Friedlander: What's at stake for the ACC in Week 9
Coastal coronation or Coastal chaos?
We’ll get a much better idea of which to expect for the rest of the season on Saturday when Pittsburgh visits North Carolina for what could be the ACC’s last best chance at divisional drama.
A Tar Heels win would put Mack Brown’s team in a similar position to that of Clemson in the Atlantic, with a commanding lead and tiebreakers over all its main rivals. A Panthers win would ensure at least a hint of suspense during the final month.
Even without a tight division race, there’s still a lot on the line for ACC teams on the Week 9 schedule starting with a raucous Thursday night game at Carter-Finley Stadium.
So let’s break it all down.
Virginia Tech at NC State
The Wolfpack’s hopes for winning their first ACC championship since 1979 ended earlier this month with a loss to Clemson. Their chances at reaching double-digit wins for only the second time in school history took a serious hit with a loss at Syracuse in their most recent game.
After a week off to recalibrate its goals and adjust its offense in the absence of injured starter Devin Leary, coach Dave Doeren’s team returns to the field looking for any kind of spark to kickstart its season back into gear.
A win would earn State bowl eligibility. Of much more immediate concern is remembering how to get into the end zone – something it hasn’t done in the 6 quarters Jack Chambers has been at quarterback.
The Wolfpack should get a boost from what figures to be a large, festive home crowd and shouldn’t have to put up a huge number to win the game against an opponent that’s among the lowest-scoring teams in the ACC at 19 ppg. On the other side of the field, the Hokies stand a much better chance at snapping their 4-game losing streak against the wounded Wolfpack than they might have before Leary’s injury.
Although the odds are against Tech finding enough wins to become bowl eligible, a road victory in Raleigh could turn out to be the springboard that allows it to finish its first season under new coach Brent Pry on a positive note.
Prediction: NC State 17, Virginia Tech 10
Pittsburgh at North Carolina
The Tar Heels hold at least a 2-game lead on everyone else in the Coastal. While a win against the Panthers wouldn’t clinch the division title, not with 4 ACC games still left to be played, it would give coach Mack Brown’s surprising front-runners an even greater margin for error than they already enjoy.
Conversely, Pitt would still have work to do to get back into the race even if it beats UNC. But it would at least keep the Panthers within striking distance for a chance at repeating its ACC championship.
The team goals won’t be the only thing that will be at stake on Saturday. The battle for ACC Player of the Year could ultimately come down to who has the better performance in the head-to-head matchup between Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye and Panthers running back Israel Abanikanda.
Pitt has won the past 2 meetings, but both were in Pittsburgh and in overtime. This one figures to be close as well. And high scoring.
Prediction: UNC 43, Pitt 41
Notre Dame at Syracuse
Even though the Irish are barely over .500 and have fallen off the national radar this season, this is still a huge game both for the Orange and the ACC.
Because Notre Dame remains a brand name program despite its current 4-3 record, beating the Irish would continue to validate Syracuse’s validity as a ranked team after last week’s near miss at Clemson. A win would also give the conference another high-profile out-of-conference victory that might – for a week, at least – quiet the “ACC is an inferior conference” narrative.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, will be trying to build on last week’s win against UNLV and a performance that was arguably its most complete of the season.
The Irish is 5-0 against the spread in its most recent meetings against ACC opponents and have won the past 4 meetings with the Orange since 2008. None of which have been close. But Syracuse is favored by 2.5 points this time and is playing at home, so maybe Dino Babers’ team might even get a call or two.
Prediction: Syracuse 24, Notre Dame 20
Wake Forest at Louisville
With a second straight Coastal Division title all but out of reach, the high-scoring Deacons need to keep winning to stay in line for a New Year’s 6 bowl invitation and a shot at tying or surpassing last year’s school-record total of 11 victories.
Quarterback Sam Hartman is chasing history as well. He needs only 3 more touchdown passes to pass NC State’s Philip Rivers for 2nd on the ACC’s all-time list. He currently has 93. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd holds the record with 107.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, have won 2 straight at 4-3 overall. Not only have they given themselves a realistic shot at earning bowl eligibility heading into the toughest part of their schedule, but they’ve strengthened the chances of coach Scott Satterfield surviving the season and returning for 2023.
Beyond the obvious on-the-field implications, there’s also a bit of revenge at stake for both sides. Louisville, you’ll remember, was at the heart of the Wakeyleaks scandal involving a stolen playbook the Cardinals and others used to help prepare for games against the Deacons. Coach Dave Clawson has never forgotten or forgiven Louisville for the incident.
Conversely, the Cardinals still are smarting from a controversial officials decision to put an extra second back on the clock at the end of the 1st half last season, allowing Wake – which was out of timeouts – to kick a field goal that turned out to be the decisive margin in a 37-34 Deacons victory.
Prediction: Wake Forest 45, Louisville 30
Georgia Tech at Florida State
With their promising 4-0 start and brief national ranking now just a distant memory, the Seminoles are in desperate need of a victory to stop the bleeding and snap a 3-game losing streak – all against Atlantic Division rivals.
They’ll have a lot going in their favor. They’re at home, they’ve had a week off to regroup and get healthy and they’re playing an already offensively challenged Georgia Tech team that will be without its starting quarterback.
Not only did the Yellow Jackets lose Jeff Sims to an ankle injury in last week’s loss to Virginia, they also saw their 2-game winning streak under interim coach Brent Key come to an end. Tech’s defense has vastly improved since Key took over. But that might only help to keep the score from getting too out of hand.
Prediction: Florida State 30, Georgia Tech 9
Miami at Virginia
The honeymoon is already over for Mario Cristobal in Coral Gables. Now he can only hope that last week’s debacle against Duke, in which his team turned the ball over 8 times and lost quarterback Tyler Van Dyke to a shoulder injury, turns out to be rock bottom.
As bad as things have been for Miami over the past 5 games, of which it has lost 4, bowl eligibility is still on the table. And in freshman Jake Garcia, they have a quarterback who has shown a capability of moving the team – when it doesn’t give the ball away.
Although the Cavaliers’ preseason expectations were much lower and their star quarterback Brennan Armstrong is still healthy, coach Tony Elliott’s team finds itself in a similar situation as that of the preseason Coastal Division favorite Hurricanes.
They’re 3-4 overall and are having trouble putting points on the board. But at least they’re coming off a victory, having beaten Georgia Tech in an ugly Thursday night game last week.
Prediction: Miami 16, Virginia 13
Boston College at UConn
While the Syracuse-Notre Dame game is an opportunity for the ACC to notch another signature win, the BC-UConn matchup is equally important because of its potential to saddle the league with a glaringly bad loss.
The Eagles have been by far the ACC’s most disappointing team this season and considering the remaining schedule, Saturday’s game against the Huskies could be their last realistic chance at getting back into the win column.
UConn has been just as bad as BC this year. Its most recent game was a 25-21 loss to Ball State. The Huskies are averaging only 18.1 points and 290 yards per game, so the bar should be low enough for the Eagles to clear as long as their battered offensive line gives quarterback Phil Jurkovec time to find Zay Flowers downfield a few times.
Prediction: BC 20, UConn 10