1. Florida State: 6-0 (4-0)
Last Week: W 38-20 at Syracuse
This Week: Notre Dame
Previous Ranking: 1
Florida State hasn't looked like National Champions this season, but this one wasn't actually as close as the final score makes it seem. They were up 31-6 early in the second half and coasted the rest of the way. Over the next four weeks they play Notre Dame, at Louisville, and Virginia. If they survive that stretch they should roll into the College Football Playoff.
2. Notre Dame: 6-0 (2-0)*
Last Week: 50-43 vs. North Carolina
Previous Ranking: 2
Notre Dame served it up on a silver platter to UNC by committing three turnovers and allowing UNC QB Marquise Williams to rack up total 435 yards. Nevertheless, UNC's incompetent defense couldn't slow the Irish offense enough for the offense to win it with 43 points. Notre Dame was 8/16 on third and fourth down.
Last week we voted on if we should keep Notre Dame in the Power Rankings and the result was a dead 50-50 voting split. I'm making the executive decision to include them this week and next, because they travel to Tallahassee on Saturday. After that, they're out! (Unless I forget and just keep including them which is entirely possible.)
3. Clemson: 4-2 (3-1)
Last Week: W 23-17 vs. Louisville
Next Week: at Boston College
Previous Ranking: 3
"It's really fun to win on defense and special teams" - Dabo Swinney
"Fun" may not be how I would describe the way Clemson won on Saturday. Dominating NC State in all aspects of the sport was fun, this was more nerve-racking, but I'll happily take Clemson's first win over a quality opponent.
In an effort to end on a high note, let's discuss the negatives first before delving into the good things that led to Clemson's third ACC victory.
"Clemson is a completely different team when Stoudt is in the game." - Chris Childers, Sirius XM Radio
One of the biggest storylines from Clemson's 23-17 win over the Cardinals was Deshaun Watson's injury. It is being diagnosed as a broken hand which will keep him out about five weeks. That puts him on track to return right around the Georgia Tech game. Fortunately for the Tigers, the next month of football entails Boston College, Syracuse, a bye week, and Wake Forest. Even without Watson, Clemson should be able to rely on their overpowering defense to win these games, but make no mistake, without Watson healthy and playing at the level we've seen up until Saturday (when he looked off), Georgia Tech and South Carolina could be painful losses, especially the latter.
Stoudt injured his non-throwing shoulder last week and didn't take any reps reps in practice until Thursday, so maybe there's reason to expect improvement from what we saw, but nevertheless I was disappointed in his level of play. There were four or five balls that easily could have been intercepted. He seems to hesitate before making throws and doesn't have the arm strength to compensate. He doesn't scan the field while on the run and it cost us at the end of the first half. Right after hitting Mike Williams with a great pass on a post route to set-up a first a goal on the one-yard line he missed on a fade route. Then with 0:17 and no timeouts remaining, he rolled to the right, didn't see a wide open Mike Williams standing in the center of the end zone and scrambled instead of throwing the ball away to conserve enough clock to kick a chip shot field goal. As a result, the drive ended with no points as time expired and the teams went into the locker rooms for halftime.
This week's offensive struggles do not fall squarely on Cole's (injured) shoulders though. Once again Clemson failed in short yardage. After the Tiger's best drive of the game, up three with under two minutes in the game, Clemson had the ball at the one-yard line. Rather than lining up under center and trying two old fashion blasts to punch it in, we were once again in shotgun. The risk there is that if the play gets stuffed, the potential yardage loss is enough to turn it into a passing situation. On the first attempt to punch it in, a hand-off out of the shotgun got stuffed for a multiple-yard loss. The Tigers caught a break though as a illegal substitution penalty scooted them even closer to the goal line. In attempt number two they were back in the shotgun and the again they were stuffed for a multiple-yard loss. That set-up a passing situation which they did not convert on and they had to settle for a field goal instead of a game sealing touchdown.
Earlier in the contest, Clemson decided to go for it on fourth-and-short in their own territory and were promptly stuffed out of the shotgun. The decision to go for it, even though the offense showed no hints that a successful conversion would lead to points was vexing, but again both the play-calling and execution in short-yardage has been a huge disappointment. It has already cost us an ACC Championship opportunity and nearly cost us again. We have to improve there.
Now ask yourself this. If I had told you three years ago that Clemson would win a big game behind defense and special teams, would you have laughed in my face? Heck, if I had told you that after the Georgia game you may have waved me off dismissively. Clemson's offense didn't score a single touchdown, but Grady Jarrett did. So many players on the defense have improved from last season and stood out this weekend.
I was once again impressed with Garry Peters. He has become a great player and came up with six tackles in the contest. With Tony Steward out with a hamstring injury, the young Ben Boulware got his first career start. All he did was lead the team in tackles (10), TFLs (4), and was one of four players to register a sack. Although I'm still worried about next year's defensive line, Boulware made me feel much better about our 2015 linebacking corps.
Then there's Jayron Kearse. He had one pass broken up to go with 8 tackles, one of which was for a loss, and another of which saved the game. After Robert Smith took an aggressive angle and fell over, Jayron Kearse chased down James Quick and prevented a 73-yard reception from turning into a 81-yard game winning touchdown. Of course, after Kearse's game saving tackle, Clemson's defense allowed a reception to get it to the one-yard line and then came up with an amazing goal line stand to win the game.
Finally, a tip of the cap to two players whose efforts on special teams need to be highlighted. Ammon Lakip drilled three kicks, two of which were challenging 40+ yard boots in critical situations. Hopefully this success will translate as the Tigers go on the road. Then of course there's this, which I have no way of describing because I'm too busy eating my own words about getting someone else back there to return punts.
