Wake got things going for the ACC on Thursday night with an easy win against FCS opponent Presbyterian. The Demon Deacons made a jump forward last season after finishing 3-9 the prior two years and will be looking to make another jump this year. Despite a two man competition in camp between junior Kendall Hinton and senior John Wolford, Wolford got the start and accounted for four TDs before Hinton came in to relieve him. This will be the lone tuneup for Wake Forest before they start ACC play next week against Boston College.
The Orange were another ACC team to get a big win this weekend, taking down FCS opponent Central Connecticut 50-7. The Syracuse defense will need to take a huge step forward this season after giving up almost 39 points per game last year. Although it is tough to take away much from a game like this, it was promising that the Orange defense was able to hold the Blue Devils to just 167 yards. Meanwhile, the Syracuse offense was able to gain 586 yards, the majority through the air (431).
Boston College went on the road Friday night and came out with a 23-20 victory over Northern Illinios. While NIU is not expected to be great this season (last year was their first losing season since 2007), the Huskies are an FBS team and a win is a win for the Eagles, who need to show strong improvement in the next year or two in order for head coach Steve Addazio’s seat to not get hot. In Addazio’s tenure, offense has consistently been an issue and he is hoping that freshman quarterback Anthony Brown may be the answer. Brown went 26-42 on the night and led the team on a 4th quarter drive, which culminated in a game-winning FG. While the offense still has a long way to go, there were signs of potential improvement if consistency can increase.
The Seminoles took center stage Saturday night in what was quite possibly the biggest opener in college football history. Unfortunately, the Tide rolled in and completely wiped out the Seminoles, who lost to #1 Alabama 24-7. To make things worse, star QB and Heisman contender Deondre Francois went down with a knee injury late in the game and it was announced Sunday that he would be out for the season. Francois’ replacement will be true freshman James Blackman who did not throw a pass against the Tide. A loss to the Tide by itself doesn’t ruin the Noles playoff hopes, but the loss of Francois cannot be overstated enough and makes Clemson the instant favorites in the Atlantic division.
As expected, the defending national champs opened the season in dominant fashion, defeating FCS foe Kent State 56-3. With Deshaun Watson on hand to watch his alma mater, Clemson outgained the Golden flashes 665-120. Watson’s replacement, Kelly Bryant played well in his debut, throwing for 236 yards and adding another 77 yards on the ground. He had a pair of touchdowns, one through the air and one on the ground. The Tigers better hope this was enough of a tune-up as they’ll take on #12 Auburn next.
In what might have been the most shocking result of the weekend, #16 Louisville struggled mightily with Purdue, who have gone just 9-39 over the last four seasons. In the end, the Cardinals came out with a 35-28 win, despite over 100 yards in penalties and three turnovers. Louisville was able to come out on top in large part due to a stellar performance from last season’s Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Jackson had nearly 400 passing yards and over 100 on the ground, generating highlight after highlight along the way. The Cardinals will have to clean things up quick as they take on UNC and then Clemson next.
#18 Miami took care of business against FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman, winning 41-13 Saturday afternoon. The Hurricanes were breaking in new quarterback Malik Rosier, after Brad Kaaya left school early to enter the NFL draft. The junior quarterback played well, throwing for three touchdowns, but the real star for the Hurricanes was Mark Walton, a deep Heisman sleeper, who rushed for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns. With such little experience at quarterback, Walton will see plenty of carries as the season goes on.
For ACC fans, the North Carolina game was probably the most disappointing of the weekend, as they lost to a rebuilding California team 35-30. The impact of the loss of Mitch Trubisky was clear as LSU transfer Brandon Harris was dreadful in this one, going 7-16 for just 60 yards and a pair of interceptions. Harris was quickly replaced by redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt and the UNC offense instantly looked crisper. Surratt may have definitely separated himself in the quarterback race after Saturday’s performance. The Tar Heels struggled mightily to stop the run last year, but allowed just 106 yards in this one, one of the few bright spots. Instead, they allowed the Bears to pick up 363 yards through the air. All in all, this was not a good result for the Tar Heels against what was supposed to be a rebuilding Cal Golden Bears team.
Pitt fans must have been having déjà vu Saturday when Youngstown State took the Panthers to overtime. In 2012, the FCS level Penguins defeated Pitt by multiple scores, but on Saturday, the Panthers prevailed 28-21, even with missing a game winning FG at the end of regulation. Despite being led by defensive minded Pat Narduzzi, the Pitt defense has surprisingly not been great the past two years and the offense this year will be a major question mark after losing offensive coordinator Matt Canada to LSU. This game didn’t do much to answer those questions, but it’s possible the Panthers were holding some things back before the big rivalry matchup against Penn State next weekend.
North Carolina State
Well, so much for the Wolfpack being a trendy pick to win the ACC Coastal. While a non-conference loss obviously doesn’t impact their ACC chances, the loss to what is expected to be a decent, but not great South Carolina team, doesn’t do much to instill confidence that NCSU will be able to top Clemson, Florida State, and Louisville to come out as the division’s top team. Statistically, the Wolfpack dominated the game, out-gaining South Carolina 504-246 with 29 first downs compared to just 12, but the Gamecocks were able to convert two NCSU turnovers into 14 points. All purpose back Jaylen Samuels, one of the top playmakers in the ACC had a staggering fifteen receptions for 85 yards, but just a lone carry, albeit for nine yards.
After a 37-20 loss to FCS Richmond to start the season last year, UVA wasn’t about to take their FCS opponent this year lightly. Saturday afternoon, in front of a strong opening day crowd, the Hoos took down William & Mary 28-10. Virginia, who won just two games last season, shouldn’t be expected to make much of an impact in the ACC this year, although quarterback Kurt Benkert looked strong, going 27-39 for 262 yards and three touchdowns.
Duke, who will be looking to return to a bowl game this season, started things off strong with a 60-7 win over North Carolina Central. Freshman running back Brittain Brown, who redshirted last season, had a huge day, rushing for 120 yards on just 10 carries, including a 39 yard touchdown run. Sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones will be key for this Duke team. Last year, Jones was pressed into duties as a freshman due to an injury to Thomas Sirk. He performed admirably last season and is expected to make an even bigger jump this season. Saturday, he looked sharp, going 19-25 for 213 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Blue Devils will get their first real tests of the season the next two weeks when Northwestern and Baylor come to town.
In one of the most exciting games of the weekend, a rivalry was reborn for the first time in 12 years, and the #21 Hokies beat #22 West Virginia in front of a packed FedEx field crowd. Josh Jackson, the first freshman quarterback to start the season opener for the Hokies since Michael Vick, didn’t look phased by the big stage, throwing for 235 yards and a touchdown, while scampering for another 100 on the ground. The Hokies look to be a strong Coastal contender once again and maybe even a team that can challenge the ACC’s elites.