Ranking the Best ACC Football Matchups of Week 2
It was a disappointing start to the season for the ACC, which saw three member teams expected to be strong this year lose to SEC counterparts.
Florida State's 24-7 loss to Alabama, Georgia Tech's double-overtime 42-41 setback to Tennessee and North Carolina State's 35-28 defeat to South Carolina were humbling for a conference that wound up the nation's best a year ago.
But not everything left a bad taste.
Virginia Tech won an epic showdown against West Virginia, while national champion Clemson flexed its muscle. Teams such as Miami, Louisville and Duke also took care of business.
Week 2 doesn't have nearly as many featured games, although Clemson vs. Auburn in Death Valley should be one everybody wants to see. Still, there are plenty of intriguing matchups, with a lot of games involving tilts against Big Ten opponents.
Pittsburgh's game against Penn State, Duke's matchup with Northwestern and Virginia hosting Indiana will all be interesting. Then, there's a big ACC game between the Cardinals and Tar Heels, too.
There are plenty of reasons to be tuned in to ACC games this weekend, so let's take a look at the top upcoming games.
Middle Tennessee at Syracuse
Do you like points? If so, this is a game you'll want to watch. In his second season at Syracuse, head coach Dino Babers should have more instruments in place to run his offense, and the Orange put up 50 points in a lopsided opening-weekend win over Central Connecticut.
Meanwhile, the high-powered Blue Raiders were shut down by Vanderbilt's defense. That won't happen two weeks in a row.
Wake Forest at Boston College
If you hate points and love defense, this one may be for you. After all, neither the Demon Deacons nor the Eagles are known for prolific scoring. Regardless, these are two teams with bowl hopes, and this is going to be a pivotal early-season game for positioning.
Anytime you play a conference foe, it's a big deal. And this is a game both teams believe they can win.
Miami at Arkansas State
The Hurricanes may well be back, but the old-school U wouldn't have scheduled a game in Jonesboro, Arkansas. So, this is going to be interesting, to say the least, especially considering the Red Wolves were in the game until the last possession last weekend in a season-opening 43-36 loss to Nebraska.
Miami is familiar with ASU coach Blake Anderson from his days as North Carolina's offensive coordinator. He'll have his work cut out for him against the 'Canes' D, though.
Louisiana-Monroe at Florida State
If FSU quarterback Deondre Francois was still available, there would be no reason to watch this game. But with the Seminoles breaking in true freshman signal-caller James Blackman with his first collegiate start, it's worth a watch to see if coach Jimbo Fisher's team is still a national threat.
5. Indiana at Virginia
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall is hoping for much better results in his second season in Charlottesville, but his team needs to play better than it did in a season-opening 28-10 win over William & Mary.
A big opportunity to get a win against a good opponent comes this weekend when Indiana comes to town. The Hoosiers dialed up a good game plan under first-year offensive coordinator Mike DeBord in a season-opening loss to Ohio State before ultimately falling short.
That 49-21 loss to the Buckeyes may look lopsided, but the Hoosiers kept it close for much of three quarters and will pose a test for a Virginia team that needs wins like this to take a step forward.
The Hoos will be without cornerback Tim Harris, who injured his wrist against William & Mary and will miss the season. That's a big loss, but Mendenhall's team should expect IU to be more balanced than it was against OSU.
The Buckeyes shut down any semblance of a running game against the Hoosiers, and they'll need a more balanced attack to beat a good UVA team led by its defense.
If Virginia stays stout on defense and gets the same type of performances from quarterback Paul Millard and running back Charles Sims than it did against W&M, it could wind up with a pivotal home victory this weekend.
The Hoos certainly need it if they're going to take the leap forward and make a bowl game this year.
4. Northwestern at Duke
The rebound from an injury-riddled 4-8 season got off to a resounding start last weekend when the Blue Devils took advantage of a tuneup game, handling North Carolina Central 60-7.
Things will get a lot tougher this weekend when they host Northwestern in Durham.
It's always a good sign, however, when Duke head coach David Cutcliffe likes a team, and he seems to give off good vibes when talking about this year's Blue Devils and quarterback Daniel Jones.
