ACC Weekend Primer
By Brandon Rink
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Florida State and Clemson face off Saturday, in what will be the national game of the week.
The ninth-ever matchup of top-10 ACC teams highlights week four of ACC play.
In a bellwether game not only for the Atlantic Division, but the entire ACC, No. 4 Florida State hosts No. 9 Clemson in primetime on Bobby Bowden field.
The rest of the conference slate this week?
Miami hits the ATL against a rolling Georgia Tech offense. Maryland and Virginia travel to ranked Big 12 opponents: the Terps going over the border to No. 7 West Virginia, while the Cavaliers take a trip to No. 17 TCU.
Virginia Tech, UNC and Wake Forest look to bounce-back from tough losses last week, as favorites against Bowling Green, ECU and Army, respectively.
In the take-a-win-and-advance-to-next-week category, Duke hosts Memphis and The Citadel heads to NC State.
Counting it down.
9) The Citadel at NC State, 6 p.m. ET
Last week, NC State cruised against new FBS-mate South Alabama, shutting the Jaguars out 31-0 through three quarters en route to the 31-7 victory. This week, The Citadel of the SoCon is on the docket, coming in 3-0 after downing Georgia Southern (23-21) and Appalachian State (52-28) to start the season. They match up a third-ranked rushing attack, led by junior quarterback Ben Dupree (averaging 116 rushing yards per game), against a Wolfpack defense allowing 92.3 yards per game (18th in the nation). What also helps the upset-minded Bulldogs is matching up their defensive strength thus far (sixth in pass defense) versus NC State’s offensive strength (249.67 passing yards per game). NC State most likely has no trouble, but this Citadel team did hang around for a half at South Carolina last year, trailing 20-13 before falling, 41-20.
Pick: NC State 45-21
8) Memphis at Duke, 6 p.m. ET
Memphis, over the last three seasons, has been as close to an FCS team on the wrong level as it comes. They have three FBS wins in their last 32 tries stretching back to 2009, and opened their 2012 campaign by dropping a 20-17 decision to Tennessee-Martin (it’s a real school – I looked it up). The Tigers finished 95th or worse in total defense in the last three seasons, and are 108th so far this time around. On the other hand, the host Blue Devils look to hit their second-straight season starting 3-1, boasting the 16th-best pass attack in the nation (314.7 yards per game).
Pick: Duke 45-21
7) Bowling Green at Virginia Tech
Fresh off the reality-check 35-17 thrashing at Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech gets some MAC action (MACtion as it were) against Bowling Green. The Falcons hung around in The Swamp to start the season, trailing 17-14 in the fourth quarter, before the Gators pulled away to a 27-14 win.
Forgettable wouldn’t even begin to describe the beatdown future-ACC member Pitt handed the Hokies last week, and Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas needs a solid bounce-back more than anybody. He completed 45.2 percent of his passes with three interceptions, 265 passing yards and a lone touchdown. Stretching back to the ACC Championship Game/Sugar Bowl 2011 season finish, the junior has completed 63.4 of attempts with six touchdown passes and six interceptions. His running impact has been limited as well, rushing for two scores and averaging 21.8 yards per game in that same span.
But it’s not FSU or Clemson or Virginia on the schedule yet. Thomas and the Hokies should right the ship facing a Bowling Green squad ranked 112th nationally in scoring offense.
Pick: Virginia Tech 34-13
6) East Carolina at UNC, 3:30 p.m. ET
We’re in a stretch of five games in the countdown where teams are looking for a little redemption. UNC was just a ball off the fingertips of a receiver in the end zone away from an amazing comeback at Louisville last week, charging back from down 36-7 at the half to the 39-34 loss.
So at 1-2, the Tar Heels look to show they’re better than the record indicates against in-state ECU. The Pirates came out of Hattiesburg, MS with a road victory over Southern Miss, 24-14 last week. The Mike Leach-esque Air-Raid attack actually rushed more than it passed for the third time in three seasons under Ruffin McNeill, with a measly 6.3 yards per pass average.
For a third-straight-week, we’re on Gio Bernard watch, thanks to the ever-so-light-on-details Larry Fedora injury report. Regardless, backups A.J. Blue (188 yards, three TDs) and Romar Morris (142 yards, one TD) have stepped in nicely, and will keep this one from being anything particularly interesting Saturday.
Pick: UNC 45-21
5) Maryland at No. 7 West Virginia, Noon ET
I’m trying to write something positive here – a middling at best Maryland (2-1), with a 119th-ranked offense (258.3 yards per game), matching up against the No. 2 passing (386 yards per), No. 3 total (612 yards per) and No. 4 scoring (55.5 points per) offense of the West Virginia Mountaineers (2-0), who did alright in their last game with an ACC team.
Well, that bye the Terps have scheduled for next week comes at a good time.
Pick: West Virginia 52-17
4) Army at Wake Forest, 12:30 p.m. ET
Nothing, and I mean nothing, went well for Wake Forest in Tallahassee last week.
