Football, ACC Power Rankings

Embarrassing Saturday Spices Up Week Four ACC Power Rankings

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Arguably the weakest conference in the Power Five, the Pac-12 stitched together a rather disappointing stretch of Week Three games. Oregon State fell to Nevada, UCLA’s horrid start to the season continued against Fresno State, and Southern California suffered a blowout loss to Texas. As a whole, five of the league’s seven wins came against FCS opponents. The South Division played particularly poorly, losing all but two of its games to round out the week 2-4. To say the least, the Pac-12’s Week Three performance was ugly. But that didn’t stop the ACC from giving its Power Five counterpart a run for its money this past weekend.

Ranked for the first time in a decade, No. 23 Boston College dropped the ball in West Lafayette, Ind., losing to an 0-3 Purdue team by three scores. Wake Forest was shelled by No. 8 Notre Dame. Louisville—a week removed from nearly falling to Western Kentucky—mustered a mere three points against a Virginia team that many pegged as the worst in the ACC this offseason. Then the actual worst team in the conference, North Carolina, outlasted Pittsburgh in a shootout, handing the Panthers their second embarrassing loss in the past three weeks. The biggest eyesore of all was No. 13 Virginia Tech’s meltdown at Old Dominion. Josh Jackson went down with a leg injury, and the Hokies swallowed one of the worst defeats in program history.

Now, only three ACC teams remain in the AP Top 25, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the conference—once declared as the best in college football—has taken a back seat.

It only took two drives for head coach Dabo Swinney to pull the trigger and replace Kelly Bryant with freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Like he has all year, the youngster outplayed the incumbent, tossing four scores while leading the Tigers to a four-touchdown victory over Georgia Tech. The performance secured Clemson’s first ACC win of the year and Lawrence’s starting role. Bryant, who felt betrayed by the demotion, has already decided to transfer.

With its Week One loss to LSU in the rear-view mirror, the Hurricanes continued to beat up on non-conference opponents this past weekend, defeating Florida International, 31-17. It really wasn’t even that close. Before head coach Mark Richt pulled quarterback N’Kosi Perry in the fourth quarter, Miami was still pitching a shutout. That’s right, Perry, not Malik Rosier. The freshman tallied three touchdown passes, potentially earning the starting role in the process.

Duke remained undefeated to start back-to-back seasons 4-0 for the first time since 1952-53. Quentin Harris picked up right where he left off against Baylor, torching the North Carolina Central secondary for a trio of touchdown passes. Brittain Brown added 118 yards and a score on the ground, as well as a 44-yard receiving touchdown. Both Harris and Brown left the game early with injuries, but will be ready to go next week. This is exactly when the Blue Devils collapsed last season. Now ranked, Duke can’t afford to spiral out of control again.

So much for rust. After missing last week’s game against West Virginia because of Hurricane Florence, the Wolfpack came out on Saturday and racked up 500 yards of offense again. Ryan Finley and Kelvin Harmon stole the show. The two hooked up six times for 150 yards. Finley finished with 377 on the day and could have easily notched a handful of touchdown passes, had four N.C. State drives not stalled inside the Marshall 20-yard line.

Just when the Eagles finally burst onto the national scene, their offense reverted back to its old self, totaling a season-low 229 yards at Purdue. Anthony Brown came back down to earth, throwing four interceptions, including three on successive drives. And for the first time since mid-October of last year, A.J. Dillon looked human, averaging just 3.1 yards per clip on 19 carries. Don’t count BC out quite yet, but Saturday was certainly a setback.

Saturday couldn’t have gone much worse for head coach Justin Fuente and Co. The Hokies’ young defense—which impressed through the first few weeks of the season—finally cracked, allowing backup Old Dominion quarterback Blake LaRussa to put up video game numbers in what could very well be the upset of the year. The junior logged 495 yards and four scores through the air and engineered four fourth-quarter touchdown drives, all of which spanned 65 yards or more. To top it all off, Josh Jackson fractured his tibia and is out indefinitely.

Syracuse is 4-0 for the first time since 1991 and only the fourth time since the end of World War II—let that sink in. Still, until the Orange beats an ACC opponent not named Florida State, it’s going to be hard to rank the program any higher. That said, Syracuse’s 30-point win over Connecticut was definitely intriguing, especially considering that Eric Dungey strung together 363 total yards and five touchdowns. We’re four weeks in, and the Orange has yet to trail an opponent this season.

Bryce Perkins is something else—the JUCO quarterback recorded 197 yards through the air and another 78 on the ground, hurdling two Louisville defenders, all while tallying three total touchdowns. The transfer quarterback has reinvented the Cavaliers’ offense this fall, sparking the team’s running game. UVA was just as dominant on the other side of the ball, holding the Cardinals to a dismal 214 total yards of offense. Like last year, the Cavaliers are 3-1 and exceeding everyone’s expectations.

With less than six minutes remaining in the first quarter of Saturday’s game, Wake Forest placekicker Nick Sciba drilled a 30-yard field goal to give the Demon Deacons a 3-0 lead over No. 8 Notre Dame. From that point forward, though, the Irish controlled the narrative, racking up 566 total yards of offense. It’ll be interesting to see if the Demon Deacons’ defense—a unit that has conceded 400-plus yards in every game this season—can right the ship, and if Kendall Hinton claims the starting quarterback role now that he’s back from suspension.

Following three-straight weeks of speculation and criticism, Deondre Francois and FSU finally played Seminoles football, rolling past Northern Illinois, 37-19. Mid-American Conference opponent or not, the victory has to be encouraging for head coach Willie Taggart, whose team compiled a combined 10 points in its first two FBS losses this fall. Francois’s 352-yard, two-touchdown performance could mark the start of his return to stardom.

The clock is ticking for Paul Johnson. TaQuon Marshall only completed three passes on Saturday against Clemson, and the Yellow Jackets’ vaunted spread-option rushing attack was held to a measly 146 yards—246.7 less than their season average. All of a sudden, GT is off to its worst start in 15 years. Since 2014, the Yellow Jackets are 18-22, including 9-17 in ACC play. If Johnson doesn’t show some improvement in the coming weeks, he could be on his way out.  

For some reason, the Panthers can’t beat UNC. On Saturday, Pittsburgh moved to 0-6 against their Coastal Division foes since joining the ACC in 2013. Kenny Pickett upped the ante, throwing a pair of touchdowns and scampering into the end zone for another on the ground, but the Panthers’ offense was hardly perfect. In fact, Pittsburgh mustered -5 yards of total offense in the quarter. That’s when the Tar Heels capitalized and turned a touchdown deficit into a 10-point lead. Head coach Pat Narduzzi’s team has the pieces, but lacks consistency.

Turns out, an extra week of practice was all UNC needed to turn things around—well, maybe. But on Saturday, the Tar Heels really did look like a different team. Nathan Elliott, who had completed just 50.7 percent of his pass attempts in the first two games of the year, finished 22-of-31 for 313 yards and a pair of scores. UNC rode a 17-point third quarter to a 38-35 shootout victory, avoiding the program’s first 0-3 start since 2003.

Every Saturday, the Louisville offense looks worse than it did the previous week. After apparently winning the quarterback job against Western Kentucky, Malik Cunningham was yanked at halftime during this past weekend’s game against UVA. Jawon Pass, the Week One starter, didn’t have any better luck, completing just 10 of his 19 pass attempts for 113 yards and a pick. Everyone expected a drop off at the quarterback position for the Cardinals—but not one of seismic proportions like we’ve seen.  

Featured Image by Nicole Chan / Heights Editor

Graphics by Andy Backstrom / Heights Editor

September 27, 2018

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