There isn't a huge game with national interest in the ACC this Saturday, but there is no shortage of intrigue.
Pittsburgh has quietly improved to 3-1 after losing its opener, and the Panthers have a chance to stake their claim in the Coastal Division race with a win at Virginia Tech this week.
Georgia Tech is reeling just a bit after back-to-back losses, and the Yellow Jackets won’t get a break with a trip to BYU this Saturday. Georgia Tech’s offense will have its hands full against the Cougars’ active front seven.
Virginia-Maryland, Syracuse-NC State and Boston College-Clemson are the other contests within conference play this week. Due to realignment, this is the last scheduled matchup between the Terrapins and Cavaliers. The Wolfpack and Orange are both searching for a win after losing last week, while the Tigers are a heavy favorite against Boston College.
Duke steps out of conference play for a tough matchup against Navy this Saturday. The Blue Devils will be fighting just to get bowl eligible this year, so beating the Midshipmen is a must if this team wants to get to six wins.
ACC Week 7 Game Power Rankings
1. Pittsburgh (+9) at Virginia Tech (12 ET, ESPNU)
After six weeks, the Coastal Division looks like a two-team race between Virginia Tech and Miami. But is it time to add Pittsburgh to the top tier of the division? Saturday’s game in Blacksburg is a good measuring stick for the Panthers, as coach Paul Chryst’s team has rebounded with three wins in a row after losing to Florida State in the opener. Led by their defense, the Hokies have won five in a row, but the offense is starting to show some signs of life. Quarterback Logan Thomas isn’t putting up huge numbers. However, the senior hasn’t thrown an interception in two games and has completed at least 67 percent of his passes in the last two contests. Without a consistent running game, much of Virginia Tech’s offensive success will rest on No. 3’s shoulders. Despite returning eight starters, Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled this year. The Panthers rank 10th in the ACC in total defense and have forced just seven turnovers and nine sacks in four games. While the defense has struggled, Pittsburgh’s offense averages 6.4 yards per play and freshmen Tyler Boyd (WR) and James Conner (RB) have provided a boost for this unit. But the big concern for the Panthers against Virginia Tech will be an offensive line that has allowed 13 sacks this season. The Hokies lead the ACC in total defense (263.7 ypg) and have generated 19 sacks and 16 turnovers. Pittsburgh beat Virginia Tech last season, but the Panthers will have their hands full against the Hokies’ defense.
2. Georgia Tech (+7) at BYU (7 ET, ESPN2)
After back-to-back games against Virginia Tech and Miami, the schedule doesn’t get any easier for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets travel to Provo, Utah on Saturday to play BYU – a team they lost 41-17 to last season. The Cougars have lost both of their games this season by a combined 10 points and have won two in a row after a 1-2 start. Winning the battle in the trenches is crucial for both teams on Saturday. Georgia Tech’s rushing attack averages 300 yards per game, but BYU’s front seven is loaded with talent, including senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who has seven tackles for a loss this year. The Yellow Jackets could be shorthanded on the offensive line, as tackles Ray Beno and Morgan Bailey may not play due to injury. The Cougars are holding opponents to just 3.5 yards per rush this year, so it’s critical for Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee to loosen up the front seven with the passing game. Lee has struggled in the last two games after a fast start, completing just 10 of 37 passes for 207 yards and two interceptions in the last two games. Georgia Tech’s defense allowed 45 points to Miami last week but ranks fourth in the ACC in total defense (330.6 ypg). BYU’s offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill, but running back Jamaal Williams and receiver Cody Hoffman are also dangerous options.
3. Virginia (+7) at Maryland (3:30 ET, ESPNU)
Due to realignment, this is the last scheduled meeting between these two programs. Maryland and Virginia have met every year since 1957, with the Terrapins owning a 43-32-2 series edge. Both teams enter Saturday’s game reeling after disappointing losses last week. The Cavaliers were upset 48-27 by Ball State, while Maryland was dominated in a 63-0 defeat at Florida State. Terrapins’ quarterback C.J. Brown suffered a concussion against the Seminoles, and his status for Saturday’s game is uncertain. If Brown doesn’t start, Maryland’s offense is in good hands with Caleb Rowe, who started one game last season. The Cavaliers’ defense struggled to stop Ball State and Oregon, but in its other three games, Virginia’s opponents combined for just 30 points. While the Cavaliers’ defense is capable of keeping this one close, the offense remains a huge concern. Virginia showed some signs of life against Ball State (5.5 yards per play) but ranks 12th in the ACC in total offense and is last in the conference in yards per play (4.3). With injuries knocking out its top two cornerbacks, Maryland likes to bring pressure to protect its secondary, recording 18 sacks in five games. The Cavaliers have won three in a row in College Park, but will have trouble earning the victory in this one if the offense doesn’t play better.
4. Navy (+3) at Duke (12:30 ET, ACC Network)
Getting back to a bowl game isn’t an easy task for Duke, which is why this week’s game against Navy is a must-win matchup. The Blue Devils trail in the overall series to the Midshipmen (20-14-5) but have won the last two meetings. There should be no shortage of points on Saturday, and Duke could have quarterback Anthony Boone back in the lineup after missing the last three games with a collarbone injury. If Boone can’t play, the Blue Devils’ offense is in good hands with backup Brandon Connette, who ranks sixth in the ACC in total offense (249.2). Duke will need all of the points it can get on Saturday, especially since its defense ranks 10th in the ACC against the run and 12th in scoring defense. Navy averages 403.5 yards per game on the ground, with quarterback Keenan Reynolds the catalyst for the option attack. Preparing for a triple-option offense is never easy, but the Blue Devils have had two weeks to get ready. A bad sign for Duke: Georgia Tech rushed for 344 yards against the Blue Devils in their matchup earlier this season.
