Half of the ACC has seemingly fallen off a cliff, which makes it increasingly difficult to defend teams’ strength of schedule when it comes to BCS conversations. And yet, two squads in particular (you can probably guess which) continue to roll through opponents, gaining very little respect in the process. The key for the conference to grab two BCS berths once again will unfortunately lie in the strength of the middle and bottom of the conference. However, with many teams mired in slumps, or lingering around .500, who knows if more than three or four teams finish better than 6-6. Nonetheless, we try and sort through the mess below:
1. Florida State Seminoles (8-1) (5-1) (LW: 1): The ‘Noles have looked great lately, though consistency is another story entirely. Despite utterly dominating most opponents, there have been some severe lulls in creative play-calling and an overall lack of focus that lead us right to the cause of the NC State loss (now unforgivable, considering the Pack’s fall). Heading into the home stretch, FSU surely knows the stakes, though. Win the next two, and they’re playing for an ACC Championship and a likely berth in the Orange Bowl.
2. Clemson Tigers (8-1) (5-1) (LW: 2): With the offense moving at breakneck speed and the defense looking mildly improved, the Tigers are suddenly talking about their own BCS dreams. The only route for them, however, is to win out. While their remaining ACC slate (Maryland, NC State) don’t appear to be much of a threat, they also do nothing to help the team’s lagging strength of schedule numbers. Their best shot: a big win over arch-rival South Carolina, plus some other losses by their competition for the final at-large spot for good measure.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-3) (3-2) (LW: 5): The Heels had the week off, which somehow made everyone forget about the season Giovani Bernard is having. And between Bernard’s missed games and UNC’s ineligibility for the postseason, this program’s already dealing with enough poor luck. And unfortunately, it comes as a disadvantage for the conference too. North Carolina is the best team in the Coastal, with one of the best players in the conference (Bernard) at running back. Instead of focusing on that during the title game, talk will be all about how poorly the Coastal performed, harping on its “subpar” champion.
4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (5-4) (4-2) (LW: 7): The ‘Canes were handed a test on Thursday, and came out with a resounding victory and the inside track to winning the Coastal division. Seemingly under the radar to most, Miami has made some improvements on the defensive side of the ball, and it showed while they held Virginia Tech to 12 points while forcing three turnovers. The biggest advantage, though, was the strength of the running game, which was engineered by Duke Johnson. Again, both Johnson and Mike James need more touches if this offense hopes to keep up with the conference’s top teams. But with just over 200 combined carries for the two running backs all season, I’m not sure the coaching staff is aware of that yet.
5. Duke Blue Devils (6-4) (3-3) (LW: 6): The Blue Devils move up by no fault of their own. Believe me. After they were dismantled by Clemson 56-20, the last thing I want to do is reward this team. But in terms of this “muddled middle” we have here, is there truly another team we’re certain can get past six or seven wins? So that’s why Duke’s here. Also notable, the Blue Devils committed zero turnovers on Saturday (to the Tigers’ four), yet still lost by 36. This is just stunning to me.
6. NC State Wolfpack (5-4) (2-3) (LW: 4): “Embarrassing” is the only word to describe the Wolfpack’s 33-6 loss to a hapless Virginia squad on Saturday. And there’s a fair point to be made that even that score fails to properly describe the game. Following a string of great efforts, quarterback Mike Glennon reverted back to the turnover-prone passer we saw earlier in the year, while the running game continued to be a source of frustration. Coach Tom O’Brien is facing a crisis at this point, and the only solution is to pull another huge upset over Clemson in two weeks.
7. Pittsburgh Panthers (4-5) (LW: 9): The Panthers were oh-so-close to knocking off Notre Dame on Saturday. And while they get no style points for that in the actual standings, we must commend them for putting together a valiant gameplan designed to beat the no. 3 team in the nation. As usual, the running game — led by Ray Graham — held the key, though that attack wore down as the game went longer. With all of the weapons in that backfield, it’s still puzzling how Pitt’s struggled to move the ball consistently. They’ll need to straighten things out quickly in order to get to the six-win mark.
8. Virginia Tech Hokies (4-5) (2-3) (LW: 5): Their streak of 10-win seasons is officially over, and maybe too, is their reign of terror on the Coastal division. Looking back at all those seasons of Hokies dominance, the one thing you always recall is a well-coached group of players with true leaders on the field. This year? A downtrodden group of underclassmen who relied too heavily on one player — QB Logan Thomas — and are now paying the price when he can’t deliver. But the defensive isn’t getting off easily, either. Unlike last year, they’re allowing nearly 25 points per game, and getting manhandled by receivers every game. The cries to fire Frank Beamer need to cool down, but something has to change to fix this mess in the offseason.
9. Syracuse Orange (4-5) (LW: 8): Bone-headed penalties and mistakes have been the narrative of this season for Syracuse, and they once again reared their ugly heads on the opening kickoff Saturday, with a fumble. Taking a look at game results, you can see this squad’s talented and able to compete with any opponent put before them. But mentally, the Orange just don’t get it. Is it coach Doug Marrone’s fault? At this point, all of the players are his own recruits, so the answer, unfortunately, may be yes.
10. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-4) (3-4) (LW: 10): Just when the Demon Deacons need a pick-me-up, Michael Campanaro comes back and Boston College is next on the schedule. The result? A predictable air show for Wake Forest, and a dominant performance for Campanaro, who reeled in three touchdown passes. So is this the Deacs team we can expect for the rest of the season? Wake’s got three games left to win just one more, yet none are a sure thing. With this group, anything can happen, but it all starts with a solid passing attack.
11. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-5) (3-3) (LW: 12): Due to division-wide ineptitude, the Yellow Jackets have found new life. Yet, no one knows what they’ll do with it. Two games left against ACC competition, and no observer — regardless of how close they are to the team — has any clue as to how the Wreck will perform. And I think the bigger fear for ACC fans is Tech going 2-0 in those games, and somehow capturing the division. A 6-6 squad getting shellacked by FSU on national television? Surely not what any fans (Georgia Tech or otherwise) have in mind for a conference title game.
12. Maryland Terrapins (4-5) (2-3) (LW: 11): It’s not Maryland’s fault that they keep losing key players. But we have to take that into consideration when evaluating teams. After losing four quarterbacks and a key receiver, they’ve now lost star linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield to yet another torn ACL. If I had to guess, the Terps surprising season likely ends here, with a sad limp to the finish. It’s unfortunate, but on the bright side, this program has an awful lot of young talent to continue to cultivate going forward.
13. Virginia Cavaliers (3-6) (1-4) (LW: 13): One win does not a season resurrect. Though looking at Virginia’s huge 33-6 drubbing of NC State on Saturday, maybe it’s a turning point. Backs to the wall, the Hoos must win out in order to get back to the postseason. While not impossible, the odds are decidedly against them, especially should it come down to a critical “play-in” game with rival Virginia Tech to end the season.
14. Boston College Eagles (2-7) (1-5) (LW: 14): The Frank Spaziani era is all but over, yet he still remains on the sidelines. At this point, what’s to be gained by keeping him there? A payout on his contract? When you take a look at the Eagles these past two seasons, you see an uninspired, unmotivated group that appears completely beaten down by game’s end. This is all Spaziani’s fault, and the only way to fix it is to fire him. Immediately. Might was well generate some early hope for next season.