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Gobbler Country’s ACC Rankings Return - Guess Where the Hokies are?

Gobbler Country Welcome’s back our senior writer Jay Johnson for a short bit. It’s ACC Rankings at the 1/3rd of the season (such as it is) mark. Check in! And welcome home for a little while, Jay!

BC in Blacksburg for 2018. They are on the way for 2020.
John Schneider - SB Nation

Below, without comment, or editorial, is Jay Johnson’s ACC Rankings at this state of play for the 2020 season.

It has been too long and a bit deep into the season, for that I apologize, but better late than never for the start of Gobbler Country’s 2020 ACC Football Rankings! My day job has been quite demanding over the last year and it will return to being even more insistent sooner than I would like, but for now I am able to contribute! As always, I look forward to discussion and commentary. Let us know what your thoughts are below!

This year our rankings are going to reflect the contingencies the ACC enacted due to the complications of COVID-19. Though the Coastal and Atlantic Divisions still exist, the ACC has decided to forgo referencing those divisions in determining the ACC Championship. Instead the championship selection will be based off the performance of all 15 teams participating in the ACC season. As such, Gobbler Country will be offering the 2020 rankings without a division break out. Additionally, Notre Dame will be included in the rankings as a full up ACC member, rounding out a temporary 15-team conference.

1. (No. 1 AP / No. 1 Coaches) Clemson Tigers (4-0): The Tigers look poised to avenge their National Championship loss to LSU and return to the top of the NCAA. In their first four games quarterback phenom, Trevor Lawrence, has thrown ten touchdowns and zero interceptions while maintaining a 72.4 completion percentage. Travis Etienne continues to redefine what it means to be a running back at the collegiate level with 392 yards (7.0 average per carry) and four TDs. Oh, yeah… he also happens to be Clemson’s statistical No. 2 receiver with 245 yards (14.4 average reception) and another TD. As if the offense were not enough to deal with the Tigers’ defense has racked up 18 sacks and is only allowing an average of 13.25 points per game. Of the teams that have played four or more games that makes them third in the nation in points allowed. Dabo Swinney again has one of the best teams in the nation.

2. (No. 5 / No. 6) North Carolina Tar Heels (3-0): Sam Howell and the UNC offense are certainly firing on all cylinders, but there seem to be questions surrounding the defense. Last week they allowed the Hokies to post 45 points and the week before they snuffed the Boston College running game but gave up 313 yards in the air. Their remaining schedule seems winnable until the end. Circle the 27 November game against Notre Dame. That could be the determining factor in who goes on to lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship game.

3. (No. 4 / No. 4) Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0): Welcome to the rankings Notre Dame! Now, let us look at how a program that has defeated three teams with a combined record of 3-10 landed at four in the AP and Coaches polls, and three in these rankings. Everybody ahead of them that may be better lost. This is a default ranking for a team that has beaten three struggling programs and benefited from programs initially ranked ahead of them losing. The Irish had a solid season last year, but I am never fully sold on a top ten Notre Dame team. They will not face any semblance of a test until they play a capable Pitt team in two weeks. The Irish must eventually face both Clemson and UNC. Depending on how those wins and losses are traded it could make for some interesting ACC Championship math.

4. (No. 13 / No. 12) Miami-Florida Hurricanes (3-1): The powers that be want the ‘Canes to be a top-ten team so bad! I do not assess that Clemson exposed Miami as much as the Tigers are just that good. The Hurricanes also suffer from an early schedule that simply has not featured a tough opponent (besides Clemson), so it is difficult to get a feel for where they really stack out. Yeah, they beat a Louisville team that was ranked at the time of play, but that squad has shown that position was not deserved. This weekend’s game against Pitt will tell us a lot.

5. (No. 23 / No. 23) Virginia Tech Hokies (2-1): Oh, my Hokies! I genuinely believe that if VT is able to escape the grasp of COVID quarantine complications and actually field their team they can go toe-to-toe with the likes of UNC and Miami… and at least slow Clemson down a bit. This season was always going to be a tough transitory effort for the defense. One of the great defensive minds of college football being replaced is no small obstacle. Couple that with all the issues impacting practice, VT’s ability to get their starters on the field, and maintain any semblance of depth, it is truly fantastic – I think – that the Hokies played the Tar Heels as close as they did. For more detailed analysis of my thoughts on this subject be sure to check out our Talking Turkey podcast. I never want to see the Hokies down three scores in a game, but that happened twice this past weekend, and they fought back to within one score BOTH TIMES. I think that most of Hokie nation would join me in feeling that, in years past, this team could stall and quit when momentum shifted away. Over Fuente’s tenure that malaise seems to have ebbed. On multiple occasions we have seen VT fight back from a deficit that looks near insurmountable. Hooker looks solid under center. Barring whatever is keeping him off the field raising its head again, I do not expect Burmeister to be starting another game. NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT HERBERT. Khalil Herbert is averaging 10.2 YPC (What?!), has 450 yards on the deck, and five TDs. Those are Etienne levels of production. The only conference RB with greater yards is Javian Hawkins, and barely, with 268. Also… he has almost twice as many carries (85) as Herbert. Khalil is No. 4, in the NCAA, for yards. The three RBs ahead of him have 85, 93, and 100 rushing attempts. This Hokie offense is no joke and Herbert is a big reason for that. I was certainly one of Cornelsen’s critics, but it seems that his plan is quite potent once he gets the players he needs running his scheme on the field. Barring a COVID catastrophe, I think VT will be a dark horse program to sneak into the ACC Championship. They did roll Clemson and Miami, but they have the offensive talent to run with anyone.

