ACC Power Rankings: UNC, Miami rise while Pitt, VT fall in cluttered Coastal

Miami running back Duke Johnson manhandled the Hokies on Thursday night, and his Hurricanes rose in the power rankings as a result. 

Pretty boring weekend in the ACC, right? Well, not exactly. Even though three of the top four teams in these power rankings did not play, there was still plenty of intrigue. Clemson had to fight to hang on to win at home against Syracuse, North Carolina-Virginia was a bit of a mess, Virginia Tech is on the skids and Pitt set a rather dubious record. But, teams have to be ranked somewhere, so.

Last week: 1 (Bye)

Next up: at Louisville (Oct. 30)

Florida State is still without much of a running game to speak of, but Jameis Winston was at his Heisman-level best two weekends ago in the final quarter against Notre Dame. Will that be enough as the Seminoles face their last significant test of the regular season at Louisville on Thursday night? Maybe, maybe not, but either way, Florida State has to hope the bye week let some of its injured players on both sides of the ball heal up.

Last week: 2 (W 16-6 over Syracuse)

Next up: Bye

Watching Clemson’s offense operate without freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson might be enough to earn him a few ACC Player of the Year votes. In three games with Watson as the primary quarterback, Clemson put up 1,428 yards on 236 plays (6.1 per play) and averaged 36 points. In the three games with Stoudt at quarterback, Clemson has 999 yards on 236 plays (4.2 per play) and has averaged 18.7 points. The ugly 16-6 win over Syracuse, though, was still a win; the Tigers just have to hope they can weather the storm until Watson’s return.

Last week: 3 (Bye)

Next up: at Pittsburgh

Duke finally gets ranked in the AP poll, and this week it was by virtue of doing absolutely nothing. But that’s kind of how Duke is where it is today — in control of the Coastal Division — and that’s by not hurting itself and waiting for its opponents to hurt themselves instead. And considering the way the rest of the Coastal has looked, if Duke can keep that up, it will win the division going away. If it can’t, then it’s going to join the rest of the cluster. Duke healed up a bit after its bye week, though, and now has to be ready to finish the season with nothing but consequential games.

Last week: T-4 (Bye)

Next up: No. 2 Florida State (Oct. 30)

Louisville’s two losses have both been by one score, and both on the road to good teams. The Cardinals arguably have done enough to be ranked, but they’re not. The defense, as well all know, is elite. The offense, as we all know, is not, and in spite of Bobby Petrino’s brilliant offensive mind, it may not be before the end of the season. But this is Louisville’s big opportunity — a Thursday-night game against a Florida State team that is very good but not unbeatable, with one of the best defenses in the land. The atmosphere, the team’s energy, everything should be able to combine to make the air ripe for an upset — if Louisville is up to the task, and if Florida State helps them out some.

Last week: 7 (W 30-6 at Virginia Tech)

Next up: North Carolina

This is the Miami that the ACC media had in mind when it projected the Hurricanes to win the Coastal Division back in July. Running back Duke Johnson was utterly dominant, finishing with 249 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, and Miami finished with 456 yards (364 on the ground). Virginia Tech got in its own way nearly as much as Miami’s defense, but that unit still deserves credit. If Miami can go 3-1 in its final four games — which is very doable, as the only near-certain loss is at home against Florida State on November 15 — the Hurricanes are still very much in contention for the Coastal Division, in spite of a rough start.

Last week: T-4 (W 23-17 at Wake Forest)

Next up: at Virginia Tech

It wasn’t pretty, but Boston College got out of Winston-Salem without an embarrassing loss. The Eagles controlled most of the game, leading 23-3 entering the final quarter and holding Wake to six first-half yards. Ultimately, Boston College ran for 202 yards and put up 367 total yards, and that was enough. It’s still not quite what the Eagles had been doing, and the sloppy defensive finish is somewhat of a cause for concern.

Last week: 9 (W 56-28 at Pittsburgh)

Next up: Virginia

It looked for a minute like Georgia Tech was going to squander a first-quarter 28-0 advantage at Pittsburgh, but ultimately the Yellow Jackets were just way too much for the Panthers, particularly offensively. And the offense has been clicking most, if not all, of the season, even if its defense hasn’t always been there. Being able to score points, particularly in the Coastal Division, is valuable, and it can keep you in a lot of games. The Yellow Jackets are far from finished in the Division race, although their next two games (Virginia and at NC State) loom large as they finish the ACC slate with a Clemson team that will have Watson back at quarterback.

