Athlon previews Week 1 in the ACC.
The ACC enters 2014 with momentum. The conference survived realignment, Louisville joined the league, and Florida State ended the SEC’s run of dominance by defeating Auburn in the national championship. 13 games dot the schedule for the ACC in Week 1, including the Seminoles taking on Oklahoma State in Arlington, Clemson traveling to Athens to take on Georgia, and Miami and Louisville meeting as the only conference game of the week on Labor Day night.
ACC Week 1 Game Power Rankings
1. Clemson (-7.5) at Georgia
5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
In terms of overall intrigue and watchability, this is the premier game in the ACC for Week 1. Clemson has won at least 10 games in each of the last three years, while Georgia is hoping to rebound from an injury-filled 8-5 campaign. Both teams have new faces stepping into key roles, but none bigger than Tigers’ quarterback Cole Stoudt as he replaces Tajh Boyd. Stoudt faces a Georgia secondary that has been in flux throughout the offseason and needs help from a front seven that will be among the best in the SEC. A similar scenario will play out when the Bulldogs have the ball, as senior quarterback Hutson Mason is making his third career start. Mason and Georgia’s offensive line has a tough matchup against Clemson’s veteran defensive front, but the Tigers have concerns in the secondary. This one could go either way. A high-scoring affair or a low-scoring defensive struggle wouldn’t be surprise.
2. Miami at Louisville (-3.5)
Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The only game featuring two ACC opponents takes place on Labor Day night in Louisville. Miami and Louisville met in the Russell Athletic Bowl, with the Cardinals giving the Hurricanes a 36-9 whipping. But that was last season, and plenty has changed between the two programs. Louisville is now under the direction of Bobby Petrino, and Teddy Bridgewater left for the NFL. Miami returns a good chunk of last year’s roster (12 starters) but will start a true freshman under center (Brad Kaaya). Petrino and quarterback Will Gardner won’t have top receiver DeVante Parker at their disposal due to injury. Parker’s injury will create more opportunities for sophomore James Quick and seniors Eli Rogers and Kai De La Cruz in the passing game. This game also features the return of running back Duke Johnson for Miami, and it’s critical for the junior to get on track to take some of the pressure off of Kaaya in his first start. There’s a lot of new in both programs for this game. Has Miami closed the gap since last year’s bowl loss? Or is Louisville still the better program right now?
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3. Florida State (-17.5) vs. Oklahoma State (Arlington)
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Florida State begins its national title defense in a neutral site environment against a rebuilding Oklahoma State team. The Seminoles are big – and for good reason – favorites in this matchup. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team returns 16 starters, including defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The Cowboys return just eight starters and must replace 28 seniors from last year’s squad. A rebuilt offensive line is the biggest concern for coach Mike Gundy, but quarterback J.W. Walsh also needs to play with more consistency. Even though Oklahoma State’s defense has a couple of All-Big 12 candidates, this should be a good opportunity for Winston and his revamped receiving corps (including true freshmen Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane) to gain valuable reps before a key ACC contest against Clemson on Sept. 20. Barring a sluggish performance by Florida State, it’s hard to see this one being close in the fourth quarter.
4. UCLA (-21) at Virginia
Noon ET, ESPN
With an 18-31 record in four years, 2014 is a make-or-break season for Virginia coach Mike London. But London’s future certainly isn’t helped by a schedule that features non-conference games against UCLA and BYU, combined with a crossover division matchup against Florida State and Louisville. The Bruins are one of the favorites in the Pac-12 and return 14 starters from last year’s 10-3 team. Virginia’s defense is a good matchup for UCLA’s young offensive line, but the Cavaliers need to find a way to generate points. Sophomore Greyson Lambert edged David Watford at quarterback this offseason, and he should have his hands full against a UCLA defense that finished No. 4 in the Pac-12 in fewest points allowed (conference-only games). It’s a long road trip from Los Angeles to Charlottesville, and a Noon ET start means an early wake-up call for the Bruins. A few early struggles are possible, but UCLA has too much talent for a Virginia team that’s still searching for answers on offense.
5. Wake Forest at ULM (-1.5)
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
The Dave Clawson era at Wake Forest opens with a tricky road trip. ULM has improved under fifth-year coach Todd Berry and returns 14 starters from a team that finished 6-6 last year. The Warhawks also have a familiar face at quarterback in NC State transfer Pete Thomas. The Demon Deacons are a young team and plan to start only seven seniors in the opener. True freshman John Wolford is slated to open under center, and Clawson needs to find new playmakers and develop an offensive line to help his young quarterback. Points could be at a premium on Thursday night.
6. Georgia Southern at NC State (-20.5)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network
The Wolfpack enter 2014 riding an eight-game losing streak, but there’s hope for a turnaround in 2014 with the arrival of transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Georgia Southern joins the FBS ranks in 2014 and ended 2013 by winning its final three games last year, including a 26-20 upset over Florida. With a favorable non-conference schedule, it’s important for NC State to get off to a good start and have a 4-0 mark before playing Florida State on Sept. 27.
