Virginia gets its second open date, before finishing with home games against Liberty – a non-conference game – and the big Black Friday rivalry meeting Virginia Tech. The Hokies need to beat Pittsburgh next week for the Commonwealth Clash to become the Coastal Division Title Clash. First, they travel to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech, a team they haven’t beaten since Justin Fuente became their coach in 2016.
Each week Bennett Conlin, the new Virginia beat writer for the Charlottesville Daily Progress, and Michael Niziolek, the Virginia Tech beat writer for the Roanoke Times, will join me in predicting the outcomes for the Cavaliers, Hokies and other key ACC games. And, to keep things interesting and create some divide in the standings, we’ll throw in weekly upset picks, as well.
With a perfect 4-0 week, Charlottesville’s Conlin moved into first place in our standings, a game ahead of me and two up on Niziolek.
Here are this week’s predictions:
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Bobby Dodd Stadium
Bennett Conlin, Charlottesville Daily Progress (28-16): The Hokies look like a different team since losing to Duke 45-10. While Georgia Tech improves each week under Geoff Collins, there’s a major talent advantage for the Hokies. Hendon Hooker shines at quarterback, and Virginia Tech keeps the good vibes rolling.
PICK: Virginia Tech 35, Georgia Tech 21
Mike Barber, Richmond Times-Dispatch (27-17): The Hokies have struggled with the Yellow Jackets, but this is a different Yellow Jackets team. Geoff Collins bunch is very much in a transition year. Still, that didn’t them from putting a scare into UVA last weekend. It’s still a power running team with the ability to catch opposing defenses with long passes. That’s a formula that could give Virginia Tech trouble. But the Hokies have been improving week to week and seem to have found their confidence.
PICK: Virginia Tech 24, Georgia Tech 21
Michael Niziolek, Roanoke Times (26-18): Virginia Tech is facing a much different Georgia Tech team than the one that's given them all sorts of problems in recent years, but there are still plenty of returning Yellow Jackets that were part of last year's lopsided victory over the Hokies. That was an embarrassing loss for Virginia Tech with the defensive giving up 465 rushing yards. The Hokies will face a more balanced opponent this weekend, but Georgia Tech is struggling to throw the ball as new coach Geoff Collins transitions away from the triple option. As long as there isn't an emotional letdown from last week, Virginia Tech should roll to an easy win.
PICK: Virginia Tech 41, Georgia Tech 17
Wake Forest at Clemson, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Memorial Stadium
Conlin: The Demon Deacons struggled against Virginia Tech, and they’ve barely beaten a handful of mediocre teams this season. Clemson, on the other hand, is on a mission to return to the College Football Playoff. Outside of a one-point win over North Carolina, the Tigers have cruised past ACC foes. Expect another blowout.
PICK: Clemson 52, Wake Forest 17
Barber: Much of the luster came off this once-shiny matchup when Wake Forest got handled by Virginia Tech last weekend. The Demon Deacons didn’t look like the second best team in the ACC and certainly didn’t look capable of rivaling mighty Clemson. The first College Football Playoff committee made it clear to Clemson – close wins are not acceptable. That message was received in time for the Tigers to annihilate North Carolina State last week and they’ll likely do the same to Wake Forest. Travis Etienne could be in line for a big day against the suspect Wake run defense.
PICK: Clemson 48, Wake Forest 20
Niziolek: Wake Forest will be without its top two receivers, Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington, on Saturday. While the Demon Deacons still have the talented Kendall Hinton to throw to, their offense is much less imposing without those two big-bodied targets that have combined for 1,600-plus yards and 18 touchdowns. Clemson has rolled through the ACC in recent weeks without any issues, most recently beating NC State 55-10, so a similar score on Saturday wouldn't be all that surprising.
PICK: Clemson 48, Wake Forest 20
Louisville at North Carolina State, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Carter-Finley Stadium
Conlin: The Wolfpack’s roster has been depleted by injuries. While Louisville isn’t a juggernaut, the Cardinals’ offense plays well most weeks. Look for Scott Satterfield’s bunch to move the football well and secure bowl eligibility.
PICK: Louisville 38, N.C. State 27
Barber: I spent a good deal of time trying to think of a reason North Carolina State would win this game, beyond simply being the home team. Louisville did not look good against Miami last week – that’s the best I could do. That’s not good enough. The Wolfpack offense just doesn’t pack enough punch to pull this one out. The Cardinals bounce back and get it done, picking up their sixth win of the year, meaning Scott Satterfield’s team will be going to a bowl far ahead of the schedule most of us in the media projected when he took over the program.
PICK: Louisville 35, North Carolina State 20
Niziolek: NC State has been outscored 144-44 during its current three-game losing streak. Louisville played its worst game of the season against Miami last week, but has enough offensive to give the Wolfpack some real problems. Louisville is still one win away from clinching a bowl appearance, which should give it plenty of motivation to get back on track this weekend.
PICK: Louisville 35, NC State 17
Upset of the week
Conlin: I asked the audience for an upset pick last week, and they delivered. LSU beat Alabama behind an epic performance from Heisman hopeful Joe Burrow. I’ll stick in the SEC this week and take the Auburn Tigers to knock off the Georgia Bulldogs.
PICK: Auburn 31, Georgia 24
Barber: This week, it’s road underdogs that have my interest. In the Big 12, I think TCU can win at Texas Tech and Texas can win at Iowa State. But it’s the MAC that brings me this week’s upset pick. Central Michigan has won four of its last five games, while Ball State has dropped two in a row. Ball State won last year’s meeting but, before that, the Chippewas had won three in a row in this series, and I think they get back on that track. This game features two of the MAC’s best offenses, but Ball State doesn’t have the defense to win.
PICK: Central Michigan 34, Ball State 24
Niziolek: Minnesota made a huge jump in the polls after beating Penn State 31-26 last week to improve to 9-0. They are 3-point underdogs heading into this weekend's game at Iowa, a team holding opponents to just 11.7 points per game and hasn't given up more than 25 points all season. The flip side of that coin is that the Hawkeyes offense isn't exactly prolific — they ranked No. 98 averaging 24.1 points per game (out of 130 FBS teams) and No. 86 in total offense (381 yards per game). Points could be hard to come by, but Minnesota should get enough to stay undefeated.
PICK: Minnesota 24, Iowa 14