ACC Power Rankings: The more things change, the more they stay the same

Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer took good enough care of the ball in a road win at North Carolina to let the Hokies hang on in a mistake-riddled win to right the ship, for now.

After a weekend of craziness across college football, the ACC — normally the epicenter of such insanity — found itself relatively upset-free.

The league’s lone top-25 team before last week’s games, Florida State, took care of business handily. While Clemson sure looks like a top-25 team, Georgia Tech just keeps winning games.

Maybe the Coastal will have a clear winner after all, even after what looked like a division full of mediocrity. But even as most things stayed the same, some teams did themselves favors in these rankings — like Virginia Tech, for instance — by taking care of business.

Last week: 1 (Win, 43-3 over Wake Forest)

Next up: at Syracuse

It was a bit of a slow start for the Seminoles, but credit the Wake Forest defense some for that. In the second half, Florida State was Florida State and that was all she wrote. It was the Seminoles’ most convincing win of the season. They have their flaws, to be sure, but so do most teams in college football right now. Injuries are piling up for the Seminoles, though, as they lost their starting center after already having lost defensive tackle Niles Lawrence-Stample for the year. Still, the young players are stepping up and FSU just keeps improving.

Last week: 2 (Win, 41-0 over NC State)

Next up: Louisville

NC State was as hot an offense as there was in the country coming in, and Clemson’s defense was coming off a showing where it allowed 35 points to UNC (in a win, of course, but still). The Clemson defense completely stifled the Wolfpack offense, holding it to 156 total yards. Oh, and freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson kept doing what he’s been doing since he was named the starter for Clemson: 17-of-29 for 267 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. You have to wonder what might have been if Watson had been the starter all season — like at Georgia or even at Florida State for the whole game — but Clemson is where it is now and all it can do is win out, which is a completely reasonable proposition at this point.

Last week: 3 (Win, 24-19 over Pittsburgh)

Next up: Bye

Yes, Virginia has two losses while Georgia Tech is undefeated. But considering that Virginia’s two losses were to a ranked UCLA team, and a BYU team that was ranked before the loss of quarterback Taysom Hill (the latter on the road), and that both were close losses, strength of schedule gets the ‘Hoos a bump here. Oh, and Virginia is 2-0 in the ACC so far too, so there’s that. The Cavaliers were the only team in the ACC not to get a first-place vote in the Coastal Division, and they’re one of two teams left in it without an ACC loss. Go figure. Oh, and that defense is still excellent, holding James Conner in check in the win over Pitt.

Last week: 5 (Win, 28-17 over Miami)

Next up: Duke

Georgia Tech entered the Miami game this past week with a 4-0 record, but with really only one good win (at Virginia Tech) to its credit. Well, make that two pretty good wins as the Yellow Jackets not only beat Miami, but really controlled the game on both sides of the ball. Now, they’re playing two reeling teams from North Carolina (Duke and UNC) in their next two games, and have a real chance at getting to 4-0. In theory, that would give them control of the Coastal Division. But we know better than to assume anything about that. It was a very impressive performance from the Georgia Tech defense, though, which had looked shaky before this past week.

Last week: 6 (Win, 28-6 at Syracuse)

Next up: at Clemson

Nothing has been pretty for Louisville the last few weeks, but winning with defense often isn’t. And that’s what the Cardinals have done. One would think that the offense under Bobby Petrino will get going at some point, but the offensive line has been a problem and freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon has proven no more ready for the starting job than Will Gardner. Offensive line problems are the last thing you want heading in to face Clemson and its elite defensive line, but Louisville’s defense is going to give the Tigers a harder time than they’ve had in the last two weeks, certainly. 

Last week: T-8 (Bye)

Next up: at No. 22 Georgia Tech

When Duke was 4-0, even though it was against a soft schedule, everything was all fine and good. But the loss at Miami — well, Duke’s sloppy performance, more than the loss itself — was cause for concern. Duke has had a bye week, which should be a good thing before facing Georgia Tech’s triple-option, but the Blue Devils have been hit by a case of hand, foot and mouth disease, which surely hasn’t helped anything. Duke quarterback Anthony Boone had been a bit shaky even before the loss at Miami, and if he doesn’t play better, Duke is going to struggle down the stretch here. 

Last week: 10 (Win, 34-17 at North Carolina)

Next up: Bye

Is it the best thing or the worst thing that the Hokies really didn’t play all that well at North Carolina and still won handily? The defense played very well, not allowing a ton of big plays, but UNC’s mistakes on offense certainly contributed too. The Hokies made the fewest mistakes on both sides of the ball, turning it over just once (but committing too many penalties). Ultimately that was the difference, as they took advantage of three UNC turnovers, turning them into 21 points. The injury bug keeps biting the Hokies, though, as they lost two running backs in that game. Maybe during the bye they can iron out some penalty issues (like with false starts), and get some guys back healthy at the defensive tackle spot.

