1) The ACC had a bad weekend
By and large, this was not a very good weekend for the ACC. About six weeks removed from the ACC Kickoff Media Day, where multiple coaches boasted of their teams being part of the best conference in the country, the ACC put together one of the worst weekends on the field in over a year. The ACC went 0-3 against the SEC (NC State fell to South Carolina, FSU lost to Alabama, GT came up short against Tennessee), 0-1 against the PAC-12 (Cal over UNC), and Pittsburgh nearly fell to 2016 FCS runner-up Youngstown State in overtime.
On the brighter side of things, Clemson looked strong against Kent State, Louisville beat Purdue (albeit, barely), and Virginia Tech held serve in a neutral site game against West Virginia on Sunday evening to salvage the weekend for the conference.
It was not the greatest of starts for the so-called “Best Conference in America”, but there is plenty of football yet to be played. What we did learn from Week One is that the ACC has a long way to go if they want to be considered as the nation’s top conference year-in and year-out. 2016 was a great year for the ACC that concluded with a terrific bowl season and a national championship, but teams across the board will need to perform better moving forward in 2017 to prove that last season was no aberration.
2) Florida State lost their starting quarterback against Alabama, but they are still in great shape to win the Atlantic Division
There were unbelievable levels of optimism for the Florida State Seminoles heading into the 2017 season. On paper, the ‘Noles had their most complete team since winning the national championship at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. The defense is elite, there are skill position players everywhere, and quarterback Deondre Francois was primed for a big year.
Many of the pieces are still in place, but after losing Francois to a torn patella tendon in his knee in the fourth quarter of the 24-7 loss to #1 Alabama on Saturday, many left the match-up wondering what to make of the Seminoles moving forward.
While a path to the national championship for Florida State is more difficult than it was entering Saturday for the Seminoles, there is no reason to panic in Tallahassee. This Florida State defense is elite, and the truth is that there are only a handful of teams in the conference who can move the football against this defense if they perform as well as they did on Saturday. Do not let the final tally of 24-7 deceive you…it was an excellent game from the Seminoles defense against the Tide. Per our own Jeff Greenberg, Florida State was the first team since 2008 to hold Alabama to under 200 yards rushing and less than 100 yards passing. In addition, Florida State held Alabama to 3-of-16 on third down conversions, and yielded just 13 points on five Alabama drives that started in Florida State territory.
Yeah, good luck scoring against that defense the rest of the season.
After news broke of the Francois injury, there’s this notion out there that the ACC is now “wide open.” In my opinion, this notion could not be more off-base.
Let’s quickly breakdown the tough games remaining on Florida State’s schedule.
We still don’t know much about Miami after their game against Bethune-Cookman, but they better get off to a faster start against Florida State than they did against the Wildcats. The Hurricanes slept-walked through the first half, leading only 10-3 with under 10 minutes to go in the second quarter on Saturday before blowing the doors off their FCS-foe en route to a 41-13 win.
Louisville’s offensive line is BAAAAAAD, like real bad. The Cardinals offensive line couldn’t run block against Purdue’s front seven, which is not a great unit, and Lamar Jackson was running for his life for a majority of the game. How do you think Louisville’s offensive line will hold up against Florida State’s defensive front, which is among the best, if not the best, in all of college football?
You think Florida is primed for an upset in their rivalry game against the Seminoles at the end of the year? The Gators had 11 yards rushing against Michigan in their opening game loss. Michigan’s defense remains stacked, but Florida State’s is better. Even if the Gators can get a run game going against the Seminoles, which remains highly unlikely, the current QB duo of Malik Zaire and Feleipe Franks does not inspire a whole lot of confidence through the air to get the job done against the Florida State secondary.
See where I’m going with this? It’s now a one-game regular season for Florida State.
If anything, the loss of Deondre Francois at quarterback makes the match-up against the Tigers on November 11th a bit more lose-able. Clemson rolled Kent State in their opener by a final score of 56-3, but we’ll learn much more about the team that they have in place for 2017 as they go up against #13 Auburn in prime time this coming Saturday. If the Seminoles can go into Death Valley and pick up a win against Clemson in November, the Seminoles will likely be playing for an ACC Championship. Not bad for a team without their starting quarterback who was primed to make a run at ACC Player of the Year. Get to the conference championship, and everything else afterward will be icing on the cake.
Bottom line? Don’t be foolish enough to count out Florida State without Deondre Francois. It changes things in the near-term, but if freshman quarterback James Blackman is composed and protects the football, this running game and defense could be more than enough weaponry to accomplish the goals that remain in front of them for the rest of the season.
