Clear Your Schedule – ACC 2015, Week 1

By Brian Wilmer -

It’s here.

On one hand, it seemed as though it would never get here.  On the other, we are left to wonder where the heck the year went.  Either way, college football has arrived, and after a tremendous lid-lifter in Missoula between North Dakota State and Montana, FBS football is upon us.  The first few weeks of ACC action always present a variety of matchups.  Some you will see here, and others you will see in our new feature, The Sixer.

Wherever you see your team’s game listed, allow me to again express to you what a privilege it is to continue to talk football with all of you each week.  We won’t always agree, but I — and we all here at FBSchedules — appreciate all of you.  We’re ready for a really long year, and it will be over before we know it.  It’s a new year, and hope always springs eternal.  May it be a great year for your team.  It’s time to crack the seal — but first, it’s trivia time!

ACC Trivia, Week 1 (answer at the end of the column):  Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech club has rushed for more yards than any other FBS school since his arrival in 2008.  For how many miles have the Yellow Jackets rushed during that time?

Writer’s notes:  As is often the case when FCS teams play FBS schools, our notes will focus on those schools.  Most of you know the FBS teams a lot better, so this is our chance to introduce you to their opponents.

Also, for those of you unaware of the origin of the “print that, tweet that, whatever” line that produces our 140-character (or fewer) game previews, I will again refer you to that one time Dabo Swinney chucked some shade at South Carolina and made the Battle for the Palmetto State that much more entertaining.  This is now one of my favorite few rivalries, especially because I live in South Carolina and don’t really have a dog in the hunt between the two schools.

Keyword Search (all times Eastern and rankings AP)

North Carolina vs. South Carolina (Belk College Kickoff)
6:00pm (Thursday) | Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.) | ESPN

  • This won’t be the last time:  Monday’s Charlotte Observer reports that this battle in the Queen City will just be the beginning of the Tar Heels and Gamecocks in Charlotte. Charlotte Sports Foundation executive director Will Webb conveyed to the newspaper that at least two more games between the teams will take place in the home of the Carolina Panthers.  We learned Wednesday that those future dates would occur in 2019 and 2023.  This will be the ninth regular-season game played in Bank of America Stadium, with this being North Carolina’s third and South Carolina’s second.
  • Don’t get too Cocky:  South Carolina has won 94 of the 118 contests between the teams, though only two have been played since 1991.  Steve Spurrier presided over those two Gamecock victories, a 21-15 decision in 2007 and a 27-10 win to open the 2013 slate.  Despite the series dominance, South Carolina is just 6-4 in their last 10 games with their border rival.
  • A Marquise player:  The Gamecocks will face quite the challenge in Tar Heel quarterback Marquise Williams.  The senior had the third-highest yardage total among ACC passers last season, behind Jameis Winston and Brad Kaaya.  Williams threw for 3073 yards and 21 scores, adding 783 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.  The Gamecocks finished 13th in the SEC in rush defense last season, versus 10th in pass defense.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:   This game will go a long way toward defining both teams’ seasons.  Beating your rival can be worth far more than just bragging rights.

Elon at Wake Forest
7:00pm (Thursday) | ESPN3

  • A new leader:  Elon has not officially named a starting quarterback as of press time, but whomever takes the snaps will be doing so for the first time.  Redshirt freshman Connor Christiansen (Fishers, In.) or true freshman Daniel Thompson (Spartanburg, S.C.) will be under center for the Phoenix.  Thompson’s brother Dylan played at South Carolina, and is now in camp with the San Francisco 49ers.  Daniel missed a number of games during his senior season at Boiling Springs High School after breaking his non-throwing arm.
  • Avoiding the bagel:  The Phoenix and Demon Deacons have played ten times (all but one before Elon changed its nickname), and have been shut out in seven of those 10 contests.  Elon has never secured a victory against Wake Forest, but did battle to a scoreless tie on October 1, 1927.  The maroon and gold has scored just 19 points in those 10 games.
  • There’s no place like home:  Though Elon starts the season on the road, Winston-Salem’s BB&T Field is a mere 50 minutes from the Phoenix’ Rhodes Stadium.  Elon stays in the Tarheel State for a week two contest in Boiling Springs at Big South school Gardner-Webb.  North Carolina A&T and Towson make trips to the North Carolina piedmont before Rich Skrosky’s club plays their first game outside of the state at New Hampshire October 3rd.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Elon is still reinventing itself in Skrosky’s second year.  The Phoenix may hang around for a while in this one.

