1. Clemson Tigers: The Tigers bounced back after their surprising defeat at the hands of Pitt. Clemson roared out to a dominating early lead when they hung 28 unanswered points on Wake Forest within the first 18 minutes of play. For the remainder of the game the Tigers struggled against a stout WF defense and were only able to score one more TD. The Tigers and the Cardinals finish the regular season against non-conference opponents. Although both Clemson and Louisville are 7-1, in conference play, Clemson has the tiebreaker and locked up a return to the ACC Championship game. The Tigers next face the South Carolina Gamecocks. It is a rivalry game, but Clemson should not have an issue dispatching their in-state rival.
2. Louisville Cardinals: Any hopes Louisville had of busting into the CFB Playoff have been summarily destroyed when the Cardinals lost, 10-36, on Thursday night against the Houston Cougars. The Cardinals have been punted out of the top ten in both the AP and Coaches polls, and have no recourse in the ACC as Clemson has locked up the Atlantic with their win over WF. This week Louisville faces Kentucky. By all accounts the Cards should dominate the Wildcats, but all the elements for a let-down game are in place. Louisville just suffered a disappointing loss, they have no option to win the ACC, and their match up with Kentucky is a rivalry game. The Cardinals need to recover from their poor showing against Houston and defeat the Wildcats to have any hope of landing a New Year’s bowl.
3. Florida State Seminoles: FSU has ripped off a three-game winning streak, albeit against what could be considered lesser competition, since their three-point loss to Clemson. The Seminoles have an opportunity to punctuate their regular season with a win over the Florida Gators. The Seminoles will have their hands full with the Gators. Florida has a lot to play for. If they can defeat FSU, win the SEC Championship game, and get a little help from some of the other top teams losing, the two loss Gators could find themselves in the CFB Playoff picture. FSU is playing for pride and a chance at a better bowl.
4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Wake had a rather rough two-week period, rolling back to back games against Louisville and Clemson. Regardless, this season cannot be considered anything but a success. Although the scores don’t appropriately communicate this, the WF defense played very well against two of the best offenses in college football. Their offensive woes have been the weak point for the Deacons, and led directly to disappointing losses against NCST, Army, and FSU. Next up, Wake faces a dangerous BC team that is sick of being a joke in the Atlantic, and are playing for a bowl berth.
5. Boston College Eagles: The Eagles have collected enough victories, over lesser competition, to put themselves in position to become bowl eligible, if they can collect Wake Forest. BC has been thoroughly dominated in the ACC, only able to earn one conference win in two years. Their pedestrian offensive play must step up if they are to have a chance over a very respectable Wake defense.
6. N.C. State Wolfpack: The 2016 season is a significant let-down for the Wolfpack. NCST only has one win over a conference team with a winning record, and they must defeat their rival, North Carolina, to qualify for a bowl berth.
7. Syracuse Orange: Although their record doesn’t show it, quite yet, the Orange have improved under new head coach, Dino Babers. Syracuse collected a signature win over VT, but their defensive play and inconsistencies on offense have resulted in all their losses being by double digits. Syracuse finishes the season against a rolling Pittsburgh team, but their future is bright.
1. Virginia Tech Hokies: Alright, Notre Dame has spent the season being kicked around by almost every ACC team they’ve faced. The Fighting Irish are also a shadow of the team they were in 2015. BUT, the Hokies win over ND was a huge deal. The Hokies looked completely lost against the Fighting Irish. The first quarter is arguably the worst performance the Hokies have provided under rookie HC, Justin Fuente. Then the Fighting Gobblers did something that they have not done in a long, long time… they came from behind, by double digits, to win. We saw a startling demonstration of the passion that Coach Fuente has for this team and their efforts. We saw coaches and players recover from poor play and rectify their early shortages. Although it was against a beleaguered Notre Dame squad, what happened on Saturday was a significant improvement in an area of deficiency, and one that we must hope continues. The Hokies still control their fate, and must face the Cavaliers this weekend. The Hokies have struggled against teams that many consider poor. VPI must stay focused and finish the regular season with vigor.
2. North Carolina Tar Heels: Coaches Poll logic: Let’s rank the team that lost to VT and lost to a team which VT defeated higher than the Hokies. Whatever. The Heels are still in play for the ACC Championship, but the Hokies will be able to know what they must achieve before ever taking the field. UNC faces rival NCST Friday afternoon. The Wolfpack has looked very vulnerable all season, but they are playing for something other than pride, and could prove to be a dangerous foe.
3. Miami-Florida Hurricanes: After a brutal four game losing streak, to the best teams in the Coastal… and Notre Dame, Miami has won three straight. Except for VT, every single loss the Hurricanes suffered was by one score or less. Although they were removed from consideration in the Coastal relatively early, I think we can expect Miami to be much more of a factor as Richt become more established. The ‘Canes wrap the season up by hosting Duke, who is only playing for pride at this point.
4. Pittsburgh Panthers: The Panthers absolutely dominated the Blue Devils, 56-14. The Pitt defense finally held an FBS team to under 27 points, and their offense scored the most points of the season. James Conner continued his comeback tour by tying the ACC’s all time TD record. Remember he missed almost the entire 2015 season… What a badass. Anyway, if the Panthers can find some answers for their pass defense they can add their hat to the crowded ring of potential Coastal contenders, next season. Until then, the Panthers must face a Syracuse offense that has passed for 300+ yards six times and over 400 yards twice.
5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: Comeback season complete. After a surprisingly abysmal 2015 season, GT sits at 7-4 and is bowl eligible. The Jackets close the regular season by visiting their in-state rivals, the Georgia Bulldogs. The Bulldogs have some pretty solid wins against UNC and Auburn, and will certainly be a challenge for the Yellow Jackets.
6. Duke Blue Devils: Man, what a disappointment for Duke. After playing the Hokies to the ragged edge and defeating rival North Carolina, the Blue Devils turned in their worst performance of the season. Unfortunately, that loss removed them from bowl eligibility. Duke closes their injury riddled season of predominately close losses against the surging Hurricanes. I fully expect the Blue Devils to return to being a factor in the Coastal during the 2017 season.
7. Virginia Cavaliers: Bronco Mendenhall will complete his rookie season with the ACC’s worst 2016 record. Regardless, if he can defeat Virginia Tech then his season will be considered a resounding success. Taking away from the Hokies is all that remains for the Cavaliers. If UVA defeats VPI and UNC defeats NCST then the Fighting Gobblers will not be attending the ACC Championship game. I’ve said it for several weeks now – the Cavaliers are not as bad as their record. They are a dangerous team, which hasn’t defeated VT for 12 straight years, and they really, really, want to.
Overall Rankings Week 12
1. (No. 4 AP / No. 3 Coaches) Clemson Tigers (10-1)
2. (No. 11 / No. 11) Louisville Cardinals (9-2)
3. (No. 15 / No. 14) Florida State Seminoles (8-3)
4. Virginia Tech Hokies (8-3)
5. (Unr. / No. 25) North Carolina Tar Heels (8-3)
6. Miami-Florida Hurricanes (7-4)
7. Pittsburgh Panthers (7-4)
8. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-4)
9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-5)
10. Duke Blue Devils (4-7)
11. Boston College Eagles (5-6)
12. N.C. State Wolfpack (5-6)
13. Syracuse Orange (4-7)
14. Virginia Cavaliers (2-9)