Friedlander: A preview and prediction for every ACC game in Week 7
Week 7 isn’t just the midway point of the college football season. It also marks the first time in 2023 that the ACC schedule consists entirely of conference games.
With 4 teams still undefeated in the league and all 4 ranked among the nation’s Top 25, the race for the 2 spots in the conference championship game is wide open.
And it’s only just beginning.
So let’s dive right in and break down this week’s matchups.
Syracuse (+17.5) at Florida State
Saturday, noon ET, ABC
Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion states that for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.
The Orange are living proof that it’s true.
While Louisville got the luck of the scheduling draw when it somehow managed to avoid playing any of the top 3 teams in the ACC’s preseason poll, Syracuse got the short end of the stick by having to face all 3.
In consecutive weeks.
After starting conference play with losses to Clemson and North Carolina, Dino Babers’ team now gets to travel to Tallahassee to take on No. 4 Florida State. If there’s anything the Orange have going for them it’s that the Seminoles have had trouble defending mobile quarterbacks. And Garrett Shrader is the best one they’ll face.
On the flip side, they’ll have to find a way to defend a quarterback and offense every bit as good, if not better than the UNC unit that lit them up for 644 yards and 40 points last week. Especially not that All-ACC running back Trey Benson appears to be regaining his form.
Prediction: Florida State 42, Syracuse 20
Wake Forest (+1.5) at Virginia Tech
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, ACC Network
The Deacons (3-2, 0-2 ACC) are the only FBS team to average at least 30 points per season every year since 2017. But points haven’t come as easy this season. They’ve combined for only 3 touchdowns in their past 2 games, losses to Georgia Tech and Clemson.
With quarterback Mitch Griffis struggling with his consistency and an offensive line that has already allowed 22 sacks, Wake has had to rely on a defense coach Dave Clawson described as “playing at a really high level.”
The Hokies (2-4, 1-1) have raised the level of their game over the past weeks, a surge that can be directly traced to an injury epidemic. Though not in a negative way. Tech’s offense has shown much more promise since dual-threat transfer Kyron Drones began filling in for injured starter Grant Wells.
It’s homecoming in Blacksburg and both teams need the win to maintain realistic hopes of gaining bowl eligibility.
Prediction: Wake Forest 24, Virginia Tech 23
Louisville (-7.5) at Pittsburgh
Saturday, 6:30 pm ET, The CW
The Cardinals have proven they know how to play as an underdog. Now, after an emotional upset of Notre Dame that has raised their record to 6-0 and their national ranking to No. 14, Jeff Brohm’s team will get to find out if it can handle being a favorite.
The key to Louisville’s success has been its balance. Balance between the run and the pass thanks to explosive playmakers Jawhar Jordan – the ACC’s leading rusher – and big-play receiver Jamari Thrash. And balance between offense and a defense that recorded 5 takeaways and 4 sacks against the Irish last week.
In contrast to the surprising Cardinals, the Panthers (1-4, 0-2) have been by far the league’s biggest disappointment so far. The problem hasn’t been with their traditionally stout defense. They’re actually ranked higher than Louisville in total defense, allowing an average of only 301.6 yards per game.
When it comes to offense, however, the teams aren’t even in the same zip code.
Things have gotten so bad for Pitt that coach Pat Narduzzi benched transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec during last week’s open date in favor of Christian Veilleux in an effort to “create a spark.” If that doesn’t work, there’s always the possibility of the Cardinals suffering from a post-Notre Dame hangover.
Prediction: Louisville 34, Pittsburgh 17
Miami (+3.5) at North Carolina
Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, ABC
This was shaping up as an epic battle of undefeated, ranked teams that could potentially decide the team that faces Florida State for the ACC championship. Then the Hurricanes (4-1, 0-1) laid an egg against Georgia Tech in a game they still would have won if not for coach Mario Cristobal’s epic brain freeze in the final minute.
Miami is still ranked, sneaking in at No. 25. But can it bounce back?
Will the Hurricanes become energized and return to the form that helped them to a convincing win against Texas A&M earlier in the season. Or will the soul-crushing manner in which they lost last week continue to haunt them?
Playing on the road against a North Carolina team coming off its best effort of the season might not be the best way to find out.
The 12th-ranked Tar Heels are 5-0 (2-0) and on the rise. Quarterback Drake Maye now has his entire complement of receivers now that Tez Walker is back in action. And their vastly improved defense held Syracuse to just a single touchdown in last week’s 40-7 win.
Prediction: North Carolina 37, Miami 28
NC State (+3.5) at Duke
Saturday, 8 pm ET, ACC Network
Riley Leonard has had a week off to recuperate from the leg injury he suffered on the final play of a loss to Notre Dame 2 weeks ago. He’s listed as day-to-day, according to coach Mike Elko, and will likely be a game-time decision. If he can’t go, backup Henry Belin IV will get his 1st career start.
Even if Leonard is healthy enough to play, his potential mobility issues could limit his ability to run, taking away a major weapon away from the Blue Devils’ offense. Even under the best of circumstances, Duke will have its hands full against linebacker Payton Wilson and an NC State defense that leads the ACC with 21 sacks and forced 11 turnovers.
The Wolfpack’s offense, meanwhile, has finally begun to show signs of life now that MJ Morris has replaced struggling Brennan Armstrong at quarterback. The sophomore threw 4 touchdown passes in last week’s win against Marshall. But he was also intercepted 3 times.
Despite the proximity between the Triangle rivals, Saturday’s game will be only their 2nd meeting in the past decade and the 1st at Wallace Wade Stadium since 2013.
Prediction: Duke 27, NC State 20