Week five was a rough one for the ACC, as several squads were upset in non-conference matchups. So while the league’s reputation may have taken a hit, no harm was done at all to Florida State, who continues to make a serious push for a national championship. Below them (and Clemson), however, we have quite a bit of sorting out to do…
1. Florida State Seminoles (5-0) (LW: 1): The ‘Noles offense didn’t necessarily look amazing against USF on Saturday, but they didn’t have to. After letting up a ton of points against Clemson, the defense got back to business, and completely shut down the Bulls at every turn, letting up just 268 yards and 17 points. Not lost in the effort either was another strong — yet unsung — effort by the running game, which is ranked as the eighth-best ground attack in the FBS.
2. Clemson Tigers (4-1) (LW: 2): Considering they’ve been without Sammy Watkins for three of their five games now, it’s impressive that the Clemson offense has still been able to put up such big numbers. Having a stacked arsenal of targets will do that for a team. Without Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins has stepped up in a big way, and is now considered among the best wideouts in college football, based on his 42 catches and six scores. I’m still not convinced we’ve seen both receivers at 100-percent for a full game yet, either; a horrifying thought for opposing defenses.
3. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (4-1) (LW: 5): This Miami squad is sporting a bevy of playmakers, the likes of which it hasn’t seen since its late 90s, early 00s heydays. We already knew the types of performances we could expect from running backs Mike James and Duke Johnson. But the show that Stephen Morris put on against an NC State pass defense that was one of the nation’s best in 2011? Literally unprecedented for any ACC or Miami quarterback. Win or lose, the ‘Canes have become a must-watch team every week.
4. Virginia Tech Hokies (3-2) (LW: 3): This fourth spot is where the big questions begin. We knew that Virginia Tech’s offense would struggle — and they have, mightily — but I doubt anyone believed the defense would also experience its own issues. As stated time and time again, Logan Thomas can’t do it by himself. Now that he’s been forced to, you see the glaring errors in his game, hurting both his team’s chances and his draft stock.
5. Duke Blue Devils (4-1) (LW: 12): Duke earned themselves a marquee win on Saturday, and now sit at 4-1 for the first time since 1994, which was the last time they appeared in the postseason. And the road ahead doesn’t look unmanageable, either. The key will be quarterback Sean Renfree, who, along with receiver Conner Vernon, has been the poster boy for David Cutcliffe’s program revival. While the Blue Devils got by without their leader at the end of Saturday’s game, it’s unlikely they’ll survive much longer without him, should his elbow injury be a long-term issue.
6. NC State Wolfpack (3-2) (LW: 4): Turnovers and penalties have turned what was a dynamic, rising group of stars into another middling ACC team that fails to deliver on its copious amounts of hype in the preseason. In his fifth game, Mike Glennon finally turned in his first performance over 300 yards passing. But of course, it came along with four turnovers (two picks and two fumbles). The secondary, projected to be raw at safety, has been a shadow of its former self overall.
7. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-2) (LW: 6): It’s hard to gauge where Wake should fall, especially if Michael Campanaro misses an extended amount of time. But right now, this is a team with little identity on either side of the ball, and it shows in their results. Unless they can find a way to pressure the quarterback, or find a consistent target beyond Campanaro, it’s going to be a rough second half of the year.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels (3-2) (LW: 8): Will Saturday’s 66-0 drubbing of Idaho be a nice confidence booster, or just instill false hope for the Tar Heels? The team is putting up great numbers against inferior competition, yet remains average when pitted against other major-conference teams. You can chalk some of their struggles up to Giovani Bernard‘s health, but at the same time, he doesn’t play defense — an area where they have not looked all that great thus far.
9. Pittsburgh Panthers (2-2) (LW: 10): Which Pitt will we see for the remainder of 2012? The team that started off a disastrous 0-2, or the one that blew through their next two opponents behind a balanced offensive onslaught? I’m tempted to believe we’re leaning more toward the latter, which means the Panthers could very well be gunning for a conference title this season. With that running game at full strength, and the defense generating pressure, it’s hard to see many major challenges left, beyond Notre Dame.
10. Maryland Terrapins (2-2) (LW: 10): Maryland has had an intriguing season so far, and may still be able to play their way into the postseason. Freshman QB Perry Hills has obviously gotten more comfortable with the offense as the year’s progressed, and (no joke) possesses the type of talent that could make him a dangerous four-year starter for the Terps. We’ll take it one year at a time, but expect Maryland’s offense to catch up with its defense and play out the season at a high level.
11. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-3) (LW: 7): Good teams don’t get blown out by Middle Tennessee State. Nor do they make the number of mental errors the Yellow Jackets have over the course of the last two games. While the offense hasn’t been all that impressive, the defense is the core problem here, since the triple-option isn’t built to play from behind. If D-coordinator Al Groh can’t get through to his players, he needs to be shown the door.
12. Virginia Cavaliers (2-3) (LW: 11): Defensive inconsistency and penalties have been the story of the Hoos’ season since the end of the Penn State game. What was once a promising return-to-form season for UVA has quickly devolved into a rebuilding year, and that also means Phillip Sims is likely to take the reigns this weekend. Whether he succeeds immediately or not is inconsequential. The Cavaliers need a change of pace, and Sims can provide that right now.
13. Syracuse Orange (1-3) (LW: 13): Syracuse even struggles during their bye week. Or at least that’s the feeling amongst SU fans right now. If the Orange have any shot at making the postseason, the turnaround has to start this Friday against Pitt. Win, and you’re 1-0 in league play, with a new lease on your season. Lose, and it’s as good as over.
14. Boston College Eagles (1-3) (LW: 14): Someone has to occupy this spot, and I hate that BC is that team. Obviously the Eagles are much improved in comparison to last year — most notably on offense, where they’re actually a threat to to score on teams. It’s worth repeating, but we can thank offensive coordinator Doug Martin for that. Now if only they could get someone like him to coach the defense, too.