2015 Around the ACC: Week 1

It’s September, and that means the end of summer has arrived and the official start to the college football season is nigh. The opening week has some high-profile non-conference meetings featuring ACC clubs including Louisville-Alabama, Virginia-UCLA, and Virginia Tech-Ohio State. So as you clean your grills and stock up for the coming months of autumnal glory, we break down the matchups for every ACC team as we will each week throughout the season.


Boston College

This Week: Maine

TV: ESPN3, Saturday 1 p.m.

The Eagles open with a fairly pedestrian test in the friendly confines of Chestnut Hill against the Maine Bears. The main priority for BC will be breaking in new quarterback Darius Wade. The sophomore will hope to use his athleticism and a healthy running game behind him to relieve some pressure. Tailback John Hilliman will likely lead the way after tallying 860 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman last season. Overall, the Eagles will lean on what should be a very good defense highlighted by one of the best front sevens in the nation. The defensive line returns three starters who combined for 29.5 tackles for loss a year ago and finished second in the land in rushing defense.



This Week: Wofford

TV: ACC Network, Saturday 12:30 p.m.

Clemson should certainly win, but it might not be the cakewalk many are expecting. The last time these teams met in 2011, the Tigers had to fight for a 35-27 victory despite three passing touchdowns from Tajh Boyd. Now, Boyd is gone and Deshaun Watson will look to remain healthy and live up to his billing as preseason ACC Player of the Year. The Tigers as always have loads of talent on offense, but there are plenty of questions on defense after considerable talent left for the NFL. The youthful Clemson D will have to be disciplined against the Terriers’ triple option attack that finished third in the nation (FCS) in rushing.



This Week: @ Tulane

TV: CBSSports Network, Thursday 9:30 p.m.

The Blue Devils open up in New Orleans eager to prove that their program has staying power, even with a new quarterback in Thomas Sirk. The defense has some serious adversity to overcome with two key players having been lost for the entire season after senior linebacker Kelby Brown and junior corner Byron Fields both suffered torn ACLs during camp. Brown was the veteran presence at linebacker and Fields was without question the team’s top corner. Tulane returns 15 starters from a team that posted a 3-9 record in 2014, with one of those losses coming in a 47-13 pasting courtesy of the Blue Devils. Tulane will lean heavily on the 10 returning starters on offense, including sophomore quarterback Tanner Lee. Lee threw for 1,962 yards as a true freshman while completing 55.1% of his passes with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.


Florida State

This Week: Texas State

TV: ESPNews, Saturday 8 p.m.

Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson was named the starting quarterback this week, beating out FSU junior Sean Maguire. That gives Jimbo Fisher yet another dynamic playmaker at QB as the Seminoles try to continue an incredible run of success that includes winning 29 of the program’s last 30 games. Tailbacks Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender should get plenty of reps as well and frankly, most of the backups should get time and get Golson’s feet wet in a game at Doak Walker Stadium. Texas State was bowl eligible last season, but didn’t receive an invite out of the Sun Belt Conference. Leading tackler David Mayo is gone (154 tackles, third in the nation) but versatile quarterback Tyler Jones is back to operate the Bobcats’ up-tempo offense.


Georgia Tech

This Week: Alcorn State

TV: RSN, Thursday 7:30 p.m.

The Yellow Jackets open at home with Alcorn State, a program that won the 2014 SWAC championship. Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas looks to pick up where he finished last season with 1,719 passing yards, 1,086 rushing yards and 28 total touchdowns. He’s considered a Heisman candidate by many, though it’s fairly hard to see a pure option quarterback winning that award today. There’s no question of his importance to the offense, and that will only be amplified with the Jackets breaking in new backs behind him. On the other side, defensive tackle Adam Gotsis will draw his fair share of double teams but should still build on his impressive 2014 numbers of 36 total tackles (including 23 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, one interception and two blocked kicks (one field goal and a PAT). Alcorn State simply won’t have the horses to hang here, but expect strong seasons from both teams.



This Week: No. 6/7 Auburn (neutral site)

TV: CBS, Saturday 3:40 p.m.

Bobby Petrino did some wonderful trolling this week when his depth chart listed his top four quarterbacks as the possible starter in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game. Reggie Bonnafon, Will Gardner, Kyle Bolin and true freshman Lamar Jackson are all still allegedly in the running to start, though really these are just head games and the likely starter is probably either Gardner or Bonnafon, who both made some nice plays last season. Louisville has been a trendy pick to make noise and contend for the ACC Atlantic division, but they have to replace some key losses on both sides of the ball. Auburn presents a stern test with talented new quarterback Jeremy Johnson and new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Muschamp has some great talent to work with including stout defensive end Carl Lawson and linebacker Cassanova McKinzy who is clearly an all-name team nominee.



This Week: Bethune-Cookman

TV: ESPN3, Saturday 6 p.m.

Bethune-Cookman has scored first in both previous meetings between these teams in 2011 and 2012, but Miami came back and won both times. In 2012 it was thanks largely to four Duke Johnson touchdowns, but gone is the star back and one of his possible fill-ins Gus Edwards is now out for the year after a torn foot ligament. The 6’2″, 241-pound Edwards must be replaced by a combination of the much smaller Joe Yearby (5’9″, 202), true freshman Mark Walton (5’10”, 195) and possibly 6’2″, 212-pound former quarterback Trayone Gray. The Canes will rely heavily on Brad Kaaya, who was named the ACC Rookie of the Year as a true freshman QB in 2014. The Wildcats are coming off a 9-3 season a year ago and could very well challenge Miami in this game.


