1. Florida State: 8-0 (5-0)
Last Week: W 42-31 at Louisville (Thursday)
This Week: Virginia
Previous Ranking: 1
"The world will be cheering for the good guys in red, but if they can't knock off the 'Noles, we'll really need to start pulling for FSU to keep that Orange Bowl slot open for us."
Unfortunately, any hope of the 'Noles racking up two ACC losses is now gone. Jameis Winston was atrocious in the first half, but once again led the Seminoles as they engineered (I use the term "engineered" loosely in respect to FSU) a second half comeback to beat Louisville.
Virginia, this week's opponent, shouldn't pose a major threat against FSU. Miami will be resting and preparing for FSU during their bye week and could give them a scare, but at this point it looks like the 'Noles will find a way to win the rest of the regular season games regardless of what happens on or off the field. I would have loved to see UGA v. FSU in the playoff, but after the Gators upset Georgia, an Oregon v. FSU matchup is now my hope. Who would you like to see FSU play in the first round?
2. Clemson: 6-2 (5-1)
Last Week: Bye
Next Week: at Wake Forest (Thursday)
Previous Ranking: 2
Thanks to some fortunate scheduling and a dominant defense, Clemson has survived this stretch with most of their offensive fire power out of commission. That dominate defense will get their easiest test since SC State when they travel to Winston-Salem on Thursday. Wake Forest is averaging just 1.1 YPC with 3 rushing TDs. They've been a bit better through the air, but still have just 7 TDs to 13 INTs. On the flip side, their defense is at least average. They've given up a respectable 24.6 PPG, which is even better when you consider how many times the offense has hung them out to dry. I'll be up in my old stomping grounds (affectionately know as "The Dash") for this one. Aside from a win, here's what I'm hoping to see (and not see):
- No Deshaun Watson: Clemson should be able to win this one without him and we will need him healthy when we face a GT team with as many or more wins than Clemson. I don't want him to be rushed back.
- Arm Strength: If this is Cole Stoudt's last start in college, I'd like to see him hit a few receivers in stride rather than making them go back to the ball.
- Running Game: Although I want to see Stoudt finally play up to his potential, strategically Clemson's offense should be relatively conservative since they shouldn't need more than 14 points to win the game. I'd like to see Wayne Gallman go for 100+.
- No TDs until garbage time: The defense is on a quest to be one of the greatest in school history. They should be able to keep Wake Forest out of the end zone - at least until garbage time.
- Less than 1 YPC: Wake Forest's O-line will be completely overwhelmed. The only way they will be able to get anything on the ground is to run some toss sweeps and hope the DEs get greedy. Let's see if Clemson can stay disciplined even when they are getting everything they want.
- Get two turnovers: The only thing the Clemson defense hasn't excelled in is forcing turnovers. Wake's porous O-line will lead to rushed throws. I'd like to see Clemson take advantage with an INT or two.
- 21-point victory: It is listed under defense because it'll be to their credit when they hold Wake to 10 or less. Hopefully this isn't another 16-6 type game. I'd like to see the offense get their sea legs, even with so many pieces still missing. If that doesn't work, the defense is welcomed to score, but let's not let them stick around like we did with a very bad Syracuse team. Clemson opened as a 20-point favorite, and if the offense is passable they should cover.
- End the day with the top defense in the county
3. Duke 7-1 (3-1)
Last Week: W 51-48 (2OT) at Pittsburgh
This Week: at Syracuse
Previous Ranking: 4
Pittsburgh flubbed a 26-yard field goal at the end of regulation that would have given them the win and vaulted them to the top of the Coastal. Instead, Duke's offense outlasted the Panthers and now the Blue Devils can start wrapping up their second consecutive Coastal Division title.
I'm extremely impressed with what Duke has been able to do following the departure of OC Kurt Roper (to UF). This year's team may be the best the program has produced since Spurrier left.
4. Louisville: 6-3 (4-3)
Last Week: L 31-42 vs. Florida State (Thursday)
This Week: at Boston College
Previous Ranking: 3
That elite Cardinals defense may not be so elite after all. FSU moved the ball with ease in the second half to comeback and beat Louisville.
Next week, the Cardinals travel to Chestnut Hill, where they'll have to battle with one of the more plucky teams in the ACC. However, they'll still be favored to collect win number seven. Overall, the Cardinals have done well in their first year in the conference and could still finish with eight wins if they beat BC and split with Notre Dame and Kentucky. I expect Notre Dame to put up points against this good, but not elite, defense.
Muddled Mess of Mediocrity
5. Georgia Tech: 7-2 (4-2)
Last Week: W 35-10 vs. Virginia
This Week: at NC State
Previous Ranking: 5
The Ramblin' Wreck offense continues to chug along. They put up an impressive 35 points against a solid UVA defense. It was their own defense that sealed the deal with an interception in the end zone in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
Although I picked Tech to win this particular game, I've been very wrong about them this season. Paul Johnson has likely ended most hot seat discussions with another bowl season for the Yellow Jackets. They travel to Raleigh this week, where they should be able to pull out their eighth win of the season - already two more than I expected. After that, they play Clemson, who they've owned in Atlanta. Their offense is playing head and shoulders above that of the Tigers, but the Clemson defense should win the battle of the lines, which breaks down the triple-option offense pretty quickly. That'll be a scary one in two weeks.