3) Louisville’s offensive line is still a major issue following a narrow victory over Purdue
The #16 Louisville Cardinals survived a tough test against a rebuilding Purdue program on Saturday night in Indianapolis, which wasn’t a great look for a team that was a College Football Playoff contender for a good portion of the 2016 season. As all of you readers will remember, the Cards faded fast in the latter portion of last season due to horrific play from their offensive line, which was a major contributor to Louisville losing three in a row to end the year.
Fast-forward to Saturday against Purdue. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson dazzled at quarterback, compiling 378 yards and two touchdowns through the air to go along with 107 yards rushing on the ground. Lost in those impressive stats are the offensive line woes that led to six registered quarterback hurries, and many other broken-pocket plays on the evening in the passing game. In addition, the Cardinals running game struggled outside of Jackson’s 107-yard performance, with Reggie Bonnafon and Jeremy Smith combining for 11 rushes for 41 yards and a touchdown. Smith was also one of three players to lose a fumble in a lackluster effort on the ball security front.
If the offensive line becomes less of a liability, there is no telling where Lamar Jackson could take this team as their starting quarterback. However, there is no indication that anything has been fixed up front on offense, which could spell trouble for the Cardinals when they face more talented front sevens throughout the remainder of their schedule.
4) NC State dropped their season opener and Dave Doeren’s seat has never been hotter
Dave Doeren and his NC State Wolfpack were anointed as the Atlantic Division dark horse coming into the season, as they have (on paper) their most talented team in years. Yet somehow, some way, they found a way to lose to a rebuilding South Carolina program in their opener on Saturday afternoon.
The way that the Wolfpack lost was really quite impressive, especially when considering that they outgained the Gamecocks 504 to 246. A missed field goal, two lost fumbles that led to 14 South Carolina points, and a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to begin the game all led to the debacle for NC State in spite of their strong offensive performance. There was plenty of good to come out of this game for NC State, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but if NC State doesn’t tighten things up in a hurry on defense and special teams, it is hard to imagine that Dave Doeren will be long for his job.
As mentioned, this is his most talented team yet. There is no time for excuses in Raleigh, and the moment is now to compete with the big boys in the Atlantic Division. While they may not win the Atlantic, or even come in second, a third place finish seems pertinent at this point for Dave Doeren to remain as the head coach moving forward.
5) Many new quarterbacks across the Coastal Division looked solid in their debuts
The major uncertainty for the ACC heading into the 2017 season was the quarterback position. The fact that Clemson replaced Deshaun Watson with his backup, Kelly Bryant, did not go unnoticed in the Atlantic, but there were far more question marks with the signal-callers in the Coastal Division heading into the season. With only Duke’s Daniel Jones and Virginia’s Kurt Benkert returning to the fold at quarterback, the Coastal Division could not have been more wide open with so many unknowns across the board.
While nobody should overreact to the opening weekend of games, many of the coaches in the Coastal appear to have made the right decision at quarterback. Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson (r-Fr.) carried the Hokies in his first collegiate start, passing for 235 yards and a touchdown, while tacking on 11 carries for 101 yards and a score on the ground in the team’s 31-24 victory over West Virginia at FedEx Field.
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson surprised some pundits with his decision to start converted running back TaQuon Marshall at quarterback in the season opener against Tennessee. While the Yellow Jackets fell short to Tennessee in double overtime, Marshall left no doubt that he is the right man for the job in Atlanta. The junior finished with 44 carries for 249 yards and five touchdowns, while also completing 5-of-9 passes for 120 yards. The carries and rushing yards were both school and ACC records for a single game by a quarterback.
LSU transfer Brandon Harris was awful for North Carolina, but his replacement, freshman quarterback Chazz Surratt, finished 18-of-28 for 161 yards and a touchdown, while also carrying the ball 16 times for 66 yards and a touchdown. North Carolina lost the game to Cal, but the future appears bright at the quarterback position if Surratt is the starter moving forward.
Finally, Miami junior signal-caller Malik Rosier took care of business in his first start for the Hurricanes against Bethune-Cookman. He finished with 217 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-28 passing, while also carrying the ball four times for 41 yards. If Rosier can continue the trend against real competition in the coming weeks, the Hurricanes will in great position to win their first Coastal Division title since joining the ACC.
Thanks for reading everyone! Follow me on Twitter @MikeMcDanielACC and check out InsideTheACC on Facebook and on Twitter @InsideTheACC. You can also follow Mark Rogers for all of his college football coverage on Twitter @MarkRogersTV.