Clemson doesn't jump Notre Dame this week, despite getting the better win, because of what the offense could look like for the next month. Thankfully the schedule sets up for time to mend and adjust.
4. Virginia: 4-2 (2-0)
Last Week: Bye
This Week: at Duke
Previous Ranking: 4
Virginia doesn't move in the rankings coming off their bye. Along with Clemson and Louisville, they have a top notch defense and it'll be tested against Duke in a critical Coastal matchup.
5. Louisville: 5-2 (3-2)
Last Week: at Clemson
This Week: NC State
Previous Ranking: 5
Louisville's defense was extremely impressive in holding Clemson to just 2.3 yards per rush and dominating short-yardage situations. Unfortunately for them, Clemson's defensive line held Louisville to just 1.4 yards per rush and overcame the countless times the offense put them in position to fail.
Louisville's players have never played in an environment as loud or intimidating as Death Valley. Massive kudos to the crowd that packed out the Stadium. The Cardinals committed four false start penalties as the crowd rose to the occasion time and time again. I'm not so sure Clemson wins that game if it's in PJ Cardinal Stadium.
6. Duke 5-1 (1-1)
Last Week: W 31-26 at Georgia Tech
This Week: Virginia
Previous Ranking: 9
Despite losing to Miami just before Georgia Tech beat them, Duke kept the Coastal crazy by exposing the Yellow Jackets porous defense en route to their first road win over GT since 1994. It looks like the Coastal has six average teams plus North Carolina. Ponder this for a moment, every single team in the SEC West is better than every single team in the ACC Coastal. Regardless, good win for Duke. Their Coastal Division hopes are alive once again.
7. Georgia Tech: 5-1 (2-1)
Last Week: L 25-31 vs. Duke
This Week: at North Carolina
Previous Ranking: 6
We never really believed they were as good as their record and ranking indicated and losing to Duke at home is something you'd expect out of a very average team. Georgia Tech still has a very good chance to win the division if they can take care of business against their weak schedule and then muster up a good effort and beat Virginia. Justin Thomas was just 6/15 with two horrendous interceptions. They don't need a great passer to win, but he can't be that bad. GT isn't great, but if Watson is out or rusty and the offense doesn't get rolling with Cole Stoudt they could pose a big threat to Clemson.
8. Miami: 4-3 (2-2)
Last Week: W 55-34 vs. Cincinnati
This Week: Bye
Previous Ranking: 8
Brad Kaaya and the Hurricane offense are improving each week, but the defense is bad and their Coastal hopes could be dashed if they can't win a Thursday game in Blacksburg after their bye. There was a registered attendance of 12 at Land Sun Orange Stadium (kidding there were at least 30 people there).
9. Virginia Tech: 4-2 (1-1)
Last Week: Bye
This Week: at Pittsburgh
Previous Ranking: 7
The Hokies dropped two spots in the rankings while on bye due to Duke and Miami's wins. Virginia Tech gets a struggling Pitt team also coming off bye. They should be able to grab a road win, but you never know in the Coastal anymore.
10. Boston College: 4-2 (1-1)
Last Week: W 30-14 at NC State
This Week: Clemson
Previous Ranking: 14
Big win for Boston College to get one on the road. With six games left including contests against Syracuse and Wake Forest, they have a good chance to return to a bowl game, which is a great testament to Steve Adaazio. Next week Clemson travels to Alumni Stadium. Clemson has done a great job shutting down running backs, but after 132 rushing yards against NC State, the challenge will be slowing down their speedy QB, Tyler Murphy.
11. North Carolina: 2-4 (0-2)
Last Week: L 43-50 at at Notre Dame
This Week: Georgia Tech
Previous Ranking: 10
UNC only had three drives that lasted longer than three minutes and only one of those was a scoring drive. Their defense is bad and their offense puts them in a position to fail. Notre Dame gave them a huge opening and they couldn't take it.
12. Syracuse: 2-4 (0-2)
Last Week: L 20-38 vs. Florida State
This Week: at Wake Forest
Previous Ranking: 12
With Terrel Hunt injured AJ Long and Austin Wilson played QB for the Orange. They struggled passing the ball, while FSU carved up their defense like Dexter slicing through the blood orange in that slightly creepy episode intro they have (1:05). Winston didn't throw any picks and looked much better than in the previous few weeks.
13. Pittsburgh: 3-3 (1-1)
Last Week: : Bye
This Week: Virginia Tech
Previous Ranking: 13
They were on bye so they couldn't build on their three game losing streak this week. They get three straight home games coming up, but they come against VT, GT, and Duke. Will they win any?
14. Wake Forest: 2-4 (0-2)
Last Week: Bye
This Week: Syracuse
Last ranking: 15
Wake Forest was on bye, but NC State's poor performance gives the Deacs a respite from the cellar. They get Syracuse next week so it's win or back down you go.
15. NC State 4-3 (0-3)
Last Week: L 14-30 Boston College
This Week: at Louisville
Previous Ranking: 11
Based on what we've seen from both Louisville and NC State over the past two weeks, this one shouldn't be close. NC State should struggle on offense while their defense is porous enough that Louisville should rack up enough points to win handily.
As we've done the past few weeks, I've added a poll below. Last week we were split on keeping Notre Dame in the Power Rankings so next week will be their final appearance. This week, I griped about the short-yardage play-calling by Clemson's staff, and now I want your opinion. Please vote in the poll below.
* denotes Notre Dame's records vs. ACC opponents. Record vs. Notre Dame is not included in ACC record for full members.