Syracuse’s Unexpected Ascent Continues in Week Three ACC Power Rankings

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Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc on the East Coast this past weekend, effectively canceling three ACC games, two of which included ranked opponents. Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and North Carolina watched as the Category Four storm swept through Tobacco Road, at one point gusting 130 mile per hour winds.

The rest of the conference played out its Week Three matchups, but experienced a whirlwind of their own—Syracuse shelled Florida State, Duke remained undefeated despite playing a backup quarterback, and Louisville nearly lost to Western Kentucky. The bottom half of the league is anyone’s guess, and until mid-October rolls around, the movement among those teams will likely be nothing less than cyclonic.

Clemson was the only major FBS team in either Carolina or Virginia to not call off its game on Saturday. Regardless of the weather, the fans showed up, and the Tigers showed out. Travis Etienne ran all over the Georgia Southern defense, racking up a career-high 162 yards and a pair of scores on the ground. Kelly Bryant left the game with a chest bruise, but the Tigers’ offense didn’t skip a beat with Trevor Lawrence behind center, and Clemson improved to 3-0.

The Hokies ended up with an extra week to prepare for Old Dominion—a team that’s still eyeing its first win of the year and currently ranks 105th in the nation in scoring. Inexperienced or not, Bud Foster’s defense should have its way with the Monarchs. VTech is on the brink of its second-consecutive 3-0 start.  

Luckily for BC, it was able to squeeze in its Thursday night game at Wake Forest prior to the hurricane’s arrival. Anthony Brown took the country by storm, throwing for a career-best 304 yards and five touchdowns, perfectly complementing A.J. Dillon and the Eagles’ rushing attack. Once again, special teams haunted BC, but yet another ferocious offensive performance paved the way for a 3-0 start and an AP Top 25 appearance—the program’s first since 2008.

One week removed from being booed during the Hurricanes’ 77-0 victory over Savannah State, Malik Rosier silenced the doubters. The senior quarterback recorded 205 passing yards and another 80 on the ground, as well as five total touchdowns. Miami has a ways to go before it can reenter the College Football Playoff discussion, but Saturday’s zero-penalty, turnover-free win was another sign that head coach Mark Richt’s team is trending in the right direction.

With Daniel Jones out with a fractured clavicle, it was Quentin Harris’s time to shine. Starting his first career collegiate game, the backup gunslinger—although inaccurate—proved quite effective. In fact, three of Harris’s 12 completions went for touchdowns. Couple that with a pair of defensive scores, and Duke was on its way to a 13-point victory over Baylor and, more importantly, a 3-0 start for the second-straight year. Injured or not, the Blue Devils are clicking.

Because of the storm, we missed our first real chance to evaluate the Wolfpack. Ryan Finley was set to square off against Will Grier in a battle of two of the top quarterback prospects in this year’s NFL Draft. There’s no question No. 12 West Virginia’s defense—which currently ranks inside the top 15 in both scoring and yards allowed—would have tested N.C. State’s offense. With Marshall and Virginia on tap, the Wolfpack will likely coast to a 4-0 start.

It doesn’t matter who’s quarterbacking the Orange—head coach Dino Babers team is on a mission to record its first winning season in six years. After Saturday’s blowout victory over FSU, it looks as if Syracuse is primed to do just that. Tommy DeVito took over for Eric Dungey—who left the game in the second quarter with a poked eye—and guided the Orange to a 23-point rout, snapping the program’s 10-game losing streak against the Seminoles.

Last Thursday, Sam Hartman threw two first-half interceptions and lost the first game of his collegiate career, but he also probably secured the Demon Deacons’ starting quarterback job. Filling in for the suspended Kendall Hinton, the volatile true freshman gave BC a run for its money, fearlessly executing the run-pass option. Wake Forest totaled 512 yards of offense in what was an exciting back-and-forth affair between two Atlantic Division rivals.

Instead of letting a 51-6 loss to Penn State define its season, Pittsburgh put the embarrassment in the rear view mirror and kicked off its ACC slate with a 24-19 win over Georgia Tech. The Panthers followed the same formula head coach Pat Narduzzi scripted late last season: run the ball hard and play shutdown defense. Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall combined for 120 rushing yards and three touchdowns, as Pittsburgh earned back a lot of people’s respect.

At this point, the Yellow Jackets are a broken record. Starting with quarterback TaQuon Marshall, GT is one of the most inconsistent teams in the country. Dominant one week, mediocre the next, head coach Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets can’t seem to find any sort of rhythm. Johnson himself is partly to blame. The longtime coach made some questionable calls at Pittsburgh over the weekend, including calling a fake punt, that cost GT a number of points.

The Cavaliers had to travel 545 miles to “host” Ohio in Nashville, Tenn. on Saturday, but they sure made themselves at home. Bryce Perkins completed 25-of-30 pass attempts for 379 yards and a trio of scores—two of which went to wideout Olamide Zaccheaus, who set a single-game program record with 247 receiving yards. To top it off, Jordan Ellis rushed for 171 yards and three touchdowns. For the second year in a row, the UVA offense is making noise in September.

Louisville was 15 minutes away from losing to Western Kentucky—a team that blew a 21-point lead to FCS Maine in Week Two. The Cardinals didn’t necessarily deserve to win either. They were outgained by 136 yards of total offense and only converted twice on third down. If there’s anyone to thank it’s Malik Cunningham. Once again coming off the bench, the freshman engineered a 14-point fourth quarter, rescuing Louisville from Bluegrass humiliation.

Willie Taggart is already in deep water, and we’re three weeks into the 2018 campaign. During Saturday’s 30-7 loss to the Orange, FSU looked like the same team that weasled its way into a bowl game last season. Deondre Francois is constantly under duress, and Cam Akers has yet to live up to his five-star rating. For a program that’s reeled in a top-12 recruiting class in each of the past three years, a 1-2 start against VTech, Samford, and Syracuse is inexcusable.

If anything, the Tar Heels are lucky that their Week Three matchup against No. 16 Central Florida was canceled. Dating back to last season, the Knights have won 15 consecutive games. UNC, on the other hand, has tallied a measly three victories during that span. For head coach Larry Fedora’s sake, the more time the Tar Heels have to regroup, the better, especially with three of the ACC’s remaining six undefeated teams on the horizon.

Featured Image by Nicole Chan / Heights Editor

Graphics by Andy Backstrom / Heights Editor

Andy Backstrom
About Andy Backstrom 318 Articles
Andy is the sports editor of The Heights. He is from the suburbs of Philly, but has been an Arizona Cardinals enthusiast since the first grade. Every so often, he'll replay Super Bowl XLIII on Madden to exact revenge on his father's beloved Steelers. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyHeights.