Lauren Brownlow

GIF previews are back! But is the ACC?

Posted August 31
Updated September 1

Well everyone, now that you can walk outside your door without immediately pouring sweat, it means that fall is here! Which means football time! Or it means a storm system has created a cold front in our area, either way. We probably have at least a solid month left of oppressive humidity.

I can, however, detect a change in the atmosphere when it comes to ACC football. There's a doubt that the league can maintain what it did a year ago. My response to that is, like, duh. But that doesn't TAKE AWAY from what they did a year ago, either. Urban Meyer's Ohio State team got straight-up embarrassed by Clemson after Penn State sort of apologetically shuffled away for even having the audacity to want a Playoff spot after winning the league, and the Big 10 isn't taking a beating for that. The ACC can do whatever it wants as far as I'm concerned and y'all can go cry about it.

I'm not a meteorologist. But I am a GIFtologist. And there are 14 ACC games to preview, and miles of GIFs before we sleep.




Time: 12:20 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


If you like bad defense, well, you COULD BE IN LUCK! Emphasis on "could". You think North Carolina's defenses have struggled lately? Well, other than giving up 6.5 yards per play back in 2014, they've at least held opponents to 5.5 or less and ranked 56th or better in that category since 2013. The last time a Cal defense gave up fewer than 6 yards a play in a season was 2012, and even then, it was 5.66 and ranked 71st in yards per play surrendered. In 2013, they gave up 7.1 (!!!!), then down to 6.3 in 2014, 6.1 in 2015 and back up to 6.7 last year. They've ranked 102nd or worse in all four of those seasons. No wonder they hired defensive-minded Justin Wilcox to take over for Sonny Dykes.

Now, Cal's defense returns a lot (eight starters) and should be better this year. Probably significantly, if Wilcox has anything to do with it. Frankly, there is nowhere to go but up. But how much better, and how quickly? On the flip side, will it even matter if North Carolina's inexperienced offense can't capitalize? Considering the reputation of both offenses (and defenses), there may be an assumption that this game will be a shootout. But it will also be two relatively new offenses, so it's hard to imagine things will click right away for either team. Both of these teams are going to have to rely on their defenses, especially early, which likely frightens both fanbases at least a little. Especially since UNC doesn't have a starting quarterback announced yet, which surely means they don't have one and Larry Fedora can't make a decision. It can't mean he's messing with us. NOT LARRY!

Oh by the way, this is a potential revenge game for Wilcox. It lasted for just two years, but he was the defensive coordinator at Tennessee during the UNC Music City Bowl. If you don't remember that game, well, Google it. Maybe UNC should hit up T.J. Yates for tips on how to attack Cal's defense.


Tre Watson. Cal lost its top quarterback, receiver and running back from a year ago, but it by far returns the most experience at running back as Watson was second place only by a handful of carries. The senior had 709 yards on 143 attempts (just nine fewer than last year's leading rusher) and averaged nearly five yards a carry, scoring four touchdowns. Watson is also a very capable receiver out of the backfield, catching 21 balls a year ago for 241 yards and another four scores. Breaking in a new quarterback with inexperience across the board on offense, it's likely that Cal will try to rely on Watson early and often.

And it makes sense to try to test UNC's front and run defense. Teams didn't have a ton of success against UNC's defense in terms of yards per rush last year, but they were able to sort of pound them into submission: in five UNC losses a year ago, their opponents ran the ball on 70.4% of their plays compared to 56.7% in UNC wins over teams that weren't Georgia Tech or the Citadel (teams that run it almost exclusively anyway). Even with those wins, it was still just 64.4%. UNC's front seven and defense should be better, and it'll need to be to force Cal to pass.


