Though out-of-conference play continues in the ACC, the picture is starting to get a little clearer for everyone involved. Clemson continues to look like the class of the conference, mowing through Wake Forest with ease. Florida State, Miami and Maryland continue to fight for their place in that conversation, however, with Maryland looking to back up their newly-acquired ranking on the field at Doak Campbell this weekend. Georgia Tech and North Carolina, meanwhile, suffered crippling defeats. Larry Fedora is just four games into his second season in Chapel Hill, and has already inspired a less-than-flattering Twitter account.
More of our questions about the ACC will likely receive answers this week. Is Maryland for real? Can Virginia Tech’s stout defense continue to cover up their offensive shortcomings? Will Wake Forest win an ACC game? While we await answers to those questions, here’s another unanswered question!
ACC trivia, week 6 (answer at the end of the column): Which Atlantic Coast Conference rivalry is the longest continually-played series?
Top of the Ratings
#25 Maryland (4-0, 0-0 ACC) at #8 Florida State (4-0, 2-0 ACC), noon ET, ESPN
Last week’s episode: Maryland 37, West Virginia 0 (9/21); Florida State 48, Maryland 34
Program guide: The Terrapins have not started a season with four straight wins since 2001, and they have not made an appearance in the AP Top 25 since 2010’s end-of-season poll. They were last ranked during the regular season in November 2008, a spot that lasted exactly one week before they lost to…Florida State. Randy Edsall brings his first-ever ranked Terrapin club to Tallahassee, where they have never won. In fact, the Terrapins are 0-11 all-time against Florida State.
Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown leads the ACC in total offense by a considerable margin. Brown’s 331.5 yards per game surpasses second-place Jameis Winston by almost 42 yards. Running back Brandon Ross also occupies a top-20 spot in total offense, averaging 83 yards per game. The stability at the quarterback position has vastly improved Edsall’s offense, but Maryland’s defense also deserves a lot of attention. The Terps rank second in the conference in total defense, allowing just under 264 yards per game. Their last appearance featured a whitewash of a West Virginia team that defeated ranked Oklahoma State last weekend. West Virginia mounted just 175 yards of total offense, completing only 2-of-12 third downs and turning the ball over six times. One of those turnovers was an A.J. Hendy 28-yard interception return for a touchdown.
As previously mentioned, Winston keys the Florida State offense. Running back Devonta Freeman (80.5 yards per game) ranks fifth in the ACC in rushing, and receivers Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin all find themselves in the top 15 in the conference in yards per game. Jimbo Fisher’s squad averages a gaudy 532.8 yards per game on offense, and the battle between the FSU offense and the Terrapin defense will be outstanding all day.
FSU had compiled their own stingy numbers on defense before last week’s victory over Boston College. The Eagles rushed for 200 yards against FSU — one week after FCS-level Bethune-Cookman rushed for 182 — while throwing for 197 yards. Also of note is that the BC offense was on the field for 73 plays, tied for the highest number the Seminoles have allowed all year. Maryland features two of the top seven rushers in the ACC, and FSU’s ability to contain Brown and Ross on the ground will likely tell the tale on which team walks off the field with a victory on Saturday.
Set Your DVR
Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-1 ACC) at #14 Miami (4-0, 0-0 ACC), 3:30 pm ET, ESPNU
Program guide: Georgia Tech rolled over their first two conference opponents in Duke and North Carolina, and a third straight victory would have given the Yellow Jackets a reasonable cushion in the Coastal Division. This was all derailed — even if momentarily — by a 17-10 loss to Virginia Tech in which the Jackets compiled 175 fewer yards than they averaged against the Blue Devils and Tar Heels. The larger concern for Paul Johnson’s team was that they rushed for 205 fewer yards than they averaged in those two prior contests.
Getting the run game back on track is the clear issue for the Ramblin’ Wreck, and this will be no easy task against a Hurricane defensive squad that ranks tenth in the nation in total defense. Miami’s lone true defensive test came against Florida, a game in which they allowed 413 yards in a 21-16 victory. Only 122 of those yards came on the ground, however. The offensive side of the ball features Duke Johnson, the ACC’s second-leading rusher. Johnson averages 97 yards per game, and has found the end zone four times on just 62 carries. Quarterback Stephen Morris guides the ‘Canes, and his already-injured ankle suffered another hit in last week’s 49-21 victory over USF. Morris has a capable backup in Ryan Williams, but Morris’ ability to throw and run with his foot concerns will be something to watch throughout Saturday’s contest.
Ball State (4-1, 2-0 MAC) at Virginia (2-2, 0-1 ACC), noon ET, RSN (regional)
- One-week recovery: Virginia scored fewer points last week against Pittsburgh (3) than touchdowns scored by Duke (7) or thrown by Blue Devil quarterback Brandon Connette (4) in a 58-55 Panther victory the previous week. Virginia ranks 99th in the nation in scoring offense (20.3 points per game), while Ball State ranks 27th, averaging 40 points per contest.
- Lofty company: Ball State head coach Pete Lembo is one of just seven active coaches to win nine games in a season at three different schools. Current ACC coach Paul Johnson, Brady Hoke, Brian Kelly, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Texas State coach Dennis Franchione are the others.