Last week: T-4 (L 28-27 to North Carolina)

Next up: at Georgia Tech

The Cavaliers remain one of the more perplexing teams to evaluate, and that’s saying something in a muddled Coastal Division. They controlled much of the game defensively against North Carolina, save allowing big plays — except those big plays almost all went for touchdowns. The offense got yards in chunks, but untimely three-and-outs and turnovers gave North Carolina life. Ultimately, after the Tar Heels scored the go-ahead touchdown and recovered the onside kick, Virginia’s defense had a stop — until it had 12 men on the field following a timeout and gave the Tar Heels a first down on fourth-and-1. Late-game head-scratching mistakes in close games the last two weeks have squandered otherwise good performances on both sides of the ball, and nothing will get any easier for the ‘Hoos going forward.

Last week: 11 (W 28-27 at Virginia)

Next up: at Miami

North Carolina really hasn’t changed all that much during this two-game winning streak. They’re just making the plays that they need to make down the stretch to end the game with more points than their opponent, and ultimately, I’m told that’s the object of the game. But the defense is still not very good, and the offense is still good but spotty. But wins can do a lot for a team’s confidence and mental state. Miami will be a completely different animal than the Tar Heels have seen the last two weeks, though, and this will be far from easy. But it’s the Coastal Division, where anything can happen, so who knows.

Last week: 8 (L 56-28 to Georgia Tech)

Next up: No. 24 Duke

Pittsburgh finished the game with 526 yards of total offense, went 8-of-12 on third down, all while Chad Voytik passed for 193 yards and tailback James Conner got back on track with 120 yards and three scores — and Pitt lost by 28 points. That’s because Pitt fumbled four times in its first six plays and lost five first-quarter fumbles altogether, and Georgia Tech turned those into 28 points. Pitt would finish with six turnovers. You just give yourself zero chance when you play like that, and with an almost mistake-free Duke team coming to town this weekend and Pitt in desperate need of an ACC win, the Panthers had better fix things in a hurry.

Last week: 10 (L 30-6 to Miami)

Next up: Boston College

If this were based on what the Hokies have done so far over the course of the season, they would be seventh or eighth or so. But the way they have looked over the last two games can’t be ignored. Yes, they’ve been dealing with injuries on both sides of the ball and yes, teams have bad stretches. But the Hokies look completely inept on offense, nearly getting shut out for the first time since 1995 until a touchdown with 1:30 to go saved that. Virginia Tech had -13 rushing yards at the half and even after a much better second half, still finished with just 262 total yards and 15 first downs. What’s worse is the defense (again, albeit, a banged-up defense) didn’t look much better. This just doesn’t look like a Virginia Tech team that we’re all used to seeing, and longtime head coach Frank Beamer’s postgame comments about being "proud" of his team’s second-half effort certainly aren’t easing the restless fanbase. 

Last week: 12 (Bye)

Next up: at Syracuse

It’s now or never for the Wolfpack. Their 4-0 start feels like eons ago, as does their excellent performance in a loss to Florida State. Second-year head coach Dave Doeren is still in search of his first ACC win, and this is as good a chance as the Wolfpack has had all season. If NC State can get it, it will mean it only needs to win one of its final three games against Georgia Tech, Wake and North Carolina to reach a bowl game. If not, it will be a tense end of the season. The Wolfpack’s offense came back to life two weeks ago at Louisville, but the defense hopefully fixed some things during the off week as they’ve allowed 157 points in the last four games.

Last week: 13 (L 16-6 at No. 22 Clemson)

Next up: NC State

Very nearly moved Syracuse up a spot for its game performance at Clemson but ultimately, the Orange have one ACC win and it’s against the worst team in the league. Clemson’s offense has had its struggles, but the Syracuse defense deserves some credit for keeping the Tigers out of the end zone all but once. Syracuse managed just 170 total yards (against an excellent defense), though, and as Bill Parcells has said, ultimately you are what your record says you are.

Last week: 14 (L 23-16 to Boston College)

Next up: Bye

Credit to the Deacs for continuing to fight. They put up 255 of their 261 total yards in the second half, and a furious fourth-quarter comeback nearly resulted in a completely improbable win over Boston College as they faced a 23-3 deficit with 13:46 to go in the game. But ultimately, Wake is just a year (or more) away from being a consistently competitive team. Still, first-year head coach Dave Clawson’s team has shown a lot of signs that his leadership is going to pay off eventually, and this game was yet another one.