There is Clemson, and then there is everyone else.
Six weeks of games have taught us that, and only that, about this year’s ACC. The conference just refuses to put forth a legitimate challenger to the Tigers’ reign.
Let’s run through some of the headlines from this past week’s slate of ACC games.
Notre Dame, Carolina fail to meet the call
Notre Dame and North Carolina, both top-10 teams entering the weekend, looked like unranked teams when they hit the field.
For starters, the Irish scored just 12 points at home against Louisville. Ian Book was ineffective at best, finishing the game 11-19 for 106 passing yards and a rushing touchdown. Notre Dame was shut-out in the final period, despite Kyren Williams’ 127-yard performance.
Notre Dame won this game, but it exposed just how far behind Clemson they really are.
At least they didn’t go full North Carolina, who found a way to lose to lowly Florida State. The Tar Heels ceded a 24-0 deficit from the outset and trailed 31-7 at halftime. They clawed their way back in the second half, only to fall short on the game’s final possession.
These two performances beg the question — can anyone compete with Clemson?
The Tigers are playing NCAA Football 14 on Freshman difficulty. They’re 5-0 with a point differential of plus-182. You read that right.
Every team who could potentially challenge them has faltered at least once. Notre Dame barely held off a one-win Louisville team, Carolina fell apart in Tallahassee, the Hokies are one week removed from being beaten like a red-headed stepchild and Miami already lost their opportunity.
As expected, Clemson stands alone atop the ACC. Their claim on the throne might go unchallenged this season.
Virginia’s regression to the mean
The Wahoos are far removed from their magical 2019 ACC Coastal title run.
Virginia is 1-3, losers of three straight. The latest defeat came at the hands of Wake Forest, who nobody would confuse with a good team. The ‘Hoos were shutout in the second half 20-0 and lost just about all semblance of rhythm on offense after the second quarter.
Bryce Perkins isn’t walking through that door anytime soon, and that’s a problem. With
Steve Young Brennan Armstrong out with a concussion, the Cavaliers played three different quarterbacks by design and all three showed their limitations. Lindell Stone, the best passer of the trio, threw two interceptions and finished with 193 passing yards on 42 attempts. Keytaon Thompson attempted zero passes, even though he did average 7.1 yards per rush. Freshman Iraken Armstead completed one pass for nine yards and 46 rush yards.
As long as Armstrong is out, this offense is neutered. Virginia seemingly ran the ball efficiently but they got away from that. The defense was no help, allowing Wake’s Sam Hartman to throw for 309 yards and lead the offense to 40 points.
Virginia fans underestimated the impact that Perkins’ departure would have on the offense. The Cavaliers have been a one-man band for the last two seasons and it worked to an extent, earning Bronco Mendenhall 17 wins. But with Perkins out of the program, Mendenhall is 9-20.
Here’s the ugly truth for Virginia — while Mendenhall has created a closely-knit culture, he hasn’t improved the talent base enough to compete at a high level consistently. The ‘Hoos aren’t recruiting at a high enough level to sustain eight-to-nine wins on a regular basis.
The next two games will tell us a lot about Virginia. They’ve got a trip to Coral Gables scheduled for this weekend before hosting North Carolina. How the ‘Hoos handle these games will go a long way in determining where Virginia ends up.
Syracuse hits rock bottom (maybe)
It pains me to write this. I love me some Dino Babers.
Remember when Syracuse won 10 games in 2018? It was the culmination of two years of grinding away at a full rebuild. After a 5-7 record last year and a 1-4 start to 2020, that season looks more and more like an outlier.
Syracuse lost by 17 to Liberty on Saturday. Former Virginia Tech commit and Georgia Tech transfer Malik Willis scored twice and Liberty running backs Shedro Louis and Peytton Pickett both ran for more than 100 yards and combined for three touchdowns.
The Orange are in a similar boat to Virginia. They’ve never replaced Eric Dungey and the offense hasn’t been the same since he left. Syracuse doesn’t recruit well either, meaning the cupboard is pretty bare.
Liberty isn’t a slouch anymore, but losing by two scores on your home turf to a Group of 5 team is a bad look. It’s even worse when part of a subpar start to the season.
The details of Babers’ contract aren’t specified, but this article suggests Babers is under contract through 2024. He’s safe for the time being, but he’s burning through the good graces he earned in 2018.