A long and winding regular season has seen many dips and turns, but we’re nearing the end of our ride and, surprise, we’ve ended up pretty much right where we expected. Sure some people predicted Florida State to win the Atlantic, but Clemson was always right there with them. Now, a likely Miami-Clemson ACC Championship is a matchup all ACC fans, and the nation as well, want to see, and will presumably also deliver a College Football Playoff team.
ACC Power Rankings
1. Clemson Tigers (8-1, 6-1 ACC) (Last Week: 1)
Last week: at #20 North Carolina State Wolfpack (6-3) - W 38-31
Next week: vs. Florida State Seminoles (3-5)
The Tigers were able to hang on at the very end to top the Wolfpack in a hostile environment in Raleigh, a game that was a must-win to control the Atlantic and stay in the College Football Playoff race. Big plays came from Ray-Ray McCloud on a 77 yard punt return touchdown for Clemson’s first score, igniting the Tigers’ sideline. Then in the third quarter, Tavien Feaster broke loose up the middle and was gone for an 89 yard touchdown run. Clemson can lock up the Atlantic division next week with a win over FSU or a N.C. State loss to BC.
2. Miami Hurricanes (8-0, 6-0 ACC) (Last Week: 2)
Last week: vs. #13 Virginia Tech Hokies (7-2) - W 28-10
Next week: #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-1)
Miami was able to stave off another uneven performance from Malik Rosier and take a giant step forward in pursuit of their first ACC Coastal championship. Travis Homer had a 64 yard touchdown run in the win and Chris Herndon took a short pass, slipped a tackle and was gone for a 43 yard TD. A Virginia loss to Louisville this weekend would gift-wrap the division in Miami’s favor, but Miami has their sights set a bit higher this week: on #3 Notre Dame and the College Football Playoff.
3. N.C. State Wolfpack (6-3, 4-1 ACC) (Last Week: 4)
Last Week: vs. #6 Clemson Tigers (8-1) - L 31-38
Next Week: at Boston College Eagles (5-4)
N.C. State and Virginia Tech both lost pivotal division games this week, but I gave the Wolfpack the nod at #3 this week because: (a) N.C. State is still alive in the Atlantic, unlike VT; and (b) the Wolfpack played Clemson much closer than VT played Miami. In fact, N.C. State actually outgained the Tigers, but gave up a special teams touchdown, while Ryan Finley, who had one interception all season coming into the game, threw two picks, including one in the final seconds with N.C. State trying to rally. The Wolfpack can still win the Atlantic, they just need to win out and hope FSU upsets Clemson this weekend.
4. Virginia Tech Hokies (7-2, 3-2 ACC) (Last Week: 3)
Last week: at #9 Miami Hurricanes (8-0) - L 10-28
Next week: at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-4)
The Hokies went down to Miami Gardens and suffered a tough loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday night, knocking VT out of the hunt for the ACC title. Virginia Tech came in with the nation's No. 2 scoring defense, giving up a just 11.5 points per game, but had a hard time handling Miami’s assortment of weapons and allowed 28 in just over three quarters. Tech was also outgained by the Canes 429 to 299, while the Hurricanes’ defense turned the Hokies over four times. VT will play for pride and a better bowl game next week at GT.
5. Boston College Eagles (5-4, 3-3 ACC) (Last Week: 5)
Last week: BYE
Next week: vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack (6-3)
The Boston College Eagles have looked like the Philadelphia Eagles their past three games, averaging 40.3 points per game on offense. Actually, now that I think of it, I saw a ginger man with a hat, sunglasses, and an overcoat that slightly resembled Carson Wentz leaving the BC locker room after their last game against FSU. The ACC should probably (definitely) look into this.
6. Virginia Cavaliers (6-3, 3-2 ACC) (Last Week: 12)
Last week: vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-4) - W 40-36
Next week: at Louisville Cardinals (5-4)
I’ll admit, I don’t know where to place Virginia. After BC, there’s nobody in the ACC that has really impressed whatsoever of late. So, #6 seems the best spot for UVA, and especially when taking into account they still have an outside shot of making it into the ACC Championship Game, however small. Bronco Mendenhall’s squad kept their slim Coastal division championship hopes alive with a last minute win over Georgia Tech. Behind Kurt Benkert’s three touchdown passes and a little help from a special teams score, UVA was able to put up 40 points and down the Yellow Jackets. The Cavaliers broke their two game losing streak with the victory and also became bowl eligible for the first time since 2011. They’ll have to win out and hope for some other things to break their way to take the Coastal, but even if they don’t, this has been an amazing season for UVA that has exceeded all expectations and sets them up for an intriguing run in 2018.
