Friedlander: A preview and prediction for every ACC game in Week 12
We can do this the easy way. Or it can get complicated.
It’s all up to Louisville.
With a win against Miami on Saturday, the Cardinals will clinch 2nd place behind Florida State and complete the matchup for the rapidly approaching ACC Championship Game. A loss, however, would keep North Carolina and Virginia Tech in contention and bring numerous tiebreaking possibilities into play.
Including one that involves the outcome of the matchup between Georgia Tech and Syracuse.
Here are the scenarios:
— BFriedACC (@BFriedACC) November 15, 2023
At least the Louisville-Miami game is at noon, so we won’t have to wait to find out what’s at stake. Or not at stake.
Even if the Cardinals clinch, there’s still plenty left on the table to decide.
Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Virginia Tech will all be playing for postseason eligibility. North Carolina will be playing to position itself for a New Year’s 6 bowl while Wake Forest will be playing against its record-setting former quarterback.
It all adds up to a meaningful week of ACC football.
With Boston College and Pittsburgh having already gotten it off to a Thursday night start, let’s jump right in with a preview and some fearless predictions.
Louisville (-1) at Miami
Saturday, noon ET, ABC
All eyes will be on the Cardinals, who came close to stumbling on the road to Charlotte last week against Virginia. It took a pair of 4th-quarter touchdowns to survive the upset bid and keep their title game hopes alive. The Hurricanes, by contrast, are coming off an encouraging performance in which they extended league-leading Florida State to the limit before falling just short.
The question is, how will both teams react?
Will the close call serve as a wakeup call for Louisville (9-1, 6-1 ACC) or will the pressure finally get to Jeff Brohm’s team. On the other side of the ball, will Miami (6-4, 2-4) have anything left in the emotional tank after such an inspired effort in a rivalry game?
Complicating matters is the fact that Tyler Van Dyke will once again start at quarterback for the Hurricanes after being benched against the Seminoles. His replacement, freshman Emory Williams, suffered a compound fracture of his left arm on the game’s final possession. Van Dyke has had trouble with turnovers. But perhaps the chance for redemption will help him regain the form that saw him throw for 11 touchdowns with only 1 pick while leading Miami to a 4-0 start.
Prediction: Miami 26, Louisville 24
Duke (-3.5) at Virginia
Saturday, 3 pm ET, The CW
Like Miami, the Blue Devils (6-4, 3-3) are coming off an emotional “what if” against a heated rival. The fact that there were several questionable calls that went against them late in their double overtime loss at North Carolina has only added to their frustration.
When it comes to adversity, though, no one has experienced more than Tony Elliott’s Cavaliers (2-8, 1-5). Not only did they lose for the 4th time by a touchdown or less this season last week at Louisville, but they lost running back Perris Jones to a scary injury that required him to undergo spinal surgery. All during the same week in which they remembered the 1-year anniversary of the shooting deaths of 3 teammates last November.
External factors aside, Saturday’s game features an intriguing matchup of freshman quarterbacks.
Virginia’s Anthony Colandrea won’t pose quite the challenge UNC’s Drake Maye did for Duke’s defense last week. But it will have its hands full trying to contain the ACC’s leading receiver, Malik Washington. The Blue Devils’ Grayson Loftis, meanwhile, appears to be gaining confidence as he approaches his 3rd start in place of injured starter Riley Leonard.
Prediction: Duke 34, Virginia 31
Wake Forest (+24.5) at Notre Dame
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, NBC
The much-anticipated Sam Hartman Bowl has lost a lot of its luster with the star quarterback’s former team having lost 6 of its past 7 and his current team having played its way out of New Year’s 6 contention with last week’s setback at Clemson.
Notre Dame (7-3) is banged up, especially on the offensive line and its receiving corps. Between that and a detailed scouting report on Hartman, who spent the past 5 seasons running Wake’s slow-mesh offense, could help the Deacons stay competitive with the Irish. But even that might not be enough to overcome the offensive woes that have plagued them throughout the season.
Wake’s pursuit of finding a replacement for Hartman will turn to Michael Kern, the 3rd different quarterback to start a game for Dave Clawson’s struggling team, which needs to win its final 2 games to extend its current streak of 7 consecutive bowl seasons.
