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ACC Power Rankings: Bowl Projections Edition

In Week 13, UNC extended their win streak to 11 games while Clemson, Louisville, and Florida State toppled their SEC rivals.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

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)

Clemson Commentary

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.

With all that said, we're 12-0 for the first time since 1981! Enjoy it. Take it in! Admittedly, I've felt more relief than joy after these past couple wins, but from here on out, that won't be the case. North Carolina has an offense good enough to beat anybody, and that certainly includes us. At this point, I'm buying the Heels as a legitimate challenger - as all future opponents will be this year. A victory isn't merely a reason to exhale, it's a reason to celebrate the winningest season in Clemson Tiger history. So, the Championship Drive continues! We are ACC Atlantic and Palmetto Bowl Champions. Now it's on to bigger things!

Check back with us throughout this week for all the ACC Championship coverage your heart desires as well as a little basketball action as the hardwood Tigers play in the ACC/B1G Challenge and battle USC Upstate before the ACC Football Championship on Saturday.

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:

  1. College Football Playoff Invitations
  2. Peach Bowl (at-large bid possible)
  3. Russell Athletic Bowl
  4. Tier One Bowls (Belk/Sun/Pinstripe/Music City or TaxSlayer)
  5. Tier Two Bowls (Military/Independence/Quick Lane)
Orange Bowl: Alabama didn't exactly stomp Auburn and with a loss, jumping Clemson seems unreasonable, especially as the SEC went 1-3 against the ACC. Though I'm far from assuming Clemson will beat UNC, these projections will assume as much.

Peach Bowl: Florida State's defensive is mighty impressive and is the primary reason they've won 10 games and the FL State Championship. They'll likely make a second trip to Atlanta this season, hoping for a better result. Interestingly, it looks like Notre Dame could still manage to make a New Year's Six game. It would make for a quasi-ACC game, which we said would eventually happen when all the new bowl agreements when the ACC and Notre Dame were agreed upon.

Russell Athletic Bowl: If Clemson can claim the ACC Championship, UNC will likely drop to the Russell Athletic Bowl (and I don't mean drop in a bad way... it'll be their best bowl in over a decade). If Clemson were to lose and UNC not  make the College Football Playoff, UNC would likely head to the Peach Bowl sending Clemson here and Florida State even lower. Of course, we're projecting these as if Clemson is to win the ACC, so I'm putting the North Carolina Tar Heels in Orlando.

TaxSlayer Bowl: The Miami Hurricanes will likely head to the TaxSlayer (formerly Gator) Bowl. At 8-4, the Hurricanes' resume isn't as bad as you may expect. They way they were completely blown out by the ACC Atlantic Champion Tigers and ACC Coastal Champion Tar Heels makes them look atrocious, but their only other losses came at Cincinnati and at Florida State. As the power ranking argue, they are likely the best ACC team after Clemson, FSU, UNC, and Notre Dame.

Pinstripe Bowl: The ACC added the Pinstripe Bowl for the sake of the new northern schools, Pittsburgh and Syracuse (as well as Boston College). Geographically, the Military Bowl would also make sense, but it would be an unfair snub to the 8-4 Pittsburgh Panthers who have at least one more win than the remaining ACC teams.

Sun Bowl: The Louisville Cardinals did enough to finish 7-5 after a rough start. Their losses to Clemson, FSU, and Houston (yes, Houston) are forgivable, but losses to Auburn and Pittsburgh show they're a fairly middle of the road ACC team this year. They played in the Belk Bowl last year and with NC State bowl eligible, sending the geographically awkward Cardinals to the geographically awkward (though traditional rich) Sun Bowl makes a lot of sense.

Belk Bowl: Somehow it seems NC State has become overrated. It may be because they put up a fight against a handful of top teams, but a look at the overall resume shows that all seven of their wins came against poor competition (Troy, E. Kentucky, ODU, S. Alabama, Wake, BC, Syracuse). They finished just 3-5 in the ACC, but have a big fan base in the state of North Carolina where the Belk Bowl is hosted. It just makes too much sense to not put them here. VT is the other possibility for this bowl, and with it being the final bowl for Frank Beamer, the Belk Bowl Committee may prefer them. Will NC State's proximity and overall win total get them the bid or will Frank Beamer's farewell and one more ACC win get the Hokies into this slot? I'm projecting NC State, but it could go either way. Whoever gets this bid will likely get crushed by an SEC West opponent.

Military Bowl: The Virginia Tech Hokies squeaked by UVA to become bowl eligible. If the Belk Bowl takes the nearby Wolfpack, the Hokies will likely end up here.

Independence Bowl: Duke lost four of their last five games with the lone win coming against lowly Wake Forest. A small fan base and a reeling team means a trip to Shreveport.