After the last couple of weekends where it felt like the ACC had a major matchup that would generate national buzz, this weekend is going to feel like a letdown. For sure, having Wake Forest and Virginia Tech off doesn’t help the slate.
These matchups may not have buzz, but at minimum they will help clarify the division races in the conference. They also will shape those who have aspirations for something bigger. Let’s highlight the three biggest of the weekend.
#2 Clemson (6-0, 4-0 ACC) @ Syracuse (3-3, 1-1 ACC)
Friday, October 13th @ 7 PM, ESPN
Things were rolling along just fine for the Tigers last weekend against Wake Forest. Maybe the offense was a little down but the defense was putting on a good show, and Clemson had put up points to feel comfortable. Then, quarterback Kelly Bryant injured his ankle, and everyone in Death Valley held their breath.
Bryant never came back in, though that may have been a function more of the score and not really needing to risk anything. Right now coach Dabo Sweeny expects Bryant to start, saying he hasn’t missed any reps in practices and “looks good.”
Syracuse, meanwhile, has been sneaky. They are holding at .500 right now, which is something after they stumbled against Middle Tennessee State. All they’ve done in the meantime is make both LSU and NC State sweat out a win, keeping the issue close till the 4th quarter, and hold serve at home against Pitt this past Saturday.
No one expects Syracuse to win, just like no one expected them to beat Virginia Tech at home last year. The Orange are at home for the second straight game, it’s a short week, and Clemson is coming off their starting quarterback being hurt. If there were ever a perfect storm that could lead to an upset, this could be it. Most Carolina fans will be doing something else this Friday, but keep an eye on the score.
Florida State (1-3, 1-2 ACC) @ Duke (4-2, 1-2 ACC)
Saturday, October 14th @ Noon, ESPN2
This is another one of those supposed mismatches on paper, but arguably this is the “save your season” game for both teams. It’s also a very rare appearance for the Seminoles in Durham. It’s the first time they’ve been there since 2011, and most folks won’t forget the pre-expansion days when Duke would sell their home game to FSU to be played in the Citrus Bowl.
The travails of FSU are well known by now. How bad has FSU’s season been? They currently have the same number of wins as Carolina right now. They were looking good against The U last weekend, but the Hurricanes engineered a stunning last second drive. That loss puts the nail in the coffin for any NY6 bowl hope they may have had. They come to Durham needing a win to at least salvage a 8-3 season and have a bowl game worth playing for.
Duke, meanwhile, is starting to see a promising season crumble apart. The loss to Miami wasn’t too much of a surprise, but last weekend’s face plant against Virginia was. They are staring a third ACC loss in the face while the offense has sputtered the last few weeks. Saturday could be a chance for them to recover against a broken team.
Or it could be Florida State’s much-needed breakout game to turn around their season.
Georgia Teach (3-1, 2-0 ACC) @ #11 Miami (4-0, 2-0 ACC)
Saturday, October 14th @ 3:30 PM, ABC
It probably tells you all you need to know about this slate of games that this game got the 3:30 ABC slot. This game was actually supposed to happen on Thursday, but because Miami-FSU had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Irma, the conference wisely felt it wouldn’t be fair to make Miami play on short rest when Georgia Tech is coming off their bye week.
The Yellow Jackets have built off their impressive game against Tennessee to win their next 3 games, and climb to the top of the ACC Coastal along with the Canes. The dreaded Triple Option is always a difficult chore to prepare for, as Carolina fans well know, and the game in Miami Gardens offers the Jackets a real chance to grab a strong lead in the division. Florida State was able to get over 200 yards of rushing against The U last weekend, and you have to think the Yellow Jackets have a great shot at success as well.
Meanwhile, Mark Richt has quickly brought the shine back to Miami, beating FSU for the first time in seven years, and doing so in dramatic fashion. The next step in their ascendance will be whether they can regain their focus after such an emotional win. The Triple Option shouldn’t be new to Richt, thanks his years of playing the Jackets while coaching Georgia, but again, Miami was originally coming off a bye week for this game, not a program-defining win. A Miami stumble opens the Coastal up to chaos, a win makes the Canes the favorites to make the trip to Charlotte.