Friedlander: First impressions of every Week 5 ACC game
The ACC schedule begins in earnest this week with all but one game matching conference opponents against each other.
There are some interesting and meaningful matchups. But only one of them really matters.
NC State’s primetime visit to Clemson won’t determine the winner of the Atlantic Division or the ACC championship. But it will go a long way toward defining the direction of the title races.
And it will help one of the teams exorcize some ghosts.
For the Tigers, the showdown is an opportunity to avenge a painful double-overtime loss in Raleigh last season. For the Wolfpack, it’s a chance at snapping an 8-game losing streak at Death Valley dating to 2002 and staying on track to end an even longer drought since its last ACC championship in 1979.
It promises to be must-see TV. And it’s not the only game worth watching.
So let’s take a closer look.
Louisville at Boston College
When – Saturday, Noon ET
TV – ACC Network
The ACC’s two biggest early season disappointments meet in a battle to stay out of the Atlantic Division cellar. The teams are a combined 0-4 in the conference with their most difficult tests still to come.
It’s especially important for the Cardinals, who need all the wins they can muster now before facing a brutal closing stretch that has them playing 5 teams currently ranked in the national polls over the final 6 weeks.
At least coach Scott Satterfield’s team has shown some signs of life thanks to the individual efforts of quarterback Malik Cunningham. The senior quarterback has put together three straight 100-yard rushing efforts and has accounted for the bulk of his team’s offensive production. But he finally got some help on both sides of the ball in Saturday’s 41-3 rout of South Florida that improved Louisville to 2-2 overall (0-2 ACC).
BC’s season, meanwhile, has gone completely off the rails since squandering a late lead in a season-opening loss to Rutgers. The Eagles (1-3, 0-2) have had trouble blocking and running the ball from the start. Saturday, their defense also imploded in a 44-14 thrashing at the hands of Florida State. Their only win to date came against FCS opponent Maine.
Wake Forest at Florida State
When – Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
TV – ABC
The defending Atlantic champion Deacons (3-1, 0-1) won’t have much time to get over the disappointment of their double overtime near-miss against Clemson. They’ll face a tough test against the resurgent Seminoles 4-0, 2-0) in a game that could have as much impact on the division standings and national rankings as the one at Death Valley between the two frontrunners later in the day.
Wake ranks 3rd in the ACC in scoring at 42.8 points per game behind quarterback Sam Hartman and his army of talented receivers while Jordan Travis and a trio of explosive running backs have FSU right behind in 4th at 37.5. So it’s a safe bet that this will be a high-scoring affair.
The Seminoles would figure to have an edge because of their defense, which is allowing only 18 points per game. But then, Clemson’s defense was just as highly regarded before Hartman carved it up for 6 touchdown passes on Saturday.
Wake has won the past 2 meetings with FSU. Both of those games, however, were in Winston-Salem. The Deacons haven’t beaten the Seminoles in Tallahassee since 2008.
Virginia Tech at North Carolina
When – 3:30 p.m. ET
TV – ACC Network
A trip to Chapel Hill against North Carolina’s defenseless defense could be the salve the Hokies need to cure an ailing offense that ranks 12th in the ACC at just 330 yards and 20 points per game. The Tar Heels (3-1, 0-0) are averaging 39 points allowed and are coming off a loss in which they surrendered 45 to a previously challenged Notre Dame offense.
The big question is whether quarterback Grant Wells and a unit that has had trouble running the ball can put up a big enough number to outscore UNC.
Tech (2-2, 1-0) is currently ranked No. 2 in the ACC in scoring defense at 17.5 points per game. But it hasn’t faced an attack as prolific as the one triggered by Tar Heels freshman Drake Maye, especially now that star receiver Josh Downs has returned to the lineup from an injury.
Wagner at Syracuse
When – 5 p.m. ET
TV – ACC Network Extra
At 4-0, the Orange should have little trouble extending their best start since 2018 and moving one step closer to bowl eligibility against a winless Seahawks team that got lit up for 66 points by Rutgers, while also getting beat by Fordham and St. Francis.
While the outcome shouldn’t be in doubt, it’s important for coach Dino Babers’ team to clean up some of the issues that have cropped up over the past couple of weeks – specifically turnovers on offense and preventing catastrophic big plays on defense. It would also help to get star running back Sean Tucker back into a groove after averaging less than 3 yards per carry in close wins against Purdue and Virginia.
NC State at Clemson
When – 7:30 p.m. ET
TV – ABC
As if the anticipation for this matchup wasn’t already high, the stakes have been raised now that the Wolfpack has cracked the top 10. The winner won’t just be in the driver’s seat for the Atlantic Division title and a spot in the ACC Championship Game. It will also become the ACC’s last best hope of getting a team into the College Football Playoff.
And oh yeah, ESPN’s College GameDay will also be there.
Both teams come into the game with momentum after answering major questions that lingered about them prior to their games on Saturday.
The Tigers (4-0, 2-0) showed that DJ Uiagalelei and their offense have improved to the point that they’re capable of carrying the team if necessary, as they did in ringing up 51 points in their double-overtime win at Wake Forest.
State (4-0, 0-0) wasn’t tested nearly as much in a 41-10 rout of UConn. But after 3 uninspiring performances to start the season – at least offensively – Devin Leary finally began to find his rhythm and look more like the quarterback that was hyped as the ACC’s preseason Player of the Year.
He’ll have an opportunity to enhance his stature against a banged up Clemson secondary that was consistently burned deep by Wake’s Sam Hartman last week. The outcome of this one could ultimately come down to the amount of help the Tigers’ defensive line can give their beleaguered teammates on the back end by putting more pressure on Leary than they did Hartman.
Virginia at Duke
When – 7:30 p.m. ET
TV – RSN
The Blue Devils (3-1, 0-0) got a reality check Saturday when Kansas handed them their first loss of the Mike Elko era. But with the struggling Cavaliers coming to Durham for Elko’s ACC debut, the opportunity is there for a quick bounce back.
It’s not as if Duke played poorly against the undefeated Jayhawks. The Blue Devils rolled up 463 yards of offense and showed some resilience by continuing to battle after falling behind early in the third quarter.
Virginia (2-2, 0-1) also displayed some toughness in battling back from an awful start at Syracuse on Friday. But coach Tony Elliott’s team still hasn’t found any answers for a sputtering offense that ranks next-to-last in the ACC at just 18 points per game.
While turnovers are a key factor in every game, they could be even more of a tipping point in this matchup. UVA ranks first nationally with 7 recovered fumbles. Duke is second with 6.
Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh
When – 8 p.m. ET
TV – ACC Network
This one has mismatch written all over it, despite the Panthers’ shaky defensive performance in Saturday’s walkover against Rhode Island.
Pitt (3-1, 0-0) got starting quarterback Kedon Slovis back against the Rams to augment a strong ground attack anchored by Israel Abanikanda, the ACC’s leading rusher. The defending ACC champs can also count on getting some help from the self-destructive Yellow Jackets, who have already had 4 punts blocked this season.
It seems likely that Tech (1-3, 0-1) can pull off the upset and take some of the considerable heat off coach Geoff Collins. Then again, the last time the Yellow Jackets played a ranked opponent in an ACC Network primetime game, they stunned then-No 21 UNC 45-22 last season.
Open date – Miami