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ACC Rooting Guide: Week Three

Another big weekend in conference play kicks off Friday night.

Miami v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The third week of the season gets underway on Friday night with most teams in the ACC getting a breather against weaker competition. However, a few marquee conference games will take place on Saturday night that could answer questions about each team involved.

Friday, September 13th

North Carolina Tar Heels (2-0, 1-0 ACC) @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons (2-0, 0-0 ACC), 6:00 P.M. Eastern, ESPN

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina
Freshman Sam Howell has had a stellar start to his career in Chapel Hill.
Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina will get another early-season test when they go on the road to play a tough Wake Forest team. Mack Brown is impressing many by having success early on in his return to coaching, and a road win over a talented team could further improve the Tar Heels’ standing nationally.

Meanwhile, Wake Forest hopes to build on a solid start to the season that has seen two wins over Utah State and Rice. The Demon Deacons will look to get their season started off on an excellent note with a win over an in-state foe.

Strangely, this is not being counted as a conference game. The two teams agreed to play each other as in-state rivals instead of waiting for the ACC schedule to make them crossover opponents. As a result, root for UNC, because it helps make Miami’s loss to the Tar Heels more explainable.

Kansas Jayhawks (1-1, 0-0 Big 12) @ Boston College Eagles (2-0, 1-0 ACC), 7:30 P.M. Eastern, ACC Network

Les Miles’ return to coaching hasn’t been as storybook as Mack Brown’s so far this season. His Jayhawks lost to Coastal Carolina at home last weekend after barely scraping by Indiana State in week one. Unfortunately for KU, things won’t get any easier as they visit Chestnut Hill and a talented Boston College team.

The Eagles have had a great start to the year. In week one BC took down conference foe Virginia Tech in a win that surprised some, and then handled business in week two against Richmond. The Eagles are out to prove that they have the talent to compete in the Atlantic Division, and it’s time to keep an eye on them this season.

Root for Boston College in this game. A Kansas win would be a disaster for the ACC in terms of how the conference is viewed nationally.

Saturday, September 14th

Pittsburgh Panthers (1-1, 0-1 ACC) @ No.13 Penn State Nittany Lions (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten), 12:00 P.M. Eastern, ABC

NCAA Football: Ohio at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh has left a lot to be desired over the first two weeks of the season. The Panthers were handled at home by Bryce Perkins and Virginia in week one, and then followed that up with a narrow 20-10 victory over Ohio in week two. Pitt is still trying to find a run game after losing two 1000 yard rushers, and things could get ugly against a talented Penn State team this weekend.

PSU is hoping to see quarterback Sean Clifford get more comfortable at quarterback this weekend as they try to replace Trace McSorley this season. Clifford will get his first test against a Power Five opponent on Saturday, and the pressure will be on to perform well in a rivalry game.

Pull for Pitt to get the win here. A middle tier ACC team earning a win over a top-tier Big Ten opponent would go a long way in redeeming the conference, especially after Syracuse had the opposite happen to them last week.

N.C. State Wolfpack (2-0, 0-0 ACC) @ West Virginia Mountaineers (1-1, 0-0 Big 12), 12:00 P.M. Eastern, FS1

N.C. State has quietly been one of the most consistent programs in the ACC in the last several years. This year, despite losing talented quarterback Ryan Finley, the Wolfpack haven’t missed a beat. Matt McKay has stepped in and handled the offense well, and a talented defense has handled business against two cupcake opponents, allowing just six points over two games.

However, a road game at West Virginia will provide the first true test for NCSU this season. Despite getting blown out by Missouri last weekend, WVU still has plenty of talent. Morgantown is not an easy place to visit, and the Mountaineers could come out with something to prove after a rough start to the year.

Hope for North Carolina State to win here. Like most out-of-conference games, a win for the ACC over a Power Five opponent helps strengthen the reputation of the conference nationally.

Furman Paladins (1-1, 0-0 Southern) @ Virginia Tech Hokies (1-1, 0-1 ACC), 12:00 P.M. Eastern, ACC Network

Virginia Tech has struggled to get things clicking on all cylinders over the last year and a half, and it seems like that has continued into this season. The Hokies started out with a tough conference loss against Boston College in week one, and then followed it up with an uninspiring win over Old Dominion last week.

Fortunately for VT, they get Furman this week. The Hokies will look to make this a tune-up game before they get into the meat of their conference schedule, where they still have Coastal Division championship aspirations.

Root for Virginia Tech in this game. An ACC loss to an FCS opponent would be extremely bad for the conference.

The Citadel Bulldogs (0-2, 0-0 Southern) @ Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (1-1, 0-1 ACC), 12:30 P.M. Eastern, ACC Network Extra

Georgia Tech started off the season on a bad note, looking noncompetitive in a conference loss to Clemson. In week two the Yellow Jackets looked much better, or at least the defense did, in a solid win over USF. However, the biggest issue for GT has been finding a quarterback, as three signal callers have seen snaps in each game.

