10 things I'm absolutely overreacting to after Week 4 in the ACC
You want overreactions?
OK, you asked for it. I’ve got a good one for you.
The ACC is the best college football conference in the country through the first 4 weeks of the 2023 season.
But is that really an overreaction?
Lost in the hoopla over Florida State being “back” and the gloom and doom over Clemson’s demise is the fact that the ACC has built an impressive resume during the nonconference portion of its schedule.
The league is currently 26-10 against nonconference competition, with 8 of the wins coming at the expense of opponents from the SEC and Big Ten. The rest of the country is 9-32.
ACC teams have 4 wins each – and a winning record – against both the SEC and Big Ten. Take away the 4 losses suffered by bottom-feeders Virginia and Virginia Tech and the league is a combined 8-1 against teams from the so-called Big Two.
Maybe it’s time for the voters on the two major national polls to start “overreacting” and giving the league a little credit. No. 5 FSU is the only ACC ranked in the top 14 of this week’s AP Poll. And he Seminoles dropped 1 spot despite winning at a stadium where only 1 other team has come away victorious since 2016.
That’s just 1 of the 10 things I’m absolutely overreacting to after Week 4 in and around the ACC:
10. Tony Elliott is in over his head
Even with the transfer portal and NIL, the building process doesn’t happen overnight when you’re starting from rock bottom. At some point, though, there has to be some signs of progress.
So far, we’ve seen none from Elliott’s Virginia Cavaliers.
Granted there are extenuating circumstances. Elliott’s program was hit with an unthinkable jolt of adversity last November when 3 team members were shot to death.
That doesn’t excuse the kind of mistakes, bad decisions and lack of focus in key situations that have already cost UVa 2 potential victories this season. Friday’s loss to NC State was a glaring example of what’s wrong with the Cavaliers.
Beyond the poor 4th-and-short play calls and the decision to twice settle for field goals instead of playing for touchdowns, Elliott’s team contributed to its demise by committing 3 15-yard penalties in the final minute to turn a potential overtime game into a 24-21 regulation loss.
9. Wake Forest isn’t a bowl team
The Deacons lost Saturday, but they’re still 3-1 and in good shape.
Well, not exactly.
Considering their remaining schedule, that missed opportunity against Georgia Tech will likely come back to haunt them when their school-record 7-year bowl streak comes to an end. Even if quarterback Mitch Griffis finds a cure for the turnover epidemic that has infected him over the past few weeks, the margin for error is just too thin.
Beyond the games against Clemson, Florida State, Duke and Notre Dame in which it will be a heavy underdog, Dave Clawson’s team will have 4 realistic shots at getting the 3 more wins it needs to reach postseason eligibility – Pittsburgh and NC State at home, Virginia Tech and Syracuse on the road.
8. It’s about to get real
Syracuse finished its nonconference schedule with a perfect 4-0 record for the 1st time since it joined a conference in 1971. The Orange lead the ACC in scoring offense at 44.3 points per game and are 2nd in scoring defense at a stingy 10.8 per game.
Hopefully, Dino Babers, his players and Syracuse’s fans enjoyed the run while it’s lasted. Because starting next week, things are about to get real.
The Orange are facing a 3-game gauntlet that will determine exactly how good they are. It starts with a home date against Clemson, an angry team after Saturday’s overtime loss to Florida State that all but knocked it out of national championship contention.
They then begin October by playing 2 consecutive road games against undefeated ranked opponents – traveling to UNC in Week 6 before going to Tallahassee to challenge No. 4 Florida State in Week 7.
Quarterback Garrett Shrader has been a revelation with his dual-threat heroics over the past few weeks. But he’s not going to be facing Colgate, Western Michigan and Army anymore. Without his top weapon, injured tight end Oronde Gadsden II, he and his team will have their hands full from here on out.
7. The sensational ACC player you’ve never heard of
His name is Jawhar Jordan. He plays for Louisville. And if you’re not a fan of the Cardinals or are laser-focused on your favorite team, you’ve probably never heard of him.
But you should get to know him.
Because for all the attention the likes of Jordan Travis, Drake Maye and Tyler Van Dyke are getting,
Jordan might just be the most productive and most explosive offensive player in the ACC this season.
The 5-10, 185-pound junior leads the league in rushing. His 478 yards in 4 games is more than 100 better than the next best back, North Carolina’s Omarion Hampton. And he’s not doing it with 3 yards and a cloud of dust.
Jordan is averaging 9.6 yards per carry. He’s a human video game cheat code who already has 3 touchdown plays of 72 yards or more.
Though he probably won’t win it because of the star-power he’s up against, he should be the early front-runner for ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors.
6. Giving the Devils their due
The national narrative following Duke’s prime-time nationally televised 28-7 win against Clemson focused more on Dabo Swinney’s aversion to using the transfer portal than the fact that the veteran Blue Devils are a pretty darn good football team.
Sure they’re a nice story. And they’ve got a lot of returning players that won 9 games against a weak schedule a year ago. But they’ve been easy to dismiss because, as everybody knows, Duke is a basketball school.
The Blue Devils will start getting their share of the love as soon as the Crazies start filing into the bleachers at Cameron next month.
But, as Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend.
Mike Elko’s team is legit. Quarterback Riley Leonard has an NFL future, as do at least 2 of his offensive linemen. The defense is fast and physical, as you’d expect with a former defensive coordinator as head coach, and they’re among the most experienced teams in the nation.
At 4-0 with Notre Dame coming to town, it appears that the World Wide Leader has finally taken notice. After 12 visits during the basketball season and at the public urging of Corso, College GameDay will make it’s first football appearance in Durham next Saturday.
It’s about time.
