It has been another exciting weekend in the ACC, and things are starting to flesh out in both the Coastal and the Atlantic divisions.
1. Clemson Tigers: On Saturday Night the Clemson Tigers showed that the road to the ACC Championship and the CFB Playoff still travels through Death Valley. Last week I said that for a team to have a chance against the Cardinals they would have to slow Lamar Jackson and match that defensive effort with an offensive explosion. Clemson did just that in the first half of the game. When Louisville answered back with 26 unanswered points, to start the second half, the Tigers were able to answer back in the last seven minutes of the game, retorting with 14 points of their own, solidifying their win on the foundation of their first half performance. Despite throwing three interceptions, Deshaun Watson, looked to return to the 2015 form that dazzled the masses. He went 20-32, 306 yards, and tossed five touchdowns. He also added 91 yards on the ground over 14 attempts.
2. Louisville Cardinals: Despite the loss the Cardinals still looked quite the contender. The Tigers were able to stifle the vaunted Lamar Jackson in the first half, but he returned in the second half with a vengeance. By the end of the night he was 27-44, 295 yards, and tossed one TD and one INT. On 31 rushing attempts he ran for 162 yards and added an additional two touchdowns. Although future opponents are going to pour over the first half film, looking at the schedule there is not an ACC opponent that is equipped to deal with Louisville offense or overcome their defense. Although Clemson looked quite the powerhouse on Saturday night, they have also shown a penchant for struggling against FBS resistance. The Tigers must still face off against FSU and a dangerous Pittsburgh team. Realistically the Tigers will also have to face whatever team survives the Coastal in the ACC Championship. They could trip up in the ACC. Regardless of Clemson’s fate, if the Cardinals manage to overcome the No. 6 / No. 5 Houston Cougars and finish the remainder of the season undefeated, it is entirely possible that the ACC sends two teams to the playoffs. That scenario is particularly possible if a one or two loss upstart from the Coastal manages to defeat the Tigers in the ACC Championship Game.
3. Florida State Seminoles: Ouch. Florida State has been sent packing from the CFB playoff. Although mathematically still alive, the Seminoles are all but eliminated from playoff contention. Things won’t get much easier for FSU when they have play No. 10 Miami, in Coral Gables, this Saturday, which is the first of two top ten teams they have to face in the next three games. Florida State allowed UNC QB, Mitch Trubisky, to hang 405 yards and three TDs on them. They simply cannot be that soft on defense and hope to defeat the Hurricanes or the Clemson Tigers, who they will host two weeks after facing Miami.
4. N.C. State Wolfpack: Dammit, Wake. The Wolfpack was able to collect a win during their first ACC match of the season. NCSU next faces the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who will be looking to continue their recovery from an abysmal season start.
5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: The Wake Forest defense struggled against the Wolfpack, allowing 527 yards, despite NCSU's self-destructive tendencies. NCSU had 13 penalties and accumulated 144 total penalty yards. N.C. State jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back, leading the entire game. The Demon Deacons must find some answers on defense and offense before they face a Syracuse team that had 489 yards against Notre Dame.
6. Boston College Eagles: As expected, the Eagles easily dispatched Buffalo, 35-3. The world is about to start collapsing on BC when they have to face No. 3 Clemson, No. 7 Louisville, and No. 23 Florida State over the next five weeks. If BC hopes to compete for a bowl berth they will have to find the remaining three wins elsewhere.
7. Syracuse Orange: The Orange were able to hang with Notre Dame for the first half, ending the second quarter trailing by only one score, 27-33. Syracuse was unable to keep up with Notre Dame’s second half adjustments. The Orange only mustered up one more score during the last half of the fourth quarter, but by that time Notre Dame was completely in control, winning the game, 33-50. Syracuse is only one win away from matching last year’s total, and there are winnable games left on their schedule. Every single team remaining on their schedule currently has a winning record, although expect that to change before they face Boston College later this month. Despite improvements, it is unlikely that they can find another three wins.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels: What an exciting end to an exciting game! The Tar Heels were able to jump out to an early 21-0 lead. As is tradition with Florida State they fought back in the second half, and grabbed a one-point lead with 23 seconds left on the clock. UNC refused to give up and won, 37-35, off a 54-yard field goal as time expired! North Carolina showed that they have the ability to compete with elite teams in the Atlantic. Things don’t get easier for the Tar Heels when they next host the surging No. 25 Hokies and their surprising offense.
