Luke DeCock

Only one word for ACC’s opening weekend: Ouch

Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer (12) walks out of a medical facility during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Ohio State in Blacksburg, Va., Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. Brewer hurt his shoulder during the third quarter.
Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer (12) walks out of a medical facility during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Ohio State in Blacksburg, Va., Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. Brewer hurt his shoulder during the third quarter. AP

After Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer got up slowly from a big hit late in the second quarter Monday night, ESPN’s cameras caught him in the locker room at halftime telling teammates, “It’s going to take them a hell of a lot more than that to get me out.”

Brewer was clearly tempting fate even in a vacuum, beyond what had been happening around the rest of the ACC over the previous four days.

The reigning ACC player of the year, out for the season. The league’s best Heisman Trophy candidate saw his No. 1 target leave on a stretcher. Potentially the only player keeping Syracuse from a winless ACC campaign tore his Achilles.

And then, on Virginia Tech’s first drive of the third quarter, Brewer was knocked down and didn’t get up. Virginia Tech might not have beaten Ohio State with Brewer, but the Hokies were certainly doomed without him.

It was a bitter finish to an ominous weekend for the ACC, which went 0-4 against the other four power conferences and saw four prominent players knocked out for extended periods, if not the season. (At least the television ratings for Monday night’s game were spectacular.)

Clemson receiver Mike Williams suffered a broken bone in his neck when he collided with the goalpost while catching the first touchdown pass of the season from star quarterback DeShaun Watson and is out indefinitely. Pittsburgh running back James Conner left a win over Youngstown State with what appeared to be a minor knee injury that turned out to be a season-ending torn medial collateral ligament.

Dual-threat Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt, the one player the Orange absolutely, positively could not afford to lose, was lost for the season after tearing his Achilles tendon. And Brewer, a returning starter at quarterback for a team many think will win the Coastal Division, is out for at least four weeks and probably six or seven with a broken left (non-throwing) collarbone.

Injuries are not uncommon. All these critical injuries, on the opening weekend of the season, are as unusual as they are costly.

Throw in the ACC’s record in games that matter – North Carolina lost to South Carolina, Virginia lost to UCLA, Louisville lost to Auburn and the Hokies lost to the Buckeyes – and it’s a tough way for the ACC to start the season, despite a 10-4 overall record.

Somehow the Triangle teams bucked the trend, at least in terms of injuries. The Tar Heels lost an eminently winnable game, but emerged unscathed, as did Duke and N.C. State from their wins over FBS opponents. None of the three schools suffered any significant or season-ending injuries.

While Conner’s injury deprives the ACC of a star player and hurts Pittsburgh’s chances of a surprise season under first-year coach Pat Narduzzi, it shouldn’t have a tremendous impact on the league at large. Its best national-title contenders took care of business, and Clemson has other options at wide receiver. Miami receivers Stacy Coley and Leesville Road’s Braxton Berrios missed time but should be OK.

And whatever ground the ACC lost in week 1 can be made up in week 2 if Virginia can bounce back and upset Notre Dame … or, since there’s almost no chance of that, in Week 3 when Georgia Tech plays Notre Dame, Duke hosts Northwestern, Miami hosts Nebraska, North Carolina hosts Illinois, Pitt goes to Iowa and Virginia Tech continues its Big Ten schedule against Purdue. There’s no excuse for the ACC going any worse than 4-2 in those games, if not 5-1.

If not, the ACC will be left saying the same thing it was saying after this weekend:

Ouch.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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