Brandon Harris. That's right, Larry. I'm not falling for your okey-doke. I know that you have a starter already and that it's probably Harris. The LSU graduate transfer is in an offense better suited to his skills - an up-tempo, spread attack as opposed to the pro-style, run-heavy LSU offense. His numbers aren't great - he never completed more than 55.5% of his passes in a season - but maybe it was always a fit issue. He was a highly-touted quarterback coming out of high school, and he feels like he'll flourish in this kind of offense. He's going to have his first game in a new system be against a Power 5 opponent and all while surrounded by relatively inexperienced skill-position players, so the adjustment likely won't be immediate anyway. I don't put much stock into the fact that Fedora has yet to name a starter, because it's been his M.O. lately anyway. I think it will be Harris. If it isn't, then Harris will be worth watching because if he hasn't impressed the coaches enough to be the guy, North Carolina's offense could struggle more than we originally anticipated.


Since we're on brand here, I decided to only use GIFs that came up in Giphy when I searched "ceiling is the roof":

North Carolina Win: raise the roof kid

North Carolina Loss: naked fall off roof


North Carolina, 27-19. Yes, that's right. A defensive battle.


Time: 3:30 p.m.


It's time for the NC State hype train to leave the station, carrying passengers as it goes from stop to stop - and this is the all-important Stop 1. Or maybe it runs off the rails before it can even leave the station. But by all knowns heading into this game, NC State should be (and is) the favorite. They're the more experienced team on both sides of the ball and while there are some special teams concerns (like kicker), South Carolina has plenty of concerns that are more concerning. Concerning concerns.

This game is going to come down to two things from NC State's perspective: the defensive line playing up to its capabilities, and the offense doing enough. South Carolina returns some experience on offense, both on the line and at the skill spots, but NC State's defensive line is among the best in the country. Especially as the secondary will be missing Mike Stevens due to injury and now will have four new starters, the d-line has to get pressure early and often. NC State's biggest liability a year ago was pass defense. If the d-line is neutralized, South Carolina will make big plays. It sounds simple, doesn't it? That's because it is.

Last year, South Carolina's defense went from a strength to a weakness as the season went on, but the Gamecocks have talent on that side of the ball and should be at least capable. But NC State, with a veteran offensive line, should be able to exploit the Gamecocks in their most vulnerable area from a season ago - the run. The term game manager is awful, but when NC State was good last year, it was because they could run the ball at will and quarterback Ryan Finley made plays but didn't do anything dumb. If NC State can avoid turnovers, sustain (and finish) drives and run the ball, they'll be fine on offense. Even if they don't do anything explosive. (But we'll get to that in a minute.) South Carolina was mostly a bend, don't break defense a year ago and if NC State gets too crazy against a very capable Gamecock secondary, things could get messy. Don't give South Carolina turnovers. Just ask 2015 North Carolina about that if you don't believe me. That's the only way this game goes sideways for the Wolfpack, to me.

As the folks at Garnet and Black point out in this funny and accurate post, ​NC State and South Carolina have played some gross games in recent history. Frankly, between the recent matchups with both UNC and NC State, I can't remember the last time I've seen an aesthetically pleasing matchup between South Carolina and a North Carolina team that I cover. But there's a first time for everything!


Jaylen Samuels. You want big plays? Cool! Maybe give the ball to Samuels. The running back/tight end/wide receiver/halfback/whatever you want to call him is going to be key, as he usually is. He touched the ball on offense 52 times and scored touchdowns on 11 of said touches in NC State's seven wins last year, averaging nearly nine yards a touch and 7.4 touches a game. In six losses, he touched it 37 times and scored just twice, averaging 6.2 touches and 7.8 per touch. Throughout his career, it's been true that when NC State can't find ways to get the ball in his hands or he's neutralized, the Wolfpack generally struggles. When the opposite is true, they generally thrive. Rinse, repeat. Get the ball to JaySam. NC State's offense returns a lot on the line and of course the quarterback, and there are skill guys with some experience. But Samuels and the now-graduated Matt Dayes were the playmakers. Dayes is gone, and everyone is going to have to step up that much more - including Samuels.


