National Championship Caliber
1. Florida State 10-0 (8-0)
Up Next: Idaho
They continued their march to Pasadena this week by devouring the Orange (the school, not the tasty citrus fruit). Jameis Winston finished this week's contest 19/21 with two touchdowns. He'd be second to Johnny Manziel on my Heisman ballot.
Orange Bowl Caliber
2. Clemson 9-1 (7-1)
Up Next: Citadel
In a rare Thursday night game in Death Valley (a day we shouldn't be asked to play on), Clemson outplayed Georgia Tech from start to finish. The defense controlled the line of scrimmage and the offense tore up the Yellow Jacket secondary. Tajh Boyd threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns as he broke Philip Rivers' ACC record for career passing touchdowns (in one less season as starter), previously held at 95. He also ran for a TD and now stands at 97 career passing touchdowns and 24 career rushing touchdowns.
The receivers really came out to play. They all looked good, very few drops (if any), and a lot of big plays. Mike Williams had a great catch on a fade route and Watkins broke free for a nasty 41 yard touchdown on his way to 104 yards on the night, but it was Martavis Bryant whose star shone the brightest. Bryant tallied five catches for 176 yards and a touchdown. This is what so many were expecting after seeing his potential and hearing the coaches rant and rave about him during camp. It's taken longer than we wanted, but he is beginning to look like someone who can assume the WR #1 role should Watkins jump to the NFL after this season (I expect Sammy to declare for the draft and be selected in the top 10.) Even kicker Chander Catanzaro was making waves. Hit connected on his first 50+ yard field goal of the season and is now 11/12 along with 48/48 on PATs. He will be missed next season, and he could be an NFL kicker.
This was one of those rare games where you walk away just feeling really good about life--at least after hearing that Boyd was okay despite leaving with a shoulder/collar bone injury. Clemson will roll past the Citadel next weekend in what will surely be an emotional game as we see Tajh Boyd in Death Valley for the last time, and it falls on Military Appreciation Day, always an emotional event.
On a side note, the talk about Clemson v. Oregon in the Orange Bowl was premature, so apologies for that. Stanford's loss will likely mean Oregon plays in the Rose Bowl.
3. Duke 8-2 (4-2)
Up Next: @ Wake Forest
If there have been any Duke fans reading in past weeks, I apologize. I didn't believe. I just couldn't bring myself to say Duke--Duke for goodness sake--is the third best team in the ACC. Finally, they've forced my hand. I sat down and watched them scrap, fight, and eventually beat Miami by 18. Their two-headed attack at QB was extremely effective. Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette were both great with Connette, more of the dual threat, rushing for four TDs and passing for one.
I thought Miami made a big mistake to punt down eight with 10 minutes left in the game. Duke scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession and never looked back.
I've never seen Wallace-Wade come alive like it was Saturday afternoon. They sang "Nah Nah Nah Hey Hey Hey Goodbye" as they pulled away for what was likely their biggest win since the Steve Spurrier era. I did hear a "We want Bama" chant, which I hope was tongue-in-cheek, but when you're on your own "shock the world tour," I guess you can do what you want (see our ridiculous "We too deep" mantra for proof). I don't see them losing to Wake Forest next week, but UNC will be tricky. Win them both, and they're your ACC Coastal champions!
The tie-breakers should they lose one are pretty convoluted, but it basically goes by who has to the best head-to-head record against all tied teams, and then resorts to record against ACC Coastal opponents. What this basically means is Duke doesn't have this wrapped up as a loss in Chapel Hill would keep the Blue Devils out of Charlotte, and I've been saying UNC would win out for over a month now (though Duke looks better each week). For a great breakdown, Patrick Stevens have all the scenarios and Coastal Champions laid out (credit to @Robert_Reinhard for sharing the link).
4. Miami 7-3 (3-3)
Up Next: UVA
A sudden three-game losing streak has wrecked a storybook season for the Canes. They blew a 10-point lead and looked like the inferior team the entire second half. Without stars WR Phillip Dorsett and RB Duke Johnson, they're just not the same. Duke is the better team right now.
Luckily they finish with Virginia and Pitt so they should recover to finish at 9-3, only a win less than I had projected back in the preseason. A Russell Athletic Bowl appearance isn't the worst thing in the world and is still very much in play.
5. Georgia Tech 6-4 (5-3)
Up Next: Alabama A&M
The gap between Clemson and the teams in the Coastal division is vast. That was demonstrated on Thursday but that doesn't mean Georgia Tech is bad. Vad Lee made good passes, but all to often they were dropped or the receiver didn't even turn to make the catch. He got into open space quite a few times, but danced too much and wasn't as elusive as I expected. Like Miami, they got a tough draw with their cross-rival (Clemson) which skews their record. Tough non-conference scheduling (BYU, UGA) adds to that.