- Opening holes: The Virginia rushing attack has experienced its share of concerns in recent weeks, and Cavalier head coach Mike London announced a number of changes along the offensive line to free up room for Kevin Parks and the UVa running game. Ball State ranks 101st in rush defense, allowing 203 yards per game. Conversely, Virginia’s pass defense ranks eighth in FBS, presenting quite the challenge for high-profile quarterback Keith Wenning and receiver Willie Snead.
North Carolina (1-3, 0-1 ACC) at Virginia Tech (4-1, 1-0 ACC), 12:30 pm ET, ACC Network
- Not the trivia answer: You may recall the trivia question from the beginning of this piece regarding the longest consecutively-played rivalry. Virginia Tech and North Carolina first played in 1895, though they skipped over 50 years between games. Since the rivalry resumed when Virginia Tech became an ACC member in 2004, North Carolina has not officially won in Blacksburg. The Tar Heels’ lone win is no longer because of NCAA sanctions.
- What a rush: The Tar Heels defeated Virginia Tech 48-34 last season in Chapel Hill. North Carolina outrushed the Hokies 339-40 in the contest, with 262 of those yards coming from current Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard. This season, Carolina ranks last in the ACC in rushing, averaging just over 100 yards per game. Carolina is also last in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 234.25 yards per contest. The Hokies rank third in the conference, allowing 103 yards per game.
- Welcome home: The Hokies welcome Larry Fedora’s UNC club as their Homecoming opponent this week. Tech has not lost a Homecoming game in 15 years, as a 28-24 loss to Temple was the last blemish on the Hokies’ record as they welcomed their alumni back to Blacksburg. Head coach Frank Beamer is 22-4 on Homecoming weekends at Tech, and his Hokies have won eight of their nine opening ACC contests.
Army (2-3) at Boston College (2-2, 1-1 ACC), 1 pm ET, ESPN3
- On again, off again: This contest has been jeopardized by the government shutdown, with conflicting messages back and forth about whether the teams would play. As of press time for this article, the two teams are scheduled to play, as the Department of Defense has issued their approval for Army to travel to Chestnut Hill.
- Grounded flights: Boston College has very little about which to be concerned with the Army passing game. Army ranks last in the FBS in passing offense, averaging just 66 yards per game. The Eagles allow 179.3 rushing yards per game, which is good for 85th in the FBS. Army attempted just three passes in a victory over Louisiana Tech last week, rushing 77 times for 414 yards and five scores.
- Continuing the balance: We referenced BC’s 200 rushing and 197 passing yards against Florida State last week, and quarterback Chase Rettig needs to utilize his weapons in running back Andre Williams and receiver Alex Amidon in this contest. Williams leads the ACC in rushing at just over 126 yards per game, while Amidon is third in the conference in receptions (27) and eighth in yards per game (76).
NC State (3-1, 0-1 ACC) at Wake Forest (2-3, 0-2 ACC), 3:30 pm ET, RSN (regional)
- Gaining in grabs: Wake Forest receiver Michael Campanaro notched seven receptions for 75 yards against Clemson last week. This puts him in second-place among all-time Wake receivers with 194 catches. That total also makes him the active ACC leader, 30 receptions ahead of Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.
- Winning in Winston: The Deacons have gone 3-3 in the last six games against NC State, but the Wolfpack have not won at BB&T Field in 12 years. Wake Forest has scored greater than 30 points in all three of the aforementioned victories (2011, 2009 and 2007).
- Commonality in Clemson: The two clubs share a common opponent in the Clemson Tigers. Clemson defeated the Wolfpack 26-14 in Raleigh on September 19th, while Wake Forest fell 56-7 in Death Valley last week. The Tigers racked up 573 yards of total offense (407 passing) against the Deacs, while the Wolfpack allowed 415 yards to the conference’s third-ranked offense.
#3 Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC) at Syracuse (2-2, 0-0 ACC), 3:30 pm ET, ABC/ESPN2 (reverse mirror)
- Trailing the Tide: Clemson has defeated twelve straight unranked teams by double digits. That streak of double-digit victories trails just Alabama (21 straight victories) for the FBS lead. Clemson has outscored those opponents by an average of 27 points during the streak.
- Program-defining victories: Clemson arrives at the Carrier Dome ranked third in the AP poll. No higher-ranked team has visited Syracuse since the 2002 Miami Hurricanes, who were ranked first in the poll at the time. Both schools represented the Big East Conference in 2002. Miami won the game 49-7. The last time the Orange defeated an opponent this highly-rated was 1984, when they scored a 17-9 victory over then-number one Nebraska in Syracuse.
- Just once: Clemson and Syracuse have only faced each other one time in the programs’ history. That game, the 1995 Gator Bowl, saw the Tigers get shut out by Syracuse, 41-0. Future NFL stars Donovan McNabb (13-of-23, 309 yards, one touchdown) and Marvin Harrison (seven catches, 173 yards, two touchdowns) had big games in Jacksonville.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Which Atlantic Coast Conference rivalry is the longest continually-played series?
Wake Forest and NC State will play for the 107th time this weekend. The two schools have played each other every year since 1910. The teams first played in Raleigh in 1895, a game which resulted in a 4-4 tie.