Bonus:  Be sure to read this incredible story from the Burlington Times-News’ Adam Smith about sophomore safety Chris Blair and his father, who will get to see him play for the first time.

Alcorn State at #16 Georgia Tech
7:30pm (Thursday) | ESPN3/FOX Sports (regional)

  • A dual threat:  The 2014 SWAC champion Braves will look to attack the Yellow Jackets’ stout defense with senior quarterback John Gibbs, Jr.  Gibbs finished just shy of 2,500 passing yards in 2014, adding greater than 1,000 yards on the ground.  The four-year starter had 32 combined touchdowns last season (21 passing, 11 rushing) and was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year.
  • Nice to meet you:  Alcorn State and Georgia Tech have never faced off on the gridiron.  The Braves’ lone FBS outing last season was a 26-20 loss at Southern Miss.
  • Born to run:  Georgia Tech is known to be a run-first team.  The Braves allowed greater than 200 rushing yards in just three games last season (Southern Miss, Grambling and Prairie View A&M), finishing with a top-20 total defense among FCS clubs.  Opposing teams ran for just 1403 yards (11 touchdowns) against Alcorn State.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  It will be exciting to see a talent like Gibbs against the Ramblin’ Wreck defense.  Georgia Tech lost a lot, but should still be okay.

Duke at Tulane
9:30pm (Thursday) | CBSSN

  • Breaking even:  The Blue Devils and Green Wave have played four times — once in New Orleans and three times in Durham.  Tulane has claimed victory in the Crescent City outing, while Duke has won two of the three played in the Bull City.  Tulane’s victory in New Orleans came 41 years ago, and the Green Wave last won in this series in 1973.
  • Looking for redemption:  Duke rolled Tulane 47-13 in Durham last season.  Green Wave quarterback Tanner Lee threw two rips for touchdowns, capping a 14-for-35 day in which Lee threw for just 160 yards.  New Blue Devil quarterback Thomas Sirk attempted just one pass (throwing an incompletion), but carried five times for 94 yards and a score.
  • Missing leadership:  Former Duke All-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown looked to return for the Blue Devils after a torn ACL kept him out for all of 2014.  Unfortunately, Brown tore his ACL for a fourth time during a scrimmage in August, rendering him unable to finish his Duke career on the field.  Brown ends his career having recorded 242 tackles and four sacks.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Tulane is on the rise, and Duke is breaking in Sirk as a full-time starter.  This will be a close one, with the edge to the Blue Devils.

Rhode Island at Syracuse
7:00pm (Friday) | ESPN3

  • You can put it on the board:  Rhody seeks its first victory in school history against an FBS opponent, having fallen in their previous 12 attempts.  Two of those losses came against Syracuse (2002 and 2011).
  • You don’t score…until you score:  Syracuse touted the 37th-best scoring defense in 2014, allowing just 24.3 points per game.  The Rams scored roughly half of that last season, averaging 12.5 per contest.  Rhode Island’s defense gave up 34.1 points per game.
  • They call that a “winning streak”:  A win would give the Rams back-to-back wins (they closed the 2014 season by defeating Towson).  Rhode Island has not won consecutive games in five years, when they beat Towson and then-third-ranked Villanova.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Rhode Island is predicted to finish 11th in a 12-team FCS league.  We’re done here.

Wofford at #12 Clemson
12:30pm | ACC Network (regional)/ESPN3

  • Jack-ed up:  Junior quarterback Evan Jacks is listed as the Terriers’ starter on the depth chart, but the Spartanburg Herald-Journal’s Todd Shanesy reports that he may not lead the first-team offense onto the field for the opening snap.  Jacks completed 30-of-50 passes last season for 399 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions before suffering a season-ending injury just six games into the year.  Jacks also carried 80 times for 516 yards and five scores.  Michael Weimer (28-54, 309 yards, two touchdowns; 58 carries, 234 yards, four touchdowns in 2014), Brad Butler and Brandon Goodson may also see time under center.
  • Competitive against the ACC:  Wofford has played ACC teams close twice over the last four seasons, losing at Georgia Tech 38-19 last season and at Clemson by just a 35-27 martin in 2011.  The Terriers’ option attack toted the rock for 272 yards in Death Valley, winning the time of possession battle by nearly four minutes.  The Tigers themselves rushed for 215 yards in the contest.  Clemson’s rush defense ranked fifth in the FBS (second in the ACC) in 2014.
  • You’re grounded:  Wofford’s sports information department points out that the Terriers are more effective when they are able to stick to their rushing roots.  Since 2010, Mike Ayers’ club has won 67 percent of the time (26-13) when throwing 10 or fewer times in a game.  When forced to throw greater than 10 times, the Terriers have won just 57 percent of the time (12-9).

