No college football conference in the country had the kind of impactful first week the ACC did. TheSportsNotebook looked at the implications of Virginia Tech’s win over Georgia Tech on Monday night as part of the Week 1 recap. But the ACC also had the most consequential injury—Florida State defensive end Brandon Jenkins is lost for the year. Florida State was a trendy pick to win the ACC (including here) and to compete for the national championship (not including here). Can they fulfill those goals without Jenkins?
I didn’t believe they were national title material to begin with, but I would imagine even those that did would have to concede the answer is no. As far as the ACC title, we can’t rule the Seminoles out, but it’s tough to consider them the favorite anymore.
Jenkins was more than just a good defensive player. He was an elite pass-rushing end, one of the best in the country, playing on a team in a 4-3 scheme that relies on pressure from the defensive ends. He was on a team whose offense has some question marks, meaning the defense can’t be merely pretty good. The Seminole defense has to be great. How do you do that without Jenkins?
Let’s acknowledge that the cupboard is hardly bare on the defensive side of the ball. Bjoern Werner at the other defensive end spot is a very good pass-rusher in his own right, and Xavier Rhodes is a lockdown corner. The ‘Noles still have only one underclassmen in a starting role on defense, so this was hardly a rebuilding unit. Florida State is still going to play good defense, get sacks and get turnovers.
But the edge Florida State had on Atlantic Division rival Clemson is that the Seminoles were great on defense. Clemson may have had players returning, but they were the same players who had 70 points hung on them in the Orange Bowl. Thus, FSU fans could hope to counter Clemson’s skill position package of quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, with superior defense. Florida State will still have a better defense, but their defensive edge is no longer as substantial as Clemson’s offensive edge.
And Clemson’s defense might be making some solid strides. Another part of the Week 1 ACC landscape is the Tigers’ played very well in taking out an SEC foe, beating Auburn 26-19 on a neutral field in Atlanta. This alone merited a second look at the Tigers from those of us who picked FSU, and the injury to Jenkins seals Dabo Swinney’s team as the favorites to repeat in the ACC.
I had picked both Florida State and Clemson to make major bowl games anyway, but the loss of Jenkins means it’s time to do more than just switch places between conference champ and BCS at-large. Florida State is not a major bowl-caliber team at any level, including as a league runner-up. I don’t believe anyone else in the ACC is either, and that can open the door for non-BCS conference teams , headlined by BYU and Notre Dame, whom we discussed in the Week 1 recap.
The Brandon Jenkins injury was about as significant a development as there was in Week 1 and its ramifications go beyond the ACC.