ACC Power Rankings: FSU, Clemson still top dogs, but big games ahead

Louisville safety Gerod Holliman has a nation-leading 13 interceptions this year, and he had three more this weekend at Boston College in a convincing Cardinal win.

There’s not much movement this week, because there weren’t really many unexpected results in ACC football. But you try differentiating between the teams in the bottom half of the league. If tying them all for last hadn’t been a copout, I might have done it.

This week, though, sets up the potential for plenty of movement, as the top teams face tough tests.

Last week: 1 (Win: 34-20 over Virginia)

Next up: at Miami

It wasn’t pretty against Virginia, but as the Seminoles got down to one healthy running back and had to overcome an early deficit, they got the job done. Virginia only had 257 total yards and just 37 on the ground, while FSU outscored Virginia 21-0 in the second quarter and stopped turning the ball over so much. FSU has now won 25 straight, but that streak will be tested by a hot Miami team this week and yes, even in-state rival Florida in the finale.

Last week: 2 (Win: 34-20 at Wake Forest)

Next up: at No. 24 Georgia Tech

Just throw the last few weeks out, as Clemson got through them in spite of missing Deshaun Watson at quarterback. The Tigers won’t be perfect when he comes back, but they have a much, much better shot at getting through the last two weeks unscathed with him. Particularly with that defense playing as well as it is. This week’s game won’t be easy, though, as Georgia Tech’s offense is among the most efficient in the nation. It will give Clemson’s defense a look it doesn’t normally see.

Last week: 3 (Win: 27-10 at Syracuse)

Next up: Virginia Tech

Parse Duke’s results all you want. The Blue Devils just keep winning. It was sloppier than usual for Duke at Syracuse this past weekend, but the Blue Devils still won convincingly. Duke did what it does best — dominate in the fourth quarter — and Duke’s just a few games away from its second straight Coastal Division crown. David Cutcliffe should probably have the stadium renamed after him. I’m only half-kidding.

Last week: 4 (Win: 38-19 at Boston College)

Next up: Bye

It’s hard not to wonder what might have been for this Louisville team had it not dropped its ACC opener to Virginia. Its only two losses would have been to Florida State and Clemson (the latter on the road), for one thing. And it’s even harder not to wonder what this team could have done with both DeVante Parker and Michael Dyer all year. Its one loss might be to the Seminoles. The defense bounced back nicely from the loss to FSU, as safety Gerod Holliman got three interceptions against BC to bring his season total to 13, and Parker (eight catches, 144 yards) helped the offense put up 423 yards in a steady dismantling of Boston College.

Last week: 5 (Bye)

Next up: No. 2 Florida State

Unbalanced schedules being what they are, Miami finds itself basically out of the Coastal Division race if it can’t beat No. 2 Florida State this weekend (and even if it does, it still needs help from Duke in the form of one more loss). The Hurricanes’ three losses this season are to teams with a combined record of 21-7, and all three are either ranked or just outside the top 25. Of course, at some point, Miami’s going to have to beat a ranked team. Could this be the week? It’s possible, certainly, as Miami’s offense looks as good as it has all year while the defense has come together nicely. While Florida State has looked mortal plenty this season, the Seminoles just keep winning. Miami needs a win like this to show it has progressed as a program, but it will be no small task.

Last week: 6 (Win: 56-23 at NC State)

Next up: No. 18 Clemson

When Georgia Tech’s offense and defense work in tandem, there aren’t many teams in the country that can overcome that symbiotic relationship. And that’s what has happened the last three games for the Yellow Jackets, as they’ve found themselves the beneficiaries of 11 turnovers (they recovered just 10 in the first seven games this season), all while the offense has continued to put up yards, rushing for 450 or more in two of the last three games. Clemson will obviously be a different animal altogether, but the Jackets will be at home and will be giving the Tigers a look on offense that they don’t see much. Anything is possible. It would do wonders for this program, and Paul Johnson, to win its final two games against Clemson and Georgia, or even to get a split.

Last week: 7 (Loss: 38-19 to Louisville)

Next up: Bye

The Eagles found success this year by being efficient on offense and just good enough on defense. Neither happened on Saturday night against Louisville, as they turned the football over too much (four times) and let Louisville put up over 400 yards on offense. Tyler Murphy had eight incompletions and four were interceptions, while Boston College managed just 166 yards rushing. The Eagles have secured bowl eligibility, a feat in its own right in the Atlantic Division. But after a bye week, Florida State looms. It will be interesting to see how far Steve Addazio’s team has truly come — can it compete with the Seminoles two years in a row?