7. William & Mary at Virginia Tech
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS
An upset is unlikely here, but William & Mary could make Virginia Tech sweat for a while. The Tribe ranked No. 2 among FCS teams in scoring defense (14 ppg) and held opponents to just 118.1 rushing yards per game last season. It’s a good thing for William & Mary to have a good defense, especially with a new starter at quarterback (Steve Cluley) in a hostile environment. Virginia Tech’s offense is filled with unknowns, starting at quarterback with Michael Brewer and with talented, but unproven playmakers at running back and receiver. It may take a quarter or two for the Hokies’ offense to get on track, but the defense is enough for Frank Beamer’s team to pull away from the Tribe in the second half.
8. Boston College (-17) at UMass
3 p.m. ET, ESPN3
With a matchup against Pittsburgh next Friday, Boston College hopes to use UMass as a tune-up for its ACC opener. The Eagles have several new faces stepping into key roles on offense, including Florida transfer Tyler Murphy at quarterback, UConn transfer Shakim Phillips at receiver and sophomore Myles Willis replacing Andre Williams at running back. The Minutemen are 2-22 over the last two seasons and is under the direction of new coach Mark Whipple. UMass is slated to start Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel at quarterback.
9. Delaware at Pittsburgh
Noon ET, ESPN3
Openers have not been kind to Pittsburgh’s third-year coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers were upset by Youngstown State in 2012 and lost to Florida State last year. Chryst hopes the third time is a charm, taking on a Delaware team that just missed the first FCS top 25 poll. New Pittsburgh quarterback Chad Voytik looked sharp in limited action last year, and this will be his first taste of extended action. The Panthers’ rebuilding defense also figures to get a good test from a Blue Hens’ offense that averaged 32.8 points per game last year.
10. Villanova at Syracuse
Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
The Orange finished 2013 with momentum on their side, winning four out of their last six games. With 13 starters back, second-year coach Scott Shafer has a chance to push Syracuse to eight wins in 2014. Shafer and coordinator George McDonald want to push the tempo on offense this season, which largely depends on the development of quarterback Terrel Hunt and the receiving corps. Villanova ranked as the No. 8 team in Athlon’s projected 2014 FCS top 25 and hope to bounce back after finishing 6-5 last year.
11. Liberty at North Carolina
6 p.m. ET, ESPN3
All eyes in Chapel Hill will be at quarterback on Saturday night. North Carolina coach Larry Fedora won’t reveal his starter, as the battle between Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky continued into fall practice. In addition to the quarterbacks, the Tar Heels will play a handful of young players on defense, which could present a few headaches against a balanced Liberty offense. The Flames (led by coach Turner Gill) could hang around for a while, but North Carolina simply has too much firepower on offense.
12. Wofford at Georgia Tech
12:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports South
Don’t expect the forward pass to be utilized much in this one. Georgia Tech averaged only 15.6 attempts per game and Wofford averaged 12.5 last season. This matchup against the Terriers will be the first start for new Yellow Jackets’ quarterback Justin Thomas. The sophomore’s development is critical for Georgia Tech’s Coastal Division title hopes. Paul Johnson has won five out of his six openers with the Yellow Jackets and should cruise to an easy victory.
13. Elon at Duke
6 p.m. ET, ESPN3
Duke shouldn’t have too much trouble in its season opener, as the defending Coastal Division champs host an Elon team that went 2-10 last year. The Blue Devils suffered season-ending injuries to tight end Braxton Deaver and linebacker Kelby Brown, and this game should allow coach David Cutcliffe a chance to play a few younger players to build depth.
Week 1 ACC Predictions
|Clemson (-7.5) at Georgia||UGA 24-14||UGA 24-21||UGA 27-24||UGA 31-24|
|Miami (+3.5) at Louisville||UL 21-14||UL 34-27||UL 31-24||UL 27-20|
|FSU (-17.5) vs. Okla. State||FSU 49-10||FSU 44-17||FSU 48-17||FSU 41-17|
|UCLA (-21) at Virginia||UCLA 42-10||UCLA 38-13||UCLA 34-13||UCLA 33-14|
|Wake Forest (+1.5) at ULM||ULM 17-14||ULM 31-28||ULM 24-20||ULM 34-24|
|Ga. Southern (+20.5) at NC State||State 21-13||State 34-17||State 38-10||State 34-17|
|William & Mary at Va. Tech||VT 35-3||VT 27-3||VT 34-10||VT 30-10|
|Boston College (-17) at UMass||BC 42-7||BC 34-17||BC 38-10||BC 37-14|
|Delaware at Pittsburgh||Pitt 31-7||Pitt 38-14||Pitt 40-20||Pitt 30-17|
|Villanova at Syracuse||SU 28-10||SU 34-17||SU 41-17||SU 33-17|
|Liberty at North Carolina||UNC 42-10||UNC 45-10||UNC 45-17||UNC 41-13|
|Wofford at Georgia Tech||GT 38-10||GT 38-17||GT 45-13||GT 41-13|
|Elon at Duke||Duke 35-13||Duke 38-10||Duke 41-13||Duke 33-14|