In the past three weeks, the story around the ACC has been the Clemson Tigers. After two straight wins against ranked opponents, including Saturday’s blowout victory over Louisville against reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, the Tigers are already being projected to making a return to the ACC Championship Game en route to a third straight trip to the College Football Playoff. The idea of a rubber match with Alabama in the national championship has already caught the imagination of some, before we even hit October.
Clemson has earned that recognition as the ACC power to be dethroned, with Louisville now tossed aside. Maybe Virginia Tech could pose a threat down the road too, but that remains to be seen. But this week the story in the ACC will be the return to action of Florida State and Miami. The Seminoles and Hurricanes hit the field for the first time since Week 1, after having the last two weeks washed off the schedule by the devastating Hurricane Irma. It has been so long since we have seen these two teams that it may be excused if you forgt they existed this college football season. A return to football this weekend poses some viable threats for programs that have been knocked off their regular routine the past couple of weeks, and it is fair to question just how these two teams will look once they take the field this weekend.
When we last saw Florida State, they were being pounded into the turf at the brand new Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta by Alabama. The mega matchup between two top-three teams lived up to the hype as far as defense was concerned, but the Seminoles left Atlanta seeing starting quarterback Deondre Francois suffer a season-ending injury. Any time a team takes a loss, they have the itch to get back on the field and make up for it as soon as possible. For Florida State, that just wasn’t possible thanks to Hurricane Irma.
“They want to play. There’s no doubt. We didn’t play as well as they wanted to so they definitely want to play,” Fisher said this week, according to Tomahawk Nation. “But at the same time, we need to make sure we are prepared. They definitely want an opponent and we are going to get a good one, that’s for sure.”
Florida State had to cancel a home game against Louisiana-Monroe in Week 2, which would have been the ideal time to break in new starting quarterback James Blackman. The freshman got some brief playing time against Alabama following the injury to Francois, but Fisher likely would have preferred to be able to get him some more game action before jumping into conference play. After the Week 2 game was scrapped, all eyes turned to Week 3. In Week 3, Florida State was scheduled to host Miami.
Miami had the typical cupcake game in its season opener against Bethune-Cookman. You cannot learn a whole lot about a team form a game like that, and for a program starting a new quarterback, there are some questions that need to be answered quickly that you can only find in a game situation. For Mark Richt, the season of high expectations started off as well as it could with a 41-13 victory, but the real challenges were still to come. Like Florida State, Miami made the decision to cancel their Week 2 game, a road game at Arkansas State. The Red Wolves had just given Nebraska all kinds of trouble in Lincoln in Week 1, and Miami was criticized for backing out of the game, as they were the first school in Florida to cancel a contest. But as Irma made her approach, Miami’s decision was soon recognized as being the smart play. If all went well, Miami and Florida State could pick up their season against one another the following week in Week 3.
As we know now, the Week 3 battle between Miami and Florida State was reschedueld for a later date in the ACC schedule (Oct. 7), as the state of Florida focused instead on recovery form the massive storm. Now, in Week 4, both Florida State and Miami are back in action, and the schedule does them no favors.
Florida State must break in a new freshman starting quarterback against N.C. State and its highly-regarded defensive line. Given the holes Alabama exposed with Florida State’s offensive line, Florida State’s first game back is not easy.
In Miami, the Hurricanes must get back at it against one of the top Group of Five teams in the nation, Toledo. A week after Memphis upset UCLA and San Diego State took down Stanford, Miami may be on upset alert against Toledo as well. Having 21 days between games could lead to some sloppy play by both Miami and Florida State, but this week is a chance to hit a reset button on the year and make some statements about their chances to compete for the ACC title. And if the Hurricanes can prove they haven’t skipped a beat after impressing Mark Richt with their conditioning after their unplanned layoff, then maybe everything will be OK in the long run.
Clemson has taken control of the ACC Atlantic Division before Florida State got a chance to see how they will look with a new quarterback. In the ACC Coastal, Virginia Tech has jumped out to a loud start and looks primed for a return to the ACC Championship Game already, while we have yet to really see what Miami will do.
It may be Week 4 on the schedule, but this week is the real beginning for Florida State and Miami.