1. Clemson Tigers: The Clemson Tigers have answered the mail, yet again, in a close game against a ranked opponent. The Tigers don’t have the blowout wins that Louisville has collected, but they consistently respond in close games, and successfully execute during high pressure situations. Just as they did, against N.C. State, during overtime, both the offense and defense answered the call. Trailing with around 3:30 left in the fourth, Deshaun Watson, put together a 1:17, 75 yard, touchdown drive, taking a three-point lead. Deondre Francois and the FSU offense returned to the field with just over two minutes remaining. With a fantastic 26-yard pass on 3rd and 23, Francois brought the Seminoles into field goal range and it looked like, at a minimum, the Tigers would again be forced into overtime. Then, Florida State self-destructed, with consecutive false starts. The Clemson defense pounced and brought tremendous pressure on the young Seminole QB, forcing two incomplete passes before achieving back to back sacks to force a turnover on downs with 18 seconds left in regulation. Clemson next faces a surging Syracuse team before hosting Pitt. The Tigers continue to look vulnerable, but they also continue to win close games against tough competition. The Orange and Panther offenses have what it takes to be competitive against Clemson, but can their defense step up and shock the reigning ACC Champions?
2. Louisville Cardinals: Oh my goodness, what a close call, and what an incredible game winning play. Every week Jackson continuously demonstrates why he leads in the Heisman race, and his 29-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Smith was certainly a Heisman moment. The Cardinals’ hope of making the CFB has taken consecutive hits over the last two weeks. Last week when Houston suffered their second loss, and this week when Clemson overcame Florida State. The Cardinals cannot sleep on any of their remaining opponents, but should finish the regular season, 11-1. Assuming they achieve that, Louisville could hope that Clemson drops the ACC Championship to a two loss Coastal upstart, and the Playoff Committee decides that the Cardinals will go to the playoff in the ACC Champion’s stead. Additionally, Michigan and Washington still have significant challenges ahead of them. Another path for Louisville may present itself if they get some help from the Big Ten and Pac-12, potentially allowing two ACC teams to participate in the CFB Playoff.
3. Florida State Seminoles: The Seminoles allowed their young QB to be sacked six times. Two of those sacks came on the last two offensive plays for Florida State. Dalvin Cook’s performance of 169 yards on 19 carries and four TDs kept the Seminoles in the game, but in the end Watson and the Clemson offense had another late game-winning drive. With their third conference loss, the Seminoles have been eliminated from Atlantic contention.
4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: What an absolute egg the Demon Deacons laid against Army. Wake’s defense gave up the most rushing yards, of their entire season, against Army. Even, Dalvin Cook and FSU were marginalized better than the Army ground attack. The Black Knights rode the tide of their running to a fifth win, and kept Wake from qualifying for a bowl. Next week the Demon Deacons will try again against UVA.
5. Syracuse Orange: Syracuse was idle this week. They have had two weeks to prepare for Clemson, and will look to shock another top 25 team, as they did against Virginia Tech earlier this month.
6. Boston College Eagles: The Eagles halted their dearth of conference wins with a surprising defeat of the Wolfpack. BC has a rough two weeks ahead of them with consecutive games against Louisville and Florida State, but must still be thinking bowl berth with closing games against Connecticut and Wake Forest.
7. N.C. State Wolfpack: What in the world? NCST played Clemson to the bone two games ago. Granted they suffered a brutal loss at the hands of Louisville, but I would have never picked them to lose to the struggling Eagles. Life does not get easier for N.C. State, at all. They finish their division matches against FSU, next week, and then against Syracuse. Unfortunately, they also rolled dangerous Coastal foes, and finish the season against Miami and UNC. With only four wins, and rough road ahead, NCST’s participation in a bowl is at serious risk.
