We’re finally here. The biggest game in the history of ACC football is upon us, and as a result, college football’s eyes are all directed right at our humble conference. Even last year’s FSU-Clemson matchup couldn’t meet the hype we’ll see leading up to Saturday and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited the country finally cares. As always, the poll includes all 14 current ACC members, plus future member Louisville. Feel like I’m totally right or completely off-base? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
ACC Football Power Rankings 2013 (Week 8)
1. Clemson Tigers (6-0) (4-0) (Last: 1): It wasn’t pretty or confidence-inducing, but Clemson beat Boston College on Saturday and remained undefeated. That’s really all that was asked of them. Likely looking ahead to their matchup with the ‘Noles, it’s at least a little understandable that Clemson’s attentions were elsewhere. But this Tiger team seems different. No “Clemsoning.” No slip-ups thus far. Just dominant play en route to a huge regular season spectacle this weekend. Everything, from ACC title hopes to Heisman trophies and BCS National Championships, are all on the line.
2. Florida State Seminoles (5-0) (3-0) (Last: 2): Coincidentally, Florida State also had some recent trouble with Boston College as well, so at least both of the league’s top teams are in the same boat. After a bye week, FSU should be well-rested and ready for the speed Clemson’s offense will present. But will the offense loose momentum after the long rest? After the last bye week they put up 62 points so no, I wouldn’t be too worried about this team’s ability to keep running.
3. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (5-0) (1-0) (Last: 3): Stephen Morris, your ankle is terrifying the rest of us — or at least those of us who think it would benefit the league for Miami to be a national power again. The ‘Canes and their quarterback have looked resilient this season, meeting every challenge large and small this season, though there are also some questions about style points (and a distinct lack of them). I don’t buy that argument since a win’s a win, but if they’re going to move up in the BCS title race, I suppose they’ll have to start demolishing the schedule’s less challenging teams.
4. Louisville Cardinals (6-0) (Last: 4): Another game which the Cardinals won easily, but apparently not easy enough according to media observers who dropped the Cards two spots in the latest AP Poll just because. At this point, Louisville fans have stopped caring and are actually embracing their role in this last season of the BCS. It’s a commendable outlook for a program that deserves better than the general dismissal they’re seeing from the larger college football consciousness.
5. Virginia Tech Hokies (6-1) (3-0) (Last: 5): The Hokies are among just a handful of teams to have already clinched bowl eligibility and over the last few weeks, have made a surprising leap into the national top-20. For those who watched the Pittsburgh game on Saturday that, in a microcosm, is why this defense is so good. Tom Savage was suffocated by the Tech line throughout the game and the Panthers’ offense had absolutely nowhere to go. For a team that put up 58 points a few weeks ago to only manage nine is a bigger feat for this D than anyone really understands.
6. Maryland Terrapins (5-1) (1-1) (Last: 8): Maryland’s here because “who else would be?” The middle of the ACC is a relative mess right now, but only one of these teams is on the doorstep of clinching bowl eligibility (schedule aside), so congrats, Terps. As long as C.J. Brown returns, one would expect this team to contend in most of its remaining games, though the defense has shown some holes in recent weeks — giving up 63 to FSU and 26 to an offense-less UVa team.
7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-3) (2-2) (Last: 6): Georgia Tech’s offense has crept to a halt thanks to a diminished passing game and with that, the Wreck’s success has also seemed to shrivel up a bit. After getting off to a very hart start to the season, Vad Lee‘s gone cold in all aspects of play, leaving the defense to try and keep Tech in each and every game. While they’re certainly improved, that’s an unrealistic task for this D and it could cripple their season if the issue isn’t sorted out quickly.
8. Pittsburgh Panthers (3-2) (2-2) (Last: 7): Pitt’s offensive line was sort-of well regarded prior to their matchup with Virginia Tech, but now… well, not so much. The Hokies front seven ate the Panthers alive on Saturday and also handed out a blueprint for how to beat Pitt: just apply pressure. The eight sacks against Pitt were no mirage (they’ve allowed more this year than all but two teams in the country), and you’ll see a lot more blitz packages getting thrown their way as the season wears on.
9. Boston College Eagles (3-3) (1-2) (Last: 9): BC hung tough against Clemson, but just couldn’t seem to get it done come the end. The issue was the offense — most notably the running game, which only managed 94 yards on the game. Relying too much on throwing the ball has been the death knell of this Eagles team in their three losses, and especially in a game where they were leading for a large amount of time, it’s unfortunate to see that move away from the run.
10. Syracuse Orange (3-3) (1-1) (Last: 11): Syracuse’s defense had a stark turnaround from week-to-week, going from allowing 49 points to Clemson to holding NC State to just 10 the following week. Most importantly, they went down to Raleigh for their first ACC road contest and won going away. The passing game is still a wreck, of course, but as long as the pass-rush continues to be effective and the ground game keeps putting up 300-yard days, it becomes a lesser concern. If it comes down to Terrel Hunt delivering a pass in the clutch to win though, then things get a little more troubling.
11. Duke Blue Devils (4-2) (0-2) (Last: 13): Anthony Boone‘s surprise return brought some big results for Duke last weekend, but it doesn’t help us solve the riddle of what this team really is. Both Boone and Brandon Connette led effective offensive attacks, but Boone’s turns it over less. The defense, though, remains a major issue. If this team is going to win two of its final six games and get back to the postseason, it’ll be up to the defense — not the offense — to prove itself week-in and week-out.
12. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-3) (1-2) (Last: 12): Wake had a week to try and sort some things out. Will we be seeing more of the dynamic offense that defeated NC State and scored 28 points, or is it going to be the malaise-filled attack that plodded through the team’s first five games? The Deacs will be underdogs in nearly every game for the rest of the season. We’ll find out in a hurry whether they’ve turned the corner or not.
13. NC State Wolfpack (3-3) (0-3) (Last: 10): Now what? State’s season was already off to a fairly rocky start, but now following a loss to Syracuse, they’re at .500 and already 0-3 in the ACC. With Pete Thomas at QB, they’ve looking increasingly listless on offense, while the defense continues to deal with injuries. Brandon Mitchell‘s slated to return soon, and just in the nick of time. The untested original starter presents a much greater dual-threat opportunity for the NC State attack and a much easier fit for coach Dave Doeren’s offense — which, whether he’s truly better or not, could be what matters most
14. North Carolina Tar Heels (1-4) (0-2) (Last: 14): Have the Heels learned anything about themselves during the bye week? A tough test against Miami should tell us immediately. This team needs to have sorted out its running game, offensive line issues, lack of a pass rush and secondary problems too. It sounds daunting, and it is, but even if they can work through two of those problems, UNC should be in better shape going forward than they’ve been to this point in the year.
14. Virginia Cavaliers (2-4) (0-2) (Last: 14): Virginia performed better than expected against Maryland, though admittedly, they were also up against the Terps’ backup quarterback. Offensively, they might have shown some encouraging signs of life, however. David Watford managed not to throw a pick while also gaining 264 yards and a score through the air. Both Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd also got the run game going, accounting for nearly 200 yards between the two of them. This team has the potential to score points and move the ball well. They just need to do so more consistently.