Georgia Tech’s stunner over Florida State could leave ACC as one-horse race

The Atlantic Coast Conference leads the FBS with five one-loss teams, but Georgia Tech’s stunning finish in Atlanta simultaneously captured national attention and damaged the league’s College Football Playoff chances. The ACC looks like a one-horse race — barring late-season chaos, undefeated Clemson might be the league’s last-remaining national title hope.

Georgia Tech ended Florida State’s undefeated season and handed the Seminoles their first conference loss in 29 games on a play reminiscent of the Alabama-Auburn "Kick Six" — or even Michigan State’s wild victory over Michigan just last weekend, a special teams gut-punch for the ages — by blocking All-American kicker Roberto Aguayo’s game-winning attempt and returning it 78 yards to the end zone as time expired. Georgia Tech had knocked out the conference bully, 22-16.

Bobby Dodd Stadium ascended into pandemonium. Paul Johnson let loose. Fans rushed the field.

"It was our time," Johnson said, walking off the field.

Just where Georgia Tech’s bedlam leaves the conference at large will be decided in the coming weeks, but, for now, it’s looking like the sixth-ranked Clemson Tigers are the only practical choice.

Florida State has now played close games with Boston College, Wake Forest and Miami and lost to a 2-5 team in memorable fashion.

No. 25 Pittsburgh has only lost to undefeated Iowa by an improbable field goal, but there’s not a single signature win on the resume and the next three weeks offer a relative gauntlet of one-loss teams. At No. 23 overall, Duke survived four overtimes against Virginia Tech to stay at the forefront of the Coastal race, but the Blue Devils’ loss to Northwestern no longer carries much weight on the national level. Then there’s one-loss North Carolina, which is riding a six-game winning streak against a weak schedule and will continue to be haunted by disappointing red-zone miscues in the season opener against South Carolina.

If there’s a College Football Playoff contender to be found amongst that group, it’s through an extremely optimistic lens.

Florida State might still be the best bet after Clemson, as Jimbo Fisher’s group still has statement-type opportunities left on the regular-season schedule: The FSU-Clemson clash on Nov. 7 still looms large, while the Seminoles have their annual rivalry game against No. 13 Florida at season’s end.

The good news for the ACC? Clemson is looking more and more like an absolute juggernaut.

The Tigers visited a Miami team that gave Florida State all it could handle three weeks ago and handed the Hurricanes their worst loss in program history on Saturday, a methodical 58-0 beatdown that showcased Clemson’s strengths on both sides of the ball. Based on resume alone, Dabo Swinney’s team is a frontrunner for the nation’s No. 1 spot — and now that the Tigers have taken care of business against unranked opponents for four straight seasons it looks like the ACC is in, at the very least, decent hands.

As it stands, Florida State beating Clemson in Death Valley would be the ACC’s ultimate gamble with widespread national chaos. The ACC now needs Clemson to uphold its lofty standards more than ever.

Georgia Tech’s last-minute stunner offered one of the season’s brightest highlights, a down-on-its-luck program seizing a moment and ending a reign of dominance. That’s where the storybook narrative ended for the conference.