It’s a less than a full slate of ACC action this week, but there are a few intriguing divisional games, especially in the Atlantic. However, the most important matchup this Saturday is the lone game that involves a pair of teams from the Coastal Division.
Duke-Georgia Tech pits the defending division champions against one of the current unlikely frontrunners in the Coastal. In the Atlantic, while defending national champion Florida State should have little problem getting by Syracuse, Louisville-Clemson will meet for the first time ever, with second place in the division on the line. The other Atlantic matchup has improving teams in Boston College and NC State going head to head in search of a first conference victory.
Outside of conference play, Notre Dame resumes the ACC-centric component of its schedule by hosting North Carolina, and Miami hosts Cincinnati to round out the slate.
The majority of the league’s attention will most likely be directed towards what happens Saturday in Atlanta, but the proceedings in Clemson, S.C., and Raleigh, N.C., could prove to be just as entertaining.
ACC Week 7 Game Power Rankings
1. Duke at Georgia Tech (-5)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network
The Blue Devils have an opportunity to take a step towards a possible repeat as Coastal Division champions when they face the front-running Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. David Cutcliffe’s team has had an extra week to stew about its 22-10 loss to Miami, while Paul Johnson has gone from the hot seat to Coach of the Year consideration in leading his Yellow Jackets to a surprising 5-0 start. For Duke, one of the keys will be giving Georgia Tech a taste of its own medicine. Last week, the Blue Devils rushed for just 85 yards in the loss to the Hurricanes, after averaging 261 over their first four games. Duke also must do what is necessary to extend drives to keep the ball out of Tech’s hands, meaning it can ill afford to go 2-for-16 third down like it did against Miami. The Blue Devils’ defense will have its hands full trying to slow down Johnson’s patented triple option attack. The Yellow Jackets are averaging nearly 300 yards rushing per game while Duke has allowed three teams in a row at least 200 yards on the ground. Not surprisingly, opponents have tried to force Georgia Tech to beat them by throwing the ball. But one of the reasons the Yellow Jackets are 5-0 is that sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas has made plays with his arm (7 TDs, 1 INT) when he’s needed to. Turnovers could play a huge role in determining the outcome of this key Coastal clash.
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2. Louisville at Clemson (-13)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Florida State is still the king of the Atlantic Division, but it doesn’t mean the battle for second place won’t be worth watching. The Cardinals have played one more conference game than the Tigers, but the new kids on the ACC block still have a home date with the Seminoles looming. Clemson meanwhile has bounced back from its heartbreaking overtime loss in Tallahassee, beating North Carolina and NC State at home by a combined score of 91-35. This will be Louisville’s first game ever against Clemson and it comes in Death Valley. Cardinals head coach Bobby Petrino’s calling card has been his offenses, but it’s his defense that draws the tough assignment of trying to slow down the Tigers’ own potent attack. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has turned the reigns over to quarterback Deshaun Watson and the true freshman has responded. In two starts, Watson has completed 68 percent of his passes for 702 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception while adding 90 yards and two scores on the ground. Louisville enters this game sixth in FBS in scoring defense (12.7 ppg), but Florida State has been the only team thus far to hold Clemson to fewer than 21 points. The Tigers’ defense has held its own (22 ppg), so the Cardinals’ offense (25 ppg in ACC play) will need to step up if Louisville wants to have any chance of making its first trip to Death Valley a successful one.
3. Boston College at NC State (-4)
3:30 p.m. ET, RSN
It’s a battle of former Florida quarterbacks, as Boston College and NC State enter this game in search of their first ACC win. Both teams are coming off of losses, as the Eagles fell 24-21 at home to Colorado State two weeks ago, while the Wolfpack got shutout 41-0 in Clemson last week. Despite these recent results, both teams appear improved, especially NC State, which jumped all over Florida State two weeks ago at home before fading in the second half. Even though Boston College lost 2,000-yard rusher Andre Williams to the NFL, the Eagles have been productive on the ground to this point. Led by senior transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy, Boston College is leading the ACC and is sixth in the nation in rushing at 316.8 yards per game. Steve Addazio’s team relies heavily on the run (just 133.2 passing ypg), so the Wolfpack’s defense must do a better job than the 392 yards rushing it has allowed in its last two games. Meanwhile, Dave Doeren’s team has already surpassed last season’s win total thanks to a more balanced offense that’s putting up nearly 34 points per game. NC State is just one of two ACC teams (Duke) that’s averaging more than 200 yards per game both rushing and passing. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is in charge of running Doeren’s offense, and the junior transfer is the conference’s third-rated passer thanks to a sterling 13:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Eagles’ fourth-ranked defense (304.2 ypg) could have its hands full dealing with all of the Wolfpack’s weapons, while Murphy may need to make a few more plays with his arm (3 TDs, 6 INTs) to give NC State’s defense something else to worry about other than just stopping the run.