6. NC State Wolfpack (3-1): Those of you familiar with my rankings know how critical I am of NCST. I think most of us saw VT’s opening game against them and wondered are we good or are they just bad? Well, that seems to be a corrupt question. It looks like VT is good and NCST is alright. After getting laid out by VT they went on to win a tight one against a decent Pitt team and beat up a struggling UVA team. In the past, ACC wins were something of a rarity for NCST. This year they already have three. Yeah, two of them are against one-win programs, but I think the Wolfpack might have a solid unit this year. Their match against UNC, in two weeks, is going to be one to watch.

7. Boston College Eagles (3-1): They have a dangerous passing game, but an extremely questionable rushing attack. Even still, they played UNC within four points and escaped the Panthers with a one-point win. Their offensive woes seem to center around an o-line that’s given up 16 sacks in four games and only managed to set up a 1.9 yard average per carry (ouch) for 241 yards, on the ground. All that said, BC is no pushover, and we should take them very seriously next week.

8. Pittsburgh Panthers (3-2): The Panthers are two points from being 5-0 and the No. 2 team in the ACC Rankings. This is a dangerous squad and with two of the nations top five sack leaders. Patrick Jones II leads the nation with 7.5 while his teammate, Rashad Weaver, is tied for fifth (4.5 sacks). Pitt might have the most hateful ACC schedule, rolling Miami, Clemson, Notre Dame, and VT. As such, they could find themselves looking on, from the outside, during bowl season, if they cannot find a way to win one of those matchups.

9. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-2): GT has collected two wins against single-win teams and have a schedule that is almost as mean as the Panthers’. Life will not get better for them next week when they face off against Clemson. The Jackets have done a nice job nearly matching last year’s total wins within the first four games of the season. They are getting better, but I expect to see them fall down these rankings as the season progresses.

10. Virginia Cavaliers (1-2): Replacing a dynamic player like Bryce Perkins is never an easy task and that reality is visiting Charlottesville. QB Brennan Armstrong has entered concussion protocol, and has already struggled this season, throwing seven INTs and only six TDs. The Hoos graduated a lot of talent last year and is a different team in 2020. WF could prove to be quite the obstacle after almost taking NCST down (two-point loss two weeks ago) and coming off a big win against an FCS opponent.

11. Duke Blue Devils (1-4): Things get quite messy when looking how to rank the bottom of the ACC. Many of these one-win teams have been the one win for each other. I am giving David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils the nod at 11 because they have already faced off against some stiff competition. Three of their four losses are against either undefeated or single loss teams. NCST, Charlotte, UNC, and WF represent four in-state rivals in a row and Duke will need to find two wins, in the next four weeks, if they want any hope for bowl eligibility.

12. Syracuse Orange (1-3): Their best player, CB Andre Cisco, is out for the season, and their starting QB, Tommy DeVito, was injured during the loss to Duke. Head coach, Dino Babers, described the injury as “not good.” Liberty might seem like a get-well game, but they are kind of 4-0 right now. The Orange are in a bad way and things look to get worse after Liberty when they visit Clemson.

13. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-2): It is tough to get a grasp on what Wake is going to look like this year. Yeah, they got demolished by Clemson, who hasn’t? But they played NCST to within three points and beat up an FCS team the way a good FBS program should. With a very winnable game against UVA next week we could see the Deacons start a climb that may carry them to bowl eligibility.

14. Louisville Cardinals (1-3): Last week Louisville fumbled three times and struggled against Georgia Tech, finally losing 46-27. It has been a far fall for a team that started the season ranked 18 AP / 16 Coaches. They kept it close to Pitt and beat Western Kentucky, but this weekend’s game against the Fighting Irish is like to not be the salve this program needs to compose itself and recover.

15. Florida State Seminoles (1-3): FSU has only managed to score 49 points in four games, which is the lowest amount in the entire ACC. They have also allowed 110 points, tying for fifth most allowed. Their only win, against Jacksonville State, was not secured until the last 16 seconds of the third quarter. Even then “secured” might be a strong word since that TD only put them ten points ahead of the Gamecocks. Suffice to say, things are not going well in Tallahassee and there are no indications that the situation will better itself as the Seminoles look to navigate through UNC next week.

Special Note for everyone: Jay will be the guest host for the post game LIVE segment on Facebook. Look for him about 10 minutes after the BC Game on Saturday evening.