Jake Bentley. Peyton Manning had a big head, and so does South Carolina's sophomore quarterback, evidently. Coincidence? Okay, so Bentley isn't really Peyton Manning. But he did help turn the Gamecocks' season around, coming in for the UMass game and going 4-3 down the stretch after the Gamecocks started out 2-4. Of course, at the same time South Carolina's offense picked up, its defense went off a cliff, so there's that. And Bentley/the offense did total just 14 points against the only two good defenses he faced (he scored neither touchdown and completed just 50% of his passes in those two games compared to 71.4% in his other five games). But those defenses, Florida and Clemson, had both good defensive lines and secondaries. Does NC State have a good enough secondary to keep Bentley at bay? He can be both efficient and explosive, and he South Carolina has some weapons he can and did use last year, including their own Samuel. NC State will have to make his life as difficult as possible.


NC State Win: dog train

NC State Loss: rooster chases boy


NC State, 38-23. The Wolfpack secondary allows some big plays, but overall, the experienced lines control the game.


Time: 6:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


Let me break this down for you as simply as I can. NC Central is a very good MEAC team that has won at least a share of the crown three years running and is picked to do so again. Duke struggled last year, going 4-8, and one of its wins was against Central - and a convincing one at that, 49-6. Central also has suspended two starters for this game. So...long story short, I don't think we'll find out much about either of these teams this week. Unless Duke unexpectedly struggles. But the Bull City Classic is a delight for all involved, and I wish NC Central's official athletic account hadn't deleted their promo for the game that featured a "ranked FCS team" against "their FBS neighbor". It was fantastic! The Internet never forgets though, and by Internet in this case, I mean of course our very own Joe Ovies:

NC Central Troll


Micah Zanders. The Eagles' defense is very solid this year, and so the question will be can their transfer QB be good enough? He'll be without one of his starting wide receivers, but he'll have some weapons - like former North Carolina wide receiver Jordan Fieulleteau. NC Central managed only 112 total yards against Duke in last year's meeting, and Zanders won't have an easier time this year against a Duke defense that could be at least as good as last year's unit, if not better. Last year's unit was solid and they have some unproven players returning, but talented ones, especially up front, which is a new thing for Duke. Speaking of that...


Victor Dimukeje/Drew Jordan. Duke is young, young, young - but the Blue Devils have some talent in that youth, including in these two defensive linemen. Dimukeje, a three-star recruit, is going to be a true freshman starter at defensive end (the only freshmen starter), while Jordan, a four-star, will be a backup at the other end spot. Add freshmen defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo to the mix and this is the type of game where Duke's young talent up front should really shine. There are only two upperclassmen in all of Duke's two-deep along the defensive line anyway, but Dimukeje and Jordan are two to keep an eye on in terms of the numbers and impact they can have against Central.


Duke Win: jonah hill ok

Duke Loss: uh oh fire marshal bill


Duke, 41-12. Central either makes four field goals or scores two touchdowns, but misses the extra points.




Time: 6:30 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


We're not going to learn much about the steadily-improving Deacs in this contest, I'm afraid. I'm not going to run down all of the stats for you here - I'll let {{a href="external_link-16916435"}}Blogger So Dear do that for you - but boy howdy, Presbyterian is bad. Well, to be fair, Presbyterian is bad where it counts when you're an already-overmatched FCS team taking on an FBS team,and that's on offense. Like, Wake Forest's recent paltry offensive seasons think that Presbyterian has some issues on that side of the ball. The Blue Hose averaged 8.9 points a game last year, averaged 2.9 per rush and 5.1 per pass attempt. That is...well it's bad. You'd think a team that is literally called the Blue Hose better.

*drops mic*

*runs away*


(Blue hose, whatever. Any hose will do for GIF purposes.)

Wake Forest Win: catch the hose

Wake Forest Loss: hose to the face


Wake Forest, 52-6. Yeah, I feel THAT strongly about Presbyterian being terrible that I picked Wake to score 52 points.



Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


Central Connecticut State is a real mouthful, and if it takes this supposedly-improved Syracuse defense as long to tackle their ball carriers as it does to say their name, it'll be a problem. But really, let's all just hope oft-injured QB Eric Dungey makes it through this utterly meaningless game healthy and that Syracuse wins handily. If neither of things happen, it'll be a very long year for the Orange.