Last week: 8 (Bye)

Next up: at North Carolina

Pittsburgh has showed flashes of being a very good team this season, and the schedule set up very well for the Panthers to compete in the Coastal. And yet here they sit — losers of five of their last six and two of their last three games being road games — with no chance of a Coastal crown. Pitt has to win two of its last three to get to a bowl, something that seemed like a mere formality back in September. Considering its first crack is at North Carolina, a team with a porous defense, it’s far from impossible (Syracuse the next week is almost certainly a win). But it’s crazy that it’s even up for debate at this point. The combined record of the four teams Pitt has beaten this year is 19-20.

Last week: 10 (Loss: 34-20 at No. 2 Florida State)

Next up: Bye

Speaking of teams that have fallen off the map, the Cavaliers were 4-2 on Oct. 4 and entering a bye week, looking like a bowl game would be a mere formality. It was quite an impressive turnaround for Mike London and his program after a 2-10 season last year. Except they haven’t won a game since (four straight losses), and neither of their remaining games are a sure thing (Miami and at Virginia Tech). A bowl looks less and less likely, but if Virginia can at the very least knock off the Hokies for the first time in 13 tries, it might be enough to save London’s job. It’s clear the talent he’s brought in is starting to pan out, if nothing else.

Last week: 11 (Bye)

Next up: at No. 19 Duke

Virginia Tech had not been fewer than a 9.5-point favorite against Duke in the last 10 years. If you want an indication of how far the Hokies have fallen, even Vegas doesn’t believe, as the line opened with Duke as a 7-point favorite. That’s like a 16.5-point swing in the last year in terms of perceptions of both programs. Boy, that says a lot about Duke, of course, but also about the Hokies.

After a bye week, though, it will be interesting to see what Bud Foster and company can scheme up to slow down Duke’s offense. Virginia Tech is going to be fighting for its season — it could reasonably win its final two games after this (at Wake, Virginia) to get to a bowl, but nothing’s assured anymore. Winning out would do a lot to reassure folks in Blacksburg that head coach Frank Beamer has at least a few more good years left in him.

Last week: 12 (Bye)

Next up: Pittsburgh

The five teams that have beaten North Carolina this season have a few things in common — they’re either elite, have explosive offenses (East Carolina, Notre Dame), employ top-notch defenses (Clemson, Virginia Tech) or both (Miami). That’s a big reason that the Tar Heels were dominated in all phases by the Hurricanes a week ago. They had no chance to outscore Miami because of the Hurricanes’ athletic defense, and their own defense had no shot of stopping Duke Johnson and company.

After a bye, they’ve had time to rest and get quarterback Marquise Williams healthy, but the defense is what it is, and in these final three games — two of which are at home — they’re going to have to outscore their opponents in a shootout. It’s that simple.

Last week: 9 (Loss: 56-23 to No. 24 Georgia Tech)

Next up: Wake Forest

None of NC State’s losses this year have been unexpected: FSU, Clemson, Boston College, Louisville and Georgia Tech. The surprisingly close loss to FSU, though, perhaps led everyone to believe that Dave Doeren’s program was a bit ahead of schedule in its rebuild. Since that game, when they scored 41 in a loss, they’ve scored 79 points in the last five games and been outscored by nearly 100 (174-79).

Of the final two games, NC State must win one to get to a bowl, and it really needs to be this one against Wake Forest at home. Because Doeren’s team might lose all confidence if it drops a game to the hapless Deacs just a week before traveling to face its biggest rival on the road (UNC), even though the Tar Heels have their own problems.

Last week: 13 (Loss: 27-10 to No. 22 Duke)

Next up: Bye

Syracuse got down to its fourth quarterback on Saturday, but the Orange defense played very well for three quarters against a ranked Duke team, and hung in there in spite of the offensive woes. A bowl is now out of the question for Syracuse, but if its that competitive in its final two games against Pitt and Boston College, maybe the Orange can sneak out one more win. There’s not much to say, though, about a team that’s down numerous offensive linemen and now at least two quarterbacks.

Last week: 14 (Loss: 34-20 to No. 21 Clemson)

Next up: at NC State

It sounds patronizing to say that Dave Clawson and his staff have been impressive in their first season even as the Deacs still don’t have an ACC win. But the last two games, that’s been the case. Clemson pulled away late, but Clemson is much better than Wake Forest, and Wake frankly had no business even being in that game. The back half of the schedule is a bit more friendly for Wake, and there’s a definite shot that it could knock off two of the reeling teams it will face to close out the season (NC State or Virginia Tech). If nothing else, Clawson is showing that he knows what he’s doing, if there was ever any doubt.