Ranking the Best ACC Football Matchups of Week 8

Brad ShepardFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2017

Ranking the Best ACC Football Matchups of Week 8

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    It's a relatively slim slate in the ACC this weekend, but there are some interesting matchups that could result in upsets. After last weekend's crazy slate of games, can you really afford not to watch?

    With North Carolina State and Clemson on bye weeks, that's two of the league's top teams who won't be suiting up and trotting on to the gridiron this weekend. But there are several games that are important to the conference standings.

    Perhaps the most intriguing matchup sees Syracuse travel to Coral Gables to take on Miami. After last weekend's stunning Orange upset of Clemson and Miami's thrilling game-winner against Georgia Tech, it'll be fun to see what these teams have in store for us next.

    Florida State and Louisville meet in a game where both programs are trying to overcome some early-season difficulties and return to form.

    Tech, Wake Forest and Duke need to win to prove they belong in the mix of the conference's best, and Virginia Tech and the surprising Virginia Cavaliers look to continue their hot starts.

    It should be a fun week, even with a trimmed-down version of football in the conference. Let's take a look at the ACC's games.

6. North Carolina at Virginia Tech

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    There are times when North Carolina coach Larry Fedora probably wishes he could just go to sleep and wake up at the start of the 2018 season.

    It has been a forgettable year for the Tar Heels, who are 1-6 and have yet to win an ACC game in four tries. Saying goodbye to NFL first-round pick and former star quarterback Mitchell Trubisky along with defensive coordinator Gene Chizik have been tough.

    It doesn't get any easier this week when they travel to Blacksburg, Virginia, to take on a Hokies team whose only loss came by two touchdowns to Clemson. Still, VT hasn't played a lot in the league yet, sitting at 1-1 even though the Hokies are 5-1 on the year and ranked 14th nationally.

    The Hokies are breaking in freshman quarterback Josh Jackson, who has been brilliant in all games except for the Clemson loss, and receiver Cam Phillips is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country.

    But the real story is the defense, ranked seventh in points allowed, giving up just 13.7 per contest. The Hokies are 23rd in scoring defense, too, which is even better considering they've played the Tigers and West Virginia already.

    A schedule full of formidable opponents awaits the Hokies, but this week should be a reprieve unless Fedora's team wakes up. This one won't be that difficult.

5. Pittsburgh at Duke

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    Duke's torrid 4-0 start is a distant memory, and the Blue Devils must find a way to regroup after consecutive losses to Miami, Virginia and Florida State.

    All of a sudden, this looks like the Blue Devils team that had a losing record a season ago. That's why coach David Cutcliffe, quarterback Daniel Jones and Co. must regroup against a Pittsburgh team that's having a difficult season.

    The Panthers are 2-5 and winless in three ACC games a year after coach Pat Narduzzi fielded a potent offensive attack led by quarterback Nathan Peterman and running back James Conner. Those guys are gone now, and everybody knows it.

    As for Duke, it may not be as bad as it seems. Yes, a 1-3 record in the league is disappointing, but only the Hurricanes game was lopsided. The Blue Devils lost by only a touchdown to FSU and the Cavs.

    This looks like a tough matchup for Pitt's struggling offensive backfield against a strong Duke rush defense that is ranked 16th nationally.

    Meanwhile, Jones went from being a difference-maker in the early season to being a key reason why Duke's offense is slumping. The sophomore signal-caller has thrown for just 492 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions in the past three losses.

    Both teams need to stop the bleeding. The one who does can turn around its season.

4. Boston College at Virginia

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    It may have gone unnoticed thanks to Syracuse's sterling home upset of Clemson on Friday night, but there was another "Say what?" game in the ACC last weekend.

    Somehow, Boston College broke out of its year-long offensive slump to outscore Louisville 45-42 in a slugfest. We're talking about the nation's 114th-ranked scoring offense, and that's after last week's game.

    That shows you just how much the Cardinals are struggling.

    Those signs of life are important for coach Steve Addazio's tenure, which looked like it may be nearing a crossroad before last weekend's win. Now, the Eagles are 3-4 with a chance to keep things going in the right direction.

    In order to do that, they will have to upset the upstart Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville. Early in the year, that may not have seemed like a big deal, but suddenly Bronco Mendenhall's team is 5-1 and 2-0 in league play.

