National Championship Caliber
1. Florida State 9-0 (7-0)
Up Next: Syracuse
On Thursday night, Stanford beat Oregon to open the door for FSU in the BCS National Championship. That left the Seminoles with Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho, Florida and the ACCCG in their way. They continued the march to Pasadena this week in Winston-Salem doing what they do best, devouring cupcakes. They took a 42-0 halftime lead on the hapless Demon Deacons and cruised. Syracuse heads to Tallahassee next week and I don't expect much of a fight there either. Florida is banged up and the ACC Coastal winner won't be the 11-1 Hurricanes everyone was expecting. The path is clear and wide.
Orange Bowl Caliber
2. Clemson 8-1 (6-1)
Up Next: Georgia Tech (Thur)
While we were off with our second bye week of the season, our outlook was also affected by the Oregon loss. Two week's ago I said we were "Sugar Bowl Caliber," however it was beginning to look like a series of ridiculous rules could send teams like Wisconsin, Fresno State, and UCF to the BCS, but leave an 11-1 Clemson for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Brian Goodison gave a great explanation here.
I would have loved nothing more than to see FSU get royally swindled. With plenty of football left to play, the teams that Clemson needed to lose may have done so and opened that BCS slot up. Nevertheless, now we need not worry. With the Ducks loss to Stanford, FSU moves into the National Championship Game. The Orange Bowl, will then have an opportunity to select a replacement from the ACC. A top 14 ranked Clemson would likely be selected in that spot. An 11-1 Clemson would be an absolute lock. With Stanford most likely headed to the Rose Bowl, Oregon and Clemson could be on a collision course towards Miami.
Before we get there though, Clemson will face Georgia Tech this Thursday on ESPN. Although UGA, FSU, and SCar are more hyped rivals, this is one of my favorites. My first visit to Death Valley was for a Georgia Tech game and I haven't missed one (Atlanta or Clemson) since. To be sure, the Jackets will be overmatched and should we play like we did against UVA, we will roll. However, Georgia Tech makes me queasy. Their triple-option offense is designed for nothing if not ball control. Our defense has improved, but this will be a true test of just how much. Although this wasn't one of the big three you circled when the schedule first came out (UGA, FSU, SCar) it is the next toughest game. Georgia Tech has won the last 5/7 in the series, but only one of those has been in Clemson.
Awkward Collection of Reasonably Decent ACC Coastal Teams
Although none are great, these teams make the Coastal much deeper than the Atlantic division.
3. Virginia Tech 7-3 (4-2)
Up Next: Maryland
Frank Beamer's teams used to be incredibly consistent, but this year's squad is as up-and-down as any we've seen. This week was their best performance of the year. Logan Thomas didn't throw any interceptions while Miami was mistake prone, and the Hokies beat Miami in Miami Gardens. So now, the Hokies have beat Miami, Georgia Tech, UNC, and Pitt, but lost to Duke and Boston College... but Georgia Tech beat Pitt...and Pitt beat Duke. Virginia Tech and their silly helmets have officially made a mess of the ACC!
The Coastal is now up in the air as VT, GT, Miami, and Duke all have just two conference losses. Georgia Tech faces Clemson next week. A loss there would knock them out. Duke still has three conference games remaining including tough ones against Miami and UNC. Winning all three to finish 10-2 may be asking a lot from the Blue Devils. Virginia Tech only has Maryland and Virginia remaining, and they hold the tie-breaker on the 'Canes. Will Turkeys emerge from the wreckage?
4. Miami 7-2 (3-2)
Up Next: @ Duke
And there it is! We knew Miami wasn't the #7 team in the nation before they headed to Doak Campbell, and nobody was surprised when FSU played poorly and still beat them handily. That was fine because FSU is excellent, but losing to the team that just lost to Duke and BC back-to-back, at home no less, is more telling.Their injuries are too much to overcome and they've fallen back to the pack in the ACC.
In the preseason, it was clear that the Virginia Tech game would be their most important of the year, however it seemed to get overshadowed by matchups with Florida and Florida State. This loss makes it unlikely that they win the Coastal, but do they really want a rematch the Seminoles anyway? Should they finish 10-2 and be left out of the Conference Championship game, they would still reach a quality bowl (likely Chick-fil-A or Russell Athletic) with a chance for 11 wins. Nothing to squawk at.