13 punts. 1-for-16 on third downs. Three scores of 60+ yards allowed. And so on.
But the Deacs must shake the cobwebs quickly facing Army’s No. 2 ranked rushing offense (384 yards per game). The Black Knights stand at 0-2, though, surrendering 41.5 points per game and ranking 120th in pass efficiency defense (194.4). Down All-ACC candidate defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock again, it will be a tall task again for Wake Forest defensively, but if Tanner Price and the offense mentally bounce-back from last week, it’s a Deacs win.
Pick: Wake Forest 34-24
3) Virginia at No. 16 TCU, Noon ET
Close-to-nothing, and I mean close-to-nothing, went well for Virginia in Atlanta last week (461 rushing yards given up; down 35-7 at the half in a 56-20 loss).
And the road is no easier this week, traveling to the other new Big 12-member – a TCU program that is 49-5 over the last four seasons under Gary Patterson.
While the ‘Hoos have struggled with a challenging slate, TCU eased to a 2-0 start, blowing out Grambling State 56-0 (0-3 on the season) and dominating Kansas in the second half of a 20-6 win (1-2 on the season).
The Horned Frogs rank seventh nationally in total defense and 24th in total offense, compared to paltry Virginia numbers, 70th and 79th, respectively.
It’s a game that may be more interesting in watching how Mike London divides snaps between incumbent junior quarterback Michael Rocco (15-for-25 with 143 passing yards and two interceptions against GT) and sophomore Phillip Sims (6-of-8 with 56 yards and two touchdowns against GT). The Cavaliers have only one more out-of-conference game to sort out the QB competition before it’s all ACC play until the holidays.
Pick: TCU 34-17
2) Miami (1-0 ACC) at Georgia Tech (1-1 ACC), 3 p.m. ET
Starting 2-0 in the ACC, with both games on the road, is a challenge. Starting 2-0 in the ACC, both on the road and accomplishing it at Georgia Tech? Even harder.
Just ask Virginia (I think Georgia Tech just scored again).
The Hurricanes caught the Jackets in a tailspin last season, coming off their first defeat of the season at Virginia the week prior (24-21), and held Tech, in a 24-7 win, to its lowest rushing total since the 2009 Orange Bowl loss to Iowa: 134 yards.
But a young and injury-plagued Miami defense will struggle to repeat that performance Saturday afternoon, just two weeks separated from a crushing 52-13 loss at Kansas State, where they surrendered 288 rushing yards.
The week before, the ‘Canes surrendered 441 passing yards to Chase Rettig and BC, completing the circle to a triple-digit ranking in total defense through three weeks.
And the news isn’t any better for Miami on the other side of the ball, with Georgia Tech impressing early defensively – top-35 in rushing (113 yards per game) and passing (288.7 yards per game) to a top-20 total defensive rank nationally.
They do have Duke Johnson, though, a star freshman who’s emerged as an early ACC Rookie of the Year candidate, with six total touchdowns via rush, reception and kick return.
Johnson needs touches early and often for the Hurricanes to have a chance, especially with junior quarterback Stephen Morris not overly-impressive early (63.2 completion percentage for 211 yards per game with two touchdowns and interceptions each).
Pick: Georgia Tech 35-20
1) No. 9 Clemson (0-0 ACC) at No. 4 Florida State (1-0 ACC), 8 p.m. ET
Check out the Clemson-FSU breakdown I did Thursday, with stats to watch and assessing the unit v. unit edges.
I picked the ‘Noles – and make no mistake – it’s a must-win if they’re ending up in Charlotte come December. And if they do indeed get by Clemson, crank up the hype machine – we could see the first true national title contender for the ACC in a long time.
FSU has been dominant to start the season. It’s not just the competition either; They have the chance to be elite.
They toyed with Wake Forest last week, rarely blitzing (yet racking up 11 tackles for loss) and not doing anything exactly exotic offensively. Just a thorough beatdown, a la what a top-five SEC team might deliver to a team.
But Saturday night is the test. If they’re back, this is the kind of game you win, with the crowd behind you, and talent all over the field at your disposal.
Clemson can be a really good team when the offense is clicking, but FSU shouldn’t lose Saturday night…and Vegas has certainly tossed in its vote of confidence with a hefty spread.
For the Tigers, the keys to a mega-road win are much like the 2010 installment (a 16-13 loss): limit Seminole big plays (only five explosive plays before the game-winning drive), a balanced offense (Jamie Harper with 143 rushing yards and a touchdown – DeAndre Hopkins with eight catches for 106 yards) and not losing the turnover battle (two each) in a raucous environment. Dabo Swinney relishes the underdog role and knows how to motivate a team.
Add Sammy Watkins to the mix, and it makes the game that much more fun.
ACC football gets its stage on Saturday night, and I think they’ll put on quite the show.
Pick: FSU 38-27