The season is more than halfway over, and the top ACC teams are starting to stake their claims in divisional races. In the lower half of the conference, the battle for bowl bids rages on, while one team is already eliminated from postseason play.
ACC Power Rankings
1. Clemson Tigers (6-1, 4-1 ACC) (Last Week: 1)
Last week: BYE
Next week: vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-2)
Coming off a bye, the Tigers are still narrowly hanging onto the top spot in the ACC. The slimmest of margins separates the top 3 teams in this conference and you could really make a convincing argument for any of Clemson, Miami, or N.C. State right now. Kelly Bryant is recovering from a sprained ankle and a concussion that caused him to miss the second half of the Syracuse game, but, even if he plays against Georgia Tech this week, Bryant will have to show improvement as a passer if Clemson is going to be considered elite.
2. Miami Hurricanes (6-0, 4-0 ACC) (Last Week: 2)
Last week: vs. Syracuse Orange (4-4) - W 27-19
Next week: at North Carolina Tar Heels (1-7)
The Canes are starting to make a dangerous habit of leaving teams hanging around in games that they are statistically dominating, but you can’t argue with the results. Malik Rosier again engineered a drive late in the fourth quarter to put a team away for the third straight week, culminating in Travis Homer’s 33 yard TD run to end Syracuse’s second consecutive upset bid. Miami’s aggressive defense harassed the Orange’s star QB Eric Dungey into his worst game of the season, getting 3 sacks and 4 interceptions on the day. The run defense that began to leak against Duke has completely overflowed the past 3 weeks, as the Canes have given up 200+ on the ground in each game. It’s hard to nitpick too much when you’re undefeated, though.
3. N.C. State Wolfpack (6-1, 4-0 ACC) (Last Week: 3)
Last Week: BYE
Next Week: at #9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-1)
N.C. State comes out of their bye week still in control of the Atlantic division and has the chance to make another big statement on the road versus Notre Dame. A win this week, and the Wolfpack could be in the top 10 and have their sights set on more than just the ACC Championship.
4. Virginia Tech Hokies (6-1, 2-1 ACC) (Last Week: 4)
Last week: vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (1-7) - W 59-7
Next week: vs. Duke Blue Devils (4-4)
Predictably, the Hokies blew out the inept UNC Tar Heels on Saturday. The game got so out of hand that Josh Jackson didn’t even finish the 3rd quarter before giving way to his backup, AJ Bush. Jackson threw 3 TD’s to three different receivers, while Bud Foster’s defense scored 2 touchdowns and held UNC to 172 total yards of offense. VT won’t impress anybody beating up on lowly UNC, but these are the type of dominating games you expect great teams to have against inferior opponents. The Hokies have had a cake-walk 3 week stretch, with a bye followed up by home games versus the worst team in these rankings, and next week, the second worst team in these rankings.
5. Louisville Cardinals (5-3, 2-3 ACC) (Last Week: 7)
Last week: at Florida State Seminoles (2-4) - W 31-28
Next week: at Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-3)
The Cardinals took advantage of a late James Blackman fumble, and Lamar Jackson drove the offense down the field to kick the game-winning field goal with 5 seconds remaining. Louisville relied on a short, quick passing game to compliment a dominant rushing offense that racked up nearly 300 yards on the ground on what was a previously stout FSU run defense. The defense still gave up over 400 yards yet again, but did just enough to win and break the Cardinals’ two game slide. You never know what this team is going to give you from week to week, but as long as they have Lamar Jackson, they will be extremely dangerous.
6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-2, 3-1 ACC) (Last Week: 8)
Last week: vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-3) - W 38-24
Next week: at #7 Clemson Tigers (6-1)
TaQuon Marshall broke off two long touchdown runs to lead a comeback win against Wake Forest. The Yellow Jackets were down 21-10 late in the second quarter before ending the game on an explosive 28-3 run. A week after getting shut down by Miami, the duo of Marshall and KirVonte Benson hopped right back on track, accounting for nearly 300 rushing yards between the pair of them. The Yellow Jackets could really shake-up the ACC divisional race if they can pull off an upset at Clemson.
7. Florida State Seminoles (2-4, 2-3 ACC) (Last Week: 5)
Last week: vs. Louisville Cardinals (5-3) - L 28-31
This week: at Boston College Eagles (4-4)
The Noles dropped another heart-breaker at the last minute, this time fumbling away the ball in Louisville territory just when it looked like they were going in for the winning score. To make matters worse, it looks like starting running back Jaques Patrick is done for the season after he suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter. With nothing else really to lose, it becomes the “Cam Akers Show” in Tallahassee now, and we’ll see if he can carry the Seminoles to a bowl game. FSU won’t be getting any free wins, though, and have to head on the road next week to Boston College, who is coming off back-to-back upset victories.
