This weekend was a big one for the ACC, despite the fact that not all of its teams were in action. With all eyes on Tallahassee to still if Florida State could deliver on the weighty expectations bestowed upon them this season, the ‘Noles did not disappoint. After a big FSU victory, the conference now has a legitimate title contender and potential Heisman winner — something it hasn’t seen in a decade. Expect great things this season.
1. Florida State Seminoles (4-0) (LW: 1): About midway through the first half of Saturday’s game, I was wondering if Florida State would disappoint once again, as they were struggling to really stop the Clemson offense, and could not necessarily break through with their own attack either. But then the second half happened, and we all witnessed an impressive onslaught the likes of which may be a recurring theme for the Seminoles. This team is a bona fide national championship contender, and EJ Manuel could very well be setting up for a surprise Heisman run.
2. Clemson Tigers (3-1) (LW: 2): The Tigers fought valiantly, though in the end, there were just too many weapons on the Seminoles offense, and not enough answers from the Clemson D. Sure, the loss may sting now, but based on Tajh Boyd‘s players-only meeting on Monday, it already looks like they’re focused and ready to continue what should be a very successful campaign. As has been the case these past two years, only the defense can truly hold them back.
3. Virginia Tech Hokies (3-1) (LW: 4): Needing a big rebound win, the Hokies shut out Bowling Green on Saturday, and appear to be back in control of their season. Unfortunately, however, their offense is still only marginal at best. Even against an inferior team, VPI still managed just 150 yards in the air, and committed nine penalties. If not for Logan Thomas remembering how to run the football, the unit would have been stagnant all day. They just can’t rely on him to do absolutely everything.
4. NC State Wolfpack (3-1) (LW: 5): For all the talk of their “disappointing” start, the Wolfpack are still 3-1, and very much alive in the ACC title race. With the team’s defense seemingly coming on as of late, and their offense establishing an unexpected degree of balance between run and pass, State could actually recapture its darkhorse role and make a midseason run.
5. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (3-1) (LW: 11): Crushing loss to Kansas State aside, the ‘Canes have actually looked like a fun offensive team that relies on a bevy of contributors — most notably Mike James and Duke Johnson, who have each had four-TD games, respectively. The defense will be a continuous problem, but if it can find ways to make adjustments and improve throughout the year, maybe they surprise. Like NC State above them, they’re undefeated in conference play (in Miami’s case, at 2-0), and technically have an inside track on playing for a conference title already.
6. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-1) (LW: 6): Wake’s taken care of business when called upon this season, though that 52-0 drubbing at the hands of Florida State will continue to linger in our minds. Injuries have had an enormous effect on the Deacs from week to week, and if they repeatedly find themselves without key players like Nikita Whitlock and Josh Harris, they will struggle to get through the conference schedule without a few hiccups, at least.
7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-2) (LW: 3): This team appeared to be on a significant upswing after their opening-game loss to Virginia Tech. Yet, they sit at .500 after four games, with even more doubts than when the year started. Tevin Washington is inconsistent at best, and with that inconsistency, so goes the passing game. We won’t touch on the Orwin Smith debacle, because we’ve already done so. But know that that error was Saturday’s game in a microcosm.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels (2-2) (LW: 7): The Heels failed to look overly impressive in their matchup against cross-state rival ECU, but a win’s a win. Aside from the W, the big takeaway from Saturday’s game was the return of running back Giovani Bernard, who managed two scores and over 100 total yards in the contest. Depending on the extend of his injury, it may still take some time for him to come back at 100 percent — though this was a good start.
9. Pittsburgh Panthers (2-2) (LW: 10): Pitt has buried their early season struggles, and now looks like at least some form of the team advertised during preseason. Another strong performance led by the defense and a balanced offensive attack suddenly has them looking dangerous, and back on the road to a potential conference title in their Big East swan song.
10. Maryland Terrapins (2-2) (LW: 12): I’ll admit, I was a doubter on Maryland’s pass defense… until this Saturday. Facing one of the country’s most lethal air attacks, the Terps hung with Geno Smith and West Virginia for the majority of the game, keeping the score close and the Mountaineers in check. Despite the eventual loss, it was a growing experience for a young team that needs as many of those as it can get. Also worth noting: the budding chemistry between QB Perry Hills and his main target, Stefon Diggs.
11. Virginia Cavaliers (2-2) (LW: 8): The Hoos have looked somewhere between pedestrian and awful for the past three weeks now, beating Penn State mostly on luck, before getting absolutely housed in their last two games. As expected, the hot seat is now warming up quickly underneath veteran quarterback Michael Rocco. Should he continue to put in poor, inconsistent performances, there’s little doubt Mike London will insert Phillip Sims into the role.
12. Duke Blue Devils (3-1) (LW: 14): The Blue Devils got busy winning the games it was supposed to this year, in case it struggled in ACC play yet again. While not overly impressive in any of their non-conference blowouts (wins or losses), I will admit that Duke does look like a much different team than in the past. When they’re clicking on offense, it’s a tough group to stop. Some of the lesser squads in the conference may very well find that out the hard way this year.
13. Syracuse Orange (1-3) (LW: 9): For much of the fan base, this season is already teetering on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall off the other side at a moment’s notice. Through three games, Orange fans could at least take solace in a proficient offense and gutsy second-half performances. After their 17-10 loss to Minnesota? Just demoralizing, uninspired numbness.
14. Boston College Eagles (1-2) (LW: 13): Boston College was idle this past weekend — a welcome sight for a team about to go up against the Clemson Tigers’ buzzsaw of an offense. The new Eagles’ offense may be able to hang around for a while on Saturday. But that said, it’s the defense that’s of most concern. If they get into a track meet early, it could be a very frustrating day for the BC faithful.