1. Clemson (Beat NC State / Previous: 1)
2. Notre Dame (Beat Temple / Previous: 2)
3. Florida State (Beat Syracuse / Previous: 3)
4. North Carolina (Beat Pittsburgh / Previous: 5)
5. Miami (Beat Duke / Previous: 12)
6. Pittsburgh (Lost to North Carolina / Previous: 6)
7. Duke (Lost to Miami / Previous: 4)
8. Virginia Tech (Beat Boston College / Previous: 9)
9. Louisville (Beat Wake Forest / Previous: 7)
10. NC State (Lost to Clemson / Previous: 10)
11. Virginia (Beat Georgia Tech / Previous: 11)
12. Georgia Tech (Lost to Virginia / Previous: 8)
13. Boston College (Lost to Virginia Tech / Previous: 14)
14. Syracuse (Lost to Florida State / Previous: 13)
15. Wake Forest (Lost to North Carolina State / Previous: 15)
Clemson played their worst game of the season, but left Raleigh with a 15-point road win and an 8-0 record.
The Tigers' special teams were an absolute disaster and cause reason for concern with Florida State looming. Two missed PATs and a kick return TD allowed (KO return at 0:43 mark) kept the Wolfpack in the game longer than desired. As you may remember, the Louisville game was put at risk due to a late kick return TD against the Tigers. Lakip blasted his first few kickoffs deep into the end zone, but after a returnable kick turned into a touchdown, Dabo began tinkering with other ways to conservatively prevent another special teams debacle. The Tigers tried two pooch kicks, but the second was returned for a big gain. Later they tried a squib kick which seemed adequate. It'll be interesting to see what strategy is employed next week against the athletic Seminoles.
The defense has exceeded expectations all year, but had their first bad game. NC State QB Jacoby Brissett looked invincible. The Tigers' aggression led them to get in the backfield, but Jacoby Brissett, who is listed at 6'4" 235lbs, consistently broke free of should-be sacks and sometimes turned them into big plays. TEs Grinnage and Samuels combined for 15 catches attacking the relative weakness of the Tiger defense - linebacker coverage. This felt more like an anomaly than a troublesome issue like the special teams, which needs to show improvement next week. Interestingly, Hunter Renfrow appears to be the new punt returner, which hopefully keeps Artavis Scott fresh and the ball safe.
The positive take-away is obviously the offense, which continues to round into form after an underwhelming start to the season. After 58 points at Miami, they added another 56 in Raleigh and are now playing at or even above the level we expected. Deshaun Watson had 383 passing yards and five passing TDs. He added 54 more yards on the ground and another touchdown. He was an efficient 23/30, had no turnovers, and responded time and time again until finally NC State couldn't keep up.
That explosiveness we've all been looking for appears to be returning. Six different Clemson Tigers had receptions of greater than 30 yards including Charone Peake. Peake received a fair amount of criticism earlier in the season, but is now playing at a much higher level. He is contributing in the running game and passing game.
Another positive, which is easy to overlook, is we came out of this game healthy. Obviously it would have been nice to be able to rest the starters a bit in preparation for FSU, but we escaped unscathed nonetheless. Hopefully the offense continues to play at a high level, the struggles on special teams draw attention and improvement, and the defense comes out angry on Saturday and proves this week's performance to be an aberration.
Around the ACC
This week's craziness has killed my tiering system. The best game in the ACC took place in Durham, where Duke engineering a penalty-fueled go-ahead TD with 0:06 remaining. A squib kick left little for Miami to work with, but after eight laterals and a nine minute replay review later, Miami won the game on a kick return touchdown.
Florida State rested their starting QB and RB, but still beat Syracuse handily. The Orange secondary looked atrocious. Syracuse is now 2-13 in their past 15 games against FBS opponents. Their only two wins... against Wake Forest. The Deacons for their part gave Louisville a challenge this week, but still lost 19-20 at home. Louisville nearly made me look outrageous after I continuously said they were better than their record indicates. They could still win out, but they drop two spots this week.
Virginia Tech handles Boston College and continues to climb up the power rankings since Michael Brewer has returned.
Georgia Tech followed up their upset home victory over FSU with a disappointing loss to Virginia. The Hoos must win three of four against Miami, Louisville, Duke, and Virginia Tech to make a bowl. Losing out feels more likely and they're surely wishing they had a cupcake win rather than a tough Pac-12 loss right now.
Back on Thursday, North Carolina beat Pittsburgh and looked sharp doing it. It appears their season opening loss was either a fluke or they've improved greatly since then. Marquise Williams played turnover free football and the Tar Heels showed off their skill position talent. Elijah Hood is a top-tier RB and the Heels' WR corps is riddled with talent. The most exciting of the bunch is Ryan Switzer who scored a 71-yard TD in the win over Pitt. Now 7-1, the Heels can wrap up the division with home games against Duke and Miami the next two weeks. If you're one who cares about strength of schedule and/or league perception, getting an 11-1 Tar Heel squad to Charlotte is a juicy matchup for a quality ACC Championship game against Clemson/FSU. They're certainly scarier than Pittsburgh or Duke, but I don't believe they can win the battle in the trenches against Clemson.
Finally, Philadelphia was the site of College Gameday this week as Notre Dame went on the road to face Temple. The Owls were within four at halftime, after the Irish threw two INTs in the red zone. Temple held a late fourth quarter lead, but Will Fuller, a Philadelphia native, scored the game winner for the Irish. Following the Southern Cal win, this was arguably the Irish's best win of the year. They'll face Stanford to close the year, and a win there may be enough to squeak them into the playoff if the SEC Champion has multiple losses. How would you feel about a potential Clemson/Notre Dame rematch?