After a week of surprises in non-conference action, the focus in the ACC shifts slightly to league play. Clemson-Florida State and Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech headline a solid slate of games for Week 4. And in non-conference matchups, East Carolina looks to knock off another ACC opponent with a home date against North Carolina, and Miami visits Nebraska.
Due to suspension, Florida State won’t have quarterback Jameis Winston available for the first half of Saturday’s game against Clemson. But the Seminoles are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, which should allow Jimbo Fisher’s team to hold their own in the first half.
Elsewhere in the ACC, Virginia travels to BYU and Pittsburgh hosts Iowa in other top games around the league for Week 4.
Week 4 Previews and Predictions:
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ACC Week 4 Game Power Rankings
1. Clemson at Florida State (-20)
8 p.m. ET, ABC
The outlook for this game has changed drastically since last week. On Wednesday, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for a half due to inappropriate comments made on campus. Winston’s absence leaves inexperienced Sean Maguire as the Seminoles’ No. 1 quarterback. While Winston will return to action in the third quarter, Florida State’s task of beating the Tigers is tougher without the Heisman Trophy winner under center. Clemson’s defensive line is among the nation’s best and has registered 19 tackles for a loss in two games. If the Tigers can get pressure on Maguire and force the sophomore into a mistake or two, Florida State’s margin of error gets smaller. Can Clemson take advantage of a Winston-less offense in the first half? Or can Maguire keep the Seminoles’ offense moving, while the defense contains the Tigers’ attack?
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2. Miami at Nebraska (-7)
8 p.m. ET, ESPN2
In terms of name value, it doesn’t get much better than this. Two of college football’s iconic programs square off for the first time since the 2001 Rose Bowl on Saturday night. And for both teams, this game is a good opportunity to build momentum before the bulk of conference play starts. Nebraska pounded FAU and Fresno State by a combined score of 110-26 but needed a last-minute miracle to beat McNeese State 31-24. Miami lost its opener to Louisville and rebounded by beating Florida A&M and Arkansas State. Considering the light non-conference schedules for both teams, it’s hard to gauge where both programs are entering Week 4. Running backs Duke Johnson (Miami) and Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) are two of the best in the nation and will test the opposing defensive lines. But while the spotlight is on Abdullah and Johnson, it’s likely the battle between young quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong (Nebraska) and Brad Kaaya (Miami) will determine which team emerges victorious.
3. Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech (-8)
Noon ET, ESPN
Considering how tight the Coastal race is expected to be, this is a critical showdown for positioning within the division. Virginia Tech has won six out of the last seven matchups against Georgia Tech, and the Yellow Jackets have lost three consecutive games in Blacksburg. As expected, Georgia Tech’s rushing offense (306 ypg) ranks as one of the best in the ACC. But in addition to his role in the ground game, quarterback Justin Thomas has added a big-play (19.4 yards per completion) component to the passing attack. Thomas and Georgia Tech’s rushing attack will test Virginia Tech’s defensive line, as tackles Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall are dealing with injuries. On offense, the Hokies need to limit their turnovers (seven in three games), but they should have the upper hand against Georgia Tech’s defense – a unit allowed 6.6 yards per play. Expect Virginia Tech’s offense to use a lot of freshmen backs Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams against the Yellow Jackets’ rush defense, which ranks as the worst in the ACC.
4. North Carolina at East Carolina (-2)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Can East Carolina go 2-0 against the ACC? The Pirates knocked off Virginia Tech last weekend 28-21 and are a slight favorite against the Tar Heels after winning in Chapel Hill last year. With that in mind, North Carolina won’t take East Carolina lightly, but the Tar Heels will have to overcome a few matchup problems. North Carolina’s secondary is allowing 265 yards per game, and the pass rush has struggled (two sacks in two games). That’s bad news against a Pirates’ offense that is led by quarterback Shane Carden (343.7 ypg) and a dynamic group of playmakers, headlined by receiver Justin Hardy and running back Breon Allen. Considering the Tar Heels’ concerns on defense, they may need to score over 30 points to win this one. Quarterback Marquise Williams is off to a solid start (67.2%), and coach Larry Fedora has recruited well at the skill positions. North Carolina’s offensive line is a concern without guard Landon Turner, especially against an active defensive front from ECU. If you like offense, this should be the highest-scoring game in the ACC this week.
5. Iowa at Pittsburgh (-6.5)
Noon ET, ESPNU
There are some similarities between the Iowa and Pittsburgh programs, but heading into Saturday’s game, it seems the two teams are headed in opposite directions. The Panthers have looked impressive in a 3-0 start, including a 30-20 road win at Boston College. Iowa is 2-1, but the Hawkeyes won by eight against Northern Iowa and by four to Ball State and lost 20-17 to Iowa State last week. Despite a veteran core returning, Iowa’s offense is averaging only 21.7 points per game. The Hawkeyes have also struggled to establish their ground attack (3.6 ypc). Turning those numbers around this week will be tough, as Pittsburgh is allowing just 15 points per game and ranks second in the ACC against the run. Stopping the run has been a strength of Iowa’s defense (2.3 ypc), which is a good barometer test for the running back James Conner (181 ypg). Quarterback Chad Voytik hasn’t been asked to do much this year, but he’s been efficient (58%) and has tossed just two picks on 50 attempts. The Hawkeyes’ defense is good enough to pull off an upset. However, can Iowa’s offense get anything going on Pittsburgh’s defense?
