Notre Dame’s Opponents: ACC tiers develop before Clemson’s first test

Trevor Lawrence
ACC Media
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Notre Dame spent Saturday conditioning and weight training while mentally preparing for a Sunday scrimmage. After two full weeks without a game, the Irish (2-0, 1-0 ACC) needed a chance to get physical before readying for Florida State (1-2, 0-2).

“I’m no expert on preparing a football team after two weeks off after playing two games,” head coach Brian Kelly said Monday. “It’s the first time I’ve done it, but I think I have enough sense to know that you have to duplicate the speed of the game. You’ve got to tackle, you’ve got to be able to do some of those things leading up in your preparation. That was a big day for us yesterday where we’re able to get in a lot of individual work, technique, get some of the rust off.”

The rest of us spent the weekend watching the ACC sort itself out into tiers. A one-point loss dropped Pittsburgh from the lead pack, while Virginia Tech continued to set a precedent for Kelly to follow in how to come back from an outbreak-induced hiatus.

But just like it is convenient to track only the ACC as a driving metric to Notre Dame’s season, it is a bit different for the Irish film review this season.

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“Our schedules are usually scattered throughout various conferences,” Kelly acknowledged. “So life’s a little bit easier when you know your opponents and lining them up in one conference.”

That said, Kelly did not spend much time this weekend watching the Panthers fall to North Carolina State or No. 1 Clemson handle Virginia. Figuring out how to avoid another outbreak takes up the crux of Kelly’s time.

“As much as I would have loved to sit around and watch a lot of these ACC games, we were with our team over the weekend, getting back to practices and getting them back to where they need to be.”

Kelly certainly will not be able to sit around and watch the ACC Game of the Week this weekend, since No. 1 Clemson hosts No. 7 Miami at the same time as the Irish face Florida State, but it will be a key moment in the conference race all the same.


Duke (0-4, 0-4 ACC): Duke fell to the bottom of the conference despite playing Virginia Tech tougher than anticipated. If the Blue Devils had managed to hold Hokies running back Khalil Herbert in check at all, they may have fared better than the 38-31 loss, but instead he ran for 208 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 carries.

Now Duke gets perhaps its last best chance at a win, as 2.5-point favorites at Syracuse (12:30 ET). The 49.5 combined point total over/under suggests a 26-24 result, something that may test quarterback Chase Brice’s mettle.

South Florida (1-2): The Bulls returned to action with a 28-7 loss at No. 15 Cincinnati that went about exactly as expected, falling behind 21-0 before trading touchdowns late in the third quarter. Life will get significantly easier for South Florida against East Carolina (7 ET; ESPN+), favored by 4.5 points with a 58-point over/under equaling a 31-27 hypothetical final.

Florida State (1-2, 1-2): If not for junior quarterback Jordan Travis coming off the bench, the Seminoles may have lost to FCS-level Jacksonville State. Trailing 21-7, head coach Mike Norvell turned to the mobile Travis and subsequently enjoyed five touchdowns on five drives to produce the 41-24 win.

Travis threw for 210 yards and ran for 48 more in an option-based attack, a wrinkle that is now Notre Dame’s joy to plan for.

Louisville (1-2, 0-2): After an idle week to lick its wounds after two consecutive losses, the Cardinals should not have too much trouble at Georgia Tech (Friday 7 ET; ESPN) despite being favored by only 4.5 points. If the over/under of 62’s indication of a 33-29 score is correct, then Louisville’s aspirational hopes in Scott Satterfield’s second season may need to be tempered even more than losing to Miami and Pittsburgh already did.

Pittsburgh’s defense was exposed all afternoon against North Carolina State, not just on the game-winning, last-minute touchdown drive. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh (3-1, 2-1): The Panthers became the hipster dark horse to cause problems in the ACC as their defense exerted its will early in the season, but giving up 30 points in a loss to North Carolina State ruined that reputation as quickly as it had developed. Pittsburgh still outgained the Wolfpack 503 yards to 398, but 13 penalties eliminated that margin of error.

The Panthers now need help to find their way into the thick of the ACC’s top tier, but they can still cause problems for their next opponent: Boston College and Irish quarterback transfer Phil Jurkovec (4 ET; ACCN). Pittsburgh is favored by six points against its native son, with an over/under of 43 points arguing for a 24-18 Panthers victory.

Georgia Tech (1-2, 1-1): Coming off an idle week to face an opponent in the same position is nothing if not fair. Well done, impromptu ACC schedulers.

Clemson (3-0, 2-0): A 24-10 halftime lead and a 41-23 victory hardly seem like underperforming scores, but the fact of the matter is, the Tigers were expected to show much more against Virginia. These are the hurdles we create for Trevor Lawrence & Co.

Now they face No. 7 Miami (7:30 ET; ABC) and are merely two-touchdown favorites. Somehow, 38-24 would be entertaining, though the Hurricanes may put up more than that.

Boston College (2-1, 1-1): Jurkoevc tried to play the last-minute hero for a second week in a row, but his two-point conversion attempt with 45 seconds remaining was intercepted and returned to seal North Carolina’s 26-22 victory. Jurkovec finished with 313 yards and two touchdowns on 37-of-56 passing, as the Tar Heels effectively eliminated any Eagles’ rushing attack, but he needed two more yards to force overtime.

Pittsburgh’s passing efficiency defense ranks No. 10 in the country, but to be fair, North Carolina’s ranks No. 7.

North Carolina (2-0, 2-0): More baffling than the No. 8 Tar Heels allowing Jurkovec to throw for more than 300 yards, sophomore quarterback Sam Howell managed only 225 on 14-of-26 passing, mixing an interception in with two touchdowns. More than that will be expected from Mack Brown’s star passer to get past Virginia Tech (12 ET; ABC), even with North Carolina favored by 5.5 points. An over/under of 58.5 makes for a 32-27 theoretical conclusion, which would at least set up the ACC for bookends of excitement on broadcast television.

Syracuse (1-2, 1-2): The Orange beating Georgia Tech before its idle week could set up for a letdown effect in what is already a strained season for Syracuse.

Wake Forest (1-2, 0-2): The Demon Deacons broke up their extended layoff, courtesy of Notre Dame’s coronavirus outbreak, by moving their non-conference matchup against FCS-level Campbell up a week, and they then made the most of it with a 66-14 walloping. Back to idle time Wake Forest goes.

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

Friday 7 ET — Louisville at Georgia Tech, ESPN.
Saturday 12 ET — Virginia Tech at No. 8 North Carolina, ABC.
12:30 ET — Duke at Syracuse.
4 ET — Pittsburgh at Boston College, ACCN.
7 ET — South Florida vs. East Carolina, ESPN+.
7:30 ET — Clemson vs. Miami, ABC.