Better than 13 SEC teams
1. Clemson (Beat South Carolina / Previous: 1)
2. Florida State (Beat Florida / Previous: 2)
3. North Carolina (Beat NC State/ Previous: 4)
4. Notre Dame (Lost to Stanford / Previous: 3)
5. Miami (Beat Pittsburgh / Previous: 6)
6. Pittsburgh (Lost to Miami / Previous: 5)
7. Louisville (Beat Kentucky / Previous: 7)
8. Virginia Tech (Beat Virginia / Previous: 8)
9. NC State (Lost to North Carolina / Previous: 9)
10. Duke (Beat Wake Forest / Previous: 11)
No Soup for You!
11. Virginia (Lost to Virginia Tech / Previous: 10)
12. Syracuse (Beat Boston College / Previous: 12)
13. Boston College (Lost to Syracuse / Previous: 13)
14. Georgia Tech (Lost to Georgia / Previous: 14)
15. Wake Forest (Lost to Duke / Previous: 15)
Pouring on 515 total yards, Clemson won their second straight Palmetto Bowl, 37-32. Deshaun Watson looked like a Heisman contender (which he didn't against Wake Forest). He tallied an outstanding 114 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. Though I get nervous about him getting hurt, his ability to improvise and pick up first downs with his legs is the difference between a good offense and a national championship caliber offense. I was very impressed with his ability to know when to run and when to get down. Watson also had 279 passing yards and a passing TD. Deon Cain (96 yards/TD) and Jordan Leggett (76 yards) were his most impressive targets of the day.
Tyrone Crowder wasn't in the game early, but once he entered later, the traditional running offense gained some steam. Gallman earned 102 rushing yards on 19 carries for a solid 5.4 yards per carry.
We didn't have any mishaps in kick/punt coverage or returns, though we didn't bother returning punts against their peculiar punt formation. Huegel was once again perfect on field goals and missed a PAT for the fifth time this year. It appeared that Lakip would take over PAT duty, but that was not the case. I'm curious if coaches feel it is feasible to have a different players kick field goals and PATs.
While the offense has improved to the point of reaching or even exceeding the high expectations laid upon it at the start of the season, the defense, which was once blowing expectations out of the water, is beginning to fall more in line with the initial, somewhat tame, projections. The Tigers allowed three different plays of 47+ yards (stat credit David Hale). Particularly concerning is the rushing success of opposing quarterbacks. Marquise Williams may well be the most dynamic QB Clemson faces all season (that even includes potential matchups against MSU, Iowa, or Alabama).
Clemson managed a perfect 5-0 road record this season, but they've looked so much better at home. With the exception of the amazing 58-0 blowout over Miami, Clemson's road wins were closer than desired battles against inferior competition. The Louisville game came down to the final moments. NC State, Syracuse, and South Carolina still had a punchers chance in the fourth quarter. We'll very quickly find out how the Tigers perform in neutral site contests. It'll need to be better than most of Clemson's true road games as every opponent they run into from here on out will likely be a top 10 team.
Around the ACC
We'll focus on bowl projections in this special edition of the ACC Power Rankings, but before we get to that, we have to touch on the big news out of Virginia Tech. It was announced that the rumors about Justin Fuente are true, and he will be named the successor to Frank Beamer for the Hokies. He retain Bud Foster as defensive coordinator and has wide fan support based on a hire approval poll on Gobbler Nation. Fuente has been at Memphis for four years and has successfully turned around the program. After winning four and then three games in his first two years, Memphis collected 10 wins last year and nine so far this season. Although the track record is limited, this seems like a solid hire. For the ACC's sake, I hope VT gets back to respectability (right after Clemson plays them in 2016).
Notre Dame looked to have a win all wrapped up in Palo Alto, scoring the go ahead TD with under a minute to go, but their defense failed to rise to the occasion. With mere seconds remaining, they allowed a big passing play to put the Cardinal in position for what would be the game winning field goal. Notre Dame will finish with a decent win against USC, but nothing else particularly great on the resume. Their loss makes the four-team playoff very tidy this year. If the favorites can win their championship games we will have all the 0 or 1-loss conference champions from P5 conferences in the playoff. Perfect!
Counting Notre Dame, the ACC will have 10 bowl eligible teams. So where will they all end up? Here's how the bowl selection process works for the ACC:
- College Football Playoff Invitations
- Peach Bowl (at-large bid possible)
- Russell Athletic Bowl
- Tier One Bowls (Belk/Sun/Pinstripe/Music City or TaxSlayer)
- Tier Two Bowls (Military/Independence/Quick Lane)