Three years ago, the ACC had one of the best years a football conference could ever have. The league piled up eight bowl game victories, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson was the Heisman Trophy winner, and of course, Clemson beat Alabama for the national title. Oh, how things have changed. Now, the conference is defined by Clemson and everybody else, with just one other team (Syracuse) cracking the AP Top 25. With that as a backdrop to the 2019 season, here’s what stood out from the first week of action in The Heights ACC Power Rankings.
1) Clemson (1-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast, AP No. 1)
On a night where superstar quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw two interceptions, junior running back Travis Etienne stole the show. The reigning ACC Player of the Year went off against Georgia Tech in a 52-14 win, helping the defending champs start out on the right foot by running for 205 yards on just 12 carries, a ridiculous 17.1 yards per carry. Etienne busted out a 90-yard touchdown run and finished with three touchdowns. The Tigers came out fast and never let up, scoring 14 points in each of the first three quarters.
2) Virginia (1-0, 1-0)
Five of the Cavaliers’ last six meetings against Pittsburgh had ended in defeat, but Bronco Mendenhall’s team erased a halftime deficit and held the reigning Coastal Division champions scoreless in the second half en route to a 30-14 win. It was a big victory for a program that is hopeful for a breakout season. UVA displayed a stout defense that held Pittsburgh to just 3.4 yards per carry, while registering two interceptions.
3) Syracuse (1-0, 0-0, AP No. 21)
While the Orange are one of just two teams in the AP Top 25 in the ACC, an easy 24-0 win over Liberty didn’t exactly inspire confidence. New quarterback Tommy DeVito, taking over for the tenured starter Eric Dungey, averaged just five yards per attempt, threw two interceptions, and didn’t have a passing touchdown. The defense was impressive, but posting just 368 yards on offense is concerning with a road trip to Maryland and a huge game against Clemson on tap.
4) North Carolina (1-0, 0-0)
In Mack Brown’s first game as a head coach in five years, the Tar Heels erased an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter, downing South Carolina, 24-20. In the first three quarters, it was clear that UNC was hesitant offensively, especially with a true freshman quarterback in Sam Howell. They managed just nine points on three field goals, but struck for 15 in the fourth alone as Howell threw two touchdown passes. He finished 15-of-24 for 245 yards with a 175.7 passer rating, second among ACC signal callers.
5) Miami (0-1, 0-0)
The first game of the 2019 college football season was a sloppy one, and No. 8 Florida rallied to edge the Hurricanes, 24-20. New Miami head coach Manny Diaz cited maturity as the issue, with his team unable to hang on to a three-point fourth quarter lead. “We don’t have the maturity level to see a victory through,” Diaz said, per AP. “That’s a maturing process we have to go through.” The Canes also have some questions on the offensive line, as new quarterback Jarren Williams was sacked 10 times.
6) Boston College (1-0, 1-0)
Last season, the Eagles started with a pair of weak opponents that they handily demolished. After a shootout with Wake Forest, BC was 3-0 but got the doors blown off them at Purdue. That adjustment to a higher level of play came earlier this year, and the Eagles rose to the occasion—they knocked off Virginia Tech, 35-28. Third-year starter Anthony Brown was impressive, throwing for 275 yards and two touchdowns while scampering for another. The defense was particularly strong, too, especially in light of the worries around inexperience that many posed.
7) Wake Forest (1-0, 0-0)
It took a six-play, 89-yard drive that culminated in a touchdown pass from Jamie Newman to Kendall Hinton with 1:08 left in the game for the Demon Deacons to escape Utah State by a 38-35 margin. The Aggies are no slouch, coming off a 10-2 season in which they lost to Michigan State by a single touchdown, so the narrow win for Wake Forest isn’t anything to frown at. Newman, who beat out Sam Hartman for the starting job, looked impressive—he completed 34-of-47 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns. Wideout Sage Surratt was his favorite target, as the sophomore snagged seven passes for 158 yards and a score.
8) North Carolina State (1-0, 0-0)
The Wolfpack had no troubles against in-state rival East Carolina, rolling to a 34-6 win. The biggest takeaway was definitely the play of quarterback Matthew McKay, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who took the starting job after the departure of star Ryan Finley. McKay was fifth among ACC passers in quarterback rating (146.4) as he threw for 308 yards and a touchdown. He also added two touchdowns on the ground, showing more mobility than his predecessor. N.C. State did take a hit, though—talented wide receiver C.J. Riley is done for the year with a torn ACL.
9) Florida State (0-1, 0-0)
The Seminoles had a 21-6 lead after 15 minutes of play against Boise State, and even extended it to 31-13 at one point. FSU was also playing at home, instead of the regularly scheduled neutral site location. That didn’t matter, though, as the Seminoles let a true freshman quarterback in Hank Bachmeier engineer an epic comeback, rattling off 23 straight points to the tune of a 36-31 Broncos win. FSU couldn’t keep up with Boise State’s energy, as it managed just 68 second-half yards.
10) Virginia Tech (0-1, 0-1)
The biggest concern for the Hokies entering 2019 was whether their vaunted defense and longtime coordinator Bud Foster could right the ship. They sure didn’t this past weekend—at least during the first two quarters of play. BC enjoyed a 28-point first half on its way to a 35-28 win, but Virginia Tech looked better as the game progressed. The Eagles managed just 4.2 yards per play after the first quarter, and it didn’t help that the Hokies turned the ball over five times. The fact that it was still a one-touchdown game in the end goes to show the potential that Virginia Tech holds.
11) Pittsburgh (0-1, 0-1)
After last year’s divisional title, the Panthers came in 2019 with four first-year starters on the offensive line but still with the hope that quarterback Kenny Pickett could take a step forward. They hired a new offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple, but the offense struggled with efficiency and Pickett spent much of the night on the run against UVA. He completed half of his career-high 41 pass attempts for 185 yards, recorded two interceptions and just one touchdown, and was sacked three times while being hurried six other times.
12) Louisville (0-1, 0-0)
Last year, the Cardinals went 2-10 and bottomed out in Bobby Petrino’s final season as head coach. On Monday night against No. 9 Notre Dame, Louisville showed a lot more fight under first-year head coach Scott Satterfield. There’s no way of knowing how many games Satterfield’s side can win in 2019, but there was a lot more determination and energy than last year, that’s for sure. Quarterback Jawon Pass was 12-of-27 for 134 yards, but also added 64 rushing yards and two scores.
13) Duke (0-1, 0-0)
Like the team directly below them, Duke didn’t get an easy draw top open the season. The Blue Devils played No. 2 Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, and while they were tied after one quarter, it quickly got away from them in a 42-3 blowout. Duke really didn’t show much offensively, managing just 204 yards, and head coach Dave Cutcliffe took the brunt of that responsibility after the game. Quarterback Quentin Harris was just 12-of-22 for 97 yards with two interceptions.
14) Georgia Tech (0-1, 0-1)
New head coach Geoff Collins had the misfortune of playing No. 1 Clemson at home to start his tenure with the Yellow Jackets, and it went about as expected—the Tigers won, 52-14. In the middle of a transition on both offense and defense, Georgia Tech had 63 players see the field, and it’s clear that Collins and his staff are still sorting things out. Running back Jordan Mason had 13 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown in the loss.
Featured Graphic by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor