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ACC Power Rankings: UNC Clinches, Clemson Cruises, Duke Falling

In week 12, Clemson reach eight conference wins for the first time in program history, UNC clinched the Coastal, Notre Dame survived in Fenway, and Virginia pushed Duke down the Coastal standings.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

1.  Clemson (Beat Wake Forest / Previous: 1)
2.  Florida State (Beat Chattanooga / Previous: 4)
3.  Notre Dame (Beat Boston College / Previous: 2)
4.  North Carolina (Beat Virginia Tech / Previous: 3)
5.  Pittsburgh (Beat Louisville / Previous: 5)
6.  Miami (Beat Georgia Tech  / Previous: 7)
7.  Louisville (Lost to Pittsburgh / Previous: 6)
8.  Virginia Tech (Lost to North Carolina / Previous: 9)
9.  NC State (Beat Syracuse / Previous: 10)
10.  Virginia (Beat Duke / Previous: 11)
11.  Duke (Lost to Virginia / Previous: 8)
12.  Syracuse (Lost to NC State / Previous: 12)
13.  Boston College (Lost to Notre Dame / Previous: 14)
14.  Georgia Tech (Lost to Miami / Previous: 13)
15.  Wake Forest (Lost to Clemson / Previous: 15)

Clemson Commentary

Remember when we were bemoaning that Clemson's offense didn't look explosive? On Saturday, Clemson had receptions of 65 yards (Germone Hopper), 44 yards (Charone Peake), and 35 yards (Hunter Renfow). Defensively, the Tigers generally avoided busts and chunk plays. The only notable big play came on a Cortez Lewis 30-yard TD catch, and even that one was with five and half minutes to play against back-ups.

The Tigers tallied 552 total yards of offense, while Wake only earned 152. The final score doesn't indicate quite the level of game control Dabo's Tigers had in this one.

I was disappointed in Watson's second interception, and the lack of success in the running game, but without Tyrone Crowder or Wayne Gallman, that's not too terribly surprising. I was happy to hear in Coach Swinney's postgame presser that Gallman could've gone (he said the same of Mack).

Ben Boulware left the game with a stinger, which is an arm injury relating to the spine which causes shooting pains, numbness, and weakness in the affected arm. The good news is that it wasn't anything more serious and a big reason he didn't return in the game was because back-up Jalen Williams was playing well. A few weeks ago we published an article about players we simply couldn't afford to lose to injury and 127 readers voted Ben Boulware as #1. It was good to see depth at a supposed weak spot.

The only weakness which I tend to see carrying over from week to week is special teams. Kick and punt returns are not as potent as the skill position talent would seem to make it and PATs remain a problem for Greg Huegel. It looks like Ammon Lakip has usurped him for the PAT job, while Huegel holds the regular FG role. He still has not missed a FG in ACC play. Lakip was unable to collect a lot of touchbacks so we got to see the kick coverage and it seem improved, though it's hard to tell how much of that is on Wake Forest.

Tiger fans often joke that opposing team's punters become Ray Guy when they play Clemson. For Alex Kinal, he actually is likely the best punter in college football. He had 10 punts (wow!) for 425 yards, including 5 inside the 20, and two downed at the 1-yard line. The one position where it may be beneficial to play for a team with an awful offense is punter, and boy did Kinal hit a home run with his college choice. Congrats to Kinal for breaking the NCAA record for most career punts.

For Clemson, It's now the Championship Drive. This week we fight for the State Championship (well... I suppose we'd have to play the Citadel for that, but the Palmetto Bowl is on the line.) Next we play a double-digit win UNC team for only our second ACC Championship in the past two decades. If all goes according to plan, we will then have an opportunity to play for an Orange (or possibly Cotton) Bowl Championship, and finally, if we are focused, healthy, and catch a few breaks, we may have an opportunity to play for you know what.

Around the ACC

North Carolina faced Virginia Tech in Frank Beamer's final game at Lane Stadium, and the Heels did exactly what I hoped they would - win ugly. They lost three fumbles and QB Marquise Williams only completed 13/26 passes, but the Heels still managed to eke out an overtime win. In a perfect display of how a declining, but all-time great coach should exit, Beamer was carried out on his players' shoulders, despite the loss.

Though UNC didn't look like world beaters on Saturday, they're still dynamic and dangerous, particularly on special teams (Ryan Switzer has 8 career punt returns and they blocked a punt this week). Fortunately, the complete drubbings of their opponent have stopped. I hope they peaked against Miami (and I hope we didn't). Duke's collapse continues as they lost to UVA (giving them the same ACC record as the Hoos). This makes UNC's win over the Devils look less impressive.

With Ohio State's loss, Clemson shouldn't have to face Bama or Ohio State in the first round of a potential playoff game (the two scariest teams) so seeding and "style points" mean much less. Still, it would be great for the conference if, in the first ever championship matchup of ACC charter schools, the programs could enter a combined 23-1. Beating an 11-1 UNC would be particularly special, though that ACC Championship trophy presentation will be excellent so long as the Tigers are the recipients.

NC State will try to knock off the Heels and taint their season on Rivalry week. This week, NC State got up 21-3 and cruised to a 42-29 home win over the Orange. The Wolfpack's four losses have come against the only four decent teams they have faced this season (VT, UL, CU, FSU), while they've taken care of business against weak opponents like Syracuse, BC, Wake Forest, Old Dominion, etc. They have some serious little brother syndrome with "UNC-Carrboro" as they call them, but I don't think they pull the upset.

Miami took care of business against Georgia Tech, who amazingly finished 1-7 in ACC play with their only win coming against FSU. Louisville got carved up in the second quarter and couldn't come back to win in Pittsburgh. I touted them as a top six team in the conference (counting ND), but they'll finish with no impressive wins. Still, they're at 7th in these ranking and I'm not sure who you could argue belongs above them.

Florida State took care of Chattanooga 52-13, and I continue to believe Florida isn't very good. If the upcoming game wasn't in the Swamp, I'd feel good about picking the 'Noles, and still think they have a great shot. Notre Dame nearly lost to BC, but won despite losing the turnover battle by four. The week before they were outgained by the very same Wake Forest team we just outgained by 400 yards. Notre Dame's best wins are against Navy, Temple, and Pittsburgh. Their struggles drop them back below FSU, but playing Stanford next week gives them the opportunity they need to hold onto a top 4 seed as a one-loss team.

The playoff debate is narrowing to just a handful of teams, and a couple have interesting arguments over the Irish.

Clemson and Alabama are locks to be above Notre Dame if they win out. Even without an undefeated Ohio State, the Big 10 may be represented in the playoff by either Michigan State or Iowa. A 13-0 Iowa would likely finish above Notre Dame. Michigan State beat Ohio State and Oregon (who is ranked after beating Stanford - Notre Dame's best potential win). While losing to Nebraska is much less forgivable than losing to Clemson, if MSU were to knock off a 12-0 Iowa team, and finish 12-1, I'd certainly rank them above a 11-1 Notre Dame. Then you have a debate between Oklahoma (if they beat Oklahoma State) or Baylor (if OU loses Bedlam) against Notre Dame. If that's the case, we may be looking at a rematch in Miami. I'd love to get that opportunity! Of course, Notre Dame still has to beat Stanford, and I'm not so sure they will. In end, the four team playoff is great and has a way of working itself out.