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Wofford has a history of hanging tough with FBS foes — except Baylor.  If they can keep Clemson’s offense off the field, that may continue.

Maine at Boston College
1:00pm | ESPN3

  • Looks can be deceiving:  One glance at the series history between these teams reveals a 3-5 record for the Black Bears against BC.  A closer look, however, reveals that Maine a) last beat Boston College 100 years ago and b) has never won in Chestnut Hill.  In fact, Maine has scored just 13 points in those five losses at BC (1929, 1967, 2006, 2012, 2014).
  • Getting behind may actually be a good thing:  In almost all cases, having to come from behind can create problems for teams, as they are forced to throw more often.  This may actually be good for the Black Bears, as they ranked 106th in rushing last season (109.3 yards per game).  Of course, their passing offense also had potency issues; Maine threw for just shy of 150 yards per game.
  • Odd to even:  A victory would be significant for the career record of Maine coach Jack Cosgrove.  Cosgrove, the Black Bears’ leader since 1993, is currently one game under .500 (126-127) for his career at the school.  Maine has made five playoff appearances (2001, 2002, 2008, 2011 and 2013) under Cosgrove.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  This should be a relatively low-scoring affair.  Maine will need to play a perfect game and force multiple turnovers to win.

Youngstown State at Pittsburgh
1:00pm | ESPN3

  • “Bo”-ing up:  As most everyone knows, former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini returns to the sidelines — and his hometown team — to take over the Penguins.  This will be Pelini’s fifth outing against an ACC team as a head coach.  Pelini’s Huskers defeated Miami in 2014, lost to Virginia Tech in 2008 and 2009, and defeated Clemson in the 2009 Gator Bowl.
  • Howdy, neighbor:  In a somewhat surprising development, considering the schools’ relative proximity (the schools are roughly an hour apart), the Penguins and Panthers have only played three times.  All three contests have been in the Steel City; however, after being throttled the first two times, Youngstown State pulled the 31-17 upset in 2012.  That game was Paul Chryst’s first as Pitt’s head coach, and saw the Penguins outdo the Panthers 35:10-24:50 in time of possession, among victories in most other statistical categories.
  • Returning to form:  Youngstown State was selected to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2015-16.  Four-time consecutive national champions North Dakota State was the pick to win the conference, with 2014 playoff participants Illinois State and Northern Iowa ahead of the Penguins.  Youngstown State has made 11 FCS (formerly I-AA) playoff appearances, with six championship game appearances and four national titles (1991, 1993, 1994 and 1997).

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  As FCS-FBS matchups go, this should have more “spice” than most.  Can Pelini make a dazzling debut leading the Penguins?

Virginia at #13 UCLA
3:30pm | FOX

  • You say goodbye, I say hello:  If there has been one constant during Mike London’s tenure at Virginia, it is that nothing is constant at the quarterback position.  Greyson Lambert — one of a staggering six quarterbacks to leave the program since 2011, if you don’t count Corwin Cutler, who decided to return after announcing a transfer — will start for Georgia this weekend.  Junior Matt Johns (89-162, 1109 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT in ’14) will draw the starting nod, with former Texas and Arizona quarterback Connor Brewer — the only one to actually transfer into the program during this time — at the ready, if necessary.
  • A good year for the Roses:  Virginia has never played in the Rose Bowl.  In fact, they have only played UCLA once, a 28-20 victory by the Bruins in Charlottesville’s Scott Stadium last season.  Johns was 13-of-22 for 154 yards and two scores in that game, relieving Lambert, who had thrown two picks.
  • It’s just me, Dr. Rosen:  UCLA freshman Josh Rosen makes his Bruin debut under center, eclipsing Jerry Neuheisel for the starting job.  Rosen completed 199-of-313 passes for 3186 yards and 29 scores last season, completing an outstanding prep career at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Ca.  Rosen threw for 8473 yards and 90 touchdowns in three years as a varsity starter.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  One would think that Mike London is in serious trouble if the ‘Hoos have another bad year.  It’s tough to see a win for them in LA.

