Ranking the Best ACC Football Matchups of Week 4

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2017

Ranking the Best ACC Football Matchups of Week 4

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    After Clemson pummeled Louisville in last week's big prime-time affair, it looks like it's the Tigers and everybody else in the ACC.

    It's time to see if any other teams can emerge.

    With Virginia Tech dealing with a pushover opponent this week in Old Dominion, it's time to see if some other teams off to hot starts can keep things going against mid-level opponents.

    For the Duke Blue Devils, they will bring the nation's top-ranked rush defense into a rivalry game against North Carolina, and it'll be interesting to see if they're legit. Beating a Tar Heels side that seemed to find their footing a bit in their first win of the year last week won't be easy.

    Miami suffered a long layoff after Hurricane Irma, but the Hurricanes will be back on the field this weekend hosting upstart MAC team Toledo. That's not going to be easy, either.

    Then, there's the marquee matchup of the week between two conference opponents. Who is it? Let's take a look at the conference's top games of the week.

7. Boston College at Clemson

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    This one may get ugly.

    After winning the national championship a season ago, most figured the Clemson Tigers would suffer a bit of a dip after losing stud quarterback Deshaun Watson and a bevy of offensive playmakers. 

    If that's going to happen, it must be a delayed reaction.

    The past two weekends, the Tigers sacked Auburn 11 times in a convincing defensive dominance of the other set of Tigers from the Plains, and they then neutralized Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson enough to cruise to an easy road win against Louisville.

    This weekend shouldn't be an issue.

    They take on 1-2 Boston College in Death Valley, and the Eagles are coming off a 49-20 loss to Notre Dame where they didn't put up much of a fight. Don't expect this one to be much different. Expect Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant to continue his early-season onslaught and for the Tigers to roll.

    Eagles head coach Steve Addazio's defense may not yield a ton of points to Clemson, but they simply cannot score enough to hang. Expect this one to be something like 38-7.

    It won't be any problem for coach Dabo Swinney's team to move to 4-0.

6. Syracuse at LSU

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    Which Syracuse team is going to show up? That may be the biggest question of the early season thus far for coach Dino Babers' young Orange.

    Two weeks ago, they hosted Middle Tennessee in the Carrier Dome and were upset by the upstart Blue Raiders, who then went to Minnesota last week and were shut down by P.J. Fleck's Golden Gophers. Meanwhile, 'Cuse got back on track with a 41-17 win over Central Michigan.

    The Chippewas weren't awful, either. They just went to Kansas and trounced the Jayhawks.

    Now, the Orange travel to the Bayou to take on a vulnerable LSU team. The Tigers were stunned 37-7 on the road at Mississippi State last week, and there's already some heat in coach Ed Orgeron's first full season in Baton Rouge.

    The Orange expect to test LSU's lack of defensive depth up front with their fast-tempo, high-octane attack, led by quarterback Eric Dungey. It's possible they could cause the Tigers some fits, but playing in the "other" Death Valley isn't going to be easy.

    "It's football, you always have a chance," Babers said this week, per NunesMagician.com's Adam Hillman. "They're a good football team. They're different than us, their home-field advantage is real. All of their players are five star guys. It's a very, very talented football team. The environment and situation is very special that they play in."

    However, it isn't out of the realm of possibility for an upset to brew. This is a big chance.

5. Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech

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    If anybody needs to see a change of pace, it's the Pittsburgh Panthers, who are finding life without Nathan Peterman, James Conner and former offensive coordinator Matt Canada difficult.

    Unfortunately for coach Pat Narduzzi's team, all those guys were on the offensive side of the ball, and the bigger question marks thus far are on defense.

    After an overtime win to start the season against Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse Youngstown State, the Panthers have been decimated in losses to Penn State and Oklahoma State, two of the best teams in the country. Quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Mason Rudolph embarrassed their defense.

    Now this week, they will have to face a different sort of attack, but it'll be every bit as fun (or not).

    Georgia Tech's triple-option offense destroyed Tennessee's defense in a season-opening, double-overtime loss to the Vols. Then, as Jacksonville State did well to slow the rushing attack, the Yellow Jackets hit some big passes in a lopsided Week 2 win.

    Last weekend, they were affected by Hurricane Irma as the game with Central Florida was canceled, so now the Yellow Jackets return home to play Pitt.

    This should be a win for Georgia Tech, but it's also wouldn't be surprising if Narduzzi's team starts showing signs of improvement.

    This one may be closer than you think.

4. Virginia at Boise State

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    One of the quirkiest games of the year will see former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall head back to the northwest. The second-year coach at Virginia will be facing Boise State this time, and it's going to be an intriguing game, to say the least.

