It’s all about conference play this week in the ACC. Six league games are scheduled for Week 6, with two intriguing matchups in the Coastal Division leading the must-watch menu.
Virginia Tech-North Carolina and Georgia Tech-Miami should provide some clarity in a tight Coastal Division, while on paper, NC State-Clemson looks like a shootout in Death Valley.
Florida State won’t have much trouble with a struggling Wake Forest offense, as the Seminoles look to avoid another close call after surviving last week’s upset bid against NC State. Louisville travels to Syracuse, and Pittsburgh visits Virginia to round out the ACC slate.
ACC Week 6 Game Power Rankings
1. Virginia Tech (-1.5) at North Carolina
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network
Both teams entered 2014 with high expectations, but as the calendar turns to October, the Tar Heels and Hokies are fighting to stay alive in the Coastal Division. Both teams followed a defeat against East Carolina with losses in conference play, so there’s plenty of pressure to win to avoid an 0-2 start in the ACC. Virginia Tech’s offense has showed promise at times under new quarterback Michael Brewer, but the Hokies are also tied for last in the ACC in turnover margin (-3). Brewer and freshman running back Marshawn Williams will have opportunities for big plays against a North Carolina defense that’s giving up 44 points per game and has allowed 29 plays of 20 yards or more. While the defense has struggled, the Tar Heels lead the ACC in scoring offense (40.8 ppg). Quarterback Marquise Williams has been steady (8 TDs, 4 INTs), and true freshman Elijah Hood leads the way on the ground (163 yards). Oddly enough, Virginia Tech’s defense has allowed 32 plays of 20 yards or more (124th nationally) this season, which should open the door for Williams and North Carolina’s skill players to have success. Despite the big plays allowed, the Hokies are limiting opponents to 20.4 points per game. And the Virginia Tech defensive line – even without tackle Luther Maddy – is a tough matchup for a young Tar Heel offensive line.
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2. Miami (-1.5) at Georgia Tech
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
It’s hard to call any conference contest an elimination game in September, but Miami had to beat Duke last Saturday in order to keep its Coastal Division hopes alive. Georgia Tech already has a win over Virginia Tech, so a win over the Hurricanes would be huge for its division title hopes. The Yellow Jackets are just 1-5 under coach Paul Johnson against Miami. For Georgia Tech to reverse that trend, it has to win the turnover battle and slow down the Hurricanes’ rushing attack. The Yellow Jackets are allowing 194.3 yards per game on the ground, while Miami running back Duke Johnson gashed Duke for 155 yards last Saturday. Expect coordinator James Coley to give Johnson plenty of carries and allow freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya to ease into the game. Georgia Tech’s option offense is tough to prepare for, and quarterback Justin Thomas has been dynamic on the ground (6.8 ypc) and through the air (19.1 yards per completion). Miami’s defensive front has improved since last season, and only one opponent so far has managed more than 3.4 yards per carry (Nebraska). Both teams want to establish the run, but there’s also pressure on Kaaya and Thomas to limit their mistakes in a game with little margin for error.
3. Pittsburgh at Virginia (-6.5)
7:30 p.m. ET, RSN
It’s tough to pinpoint or know if momentum really means anything over the course of a season, but Saturday’s Pittsburgh-Virginia matchup is critical for the outlook of both teams. The Panthers started 3-0 but have lost two consecutive games, including a surprise 21-10 defeat at the hands of Akron last week. The Cavaliers are clearly improved (3-2) after a 2-10 mark last year. Virginia’s offense is a work in progress, but the defense is allowing just 4.8 yards per play and ranks third in the ACC with 18 sacks. Points could be a premium on Saturday, as both teams are experiencing their share of growing pains on offense. Pittsburgh running back James Conner was held under 100 yards for the first time this year in last Saturday’s loss to Akron, and the sophomore could find limited running room against a Virginia defense holding opponents to just 2.6 yards per carry. With the strength of the Cavaliers in the trenches, Pittsburgh needs quarterback Chad Voytik to have success through the air to open up opportunities on the ground. Virginia also leans on its ground attack to help alleviate the pressure on quarterbacks Matt Johns and Greyson Lambert. There’s not much separating these two teams. Which team gets the most out of its quarterbacks and can win the turnover battle is likely to come out on top.
4. NC State at Clemson (-14.5)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
With an over/under of 67, Vegas clearly expects plenty of points in Death Valley. And it’s hard to dispute the good folks in Vegas with the emergence of the two quarterbacks in this game. NC State’s Jacoby Brissett nearly guided the Wolfpack to an upset win over Florida State last Saturday, while Watson threw six touchdown passes in a 50-35 win over North Carolina. Clemson’s offense has struggled to establish its ground attack (3.1 ypc), but NC State’s defense is allowing 160 yards per game on the ground and ranks 12th in the ACC in points allowed. Watson may not equal his touchdown total from last week, but all signs point to the freshman having another huge day. Brissett needs another monster performance to help the Wolfpack have a shot at the upset, and the spotlight will be on his offensive line to provide protection against an active Clemson defensive front (13 sacks, 38 TFL). Both teams will have their moments on offense, but the Tigers have an edge on defense, which is more than enough to give Clemson its 10th win over NC State in its last 11 games.
5. Louisville (-2.5) at Syracuse
(Friday) 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
In a scheduling quirk, this will be Louisville’s fourth ACC game, while Friday night’s matchup in the Carrier Dome is Syracuse’s first conference matchup of the year. While the Orange has yet to play an ACC game, Scott Shafer’s team has been tested with non-conference games against Maryland and Notre Dame. Louisville’s defense ranks among the best in the ACC, limiting opponents to just 14 points a game and 3.7 yards per play. The Cardinals also lead the conference against the run, which is the strength of Syracuse’s offense (232.5 ypg). The Orange lean heavily on quarterback Terrel Hunt (299 yards) on the ground, but the junior needs to be more consistent through the air (11.8 YPC, 2 INTs). Quarterback play is also under the microscope for Louisville, as Will Gardner is nursing a knee injury and is questionable to play on Friday night. True freshman Reggie Bonnafon started last week against Wake Forest and completed 16 of 32 passes for 206 yards. Bonnafon will have opportunities to make plays against a Syracuse pass defense that ranks 13th in the ACC and is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 65.1 percent of their passes.
6. Wake Forest at Florida State (-39)
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
The Seminoles survived another close call last Saturday, rallying from a 24-7 deficit to beat NC State 56-41. Florida State shouldn’t need a fourth-quarter rally this week against a struggling Wake Forest offense. The Seminoles are a 39-point favorite against the Demon Deacons, which is the largest point spread among Power 5 matchups in Week 6. Wake Forest’s offense is averaging just 18.2 points per game and a paltry 3.6 yards per play. The Demon Deacons also have negative rushing yardage in three out of their five games. Florida State’s young defense struggled in the first half against NC State but performed better over the final two quarters. This game is a good opportunity for the Seminoles to build confidence on defense. Wake Forest’s defense is the strength of this team but will struggle to stop Jameis Winston and a receiving corps that is starting to jell after last week’s win in Raleigh.
ACC Week 6 Predictions
Va. Tech (-1.5) at UNC
Miami (-1.5) at Ga. Tech
Pitt (+6.5) at UVa
NC State (+14.5) at Clemson
Louisville (-2.5) at Syracuse
Wake Forest (+39) at FSU