    They're doing it through the air on both sides of the ball. The Hoos lead the ACC in pass defense, and they're fifth in passing offense, which somewhat masks the league's worst rush defense. 

    It may seem like smoke and mirrors right now, but the bottom line is the record, and Mendenhall's team is finding ways to win. This weekend favors them to do that again, but with a little life shown last week by Boston College, it isn't a given anymore.

3. Wake Forest at Georgia Tech

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    With all those Miami injuries, a driving rainstorm and a late fourth-quarter lead, it looked like Georgia Tech was primed for an upset of the unbeaten Hurricanes last weekend in Coral Gables.

    None of that transpired as the Hurricanes broke Georgia Tech's will with an inexplicable fourth-down conversion that set up a game-winning field goal in a 25-24 comeback victory.

    The loss left coach Paul Johnson searching for answers in a somber press conference.

    "Just really hurting and really disappointed for our guys," Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Ken Sugiura. "It was a tough football game, hard-fought game and in the end, they made one more play than we did. Disappointed. We had our opportunities on offense, defense and whatever to ice the game and we couldn't get it done."

    Now, the Yellow Jackets are 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the league. Their only two losses were ulcer-inducing, last-second heart-rippers against Tennessee and now Miami. 

    They will host Wake Forest this week as the Demon Deacons look to even their league record at 2-2. Coach Dave Clawson's team continues to quietly surprise, with a 4-2 overall record. They came close to upsetting Florida State earlier this year, and the offense has shown signs of improvement.

    Still, losses to the Seminoles and Clemson were disappointing, and a win over Georgia Tech would give them (finally) a victory over a quality opponent. It should be a fun game to watch in Atlanta.

2. Louisville at Florida State

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    This Louisville team is far from the one that started last year on such a hot streak. Instead, it looks like the Cardinals team that limped to the 2016 finish.

    Electric quarterback Lamar Jackson's supporting cast is short of playmakers, and the junior signal-caller is proving he can't do it all single-handedly. Last week's embarrassing 45-42 loss to Boston College was the latest in a line of frustrating games.

    With athletic director Tom Jurich out over the basketball investigation, football coach Bobby Petrino may be looking to do the same before long. The Cardinals have now lost three ACC games (to Clemson, North Carolina State and the Eagles) and they are 4-3 on the season.

    They'll try to get back on track against a Florida State team that's an enigma.

    The Seminoles were expected to be a national championship contender before losing star quarterback Deondre Francois in a season-opening loss to Alabama. They haven't even looked like a conference contender since then.

    With freshman James Blackman trying to get acclimated to the college game on the job, the defense is carrying them so far. Still, FSU is just 2-3 on the season and have a 2-2 record in the league. It's vital they win this week and find a way to slow Jackson.

    The defense is strong, but Jackson normally gets his shots in on the scoreboard. Can the Seminoles get into a scoring battle with the Cardinals and survive? It's going to be interesting to see how this one shakes out in Tallahassee.

1. Syracuse at Miami

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    What do you have for an encore?

    That's going to be the prevailing storyline this week for unbeaten Miami and trending Syracuse as they meet this weekend in Coral Gables. 

    For the Hurricanes, they will try to continue their heroics and do it before the final seconds this time around. In their last two games, they stunned Florida State and Georgia Tech late.

    Last week, Malik Rosier reached into his pants pocket of heroics and led Miami back to a 25-24 win in the final seconds that was helped by receiver Darrell Langham's fourth-down catch on a deep-thrown tipped ball that set up Michael Badgley's short field goal to win.

    It was the latest of Miami miracles, but it paled in comparison to what the Orange did.

    In a Friday night matchup with unbeaten and second-ranked Clemson, coach Dino Babers' team dominated in all facets in a 27-24 win. Yes, they knocked out Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, but the pass rush frustrated the Tigers all night.

    Offensively, they did what no other team has been able to do against coordinator Brent Venables' defense, torching them through the air. But the Orange also outgained Clemson on the ground 162-113.

    The win was the second straight for Syracuse to improve its record to 4-3 and 2-1 in the ACC. This week will be equally tough on the road against the Hurricanes, who aren't getting the respect of other unbeaten Power Five teams just yet.

    If they keep winning, it will be impossible to ignore them.

                     

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference and cfbstats, and recruiting data courtesy of Scout.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @Brad_Shepard.