North Carolina

This Week: South Carolina (neutral site)

TV: ESPN, Thursday 6 p.m.

The inaugural Belk Bowl Classic pits two former ACC rivals against each other in Charlotte. Both teams could really use this game to build momentum, and UNC might have the best player on the field. Quarterback Marquise Williams posted 3,856 total yards in 2014, giving him the 10th best single-season total in ACC history. South Carolina dives right into SEC play with Kentucky the following week, so the head ball coach Steve Spurrier knows his team needs a fast start to the season to avoid a repeat of the 7-6 campaign last year. Both teams feature new defensive coordinators with Gene Chizik at UNC and Jon Hoke reunites with Spurrier at USC where he’ll serve as co-defensive coordinator with former Virginia Tech assistant Lorenzo Ward.


North Carolina State

This Week: Troy

TV: ESPN3, Saturday 6 p.m.

This game marks the head coaching debut for Troy’s Neal Brown, who at 35 is the second youngest head man in college football. He’ll have to find a way to slow down Jacoby Brissett, who threw for 2,606 yards and 23 touchdowns with just five interceptions last season. He did a lot with his feet too, adding another 529 yards rushing. The Wolfpack finished 8-5 with a postseason victory in the Bitcoin Bowl last season. To keep the momentum going the offense has to remain dynamic and the defense has to round into shape for a tough conference slate that includes road trips to Virginia Tech and Florida State, plus home tilts with Louisville and Clemson.



This Week: Youngstown State

TV: ESPN3, Saturday 3:30 p.m.

Pat Narduzzi makes his debut as a head coach with Pitt and longtime Nebraska coach Bo Pelini makes his debut for Youngstown State. Narduzzi has some weapons, but star receiver Tyler Boyd and projected starting defensive end Rori Boyd are both suspended for this game after both received DUIs this offseason in separate incidents. Pitt is still the more talented team, but that certainly adds to Narduzzi’s stress for the opener. Chad Voytik is back at QB for the Panthers after showing some surprising mobility and toughness last season. He completed 61.3% of his passes for 2,233 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s capable of more than just managing the game, especially once Boyd returns.



This Week: Rhode Island

TV: ESPN3, Friday 7 p.m.

These “easy” openers never seem to go that way for the Orange. Last season, it took two overtimes for Syracuse to escape Villanova 27-26 in a game that included quarterback Terrel Hunt being ejected for punching a linebacker in the first half. The last time Rhode Island went into the Carrier Dome, they lost just 21-14 after being tied at 14 in the fourth quarter. If Syracuse can just manage a comfortable win at home — with no punches thrown — it will be a good sign of improvement with Scott Shafer’s program.



This Week: @ No. 13/14 UCLA

TV: FOX, Saturday 3:30 p.m.

The Wahoos head west to face a UCLA program that was nearly upset in the season opener two years ago in Charlottesville. The then-No. 7 Bruins salvaged a 28-20 victory in 2014, but the trip to the Rose Bowl provides a far stiffer test this time for the ‘Hoos. Matt Johns is the starter at QB and the Cavs will desperately search for a tailback or two behind him. Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell has proven to be an effective pass-catcher but has yet to prove himself as a runner. The Cavaliers won’t have a proven defense to lean on either this season after losing top defenders like defensive end Eli Harold and Linebacker Max Valles. They will still be led by all-everything free safety Quin Blanding however, who returns for his sophomore season. UCLA tailback Paul Perkins will be the player to watch on offense for UCLA after posting 1,575 yards last season.


Virginia Tech

This Week: No. 1 Ohio State

TV: ESPN, Monday 8 p.m.

The Hokies play the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes Labor Day night in one of the premier games of the weekend. We all know the storylines, but Ohio State players claimed Tuesday even they didn’t know who would start at quarterback, Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett. Either way, Bud Foster has a tall order to repeat his unit’s impressive performance a year ago in Columbus. Michael Brewer returns at quarterback for the Hokies and several young skill players have a year under their belt. In many ways, it may actually be a better group than the one that won this matchup last season. The Hokies are very talented, but depth issues present a lot of questions on both sides of the ball. Bud Foster’s linebackers and defensive line are both a bit thin and the Tech O-line doesn’t have many extra hands either. If both teams can stay healthy, this could be a terrific game.


Wake Forest

This Week: Elon

TV: ESPN3, Thursday 7 p.m.

It’s rare that Wake Forest dominates a football series with another program, but Elon certainly fits the bill. The Demon Deacons hold a 9-0-1 record in the all-time series with the last win coming in 2009. In the nine meetings prior to that the Deacons allowed just 19 points, including seven shutouts. Yikes. This should be a game to continue to develop sophomore QB Justin Holman. He was forced into action as a true freshman, and despite some mistakes played admirably. Holman still needs to cut down on mistakes (14 interceptions) and develop with the young talent around him. The biggest question may be, can Wake Forest find a way to run the ball this year? An improved ground game could significantly improve on the team’s three wins in 2014.

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