Troy at NC State
6:00pm | ESPN3

  • Meet the new boss:  Troy welcomes former Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown as their new head coach.  Brown, who is just 35 years old, was an assistant under the coach for whom he takes over, Larry Blakeney.  Blakeney retired after last season, having spent 23 years at the Alabama university.
  • A maiden voyage:  Troy and NC State have never played in football.  The Trojans’ only victory against a current ACC school was a 30-point victory over Florida State 68 years ago.
  • Drawing a blank:  Only six teams have shut out Troy in the 14 years they have been an FBS school.  Three of those occasions were during the 2003 season, with two coming back-to-back (Virginia clipped Troy 24-0, followed by a 21-0 whitewashing by North Texas).  Nebraska also held the Trojans scoreless (30-0) that season.  Troy’s sports information department also notes that Brown has coached 88 games as an offensive coordinator without ever being shut out.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  This should be a fun offensive battle.  Whether State’s defense is better in Doeren’s third year will be something to watch.

Bethune-Cookman at Miami (FL)
6:00pm | ESPN3

  • Familiar faces:  Wide receiver Jontavious Carter and running back Danny Dillard should be recognizable to the Hurricanes, as both transferred from Miami to Bethune-Cookman.  Neither accumulated any statistics as members of the program.
  • No breaks:  Bethune-Cookman became famous for the “Speedway” offense (the school is near the Daytona International Speedway) in past years, and will again feature a high-octane offense that looks to quickly strike.  The Wildcats averaged 27.4 points per game last season, and may be even more prolific this season under first-year head coach Terry Sims.  BCU’s sports information department notes that the Wildcats had 10 drives last season of three or fewer plays.
  • Wearing the yellow jacket:  BCU’s most famed football graduate is Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Little.  Little played in Daytona Beach from 1963-66, then played for the Chargers and Dolphins from 1967 to 1980.  Little was a five-time Pro Bowler and played for two Super Bowl champion teams in Miami.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Miami has lost star back Gus Edwards for the year to injury.  BCU’s offense always keeps them in the game, but can they stop the ‘Canes?

Texas State at #10 Florida State
8:00pm | ESPNEWS

  • Pulling rank:  The Bobcats have never opened a season against a ranked team — at the FBS level, at least.  No team ranked inside the top 14 has ever faced Dennis Franchione’s club (Florida State begins ranked tenth), with numbers 15 (TCU, 2009), 18 (Louisiana Tech, 2012) and 25 (Texas Tech, 2013) having taken the field as TSU opponents.
  • It’s been awhile:  Florida State last lost a season-opener in Bobby Bowden’s final season in Tallahassee.  Miami beat the Seminoles 38-34 in Doak Campbell Stadium on September 7, 2009.  Hurricanes running back Graig Cooper notched just 31 yards on that day, but the final three were the ones that mattered most, with his touchdown marking the final margin with 1:53 remaining.
  • Uptempo:  Texas State features a high-octane offensive attack, with quarterback Tyler Jones (2,670 passing yards, 22 TD; 539 rushing yards, 6 TD) and running back Robert Lowe (1,091 rushing yards, 12 TD) both ranking among the top 15 players in the Sun Belt in total offense in 2014.  The Bobcats ranked 25th in total offense, tallying greater than 464 yards per game.  The Seminoles finished 63rd in total defense, surrendering nearly 397 yards per contest.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Much like Troy-NC State, this should be a fun offensive contest.  All eyes will be on Everett Golson, though.

Trivia answer:  I asked earlier:  Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech club has rushed for more yards than any other FBS school since his arrival in 2008.  For how many miles have the Yellow Jackets rushed during that time?

Georgia Tech has rushed for 16.9 miles (29,060 yards) during Johnson’s tenure in Atlanta.

Comments (4)

Outstanding column! As usual,you are leading the pack with your expertise..Elon and UVA could really make a statement this weekend.I am not betting the ranch on it,but it would be fun if it happened.