More upheaval in the ACC over the weekend, and as a result, the league now has zero legitimate national championship contenders or Heisman candidates. But such is life. In better news, the league’s parity (seen as a hindrance in many circles) will also produce one of the country’s most exciting conference championship races as the season winds down. How are the teams currently jockeying for position, though? Read on…
1. Florida State Seminoles (5-1) (2-1) (LW: 1): Another disappointing loss for the Seminoles, but they retain their top spot due to the fact that they actually play defense, as well as their win over the next-best squad just two weeks ago. What made this team so exciting early on was not only their aggressive play on defense, but their willingness to take risks on offense, too. As that risk factor has diminished over these past two weeks, that’s where the cracks in the armor have developed. Jimbo Fisher needs to put faith in his playmakers to win games, instead of just coasting toward the finish line.
2. Clemson Tigers (5-1) (2-1) (LW: 2): Tajh Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins have become a clinic on how to run a lethally effective passing offense — so much so that it no longer matters who’s throwing or catching the ball (see Saturday’s Hopkins-to-Boyd two-point conversion). Admittedly (as mentioned above), the Tigers’ defense still needs a boatload of work. But with the offense firing on all cylinders like it has been this season, there are few teams capable of out-gunning them.
3. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (4-2) (3-0) (LW: 3): Miami kicks off a four-team block of questions with very few answers. Which Miami team is the “real” one? The squad that’s lost to Kansas State and Notre Dame by a combined score of 93-16, or the one that’s 3-0 in ACC play? Luckily some of this gets sorted out this coming weekend, as the ‘Canes take on North Carolina.
4. Duke Blue Devils (5-1) (2-0) (LW: 5): Are the Blue Devils among the favorites in the Coastal Division? Until they lose a conference game, we’ll have to include them in the conversation. But all the signs of a contender are there. Duke’s been without several players due to injury, and even started backup QB Anthony Boone on Saturday. Yet they just keep winning. Should they come up with another W this weekend, they’ll not only clinch a bowl bid, but also take control of the division and potentially find themselves ranked, too.
5. NC State Wolfpack (4-2) (1-1) (LW: 6): Imagine what we’d be talking about right now if the Wolfpack had held on against Miami a week ago, too. Hypotheticals aside though, NC State put forth one impressive effort on Saturday in taking down FSU. Most impressive of all, however, might have been Mike Glennon. The senior, showered with hype in the preseason, had come off as a bit of a disappointment so far this season. But in just one game, it appears all of that’s behind him. The poise he displayed in leading that final scoring drive was the stuff pro scouts drool over.
6. North Carolina Tar Heels (4-2) (1-1) (LW: 8): Giovani Bernard put on a monster performance Saturday, proving just how much his health is intrinsically tied to the Heels’ success. Does this one-game burst mean he and UNC are “back,” though? I’m unsure. We’re well acquainted with their offensive capabilities, but what about the defense? Their three BCS opponents thus far have scored an average of nearly 34 points per game on them — a number higher than the season averages for all of those aforementioned teams (Louisville, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech). Pass coverage will need to improve if this team hopes to grow throughout the season.
7. Virginia Tech Hokies (3-3) (1-1) (LW: 4): Are the Hokies in a freefall? It definitely appears that way. If the offense’s woes weren’t enough to deal with already, the defense has become one enormous concern as well. The group allowed over 530 total yards on Saturday (over 330 on the ground). They surrendered just under 500 total yards to Cincinnati the week before. Something’s gone terribly wrong, and it’s up to defensive coordinator Bud Foster to fix it soon, or else he may end up the scapegoat for the Hokies’ failings.
8. Maryland Terrapins (3-2) (1-0) (LW: 10): The offense may be a work in progress still, but thanks to the Terps’ strong defense, things don’t appear so bad at Maryland right now. All things considered, they’re allowing just 20.4 points per game, and their 264.2 yards against per game is ranked sixth in the country. Also, keep in mind this group help West Virginia to just 31 points (they’ve scored a combined 118 in the two games since).
9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-3) (1-3) (LW: 7): Just when you thought the injuries were debilitating enough, the Deacs suffer more losses due to failed drug tests. As a result, we still can’t accurately gauge this team halfway through the year. The defense may be improved, but with Nikita Whitlock missing significant time, it’s hard to know for sure. And Tanner Price may be putting in a solid season, but again, it’s hard to tell when his only reliable target — Michael Campanaro — has been injured, and his offensive line’s not really blocking for him.
10. Syracuse Orange (2-3) (LW: 13): Syracuse’s season has been a tale of two completely different offenses. Over the first three games, they were putting up nearly 35 points per game, and pretty much tossing the ball all over the yard. Since then, just 24 points in their next two games combined, but they still came out with a 1-1 record in those contests. The key has been the defense, which suddenly looks up to the level of the Orange’s 2010 squad. If they can keep it up, things could potentially be trending positively at SU.
11. Pittsburgh Panthers (2-3) (LW: 9): It’s unlikely Pitt wanted to start their final season of Big East play with a loss, but that’s where they’re at after falling short, 14-13, to Syracuse last Friday night. Despite another great effort from senior QB Tino Sunseri (25/33 passing for 319 yards), the running game just never got going and the team couldn’t capitalize on SU’s inability to score after the first quarter.
12. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-4) (1-3) (LW: 11): Al Groh was shown the door on Monday, and rightfully so after a three-game stretch that saw the Yellow Jackets allow 46 points per game en route to three losses. Tech gets a bye week next, so the simplified system promised under Groh’s assistants may actually be able to take hold. If not, the Wreck could be headed toward their worst season in over two decades.
13. Virginia Cavaliers (2-4) (0-2) (LW: 12): Speaking of terrible defenses, Virginia has also suffered from a sincere coverage deficiency, as its inexperienced secondary continues to get lit up each and every weekend. If that wasn’t bad enough, team savior Phillip Sims also failed to deliver the goods this past Saturday — his first as a starter — and now takes the blame for an offense without direction. Necessary fixes, in order of priority: Secondary, running game, defensive pressure, consistent QB play.
14. Boston College Eagles (1-4) (0-2) (LW: 14): Prior to Saturday’s late collapse against Army, BC could at least take solace in the fact that all of its losses came against quality opponents who simply had better offenses. Now, after a 34-31 defeat, it appears the bottom’s dropped out. This squad’s quit on Frank Spaziani, and it’s all-but-assured he’s shown the door at the end of the season. But will it be earlier? Newly-appointed AD Brad Bates has been mum on the subject. At this point, could it really make things any worse, though?