The opening weekend of the college football season has come and gone. We’ve now seen all 14 ACC teams take the field once in 2017 and can start making more informed judgments about each team’s relative strengths and weaknesses. That said, Week 1 only offers one data point. Several teams expected to be near the bottom of the conference looked great against far inferior opponents while some of the top teams struggled. We’ll know a lot more after the next couple of weeks but knowing what we know today, here’s (one person’s opinion) of how the ACC stacks up.
(Preseason rankings are from this article at the end of Spring Ball)
1. Clemson Tigers (1-0, 0-0) Preseason: 2
Kent State is a fairly weak opponent, even as far as MAC teams go, but the first game of the post-Watson era went off without a hitch for the Tigers. Kelly Bryant stepped into the starting QB job and put up 236 yards through the air plus 77 on the ground. On defense, the Tigers stymied the Golden Flashes’ run heavy offense, holding them to 2.7 ypc. The Tigers will face a much bigger test this week against Auburn.
Last Week: defeated Kent State 56-3
This Week: Saturday, 7:00 pm vs Auburn (ESPN)
2. Florida State Seminoles (0-1, 0-0) Pre: 1
The Seminoles may have lost a game on Saturday night but the patellar tendon injury to QB Deondre Francois is the much bigger loss. Florida State’s defense is still Championship caliber but the fate of their season will now lie in the hands of a pair of true freshmen: QB James Blackman and RB Cam Akers.
Last Week: lost to Alabama 7-24
This Week: Saturday, 7:00 pm vs Louisiana-Monroe (ACCN - WatchESPN)
3. Virginia Tech (1-0, 0-0) Pre: 8
This may be an overreaction? I’m not really sure. Regardless, Virginia Tech was responsible for the ACC’s best win over the weekend so they get vaulted up to the top of the Coastal for now. The defense wasn’t great (WVU was able to move the ball pretty effectively) but new QB Josh Jackson looked really good in all facets of the game. The Hokies will need the defense to improve and a little more help on the ground from the running backs but it looks like they’ll put up a good defense of their 2016 Coastal Division Championship.
Last Week: defeated West Virginia 31-24
This Week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs Delaware (ACCN - WatchESPN)
4. Miami Hurricanes (1-0, 0-0) Pre: 3
The Hurricanes are yet another team to get a solid first start out of a new starting QB. Malik Rosier looked comfortable against weak competition and the RB duo of Mark Walton and Travis Horner ran all over the Wildcats. The defense was not as dominating as Miami fans would have liked, especially considering the experience up front, but there’s plenty to build on there. Arkansas State is a bit of a tricky road game this week but the first real test for Miami looms large in Week 3.
Last Week: defeated Bethune-Cookman 41-13
Saturday, 3:30 pm at Arkansas State (ESPNU) This game has been canceled due to travel concerns caused by Hurricane Irma
5. Louisville Cardinals (1-0, 0-0) Pre: 4
A close, hard-fought game against Purdue was not how the Cardinals planned to start the season. Star QB Lamar Jackson put up 485 total yards and Louisville out-gained the Boilermakers by nearly 200 yards yet penalties and fumbles kept this game close. The Cardinals don’t have a ton of time to workout the kinks as they head down to Chapel Hill this week before hosting Clemson in Week 3.
Last Week: defeated Purdue 35-28
This Week: Saturday, 12:00 pm at North Carolina (ESPN)
6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (0-1, 0-0) Pre: 5
Similar to Louisville and next team on the countdown, the Yellow Jackets found themselves in a game much closer than it should have been thanks to a few blunders. An ill-timed fumble, the second half return of the Leaky Roof Defense and a poor performance in the kicking game doomed Tech against the Volunteers. Despite all that, the offense provided plenty of positives. The Jackets may have lost Justin Thomas and Dedrick Mills but Paul Johnson’s offense looks like it will be just fine behind TaQuon Marshall and KirVonte Benson.
Last Week: lost to Tennessee 41-42 (2OT)
This Week: Saturday, 12:30 pm vs Jacksonville State (RSN)
7. North Carolina State Wolfpack (0-1, 0-0) Pre: 6
A loss to South Carolina was an inauspicious start to what was supposed to be a break-through season for the Wolfpack. That said, their game played out similarly to Georgia Tech’s. They out-gained the Gamecocks 2:1 and had a +14 advantage in time of possession. South Carolina won because they were able to convert on the Pack’s turnovers and make big plays on special teams. NC State’s defensive front shut down the Gamecocks’ running game (21 carries, 31 yards) and QB Ryan Finley looked good. They need to limit the mistakes and close out games but there’s still a lot to like about NC State this season.