5. The QB-coordinator reunion experiment isn’t working
In theory, the idea of reuniting a quarterback with his former offensive coordinator to rekindle past success makes a lot of sense. In practice, at least in the case of Brennan Armstrong and Robert Anae at NC State, and Phil Jurkovec and Frank Cignetti Jr. at Pittsburgh isn’t working out quite so well.
Armstrong hasn’t played terribly. He’s averaging 214 passing yards per game and leads the Wolfpack in rushing. Most important, his team is 3-1, with the only loss coming against Notre Dame.
No shame in that.
And yet, something is clearly off. Maybe it’s his young receivers. Maybe it’s an offensive line that isn’t giving him time to throw. Or maybe it’s Anae’s play-calling. Whatever it is, Armstrong looks more like the quarterback who threw for 2,210 yards and 7 touchdowns with 11 interceptions last year at Virginia than the one who led the ACC with 4,419 yards while throwing for 31 scores the last time he and Anae were together in 2021.
Then there’s Jurkovec.
He was supposed to be an upgrade to last season’s transfer bust Kedon Slovis. And he had the numbers to back it up when he’s been healthy, especially during his time together with Cignetti at Boston College.
But while Armstrong has been just OK at State, Jurkovec has been an abject failure in his return to his hometown. He ranks 14th in the ACC in quarterback efficiency at 113.5. He completed less than 40% of his passes over his past 2 complete games while failing to get Pitt into the end zone in an ugly loss to rival West Virginia.
Things went from bad to worse on Saturday when the already injury-prone Jurkovec left the Panthers’ 41-24 loss to North Carolina just before halftime.
4. Georgia Tech is a bowl team
Things can go 1 of 2 ways when an interim coach finishes a season well enough with a losing team that his administration rewards him with the full-time job.
Either they catch lightning in a bottle like Clemson did with Swinney. Or the situation only becomes worse and there’s and there’s another, full-scale coaching search, a year or 2 later.
Though it’s too early to tell which way Georgia Tech’s decision to give Brent Key a 5-year, $15 million contract will end, you have to like what you see from the former offensive line assistant.
His players like and respect him. They play fundamentally sound football. He’s deepened the talent pool considerably through the transfer portal. And the team is showing visible progress every game.
Last week it was former Texas A&M quarterback Haynes King and the offense that took a giant step forward in an encouraging loss at Ole Miss. Saturday, the defense took a quantum leap by forcing 5 turnovers and recording 8 sacks in a win at Wake Forest.
At 2-2 after 4 games, there’s still a lot of work to do and the schedule isn’t easy. But the Yellow Jackets have the look of a team that’s destined to win at least 6 and get to a bowl for the first time since Paul Johnson’s final season in 2018.
3. Dabo’s folly
It made for a cool story:
College football coach, desperate to solve his team’s place-kicking problems, reaches out to a former walk-on still taking graduate courses online while hanging out at the beach. He convinces the kid to hold off on taking that office job in New York next month and come back to campus to help out the old alma mater.
In Hollywood, Jonathan Weitz would have nailed the winning field goal in a game his team absolutely had to have to stay in contention for a conference championship and Playoff berth.
In real life, Weitz shanked the 30-yard attempt just left of the upright with just under 2 minutes remaining in a tie game, leaving the door open for Florida State to win in overtime, become the 1st ACC opponent since 2016 to win at Death Valley and all but end Clemson’s hopes of doing anything special this year.
Give the kid credit, though. He did amazingly well for having joined the team only a few days earlier and having never kicked a college field goal. He made a 30-yarder earlier in the game and was 3-for-3 on extra points.
But maybe Swinney should have spent the week working with struggling freshman kicker Robert Gunn III to improve his consistency or someone else already on his roster.
Or maybe, he should have Weitz try his potential game-winner in slow motion. Everyone knows that’s how they do it in Hollywood.
2. Start engraving the trophies
I know, I know. It’s still only September and way too many things can still happen, especially with the depth and talent around the ACC this year.
Florida State has already passed its 2 most difficult tests. It’s already learned a lesson about taking things for granted by nearly getting caught in a trap game at Boston College. And it’s hard not to listen to Mike Norvell and his players after Saturday’s win at Clemson and not realize that these guys are on a mission.
I was skeptical about the Seminoles before the season began. I guess I didn’t want to get caught up in all the runaway hype surrounding them. But I’m buying now. There’s too much talent on both sides of the ball for them not to go undefeated and earn a spot in the Playoff.
That would make Norvell a cinch to be the ACC’s Coach of the Year no matter what anyone else does, even Jeff Brohm and that soft schedule at Louisville.
So they might as well save some time and start engraving those trophies now.
1. The ACC is college football’s best conference right now
Say what you want about John Swofford and the media rights deal that is the root of the ACC’s current financial woes. Say what you want about the current league’s leadership and its lack of foresight during the current round of realignment craziness.
The ACC is clearly lagging behind both the SEC and Big Ten in both areas. And it’s caused a major perception problem for the league.
But when it comes to the quality of the product, no one in the country is playing better football this season.
Not only does the ACC have a legitimate national championship contender in Florida State, but it has 5 other undefeated teams, 3 of which – North Carolina, Miami and Duke – are severely underrated in the national polls.
And even though Clemson is mired at 2-2 and only marginally in contention for another league championship, the Tigers showed by taking the Seminoles to overtime on Saturday that they’re still improving and are capable of playing at an elite level.
Those 6 4-0 teams are the most of any conference in the FBS right now. That’s the same number as the Big Ten and SEC combined. Only the Pac-12, which isn’t even going to be a league this time next year, comes close with 5 members off to 4-0 starts.