After a one week delay the ACC Rooting Guide makes its’ return for the 2021 season. The ACC had a rough first week of the season, with conference teams going just 6-6 in out-of-conference matchups in week one. To make matters worse, all three ACC teams ranked in preseason polls lost in the first week of the season.
Despite a tough first week the conference has a chance to get things back on track this weekend with several key out-of-conference matchups. ACC teams play four games against out-of-conference Power Five opponents this weekend, and a 3-1 or 4-0 record in those games could go a long way towards rebuilding the conference’s reputation.
Saturday, September 11
Illinois Fighting Illini (1-1, 1-0 Big 10) vs Virginia Cavaliers (1-0, 0-0 ACC), 11:00 A.M., ACC Network
Quarterback Brennen Armstrong and the Virginia Cavaliers will hope to jumpstart their season with big out-of-conference win on Saturday morning. Virginia was picked to finish fifth in the ACC’s Coastal Division ahead of the season, but in the wake of UNC’s opening weekend loss to Virginia Tech the Cavaliers feel like they have a strong chance to travel to Charlotte in December.
To get to Charlotte, Brennen Armstrong will have to continue to develop into one of the better quarterbacks in the conference. Armstrong will hope to make a statement this weekend against a solid Illinois team that opened their season with a win over Nebraska in week zero. The Illini are coming off of a home loss to UTSA last weekend in which the Roadrunners gained 497 yards on an Illinois’ defense that will have to be better this weekend. UTSA Quarterback Frank Harris was 20-32 for 280 yards in that game, and Brennen Armstrong will hope to have an even better performance for the Cavaliers this weekend.
Root for Virginia in this game. An ACC win over the Big 10 would be a good result for the conference, and would help establish a middle-tier of solid ACC teams that has been lacking for the conference in recent years.
Pittsburgh Panthers (1-0, 0-0 ACC) vs Tennessee Volunteers (1-0, 0-0 SEC), 12:00 P.M., ESPN
Pittsburgh enters this season with high expectations, mainly due to the return of experienced quarterback Kenny Pickett, who has quietly been one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks over the last couple of seasons. Pitt handled UMass in their opener last weekend, with Pickett going 27-37 for 272 yards and two touchdowns, but a trip to Tennessee should provide a much stiffer test in the second week of the season.
Tennessee entered their first season under Josh Heupel with a 38-6 win over Bowling Green last weekend. The Volunteers struggled at the beginning of that game, leading just 14-6 at halftime over a team that hadn’t won a game since November 2, 2019. However, transfer QB Joe Milton and the Tennessee offense scored 24 points in the second half on their way to a 38-6 win.
A Pittsburgh victory would be massive for the ACC after two of its’ marquee programs, Miami and Clemson, lost to SEC powers Alabama and Georgia last week. To win, Pickett and the Pitt offense will have to play a very clean game on the road against a tough Tennessee defense that gave up just 219 yards in their first game.
Kennesaw State Owls (1-0, 0-0 Big South) vs Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (0-1, 0-0 ACC), 12:00 P.M., ESPN3
Georgia Tech had high hopes for a step forward in 2021 in their third year under Head Coach Geoff Collins, but an opening week loss to Northern Illinois got their season off on the wrong foot. Quarterback Jeff Sims was hurt in that opening game, and the Yellow Jackets will need him to be healthy moving forward if they want to take a step forward this season.
Getting on the right track with a win against Kennesaw State this weekend will be vital for Georgia Tech. After this weekend, the Yellow Jackets play back-to-back games against No.6 Clemson and No.24 North Carolina to open their ACC schedule.
Norfolk State Spartans (0-1, 0-0 MEAC) vs Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-0, 0-0 ACC), 12:00 P.M., ACC Network Extra / ESPN+
Wake Forest begins 2021 as one of the ACC’s most consistent teams as the Demon Deacons have made a bowl game in every season since 2016. This season Wake Forest expects to make a bowl game yet again and a 42-10 win over Old Dominion in week one was a good way to start the season. Wake Forest has another tune-up game this weekend against Norfolk State before a huge home matchup against Florida State next weekend.
Wake Forest is the team to root for here. The Demon Deacons could turn out to be one of the ACC’s better teams this season, and their schedule sets up nicely for them after this weekend.
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (1-0, 0-0 C-USA) vs No.19 Virginia Tech Hokies (1-0, 1-0 ACC), 2:00 P.M., ACC Network Extra / ESPN+
Justin Fuente and Virginia Tech earned one of the biggest wins of college football’s opening week, defeating then tenth-ranked North Carolina 17-10 in a game that made the Hokies’ the favorite in the ACC’s Coastal Division. This weekend the Hokies will look to move to 2-0 as they take on Middle Tennessee State. Virginia Tech Quarterback Braxton Burmeister was solid in the Hokies’ first game, and he and the rest of the VT offense will hope to settle in this weekend and complement a Virginia Tech defense that allowed just 354 yards against what was supposed to be one of the conference’s best offenses.
Root for Virginia Tech in this game. The Hokies will look to build more confidence this weekend before a tough out-of-conference matchup against West Virginia next weekend.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-0, 0-0 Big 10) vs Syracuse Orange (1-0, 0-0 ACC), 2:00 P.M., ACC Network
Before the season many thought Syracuse had the potential to be the worst team in the ACC, or at least the worst team in the Atlantic Division, with some going so far as to predict that the Orange would not win a conference game. However, in week one Syracuse went on the road and defeated Ohio 29-9 in a game they were favored to lose. That win has given Syracuse some much-needed confidence heading into a week two matchup against a resurgent Rutgers program under Greg Schiano.
