Florida State and Notre Dame are two of college football’s marquee programs, and the Fighting Irish and Seminoles meet on Saturday night in one of the top games for Week 8. The matchup between Florida State and Notre Dame headlines the action in the ACC this Saturday, but there are a few intriguing games outside of Tallahassee.
Pittsburgh hosts Virginia Tech in a critical game for positioning in the Coastal Division, while Clemson travels to Boston College on Saturday afternoon. The Tigers won’t have quarterback Deshaun Watson, but their defensive line is a good match for the Eagles’ ground game.
Georgia Tech-North Carolina has potential for plenty of fireworks on offense, while Virginia-Duke is another key game for the Coastal Division title picture.
Week 8 Previews and Predictions:
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ACC Week 8 Game Power Rankings
1. Notre Dame at Florida State (-11.5)
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Tallahassee is the epicenter of the college football world in Week 8. Notre Dame and Florida State enter Saturday night ranked among the top five teams in the nation, and both programs expect to contend for college football’s new four-team playoff in 2014. Despite the history among the programs, this is only the eighth meeting between Notre Dame and Florida State. The Seminoles own a 5-2 series edge, with the last regular season meeting taking place in 2003. An interesting note to this series: Five of the seven games were decided by a touchdown or less. With that in mind, this could be another close matchup on Saturday night. Florida State leads the ACC by averaging 462.5 yards per game, but Notre Dame will counter with a defense that’s allowing only 17.2 points per contest. However, the Fighting Irish gave up 43 points to North Carolina, and the Seminoles’ offense will be the best this defense has played in 2014. Quarterback Jameis Winston is growing more comfortable with his new receivers, and the sophomore – provided the line provides protection – should have a huge performance against the Notre Dame secondary. But the same holds true for the Fighting Irish offense, as the Seminoles are allowing opponents to average 5.0 yards per play – almost a full yard increase from 2013. Quarterback Everett Golson has to be more careful with the football, as he’s committed nine turnovers in the last three games. Golson should have opportunities to move the ball on the ground or through the air. But in Tallahassee, Notre Dame’s margin for error is small and turnovers will be costly on Saturday night.
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2. Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh (-1)
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Thursday)
It seems like a broken record, but this is a key game for positioning in the Coastal Division. With little separating the top six teams, this is a prime opportunity for both Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh to take a step forward in the division race. The Panthers opened conference play with a win over Boston College but lost 24-19 to Virginia on Oct. 4. The Hokies are also 1-1 in ACC action, defeating North Carolina 34-17 after opening with a loss to Georgia Tech. Running back play is under the spotlight on Thursday night, as Virginia Tech will be without leading rusher Marshawn Williams due to an ankle injury, leaving J.C. Coleman (61 yards) and Joel Caleb (84 yards) as the team’s top backs. Pittsburgh’s James Conner is one of the nation’s leading rushers, but he may see time on defense as a pass-rush specialist. A key matchup to watch will be Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller against Pittsburgh receiver Tyler Boyd. Both are among the nation’s best at their position, and if Fuller contains Boyd, the Panthers need some of their secondary weapons to step up. A tight game is expected, which means both quarterbacks (Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh and Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech) have to limit their mistakes, as both teams rank near the bottom of the ACC in turnover margin.
3. Clemson (-5) at Boston College
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
If you like trench warfare, then Saturday’s matchup in Chestnut Hill is a must-see matchup. Clemson’s defensive line is one of the best in the nation, headlined by likely All-America selection in defensive end Vic Beasley and fellow senior Grady Jarrett at defensive tackle. The Eagles counter with an offensive line featuring five senior starters and a strong rushing attack led by quarterback Tyler Murphy. Clemson is holding opponents to just 100.5 yards per game on the ground, while the Eagles lead the ACC with an average of 315.7 rushing yards a contest. Murphy leads the team by averaging 118.5 rushing yards per game, but Jon Hilliman (4.4 ypc) and Myles Willis (5.0 ypc) factor into the gameplan. The Eagles hope to get their ground game on track and limit the opportunities for an explosive Clemson offense. The Tigers will turn to senior Cole Stoudt at quarterback after freshman Deshaun Watson was injured in last week’s game against NC State. Stoudt has yet to pass for a touchdown against a Power 5 opponent this year and will be tested by a Boston College defense that likes to create havoc around the line of scrimmage (17 sacks and 38 tackles for a loss).
