Friedlander: A preview and prediction for every ACC game in Week 5
The ACC released its 2023-24 basketball schedule earlier this week.
That’s usually a big deal at Duke. And it will be eventually. But for now, the Cameron Crazies have temporarily set their Final Four dreams aside and refocused their energy on becoming Wallace Wade Whackos.
They turned out in huge numbers to help pull their football team through in an opening game upset of Clemson. On Saturday, they and their Blue Devils will have an even bigger opportunity with Notre Dame and College GameDay in town.
Duke’s game against the Irish is by far the most significant matchup during a light week in which 4 ACC teams will be watching from the sideline. Those open dates ensure that at least 3 of the league’s 6 4-0 teams will remain unbeaten.
How many of the others will still be that way once the final game is played on Saturday?
Let’s assess their chances.
Louisville (-3.5) at NC State
Friday, 7 pm ET, ESPN
Weeknight games at Carter-Finley Stadium are always a happening and this one promises to be especially raucous. The Wolfpack don’t just need to bounce back from a lackluster ACC opener at Virginia last Friday. They need Brennan Armstrong and an offense that has been spotty at best through its first 4 games under new coordinator Robert Anae to start showing signs of progress.
Louisville, by contrast, is off and running 4 games into the Jeff Brohm era. The Cardinals are undefeated and already 2-0 in the conference.
Unlike State, their transfer quarterback Jack Plummer is putting up big numbers while leading a unit averaging 43 points per game. They also feature the ACC’s leading rusher, Jawhar Jordan, who has already racked up 478 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The Wolfpack’s defense, led by league-leading tackler Payton Wilson, is the most formidable unit Louisville has faced thus far.
But it’s still a matchup that plays into the Cardinals’ favor because of their ability to produce big plays and State’s penchant for allowing them. The Cardinals have had 22 plays of 20 yards or more this season (16 through the air, 6 on the ground) while the Wolfpack have allowed 14 such plays (12 passing, 2 rushing).
Prediction: Louisville 28, NC State 23
Clemson (-6.5) at Syracuse
Saturday, noon ET, ABC
The Tigers might be coming off their best effort of the young season. But at 0-2 in the ACC for the first time since 2010, they find themselves in desperation mode. They’ll likely need to win out for the remainder of the regular season to have any realistic shot at defending their conference title.
Clemson’s biggest problems this season have been of its own doing. Costly turnovers and a balky kicking game were directly responsible for both defeats. Last week’s overtime loss to Florida State was its first home setback against an ACC opponent since 2016.
Now Dabo Swinney’s team heads to a venue that hasn’t always been kind to them against a team that has given them trouble in recent years. Syracuse beat the Tigers in 2017 and only lost to them by 3 in Clemson’s most recent visit to the Dome in 2021.
This Orange team has the potential to be a handful, as well. They finished their nonconference schedule at 4-0 for the first time and feature an offense, led by dynamic dual-threat quarterback Garrett Shrader, that leads the ACC in scoring at 44.3 points per game.
If turnovers end up deciding this one, the advantage falls solidly in favor of Syracuse. The Orange already have 10 takeaways, including a pair of pick-6s, while Clemson has turned the ball over 7 times.
Prediction: Clemson 30, Syracuse 23
Virginia (+3.5) at Boston College
Saturday, 2 pm ET, The CW
Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. The CW network is learning that valuable lesson the hard way with this matchup between 2 of the ACC’s worst teams.
The Cavaliers and Eagles are a combined 1-7; BC beat noted FCS power Holy Cross. Virginia’s 0-4 start has been particularly frustrating. In addition to squandering a 2-score 4th-quarter lead against James Madison, it cost itself a chance at overtime against NC State last week by committing 3 major penalties in the final minute.
Cavaliers coach Tony Elliott has announced that starting quarterback Tony Muskett will be back in the lineup after missing the past 3 games with an injury. His team needs all the help it can get as the lowest-scoring team in the ACC for the 2nd straight year. BC isn’t much better, ranking 11th in scoring offense.
