Friedlander: What's at stake for the ACC in Week 3
Two weeks of the season are in the books and while it’s still early, enough football has been played to begin learning the true identities of each ACC team.
This week’s schedule will help bring many of those pictures into clearer focus.
Can Miami be a player on the national stage? Are Syracuse and Duke the real deal? Will Florida State be able to build on its win against LSU?
Those are only a few of the questions lingering over yet another important week for the ACC and its teams.
Let’s see if we can come up with some answers:
Contender or pretender?
The only game on this week’s schedule with an impact on the ACC standings is the Friday night battle between Florida State and Louisville.
But it’s an important one for both teams.
For the Seminoles, who are coming off an open date, it’s a chance to build on the momentum they started with their dramatic last-second win against LSU over Labor Day weekend. The stakes are even higher for the Cardinals in their home opener, who are already 0-1 in the league after a Week 1 drubbing at Syracuse.
Even though there’s a lot of football to be played, neither team can afford to take an ACC loss if they have any designs on being an Atlantic Division contender with games against front-runners Clemson, NC State and Wake Forest still on the horizon.
Pittsburgh had an opportunity to make a national splash with a high-profile matchup against Tennessee last week but couldn’t take advantage – losing a game in overtime that might have turned out differently had quarterback Kedon Slovis not gotten hurt just before halftime.
Now it’s Coastal Division rival Miami’s turn to try and take down an SEC opponent and thrust itself into the College Football Playoff conversation.
The Hurricanes’ showdown at Texas A&M has lost some of its luster after the Aggies laid an egg against Appalachian State last week. Just ask the folks at ESPN. Instead of coming to College Station for their College GameDay broadcast, they’ve decided to take the show on the road to Boone.
But this is still a huge game and opportunity for new coach Mario Cristobal and his team. A win would validate Miami’s status as the preseason Coastal favorite, continue its rise up the polls and catch plenty of national attention while adding to an encouraging start for its conference as a whole.
How good are they?
Syracuse and Duke have been the 2 biggest surprises of the ACC season thus far with the Orange getting off to a strong start in an effort to save coach Dino Babers’ job and the Blue Devils doing the same to help new coach Mike Elko build a foundation for his program.
The question now as we enter Week 3 is how long will these feel-good stories last?
We’ll get a better idea as it pertains to Syracuse on Saturday when it hosts Purdue at the Dome. The Boilermakers are a solid Big Ten team that will present a particular challenge to All-ACC running back Sean Tucker after holding their first 2 opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground. An Orange secondary that has been a defensive strength thus far will also be tested by a pass-happy Purdue offense led by quarterback Aidan O’Connell.
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, will take on an NC A&T team it beat 45-17 a year ago on the way to a dismal 3-9 season. So we’ll have to wait another week or two to get a better feel for if they’re really as good as they’ve looked during their unexpected 2-0 start.
Clemson and Wake Forest don’t figure to have too much trouble this week. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of their games against Louisiana Tech and Liberty, respectively.
The preseason Atlantic Division favorite and the defending division champion are on a collision course to meet next week in Winston-Salem, and Saturday’s matchups will be their final shot at ironing out some of the wrinkles that remain after 2 early season wins.
For the Tigers, that means showing more consistency on offense, especially in the running game – something they should be able to do against a Bulldogs defense that has struggled so far. For the Deacons, it’s another week for Sam Hartman to continue shaking off the rust of his preseason layoff and for a defense to continue gaining confidence after a strong effort last week at Vanderbilt.
Beware the trap
After shaking off its close call at East Carolina and looking more like the team it was hyped to be last week in its 55-3 rout of overmatched Charleston Southern, NC State will take a major step up in competition when it hosts Texas Tech on Saturday. night
It’s a good test for the Wolfpack against a team coming off an overtime upset of then-ranked Houston and with a sell-out crowd expected, the atmosphere at Carter-Finley Stadium should be electric.
But it’s also a dangerous game with an expected Atlantic Division clash at Clemson coming up in 2 weeks.
State is notorious for losing its focus and struggling in games like this and can’t afford to look past the Red Raiders.
Avoiding deja vu
At first glance, Western Michigan would seem to be the kind of opponent Pittsburgh needs to bounce back from its heartbreaking loss to Tennessee last week – especially if Slovis is still sidelined and his replacement Nick Patti is still hobbled.
But this matchup is no gimme.
Just last year, on the way to their first ACC championship, the Panthers were stunned at home by the high-scoring Broncos. With many of the key players that contributed to the victory back on both sides of the ball, coach Pat Narduzzi’s team figures to be in for another tough fight, this time on the road.
At least the Panthers know what they’re getting into. The same can be said for Virginia, which will be playing the same Old Dominion team that took down Virginia Tech just 2 weeks ago. The Monarchs’ win should be enough to catch the Cavaliers’ attention. Now can they prevent history from repeating itself by avoiding the same kind of self-destructive mistakes that cost the Hokies – and contributed greatly to their own defeat at Illinois a week ago?
After struggling to put FCS opponent Western Carolina away last week, there seems to be little hope for Georgia Tech to beat Ole Miss in Atlanta on Saturday. Their most attainable goal might be keeping the score respectable enough so that coach Geoff Collins doesn’t suffer the same fate as Nebraska’s Scott Frost and get fired on Sunday morning.
Boston College and Virginia Tech round out the week’s schedule against cupcakes that, at the very least, give them a chance to correct some of their early mistakes, build a little confidence and, most important, put a W on their record.
It’s especially vital for the Eagles, who are 0-2 heading into Saturday’s game against Maine with an offense that ranks dead last among FBS teams with an average of just 15.6 rushing yards per game.
The Hokies, who recorded their first win under new coach Brent Pry against BC last week, also have a lot to work on. They should have ample opportunities to do that against a Wofford team that has yet to score a point in 2022, losing its first 2 games against Chattanooga and Elon by a combined score of 57-0.