Prediction: Notre Dame 42, Wake Forest 17
North Carolina (+6.5) at Clemson
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, ESPN
UNC’s Mack Brown said that Clemson is “playing like a Playoff team” in advance of Saturday’s matchup at Death Valley. That’s obviously a stretch. But coming off back-to-back impressive wins against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, the Tigers (6-4, 3-4) are playing their best football of the season heading into the rematch of last year’s ACC Championship Game.
Dabo Swinney’s team has been especially dominant on defense, forcing 7 turnovers in those wins against the Irish and Yellow Jackets. That, however, could be the least of the Tar Heels’ worries. While quarterback Cade Klubnik is still prone to making mistakes, Clemson’s running back tandem of Will Shipley and Phil Mafah has been in high gear. That doesn’t bode well for a UNC defense that has been torched for an average of 251 rushing yards in their 3 most recent games against FBS opponents.
The Tar Heels (7-2, 4-2) also have a stout ground attack, led by the ACC’s leading rusher Omarion Hampton. And that’s in addition to the league’s most prolific passer in Drake Maye. Regardless of the stakes, it’s going to take a lot of points to win this game.
Preview: Clemson 42, UNC 40
NC State (+3) at Virginia Tech
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, ACC Network
The Hokies (5-5, 4-2) snapped Boston College’s 5-game winning streak last week with an impressive performance that saw them roll up 600 total yards, including 363 on the ground. Now they face a retooled Wolfpack team that has won 3 straight on the strength of a stifling defense, led by Payton Wilson, a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defender.
Tech’s defense is also playing well, especially when it comes to rushing the passer. Its 31 sacks rank 2nd in the ACC, with Florida transfer Antwaun Powell-Ryland leading the way with 9 and a league-leading 3 forced fumbles.
With Brennan Armstrong having regained the starting quarterback job after MJ Morris’ decision to preserve his redshirt, State has the potential to offset the Hokies’ pressure because of the graduate transfer’s running ability and knack for improvisation. Armstrong should also be familiar with Tech and playing in Blacksburg, having spent his first 5 college seasons playing for rival Virginia.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, NC State 21
North Alabama (no line) at Florida State
Saturday, 6:30 pm ET, The CW
The Seminoles (10-0) could conceivably play Alabama if they make it to the Playoff. Saturday’s opponent, however, isn’t the Crimson Tide.
Far from it.
North Alabama is an FCS program whose 3-7 record includes losses to Tarleton State, UT Martin and Austin Peay.
With their strength of schedule destined to take a hit, it’s incumbent upon Mike Norvell and his team to put up as big a number as possible on the overmatched Lions to protect their No. 4 Playoff ranking. And doing it as quickly and efficiently as possible to get Jordan Travis and his fellow starters off the field in one piece in anticipation of next week’s regular season-ending rivalry showdown in Gainesville against Florida.
Prediction: Florida State 56, North Alabama 7
Syracuse (+6.5) at Georgia Tech
Saturday, 8 pm ET, ACC Network
In addition to its potential impact on the conference championship game race, the outcome of this game will secure bowl eligibility for either the Yellow Jackets or the Orange. While Syracuse (5-5, 1-5) will have another realistic shot at getting win No. 6 next week against struggling Wake Forest, this is likely Tech’s last shot, with a matchup against 2-time defending national champion and top-ranked Georgia looming in its regular-season finale.
Home field won’t be the only advantage for the Yellow Jackets (5-5, 4-3). In Syracuse, they’ll be facing an opponent whose crippled offense is almost completely devoid of a passing game. With quarterback Garrett Shrader limited by an injury and converted tight end Dan Villari taking most of the snaps in a Wildcat set, the Orange threw the ball only 8 times in last week’s win against Pittsburgh at Yankee Stadium.
Tech will rely much more heavily on the passing of its quarterback Haynes King, who leads the ACC in touchdowns with 24. He also leads the league with 14 interceptions, which could lead to trouble against a Syracuse defense that forced 4 turnovers a week ago.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 32, Syracuse 20