Last week: 7 (Loss, 28-17 at Georgia Tech)

Next up: Cincinnati

Miami has played a really tough schedule so far. But the Hurricanes — picked to win the Coastal Division by the media — have just not looked very good. And the restlessness with Al Golden and his staff, seemingly, is growing. Good for the Hurricanes for beating Duke at home two weeks ago. And maybe they’ll be able to regain some confidence against a flailing Cincinnati team this week. But how long will that last? And how many wins can the Hurricanes get for it to be enough to satisfy the fans, who wanted to see more progress this season in Golden’s fourth year? With a game against Florida State and games against Coastal Division foes that suddenly seem a lot tougher, there aren’t a ton of guarantees left.

Last week: 4 (Loss, 41-0 at Clemson)

Next up: Boston College

Is the Wolfpack the team we saw last week at Clemson, overwhelmed and overmatched early and often at Clemson in a 41-0 loss? Or are they the team that gave Florida State a scare at home two weeks ago? The truth, not shockingly, is probably somewhere in the middle. And it’s probably closer to the team that scared Florida State. But if it’s the team that showed up at Death Valley, well that’s not a good sign going forward. The Wolfpack had negative yards in the first half on offense, and Jacoby Brissett — who put on a show against FSU — struggled mightily against Clemson’s powerful front. Good news for the Wolfpack: the schedule gets much easier. Bad news: if they come out flat or not sharp against any of their remaining opponents, they’re going to get beat. It’s that simple.

Last week: T-8 (Bye)

Next up: at NC State

Boston College’s one good win this year against USC was still a good win, but it doesn’t look quite as good now that the Trojans have fallen out of the top 25. And even one of BC’s losses (at home to Pitt) now looks even worse; the Colorado State loss might not end up being so bad, but it was just two games after the win over USC and just felt like a step backward. This weekend’s game at NC State looms large, as both teams really need it, but particularly BC. The Eagles’ final six games include Clemson, at Virginia Tech, Louisville and at Florida State. A bowl is no longer a certainty, and although it’s still likely, the Eagles need to win the winnable games.

Last week: 11 (Loss, 28-6 to Louisville)

Next up: No. 1 Florida State

Nearly a month ago now, Syracuse went to Central Michigan and pounded the Chippewas, 40-3. Since then, the Orange are 0-3 and have scored a total of 41 points in those three games, scoring fewer points in each one (20 against Maryland, 15 against Notre Dame and six against Louisville). Those teams have some pretty good defenses, it should be noted, but Syracuse just can’t get out of its own way. And now head coach Scott Shafer is making weird references to ISIS and dead pigs. Oh, and Florida State is coming to town next week. So yeah, things are not going well. 

Last week: T-12 (Loss, 24-19 at Virginia)

Next up: Bye

Pitt looked pretty good in its 3-0 start to this season — not perfect, but better than expected, and tailback James Conner was dominant. Pitt has now lost three in a row, including a bad loss to Akron, and hasn’t been able to get much of anything consistent going on offense as teams are loading up to stop Conner. What’s worse is that Pitt’s defense, which had been pretty solid, has become more and more porous the last few weeks. And that’s a problem if Pitt’s offense is going to remain so pedestrian. The Panthers probably need to figure some things out during this bye week, because the Coastal is still there for the taking. No, really. It is.

Last week: T-12 (Loss, 34-17 to Virginia Tech)

Next up: at No. 6 Notre Dame

North Carolina’s defense had allowed 120 points (to two very good offenses, but still) in the last two games, and the Tar Heels’ offense just couldn’t keep up with ECU or Clemson. This week, the defense — after a shaky start — performed very well against Virginia Tech, keeping the Hokies’ offense in check for the most part. But the UNC offense didn’t convert a third down until the second half, and turned it over three times in the game (which were turned into 21 points). So the one week UNC gets a good performance out of its (frankly out-manned) defense, the Tar Heels waste it with a bad offensive effort (against an admittedly good Virginia Tech defense, but still). UNC’s mistakes have been a big issue (25 penalties in the last two weeks), and nothing gets easier — they’re at No. 6 Notre Dame this weekend and then will host Georgia Tech, a team they haven’t beaten in their last five tries. This could go off the rails quickly.

Last week: 14 (Loss, 43-3 at Florida State)

Next up: Bye

The fact that Dave Clawson and his Deacs made it to halftime down just 13-3 at Florida State might be good enough for a few ACC Coach of the Year votes. I’m not entirely kidding. Somehow, some way, the very good Wake defense keeps getting up each week and making plays, even though it has seen this movie before and knows how it will end. Wake’s defense has actually held FSU quarterback Jameis Winston to two of his worst performances over the past two seasons, but it hasn’t really mattered since the offense has been so bad that FSU has won those two games by a combined score of 102-6. Wake is going to stay at the bottom of these rankings so long as its offense shows itself to be unable to move the football against pretty much any opponent. But the Deacs might just surprise me (and everyone) and end up winning an ACC game along the way if an unsuspecting Atlantic Division opponent is not careful.