Yet another crazy weekend of ACC football, and we still find ourselves no closer to figuring out who’ll be playing in Charlotte for the league championship. The one thing we may be getting a handle on, though? Who is NOT playing in that game. And if eventually that list allows us to fill out the who IS list, then so be it (pray this isn’t what actually happens). Jimbo Fisher’s team deserves to be on top of these rankings, but I’m scared he’d have me suspended if that weren’t the case…
1. Florida State Seminoles (7-1) (4-1) (LW: 1): Never a good thing to hear your best running back is out for the season (again). But when you’re Florida State, you’ve got two more great options ready to go. Referees aside, the ‘Noles looked sloppy for a good portion of their Saturday night matchup with Miami — something that should concern them since the ‘Canes have no defense to speak of. It’s fine if EJ Manuel‘s taking more risks, but he must also keep the rest of the offense focused. Those fumbles were unforgivable, and could cause some real damage against a better team.
2. Clemson Tigers (6-1) (3-1) (LW: 2): The story of the game somehow ended up being the Tigers’ defense, which forced four turnovers and scored a touchdown of its own against Virginia Tech. So was this the turning point Brent Venables seemed to promise when he took over as defensive coordinator? Perhaps, though let’s give it a few more games. The Hokies’ offense has been putrid all season, and Clemson’s had their number these past two seasons. Still, it’s something they can potentially build off of.
3. NC State Wolfpack (5-2) (2-1) (LW: 4): State got very lucky at the end of this weekend’s game, due to a missed field goal — so don’t mistake their one-spot promotion as a ringing endorsement. But nonetheless, this is a Woflpack team that seems to know how to get the job done in crunch time. After their respective rocky starts, both Mike Glennon and David Amerson may have finally turned things around. The biggest issue now is how they’ll get by over the course of the season if they can’t run the ball.
4. Duke Blue Devils (6-2) (3-1) (LW: 7): Make no mistake about it, this Duke team is a legitimate threat to win the down-and-out Coastal division after their big comeback the other night. While there are certainly some kinks still to work out, this is a group that came into its own on that final 87-yard touchdown drive, and now look prepared for anything. That theory will be put to the test immediately against FSU this coming weekend. All eyes will be on Sean Renfree and how he reacts to the constant pressure the ‘Noles bring on D.
5. North Carolina Tar Heels (5-3) (2-2) (LW: 3): Losing by three points to your rival on a last-minute drive is difficult. But this is a unit that must keep it together and continue the lengthy process of buying into head coach Larry Fedora’s system. While the defense was terrible (allowed 510 yards of offense), the offense put on an impressive display in the fourth quarter with 21 points scored, to Duke’s 10. Most importantly, Giovani Bernard cannot be stopped, and as has been proven these past few weeks, the more touches he gets, the more effective he is.
6. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (4-4) (3-2) (LW: 6): Obviously things did not go well for Miami against the Seminoles. But on the bright side, they did manage to hold their own, keeping a close game through three quarters and stopping FSU from really getting anything going on offense. Duke Johnson’s injury definitely gave rise to some concern, however, and it’s worth monitoring going forward — especially since their running game has become a weak link these past few games.
7. Virginia Tech Hokies (4-4) (2-2) (LW: 5): Despite the disappointing results on Saturday, Tech is still very much in the hunt for yet another Coastal division title thanks to UNC’s postseason ineligibility. If the Hokies can beat Miami, they’ll hold all tiebreakers, and will be on the fast track to potentially getting demolished by Florida State in the conference championship game. VPI has a bye week next, and the hope is that they work on making adjustments in that time. The issues on both sides of the ball won’t just correct themselves, and must be addressed now if they hope to find themselves in the postseason at all.
8. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-3) (2-3) (LW: 9): Wake was not all that impressive against UVa, but in typical Wake fashion, they really didn’t need to be. After the offense took an early lead, the defense simply held its ground and allowed the Cavaliers to do themselves in with turnovers. The Deacs’ 213 total yards of offense may raise a few eyebrows, especially when you consider Tanner Price‘s atypically poor passing day (7/19, 102 yards). Michael Campanaro can’t come back soon enough for this group, still scrambling for an identity since his injury.
9. Maryland Terrapins (4-3) (2-1) (LW: 8): The Terrapins are a mixed bag now that they’ve lost quarterback Perry Hills for the season with an ACL tear. Backups Caleb Rowe and Devin Burns looked serviceable in relief on Saturday, but with game film now available, and no run game to speak of, it could be a steep upward climb for the Terps. If the team can make their co-starter situation advantageous for both quarterbacks, they stand a chance to pick up the two wins necessary for bowl eligibility, but it’s no longer a guarantee at all.
10. Syracuse Orange (3-4) (LW: 10): Syracuse did exactly what they were supposed to do on Friday night: win. And despite the 30-point margin of victory, there should be no celebrations just yet, nor any declarations that this group’s finally turned around. It’s talk like that which has gotten them in trouble all year. They have five games left and must win three of them to make a bowl game. Not one of those opponents are out of reach. Now this team just has to focus. If the defense can begin generating turnovers again, and if Ryan Nassib can keep his own fumbles and interceptions low, they stand a chance.
11. Pittsburgh Panthers (3-4) (LW: 11): Pitt’s a .500 team that manages to look great one week, before appearing worrisome the next. When you think the passing game is fine, Tino Sunseri throws just 17 passes for 128 yards. And the running game — a strength going into the year — swings wildly between being effective and virtually useless. The Panthers are still searching for their first Big East win this season, and playing like this, they may continue to struggle in conference play.
12. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-4) (2-3) (LW: 12): The Wreck had another strong day on the ground, racking up 391 rushing yards en route to a big victory. Quarterback Tevin Washington led the way with his legs once again, however, he’s also become much more one-dimensional recently. Vad Lee was the only passer for Tech — something that may become a problem should it become too scripted. But if it works (and considering Lee was 2-for-6 for 89 yards and a score, I guess it did), there’s no reason to change things up for now.
13. Virginia Cavaliers (2-6) (0-4) (LW: 13): The Hoos’ defense has gotten its act together in the past few games, though the offense is still a complete and utter train wreck. As has been the case all year, it all starts with the running game, which has been virtually non-existent all season. Virginia’s two starting backs, Kevin Parks and Perry Jones, ran for 32 yards total on Saturday (on 17 carries) and as a team, they rank 94th in the country, with just 128 yards per game. If they hope to improve as a team, it has to be in this aspect of the game first.
14. Boston College Eagles (1-6) (0-4) (LW: 14): BC’s allowed over 1,100 rushing yards in their last three games; an astonishing figure that explains all you need to know about this team’s 0-3 record in that span. The Eagles rank 115th nationally in average time of possession, and it’s no fault of the offense whatsoever. While Chase Rettiig and co. are a much more competitive scoring threat than in 2011, the rush defense’s futility allows for the opposition to hold the ball for large stretches of time. BC, on the other hand, operates under a constant need to score, which decreases their own efficiency. I’ve got a solution for this vicious cycle: Fire Spaz.