Syracuse Win: party girl and

Syracuse Loss: sad joker fan


Syracuse, 63-17. DINO BABERS = POINTS!


Time: 9:30 p.m. (???!!!)
TV: CBS Sports Network


Why in the actual hell is Boston College playing AT Northern Illinois, on a Friday night at 9:30 p.m? Did they agree to this game thinking it was a basketball game? Or did TV just screw them over as to the day and time? I have so many questions. And this game was likely scheduled before NIU started its recent skid, meaning it's one of those very low-upside games for a Power 5 team, especially one that's been struggling.

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Boston College's defense should be very good. They're going to need their offense to show signs of life. The offense returns a lot of experience, which is only a good thing if you somehow manage to forget the awfulness that is Boston College's offense the last few years. It can't be worse, though, right? I shouldn't say that. It can ALWAYS be worse.

This game against a proud NIU program that had hit the skids recently, but won four of five to end last season and appears to have reason for optimism headed into this season with an offense that can still be explosive (led by former NC State offensive line coach Mike Uremovich) and a defense that went from really bad to serviceable by the end of last year. NIU's quick passing attack could neutralize some of Boston College's defensive strength, but the Eagles still have a size and skill advantage there. The question will lie in what NIU's defense can do against BC's offense (or if BC's offense can do anything, really). That's where the game will be decided. That is...not promising.


Boston College Win: uh i'll take it

Boston College Loss: black mirror tv agony


Northern Illinois, 20-17. Ugh.



Time: 12:00 p.m.


When I saw this game on the schedule, my first instinct was that Clemson was playing an FCS opponent. I had to remind myself that, duh, Kent State is in the MAC. But it IS one of those games where it feels like maybe playing a really good FCS team would've better served Clemson. Although to their credit, Kent State - who has only one winning season since 2001 - has plenty of experience playing against big-time teams. As Scott Keepfer from Greenville Online points out, Kent State joins Auburn as the only team to play the defending national champ two years running. They're set to play Louisville on September 23 this year as well, and they've been outscored 271-39 in their last six games against Power 5 opponents. And oh by the way, their head coach Paul Haynes will be out the first 2-3 games with a medical issue. So there's that.

So, uh, enjoy Kelly Bryant's debut as QB at Clemson because this one will be over early.


Clemson Win: cat watever

Clemson Loss: kimmy as if


Clemson, 42-3. Dabo's going to throttle this one down quickly.


Time: 12:30 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


If all you Miami HATERZ are eager to see the U fall flat on its face after being picked to win the Coastal, well, you'll have to wait at least two weeks to find out. And really you'll have to wait longer than that -- the Hurricanes travel to FSU on September 16, where they're expected to lose anyway. (Unless they get annihlated, of course.) It'll be until likely the last 3-4 weeks of the season when we find out about the U. And we CERTAINLY won't find out much against FCS Bethune-Cookman, a team that's usually in the hunt for the MEAC title but will be outmanned against the talented Hurricanes, We do know that Miami's defense should be excellent, but it will be worth taking a look at Malik Rosier's stats. The new starting QB in Coral Gables has had a rough go of it in scrimmages, but he's been playing against one of the better defenses in the country. If he struggles significantly against Bethune-Cookman? That'll be worth keeping an eye on.


Miami Win: rafa bored

Miami Loss: bridge collapse


Miami, 59-0. SHUT OUT!


Time: 1:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


Not much to see, usually, when FCS teams take on FBS teams. But Pitt has a history of at least flirting with disaster early against non-conference opponents, and Youngstown State isn't just any FCS team. Pitt lost 31-17 to Youngstown State back in 2012, which is pretty embarrassing, and in Pat Narduzzi's first game as head coach, his team just did squeak by the Penguins 45-37 in an unexpected shootout. So Pitt won't take these guys lightly, nor should they. Youngstown State is a top-10 FCS team led by former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini. And of local interest, former NC State quarterback Shane Montgomery leads an explosive Penguin offense (it sounds funny to think of explosive penguins, but in this case it's true). Anyway, Youngstown State is coming off a loss in the FCS national title game and we're going to find out early whether or not Pitt's defense has improved enough to contend for the Coastal Division title. It brought back a lot, but it wasn't near good enough a year ago. Get into another shootout with YSU and there will be cause for concern. Again.


