Weekly Pick ’Em: TPN staff takes on ACC Week 9


Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

Pitt’s then-linebacker Mike Caprara takes down Virginia quarterback Matt Johns (15) for a safety in the fourth quarter on Oct. 10, 2015, at Heinz Field. Pitt won, 26-19.

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

Last week’s Pick ’em saw our first correct score prediction of the season — a noteworthy feat, considering the odds of accurately guessing an NFL score are comparable to the odds of hitting the Mega Millions jackpot, probably. The pick came from yours truly, as I had a premonition earlier in the week that the Steelers would beat the Browns by an exact score of 33-18.

This week, our staff takes a look at the upcoming slate of ACC football games, headlined by Pitt’s high-stakes clash with Virginia Friday night. Elsewhere in the conference, No. 24 Boston College travels to Virginia Tech for what our staff believes will be a very close game, while undefeated Clemson hosts Louisville in what could quickly become a blowout of epic proportions.

Pitt (4-4 overall, 3-1 ACC) at No. 23 Virginia (6-2 overall, 4-1 ACC)

Trent: Pitt 26, Virginia 20

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Nitti: UVA 31 Pitt 21

Ben: Pitt 42, UVA 31

Nick: Pitt 30, UVA 27

Tyler: Pitt 35, UVA 31

Sami: Pitt 28, UVA 24

Stephen: Pitt 42, UVA 35

Dom: Pitt 44, UVA 42

If you would have said before the season that this matchup would have massive implications for the ACC Coastal championship race, people would have thought you were crazy. The Panthers were picked to finish fifth, and the Cavaliers dead last, in the division.

Yet eight weeks in, Pitt and Virginia find themselves in a very meaningful Friday-night battle, with the Cavaliers sitting in first and the Panthers tied for second in the division. The winner of this game will gain the inside track for the Coastal title, especially considering that the two other main competitors — Virginia Tech and Miami — still have to play each other.

With that being said, the matchup to look for in this game will be Pitt’s rushing attack versus Virginia’s run defense. The Panthers run the ball about as well as any team in the ACC, ranking fourth in the conference with 227.9 rush yards per game. They’re also coming off a victory over Duke in which they rushed for a staggering 484 yards — the second-most in program history.

Virginia, on the other hand, is one of the best teams at stopping the run in the country, ranking 24th out of 130 Division I teams. The Cavaliers hold opponents to an average of 124.3 yards per game — a number the Panthers have failed to meet only twice this season. Something’s going to have to give, and seven of our writers like the stars to align in Pitt’s favor.

We technically shouldn’t be favoring Pitt this much — call it bias or wishful thinking — considering the Cavaliers are 7.5-point favorites. But Pitt just seems to have Virginia’s number, leading the series 4-1 since moving to the ACC in 2013. If the Panthers manage to come out on top, everybody but Michael Nitti will be celebrating Friday night.

No. 24 Boston College (6-2 overall, 3-1 ACC) at Virginia Tech (6-2 overall, 4-1 ACC)

Trent: BC 34, VT 24

Nitti: VT 30 BC 26

Ben: BC 24, VT 21

Nick: VT 35, BC 31

Tyler: BC 28, VT 24

Sami:  VT 24, BC 23

Stephen BC 30, VT 24

Dom: VT 27, BC 21

Like Virginia, Boston College is another ACC team that has surpassed expectations in 2018. The Eagles are fresh off a 27-14 upset over Miami and boast one of the conference’s top running backs in sophomore workhorse AJ Dillon, who leads the conference in carries and ranks second in yards with 801.

Conversely, Virginia Tech has failed to meet expectations, losing to pitiful Old Dominion in one of college football’s biggest upsets in recent history, then dropping a critical ACC game to Georgia Tech last Thursday. Yet the Hokies are still a solid 3-1 in the ACC, good for second in the Coastal.

In this battle between two teams on opposing trajectories — with Boston College trending up and Virginia Tech down — our staff is deadlocked. It seems everyone can agree that it will be a close game, with no writer predicting a score differential of 10 points or more.