7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-4, 3-3 ACC) (Last Week: 7)
Last week: at Virginia Cavaliers (6-3) - L 36-40
Next week: vs. #17 Virginia Tech Hokies (7-2)
We gave the Yellow Jackets passes for losses to Miami and Clemson. The style of offense GT runs is easily shut down when going against a speedy and athletic defense, so they really didn’t have much of a chance against the Hurricanes and Tigers. But losing to Virginia, and allowing them to keep the Coastal division race alive? You had one job, guys. They should be lower, but the ACC has proved to be pretty mediocre this year. Who else can you definitely put over them?
8. Syracuse Orange (4-5, 2-3 ACC) (Last Week: 6)
Last week: at Florida State Seminoles (3-5) - W 27-24
Next week: vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-4)
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed in the Cuse this week. They had a real opportunity to take another step forward after their Clemson win, and faced a down FSU team that just laid an egg against BC the week before. However, the Noles squeezed those Oranges until there was nothing left but some nasty, dingy pulp. Receivers Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips kept on rolling though; they each had 12 catches for over 100 yards. Syracuse continues their grind to bowl eligiblity against Wake next week.
9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-4, 2-3 ACC) (Last Week: 8)
Last week: at #5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-1) - L 37-48
Next week: at Syracuse Orange (4-5)
QB John Wolford threw for 331 yards and accounted for 3 total touchdowns, but the Demon Deacons fell to the Fighting Irish, giving up a whopping 700 total yards in the process. And that was without ND star running back Josh Adams for most of the game, who left the contest with an injury. Wake Forest got a difficult break when stud receiver Greg Dortch was declared out for the season after their win over Louisville last week, but the Demon Deacons did mighty fine without him in pilling up 587 total yards on a tough ND defense. A win next week against Cuse gets Wake into postseason play.
10. Louisville Cardinals (5-4, 2-4 ACC) (Last Week: 9)
Last week: BYE
Next week: vs. Virginia Cavaliers (6-3)
I’m kind of wondering if Lamar Jackson ends up coming back to school for his senior year. Hear me out. Yeah, sure, he has a pretty good chance of being a first round pick, #1 overall even, he’ll get paid millions, and plus he must hate most of his teammates since they don’t really help him out at all, but he’s risking being drafted by the Cleveland Browns. He has way too much promise to just throw his career down the drain like that.
11. Florida State Seminoles (3-5, 3-4 ACC) (Last Week: 10)
Last week: vs. Syracuse Orange (4-5) - W 27-24
This week: #4 Clemson Tigers (8-1)
Yes, I moved FSU down even after beating Syracuse. I’ve been giving them the benefit of the doubt all year in this series, but Virginia looked good last week and the Noles beat the Orange by 3 points at home, needing a blocked field goal and a last second field goal shank to do it. All of their 3 wins have been by one possession and have come down to the final play of the game. Plus, they’re about to get taken to the woodshed by a Clemson team needing a win to lock up the Atlantic division. And even worse, the Noles are trying to schedule a non-conference cupcake game on the same day as the ACC Championship Game to keep their bowl streak alive, completely embarrassing themselves and the ACC in the process. Yeah, #11 is good for me, fam.
12. Pittsburgh Panthers (4-5, 2-3 ACC) (Last Week: 11)
Last week: BYE
Next week: vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (1-8)
Pitt has played “QB Carousel” all season, and even third stringer Kenny Pickett has gotten reps. It now seems the coaching staff has finally settled on Ben DiNucci as the full-time guy, but this is pretty much the opposite of the “Carousel of Progress”. DiNucci has a 115.3 passer rating and the Panthers are 4-5 in 2017. Yikes.
13. Duke Blue Devils (4-5, 1-5 ACC) (Last Week: 13)
Last week: BYE
Next week: at Army Black Knights (7-2)
For a basketball school, 13th in the ACC for football ain’t bad. Wait, you say there’s only 14 ACC teams?... Well, did you know Duke is the preseason #1 team in the nation for basketball? Coach K’s squad kicks its season off this week, mercifully allowing all Duke fans to go back to pretending that their football team doesn’t exist.
14. North Carolina Tar Heels (1-8, 0-6 ACC) (Last Week: 14)
Last week: BYE
Next week: at Pittsburgh Panthers (4-5)
The Tar Heels used their bye week to try and heal up the nation’s most injury depleted roster. UNC hopes to try and build on their close loss to Miami from 2 weeks ago and gain some respectability in these last few games, starting with Pitt this weekend. To do that, they’ll need to start highlighting their strengths more. So, what does North Carolina do best? Punt. That’s right. For a team near the bottom of the NCAA in most statistical categories, UNC is fifth in the nation in yards per punt, thanks to the tandem of Tom Sheldon and Hunter Lent. I think the Tar Heels’ new strategy is clear: once they get to midfield, they should punt and try and pin their opponent on their own goal line, with the objective to “safety” the other team into submission. This tactic should be named, “Operation: Cannot Possibly Fail”.