    The Hoos piled up 626 total yards, and quarterback Matt Benkert looked like a quality playmaker in last weekend's 38-18 win over UConn to push the Cavaliers to 2-1 on the season. It's going to be interesting to see if the win helped UVA turn a corner following a 34-17 loss to Indiana in Week 2.

    Though offense ruled the day against the Huskies, defensive stars Micah Kizer and Quin Blanding continue to lead an upstart unit capable of making things difficult on opponents.

    That's why this Friday night's game on the blue turf at Boise is going to be fun to watch.

    The bad news for Virginia is it looks like Broncos star quarterback Brett Rypien will be back on the field after missing the New Mexico game with an undisclosed injury. He had started 25 consecutive games before this past weekend's injury.

    The first start in that series? It came against the Hoos. On Sept. 25, 2015, he was 24-for-35 for 321 yards with three touchdowns in a win at Virginia in his first start. So, there's a measure of payback the Cavaliers would love to exact on the signal-caller.

    They will get their opportunity on national television.

3. Toledo at Miami

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    Don't sleep on this game; it may wind up being one of the biggest sleeper early-season tests of any ACC contender.

    Miami has played just one game, a 41-13 season-opening win over Bethune-Cookman. Its second game against Arkansas State was postponed, and the Hurricanes were off this past week when they should have been playing Florida State.

    Hurricane Irma made it almost impossible for them to practice, too. They had more important things to worry about.

    The team evacuated to Orlando during the storm, a trip that took them 10 hours. Things only got restarted on Saturday.

    "It's dangerous, to me, to play football and your mind is somewhere else," coach Mark Richt said, per the Sun Sentinel's Christy Cabrera Chirinos.

    Now, the Hurricanes must shake off the rust against a quality MAC team that should win that conference. The Toledo Rockets are 3-0, and after beating Nevada 37-24, they dispatched a quality Tulsa team 54-51 last weekend in a shootout at the Glass Bowl.

    After a rush-oriented offense the past few years led by Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, the Rockets now are led by quarterback Logan Woodside, who set a school record with six touchdown tosses in last week's win over the Golden Hurricane.

    Now, the Rockets will try to go from beating the Golden Hurricane to beating a Hurricanes team that had a long layoff because of a real-life hurricane. Got all that? It's just another hurdle Richt's team must overcome if it's going to be a contender in the conference.

2. Duke at North Carolina

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    The Duke Blue Devils are one of the nation's biggest surprises, starting the season 3-0 after a disappointing campaign a year ago.

    David Cutcliffe continues to build his resume as the best coach in program history, and the Devils are far from being the old-time conference whipping boy anymore. Instead, quarterback Daniel Jones and the nation's top rush defense are making things difficult on everybody they play.

    Already this season, Duke has dispatched Northwestern and Baylor. The Blue Devils must now turn their attention to rival North Carolina, and coach Larry Fedora's team is trying to shake off a 1-2 start. Getting this big win at home would go a long way in doing that.

    Duke is also seventh nationally in yards allowed per game and second in third-down efficiency defense.

    "They're getting after it pretty good," Fedora said, per the Associated Press' Joedy McCreary.

    Life hasn't been easy for the Tar Heels defensively following the decision of former coordinator Gene Chizik to quit. After losing to California and Louisville with little resistance the first two weekends, UNC rebounded with a 53-23 win over Old Dominion last week.

    They now play a whole different kind of test in the Blue Devils, who are smart, disciplined and balanced. All those assets are the reason why they're 3-0 for just the second time since 1994.

    Winning this game would be big for bragging rights in Carolina.

1. North Carolina State at Florida State

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    There's no question about it: Seasons with high hopes in Tallahassee and Raleigh got off to resounding thuds when the Seminoles lost to Alabama and North Carolina State dropped its opener against South Carolina.

    With those two SEC losses out of the way, though, the teams must focus on the rest of the season.

    For Florida State, that means life without star quarterback Deondre Francois, who was lost for the season in the game against the Crimson Tide. There are still plenty of question marks swirling around true freshman starter James Blackman, but there's also reason for excitement.

    Noles247 reporter Brendan Sonnone recently wrote: "There is something to the buzz around Blackman's leadership skills that reminds me of how [Jameis] Winston was discussed when he burst on to the scene in 2013."

    That's high praise for a signal-caller without a start. Speaking of Hurricane Irma, the Seminoles have dealt with it, too. They're 0-1, and games against Louisiana Monroe and Miami were lost because of it.

    So, Blackman and whichever Florida State will be with him are virtual unknowns.

    As for the Wolfpack, they really haven't been tested since that season-opening 35-28 loss to the Gamecocks. They've easily handled Marshall and Furman, but now, they have to see just what this team can be in a pivotal season for coach Dave Doeren.

    If N.C. State can break out with a big win this week, it could turn the season around. The 'Noles need to prove they are more than just Francois, too.