Friedlander: What's at stake for the ACC in Week 4
The first 3 weeks of the season were fun, with plenty of entertaining matchups, meaningful games and some badly needed success for the ACC.
But now it gets real.
The race for the Atlantic Division and possibly the overall ACC title kicks into high gear on Saturday when preseason favorite Clemson travels to Winston-Salem to take on defending division champion Wake Forest.
It’s 1 of 3 conference matchups that, along with a heated neighboring rivalry and a Notre Dame visit to Chapel Hill, highlight an entertaining Week 4 schedule among ACC teams.
Here’s a peek at what’s at stake for them all:
Battle of the Atlantic
The division won’t be won or lost at Truist Field on Saturday. But the winner will certainly have a leg up on the competition moving forward in what is shaping up to be a 4- or perhaps even 5-team competition for the division title.
It’s especially big for the Deacons, who haven’t beaten the Tigers since Dabo Swinney became their coach 14 years ago and have been outscored by a combined 200-46 margin over the past 4 meetings.
Clemson is already 1-0 in the conference thanks to an opening night rout of Coastal Division doormat Georgia Tech. While it’s still early, it can put itself in prime position to regain its traditional spot atop the Atlantic standings with wins against the Deacons and NC State at home next week.
A tale of two quarterbacks
It has yet to be announced whether Florida State and Pittsburgh will have their starting quarterbacks available when they take on Boston College and Rhode Island, respectively, this weekend. Considering that the Seminoles are playing an ACC opponent while the Panthers are facing an FCS opponent, the availability of Jordan Travis is a much bigger concern than that of Kendon Slovis.
Travis, who suffered a knee injury in last week’s win at Louisville, has apparently returned to practice. How much he’s been able to participate and how prepared he will be to return is yet to be seen.
Although Travis’ replacement Tate Rodemaker performed well off the bench in leading FSU from behind for the victory that improved their record to 3-0, starting is a different proposition – especially when the opposition has the ability to scout and prepare for you.
Pitt backup Nate Yarnell also distinguished himself last week in a relief role. Thrust into his first career start after both Slovis and second-stringer Nick Patti were hurt in an overtime loss to Tennessee 2 weeks ago, the freshman went 9 of 12 for 179 yards and a touchdown in Pitt’s win at Western Michigan. He should be able to handle the Rams as well, should coach Pat Narduzzi decide to give Slovis another week to recover before next week’s ACC opener against Georgia Tech.
Who would have thought a football game between Duke and Kansas in Week 4 of the season would hold any interest at all?
But here we are.
The Blue Devils and Jayhawks have a lot in common, other than being known primarily as basketball schools. They’re both traditional football bottom feeders in their conferences, but both are rebuilding under energetic new coaches and are off to promising 3-0 starts.
Kansas figures to have an edge in Year 2 under coach Lance Leipold, with wins against West Virginia and Houston to its credit. But Duke is playing well on both sides of the ball in the first season of Mike Elko’s tenure and has a chance at bettering its win total for all of last season with a victory.
Something’s got to give when North Carolina lines up against Notre Dame at Kenan Stadium. Through the first 3 games, the Irish have had trouble finding the end zone while the Tar Heels have had a hard time keeping their opponents out of it.
Notre Dame is averaging only 18.3 points per game on the way to a disappointing 1-2 start but finally seemed to find a rhythm once backup quarterback Drew Pyne settled in during the second half of last week’s win against Cal.
UNC is looking to go 4-0 for the first time since Mack Brown’s first tenure in Chapel Hill in 1997 despite allowing an average of 37.7 points per game. The good news for the Tar Heels, besides the Irish’s offensive woes, is that they’ve had an extra week to find some answers for their own defenseless defense.
If all else fails, there’s an offense that’s scoring at a 51.3 point per game clip, 4th-best in the nation.
Syracuse improved to 3-0 last week with a meaningful win against Purdue. But because the Boilermakers beat themselves as much as the Orange did, we still don’t really know how good coach Dino Babers’ team really is.
We might have much more of an answer after Friday’s game against offensively challenged Virginia, which barely scraped by against Old Dominion last week. But it really won’t matter in the great scheme of things. With a win, Syracuse would already be two-thirds of the way to bowl eligibility and saving Babers’ job.
Another border war
Three weeks after losing to Pittsburgh in a rivalry actually known as The Border War, West Virginia has come down from the mountain again to take another crack at an ACC neighbor. This time, the opponent is Virginia Tech in a game for the Black Diamond Trophy.
A black diamond is coal, by the way.
Winning the nationally televised Thursday night game would extend the Hokies’ winning streak to 3 since opening the season with a loss at Old Dominion and certainly help put a little extra sparkle into coach Brent Pry’s rookie season in Blacksburg.
Geoff Collins will probably be spared the indignity of being fired on the field after the game, as Herm Edwards was by Arizona State last week, should Georgia Tech lose at Central Florida. But the way things have been going for the embattled coach and his team, it seems only a matter of time before the hammer comes down.
Beating a good UCF team on the road probably won’t save Collins’ job, but it would at least delay the inevitable.
Meanwhile, at Louisville, Scott Satterfield’s set isn’t quite as hot. But at 1-2, with a pair of ACC losses already, dropping a nonconference game at home to South Florida would increase the temperature considerably.
Just win, baby
NC State and Miami should have little trouble dispatching their opponents this week in games that amount to little more than glorified scrimmages. While the main objective for both teams is to make it through without a stumble or serious injury to any key players, there are other things at stake.
For the Wolfpack, Saturday’s game against UConn is the final chance to fine tune an offense that has yet to hit its stride heading into next week’s showdown at Clemson while the Hurricanes hope to use their game against Middle Tennessee State as an opportunity to regain some confidence and momentum after last week’s disappointing loss at Texas A&M.