6. Virginia at BYU (-14)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Can Virginia pull off another upset? The Cavaliers knocked off Louisville 23-21 last Saturday, and a win in Provo, combined with a victory over Kent State on Sept. 27 would allow Virginia to be 4-1 heading into the heart of ACC play. Saturday’s game is a matchup of strength (BYU’s offense) versus strength (Virginia’s defense). The Cavaliers are allowing just 4.8 yards per play and holding opponents to 20.7 points per contest. BYU will test those numbers behind dynamic quarterback Taysom Hill (348.3 ypg) and running back Jamaal Williams. Even if Virginia’s defense finds a way to contain Hill, can the Cavaliers get something going on offense? BYU is allowing just 14 points per game, while Virginia is averaging just 21.5 points per contest against FBS opponents this year.
7. Maryland at Syracuse (-1.5)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network
For the second consecutive season, Maryland and Syracuse meet on the gridiron – only these two teams meet as non-conference foes in 2014. The Terrapins and Orange played last year as ACC members, with Syracuse winning 20-3 in College Park. It’s tough to read too much into that game, as Maryland was without top receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. The Terrapins have both back in the lineup this year, and quarterback C.J. Brown threw for a season-high 241 yards in last week’s loss to West Virginia. Syracuse looked sharp in last Saturday’s 40-3 win over Central Michigan, a clear improvement after struggling against Villanova in the opener. Expect the Orange to challenge the Terrapins’ defensive front, which has allowed 142.3 rushing yards per game. Linebacker play is a unit to watch for Maryland, especially with injuries limiting Cole Farrand, Matt Robinson and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil this year.
8. Tulane at Duke (-17)
12:30 p.m. ET, RSN
The Blue Devils look to continue their hot start to the season with a win over Tulane. With a victory over the Green Wave, Duke will have its first 4-0 start since 1994. Tulane’s defense allowed 38 points in back-to-back games to open the year and gave up 20 in a win against SE Louisiana last Saturday. This unit will be tested once again, especially with the emergence of running back Shaun Wilson (245 yards last week) and steady play of quarterback Anthony Boone. The Green Wave’s offense is led by talented freshmen Tanner Lee (QB) and Sherman Badie (RB), but a young line (six sacks) will be tested by a Duke defense that leads the ACC in fewest points per game allowed in 2014 (11.0).
9. Army (-2.5) at Wake Forest
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
Brighter days and better years are ahead for Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson and Army’s Jeff Monken, but both first-year coaches have a tough job in 2014. The Demon Deacons are starting four freshmen in 2014, including quarterback John Wolford. Army went 8-28 in Rich Ellerson’s final three years and is 1-1 through Monken’s first two games. Wake Forest’s rush defense has allowed only two scores and is allowing just 2.7 yards per carry. But that will be tested against the Black Knights’ option offense, averaging 269.5 yards per game. With a tight game expected, keep an eye on the turnover margin. The Demon Deacons are -2 through three games, while Army is even through two contests.
10. Louisville (-27) at FIU
3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
Pittsburgh started slow last week but eventually had no trouble putting FIU (42-25) away in the second half. Louisville dominated the Panthers 72-0 in the infamous running clock game last season. The Cardinals shouldn’t have much trouble with FIU once again, and this game is a good opportunity for this team to work out the kinks after a 23-21 loss to Virginia last week. Quarterback play is under the spotlight after Louisville’s loss last Saturday, but freshman Reggie Bonnafon won’t make the trip due to a death in his family. Coach Bobby Petrino should be able to build Will Gardner some confidence in an easy win for the Cardinals.
11. Maine at Boston College
1 p.m. ET, ESPN3
After last week’s 37-31 victory over USC, Boston College could be in for a small letdown in Week 4. Of course, the Eagles are big favorites over Maine, so even a sluggish start shouldn’t be a concern. With a punishing ground attack, quarterback Tyler Murphy hasn’t been asked to make too many plays through the air. The senior ranks second in the ACC with 133.7 rushing yards per game. However, in his last two games, Murphy has completed only 15 of 41 throws. This week’s matchup against Maine should allow the Eagles a chance to work on their passing game, along with getting some of the younger players valuable reps.
12. Presbyterian at NC State
6 p.m. ET, ESPN3
The Wolfpack close out non-conference play as huge favorites in Saturday’s game against Presbyterian. With a win over the Blue Hose, NC State would surpass its win total from 2013 and take another step towards bowl eligibility. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is off to a fast start for the Wolfpack, completing 70.4 percent of his throws and seven touchdowns to just one interception. Presbyterian lost 55-3 to Northern Illinois in its opener in 2014 and lost to Wake Forest 31-7 last year. This should be a one-sided matchup in favor of NC State.
Week 4 ACC Predictions
Ga. Tech (+8) at Va. Tech
Iowa (+6.5) at Pittsburgh
Maryland (+1.5) at Syracuse
Tulane (+17) at Duke
Maine at Boston College
UNC (+2) at ECU
Virginia (+14) at BYU
Army (-2.5) at Wake
Louisville (-27) at FIU
Presbyterian at NC State
NC State 42-14
NC State 45-7
NC State 48-3
NC State 34-10
Clemson (+20) at FSU
Miami (+7) at Nebraska