1. Virginia Tech Hokies: Back to the top! Where we belong, right? The Hokies finally won a close game, and demonstrated a toughness that was missing during their previous close matches. The defense, offense, and coaches adjusted well and took advantage of what was provided. This was a definitive win for the Hokies. Although overshadowed by the names of Watson and Jackson, Jerod Evans has established himself as one of the elite QBs in the ACC, if not the entirety of the FBS. His passing performance against the Panthers was the best of his VT career, thus far. Evans went 24 – 40 for 406 yards, threw two TDs, and suffered no interceptions. Although, from everything we have seen this season, the Hokies should be able to dispatch the remainder of their season and reach the ACC Championship, VPI cannot sleep on any remaining foes. The Hokies own their destiny. If they win, they’re in. Oh, yeah. The Hokies also qualified for a bowl for a 24th consecutive season. Next week the Hokies face Duke. VT simply cannot afford to take wins for granted. Duke has played their last two opponents hard, and I fully expect them to bring it to the Hokies this weekend.
2. North Carolina Tar Heels: UNC was idle this week. Their hopes of retaining the Coastal crown took a big hit when the Hokies defeated the Panthers this past Thursday. The Heels host Georgia Tech this Saturday.
3. Pittsburgh Panthers: JAMES CONNER IS A BEAST. 19 rushes for 141 yards and three TDs. I couldn’t be happier with the result of this game. Conner had a great game and the Hokies won. The Pitt offense did everything necessary to achieve victory. As has been the story of the year for them, the defense simply gave up too much. Pitt has given up at least 30 points against all conference opponents, and has only held one FBS opponent (Marshall) to less than 30 points. The Panthers are still a win away from a bowl berth and they will be facing potent offenses over the next four games. They have got to staunch the bleeding if they want to be win.
4. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: GT is only one win away from bowl qualification, but still haven’t shown an ability to defeat strong teams. They defeated Duke and BC by only three points, while suffering double digit losses to Miami and Clemson. With consecutive games against UNC and VT coming up, it is likely that things will get much tougher for the Yellow Jackets. Their best hope is to top an oscillating, but dangerous, UVA team during their penultimate game before facing bitter rival, UGA.
5. Miami-Florida Hurricanes: Well… when it rains it pours. Because of their early top ten ranking it may be easy to forget that the Hurricanes are in the first year of a new coach and a rebuild. The four-game losing streak they are riding covered a stretch of brutal opponents. With remaining games against Pitt, UVA, NCST, and Duke the Hurricanes should find, at least, two wins and a bowl berth before season’s end.
6. Virginia Cavaliers: Wow! Where did that come from? While it was an impressive performance I can only imagine that it was painful for the Hoos. The game against Louisville was very reminiscent of last year’s close home loss to Notre Dame. They won’t qualify for a bowl, and they might not even win another game, but the Cavaliers are dangerous. Everyone, including the Hokies, better take the Hoos seriously.
7. Duke Blue Devils: Well… that was a tough loss, but another respectable performance by the Blue Devils. It doesn’t look like the Blue Devils are going to be able to put together a bowl season this year. Because they represent UVA’s solitary conference victory, they find themselves down here at the bottom. Life gets very hard next week when Duke begins their four-game journey to face the top half of the Coastal division.
Overall Rankings – Week Nine
1. (No. 3 AP / No. 3 Coaches) Clemson Tigers (8-0)
2. (No. 5 / No. 5) Louisville Cardinals (7-1)
3. (No. 23 / No. 21) Virginia Tech Hokies (6-2)
4. (No. 18 / No. 17) North Carolina Tar Heels (6-2)
5. (No. 19 / No. 19) Florida State Seminoles (5-3)
6. Pittsburgh Panthers (5-3)
7. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-3)
8. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-3)
9. Syracuse Orange (4-4)
10. Miami-Florida Hurricanes (4-4)
11. Boston College Eagles (4-4)
12. N.C. State Wolfpack (4-4)
13. Virginia Cavaliers (2-6)
14. Duke Blue Devils (3-5)