5. Georgia Tech 6-3 (5-2)
Up Next: @ Clemson
Sitting at 6-3, fans may judge Tech's season on whether or not they beat either Clemson or UGA. At this point, beating the Dawgs looks more likely, though Thursday Night games are always funky. If they do pick up the huge win in Death Valley, the Coastal becomes an even bigger mess.
6. North Carolina 4-5 (3-3)
Up Next: @ Pitt
Even with QB Bryn Renner out for the season, the Tar Heels posted 45 on Virginia. They now need to win two of their final three games (Pitt, Old Dominion, Duke) to reach bowl eligibility. Though Pitt and Duke look tougher than I previously thought, I'm sticking with my guns. As I said two weeks ago, I believe they'll win the remainder of their regular season games.
7. Duke 7-2 (3-2)
Up Next: Miami
Back in the preseason, I didn't hear anybody saying Duke would return to a bowl game. After beating NCSU by 18, they are already at seven wins. With Miami, Wake Forest, and UNC remaining on the schedule I think they can get to eight... But wait, there's more! Should they win all three, they would likely represent the Coastal in the ACCCG. I'm submitting my Coach of the Year vote for David Cutcliffe.
Not Quite Atrocious Yankee Schools
8. Pittsburgh 5-4 (2-3)
Up Next: UNC
When I'm wrong I'll admit it. I was stunned to see Pitt beat even a mediocre Notre Dame team. They host the Tar Heels next week. Should they win that one, they'll reach bowl eligibility--something I wrote off weeks ago. After the Heels, they face a very beatable Syracuse team and then Miami. What I expected to be a five win season could turn into a eight win season with a few breaks, though I still think six is more likely. Kudos to Pitt for the big win over the Irish.
9. Boston College 5-4 (2-3)
Up Next: NCSU
They surrendered 380 passing yards and 34 points in a tougher-than-expected road win over now 1-9 New Mexico State. I suppose a win is a win though. NC State is atrocious and they travel to Chestnut Hill next week. I expect BC to get their sixth win and get back to a bowl game much earlier than expected. For all the flack I gave the Eagles for a playing road game at New Mexico State, they really are on the uptick. Steve Addazio is looking like a great hire right about now.
10. Syracuse 5-4 (3-2)
Up Next: @ FSU
The Orange (gender neutral) knocked off the Terps 20-3 in College Park this week. Syracuse has now surrendered just three points in their past two games. I'm tempted to say that's a pretty good defense, however, they also surrendered a combined 105 points to Clemson and Georgia Tech. After a trip to Tallahassee they host Pitt and BC to close out the season. Their year started poorly with losses to Penn State and Northwestern making a bowl bid look like a pipe dream. However, beating Maryland was crucial and with those two home games on the docket, I think they can snag one and get there.
11. Maryland 5-4 (1-4)
Up Next: @ VT
I'll accept the injuries excuse, but there's no doubt they're free falling. Luckily after a game at Lane Stadium and a visit from BC, they travel to Raleigh where even a turtle can escape with a win.
We don't look down our nose at the teams in this tier, for without them, how would the Boston Colleges and Syracuses of the world reach bowl games and the ACC fill their slots?
12. Wake Forest 4-6 (2-5)
Up Next: Bye
Without superstar slot receiver, Michael Campanaro, their offense is near worthless. They posted just three points against Florida State in a game that the Seminoles dominated from start to finish. It's easy to blame their struggles on injury, but also consider that Campanaro doesn't return next season. Neither does quarterback Tanner Price or star nose tackle Nikita Whitlock. It's one thing to be a bad team trending up, as I believe NC State and Virginia are, but this program has been on the decline since 2006. I feel silly for once thinking Jim Grobe was among the best coaches in the country.
Just as I've been saying UNC would win out for weeks, I've been saying the opposite of Wake Forest. After their bye they host Duke and then travel to Nashville to face Vandy. Don't expect another win.
13. NC State 3-6 (0-6)
Up Next: @ Boston College
They've now dropped five straight after last week's 18-point loss to Duke. Included in those defeats are losses to Wake Forest, UNC, and Duke. After a trip to Boston College they host East Carolina where they may find out they are not one of the top four teams in North Carolina.
14. Virginia 2-8 (0-8)
Up Next: Bye
Who gets utterly blown out by UNC? We're not talking about basketball. The Cavs losing streak is now up to seven. I have no idea how BYU lost to this team.