This past weekend was a really good one for ACC football. By my count, it featured matchups between the #1 and #2 teams, the #4 and #5 teams, the #6 and #7 teams, and #8 and #9 teams in the conference — nearly every team at the top and middle of the ACC in quality was challenged to see if they belonged. Some cemented their positions, some were exposed, and overall, the conference looks pretty different, if not drastically so, than it did a week ago. Without further ado, let’s check it out:
1. #1 Clemson Tigers (4-0, 3-0 ACC)
The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same, I guess. Last week, we had 4 ACC teams in the Top 10, with two of them matching up in the weekend’s marquee contest: Clemson against #7 Miami. What we got was just another Clemson romp, 42-17: By scoring margin, their most dominant win yet against an ACC opponent. Clemson’s the cream of the ACC right now, and really we’re just going to have to wait to see if they look like this against the elites of the rest of the country, too. They’ll visit Georgia Tech this week.
2. #5 UNC Tar Heels (3-0, 3-0)
The UNC offense finally delivered on everything it had promised preseason, and while the defense didn’t live up to its standard for 4 quarters against Virginia Tech, it also didn’t really need to, as the Heels were never threatened for more than a drive after getting up 21-0 early on the Hokies. The final margin could have been three scores if Mack Brown hadn’t shown VT more respect than they deserved and punched it in on UNC’s final drive, and that would have reflected the game better than the 56-45 final score. These Heels look dangerous, and are on an upward trajectory for sure. They’ll visit Florida State this week for a potentially hostile away game.
3. #4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0, 2-0)
The Irish handled Florida State, but not without some struggles: They ran all over the Seminoles, finishing with 350 yards on the ground, but turned the ball over twice early, struggled on defense against a green quarterback, and overall looked less dominant than expected against the Seminoles. A 42-26 final score looks fine, especially after a 3-week gap between games (we know what that’s like, huh?), but the Irish don’t look ahead of the rest of the conference sans Clemson like some thought they might be ahead of the season. Louisville comes to town next, and maybe this is a chance to shake off that rust and prove me wrong.
4. #13 Miami Hurricanes (3-1, 2-1)
A loss to Clemson doesn’t necessarily change anything I said last week about this team, but a whooping that bad is certainly cause for some concern. This week is a critical bounce-back opportunity for a program that has a recent history of unraveling after demoralizing losses, and if these Canes want to prove that they’re not their predecessors, they’re going to have to handle Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon.
5. #23 Virginia Tech Hokies (2-1, 2-1)
At the risk of repeating myself, the Hokies did not play UNC even as close as the final score indicates, and have gotten significant decent press off the back of an unearned kindness. The Hokies are good offensively, but the gap between their dominance against NCSU and Duke and their performance against UNC is bigger than the box score will show you. That said, this team is in a really good spot given their continued recovery from a COVID-19 outbreak and can get significantly better with the return of several starters and depth players, so their future opponents should be on guard — starting with Boston College this week.
6. Boston College Eagles (3-1, 2-1)
Winning thanks to a shanked extra point isn’t the most glamorous way to do it, but it’ll go in the win column all the same. The Eagles beat Pitt 31-30 in overtime and looked pretty impressive doing it, with Phil Jurkovec continuing to impress. He wasn’t at his sharpest, but averaged nearly 19 yards per completion, getting the ball downfield and to his playmakers despite constant duress from the Pitt front. This team continues to prove that we all underestimated them coming into the season, and has a shot to really make some noise in the conference this weekend when they go into Blacksburg for a primetime showdown.
7. N.C. State Wolfpack (3-1, 3-1)
Give Dave Doeren and the Pack some credit: They have outplayed their expectations significantly, and after shellacking Virginia 38-21, look legitimately scary thanks to a strong run game and a defense that looks much more imposing after forcing a bunch of turnovers against Virginia. Granted, Pittsburgh and Virginia look like less impressive wins now than they would have a week or two ago, but State is part of the reason for that, isn’t it? They’ll look to continue this win streak when they take on Duke this weekend.
8. Pittsburgh Panthers (3-2, 2-2)
Last week, the rankings started becoming a mess of undeserving teams at #6. Today, this is where that starts. Pitt’s now lost to State and Boston College in consecutive weeks, both games they were favored in and lost in the last minute thanks to self-inflicted wounds. We’ve already seen this season that they can be better than they are right now, but with a visit to Coral Gables to take on Miami next up on their schedule, they’re in danger of falling into a big hole, and 3 straight losses never feels good.
9. Virginia Cavaliers (1-2, 1-2)
The ‘Hoos looked flat-out bad against N.C. State, falling into a 24-point hole before scoring a touchdown right before halftime and never looking even remotely threatening. This team clearly misses Bryce Perkins, but they’re going to have to figure out life without him quick, because what they have right now just isn’t meshing. Hopefully they’ll figure things out, or at least start to, before taking on Wake Forest this week.
10. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-2, 2-1)
This team must be frustrating to follow as a fan. A game after being smoked by Syracuse, Geoff Collins’ guys rebounded and walloped Louisville 46-27, looking like a whole new team in going on a 36-9 run after some early struggles. That kind of inconsistency isn’t rare for a rebuild, but it’s hard to know what to see coming from this team week on week. Long-term, though, the outlook is pretty bright for this rebuilding process. Having Clemson next up means it’s unlikely they’ll get to ride this high for long, though.
11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-2, 0-2)
Wake Forest holds this spot just by virtue of having not played last week. They haven’t yet won an ACC game so things seem rough for them, but Dave Clawson has a knack for overplaying expectations: maybe he’s started to find a way to make this roster work. He’ll get a chance for that first conference win against Virginia.
12. Duke Blue Devils (1-4, 1-4)
Duke finally turned its near misses into a complete win against Syracuse, comfortably beating the Orange 38-24 and absolutely rolling offensively, flipping the script from their first several games — 363 yards on the ground is almost what they’d amassed in the first four games combined. Chase Brice finally looked comfortable, and this is an offense that can threaten NCSU on Saturday if it keeps it up.
13. Louisville Cardinals (1-3, 0-3)
Talk about deflating, huh? Amid high expectations and a solid win to start the season, Scott Satterfield’s team has now lost three straight and looked worse each game, culminating in a lifeless loss to Georgia Tech. A tough early-season schedule continues with Notre Dame next on the Cards’ slate, and this team has to at least flip that trajectory of their quality of play, win or lose.
14. Florida State Seminoles (1-3, 0-3)
The Noles put up a fight against Notre Dame and seem to have their quarterback question settled with the emergence of Jordan Travis, but they’re still a pretty disjointed team in Mike Norvell’s first year - and a start to the season featuring games against Miami, Notre Dame, and UNC next up isn’t doing them any favors. Mind you, they’re not untalented, so they can still put a scare into just about anybody — they just haven’t yet shown the ability to turn that into marks in the win column.
15. Syracuse Orange (1-3, 1-3)
The Orange rushed for just 28 yards against Duke, looking completely inept against a defense that’s good, but not phenomenal. To make matters worse, Tommy Devito was injured and might be out for the season, and it’s hard to see this team winning against anybody in the conference without its starting quarterback. They do get a chance for a win outside the conference this week, with a game against Liberty on the docket for some reason (please, schools, stop scheduling Liberty).
Agree with these rankings? Disagree? Let us know!