Duke (5-3 overall, 1-3 ACC) at Miami (5-3 overall, 2-2 ACC)

Trent: Miami 35, Duke 20

Nitti: Miami 33 Duke 21

Ben: Duke 17, Miami 10

Nick: Duke 28, Miami 21

Tyler: Miami 31, Duke 21

Sami: Miami 38, Duke 28

Stephen: Duke 42, Miami 28

Dom: Miami 35, Duke 21

The ACC media predicted that Miami would repeat as Coastal champs this season — a pretty safe assumption considering the Hurricanes would retain most of their production from 2017, including senior quarterback Malik Rosier. That hasn’t worked out so well — Rosier was benched early in the season for first-year N’Kosi Perry, who eventually underperformed and ceded the job back to Rosier. Neither has proven capable of leading the offense, causing Miami to lose its last two ACC games because they failed to score more than 14 points.

Duke has been … OK. The Blue Devils beat Georgia Tech, but lost to every other ACC team they’ve played — including a 54-45 loss to Pitt last week which showed a total lack of defense. In this game between two “meh” teams, the Hurricanes still have the higher ceiling, which is why our staff favors them 5-3.

Florida State (4-4 overall, 2-4 ACC) at NC State (5-2 overall, 2-2 ACC)

Trent: NC State 42, FSU 39

Nitti: NC State 40 FSU 20

Ben: NC State 28, FSU 10

Nick: NC State 31, FSU 24

Tyler: NC State 38, FSU 17

Sami: NC State 35, FSU 20

Stephen NC State 45, FSU 20

Dom: NC State 35, FSU 21

Florida State was picked to finish second in the ACC Atlantic. Instead, the Seminoles are in fifth place with a 2-4 conference record. Our staff picked NC State unanimously because the Wolfpack have the best quarterback in the conference — senior Ryan Finley — who leads the ACC with 2,250 passing yards. Also, NC State is 4-0 at home while FSU is 1-2 on the road, so homefield advantage will certainly play a role for the Wolfpack.

Georgia Tech (4-4 overall, 2-3 ACC) at UNC (1-6 overall, 1-4 ACC)

Trent: GT 35, UNC 21

Nitti: GT 40 UNC 31

Ben: UNC 14 GT 10

Nick: GT 38, UNC 35

Tyler: GT 34, UNC 27

Sami: GT 30, UNC 17

Stephen: GT 35, UNC 30

Dom: GT 38, UNC 24

Neither of these teams are spectacular, with Georgia Tech ranking fifth in the Coastal and UNC sitting in dead last. However, the Yellow Jackets are coming off a surprise 49-28 demolition of Virginia Tech, so they have the hot hand. And the Tar Heels have yet to show they can beat a team not named the Pittsburgh Panthers. Therefore, our entire staff selected Georgia Tech to come away with the win. Except for Ben, who took a leap of faith and selected the Tar Heels to get their first non-Pitt win this season.

Syracuse (6-2 overall, 3-2 ACC) at Wake Forest (4-4 overall, 1-3 ACC)

Trent: Syracuse 51, Wake Forest 43

Nitti: Syracuse 34 Wake Forest 28

Ben: Wake Forest 38 Syracuse 35

Nick: Syracuse 30 Wake Forest 24

Tyler: Syracuse 35, Wake Forest 20

Sami: Wake Forest 27, Syracuse 24

Stephen: Syracuse 35, Wake Forest 20

Dom: Syracuse 42, Wake Forest 28

These teams share a similar philosophy — to score as many points as possible with no regard for defense. After Clemson, Syracuse scores more than any team in the ACC, averaging an incredible 43.6 points per game. To their credit, Wake Forest also scores at a solid rate of 33.4 points per game.

Neither team is great on the defensive side of the ball, but the Demon Deacons’ actually have one of the worst defenses in the country, allowing 39.1 points per game — the 13th-worst nationally. It’ll be a high-scoring affair but Syracuse should score more points in the end — a conclusion that six of our eight writers arrived at.

Louisville (2-6 overall, 0-5 ACC) at No. 2 Clemson (8-0 overall, 5-0 ACC)

Trent: Clemson 60, Louisville 18

Nitti: Clemson 49 Louisville 3

Ben: Clemson 42 Louisville 10

Nick: Clemson 45 Louisville 14

Tyler: Clemson 52, Louisville 10

Sami: Clemson 42, Louisville 17

Stephen: Clemson 65, Louisville 17

Dom: Clemson 49, Louisville 24

It’s the ACC’s only winless team playing on the road versus the ACC’s only undefeated team. I wonder what could happen?

Hint — it could get ugly, and fast.