We’re just two weeks from the end, and yet very little has been decided in the ACC. The conference has just four bowl-eligible teams, nine squads possessing between four and six wins, and both divisions remain up in the air. While the Atlantic wraps up this weekend, the Coastal will go down to the final game to decide who gets
pummeled to represent the division in the ACC Championship Game. On the bright side, the league is likely to have two teams make BCS bowls for the second straight season.
1. Florida State Seminoles (9-1) (6-1) (LW: 1): FSU’s effort last Thursday night nearly ruined everything for the ACC, but thankfully, that crisis was averted in pulling out a very messy 28-22 victory over Virginia Tech. Despite the fact that the ‘Noles are 9-1, there’s still plenty to criticize here — offensive play-calling, coverage on deep balls and overall decision-making, to name a few. As we addressed yesterday, this a team that got extremely lucky, and they must refocus if they hope to make it to the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles are the most talented team in the conference on both sides of the ball. Now it’s time they started playing like it.
2. Clemson Tigers (9-1) (6-1) (LW: 2): The Tigers look bored out there, and the country appears tired of their lopsided box scores as well — unthinkable in other conferences, but in the ACC, that’s the way it goes. So while they’ve won six straight games, all people focus on is the 26-34 overall record that competition has, instead of the 141 points Clemson outscored those teams by. On both sides of the ball, this is a team that continues to get better and better as the season continues. And even if they’ve only been tested once so far this season, they have a chance to wipe out that narrative completely in two weeks, when they take on South Carolina.
3. Duke Blue Devils (6-4) (3-3) (LW: 5): Duke was off last week, so in the Coastal division, that means you won. But, due to upsets around the division, the Blue Devils do control their own destiny now — a weighty responsibility that has seemingly ruined others before them. So which Duke team show up these last two games: The one that lost to Clemson and FSU by a combined 77 points, or the one that’s 6-2 against all of their other opponents? Like the rest of the Coastal, this team is an enigma, but they may also have the most senior leadership to guide them through this mess.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-4) (3-3) (LW: 3): Every week it seems like the Heels fluctuate between terrific and terrible — there is no middle ground. This past Saturday, UNC somehow managed to inhabit both characterizations at the same time, though. While the defense was putrid in letting up 68 points and 588 yards of offense, their own offense scored 50 points themselves. Quarterback Bryn Renner threw for 350 yards and three scores, while Giovani Bernard tacked another two touchdowns onto his own rising total. But due to an inept defense, this team is far from complete. Allowing 136 points over the last three games is unacceptable, and there’s no solution in sight.
5. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (5-5) (4-3) (LW: 4): Discontent with controlling their own destiny, Miami ceded that honor to Duke, and now must beat the Blue Devils on the last week of the season in order to get to the ACC Championship Game. What’s most frustrating though, is how easily the ‘Canes could have simply wrapped things up last week. Yet — and this has been a theme across the entire conference — the defense chose to let UVa’s Michael Rocco (who has struggled all season) throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winning score with six seconds left. If this group is ever going to learn how to tackle, that time should be now.
6. NC State Wolfpack (6-4) (3-3) (LW: 6): With the Wolfpack offense continuing to struggle, State relied heavily on their defense this past Saturday, and still came away with a resounding victory. Notching their sixth win of the season, NC State is now bowl eligible, but you can’t help but feel dissatisfied for how things have gone to this point. With so much talent on both sides of the ball, this was a team that was supposed to challenge for a division title, yet has fallen incredibly short of that goal. Even with a shocking upset of Clemson next weekend (please, don’t), there’s likely little that can save coach Tom O’Brien’s job.
7. Syracuse Orange (5-5) (LW: 9): Faced with a dire situation if they’d lost, Syracuse put on a show this past Saturday, thumping Louisville 45-26 at home, and resuscitating their bowl chances in the process. The big win, while surprising to some, is indicative of a season filled with what-ifs for the Orange, as they’ve proven to be their own worst enemies in every loss. Once again, SU proved how well they can perform, improving to 3-0 in games where they fail to commit a turnover.
8. Pittsburgh Panthers (4-6) (LW: 7): How does a team almost beat Notre Dame one week, and then lose to Connecticut the next? Such is the issue with Pitt and this strange season of theirs. Still, Friday’s loss comes mostly as a result of the formula for a win becoming eschewed. In Panthers wins, they run the ball well and pressure the quarterback — plain and simple. But here, the run game never got going, the team relied too much on Tino Sunseri, and somehow, they lost to a far inferior team whose road environment is nothing to brag about. Sadly, Pitt isn’t even close to being the most inconsistent team this conference has to offer.
9. Virginia Tech Hokies (4-6) (2-4) (LW: 8): Logan Thomas‘s precipitous fall is less the result of under-delivering as it is due to over-hype and a lack of talent on offense. But that said, he must also take accountability for his struggles, especially when they cost his team the game, as was the case on Thursday night. After a strong throw from Thomas had the Hokies well-positioned to drive for the game-winning score, his next pass was the other side of the coin; an ill-advised interception to end their chances. The junior may be frustrated, but if he and the team are going to correct things, he must settle down both physically and emotionally.
10. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-5) (4-3) (LW: 11): If you wanted further evidence that Al Groh was a scape goat, please consult the 50 points the Yellow Jackets surrendered on Saturday. So while Tech mostly appears resurgent since the firing, it’s due to changes on offense — not defense — that have made a huge impact. Handing off the reins of the offense to Vad Lee, we’ve witnessed an attack now more aggressive in both the running and passing game and results turning into Ws. Lee has proven himself the team’s best passer, and if anything can save Paul Johnson and the triple-option down in Atlanta, it’s a true dual-threat.
11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-5) (3-5) (LW: 10): When your team throws one touchdown pass, and it’s by your wide receiver, that’s usually a bad sign. Wake, continuing its up-and-down season, was absolutely obliterated by NC State on Saturday, and now faces two very difficult games on the road to bowl eligibility. While I’ve certainly defended Tanner Price in the past, these last few games have been proof that it’s not just the offensive line injuries that have caused this regression. Price, as a leader, looks damaged, and that may be the team’s biggest issue at this juncture.
12. Virginia Cavaliers (4-6) (2-4) (LW: 13): Are we about to see a miracle in Charlottesville? Well we’re already half way there, after two surprising victories, and the Hoos suddenly looked primed to win out. Last week it was the defense that came on strong and carried the win home. This week, the offensive unit caught fire against a suspect Miami D, and delivered an impressive game-winning strike to pull the upset. Most importantly, it solidified Michael Rocco back into the starting QB role, providing some consistency at a position where there’s been none all season.
13. Maryland Terrapins (4-6) (2-4) (LW: 12): Of course Maryland and QB Shawn Petty are trying to end this season on a high note. But unfortunately, when you’ve got a mounting pile of injuries and a linebacker throwing the ball, odds are not in your favor. The Terps defense continues to hang on, but as aptly pointed out by Tomahwk Nation’s Bud Elliott today, they can only do so much when starting off with a short field. Things don’t get better with FSU on the schedule this Saturday, but maybe Maryland puts up a fight.
14. Boston College Eagles (2-8) (1-6) (LW: 14): This team’s reached the bottom, and the powers that be still add yet another insult, leaving standout receiver Alex Amidon off the Biletnikoff Award List for best wide receiver in the nation. Amidon’s 73 catches and 1,157 yards receiving are among the best numbers in the country, so you can’t blame BC fans for being shocked at his absence. In the meantime, Frank Spazini continues to have a job, which is puzzling to college football observers everywhere.