Photo courtesy of Joe Bray/North Carolina athletics
The ACC Championship match-up has been settled but plenty is left to be decided in the conference.
For starters, the North Carolina vs. Miami game may directly decide which team would be in the lead for an Orange Bowl bid. Additionally, other bowl spots will be partially determined by this slate of games.
The week kicks off with a Thursday night showdown between Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech.
Pittsburgh (5-5) at Georgia Tech (3-6), Thursday at 7 p.m. ET (Regional Networks)
The Panthers have had a considerably disappointing year but with a win in this game, they could have their fifth winning regular season in the six-year Pat Narduzzi era.
Georgia Tech is looking to eclipse last year’s win total and have something to build off of before heading to Miami.
Pitt’s biggest match-up advantage is with its defensive front. Georgia Tech will look to run the ball most of the night. However, the Panthers are one of seven teams in the FBS to allow fewer than 100 yards per night.
The Yellow Jackets will need to get creative with perhaps counter run concepts or other ways to get their dynamic players into space. With Jahmyr Gibbs unavailable, establishing an offense will be much more difficult.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Georgia Tech 17
Wake Forest (4-3) at Louisville (3-7), Saturday at 12 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
Louisville has certainly under-performed but it is quite surprising that it is favorites to win this game. With the controversy over head coach Scott Satterfield, there are plenty of outside factors pointing against the Cardinals. Louisville will also be missing their two key offensive players from the beginning of the year as Javian Hawkins and Tutu Atwell have opted out.
A main difference between these two teams is ball security. Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman has not thrown an interception all season. Meanwhile, Louisville is 123rd in the FBS with a turnover margin of -13.
Turnovers are still fluky but even if Louisville gets the ball to bounce its way a couple times, the Demon Deacons have a significant offensive advantage.
Prediction: Wake Forest 38, Louisville 24
No. 17 North Carolina (7-3) at No. 10 Miami (8-1), Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
This game will be the eighth time where there are two ranked ACC match-ups in 2020. With the Orange Bowl on the line, Miami also hopes continue its path to a 10-win season.
Aside from Notre Dame, Miami is perhaps the best defense North Carolina will face. The Hurricanes have a capable secondary but the main factor will be their edge rushers. North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell has taken 25 sacks when given 2.5 seconds to throw or more, the third-highest mark in the conference. If he continues to hold onto the ball for a long time, Quincy Roche and Jaelen Phillips will have a big day.
North Carolina has to focus on zone runs and swing passes in the initial stages of the game. Once the Miami secondary creeps in, Howell can start throwing the ball over the top.
Prediction: Miami 35, North Carolina 34
Duke (2-8) at Florida State (2-6), Saturday at 4 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
Both programs are certainly at low points but one of these teams will get a third win, nonetheless. This game will be ugly but Florida State essentially gives fewer reasons why it will lose.
Jordan Travis offers more at the quarterback position than Chase Brice and the Seminoles have a stronger secondary. Additionally, FSU has gotten improved play from its tackles, who will try to slow Duke’s premier pass rushers.
Prediction: Florida State 24, Duke 17
Virginia (5-4) at Virginia Tech (4-6), Saturday at 8 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
The last two years of the Commonwealth Cup have been among the most exciting games of the year. In 2019, Virginia finally broke Virginia Tech’s 15-game winning streak in this rivalry. This week, Virginia Tech looks to get revenge.
The Cavaliers match up rather well with this Hokies team. Brennan Armstrong is a perfectly designed quarterback to succeed against Virginia Tech’s defense. He is a great runner and a capable downfield passer.
Expect defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton to have a similar game plan to Bud Foster last year: keep the quarterback in the pocket. Bryce Perkins had vast success early with his legs, then stepped up to the task when Virginia Tech made adjustments. Armstrong, a top-10 quarterback this year, according to Pro Football Focus, can certainly do the same.
Hendon Hooker should have similar production with Virginia’s struggles in the secondary, but the Hoos have the edge with their front seven.
Prediction: Virginia 37, Virginia Tech 30