Coaching changes in the Atlantic Coast Conference the past few years have altered its complexion, making some programs more prominent.
It became apparent on the opening weekend when Duke, under reigning ACC Coach of the Year Mike Elko, pummeled ACC bully Clemson 28-7 in front of a national TV audience. It was a signature win for the second-year coach.
It's evident at Georgia Tech, when Brent Key, a former offensive lineman for the Yellow Jackets, had his interim tag removed after he finished out last season by turning a 1-3 start into a 5-7 finish. His team is 4-0 against ranked ACC opponents and three of those wins have come on the road, and the 45-17 victory at Virginia last weekend moved Georgia Tech within a victory of becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2018.
The biggest splash is coming from No. 11 Louisville in its first season under Jeff Brohm, a former Cardinals quarterback. They are 8-1, ranked 13th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 16.3 points per game. They are eighth in rushing defense, allowing 88.78 yards per game, and 28th in passing defense, allowing 196.4 yards per game.
Second-year coach Brent Pry took over a mess at Virginia Tech (4-5, 3-2) and finished 3-8 in his first season. The Hokies contending for an ACC title game shot? Unthinkable not long ago, but they are a much better team this season.
Second-year coach Mario Cristobal had Miami in the Top 25 early this year, not an uncommon situation given the talent the Hurricanes draw, but he's just 11-10 overall. Virginia's Tony Elliott, also in his second season, is 5-14 and had the murder of three players to contend with.
Elko hasn’t needed long to change Duke’s trajectory after the final years of David Cutcliffe’s successful tenure fizzled. The Blue Devils won nine games in his first year, then opened this year with the Clemson win. Duke also hosted ESPN’s “College GameDay” for the first time in history for a football game.
The most notable change as been the marked increase in toughness and physicality in Duke’s roster, which has helped Duke rank among the nation’s top defenses all year. The Blue Devils allowed seven touchdowns in the first six games and rank in the top 10 in the Bowl Subdivision ranks in scoring defense (15.7 points allowed per game).
“I think when you look at who we are, that’s who we are at our core, is a bunch of guys that just continue to work and get better,” Elko said. “And you never really know who’s going to impact the game for us.”
Brohm turned down overtures from his alma mater while he was at Purdue. He made the move after leading the Boilermakers to the Big Ten championship game and seems to have hammered the idea home that the next game is the most important one.
“I don’t think it’s too complicated, He said. “We’re blocking everything else out until the next game. Looking at anything other than the next game as a team and as coaches can get you in trouble. I’ve been burned enough times and I’m sure others have as well. It’s as simple as let’s improve this week, get better, and try to go win this next football game.”
And keep winning to see where that leads.
AP sports writers Gary Graves in Kentucky and Aaron Beard in North Carolina contributed.
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