The third week of the college football season is behind us, and it certainly did not disappoint. Gobbler Country takes a look at the performance of the ACC, and ranks the teams based not only on performance, but also on potential for the remainder of the season. The available data to provide such an assertion is limited, and many of the teams have yet to face legitimate challenges, but here is where the ACC has shaken out so far.
The Tigers are nipping at the heels of the Seminoles in the national rankings. The AP rank Clemson at No. 11 and the Coaches Poll place them at No. 10. Their best win is their most recent effort, an away game against a dangerous Louisville team. Neither FSU nor Clemson looked particularly stellar this weekend, but the win against the Cardinals is enough to give Clemson a slight edge over FSU.
FSU represents the highest nationally ranked team in the ACC. The AP has them at No. 10 while the Coaches Poll has them at No. 7. The No. 7 rank from the Coaches Poll is certainly questionable. It is hard to argue that FSU is a better team than Notre Dame, LSU, or even UCLA – all of whom have wins over ranked teams. Boston College is certainly FSU’s highest quality win, but the Seminoles have yet to face a legitimate challenge this season. Regardless, they have won all three of their games, and one can certainly argue that they should maintain consideration as the best team in the ACC, but the weakness of their schedule thus far and the performance of Clemson has provided enough evidence to land them in the second spot.
Like the teams above, the Wolfpack sits nicely at 3-0. NC State has yet to face a remotely challenging team. Last year they cruised to a 4-0 start against a similarly easy schedule before being dominated in ACC play, including losing to FSU and being absolutely shelled by Clemson, 0-41. All indicators suggest an improved Wolfpack squad from last year, but based on historical performance and the ease of their schedule thus far it is difficult to argue that should be placed higher.
Syracuse is another 3-0 team in the Atlantic. They have arguably played the hardest schedule of all the undefeated ACC teams at this point in the season. They have already collected a conference win against Wake Forest and a non-conference FBS win over Central Michigan. Like NC State, it remains to see what they can do when they face more complete teams.
The Eagles’ defense was impressive. They stymied the FSU offense, holding the Seminoles to 217 total offensive yards. The problem for the Eagles is that they are simply not a complete team. Their offense was blanked by Florida State and with an injury taking their starting QB, Darius Wade, out for the season their offensive woes will only increase. BC has a fairly brutal schedule ahead of them, and unless there is some drastic improvement on offense they will struggle to repeat last year’s bowl appearance.
The Cardinals are already being referred to as the best 0-3 team in college football. They’ve had the hardest opening three games out of the entire ACC. The easiest opponent that they have faced was Houston. Before anyone thinks Houston is a cupcake, remember that they beat Pittsburgh last year in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, and finished 2014 with a respectable 8-5 record. In week one, Louisville almost erased a 24 point deficit against then No. 6 Auburn and pulled within one score of the Eagles. The Cardinals hung with Clemson for the entire game, and thanks to some explosive special teams play, came within three points of the Tigers. Louisville is the only team in the Coastal to face three FBS squads to start the season, two of which were ranked in the top 15. Even though they are 0-3 the Cardinals are a dangerous. They have a lot of questions to answer on the offense, but if they can iron those kinks out expect to see them in the post season.
Although they are 2-1 Wake Forest has done little to show that they are ready to be a competitive team. The Demon Deacons first win came against FCS squad Elon and their second against Army, barely winning that match, 17-14. Last year they performed similarly, beating an FCS squad and Army (again only by three points). Of course, last year, they also beat VT in a game I refuse to detail, which was WF’s only conference victory. Until they show otherwise, expect Wake Forest to be placed solidly at the rear of the Atlantic and the ACC.
GT represents the third and final ACC team to find themselves in the top 25. Both the AP and Coaches polls have the Yellow Jackets at No. 20. Although Miami boasts a better record, Georgia Tech remains the class of the Coastal. Notre Dame’s defense shut down the Yellow Jacket triple option, and one can be sure that GT’s remaining opponents will be studying that game tape closely. Although ND did a nice job against Georgia Tech’s rushing attack the Yellow Jackets kept the game close and never let it get out of hand. GT remains extremely dangerous and still the team to beat in the Coastal.
Miami might have been able to argue for the top spot in the Coastal if they had not demonstrated a complete meltdown in the fourth quarter against Nebraska this past Saturday. Miami’s defense allowed three straight drives of 75+ yards in the last 12 minutes of regulation, allowing Nebraska to tie the game 33-33. Miami was barely able to hold on, winning with a FG in OT. Though they had an extremely poor fourth quarter they dominated Nebraska for three quarters and showed that they do have the capacity to own a game.
Granted, Purdue is not exactly a powerhouse, but Virginia Tech played one of their most complete games in recent memory, scoring on offense, defense, and special teams. Motley has performed nicely as a starter, but has made some errors that more talented teams will take advantage of. The Hokies have one more opportunity against ECU to warm up before conference play. If Motley can maintain solid management of the offense and continue to keep plays alive with his feet Virginia Tech should remain in the running for the Coastal crown.
UNC had a solid victory against Illinois. They faced a heartbreaking loss against South Carolina in a game where they beat themselves. Since that opening loss UNC QB Williams has thrown five touchdowns and only one interception. Coupling his performance with UNC’s solid defensive efforts means the Tar Heels are a very real threat in the Coastal.
Duke played No.23 Northwestern to a standstill, losing only in the waning minutes of the game. Duke’s defense is turning heads, and although QB, Thomas Sirk, struggled against Northwestern, one cannot underestimate the prowess of HC David Cutcliffe. If Duke can iron out some offensive concerns they could easily be a factor in the hunt to win the Coastal.
If it has not been made completely apparent already, the Coastal is wide open in the ACC. Pittsburgh represents the last team that has a realistic chance to win the division. Iowa barely stopped Saturday’s game from going into overtime with a stunning 57 yard FG. Besides the Hawkeyes the Panthers have yet to be truly challenged. They have a week off before traveling to Blackskburg where both squads open their conference play.
The Cavaliers are an extremely confusing squad. They lost their opener to UCLA, but did demonstrate a solid effort against a ranked opponent in a hostile environment. UVA then hosted ND who required an incredible play at the end of regulation to escape Charlottesville with a win. This past weekend the Cavaliers barely beat FCS squad William and Mary. Based on their performance in the first two games one would have expected that game to be a complete blowout, but the reality is that, at one point, W&M led the game 17-7! UVA faces a dangerous Boise State team next, and based on their oscillating nature, it would not surprise me if UVA emerged victorious. It is hard to say if UVA is in the hunt for the Coastal. Based on historical performance, and their struggle against the Tribe, it is easy to write them off, but they are only one game behind everyone in the division, except Miami. If they can recapture their performance from their first two games and string together some conference wins they may be a factor.
Total Conference Rankings:
1. Clemson Tigers
2. Florida State Seminoles
3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
4. Miami-Florida Hurricanes
5. Virginia Tech Hokies
6. North Carolina Tar Heels
7. N.C. State Wolfpack
8. Pittsburgh Panthers
9. Duke Blue Devils
10. Syracuse Orange
11. Boston College Eagles
12. Louisville Cardinals
13. Virginia Cavaliers
14. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
So what do you think? Weigh in below with your thoughts on the rankings.