They beat Duke, who is the current leader in the Coastal, they knocked off Pitt who also beat Duke, and they beat UNC. The loss to VT is bad, but had they run into Miami after all their injuries and had a weaker cross-rival in the Atlantic, they easily could be headed to Charlotte.
6. North Carolina 5-5 (4-3)
Up Next: Old Dominion
North Carolina continues their run and has now won four in a row. Next week they get Old Dominion, a new FBS and independent team. ODU is actually 8-3, but they've already lost to two ACC teams and will be overmatched against UNC, who should reach bowl eligibility next week. The season concluding home game against the Blue Devils should be a good one.
7. Boston College 6-4 (3-3)
Up Next: @ Maryland
On Senior Day against the hapless Wolfpack, Andre Williams rushed for 339 yards, breaking his own BC single-game record. Both FSU and Clemson were criticized for struggling with BC, but little did anyone know they were actually picking up decent a win by eking one out against Addazio's Eagles. I've been highly critical of Boston College (I originally had them at 14th in the conference), and I do believe they'll take a big step back next season as they lose some huge pieces, but they continue to impress. Credit to BC for the season they're having.
They finish with road games at Maryland and Syracuse. They should be able to win at least one more which would give them seven Ws. After coming into the season projected to get about four wins, they're the most pleasant surprise in the conference after Duke.
8. Virginia Tech 7-4 (4-3)
Up Next: Bye
They're up, they're down, I'm moving them all around. They were 15-0 in games where Logan Thomas does not throw an interception, but this week they went into overtime with a mediocre (at best) Maryland team and surrendered the game winning touchdown after settling for a field goal in their OT possession. I've hesitated to move them down, despite losing to Duke and Boston College because I didn't believe they were truly worse than those teams, but now the evidence is mounting. I was unsure as to if this program was trending downward, but the evidence is screaming it. Also, VT is just weird. See below for proof or look at the helmets they wore today.
9. Syracuse 5-5 (3-3)
Up Next: Pitt
I said they'd get demolished, and I wasn't wrong. At least they weren't talking trash during this dismantling. Next week against Pitt should be a good
Big East ACC battle as they battle for bowl eligibility. That outcome will just depend which Pitt team shows up.
10. Maryland 6-4 (2-4)
Up Next: BC
Good for Maryland for stopping the skid and beating a Hokie team they had no business beating. To make it more impressive, they did it on the road. They should be able to compete with BC, especially in College Park, and then beat NCSU in Raleigh. A seven win season and a bowl berth would be a good ACC farewell for the Terps who finished last season with a six game losing streak and paltry 4-8 record--especially given their injuries. I see a Military Bowl in their future.
11. Pittsburgh 5-5 (2-4)
Up Next: @ Syracuse
Pitt is a bit like VT in that they're just so up-and-down. They've beat Duke and Notre Dame, but lost to Navy and struggled with Virginia. I don't think they're a very good team for that reason and they very well could lose at Syracuse and then drop their final regular season game to Miami and miss bowl eligibility all together.
If they do find win number six, and the ACC has 11 bowl eligible teams, one may be left out as the ACC doesn't add the new bowls (Gator, Capital One, Pinstripe, and the yet to be named bowl in Detroit) until next season. Should both Clemson and FSU play in the BCS, that leaves eight available slots after the Fight Hunger Bowl is filled by the Pac-12 and BYU. This where fans need to remember that 6-6 doesn't "deserve" a bowl bid. I don't think it'll come to this, but it easily could happen.
Trailing the Pack
12. Wake Forest 4-6 (2-5)
Up Next: Duke
With a bye on Saturday, they didn't lose. They'll get back to that this week against Duke. I expect them to finish with losses to the Blue Devils and the Commodores. Piling on that, things may get worse before they get better. They lose a lot of talent, relatively speaking, next season. Here's a good question to ponder, will Jim Grobe ever win another bowl game? (Literally, that's a legitimate question to discuss below.)
13. NC State 3-7 (0-7)
Up Next: ECU
They are just so far behind what we expected coming into the season. I think they'll eventually be fine, I'm just stunned at how bad the rebuilding has gone. Next week's game in Raleigh features an ECU team that destroyed a UNC team that already beat the Pack. This will give us an idea of whether UNC has improved or ECU is actually very good.
14. Virginia 2-8 (0-7)
Up Next: @ Miami
It's already basketball season in Charlottesville. ACC football looks much better when both Virginia and Wake are on a bye week. They finish their season with Miami and Virginia Tech. Should be a fitting end to a forgettable season.