The ACC continues to be a riddle, and as such, so do these power rankings. Beyond the top two, who’s a true conference championship contender? Will the Coastal champ finish with a better record than 4-4? Based on what we’ve seen so far, we’re really no closer to finding out any of this, but as we do every week, we’ll take our best guess here in the power rankings.
1. Florida State Seminoles (6-1) (3-1) (LW: 1): EJ Manuel had a field day against the BC secondary on Saturday, throwing for 439 yards and four touchdowns, en route to a 51-7 victory. Of course, it helps when your defense played the way it did, too. The Eagles came to town with one of the conference’s better passing attacks. They left with just 129 yards through the air, and a pick. If Florida State’s going to win themselves an ACC title, they’ll need to play at that level for the remainder of the season.
2. Clemson Tigers (5-1) (2-1) (LW: 2): The Tigers were off this past weekend, which may be the only thing that can slow this offense down. On Monday, OC Chad Morris mentioned to the Post-Courier that Sammy Watkins is “ready to break out,” which is something that should horrify opposing defenses. Should he finally get back to full-strength, Watkins adds yet another dimension to this group, making for an entertaining second half.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels (5-2) (2-1) (LW: 6): If not for postseason ineligibility, UNC would be the Coastal division frontrunners, having already knocked off two of their three biggest competitors (and facing the third, Duke, this weekend). And if not for Giovani Bernard‘s injury earlier this season, perhaps this team would be in the top 25, too. Over the last two games — both big wins for the Heels — the sophomore’s amassed 485 total yards and four scores. As long as he stays healthy, Carolina’s likely to keep winning.
4. NC State Wolfpack (4-2) (1-1) (LW: 5): The Wolfpack are in the driver’s seat in the Atlantic division, but the jury’s still out on whether they’ll take full advantage or not. Through six games, we’re still unsure about the secondary — already lit up several times this year — and quarterback Mike Glennon‘s play has been mostly inconsistent (FSU comeback aside). Every remaining game is very winnable, but it will come down to their ability to execute late. All they have to do is win out, and they’ll find themselves playing for their first BCS Bowl trip.
5. Virginia Tech Hokies (4-3) (2-1) (LW: 7): So maybe the Hokies aren’t dead just yet? Down 20 against Duke, backs against the wall, this team came alive like we haven’t seen all season, and delivered 41 unanswered points to end the game. Behind surprise star J.C. Coleman, the running game put in its best performance of the year, giving Logan Thomas some much-needed aid on the offensive side of the ball. It’s just one week though, so the pressure’s on Tech to keep up this level of effectiveness.
6. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (4-3) (3-1) (LW: 3): And the ‘Canes could drop further still, with next week’s matchup against FSU. Stephen Morris‘s injury doesn’t help either, nor does Duke Johnson‘s relative disappearing act. For all the praise and surprise we experienced with Miami earlier in the season, what we’re left with is a banged-up .500 team that will struggle to keep itself in the division race.
7. Duke Blue Devils (5-2) (2-1) (LW: 4): Two competent opponents, two blowout losses for the Blue Devils, who are suddenly in a bit of a predicament. Yes, they’ve been a feel-good story and it’s been awesome to see them reel off five wins so quickly. But all that matters is whether they can reach that sixth one or not. None of their remaining games are gimmes, so they’ll need to bring their best effort in every game going forward. While it’s easy to point to the defense as needing the most improvement, Sean Renfree still needs to respond better to consistent pressure as well, and the running game needs a lot of work.
8. Maryland Terrapins (4-2) (2-0) (LW: 8): Special teams and defense guided the Terps to victory on Saturday, in another impressive showing for this young Maryland team. Behind a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown by Stefon Diggs, and a big field goal block in the first quarter, UM found themselves in control early, just needing their defense to hold on at the end. Thanks to a Darin Drakeford forced fumble, they obliged, and somehow, this team is got to 4-2. Though it’s unlikely they hold on to the Atlantic lead, the Terrapins could still have a few surprises left in them before the season’s out.
9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-3) (1-3) (LW: 9): Nearly 10 percent of the Wake Forest football team is suspended for various off-field incidents in the past few weeks. Mix that with the injuries they’ve had to deal with, and you’ve got a team — and maybe a program — in turmoil. Obviously the missing players factored into their close loss to Maryland over a week ago. With a tricky slate still to come, those suspensions could start to weigh more heavily, and may potentially knock this team out of postseason contention.
10. Syracuse Orange (2-4) (LW: 10): Mistakes. And more mistakes. And then, just when you’ve had enough, even more mistakes. The Orange had ample opportunities to beat Rutgers on Saturday, yet failed to, thanks to four turnovers and a blocked field goal, turned touchdown. While SU’s offense continues to sputter along, the defense, guided by veterans like Marquis Spruill and Siriki Diabate, just continues to play their hearts out. This Friday night’s game is a must-win if I’ve ever seen one.
11. Pittsburgh Panthers (2-4) (LW: 11): Pitt hung tough in their loss to Louisville on Saturday, but it’s hard to mask the frustrations and issues the team’s currently dealing with. While QB Tino Sunseri has managed to carry the offense, they obviously need a consistent running game in order to be successful. The defense, as well, has been porous at times, and they need to find a way to stop big plays.
12. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-4) (1-3) (LW: 12): Did the bye week do the Yellow Jackets any good? We’ll see on Saturday. But the pressure’s on for Paul Johnson to succeed now, on both sides of the ball. It’s not enough for the offense to put up points. They need to deliver when playing from behind — something the triple-option struggles with, and Johnson must prove is not one of his team’s (and system’s) biggest weak spots.
13. Virginia Cavaliers (2-5) (0-3) (LW: 13): It’s code red for the Hoos, as this team is a ship that’s been taking on water for over a month, and there’s really no way out. Michael Rocco wasn’t working out, so they switch to Phillip Sims. Not only does Sims not win games, but he ends up performing worse than his predecessor. The run game’s improved slightly, which should have helped, but then special teams became a huge issue against Maryland. This is not a quick fix, and I’m honestly unsure where they start patching up holes.
14. Boston College Eagles (1-5) (0-3) (LW: 14): Oh, wow. I mean, Saturday’s game was simply embarrassing for everyone involved. And the shame of it is, the Eagles are better than that 51-7 drubbing, or at least their offense is. Up until now, BC’s defense has simply been outplayed, but this weekend, their passing game was effectively shut down. Has FSU written the blueprint to kill off Doug Martin’s air-it-out attack? For the Eagles sake, let’s hope not.