The Atlantic Coast Conference has shown some quality depth through the first month of the 2017 college football season, but the true heavyweight of the bunch remains Clemson until proven otherwise.
The No. 2 Tigers already have defeated two nationally ranked teams in Auburn (nonconference) and Louisville thus far and get a chance at a third Saturday night when they visit Virginia Tech. It will be their second road game against a Top 25 opponent in three weeks.
In addition to Clemson and the Hokies, other ACC unbeatens entering the weekend were Wake Forest, Duke and Miami (the Blue Devils and Hurricanes played Friday night). North Carolina State won last weekend at Florida State, still big even if the Seminoles were without quarterback Deondre Francois.
“This is a deep conference, man, and anybody can beat anybody on any given week,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said this week on the ACC coaches call. “I think we’ve got a bunch of great teams and a bunch of great coaches in this league. It’s a huge, huge challenge week in and week out, but it’s good to see the league having success.”
At this point, the Tigers don’t have a ranked team on their schedule past Saturday, but that doesn’t mean it will be an easy run to the Atlantic Division title. They can’t sleep on Wake Forest, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State or Florida State in their final five ACC contests.
Wake Forest awakens
We might have gone a little overboard last week when we suggested that Vanderbilt had a chance to defeat Alabama, and then the top-ranked Crimson Tide went ahead and laid a 59-0 thumping on the Commodores.
Undaunted, we press on with the chances of Wake Forest, at home, to knock off Florida State. The Seminoles are 0-2 after losses to Alabama and North Carolina State but have won five straight against the Demon Deacons.
“They’re still Florida State,” said Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson, former offensive coordinator at Villanova. “They’re really good, really talented. I don’t look at their record. I know who they’ve played and I know what they’re capable of. This is a premier program.”
The Seminoles are desperate for a win. As offensive lineman Cole Minshew told reporters, his team is trying to “make a statement” and “show everyone we’re not just some scrub team.”
Anyone who followed Tom Bradley in his 33 years as a Penn State assistant coach, the last 12 as defensive coordinator, knows the guy is a quality coach, which makes the failures of his UCLA defense this season so hard to understand.
The numbers sting. The Bruins are last in FBS in rushing defense, giving up 307.5 yards per game. They are 124th in both total defense, at 524.8 yards per game, and in points allowed, at 43.3 per game.
“Did I see it? No, I didn’t see it coming like that,” Bradley said in an Associated Press story.
“I think we’re just going through some growing pains. I know we’re struggling a little bit, too, but I really think we’re going to get better. Any time you go through this, it’s one thing here, one thing there. It’s just time for everybody to get on the same page and play the same way.”
Not great hospitality
When speaking last week about the pink locker room that Iowa provides for the visiting team, coach Kirk Ferentz said most teams had upgraded such facilities from what had been “real rat-hole locker rooms” 10 years ago.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh would beg to differ after his trip to Purdue last week on a 90-degree day in a locker room that had no air conditioning “in a cramped, tight environment.” He said that he had to leave the door open to get some ventilation and that people walking by could watch his players dress.
He said conditions were similar at a number of Big Ten schools and called it “a conscious effort of gamesmanship that is unsportsmanlike when you have locker rooms that are too small [and] not heated or cooled properly.”
Speaking at his weekly news conference, Harbaugh said that the league should look into it and that Michigan was “going to lead the way” for visiting teams. “Look at what we have,” he said.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year at Navy, especially on offense where the Midshipmen had to find new starters at quarterback and at all five positions on the offensive line. But the Mids have kept sailing along and a win at Tulsa will earn them their second 4-0 start in Ken Niumatalolo’s 10-year tenure as head coach. Junior quarterback Zach Abey led the offense last week to 569 rushing yards in a win over Cincinnati.
Expatriate of the week
Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore, who starred at Imhotep Charter, is off to a torrid start for the Terrapins. Moore has 22 catches for 331 yards and leads the Big Ten in receptions (7.3 per game), receiving yards (104.3 per game) and touchdown catches (four). The 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior has caught a pass in 24 consecutive games, the most for the Terrapins since current Eagle Torrey Smith put together a 30-game streak from 2008-10.
Games of the week
Northwestern at Wisconsin, noon, 6ABC: The Badgers open their Big Ten season as the solid favorite to win the West Division with a schedule that places their toughest games at home, including this one against a Wildcats team that boasts the conference passing-yardage leader, Clayton Thorsen.
Georgia at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m., CBS3: The Bulldogs have something special going after last week’s rout of Mississippi State. Meanwhile, the Volunteers face a must-win situation because a second defeat in the SEC East, two weeks after they lost on a Hail Mary to Florida, likely would end their title hopes.
Mississippi State at Auburn, 6 p.m., ESPN: The Bulldogs have been on a roller coaster the last two weeks with a big win over Louisiana State and a crushing loss to Georgia. Nick Fitzgerald directs an offense that ranks third in the SEC against an Auburn defense that is fourth in total defense in FBS.
Clemson at Virginia Tech, 8 p.m., 6ABC: The Tigers get their second crack at a nationally ranked team on the road two weeks after winning at Louisville and will unleash their outstanding defensive line against Hokies quarterback Josh Jackson, who has passed for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns.
RB Bryce Love, Stanford, 5-10, 196, Jr., Wake Forest, N.C.
Love rushed 30 times for 263 yards, the second most in Cardinal football history, last week in a 58-34 win over UCLA and took over the FBS lead with 787 yards on the ground. Love has averaged 10.8 yards per carry, second in the nation, and scored five touchdowns. After rushing for 783 yards last year as a backup for Christian McCaffrey, Love put up ground games of 180, 160 and 184 this season before last week’s near-record performance.
The Inquirer Top 10
- Alabama (4-0)
- Clemson (4-0)
- Oklahoma (4-0)
- Penn State (4-0)
- Southern California (4-0)
- Washington (4-0)
- Wisconsin (3-0)
- Georgia (4-0)
- Michigan (4-0)
- Texas Christian (4-0)