As much as it might not feel like it, particularly to UNC fans coming off an unscheduled bye week, the college football season is well underway, and that includes the ACC. Two teams (Virginia and Virginia Tech) haven’t played yet, but everybody else has at least one game under their belts, and that means we’re getting a decent picture of various teams, early season rust and pandemic limitations notwithstanding. After another week of action, then, let’s find out how the ACC stacks up:
1) #1 Clemson Tigers (2-0, 1-0 ACC)
Clemson beat The Citadel 49-0, in the first half. Live betting lines were going up to the point of predicting a 74-0 win or worse, but the Tigers put in their reserves for the second half and nothing much happened for the back 30 minutes. Trevor Lawrence had just about the best game PFF’s ever seen, apparently, so Dabo and company look to be in peak form, or as close to it as you can get right now. Clemson’s off this week.
2) #7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-0, 1-0)
Notre Dame followed up their first ACC win with an absolute thrashing of USF, 52-0. Ian Book didn’t look quite as stellar as Lawrence, but he came back from a pedestrian performance against Duke to put on an accurate and efficient display, adding three touchdowns on the ground. They’ll continue a rather light start to the schedule with a trip to Wake Forest this Saturday.
3) #11 North Carolina Tar Heels (1-0, 1-0)
There’s no reason to move UNC down or anybody ahead of them this week. Mack Brown is usually good at getting his team ready out of extended byes (season openers, bowl games, etc), so that’s a good sign for UNC because they’re going to have to wait 21 days in between their season opener and their second game.
4) #17 Miami Hurricanes (2-0, 1-0)
The most fun ACC game of the weekend was undoubtedly the Canes’ 47-34 win against Louisville, where they jumped out to a lead and hung on to it fairly comfortably despite a spirited comeback attempt that fell short. D’Eriq King is miles ahead of where their quarterback play was by the end of last year, and a lot of the team’s complementary pieces are starting to work together. It might be too early to really start the “The U Is Back!” claims, but they look pretty formidable. They’ll host their in-state rivals, Florida State, on Saturday night.
5) #24 Louisville Cardinals (1-1, 0-1)
That spirited comeback, as outmatched as the team looked at times, was enough to put Louisville ahead of Virginia Tech. Micale Cunningham looks like he could be the third- or fourth-best quarterback in the conference (definitely when he’s rolling right) and Scott Satterfield has given the Cardinals an identity and a really effective style of play that could pose problems for the expected contenders in the conference. We’ll see if they can turn that promise into a not-losing conference record when they take on Pittsburgh at Heinz Stadium on Saturday.
6) #20 Virginia Tech Hokies (0-0, 0-0)
After a COVID-induced delay of their expected game against their in-state conference rivals this past weekend, we’ll get our first look at the Hokies this week as they host N.C. State, which should be a reasonably accurate test of whether or not they belong here in the rankings.
7) #21 Pittsburgh Panthers (2-0, 1-0)
It’s fair to say that UNC’s 31-6 win against the Orange was a little unconvincing, so I don’t think it will be super controversial to say that a 21-10 win, like that which Pitt just posted against Syracuse, is a little bit eyebrow-raising for a team several people were projecting to take the Coastal before the un-conferencing of this season. They’ll get a chance to make me look silly this week, with a home date against Louisville that’s probably going to be the must-watch game of the conference.
8) Virginia Cavaliers (0-0, 0-0)
The Cavs’ preseason reputation was that they were going to be decent, so they’re pretty much the boundary here between teams that have looked quite good to start the season and the teams below them, which have looked like this is probably not going to be their year. This week will decide which category the Wahoos belong to, with a game against a Duke team that gave Notre Dame (see above) a reasonable fight before folding.
9) Boston College Eagles (1-0, 1-0)
In his first live action as head coach in Chestnut Hills, Jeff Hafley pulled off a pretty impressive 26-6 win over David Cutcliffe and Duke, a week after they’d started putting themselves in spoiler conversations with their game against Notre Dame. His defense looks pretty stifling, though Duke didn’t hurt this image by just giving up on several promising drives, and Phil Jurkovec looks at least workable at quarterback. They’ll get their nonconference game this week against Texas State, so they should have a pretty solid opening to their season before meeting the Heels on October 3rd.
10) N.C. State Wolfpack (1-0, 1-0)
The Wolfpack showed some slightly unexpected firepower in a 45-42 shootout win against Wake Forest, switching quarterbacks from Devin Leary to Bailey Hockman, who might have got the win but also threw a pick-six and didn’t really impress with the ball. The player who did impress was running back Ricky Person, who lost a lot of carries last year to Zonovan Knight but carried 14 times for 99 yards and a score. Knight looks as good as ever, too, but I don’t think this team’s quarterback play is going to stand up to good ACC defenses as the season goes on. They’ll have a chance to prove me wrong against the Hokies this week.
11) Wake Forest Demon Deacons (0-2, 0-2)
Not having your star quarterback or star receiver from last year’s successful season hurts, and it’s shown so far for the Deacs, who haven’t really found any offensive rhythm yet this year. Dave Clawson’s got a heck of a job to do this year, and the team has shown promise at times, but they blew their chance to win a winnable NC State game before hosting Notre Dame — they’re at risk of falling to a deadly 0-3 in conference.
12) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (1-1, 1-0)
It’s the first real year of the rebuild for Geoff Collins after last year’s Year Zero branding, and so far, he looks pretty fun (or maybe I’m just really relieved to see the triple option out of the conference). The Jackets got expectedly spanked by UCF, 49-21, but you can see some promise for what Collins wants this team to look like. I’m excited to see this team once he gets his guys and has fully transitioned to what he wants to run.
13) Duke Blue Devils (0-2, 0-2)
Chase Brice started the season hot, but had a much more inconsistent game against Boston College’s good, but certainly not Clemson-level, defense. He is certainly not, as Dabo Swinney suggested when he transferred, the second-best quarterback in the ACC, though he does show talent. Where Duke has problems, though, as seen in their game against BC, is about everywhere else: their offense is slow, inefficient, and doesn’t seem particularly well-coached; and their defense, while spirited and keeping them in games, isn’t deep enough to play a full 60. It’s hard right now to see this team pulling it together to threaten the ACC’s heavy hitters.
14) Florida State Seminoles (0-1, 0-1)
Mike Norvell got a week off to reflect on losing to Georgia Tech last week, which is not a good way to announce that the self-inflicted troubles that have plagued the ‘Noles for years now are going to go away with you as coach. He’s got a chance to show that his team has some fight and that things truly have changed with a date against Miami this week.
15) Syracuse Orange (0-2, 0-2)
The Orange defense is still better than advertised, handling the Pittsburgh offense with a bit of aplomb last week. But they’re not all-league level, and with an offense that features the current version of Tommy DeVito behind an offensive line that starts a converted H-back, they’d have to be for the Orange to feature anywhere else on this list.