4. Virginia at Duke (-3)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network
At the beginning of the season, it’s unlikely anyone would have pegged this matchup as a critical showdown in the ACC. But seven weeks into the season, this matchup is suddenly an important game. Virginia is the lone unbeaten team (2-0) in conference play from the Coastal Division. Duke picked up a win over Georgia Tech last Saturday, which was a key rebound victory after losing 22-10 to Miami on Sept. 27. The Blue Devils are the defending Coastal champs, and a win over the Cavaliers would allow this team to take an early lead for the division title once again. Quarterback play is critical every week, but it’s an even bigger storyline this Saturday. Virginia’s Greyson Lambert has missed the last two games due to injury, and Matt Johns is 2-0 during that stretch. Lambert could return this Saturday, but both quarterbacks are expected to play. For Duke, Anthony Boone has to play mistake-free. In the Blue Devils’ 22-10 loss to Miami, Boone tossed two picks and completed only 43.1 percent of his throws. A low-scoring game should be anticipated, as Duke ranks second in the ACC in total defense (15.5 ppg), and Virginia is among the best in the conference in sacks and tackles for a loss. This is the Cavaliers’ first road ACC game of the year, while the Blue Devils have won five out of the last six in this series.
5. Georgia Tech (-2.5) at North Carolina
7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Three of the last four meetings in this series were decided by eight points or less, and another close game should be anticipated in Chapel Hill on Saturday. The Tar Heels enter Week 8 on a four-game losing streak, but coach Larry Fedora’s team nearly upset Notre Dame last Saturday. North Carolina needs another second-half surge to make a bowl this year, and that run has to start Saturday against the Yellow Jackets. The Tar Heels have to find a way to slow down Georgia Tech’s option attack, which is averaging 294.7 rushing yards per game. That’s bad news for a North Carolina defense allowing 191.7 yards per contest on the ground. Quarterback Justin Thomas is the headliner (6.3 ypc), but Zach Laskey (4.9 ypc) has recorded at least 70 rushing yards in every game this year. Stopping the Yellow Jackets is going to be a challenge, as their style of play is not easy to replicate in a week of practice. While the Tar Heels will struggle on defense, their offense should be able to move the ball on a Georgia Tech unit allowing 6.3 yards per play this year. Quarterback Marquise Williams is coming off his best effort of the season (510 yards) and should have another huge day against the Yellow Jackets. Turnover margin is critical in this game. Georgia Tech was +5 entering last week’s game against Duke. But the Yellow Jackets lost three turnovers in a 31-25 loss. Forcing turnovers and getting stops on third down will be crucial to North Carolina’s hopes of snapping a four-game losing streak.
6. NC State at Louisville (-17)
3:30 p.m. ET, RSN/ESPN3
This matchup features the biggest spread from the seven games in the ACC in Week 8. Most thought NC State turned a corner after a 56-41 loss to NC State, but the Wolfpack has stumbled in its last two games. Dave Doeren’s team was soundly defeated 41-0 to Clemson in Week 6 and lost 30-14 to Boston College last Saturday. Stopping the run has been a problem for NC State, as it has allowed 536 yards and six touchdowns in its last two games. In addition to the defensive struggles, quarterback Jacoby Brissett has to get back on track after completing just 18 of his last 48 passes. Jumpstarting the offense is going to be a challenge for NC State this Saturday. Louisville’s defense is holding opponents to 3.7 yards per play and has allowed only nine touchdowns in seven games. While the Cardinals own one of the ACC’s top defenses, the offense is surprisingly averaging only 23.4 points a game in conference action. Will Gardner is set to start at quarterback after completing 10 of 16 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown against Clemson, but freshman Reggie Bonnafon will play in a limited role. Even though Louisville’s offense is off to a slow start, it could get on track against a NC State defense allowing 6.3 yards per play in conference games. The Wolfpack defense will be without starting linebacker Jerod Fernandez and safety Josh Jones due to an off-field incident.
7. Syracuse (-5) at Wake Forest
12 p.m. ET, RSN/ESPN3
With both teams at 0-2 in conference play and 2-4 overall, Saturday’s game is a must-win situation if either program wants to make a bowl this year. Syracuse is dealing with a handful of injuries on offense, and freshman A.J. Long will make his first start under center. Long showed promise in last week’s game against Florida State by recording 187 total yards and two passing touchdowns, and Wake Forest’s defense will be a good challenge in his first start. The Demon Deacons are holding opponents to 4.9 yards per play and are allowing 24 points per game. The numbers for Wake Forest’s defense are impressive considering the offense is managing just 3.3 yards per play and has not scored more than 24 points in a game this year. Points should be at a premium with two young quarterbacks – Long and Wake Forest freshman John Wolford – starting under center on Saturday.
Week 8 ACC Predictions
Notre Dame at FSU (-11.5)
Va. Tech at Pitt (-1)
Clemson (-5) at BC
Virginia at Duke (-3)
Ga. Tech (-2.5) at UNC
NC State at Louisville (-17)
Syracuse (-5) at Wake Forest