8. Syracuse Orange (4-4, 2-2 ACC) (Last Week: 9)
Last week: at #8 Miami Hurricanes (6-0) - L 19-27
Next week: BYE
Coming off their program-changing upset over Clemson the week before, everyone wanted to see how Syracuse responded to success and if they could keep the momentum going. Well, the Orange made some timely plays to keep themselves in the game in their loss at Miami, but ran out of gas at the end. Eric Dungey has played at a near elite level for this team all season, and he left it all out on the field on Saturday, but couldn’t do enough in the passing game to close the gap once ‘Cuse got down early. The usual dynamic duo of Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips were also held in check and combined for under 100 yards for the first time all season. Syracuse finally gets a much-needed bye week after back-to-back battles against tough opponents.
9. Boston College Eagles (4-4, 2-3 ACC) (Last Week: 12)
Last week: at Virginia Cavaliers (5-2) - W 41-10
Next week: vs. Florida State Seminoles (2-4)
Where has this sudden explosion of offense come from? Boston College was unable to cross the 30 point threshold in any of their first 6 games, with some games even against cupcake opponents. Miraculously, the Eagles’ offense has done a 180 and gone out and put up 40+ in back-to-back weeks, both against quality competition. Last week, the hero was true freshman RB A.J. Dillon, but this week it was much-maligned QB Anthony Brown that slung the rock all over a previously solid Virginia defense. Brown went 19 of 24 for 274 yards and 3 TD’s, which included a 76 yard bomb to Kobay White to extend BC’s lead to 17-0 in the first quarter. Could the Eagles, just two weeks removed from being at the absolute bottom of the ACC, move into the top half of the rankings with a win over Florida State next week?
10. Virginia Cavaliers (5-2, 2-1 ACC) (Last Week: 6)
Last week: vs. Boston College Eagles (4-4) - L 10-41
Next week: at Pittsburgh Panthers (3-5)
Well, that didn’t last long. UVA was on a 4 game winning streak and had some, including me, thinking they might be a contender in the Coastal division. The Cavaliers may have been reading their own press clippings a bit, but a blowout loss to Boston College is one thing that can bring you squarely back into reality. QB Kurt Benkert has been having the best season of any UVA quarterback in recent memory, but may have thrown the worst pick of the year on Saturday.
11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-3, 1-3 ACC) (Last Week: 10)
Last week: at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-2) - L 24-38
Next week: vs. Louisville Cardinals (5-3)
John Wolford returned from injury and scored 3 touchdowns to give Wake the lead over the Yellow Jackets late in the second quarter. The Demon Deacons’ defense just couldn’t hold up against a relentless Georgia Tech rushing attack and the floodgates opened in the second half. Wake is now on a three game losing streak after starting 4-0 and have the look of a solid, but slightly below average ACC team. They have improved under head coach Dave Clawson, but are still a few players away from becoming a true contender in the conference.
12. Pittsburgh Panthers (3-5, 1-3 ACC) (Last Week: 13)
Last week: at Duke Blue Devils (4-4) - W 24-17
Next week: vs. Virginia Cavaliers (5-2)
Last week, I called the Panthers a “slump-buster”. Darrin Hall must be a reader of this series and took exception to that, because he came out of nowhere to rush for a career high 254 yards and 3 TD’s, including two from 79+ yards out in the Panthers’ win at Duke. It was the best day of any Pitt RB since James Conner went for 263 yards versus Duke back in 2014. The Panthers hadn’t even rushed for more than 208 yards in a game AS A TEAM this season coming into the Duke game. Got to give respect to Hall for that performance in what has been an otherwise lost season for Pitt.
13. Duke Blue Devils (4-4, 1-4 ACC) (Last Week: 11)
Last week: vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (3-5) - L 17-24
Next week: at #13 Virginia Tech Hokies (6-1)
How the “mighty” have fallen. Duke ran out to a 4-0 start, but, since a loss to Miami, the wheels have come completely off this bandwagon with four straight losses. The Blue Devils really bottomed out losing at home to Pitt, a program that looked like they didn’t know how to play football in the first half of the season. And where has Daniel Jones and the offense gone? After averaging over 40 points per game in their first four games, the Blue Devils’ offense has dried up the past four contests, scoring just 13.5 points per game. The defense has also allowed three of their last four opponents to gain at least 400 total yards after not allowing that many in any of their first four games. We had a complaint about having Duke way too low at #12 in our preseason rankings; at this point, even we may have been optimistic.
14. North Carolina Tar Heels (1-7, 0-5 ACC) (Last Week: 14)
Last week: at #14 Virginia Tech Hokies (6-1) - L 7-59
Next week: vs. #8 Miami Hurricanes (6-0)
Chazz Surratt started the game at QB for UNC but, for reasons nobody can explain, head coach Larry Fedora is still insistent on working in Brandon Harris, he of the 1-8 TD-INT ratio. It’s like watching Fedora bash his head repeatedly into a brick wall while he wonders why he can’t break through it. 3rd stringer Nathan Elliott even got reps this week, but Surratt still played the best of the bunch, not that it mattered much in a 52 point blowout loss. Keeping the game within 30 points against Miami this weekend would be a good goal for this undermanned Tar Heels team.