Last Week: lost to South Carolina 28-35
This Week: Saturday, 6:00 pm vs Marshall (ACCN - WatchESPN)
8. Duke Blue Devils (1-0, 0-0) Pre: 7
The next three teams all had little problem dispatching over-matched FCS opponents. I was fairly high on Duke before the season started and still tend to like them more than most. A big reason why is QB Daniel Jones, who started his sophomore season on the right foot. Jones was an efficient 19/25 with 2 touchdowns through the air and another on the ground. Maybe more importantly, the defense absolutely shut down NC Central. The Eagles aren’t a great FCS team but they’re solid (9-3 last season, albeit in a pretty weak conference) and a good showing from the Blue Devils’ defense is key to any hopes they have at playing ACC spoilers.
Last Week: defeated North Carolina Central 60-7
This Week: Saturday, 12:00 pm vs Northwestern (ESPNU)
9. Syracuse Orange (1-0, 0-0) Pre: 9
Syracuse’s Week 1 box score looks pretty similar to Duke’s. Star QB Eric Dungey had a great game (328 yards and 3 TDs in the air, 51 and 2 more TDs on the ground) and the defense held an FCS opponent under 200 total yards. Unlike NC Central, Central Connecticut is pretty bad. The Orange also need to get more out of their RBs but Dungey is going to throw all over against just about anybody this season. If nothing else, Syracuse will be fun to watch.
Last Week: defeated Central Connecticut 50-7
This Week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs Middle Tennessee (ACCN - WatchESPN)
10. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-0, 0-0) Pre: 11
Wake is the third mid-tier ACC team to tear apart an FCS opponent in Week 1. Both incumbent John Wolford and sophomore Kendall Hinton got plenty of playing time and were really efficient. The run game was solid and the defense showed up big time. It was a good start to the season but the Deacs will take a step up this week, facing the formidable Boston College defense.
Last Week: defeated Presbyterian 51-7
This Week: Saturday, 1:00 pm at Boston College (ACCN - WatchESPN)
11. Pittsburgh Panthers (1-0, 0-0) Pre: 10
To be fair to Pittsburgh, Youngstown State is a legitimately good FCS team. That said, getting shut out in the second half and taken to overtime by Youngstown isn’t a good look. The Panthers’ run game was solid but Max Browne was uninspiring at QB and last year’s secondary woes don’t seem to have gotten better over the offseason (the Penguins passed for 311 yards). This is probably a little low for the Panthers, but it’s deserved now. They’ll have chance to make a statement in a prime matchup next weekend at Penn State.
Last Week: defeated Youngstown State 28-21 (OT)
This Week: Saturday, 3:30 pm at Penn State (ABC)
12. North Carolina Tar Heels (0-1, 0-0) Pre: 12
North Carolina had the conference’s worst loss of the weekend. California came across the country and played at 9:00 am Pacific time but came away with a win. Brandon Harris got the first whack at replacing Mitch Trubisky but threw two interceptions before ceding time to redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt. Surratt looked pretty solid but couldn’t quite put the Heels over the top. If Surratt is the answer at QB, the Heels could improve a good bit as the season goes on but the defense looks like it will be an issue.
Last Week: lost to California 30-35
This Week: Saturday, 12:00 pm vs Louisville (ESPN)
13. Boston College Eagles (1-0, 0-0) Pre: 13
The Eagles took care of business in Week 1 and were able to pick up a road win in a tricky situation at Northern Illinois. Redshirt freshman QB Anthony Brown won the starting job and was solid in his first game action but junior RB Jon Hilliman continued his struggles from last season, rushing for 58 yards on a paltry 2.3 yards per carry. The Eagles will go as far as their defense takes them but Friday was a mixed bag for that unit. BC did a good job of getting Northern Illinois off the field (2-15 on 3rd down) but the Huskies were able to put up over 350 yards of offense.
Last Week: defeated Northern Illinois 23-20
This Week: Saturday, 1:00 pm vs Wake Forest (ACCN - WatchESPN)
14. Virginia Cavaliers (1-0, 0-0) Pre: 14
The Wahoos beat their opening weekend FCS opponent which is already an improvement over last year’s team. QB Kurt Benkert was efficient and took care of the ball while the defense forced plenty of 3 and outs and shut down William & Mary’s passing game. The Tribe are another so-so FCS team but notching that first win of 2017 is still big for a Cavaliers team that’s hoping to show some big improvement from 2016’s 2-10 disaster.
Last Week: defeated William & Mary 28-10
This Week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs Indiana (ACCN - WatchESPN)