It was a great day for ACC football this past Saturday, as the conference went 11-0 in non-conference games, including the most notable result of the day, Virginia Tech’s 35-21 win at Ohio State. Here’s the Notebook Nine on the ACC, the nine notable items about the league after two weeks and moving forward…
*Virginia Tech is now rightly included in any playoff conversation, but I think it’s probably more realistic to talk about the Hokies’ Orange Bowl prospects. The conference has a guaranteed slot in the Orange, and if you assume that Florida State is going to make the College Football Playoff, that makes the race for South Beach wide open. And VT took a big step toward grabbing that slot.
*It’s no surprise that the key to Virginia Tech’s win on Saturday, and why they will continue to win moving forward is defense. They’ve got a solid front four, and most important, they have lockdown corners. When you have a coordinator like Bud Foster that’s not afraid to blitz, giving him lockdown talent on the outside is an invitation to attack.
*North Carolina was the nominal preseason favorite in the Coastal Division, where VT resides, the side of the league that’s opposite Florida State and Clemson. The Tar Heels haven’t had a statement moment—in fact, they had to rally to beat San Diego State at home after trailing 31-27. But UNC is getting solid play from sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams, a candidate for league MVP and have no reason to back down from their own expectations.
*Speaking of league MVP candidates and Coastal Division contenders, how about Pitt and running back James Connor? The Panthers are 2-0, including a road win at Boston College. Connor has piled up 366 yards and has the look of the heir apparent to a tradition that includes Tony Dorsett, Craig “Iron Head” Heyward and Curtis Martin. The downside? Pitt center Artie Rowell was lost for the year, so we’ll see how that affects the running game moving forward.
*Keeping with the Coastal contenders, Duke is the team that won this division last year and has the great pass-catch combo of Anthony Boone and Jamison Crowder. It will be a couple weeks before we know too much about the Dookies though. They’ll be 4-0 when they go to Miami on September 27.
*Georgia Tech hasn’t looked impressive enough to suggest they can win the Coastal, needing three interceptions to key a win over Tulane. But at the same time, the Green Wave aren’t bad, and the Yellow Jackets still look likely to knock off a contender or two in the process. On September 20, they start a four games-in-five weeks run that has road trips to Virginia Tech and North Carolina, with home dates against Miami and Duke. The guess here is that GT wins two of those games. Who survives the triple option ends up winning the division.
*Moving to the Atlantic, it’s asking a lot for Bobby Petrino’s Louisville team to dethrone Florida State, but the Cards are very much in the Orange Bowl picture, especially after the Labor Day beating of Miami. Louisville will get a lot of hype after a near-certain 5-0 start, but there’s a long tough stretch ahead. In October they go to Clemson, play Florida State on a Thursday night and then in November the Cards go to Notre Dame. In short, don’t get too excited too quickly about Louisville.
*Let’s close with the defending national champs. The talk now is whether Florida State is overrated, after struggling past Oklahoma State in the August 30 opener and a ho-hum 37-12 win over the Citadel. I guess that depends on where you rated them to begin with. If you considered them the college version of the Seattle Seahawks, that would look like a top-heavy favorite and cruise home without a problem, then the answer is yes. But let’s say you’re a coach, you assume every top contender has problems and you have to decide which contender’s problems are most manageable. Would you pick Florida State to coach? I would.
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