6. Miami: 6-3 (3-2)
Last Week: W 47-20 vs. North Carolina
This Week: Bye
Previous Ranking: 6
Miami has improved a great deal since getting crushed by Louisville on Labor Day, largely because Brad Kaaya has developed into a quality quarterback. The O-line also looks a bit less shaky lately, which allows the conference's best running back to do his thing. Duke Johnson is an absolute pleasure to watch. His blend of speed and power is a rare combination - one that Clemson's running game could use in a big way.
Vic Koening's Tar Heel defense gave up 40+ for the sixth time this season. Who is more likely to return next season, Koening for UNC or Golden for Miami? I'd put my chips on Golden after an 8-4 season that could deliver the Hurricanes' first bowl win since... 2006!
7. Boston College: 6-3 (3-3)
Last Week: W 33-31 at Virginia Tech
This Week: Louisville
Previous Ranking: 10
Boston College out-gained VT 258 to 69 on the ground, with Tyler Murphy running for 122 yards. Last year when BC won at home, it was an upset. Now, BC is just better than VT and can go into Lane Stadium and win as if they had Matt Ryan.
Steve Addazio has done a fantastic job, getting more wins than the roster should produce. He is a master at adapting to the strengths and weaknesses of his players and, therefore, his team's consistently over-perform. They may end their season in Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl, which would mark a much-better-than-expected year. They close out with Louisville, Florida State, and Syracuse. If they can somehow win two of those three, I'd vote for him as ACC Coach of the Year. The only ding on his record is the loss to Colorado State. I'm still not sure how that happened.
8. North Carolina: 4-5 (2-3)
Last Week: L 20-47 at Miami
This Week: Pittsburgh
Previous Ranking: 7
It probably doesn't feel great being the homecoming opponent that decent teams run the score up on, but that's what the Heels were this weekend in Miami. They'll need to beat Pittsburgh or Duke in addition to NC State, who they get at home to close out the season. Kudos to all those (99% of our readers) who called UNC overrated when experts had them above Clemson in pre-season polls.
9. Virginia: 4-5 (2-3)
Last Week: L 10-35 at Georgia Tech
This Week: at Florida State
Previous Ranking: 8
UVA has free fallen from their perch atop the Coastal division and now has to win two of three just to make a bowl game. Those games come against FSU, Miami, and Virginia Tech. It may be tough, but if the Cavaliers can beat VT for the first time since they've been ACC opponents, they should feel at least okay about their season. Barring collapse, they shouldn't consider moving on from Mike London. As Virginia Tech fades, Virginia has an opportunity to position their program for long-term success.
Gamecock Defense Level of Bad
10. Pittsburgh: 4-5 (2-3)
Last Week: 48-51 (2OT) vs. Duke
This Week: at North Carolina
Previous Ranking: 9
Pittsburgh threw another game away and this one hurts. A win would have created a four-way tie with Miami, Georgia Tech, and Duke. Miami still has to play FSU, GT still has to play Clemson, and Pitt would have held the tie-breaker over Duke. Instead they'll need to win two of three to make a bowl. UNC and 'Cuse should get them there.
11. Virginia Tech: 4-5 (1-4)
Last Week: 31 v. 33 vs. Boston College
This Week: Bye
Previous Ranking: 11
This is becoming a weekly disaster scene in the power rankings. This time their offense looked passable, but their defense couldn't stop the run. From 2004 to 2011 they won 10-11 games annually. At the end of this season, they'll likely be looking at a three year stretch of: 7 wins (2012), 8 wins (2013), and 5-7 wins this year. The Turkeys get a bye next weekend before traveling to Durham to play the best team in the Coastal, Duke.
VT is currently ranked 7th in the ACC in Rivals 2015 recruiting rankings (behind Virginia), which puts the kibosh on the wait until next year narrative. Virginia Tech looks to be a middle of the pack ACC team for the coming years.
Frank Beamer's contract runs through the 2018 season. That coupled with all the great work he has done for the program leads me to believe he is not on the hot seat yet. However, I don't believe he will be in Blacksburg to finish out that contract.
12. NC State 5-4 (1-4)
Last Week: W 24-17 at Syracuse
This Week: Georgia Tech
Previous Ranking: 13
NC State got off the schnide and earned their first ACC win since 2012. They can now find two teams in conference they are better than. In my book, that's moving on up!
13. Syracuse: 3-6 (1-4)
Last Week: L 17-24 vs. NC State
This Week: Duke
Previous Ranking: 12
Scott Shafer has been much better behaved this season. It's been a while since he cursed at an opposing coach or called a major city #SoftNosed. Fortunately, it looks like some harsh words were exchanged among fans in the aftermath of Clemson's win over 'Cuse, so the rivalry lives on. It is fun watching hated rivals fail like South Carolina and Syracuse are doing. Although we give them a hard time, the folks over at Nunes Magician can pump out a good article and I thought this one about their disappointment in the season was worth a read.
After suffering this bad home loss to NC State, they now must beat Duke, BC, and Pitt to make a bowl game. Honestly, they'll be lucky to win even one of them to finish with four wins. Before you get too angry about having a bad team added to the conference, just remember we didn't add them because they're worth a hoot, we added them because of this.
14. Wake Forest: 2-6 (0-4)
Last Week: Bye
This Week: Clemson (Thursday)
Last ranking: 14
You know it's bad when, instead of talking about how hard it will be to get points, the head coach is saying that it will be hard to get first downs against Clemson's defense. Wake Forest's offense is historically bad, so it's quite possible Clemson's defense outscores Wake's offense. That said, I'm interested to see if Clemson's offense can move the ball better than they have of late. Even with all the injured players we're supposed to get back for GT, I'd feel better knowing we can score a couple touchdowns against Wake Forest without them.