A slow start for Florida State means only having 27 points through three quarters. Naturally, it helps if the Seminole defense keeps the opponent out of the end zone for three quarters, and holds the opponent to three first-half first downs. THAT is why Florida State is arguably the best team in the nation – the Seminoles just continue to dominate on both sides of the ball. And now they’re a win away from their first undefeated regular season since 1999. It’s safe to say, I think, that Florida State is indeed “back”.
2. No. 13 Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: 2 (L 31-17 at No. 8 South Carolina)
I wanted to bump Clemson down to third, but only because I’m disappointed in the Tigers. They had every opportunity to knock off South Carolina – finally – and just couldn’t do it. Six turnovers is way too many, and that’s at least an aspect of the game Clemson has some control over. It just doesn’t help either head coach Dabo Swinney or the legacy of a great quarterback (and better person) Tajh Boyd that neither could get that win during Boyd’s time in Clemson, in spite of everything they’ve accomplished together. And that’s just too bad.
3. No. 20 Duke (10-2, 6-2 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: 3 (W 27-25 at North Carolina)
All Duke football does is win games. And the Blue Devils have won eight in a row. What head coach David Cutcliffe has done with this program is nothing short of remarkable, but this week’s win – as Cutcliffe himself said – is a credit to his players. They made plays when they had to in every phase of the game, proof positive that this program is on the upswing. There are no real holes on this team. They might not be as good as their opponent waiting in the ACC title game, but it doesn’t matter. They’re good enough now to beat almost anyone except the cream of the crop in the country, and they’re confident to boot.
4. Miami (9-3, 5-3 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: 8 (W 41-31 at Pittsburgh)
Miami’s probably been punished a bit too harshly for its losses – at least in terms of when they occurred in the season. The Hurricanes are still 9-3, and they went up to Pittsburgh and dominated a cold-weather game by sheer talent and willpower alone. It was a nice performance, and hopefully the Canes can build on that in a nice bowl game. Maybe they can start to build some consistency for next season as the program continues to grow under Al Golden.
5. Virginia Tech (8-4, 5-3 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: 7 (L 16-6 to Virginia Tech)
Similar to Miami, Virginia Tech was being treated a bit more harshly than other teams simply because of the Hokies’ ACC history. Unlike their Coastal Division counterparts, they’re not a team that routinely goes out and loses head-scratching games year after year while beating the good teams in the Division. They’re supposed to be the consistent ones. But every program is entitled to a few hiccups, and the Hokies are still 8-4 and were a few seconds away from going back to the ACC Championship game again (if Duke hadn’t hung on).
6. Georgia Tech (7-5, 5-3 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: 4 (L 41-34 to No. 25 Georgia in 2OT)
Georgia Tech’s offense is supposed to mean that it’s almost impossible to come back from a deficit against the Yellow Jackets. Evidently not, as they squandered a 20-0 second-quarter lead (20-7 at halftime) to in-state rival Georgia, eventually falling 41-34 in overtime. It was a depleted Georgia team that Georgia Tech had every opportunity to finish off and simply couldn’t get the job done. It’s mind-boggling, really. This was the year to finally knock off UGA. If not now, when for Georgia Tech? A scary thought.
7. North Carolina (6-6, 4-4 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: 5 (L 27-25 to No. 20 Duke)
The Tar Heels had a good effort against Duke and played the Blue Devils fairly evenly, but the defense couldn’t get stops when it mattered and the offense couldn’t get out of its own way in terms of penalties. Still, it was UNC’s first loss since October 17 (to a then-ranked Miami team) and all but two of UNC’s losses this year came to a team that was ranked in the AP poll either the week it played UNC or the week after (Virginia Tech). It was a nice way to end the regular season, and now the Tar Heels have to hope that they can continue to grow their young talent under head coach Larry Fedora in the upcoming bowl practices.
8. Boston College (7-5, 4-4 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: 6 (L 34-31 at Syracuse)
Andre Williams’ injury in the third quarter didn’t help BC’s cause at Syracuse, but credit to the Eagles – they finished off the drive that Williams was injured on in the third quarter (to tie the game at 21) and then scored ten more fourth-quarter points, but it wasn’t enough to hold off Syracuse on the road. BC still has shown a ton of progress this year under Steve Addazio, and if David Cutcliffe weren’t in the ACC, Addazio would be getting a lot more buzz for ACC Coach of the Year after this BC team had two wins a year ago.
9. Syracuse (6-6, 4-4 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: 11 (W 34-31 over Boston College)
Not taking anything away from Syracuse here, but one reason they’re not ahead of Boston College (in spite of the head-to-head win) is the injury to Andre Williams. Syracuse, though, got arguably its most impressive win this year over the Eagles, needing to erase a deficit in the fourth quarter twice to get it. This young Syracuse team under Scott Shafer is now bowl-eligible, and they’ve shown particularly encouraging signs later in the season that things are going in the right direction.
10. Maryland (7-5, 3-5 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: 10 (W 41-21 at N.C. State)
Maryland has become so difficult to predict from week-to-week that it’s hard to evaluate what is reasonable to expect out of them and what isn’t, particularly as its injury situation fluctuates. But how could anyone have expected the Terps to go to Raleigh and blow out an N.C. State team that, while struggling, had to be up for that game? Pretty impressive, and now Maryland will finally get weeks of extra practice under head coach Randy Edsall to prepare for a bowl game. Hopefully no one else gets hurt in that timeframe and Edsall can use it positively as he tries to build his program.
11. Pittsburgh (6-6, 3-5 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: 9 (L 41-31 to Miami)
Miami was reeling, and all Pitt had to do was put together four consistent quarters of football – in theory, anyway – to at least give the Hurricanes a game. Instead, the Panthers fell behind early – again – and couldn’t come all the way back after facing a 31-10 deficit at the end of the second quarter. Pitt’s shown a lot of signs of progress, but the Panthers are so up and down this year it’s tough to know what to make of them, frankly. Two of their wins are against top-25 teams (Duke and Pitt), but other top-caliber opponents have made it look easy, frankly. They’ll get better under Paul Chryst, certainly, but this season was a head-scratcher.
12. Wake Forest (4-8, 2-6 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: 12 (L 23-21 at Vanderbilt)
Good for the Deacs to keep fighting and playing hard, and they nearly pulled off an upset win at Vanderbilt. But almost doesn’t count, and a win like that might have made this season – which included a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe – even more painful in hindsight.
T-14. N.C. State (3-9, 0-8 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: T-14 (L 41-21 to Maryland)
The best thing that can be said about Dave Doeren’s first season as N.C. State’s head coach is that it’s over. Oh, and that there is plenty of help on the way in the form of a very good recruiting class. But this is N.C. State’s first winless ACC season since 1959, and it can’t leave a very good taste in anyone’s mouth in Raleigh.
T-14. Virginia (2-10, 0-8 ACC)
Last week’s ranking/result: T-14 (W 16-6 at Virginia)
Almost moved Virginia ahead of N.C. State based on its game being closer than the Wolfpack’s, but you know what? Both are equally awful. End of discussion. Now, the only question is whether Mike London’s recruiting class next year will be enough to save his job. It probably is for now, but no one is happy in Hooville.