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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Clemson is ‘good’, the rest of the ACC confusing

Sam Howell UNC

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (7) breaks away from Virginia Tech’s Alan Tisdale (34) for a 12-yard gain in the fourth quarter on Saturday, October 10, 2020 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Brian Kelly was being coy, if not also diplomatic. In this instance, though, those ambiguous motivations happened to be accurate, too.

As a one-year member of the ACC, Notre Dame’s film review is theoretically simpler. Many times, the Irish coaching staff has reason to study both teams in a given game. Surely that has all led to Kelly having an idea of who is of what quality in the ACC.

“I know Clemson is good,” he said Monday.

To be clear, Kelly is correct. Clemson is, in fact, good at the football thing.

“It’s hard to get out too far in front of what we’re doing,” Kelly said. “I know we’re playing Pitt next week on the road because we’ve already been talking about what the road looks like for us in terms of (coronavirus) procedures and protocols.

“It’s been such an hour-to-hour focus other than knowing Clemson is really good.”

As every conference member has logged at least three games — with the exceptions of Notre Dame and Wake Forest which had to postpone their game to Dec. 12 and thus have only two apiece — the narrative of the middle chunk of the conference has flipped on a near-weekly basis.

Clemson is really good. Syracuse, Duke, Wake Forest, Louisville and Florida State are really not good. Virginia probably belongs with that latter group. The other eight teams in the ACC? Kelly not indulging in an assessment of those standings was the most accurate answer possible.

Duke (1-4, 1-4 ACC): This space described the Blue Devils’ trip to Syracuse as their “last best chance at a win,” and they capitalized on that chance, 38-24. Two Duke stats stand out: It gained 645 total yards, and it gave up only 28 rushing yards.

Now the last part of that previous suggestion. The Blue Devils head to North Carolina State (3:30 ET; Watch ESPN) as 4.5-point underdogs with a combined point total over/under of 60 setting up for a 32-28 conclusion. The Wolfpack have not been easy to gauge, so predicting that outcome is a fool’s errand.

South Florida (1-3): This space has long been clear it takes certain interests each weekend. There is a small community filled with banter when it comes to those investments. As the Bulls fell 44-24 to East Carolina, every corner of that discourse focused on how hard things are going to be for South Florida first-year head coach Jeff Scott. That rebuild requires more work than previously realized.

With that in mind, the Bulls as 10.5-point underdogs, as of Tuesday afternoon, at Temple (12 ET; ESPN+) seems generous, as does the over/under of 55 suggesting a 33-22 result.

Florida State (1-3, 1-3): Much like South Florida, it is going to get worse for the Seminoles before it gets better. No. 5 North Carolina (7:30 ET; ABC) has an explosive offense, and Florida State simply will not be able to keep up with it.

Even at 13.5 points, it is hard to think the Tar Heels are appropriately favored. The 38-25 ending proffered by a 63.5-point over/under does not give North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell enough credit.

Louisville (1-3, 0-3): Giving up 20 fourth-quarter points turned a 27-20 lead into a 46-27 Cardinals loss at Georgia Tech on Friday. Capitulation like that does not fester well in a long week.

How Louisville handles that frustration may inform how it fares at Notre Dame (2:30 ET; NBC) as a 17-point underdog with an over/under of 64 arguing for a 40-23 scoreboard.

Pittsburgh (3-2, 2-2): Making a 58-yard field goal to force overtime should have earned Panthers kicker Alex Kessman hero status for the week, but instead, he missed a point after attempt in overtime and became the goat in a 31-30 loss at Boston College.

Perhaps Kessman will get a chance to redeem himself at No. 13 Miami (12 ET; ACCN), but as a 10.5-point underdog, Pittsburgh will have its work cut out to overcome a projected 30-20 ending.

Georgia Tech (2-2, 2-1): The joy of that win against Louisville will be short-lived, as the Yellow Jackets host Clemson (12 ET; ABC). At least the ‘Rambling Wreck is only a 27-point underdog, though that may be an optimistic outlook unless the Tigers feature players with famous last names for most of the fourth quarter.

Clemson (3-0, 2-0): The top-ranked, “good” Tigers held Miami to 210 total yards in a 42-17 primetime victory. If not for a field goal attempt for which Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney immediately expressed regret, the Hurricanes would have scored only 10 points, and the touchdown included in that came halfway through the fourth quarter, when the Tigers had already racked up 35 points.

Yep, Clemson is good.

You’re next, Georgia Tech.

Boston College (3-1, 2-1): Phil Jurkovec finished 19-of-35 for 358 yards and three touchdowns in the Eagles’ win against Pittsburgh, connecting on touchdown passes of 44 and 77 yards, both to Zay Flowers.

The former Irish quarterback should add more big numbers to his stat line at No. 23 Virginia Tech (8 ET; ACCN), which has yet to field a full defense this season as its coronavirus outbreak has not been contained as quickly as Notre Dame managed to reel in its. That said, the Hokies are favored by 11.5, and an over/under of 62 argues for a 37-26 decision.

If Jurkovec is all that he, Boston College and many Notre Dame fans think he is, he will keep things competitive in Blacksburg.

North Carolina (3-0, 3-0): The Tar Heels took advantage of that diminished Virginia Tech secondary to throw for 257 yards on 11.2 yards per attempt and gain 656 total yards in a 56-45 victory. Howell completing 18 of 23 passes speaks to an efficiency not yet seen from him this season and one that bodes poorly for coming North Carolina opponents, beginning with the Seminoles.

Syracuse (1-3, 1-3): Losing to Duke at home is a bad look. Being a 3.5-point underdog to Liberty (12 ET; Watch ESPN), again at home, is a worse one.

Wake Forest (1-2, 0-2): The Demon Deacons come off an idle week as field goal underdogs against Virginia (4 ET; ACCN), a chance to sort out some of that confusing cluster along the bottom of the ACC.

Clemson: 4-0, 3-0 ACCNorth Carolina: 3-0, 3-0Notre Dame: 3-0, 2-0North Carolina State: 3-1, 3-1Boston College, Miami: 3-1, 2-1Virginia Tech: 2-1, 2-1Georgia Tech: 2-2, 2-1Pittsburgh: 3-2, 2-2Virginia: 1-2, 1-2Syracuse: 1-3, 1-3Duke: 1-4, 1-4Wake Forest: 1-2, 0-2Florida State, Louisville: 1-3, 0-3

12 ET — South Florida at Temple, ESPN+; Pittsburgh at Miami, ACCN; Clemson at Georgia Tech, ABC; Liberty at Syracuse, Watch ESPN.2:30 ET — Louisville at Notre Dame, NBC.3:30 ET — Duke at North Carolina State Watch ESPN.4 ET — Virginia at Wake Forest, ACCN.7 ET — North Carolina at Florida State, ABC.8 ET — Boston College at Virginia Tech, ACCN.

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