).
It's clear that Notre Dame, with one loss to unbeaten Georgia, is in position for its first CFP berth, and the SEC and Big Ten champs are shoo-ins. The ACC's best bet -- if we're ranking them -- would be: 1. Miami staying unbeaten or winning the league with one loss; 1A. Clemson maintaining its one-loss status or; 3. Wake Forest knocking off the Irish.
If none of those things happen, it may need some help from the Big 12.
It's going to be difficult for the selection committee to potentially bring in two teams from the same conference (in we're talking Alabama/Georgia or Wisconsin suffering losses in Championship Weekend), with that infamous 13th data point (a conference title) added to the equation. The ACC's best chance there may be the Big 12 eating its own, the continuation of which we saw with the Horned Frogs falling to No. 25 Iowa State 14-7 on the road.
For now, none of that is on the wish list, with the ACC still very much in control of its own destiny in trying to maintain its streak of putting a team in the CFP.
But there's some irony in the weight Notre Dame carries in the league's season and vice versa. The Irish, of course, still aren't members, though they do face five ACC teams a year (three less than what the league's actual members play).
The ACC can still very much play the spoiler, and has two more chances to do so. But with NC State's loss, the conference just as much has to get out of its own way heading into the final month of the season as it does to roadblock the Irish.