4. North Carolina at Notre Dame (-17)
3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
It’s a little bit of déjà vu for North Carolina and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Larry Fedora’s team stumbled to a 1-5 start last season before winning six of their final seven games. This season, North Carolina is 2-3, but it has lost three in a row with an average of 51.3 points per game allowed during this span. That’s not a good sign considering sixth-ranked Notre Dame is coming off a huge 17-14 win over then-No. 14 Stanford. The Cardinal are the No. 2 defense in the nation, but Brian Kelly’s team was able to put up 370 total yards against them. The Tar Heels enter this game 120th in the nation (out of 128 FBS teams) in total defense, allowing more than 505 yards per game. Statistically speaking, there’s not a lot of separation between these two teams from an offensive standpoint. Notre Dame is averaging only 14 yards per game more than North Carolina with the Tar Heels (36.0 ppg) enjoying a slight advantage over the Irish (31.4) in scoring. However, the disparity on defense cannot be overlooked, as the Irish have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 17 points and the Tar Heels are coughing up 42 per game (124th in FBS). Even if North Carolina catches Notre Dame looking ahead to next week’s showdown with Florida State, the Irish should win this one fairly easily. In fact, things could get ugly in South Bend if the Tar Heels make too many mistakes, on either side of the ball.
5. Florida State (-24) at Syracuse
12 p.m. ET, ESPN
Florida State finally appears to be getting its act together, which could be a bad sign for Syracuse. Since falling behind 24-7 at NC State two weeks ago, the Seminoles have outscored their opponents 62-20 over their last seven quarters. Wake Forest bore the brunt of this outburst, losing 43-3 in Tallahassee last week, as Florida State’s suffocating defense (126 total yards allowed, 3 takeaways) simply overwhelmed the Demon Deacons. The Seminoles’ offense hasn’t been near as productive as it was last season, but the defending national champions still have plenty of talent. The Orange could catch a break, however, with the possibility that Florida State could be without both its leading receiver (Rashad Greene) and leading rusher (Karlos Williams) because of injuries. Those aren’t the only key players Jimbo Fisher may not have at his disposal Saturday, but his counterpart Scott Shafer is dealing with some personnel issues of his own. Starting quarterback Terrel Hunt is out four to six weeks after breaking his leg, while offensive coordinator George McDonald has been stripped of his duties and replaced by quarterbacks coach Tim Lester. Syracuse enters this game ranked second to last in the ACC in scoring (21.6 ppg), compared to Florida State, which despite stints of inconsistency, is averaging 39.2 points per game. Even though the Seminoles have not played like champions at times and figure to be at less than full strength, the Orange still don’t match up in terms of talent and are experiencing too much turmoil on offense to be considered much of a threat to end Florida State’s 21-game winning streak.
6. Cincinnati at Miami (-15)
12 p.m. ET, RSN
Cincinnati and Miami are both sitting at .500 and coming off of disappointing conference losses. Because of a scheduling quirk, the Bearcats have only played four games and it’s safe to say Tommy Tuberville’s team is still trying to find its rhythm. After two wins over MAC teams, Cincinnati has been outscored 91-42 in back-to-back losses against Ohio State and Memphis. The 27-point home loss to American Athletic Conference foe Memphis is much together to swallow than losing in the Horseshoe to the Buckeyes, considering the Tigers won just three games last season. To make matters worse, Tuberville’s defense is ranked second to last in the nation (561.8 ypg) and he most likely will be without his starting quarterback. Gunner Kiel, who ranks among the nation’s best passers (15 TDs, 3 INTs, 171.2 rating), hurt his ribs in last week’s loss and is not expected to play Saturday. Munchie Legaux will likely start against the Hurricanes and the fifth-year senior does have experience to lean on. Truth be told, the Bearcats’ issues on offense stem from an inability to run the ball (103.5 rushing ypg), something that must change, especially if Kiel misses an extended period of time. Miami’s offense has been led by true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, who is second in the ACC with 253.3 yards passing per game. As is usually the case with freshmen signal-callers, Kaaya has made his share of mistakes (13 TDs, 9 INTs), but he hasn’t gotten a lot of support from his running game either. Miami is 12th in the ACC in rushing (133.3 ypg), despite the presence of preseason All-America pick Duke Johnson. As talented as Johnson is, he’s not producing enough (104.2 rushing ypg) to carry this offense by himself. Cincinnati’s 123rd-ranked rush defense (255.3 ypg) could be just what Johnson and his backfield mates need to get going. In fact, this game could be coming at an opportune time for the Hurricanes, who really could use a complete, well-rounded effort (on both sides of the ball), as they get ready to enter the toughest part of their ACC slate.
Off: Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
ACC Week 7 Predictions
Duke (+5) at Ga. Tech
Louisville (+13) at Clemson
Boston Coll. (+4) at NC State
NC State 31-24
NC State 37-27
NC State 30-27
NC State 34-24
UNC (+17) at Notre Dame
FSU (-24) at Syracuse
Cincinnati (+15) at Miami