ACC Playlist: Duke, Georgia Tech aim to put early-season losses in rearview

Will quarterback Thomas Sirk and the Duke Blue Devils rebound from their loss to Northwestern?

Mark Dolejs/Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State and Clemson are idle, quarterback injuries and controversies hover over multiple ACC programs and there’s just one conference game on the docket. Welcome to Week 4. There are intriguing games — the league hosts national stalwarts LSU and Boise State — but coming off a three-day stretch that saw the league’s top teams show rust or early-season flaws on a national stage, it’s a schedule that allows many programs to pick up the pieces.

Here’s the slightly unfortunate news: If the season were to end on Saturday after roughly one-third of the regular season gone, the ACC, excluding partial member Notre Dame, would more than likely be on the outside looking in at the College Football Playoff. The league’s best bets (Florida State, Clemson) haven’t registered a single high-quality win. That will not change this week. There’s still work to be done.

Of course, it’s early. This time last season Ohio State was 2-1 with with modest wins over Navy and Kent State. Still plenty of time for chaos.

Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C., Saturday at noon

Two teams running parallel paths at the moment. Georgia Tech and Duke opened the season with cupcakes on the menu — a common non-conference strategy for both programs, although Georgia Tech’s schedule is annually backloaded with rival Georgia — which revealed little. The Yellow Jackets posted 60s on the scoreboard in back-to-back weeks. Duke’s new-look offense hardly blinked against Tulane and North Carolina Central.

Then came the wake-up calls.

Duke’s offense hardly got off the ground against defensive-minded Northwestern last Saturday. Setting aside a late comeback attempt, Georgia Tech was almost completely shut down by Notre Dame’s defense and allowed an offense starting a redshirt freshman for the first time to control the action. Neither loss was embarrassing, but both showed, for the first time this season, Paul Johnson and David Sutcliffe still have holes to fill.

Georgia Tech has owned this series since Johnson arrived and, even without the accompanying ranking, the Yellow Jackets appear to be ahead of their Coastal Division counterparts. Duke’s offense is a mess right now without the likes of Anthony Boone and Jamison Crowder. Georgia Tech takes its first step toward defending its division crown.

Blood Orange, "Sutphin Boulevard" — This pulsating number is off the album, Coastal Grooves. And … that’s all I’ve got. (Not a strong start. It’s a quiet week.)

Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday at noon

Semi-bold prediction: Leonard Fournette will not replicate his performances against then-ranked opponents Mississippi State and Auburn when LSU travels to Syracuse.

This prediction stems from a variety of factors: LSU should roll early, Syracuse’s shorthanded offense should struggle and there should be little reason for Fournette to be logging double-digit carries in the second half, etc. An under-the-radar reason? Syracuse boasts the third-best rushing defense in the country right now, and while the Orange have yet to face a running back anywhere close to Fournette’s caliber, stopping the run has been one of the program’s calling cards under Scott Shafer.

Granted, even if Fournette, the nation’s leading rusher at 193.5 yards per game despite playing two top-25 SEC West defenses, is 75 percent as effective the Carrier Dome is in for a show. LSU rolls behind the super sophomore and a talented defense facing a third-string walk-on quarterback.

Kanye West, "Runaway" — Based on the efforts of Auburn’s secondary last weekend, this isn’t the best strategy to keeping Fournette out of the endzone, although it might be the most logical in terms of regarding personal safety.

Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va., Friday at 8 p.m.

Boise State is the third team ranked top-25 nationally in defensive efficiency on Virginia’s non-conference schedule, so it’s rather impressive that Taquan Mizzell & Co. have managed to move the ball over the past two weeks.

Mizzell is the nation’s leading receiver among running backs (223 yards), as quarterback Matt Johns has relied on his explosive playmaker as a safety valve when defenses key in on receiver Canaan Severin. Mizzell, the former blue-chip recruit, was the No. 1 priority for Notre Dame — Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly spoke blatantly about taking away Mizzell in a post-game teleconference — and that will likely be the plan for Boise State as well.

If it weren’t for BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum’s good fortune, this would be (should be?) an undefeated Broncos team. Expect Boise State to make enough plays against a troublesome Virginia defense.

Kendrick Lamar, "Now Or Never" — This comes with a question mark, but if Mike London submits a 1-3 non-conference record (with the one win coming against William & Mary) it’s not going to be pretty. The ACC slate is navigable, but what will be considered good enough?

Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass., Saturday at 1 p.m.

A week after scaring 2014 College Football Playoff participants Florid State and Ohio State, which program wins the under-the-radar encore?

Steve Addazio’s Boston College team might be the most lopsided team in college football. The defense ranks second nationally in both efficiency and scoring, but the offense was already in shambles (124th nationally) prior to losing starting quarterback Darius Wade for the year. So there’s the baseline plan: Zero points for Northern Illinois. Behind sophomore defensive end Harold Landry, the nation’s leader in tackles for loss, that isn’t out of the question.

Northern Illinois, on the other hand, held its own against preeminent title favorite Ohio State. The Buckeyes did not help their cause in the 20-13 win, but the MAC power deserves plenty of credit, especially defensively. Still, Boston College bounces back with a low-scoring win.

Rolling Stones, "Beast of Burden" — Boston College’s defense is likely going to have to shoulder the load the rest of the way if Addazio’s program is going to its third straight bowl game.

Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala., Saturday at 8 p.m.

NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett has quietly been more effective in the passing game thus far. The 6-foot-4 redshirt senior hasn’t face much resistance, but his numbers have spiked:

Dave Doeren’s team has one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. We knew that much heading into the season. Whenever the Wolfpack get around to playing a quality opponent, we can see what it all means.

Sam Cooke, "Another Saturday Night" — Another Saturday night, another cupcake on the Wolfpack’s schedule. NC State has an opportunity to become the first 4-0 ACC team this season, which is one way to back-door five votes in the latest AP poll. NC State should roll, but, as mentioned on a previous playlist, the Wolfpack will not face a Power Five opponent until October. What a wonderful world.