This week the Yellow Jackets will look to find an answer to their quarterback question against The Citadel. The Bulldogs lost their first two games of the season by a combined 14 points, and, despite having talent, should prove to be no mach for GT.

The Yellow Jackets are the pick here. Just like the Virginia Tech game, an ACC loss to an FCS opponent would be disastrous for the conference’s reputation.

Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (1-0, 0-0 MEAC) @ Miami Hurricanes (0-2, 0-1 ACC), 4:00 P.M. Eastern, ACC Network

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina
Miami has found a quarterback, even if there are questions elsewhere on the team.
Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the season for the Hurricanes has left many wondering if things have really changed in Coral Gables. While the Hurricanes have found a quarterback, youth in every phase of the game has cost Miami two wins through two games. On the bright side, the ‘Canes two losses have come by a combined seven points and neither game was at home.

Over the next two weeks Miami will have two tune-up games, followed by a bye, to prepare for a crucial three game stretch in the first three weeks of October. This game against B-CU, and next weekend against Central Michigan, are all about cleaning up mistakes for the ‘Canes.

Obviously Miami is who you should root for in this game. The next few games could be crucial to the ‘Canes season, even if they seem easy on the surface.

Louisville Cardinals (1-1, 0-0 ACC) @ Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (1-1, 1-0 C-USA), 4:00 P.M. Eastern, Stadium

Louisville has been one of the more surprising teams in the ACC thus far this season. Many thought the Cardinals would be one of the worst teams in the Power Five. However, UL competed with Notre Dame in the opening game of the season, and then followed that performance with a shutout of Eastern Kentucky.

For Western Kentucky things have been rough so far this year and over the past few years. WKU opened the year with a loss to Central Arkansas, an FCS team. Last week the Hilltoppers did manage to knock off a struggling FIU team, but questions still remain regarding WKU. They’ll hope to at least keep things interesting against UL at home.

Root for the Cardinals in this game. Just like every other out-of-conference game a win for the ACC helps the conference’s reputation.

Duke Blue Devils (1-1, 0-0 ACC) @ Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (1-1, 0-0 C-USA), 7:00 P.M. Eastern, Facebook

The Blue Devils came into the year with multiple questions surrounding the team. Most notably regarding inexperience on defense and offense. Through two games most of those questions remain unanswered. Against Alabama in week one Duke showed flashes of being a very solid football team. However, for David Cutcliffe’s squad it will all come down to consistency.

Duke gets their first true road test of the year at Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders have been one of the better Group of Five teams over the last few years, and a few weeks ago they put a first half scare into Michigan at the Big House. MTSU is a well-coached team, and Duke can’t afford to take them lightly.

Like the other out-of-conference games, you should root for the conference, and therefore Duke in this game.

No.1 Clemson Tigers (2-0, 1-0 ACC) @ Syracuse Orange (1-1, 0-0 ACC), 7:30 P.M. Eastern, ABC

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Clemson
Travis Etienne has played at a Heisman-caliber level so far this season.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse was one of the stories of the season last year, and heading into this season this game was circled as the premier matchup of week three... then last week happened. The Orange took an embarrassing loss to Maryland on the road that killed much of the enthusiasm surrounding the program. Now Tommy DeVito and Syracuse have a chance to immediately change the narrative with a prime time showdown at the Carrier Dome, the first non-basketball prime time event at Syracuse in recent memory.

For Clemson, they come into this game off of a huge win against Texas A&M last week. The Tigers again seem destined for the College Football Playoff and an eventual showdown against Alabama. Trevor Lawrence has looked solid this season, although he’s had turnover issues that he didn’t have last year. However, the biggest story for the Tigers has to be Travis Etienne, who has emerged as a serious Heisman contender.

This game has little effect on Miami, but it’s probably smart to root for Clemson purely so that the ACC stays at the top of the AP and Coaches polls.

Florida State Seminoles (1-1, 0-0 ACC) @ No.25 Virginia Cavaliers (2-0, 1-0 ACC), 7:30 P.M. Eastern, ACC Network

The Seminoles have had a nightmarish start to the season. They blew a lead to Boise State in week one, and then were taken down to the wire by Louisiana-Monroe last weekend. Questions abound in Tallahassee, and several excuses have come out of the program for underperforming over the last few weeks, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Things won’t get any easier for FSU this week. They must visit Virginia, a program that possibly has the second-best quarterback in the ACC in Bryce Perkins. FSU and UVA have had exactly opposite starts to the season. The Cavaliers opened their year with a dominant road win at Pitt, then handled William & Mary in week two. With a win this weekend the Coastal Division favorites would be well on their way to reaching their goal of taking a trip to Charlotte in early December.

This is another game where rooting for either team is acceptable. However, Virginia plays in the same division as Miami, so it might be smarter to root for FSU to hand the Cavaliers an early season ACC loss.

While there are few in-conference matchups this week, they could all provide valuable insight into the strength of the teams involved. Besides Clemson almost every ACC team is an unknown commodity, but this week’s slate of games could begin to make the conference picture clearer.