Virginia and North Carolina State made statements while powerhouses such as Clemson and Virginia Tech continued to roll. Florida State is in a position nobody could have predicted and we still don’t really know much about Miami. Each week in this space we’ll take a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference and examine the most important happenings.
WOLFPACK WOES: For a variety of reasons, imagining Florida State sitting at 0-2 heading into the final week of September would have sounded crazy heading into the season. But thanks to hurricanes and a schedule that included early games against Alabama and North Carolina State, that’s where the Seminoles sit.
Now, N.C. State is no Alabama, but the Wolfpack has had a surprising amount of success against a Seminoles program that has dominated the ACC for much of its time as a member. State’s eight wins against the Noles are the most of any ACC team since FSU joined the conference in 1992, and in 2001 it was the Pack that handed Bobby Bowden his first ACC loss at Doak Campbell Stadium.
For whatever reason, over the course of two decades and through multiple coaching staffs, North Carolina State has given Florida State fits. Now, Saturday’s Wolfpack win puts the preseason playoff favorite Seminoles in a tough, tough spot. Saturday was the start of a difficult stretch of schedule for FSU. Next week’s trip to undefeated Wake Forest won’t be a cakewalk and October includes home games against Miami and Louisville plus a trip to Duke.
Now the N.C. State’s Oct. 5 Thursday night matchup against Louisville in Raleigh looks like a potential Top 25 matchup with national implications. The Wolfpack get both the Cardinals and Clemson at home, and suddenly that preseason talk of Dave Doeren’s team being a darkhorse ACC title contender doesn’t seem so far fetched.
By the time December comes around, could the Pack look at the season opening loss to South Carolina, in which State won just about every statistical category but the final score, look like the ultimate “what if?”
YOUNG GUNS: Virginia pulled off a big upset Friday night, going to Boise State and blowing the Broncos off the blue turf. The Cavaliers have certainly taken a step forward in Bronco Mendenhall’s second season, and at 3-1 have already surpassed their 2016 win total.
Perhaps the biggest sign that Virginia could return to contending in the ACC sometime soon? The Cavs have 36 freshmen and sophomores on the offensive and defensive two-deep, which to be clear, actually lists three at a few positions. But that doesn’t take away from the point that UVa is putting some very young players — and Mendenhall’s first batch of recruits — in key spots.
The Cavaliers will have to replace some key seniors next season, QB Kurt Benkert, WR Andre Levrone, LB Micah Kizer and FS Quin Blanding among them, but there’s a solid foundation in place.
HOKIE HANDS: What’s one way to make life easier on a freshman quarterback? Give him arguably the best wide receiver in the country as target. It’s worked out well so far for Virginia Tech with first-year quarterback Josh Jackson throwing to Cam Phillips.
Early on, Phillips is making a case for ACC Player of the Year, leading the conference with 523 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He’s had at least six catches for 90 yards in each game this year, and seemingly gets open every time Jackson needs to move the ball down the field.
WAKE UP CALL: It’s hard to know what to make of Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are 4-0, but haven’t exactly run through a gauntlet against Presbyterian, Boston College, Utah State and Appalachian State.
But give the Deacs some credit for coming through in a rowdy environment at Appalachian State, where Mountaineers were super pumped to get a home game against the nearest ACC school. Wake needed a blocked field goal at the end to survive with a 20-19 victory.
We’ll certainly find out what quarterback John Wolford and the Deacs are made of soon. Their next five games are against Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Notre Dame. Now, that’s a gauntlet.
Shane Mettlen is a veteran journalist who lives in Virginia and also writes for The ACC Sports Journal. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneMettlen