ACC Power Rankings: FSU, Clemson claim top spots

Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and his national champion Seminoles had a bit of a rusty start to the season, but they're still atop the ACC's first power rankings of 2014.

Considering the wide disparity of opponents that ACC teams faced in Week 1 — Clemson traveled to Georgia, for example, while Pittsburgh hosted (and thoroughly demolished) FCS Delaware — it’s hard to judge which team is better than another. Still, some teams surprised while others disappointed, and what would we do to pass the time between games if not for power rankings?

Last week: W 37-31 over Oklahoma State

Next up: The Citadel

Well, Florida State was bound to prove its own mortality at some point this season, and why not start in Week 1? The Seminoles got out to a 17-0 start and everything seemed fine, but Oklahoma State closed it to within a touchdown by halftime and cut it to a field goal twice in the second half, getting it down to the final six-point margin with 1:55 to go.

Oklahoma State is well-coached and a perennially very good program, but the Cowboys are extremely young. Is this a reflection of Oklahoma State being better than expected, or Florida State not being as good as we all thought? Or could the Seminoles just have lost focus? All that remains to be seen.

Last week: L 45-21 at No. 12 Georgia

Next up: South Carolina State

There’s no shame in losing to a very good Georgia team that might just be the class of the SEC, particularly when the game is at Georgia. And there’s certainly no shame in having trouble containing Georgia’s all-everything back Todd Gurley, who finished with 198 yards on the ground and four total touchdowns. But Clemson had just 15 second-half yards and one second-half first down, and Clemson’s vaunted defensive line was pushed around. With first-year starting quarterback Cole Stoudt, Clemson struggled to get anything going through the air or on the ground. That is a bigger problem than the result itself, but the Tigers have some time to right the ship.

Last week: W 31-13 over Miami

Next up: Murray State

The Cardinals’ offense under Bobby Petrino was never going to be in doubt, and it performed well against Miami. But it was Louisville’s defense that was particularly impressive. Miami was starting a true freshman quarterback, but its offensive line is quite good. Louisville’s defense dominated, though, forcing three turnovers and holding Miami (featuring excellent tailback Duke Johnson) to just 70 yards rushing. Will Gardner was good in his first start, but not great, and that offense is going to continue to improve.

If the defense stays this good? Watch out.

Last week: W 52-13 over Elon

Next up: at Troy

We’re still not going to really know a ton about Duke until it faces better teams, but considering the fact that much of the league struggled to take care of business, Duke’s demolition of Elon becomes more praiseworthy. Senior quarterback Anthony Boone passed for 247 yards and four touchdowns while backup Thomas Sirk slid seamlessly into the Brandon Connette change-of-pace QB role with 54 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The reigning Coastal champs looked every bit the part.

Last week: W 62-0 over Delaware

Next up: at Boston College

Pittsburgh’s ACC schedule is friendly enough that it could be a Coastal Division contender, but many thought the Panthers were too depleted on defense for that to be a reality. And while that may still be true, they showed that their offense was at least dangerous enough that they’re going to have to be feared. How much of the 62-0 blowout win was a product of their competition remains to be seen, but the Pitt skill position players are among the league’s best and if the offensive line is good enough, this could be the dark horse Coastal pick that some braver souls than I predicted it could be.

Last week: W 34-9 over William & Mary

Next up: at No. 8 Ohio State

So, Virginia Tech might actually have a pretty good offense this year. Yes, it was just William and Mary, but there were plenty of times in 2013 the Hokies could not move the ball against any opponent, FCS or not. The Hokies totaled 222 yards on the ground, and Texas Tech transfer quarterback Michael Brewer was crisp and efficient, completing 23-of-30 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns.

It’s still not likely to give the Hokies a shot in Columbus this weekend, even without Buckeye QB Braxton Miller, but the Virginia Tech defense is good enough to keep them in it if the offense can move the football.

Last week: W 56-29 over Liberty

Next up: San Diego State

Yes, the Tar Heels ended up dominating Liberty in terms of the final score. But UNC was sloppy for much of the night, committing 10 penalties and turning the ball over four times, even trailing Liberty as late as the third quarter. It took a four-minute stretch that saw UNC outscore the Flames 28-0 for the Tar Heels to pull away. The final result is what counts, but the effort was enough to raise some concerns. Maybe when UNC’s defensive backs return from suspension, the defense will look better. And there’s still little separation in the quarterback battle between Mitch Trubisky and Marquise Williams, though Williams will get most of the reps.

Last week: L 31-13 at Louisville

Next up: Florida A&M

When it was announced in the spring that assumed starter Ryan Williams had torn his ACL, this game was almost assuredly going to be a loss for Miami. And it was. The bigger concern, though, is perhaps that Duke Johnson was virtually bottled up by a Louisville defense that stacked the line of scrimmage and dared Miami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya to beat them.

Luckily for the Hurricanes, it gets easier, at least for a few weeks. They just need to weather the storm until Williams can return and hope he’s an upgrade, because aside from a few shaky moments, Miami’s defense looked much better than 2013’s version.

Last week: W 30-7 at UMass

Next up: Pittsburgh

Boston College went in at halftime up just 6-0 on their in-state rivals, but a 24-point second-half effort was more than enough. Florida transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy looked sharp, completing 17 of 24 passes for 173 yards and leading the Eagles in rushing with 118 more. The Eagles’ defense was stout, albeit against an inferior opponent. We’ll find out a lot about how good Boston College is actually going to be this year against real teams when Pitt comes to town on Friday night.

Last week: L 28-20 to No. 7 UCLA

Next up: Richmond

Virginia was supposed to be the easy choice for the No. 13 team in these power rankings. And then the Cavaliers went out there against UCLA and actually played pretty darned well, all things considered, nearly pulling the upset. The Cavalier defense was always going to be good, but it was spectacular on this day, allowing just one offensive touchdown to UCLA Heisman hopeful quarterback Brett Hundley & Co., staying in the Bruins’ backfield all afternoon.

Even Virginia’s offense got a boost when quarterback Matt Johns came in for starter Greyson Lambert, although UCLA scored three defensive touchdowns. Can the Cavaliers’ defense carry them to a few more wins than expected?

Last week: W 38-19 over Wofford

Next up: at Tulane

Wofford — an FCS team that runs an offense similar to Georgia Tech’s — didn’t just hang with the Yellow Jackets. No, the Terriers had a 9-7 lead late in the first half and even cut the score to 24-19 early in the fourth before the Yellow Jackets pulled away for good. Georgia Tech first-year starter Justin Thomas looked good at quarterback, but the defense obviously was a bit shaky and Wofford averaged more yards per rush (5.8) than Georgia Tech did (5.3). A bit of a concern, but the Jackets won’t see a team like that the rest of the season … unless they play themselves.

Last week: W 27-26 over Villanova (OT)

Next up: at Central Michigan

Quarterback Terrel Hunt won’t face further punishment from the ACC after he was ejected for punching a Villanova defender in the first half of last Friday’s narrow win over FCS Villanova. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Syracuse slogged its way through a game against a team it should have overmatched physically, and Syracuse arguably had no business winning that game. The result is all that counts, though, and the Orange are going to have to figure out some things quickly.

Last week: W 24-23 over Georgia Southern

Next up: Old Dominion

Well, N.C. State needed a pretty big comeback against the Sun Belt’s Eagles to avoid embarrassment, but the Wolfpack ultimately pulled it out in the first game of Dave Doeren’s second season at the helm. They’ll need to be sharper from the jump to take on an Old Dominion team that, like Georgia Southern, is also in its first year as an FBS team but has an offense that can be tricky to defend. Doeren’s roster is still young, and they looked it for most of last Saturday’s win. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett was rusty at first, but led the charge in the fourth and played very well on back-to-back touchdown drives.

Last week: L 17-10 at Louisiana-Monroe

Next up: Gardner-Webb

Sadly, this spot will probably be reserved for the Deacs every week. If we didn’t already know it was going to be a long first year for Dave Clawson in Winston-Salem, we do now after the Deacs tallied just 94 yards of total offense at Louisiana-Monroe. True freshman quarterback John Wolford was sacked seven times. This weekend’s Gardner-Webb game might be Wake Forest’s best chance at a win this season.