2. Miami-Florida Hurricanes: Miami was able to defeat their very first Power Five and ACC opponent when they beat GT, 35-21. The Yellow Jackets were still able to average 4.9 yards per rush and collected 267 yards on the ground. The Hurricanes won, but I still feel like it’s a significant stretch that they are somehow the No. 10 team in the nation. They were abysmal on third downs, going 1-7. They protected the ball and had zero turnovers to the Jackets’ three, which certainly helped. An injured and angry Florida State awaits the Hurricanes this weekend. You can be sure the Seminoles will be seeking to show that they are still the class of the ACC in the state of Florida.
3. Virginia Tech Hokies: Well, the Hokies benefited, significantly, from the myriad losses that occurred in the Top 25, during an idle week. VT is a surprise representative of the ACC in the AP Poll at No. 25. The Hokies do not have a signature win against a major team, but they have been winning in an impressive way. The special teams and defense of the Hokies seems to have returned to its elite form, and the Fuente offense has been clicking since the Battle at Bristol meltdown. If the Hokies truly wish to signal their return to ACC contention they must defeat the Tar Heels this Saturday when they travel to Chapel Hill.
4. Pittsburgh Panthers: The Panthers barely lost to the Tar Heels, 36-37, two weeks ago. This week they defeated the Thundering Herd, 43-27, and racked up 532 total yards in a balanced offensive attack. Pittsburgh earned 280 yards and a two touchdowns in the air and added an additional 252 yards, on the ground, and three more scores. This weekend they will seek to show that they are not to be forgotten in the Coastal when they face the Yellow Jackets.
5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: GT fell for a consecutive week when they faced their second consecutive top 15 team. With two losses in the ACC, Georgia Tech is likely out of the Coastal crown running, but will look to stop their slide, and work towards that fourth win which eluded them last year.
6. Virginia Cavaliers: UVA was able to dig themselves out of the basement with a win over their first ACC opponent. The Hoos took control of the game, with four minutes left in the first half, and defeated Duke, 34-20. The Blue Devils were extremely sloppy with the ball, and the Cavaliers were happy to capitalize on the six turnovers (five interceptions!) provided by the Blue Devils. Virginia QB, Kurt Benkert, followed his explosive 400+ yard game against CMU with a 336, three TD performance against Duke. Bronco seems to have the Hoos recovering from their horrific opening three games, and is riding high on a two game winning streak. Now, are the Cavaliers good enough to find a win in their next three games against Pitt, No. 17 UNC, and No. 7 Lou? Probably not.
7. Duke Blue Devils: No wonder Notre Dame fired their defensive coordinator. They somehow managed to lose a game, at home, against a freshmen QB that just threw five picks against the Virginia Cavaliers. Next week Duke faces a 3-1 West Point team that is not the cupcake it normally is. Five of the last six games of the season are all but untenable for the struggling Blue Devils. Louisville, Virginia Tech, in state rivals North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and a season ending match against Miami means that the only teams they can really look to win against is the upcoming match against Army, and maybe Georgia Tech. Duke will need to create significant upsets to qualify for a bowl. Any hope of competing for the Coastal is completely out of reach.
Overall Rankings – Week Five:
1. (No. 3 AP / No. 3 Coaches) Clemson Tigers (5-0)
2. (No. 7 / No. 8) Louisville Cardinals (4-1)
3. (No. 17 / No.16) North Carolina Tar Heels (4-1)
4. (No. 10 / No. 10) Miami-Florida Hurricanes (4-0)
5. (No. 23 / No. 21) Florida State Seminoles (3-2)
6. (No. 25 / Unr.) Virginia Tech Hokies (3-1)
7. Pittsburgh Panthers (3-2)
8. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-1)
9. N.C. State Wolfpack (3-1)
10. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-2)
11. Boston College Eagles (3-2)
12. Syracuse Orange (2-3)
13. Virginia Cavaliers (2-3)
14. Duke Blue Devils (2-3)