5. Syracuse (+6.5) at NC State (3:30 ET, RSN)
Syracuse and NC State are looking to get back in the win column after both teams suffered losses last week. The Orange was simply overmatched in a 49-14 loss against Clemson, while NC State was upset 28-13 by Wake Forest. The Wolfpack are hoping to get quarterback Brandon Mitchell back in the lineup this Saturday, but the senior’s status is likely a gametime decision after suffering a broken foot in the season opener. Syracuse is also looking for answers at quarterback, as Terrel Hunt played well against Wagner and Tulane but completed just 8 of 24 throws (with three interceptions) against Clemson last Saturday. With both teams dealing with some uncertainty at quarterback, the ground attack will be crucial on this week. Syracuse ranks fifth in the ACC in rushing offense, while NC State is sixth. Jerome Smith leads the way for the Orange (342 yards), while the Wolfpack has seven players with at least 100 rushing yards this season. NC State holds an edge on defense, limiting opponents to five yards a play and ranks second in the ACC against the run. NC State owns a 6-0 series edge against Syracuse, but these two teams have not played since 1998.
6. Boston College (+24.5) at Clemson (3:30 ET, ESPN2/ABC)
With a huge showdown against Florida State next Saturday, this matchup has to be designated as a potential trap game for Clemson. Boston College has improved significantly under new coach Steve Addazio, already surpassing its win total from 2012 after five games. Running back Andre Williams leads the ACC with 153.6 rushing yards per game and faces a Clemson defense ranked 12th in the conference against the run. Opponents are averaging 4.2 yards per rush against the Tigers, so Williams should expect to see a heavy workload on Saturday, especially as Boston College looks to keep Clemson’s offense on the sideline. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has been sharp for the Tigers this year, completing 66 percent of his throws and averaging 289.8 yards per game. Boston College’s defense will have its hands full against Clemson’s offense, as this unit has allowed at least 27 points in each of its last three games, including 48 to Florida State. Coordinator Don Brown loves to blitz, but the Eagles could be vulnerable to the big play against the Tigers’ receiving corps. If Boston College gets Williams on track, it has a chance to shorten this game and hang around until the fourth quarter. But the Eagles’ biggest nightmare would be an early 17-0 or 21-0 lead by Clemson, as they just aren’t built to rally from a huge deficit.
ACC Week 7 Pivotal Players
Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh
The Panthers are tied for the most sacks allowed in the ACC with 13 after four games. Quarterback Tom Savage is a talented drop-back passer, but the senior doesn’t have much mobility. Virginia Tech’s defensive line is deep and talented, recording 19 sacks in six games and limiting opponents to just 263.7 yards per game. Bisnowaty will be matched against ends James Gayle or J.R. Collins, and the freshman will have a tough time trying to slow down the Hokies’ dynamic pass-rush duo.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
If Pittsburgh can protect quarterback Tom Savage, the Panthers will have a chance to make plays downfield with receivers Tyler Boyd and Devin Street. The Hokies will counter with a deep secondary, with senior Kyle Fuller (21 tackles, 2 INT, 7 PBU) and freshmen Kyle Fuller and Brandon Facyson also in the mix. Virginia Tech’s secondary could get even deeper this week, as senior Antone Exum is close to returning from a knee injury. The matchup between Boyd/Street and the Hokies’ pass defense will be one of the top individual battles in the ACC this year.
Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson
Boston College would like to control the clock and limit the possessions by Clemson’s offense this Saturday. In order for the Eagles to accomplish that, running back Andre Williams needs to have another big game. The senior is averaging 153.6 yards per game this season and faces a Clemson defense allowing 171.2 yards per game. Jarrett is crucial to slowing down Williams, as the junior needs to win the battle on the line of scrimmage.
Vad Lee, QB, Georgia Tech
After starting the year 22 of 39 for 418 yards and seven touchdowns, Lee has completed just 12 of 37 passes for 207 yards and three interceptions in his last two games. And the sophomore is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry with only three touchdowns this season. BYU’s secondary hasn’t played the strongest group of quarterbacks this year, but this unit was hit hard by injuries in the preseason. Lee needs to execute the option better and has to hit a few plays in the passing game against the Cougars. However, BYU’s front seven is stout, led by senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy and 305-pound nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna.
Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia
With quarterback David Watford struggling to get on track this year, the Cavaliers need more production from the rushing attack. Parks is averaging 79.6 yards per game but rushed for only 34 yards in Virginia’s only ACC contest this year. Maryland ranks third in the ACC against the run (115.4 ypg) and features underrated nose tackle Darius Kilgo anchoring the line. Parks needs to have at least 100 yards for the Cavaliers to win on Saturday.
ACC Week 7 Predictions
Pittsburgh (+9) at Va. Tech
Va. Tech 28-21
Va. Tech 34-30
Va. Tech 27-20
Va. Tech 24-17
Navy (+3) at Duke
Syracuse (+6.5) at NC State
NC State 24-21
NC State 31-28
NC State 31-24
NC State 24-17
Virginia (+7) at Maryland
Boston College (+24.5) at Clemson
Georgia Tech (+7) at BYU