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Notre Dame’s Opponents: ACC avoids missteps of Big 12

Sam Howell North Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 12: Mikel Jones #13 of the Syracuse Orange knocks Sam Howell #7 of the North Carolina Tar Heels out of bounds during the fourth quarter of their game at Kenan Stadium on September 12, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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The ACC avoided the pitfalls that befell the Big 12 in the season’s first (second?) week. Its only losses came from intraconference play, including Notre Dame topping Duke. Yes, one more reminder, that counted as an ACC game.

That does not mean no ACC teams were embarrassed. Preconceptions about Georgia Tech — only in year 2 of a complete offensive rebuild into a modern approach from the triple-option — made Florida State’s loss a sign of another long season in Tallahassee, and somehow Syracuse may have looked worse than anticipated, even as the Orange played North Carolina competitively for three quarters.

When discussing these names, notice they are all on the Irish schedule. Such are the perks of full conference membership …

Duke (0-1, 0-1 ACC): It may take a few weeks to instinctively remember to always put the overall record ahead of the conference record in those parentheses. Anyway, the Blue Devils host Boston College (12 ET) as six-point favorites with a combined point total over/under of 52. A 29-23 conclusion would be a nice rebound for Duke.

South Florida (1-0): The Bulls eventually got past The Citadel, 27-6, but they needed to wholly lean on their running game to do so, gaining 302 yards on 39 carries while passing for only 102 yards. If nothing else, opening with a triple-option opponent allowed South Florida to conceal most of its defensive changes from No. 7 Notre Dame (2:30 ET; USA Network), who is a 26-point favorite as of early Wednesday morning with a 50.5 over/under. A 38-12 Irish victory would do little for the peace of mind of Notre Dame fans frustrated by last weekend’s victory.

Wake Forest (0-1, 0-1): In a surprise to no one, the Demon Deacons lost to No. 1 Clemson. In a surprise to some, they scored 13 points in the loss. Gaining 330 yards was not enough to sniff victory, but it was more than the Tigers gave up in any of their first 12 games last year.

Wake Forest now heads to North Carolina State (8 ET; ACCN) as underdogs by about a field goal, a 28-25 hypothetical outcome. Quarterback Sam Hartman might need to do better than 11-of-21 for 182 passing yards to notch four scores.

Florida State (0-1, 0-1): It was a rocky offseason for Seminoles first-year head coach Mike Norvell, both because of his own missteps and because Willie Taggart left more of a mess than many realized, trouble he mostly inherited from Jimbo Fisher. That long-term cacophony will continue after falling to Georgia Tech, 16-13. Florida State gained 307 total yards while giving up 438 to an offense filled with players largely recruited for the triple-option that the Yellow Jackets no longer run and led by a freshman quarterback who initially committed to the Seminoles.

Suffice it to say, Florida State might need an off week already more than anyone else. Fortunately, they get one.

Louisville (1-0): Western Kentucky was the type of opponent that wrecked the Big 12’s weekend, so the Cardinals winning 35-21 should be given more credit than a two-touchdown margin over a midmajor would inherently warrant. Quarterback Micale Cunningham led the way with four of Louisville’s five touchdowns.

The Cardinals host Miami (7:30 ET; ABC) in one of the weekend’s biggest games, if not the biggest. It would typically hardly register on the national radar, a change that reflects one of the effects of only 76 teams playing in at the FBS level currently. Louisville is favored by less than a field goal, with a 64.5-point over/under setting up a 34-31 expected result.

Pittsburgh (1-0): In a season of unorthodox and unexpected moments, the Panthers shortening their walloping of FCS-level Austin Peay with 10-minute third and fourth quarters was so run of the mill, no one noticed on Saturday. The 55-0 score certainly provided logic to that decision.

Pittsburgh will not shorten the game clock against Syracuse (12 ET; ACCN), though the game may be about as competitive as the one in which the Panthers did. Favored by 21.5 with an over/under of 50, Pittsburgh is projected to prevail 35-14.

Georgia Tech (1-0, 1-0): That win over Florida State propelled the Yellow Jackets to national TV this weekend, hosting Central Florida (3:30 ET) on ABC as touchdown favorites with an over/under of 60. Getting to 2-0 with a 33-26 win would have Georgia Tech one positive weekend away from surpassing its season win total over/under.

No. 1 Clemson (1-0, 1-0): The Tigers beat up on Wake Forest. Next is The Citadel (4 ET; ACCN). Expect more of the same. Something in the realm of 50-7 should fit.

Boston College: Former Irish quarterback Phil Jurkovec should make his debut at Duke, but the game is not on any channel aside from regional sports networks, depriving Notre Dame fans of a ripe chance to watch that noon kickoff and be plenty sour about what could have been before the Irish even play.

North Carolina (1-0, 1-0): Heading into the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels led doormat Syracuse by all of 10-6. Running back Javonte Williams then ran for three fourth-quarter touchdowns to take the onus off sophomore quarterback Sam Howell’s subpar day (25-of-34 for 295 passing yards and one touchdown with two interceptions). North Carolina was known for its late surges last season, but it is a dangerous game to play for long.

It might play it for another week, though, not too threatened by Charlotte (3:30 ET). Favored by more than four touchdowns, whenever the Tar Heels get rolling, Howell should enjoy it.

Syracuse (0-1, 0-1): This is a tough season to play football. The additional vigilance and discipline required inevitably take a mental toll. One is allowed to wonder how long a hapless team can maintain those efforts. With an 0-2 start barreling its way after this weekend, it is not unreasonable to wonder when the morale will corrupt the Orange locker room to the point of no return, perhaps literally so.

Will Syracuse still be playing Dec. 5?

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