It was a quiet week in the ACC, as six teams were off last weekend resting up for the last month of the season. That’s right, there’s a chill in the air and we’re just over a month out from the end of the college football regular season. The division races are starting to shape up and after this weekend, the Atlantic may be all but locked up. The Coastal is looking more and more like a two team race, but others still lurk within striking distance. This is a big weekend for ACC Contenders, so let’s see how things stack up heading into Week 9.
Tier 1: National Contenders
1 - Clemson Tigers (7-0, 4-0) LW: 1
Clemson comes out of their bye week ready for their face-off in Tallahassee against Florida State. This game has been the premier ACC game for the past several seasons and, though it has lost some luster with Florida State’s struggles, is yet again a huge, prime-time match up. One thing to keep an eye on for the Tigers is the availability of starting RB Wayne Gallman. The star back was removed from the NC State game with a likely concussion. Gallman is optimistic that he will be able to play, though no decision has been made as of yet.
Last week: Bye
This week: Saturday, 8:00 pm at Florida State
2 - Louisville Cardinals (6-1, 4-1) LW: 2
Lamar Jackson and the rest of Cardinals came out and quickly silenced any doubters after struggling with Duke two weeks ago. Louisville absolutely demolished NC State, opening up a 44-0 lead at halftime before coasting through the second half. The Cardinals should win out and will lurk around the playoff picture all year should any of the other contenders stumble.
Last week: defeated North Carolina State 54-13
This week: Saturday, 12:00 pm at Virginia
Tier 2: Coastal Chaos (and FSU)
3 - Virginia Tech Hokies (5-2, 3-1) LW: 5
Virginia Tech was able to put their baffling loss to Syracuse behind them en route to dominating Miami on Thursday night. The Hokie team that showed up under the lights in Lane Stadium is the best team in the Coastal, combining a balanced and efficient offense (272 passing yards and 251 rushing yards) with a fierce defense (8 sacks). As long as they can hold onto the ball, Virginia Tech will be a tough out for any team.
Last week: defeated Miami 37-16
This week: Thursday, 7:00 pm at Pittsburgh
4 - North Carolina Tar Heels (6-2, 4-1) LW: 3
The Tar Heels took care of business against Virginia but slide down a spot in these rankings. North Carolina was led, as always, by their offense - QB Mitch Trubisky was efficient and RB Elijah Hood returned to form after three down weeks - but the defense came to play Saturday. The Tar Heel defense only gave up one offensive score and held the Cavaliers under 3 yards per carry on the ground. Virginia doesn’t have the most explosive offense but if North Carolina’s defense can carry this performance over across the bye week, the Tar Heels could be a conference title threat.
Last week: defeated Virginia 35-14
This week: Bye (vs Georgia Tech Nov 5)
5 - Florida State Seminoles (5-2, 2-2) LW: 4
Like Clemson, Florida State has an injured star they were hoping to get back for their game this weekend. Unlike Clemson, it seems unlikely that DB Derwin James will suit up on Saturday. James had surgery for a torn meniscus after Week 2 and was originally scheduled to return this week, but remains out indefinitely. If James ends up being able to play, it will be a huge boost to a Seminole defense that has struggled mightily this season.
Last week: Bye
This week: Saturday, 8:00 pm vs Clemson
6 - Pittsburgh Panthers (5-2, 2-1) LW: 7
Pitt is hanging in the Coastal race but really needs a win this Thursday to keep pace. A loss would only give them two conference losses, but those losses would be to North Carolina and Virginia Tech, giving them little to no chance at winning a tiebreaker.
Last week: Bye
This week: Thursday, 7:00 pm vs Virginia Tech
Tier 3: Bowl Contenders
7 - Miami Hurricanes (4-3, 1-3) LW: 6
Three weeks ago, Miami sat at 4-0, ranked #10 in the AP poll and everyone’s favorite to win the Coastal division. What a month it has been. The Hurricanes have lost three straight, falling almost hopelessly behind in the division. The defense is banged up and the offense, which was explosive during the 4-0 start, has failed to top 20 points in any of the three losses. Luckily for the ‘Canes, they get the cure for struggling offenses this week: the Notre Dame defense.
Last week: loss to Virginia Tech 16-37
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm at Notre Dame
8 - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-3, 1-3) LW: 9
It’s Homecoming Week on The Flats and the Yellow Jackets face a must-win game against an up-and-down Duke team. The Georgia Tech offense seems to have found their groove against Pitt and Georgia Southern but the defense needs to return to early season form (or better) to give Tech a chance at more than a low level bowl game.
Last week: Bye
This week: Saturday, 12:00 pm vs Duke
9 - North Carolina State Wolfpack (4-3, 1-2) LW: 8
Yikes. A week after taking Clemson to overtime, the Wolfpack were flattened by an angry Louisville team. At the end of the first quarter, you and I had more yardage than NC State and it never really got better from there. Coach Dave Doeren needs to get his team to move past this loss and get ready for Boston College this weekend.
Last week: loss to Louisville 13-54
This week: Saturday, 12:30 pm vs Boston College
10 - Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-2, 2-2) LW: 10
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the ACC, Wake Forest heads into Halloween weekend needing only one win to achieve bowl eligibility. The Demon Deacons should be able to pick up that sixth win this weekend as they celebrate Homecoming against Army.
Last week: Bye
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs Army
Tier 4: Pretenders
11 - Syracuse Orange (4-4, 2-2) LW: 13
In a battle between one of the conference’s most prolific offenses and most stifling defense, it was the offense that prevailed. Syracuse’s offense was not at its best but they still had little trouble moving the ball against the Eagle defense. The chances of the the Orange going to a bowl game are slim and to keep hopes alive they need to clean up the mental mistakes (16 penalties for 135 yards on Saturday).
Last week: defeated Boston College 28-20
This week: Bye (at Clemson Nov 5)
12 - Duke Blue Devils (3-4, 0-3) LW: 12
The first half of Duke’s season has been a bit of a roller coaster, as could be expected from a team that starts a freshman quarterback. Daniel Jones has looked good at times but also has a 5 interception game on his resume. His continued improvement will be key to Duke’s success down the stretch.
Last week: Bye
This week: Saturday, 12:00 pm at Georgia Tech
13 - Virginia Cavaliers (2-5, 1-2) LW: 11
After showing improvement the previous three weeks, the Cavaliers regressed back to early season form against the Tar Heels. Virginia struggled on offense, averaging 3.2 yards per passing attempt and 2.8 yards per carry, while scoring only one offensive touchdown. The path doesn’t get easier as the Cavaliers are next up on the Lamar Jackson Heisman tour.
Last week: loss to North Carolina 14-35
This week: Saturday, 12:00 pm vs Louisville
14 - Boston College Eagles (3-4, 0-4) LW: 14
Oh, Boston College. Last season, the Eagles had no offense but an all-around dominate defense. This season, the run defense is still really good but the pass defense has proven to be vulnerable while the offense has not taken the step forward many expected. Boston College just can’t put together drives on offense. In their four games against ACC opponents, the Eagles have scored only 4 offensive touchdowns, 2 of which came on 75 yard runs. It’s really hard to find a conference win on their schedule, potentially making it two straight years without a conference win for Boston College.
Last week: loss to Syracuse 20-28
This week: Saturday, 12:30 pm at NC State