Does that mean this will be a low-scoring game?
Maybe. Maybe not. As ineffective as both teams have been on offense, they’ve been just as bad on defense, ranking 13th and 14 in scoring defense at more than 35 points per game allowed.
Prediction: Boston College 36, Virginia 31
Georgia Tech (-22) vs. Bowling Green
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, ACC Network
The Yellow Jackets have shown improvement in every game and are coming off a road victory at Wake Forest that greatly enhanced their bowl hopes. They return home this week looking to build on their momentum in a nonconference game against a Group of 5 opponent that is 1-3.
Tech’s most noticeable progress against the Deacons came on defense, where they recorded 8 sacks and forced 4 turnovers. Edge rusher Kyle Kennard did most of the damage in the Wake backfield with 4 of the sacks and a forced fumble while ACC co-Defensive Back of the Week Jaylon King intercepted a pair of passes.
Offensively, the Yellow Jackets have been solid, thanks to the passing of Texas A&M transfer Haynes King, who is tied for the ACC lead with 11 touchdown passes. That’s already a career high and it’s 1 more than he totaled in 3 years at Texas A&M.
While Tech appears to be heading in the right direction, Bowling Green lost its most recent outing 38-7 to Ohio University in a game that saw it lose 4 turnovers – including a pair of fumbles returned for touchdowns – and mustered only 211 yards of total offense.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 30, Bowling Green 10
Duke (+5) vs. Notre Dame
Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, ABC
The 17th-ranked Blue Devils have already proven their ability to tune out distractions and play big-boy football by taking down Clemson in Week 1. Now they’ll get a chance to add further proof that Duke is more than just a basketball school.
This time with the entire nation paying attention.
Not only is Notre Dame coming to town, so is ESPN’s College GameDay show making Wallace Wade Stadium the center of the college football university for at least this one Saturday. A victory could push Duke inside the top 15, a ranking they haven’t seen since 1971.
Although quarterbacks Riley Leonard and former Wake Forest star Sam Hartman have both enjoyed success throwing the ball during their careers and have the potential to put up big passing numbers, this matchup figures to be an old-school battle decided in the trenches and on the ground.
Duke is among the ACC leaders at 205 yards per game on the ground with a league-leading 15 rushing touchdowns. Notre Dame’s Audric Estime is the nation’s leading runner with 591 yards (albeit in 5 games) and an average of 7.7 yards per carry.
The 11th-ranked Irish have won 29 consecutive regular-season games against ACC opponents dating back to 2017. With Clemson sliding, Saturday’s game in Durham might be the league’s best chance at ending the drought this season.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Duke 23
Pittsburgh (-2) at Virginia Tech
Saturday, 8 pm ET, ACC Network
The Panthers have been the biggest disappointment in the league. They come to Blacksburg on a 3-game losing streak, having scored only 2 offensive touchdowns over their past 8 quarters with a mess of a quarterback situation to sort out.
As bad as starter Phil Jurkovec has been, his backup Christian Veilleux was even worse after being pressed into service in the 2nd half of last week’s 41-24 loss to North Carolina. With Jurkovec still questionable because of injury, coach Pat Narduzzi has indicated that 3rd-stringer Nate Yarnell might get the call.
Whoever plays, he’ll have to work behind a depleted offensive line that lost its best member – All-ACC tackle Matt Goncalves – to a season-ending injury.
If there’s any positive news for Pitt, it’s that Virginia Tech is also dealing with an injury epidemic that has ground its offense to a halt. Brent Pry’s team has lost 3 straight after opening the year with a win against Old Dominion.
The Hokies rank next-to-last in the ACC in scoring offense and scoring defense.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 19, Virginia Tech 16
Florida State, Miami, North Carolina and Wake Forest all have open dates.