Rutgers continues to improve under Schiano, and they head into their game against Syracuse as a road favorite for the first time since 2015, and as a road favorite against a Power Five opponent for the first time since 2009. The Scarlet Knights forced five turnovers in their first game of the season, defeating Temple 61-14, and will present a tough challenge for Syracuse.
Root for Syracuse in this game. This is another one of the ACC’s key non-conference matchups this weekend, if Syracuse can pull off an upset win it would go a long way to helping prove the ACC’s depth.
Boston College Eagles (1-0, 0-0 ACC) vs UMass Minutemen (0-1), 3:30 P.M., FloSports / NESN+
Phil Jurkovec and Boston College opened their season with a 51-0 win over Colgate last weekend and will hope for another blowout win against a UMass team that hasn’t won a game since September of 2019. The Eagles are poised to be one of the ACC’s breakout teams in 2021, and Jurkovec is making a case to be considered the best quarterback in the conference. Boston College’s defense may have been an even bigger story in week one as they allowed just 189 yards and forced two turnovers including a pick six.
Boston College is the team to root for here. The Eagles should be one of the ACC’s best teams in 2021, and after Clemson struggled against Georgia Boston College may be hoping they can make a run to the ACC Championship Game in December.
South Carolina State Bulldogs (0-1, 0-0 MEAC) vs No.6 Clemson Tigers (0-1, 0-0 ACC), 5:00 P.M., ACC Network
Clemson’s first game of the season raised a lot of questions about the 2021 Tigers, especially on offense. Clemson managed to score just three points against Georgia in the opening game of the season, and the Tigers offensive line allowed seven sacks, eight tackles for loss, and allowed Clemson running backs to earn just 2 yards on 23 carries. The Tigers will look to get back on track at home this weekend and establish that they are once again the dominant team in the ACC this season, although this is the most vulnerable Dabo Swinney’s team has looked in recent memory.
Root for Clemson in this game. The Tigers should still be one of the best teams in the country this season, and a rebound from the ranked ACC teams that lost last week (Clemson, UNC, and Miami) would be a boost for the conference.
NC State Wolfpack (1-0, 0-0, ACC) vs Mississippi State Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0 SEC), 7:00 P.M., ESPN2
NC State travels to Starkville, Mississippi to take on Mississippi State in one of week two’s most fascinating matchups. This season the Wolfpack are looking to build off of a solid 2020 that saw NC State go 8-4, with two of those losses coming by a combined five points. This season Dave Doeren will look to take the next step with his program and challenge for an appearance in the ACC title game, something NC State has yet to achieve since the conference first began playing a title game in 2005.
Mike Leach’s tenure at Mississippi State got off to a dream start last season when the Bulldogs upset defending national champion LSU on the road to start the year. Since then things have been less positive, with Mississippi State finishing 4-7 last season and starting off this season needing a 21 point fourth quarter to defeat Louisiana Tech by one. Saturday night’s game could be a tone-setter for Leach’s second year in charge in Starkville, and the Bulldogs will need a big win before facing the difficulties of an SEC schedule.
A road victory for NC State would be a huge boost for the ACC. NC State is poised to be one of the strongest teams in the conference this season, and Miami fans should be rooting for the Wolfpack to build their resume both for the strength of the ACC, and because the Hurricanes take on NC State later this season.
Eastern Kentucky (1-0, 0-0 ASUN/WAC) vs Louisville Cardinals (0-1, 0-0 ACC), 7:00 P.M., ACC Network Extra / ESPN+
Louisville comes into the second week of the season reeling after a 43-24 loss to Ole Miss in Atlanta last Monday. The Cardinals were shut out until halftime in that game and managed to gain just 355 yards on Ole Miss. Louisville’s defense, which struggled last season, could not contain Matt Corral and the Ole Miss offense, allowing 569 yards for the game with Corral averaging 11.9 yards per attempt.
The Cardinals will need to improve as the season goes on, and that can begin with a matchup against Eastern Kentucky. Root for Louisville in this one.
Georgia State Panthers (0-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs No.24 North Carolina Tar Heels (0-1, 0-1 ACC), 7:30 P.M., ESPN3
North Carolina suffered a shocking week one loss to Virginia Tech that saw the Tar Heels lose their status as the favorite in the ACC Coastal. UNC will look to establish a running game against Georgia State after struggling to run the ball against Virginia Tech for much of the game. Sam Howell will also look to improve in his second start of the season after a three interception performance against the Hokies to open 2021.
UNC is who to root for in this game. The Tar Heels remain one of the most important games on Miami’s schedule this season, and Miami fans should root for UNC to build their resume before the Hurricanes travel to Chapel Hill on October 16.
Jacksonville State Gamecocks (0-1, 0-0 ASUN/WAC) vs Florida State Seminoles (0-1, 0-0 ACC), 8:00 P.M., ACC Network
Mike Norvell entered season two at Florida State expecting his team to be improved, and they seemingly showed that improvement last Sunday night when they took No.8 Notre Dame to overtime before losing on a field goal. This weekend the Seminoles have another chance to show improvement as they take on a Jacksonville State team that led FSU at halftime last season. Norvell will also have a quarterback controversy to work through as opening game starter Jordan Travis battles against McKenzie Milton, who was impressive off of the bench against Notre Dame after his recovery from a horrific leg injury.
Root for the Seminoles in this game. Florida State could be one of the most interesting stories in the ACC this season, and they’ll need to play well this weekend before a tough conference road trip to Wake Forest next week.
This weekend could present one of the most important set of games for the ACC this season. The conference needs to take advantage of multiple opportunities for signature wins against other conferences after a tough start to the year.