Pittsburgh Win: otter fistbump

Pittsburgh Loss: i can not even


Pittsburgh, 34-27. I do think it almost feels too predictable to call a close one, but Pitt has some suspensions (especially on defense) and Youngstown State is good.


Time: 3:30 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


Thanks so much, all of you obsessing over announcer Robert Lee moving from this game to the Youngstown State-Pitt game (a better game, by the way) by his own choice (albeit with an arguably overthought reason brought to him by his employers, but whatever). Now I can't find any real analysis for this game. You know part of the reason I can't find said analysis, though? IT IS A BAD FOOTBALL GAME AND IT IS NOT PUNISHMENT BUT RATHER A REWARD TO BE MOVED FROM IT SO PLEASE ALL OF YOU JUST STOP IT. I HATE ALL OF YOU.

This is just the first of two big early games for the Cavaliers in 2017. Yes, it's against an FCS team. But struggle to win or, God forbid, lose and you have killed any and all hope in your fanbase for this season. And that's with a second-year head coach in Bronco Mendenhall who has quite a rebuild ahead of him but is a proven guy. Luckily for Virginia, while William and Mary is a perennially frisky FCS team, this year they have like five guys competing for their starting QB job and Virginia's potentially shaky secondary likely won't be tested. The Cavaliers need to win this game going away. Or just win it.


Virginia Win: lauren lapkus clap

Virginia Loss: box of shame


Virginia, 41-17. I could see William and Mary getting out to like a 10-0 lead and everyone being like "OMG VIRGINIA WYD #goacc" and then UVa still winning easily. Sorry, but I can't pick an FCS team to win or keep it close that has a FIVE-MAN QB BATTLE. That's at least 3 QBs too many.


Time: 7:30 p.m.


This game is in Indianapolis, which is a drive of less than two hours from Louisville, so it's not really a road game. Purdue is not going to be a dumpster fire this year, which will be a marked improvement for the Boilermakers against recent history. But this game is also mentor (Bobby Petrino) versus mentee (Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm, who coached with Petrino at both his previous stop at Louisville and at Western Kentucky, where he was head coach before Purdue hired him). Heck, even Petrino and former Louisville QB/current Purdue offensive coordinator Brian Brohm is mentor/mentee. The Purdue offense will be improved, but there was nowhere to go but up, especially after ending last year losing seven straight and averaging over 5.0 yards a play just twice in their last six games.

The bright spot of this Purdue team will be its front seven, which has to scare Louisville fans at least a little considering how their 2016 season ended -- with Lamar Jackson on his back a lot. Now, you have to have defensive players good enough to get to him, of course (which Houston and LSU in particular did). Louisville's defense lost some talent but should be replacing it just fine and the secondary might even be better than a year ago. But the offense, replacing skill players and half of an offensive line, will be the thing to watch in this game. Purdue could be frisky early under Brohm, who knows Petrino well, but Louisville is the more talented team and Purdue has a ways to go in its rebuild.


Louisville Win: veep high five fail

Louisville Loss: gas station michael bay


Louisville, 42-27. This feels like one of those games to me where Louisville will look rough early, Purdue will look game, and....Louisville will take control.


Time: 8:00 p.m.


It's hard to find a ton of areas for concern for either of these teams, as they're two of the most loaded in terms of talent in the country. But every team has deficiencies somewhere. Both quarterbacks have something to prove in Deondre Francois for FSU and Jalen Hurts for Alabama, but both showed flashes of being special playmakers and with another year, they've no doubt improved. Just like Dany's dragons in Game of Thrones have vulnerability, so too does a Nick Saban defense - this year's soft spot is the secondary. Both QBs will have to make some tough throws to win, but Francois is going to have to effectively pick on that largely unproven secondary. BUT of course, he'll have to stay upright to do it, and FSU's offensive line is still a bit of a question mark. If Francois can't throw a deep ball because he's under duress or getting sacked, then he can't really exploit that weakness. And Alabama is likely going to run the ball until FSU proves it can stop it. Can FSU do that? Sure, but they're going to do all they can to make sure Hurts is the one to beat them.

