As we enter week four of the 2016 college football season there are several interesting matchups facing the ACC. There are a few conference games that will begin to flesh out the direction of the ACC, but by and large this is the last week that many Coastal and Atlantic teams will face non-conference competition for some time. Gobbler Country takes a look at the key matchups facing the ACC this weekend. Obviously the Virginia Tech game against East Carolina a principal point for us, but there will be plenty of attention on that matchup in other articles.
Clemson Tigers (3-0) vs Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-0)
Clemson’s performance, or lack thereof, is the primary catalyst inspiring interest in this game. The Tigers have struggled against the FBS competition they’ve faced. They only defeated Auburn and Troy by a single score, and have shown some difficulty in putting points on the board. Their woes have not gone unnoticed and the pollsters have responded in kind. Clemson was preseason ranked No. 2 in both the AP and Coaches polls with 16 first place votes in the AP and seven in the Coaches. Clemson has now dropped to No. 5 AP and No. 3 Coaches with only a single first place vote remaining in the Coaches poll and none in the AP. The Yellow Jackets have jumped out to a 3-0 start, matching their win total from last year. Like Clemson, GT has not faced a particularly robust schedule thus far. They struggled with Boston College and then collected wins against Mercer and the bottom of the SEC, Vanderbilt. Clemson had a get-well-game against South Carolina State, and they looked like an elite team should against an FCS opponent. The Yellow Jackets are something of a mystery. Was last year’s disappointing performance simply and aberration, or an indication of a downward trend? What of Clemson? Have the Tigers gotten their groove back, or are their earlier woes indicative of a larger problem? The meeting of two undefeated ACC teams will clearly impact the conference, especially if GT manages to defeat Clemson.
Pittsburgh Panthers (2-1) vs North Carolina Tar Heels (2-1)
UNC clearly showed that they were the class of the Coastal last year. Except for their OT game against VT, they soundly handled all their ACC foes. The Heels seemed poised to defeat the Georgia Bulldogs until the team and coaches lost composure halfway through the third quarter and allowed 19 unanswered points. The Panthers seem to be pretty dangerous on offense, but their defense has struggled to stop opponent’s scoring. They were almost able to come back against Oklahoma State, but failed to stop the Cowboys’ 88-yard march, to the end zone, with 1:28 left in the fourth. The Coastal is murky, but both of these teams are contenders to win the division. This matchup will do much to assist in clearing up the picture in the ACC Coastal.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-0) vs Indiana Hoosiers (2-0)
The last time Wake Forest went 3-0 it was 2008, president Bush was still in office and the Apple iPhone 3G was the newest craze. Eight years later we find the Demon Deacons again at 3-0, and poised to make their first bowl bid since 2011 when they lost the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl to Mississippi State, 17-23. At 2-0 the Hoosiers would very much like to improve to 3-0 and continue on to a bowl game as they did during the 2015 season. Last year Indiana was dependent on non-conference wins to become eligible, as they suffered a woeful 2-6 conference record. The 2016 season figures to require a similar path for the Hoosiers. After WF they face No. 8 Michigan State, No. 2 Ohio State, and then No. 20 Nebraska… in a row… in that order. Later in the year they still have to play against No. 4 Michigan. Last year the Hoosiers came calling in North Carolina and beat the Demon Deacons by only a single score, 24-31. This year the roles are reversed and Wake invades Bloomington. The last time the Deacons went 4-0 was 2006, when they won the ACC. With a win WF would have won more than three games for the first time in three years, and be even closer to a bowl bid. Considering they face N.C. State and Syracuse after Indiana, it isn’t unrealistic to expect the Demon Deacons to be 5-0, one game from bowl eligibility, before they have to travel to Tallahassee.
Central Michigan Chippewa (3-0) vs Virginia Cavaliers (0-3)
CMU is undefeated and UVA is completely defeated. CMU has a quality win against then No. 22 Oklahoma State (yeah, I know the refs made a mistake, but I’ll say it again – when opportunity meets preparation…). The Hoos were outplayed, in all facets of the game, against Richmond – an FCS squad that was summarily dispatched by Stony Brook, 42-14, this weekend. Looking at CMU’s schedule, they don’t need to beat UVA in order to achieve a post season appearance or win their conference. Unless there is some sort of nuclear meltdown in Mount Pleasant, the Chippewa will have a third consecutive bowl appearance and compete for the MAC championship. On the other side we have the Cavaliers, who look completely lost, trying to find a win before they begin the gauntlet of ACC play. Next week the Hoos play Duke. CMU and Duke represent the two most winnable games left on the UVA schedule. If the Cavaliers fail to win one of these two games, it is entirely possible that UVA earns their first completely defeated season since they went 0-10 in 1960. If the Virginia Cavaliers hope to salvage a modicum of respect they need to get a win. Their best chance to earn that victory will start (and may end) with the game against CMU. Currently CMU is favored by four points, and the ESPN Football Power Index gives the Chippewa a 76.6% probability of victory.