The last game of the season has been played. The dust has settled. The ACC participated in nine separate bowl games, including Clemson’s two appearances in the CFB Playoff. The conference, as a whole, did not fair particularly well. The ACC went 4-6 in post season play, but surprisingly gained respect. Now let us look back on those performances and see how that may have changed the landscape of the end of season ACC power rankings.
1. Clemson Tigers: Although they were the No. 1 team in the CFB Playoff rankings for the entirety of the season Clemson went into the semi-final round as a four-point underdog against the Oklahoma Sooners. The Tigers responded, destroying the Sooners 37-17, including shutting Oklahoma out in the second half and ripping off 21 unanswered points. Even with that performance they went into the National Championship game 6.5-point underdogs against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Although Clemson lost the game, 45-40, they not only covered the spread, but they earned respect for the overall conference. Clemson was the class of the ACC in 2015, and they represented the conference as admirably as any team could hope.
2. Florida State Seminoles: Florida State was summarily handled by the No. 18 Houston Cougars, losing 24-38. Coach Herman certainly has a strong team under his command. Like last year, they will be a force to be reckoned with next season. Regardless of the loss, FSU was the only other ten-win team in the Atlantic and earned victories over every other team in the division, excluding Clemson.
3. Louisville Cardinals: How about freshmen QB Lamar Jackson? 227 yards in the air with two passing TDs and 226 yards on the ground with two rushing TDs is simply fantastic! The 27-21 victory over the Texas A&M Aggies was a fine punctuation mark for a season that started out poorly. Louisville will be extremely dangerous next year and in the hunt for the conference title.
4. N.C. State Wolfpack: The Wolfpack suffered the most lopsided ACC bowl loss when the Mississippi State Bulldogs trounced the Wolfpack 28-51. This past season NCSU padded their win column by opening the season with four cupcakes. The Wolfpack will have their hands full next year when they have to face Clemson, Louisville, FSU, UNC, Miami-Florida, Notre Dame, and what is surely to be a resurgent Boston College squad.
5. Syracuse Orange: Syracuse had no appearance in the post season, and parted ways with their coach. The hiring of Dino Babers, the former coach of 2015 MAC Champion Bowling Green, certainly makes the Orange a team to watch in the Atlantic.
6. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: WF also failed to earn a bowl bid, but did show improvement over the last season. The reality that the Atlantic is a brutal division and houses two recent national championship contenders. It will be very difficult for the Demon Deacons to realistically compete for the conference.
7. Boston College Eagles: The Eagles suffered from injury issues at RB and a woeful QB situation where BC was, at one point, starting a walk-on at the position. Boston College had one of the best defenses in the entire NCAA, and with some off season work on the offense I would expect the Eagles to return more to their 2013 and 2014 form in 2016.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels: After the Tigers the Tar Heels had the most wins in the ACC with eleven. They fought hard, but fell to the Baylor Bears 38-49. Although they ended the season on two losses the Tar Heels were the clear head of the Coastal division. HC Larry Fedora has led UNC to systematic improvement throughout his tenure. Expect the Tar Heels to be the team to beat in the division next season.
2. Duke Blue Devils: Duke had another respectable season under head coach David Cutcliffe. After Virginia Tech the Blue Devils are the only other team in the Coastal to achieve a post season victory when they defeated the Indiana Hoosiers 44-41. Next year will be Coach Cutcliffe’s ninth with Duke. Considering how he has turned the Blue Devils, a former doormat, into a dangerous team, one wonders how long until he is hired away by a larger program.
3. Miami-Florida Hurricanes: In my end of regular season ACC rankings I had the Panthers at the number three spot. After reviewing their seasons one last time I’ve changed my mind about the No. 3 and No. 4 places. Miami beat Pittsburgh, heads up, to close out the regular season, and both teams lost their bowl games. Based on that head to head win and that their regular season losses are comparable in quality Miami gets the nod. Pittsburgh did finish the season with a better conference record, but they did not have to play FSU. Miami edges Pitt slightly because of the heads up win and because they had to play FSU. After the VT hire of Fuente, Miami’s gain of former Georgia HC, Mark Richt, is arguably the next best coaching hire in the ACC.
4. Pittsburgh Panthers: If All American RB, James Conner, remained healthy the Panthers would likely have at least been in the discussion for winning the Coastal Division. Pittsburgh demonstrated a valiant effort towards the end of the Military Bowl, but in the end they were completely outmatched by Keenan Reynolds and the Navy ground attack. The Panthers fell, 28-44.
5. Virginia Tech Hokies: One last win for Frank Beamer and one last winning season! The Hokies represent the only other bowl win in the Coastal. With their nail-biting, shootout victory over the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes, 55-52, the Hokies were able to send off legendary coach, Frank Beamer, with one last victory, albeit against the weakest bowl opponent the ACC faced.
6. Virginia Cavaliers: UVa did not qualify for a post season berth for the fourth season in a row, lost again to archrival VT, and HC Mike London was fired. The hiring of BYU’s Bronco Mendenhall was a pleasant surprise and introduces the potential for a revival of the stagnant UVA / VT rivalry.
7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: As mentioned within the end of regular season rankings, the Yellow Jackets were the most disappointing team in the FBS. Expect that they will be much better next season.
Total Conference Rankings:
1. Clemson Tigers (14-1)
2. North Carolina Tar Heels (11-3)
3. Florida State Seminoles (10-3)
4. Louisville Cardinals (8-5)
5. Miami-Florida Hurricanes (8-5)
6. Pittsburgh Panthers (8-5)
7. Duke Blue Devils (8-5)
8. Virginia Tech Hokies (7-6)
9. N.C. State Wolfpack (7-6)
10. Virginia Cavaliers (4-8)
11. Syracuse Orange (4-8)
12. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-9)
13. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-9)
14. Boston College Eagles (3-9)