Neither of these teams is going to lose a College Football Playoff spot in Week 1, no matter what happens. But they sure could put themselves ahead of the game versus giving themselves no margin for error. As college football fans, we should just all be grateful that these teams are giving us this game and avoid punishing either one too much for the outcome. (As long as it's at least a little competitive.)


Florida State Win: sad bama couple

Florida State Loss: sad fsu fans


Alabama, 30-24. Nick Saban is 10-0 in season-openers and has dismantled some very good teams in the process. Losing a close one wouldn't be bad for FSU. Oh and also, Saban wants me to pick against him. I know it. I'M ON TO YOUR GAMES, NICKY!



Time: 7:30 p.m.


It's easy to assume both of these teams, in spite of having plenty to replace, will just bounce right back and repeat what they did the season before, or something close to it. But both teams return enough good or at least intriguing players that it's easy to assume they'll still be good. Still, West Virginia is replacing 16 starters (eight on offense, eight on defense) this year and Virginia Tech is replacing 10 (six on offense, including their top two receivers, top running back, quarterback and two offensive linemen). There aren't many KNOWN commodities, except maybe West Virginia's backfield and Virginia Tech's defense, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary.

Josh Jackson is getting rave reviews in Blacksburg as the new starter, but he's still a freshmen. West Virginia is breaking in a new QB of sorts in Florida's Will Grier (suspended for using PEDs, he left Florida and found his new home in West Virginia). But he's going to have some pretty green linemen trying to block the Hokie defensive line. If West Virginia can't establish the run with its excellent running backs, they're going to force Grier to throw into a secondary that returns almost everyone and is very good. The Virginia Tech d-line won't have the depth it did a year ago either. Virginia Tech will have to do something similar against a West Virginia front that lost quite a bit, too - but the Hokies are still searching for the answer at running back.


Virginia Tech Win: turkey says eat me

Virginia Tech Loss: bellyflop


Virginia Tech, 31-20. The Mountaineers lost a lot from last year. So did Virginia Tech, but barring injuries at key spots, they have enough returning that unless Jackson has a disastrous debut, they should be okay.


Time: 8:00 p.m.


This was a no-brainer pick for me until very recently, when Georgia Tech announced the suspension of Dedrick Mills, their top running back. I mean, they do have more, of course. But Georgia Tech is already at a general talent deficit. The Yellow Jackets are, though, coming off of a year where they went 4-4 in the Coastal and 3-0 in the SEC East, and a win over Tennessee would put them at 4-0. You think Paul Johnson doesn't know that? Please.

It hurts to lose Mills, but this game is going to be won or lost with Georgia Tech's defense anyway. Tennessee has playmakers and talent on offense, but they're going to be breaking in a new quarterback (just like Georgia Tech is) and they're down two offensive linemen now as they suspended one of their starters, Drew Richmond. I guess THAT guy is not going to get his Champions of Life trophy.

It's put up or shut up time for the Tech defense, which returns a lot and should be improved. They will absolutely need to stuff the run and put pressure on Tennessee's new QB (whoever it is, they haven't named him, which is the thing nowadays). Not to be outdone, Paul Johnson isn't announcing his starter, either. He has THREE "or"s on the depth chart at QB! So that's four total! (He knows who it is, like Fedora.) But Tech's defense needs to be the team's strength this year, or at least in this game. Put the pressure on Tennessee to have to sustain drives, don't give up anything easy and make whomever their new QB is be the one to beat you.


Georgia Tech Win: trump smug smile

Georgia Tech Loss: skateboard jump fail


Georgia Tech, 30-22. I can't pick against the possibility of Paul Johnson going 4-0 against the SEC East. It's too delightful.


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