"I think this team has that ability [to be explosive]," Cutcliffe told the Duke Chronicle's Ben Feder. "But we'll see. It's going to get tougher before we know it."
That comes at home this weekend when Pat Fitzgerald brings his Wildcats to Durham after an easy Week 1 win over a decent Nevada team, trying to beat Duke for the second straight year after a 24-13 victory a season ago.
The Wildcats should have a dynamic offense of their own for a change, led by stud running back Justin Jackson and quarterback Clayton Thorson, who has made steady progression in his first two years and one game as an NU quarterback.
Last year, in the season's final nine games, Thorson had 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions, and he is an ideal game manager for this offense. This could sneakily be one of the best games of the weekend and may just be a preview of two teams that are ranked before long.
3. Louisville at North Carolina
The season got off to a sweat-inducing start for Louisville, who needed every morsel of four quarters to disperse of Purdue and their new coach, Jeff Brohm.
Still, the Cardinals should feel lucky just to get out of a game where they had three fumbles and 16 penalties, including 10 false starts. When you take all that into consideration, a 35-28 win doesn't seem so bad, even if it is against a Boilermakers team under a new regime.
North Carolina wasn't so fortunate.
The Tar Heels fell to California and new coach Justin Wilcox, 35-30, and the post-Gene Chizik era on defense began with a thud. It also wasn't a great start for LSU transfer quarterback Brandon Harris, who got his first start and was yanked in favor of freshman Chazz Surratt after two interceptions.
Even so, UNC coach Larry Fedora isn't making a move just yet.
"You can't do it all on one game," Fedora told the News & Observer's Andrew Carter. "You just, you can't. There's too many things, there's too many variables. But we'll see. We'll continue to battle it out there and we're going to put the guy on the field that we think can help us win the football game."
Now, the two teams will try to play up to their potential when they meet in Chapel Hill this weekend. Somehow, the Heels have to find a way to contain U of L quarterback Lamar Jackson, or it may get ugly.
2. Pittsburgh at Penn State
A year ago, the Pittsburgh Panthers had stars such as running back James Conner, quarterback Nathan Peterman and an offensive coordinator in Matt Canada who put them all in position to make plays.
That trio is a big reason why Pitt handed Clemson its only loss of the year. An underrated win that gets overshadowed because of that momentous one was the early-season 42-39 victory over Penn State.
The win aged well, as PSU coach James Franklin went from the hot seat to the national spotlight after that game, leading the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl game.
Now that 2017 is here, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi must replace Peterman and Conner, who are off to the NFL, and Canada, who bolted the Steel City for the Bayou of LSU.
The offense wasn't the issue in a season-opening 28-21 win over Football Championship Subdivision power Youngstown State. Former USC quarterback Max Browne orchestrated a balanced attack, but the Panthers struggled on defense, allowing 418 yards.
Now, they must rebound against Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley and one of the most prolific units in all of college football.
This one is going to be far from easy, but a rivalry game like this is always worth tuning in to, because you never know what's going to happen.
1. Auburn at Clemson
Last season, Clemson traveled to the loveliest village on the Plains and escaped with a closer-than-expected 19-13 victory over an Auburn team that still had a lot of uncertainty.
Fast forward a year later, and that other set of Tigers have a little more stability with transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham leading the way, and the running back duo of Kamryn Pettway (who will be back from suspension) and Kerryon Johnson.
They also have what could be an elite defense. You know who leads that unit? It's former Clemson coordinator Kevin Steele, who clearly has resurrected his career. He's glad Clemson doesn't have Deshaun Watson anymore, and while Kelly Bryant presents his own set of problems for AU, it's different.
CU coach Dabo Swinney went through the preseason without any real public concern about his team's chances for a repeat, quietly confident in Bryant. The signal-caller showed why in a 56-3 annihilation of Kent State in the opener, showcasing his dual-threat skills.
But Auburn is a different animal.
This is one of the most intriguing early-season battles we'll see this year. If Swinney's group can get through this test, the Tigers may just be a national contender yet again. If Gus Malzahn's Tigers go into Clemson and pull the upset, Auburn could take the next step.
This is a big one.