With Halloween in the rear-view mirror there is only one month remaining in the college football regular season. The bye weeks are out of the way and the teams of the ACC are gearing up for the stretch run. After the chaos early in October, the standings have largely settled out and each division has a fairly clear front runner, though there are teams poised to seize control should the leaders falter. This week’s power rankings start with a team that all but clinched a division in prime-time Saturday night.
Tier 1: National Contenders
1 - Clemson Tigers (8-0, 5-0) LW: 1
Clemson all but clinched the Atlantic division with their first win in Tallahassee in ten years, defeating Florida State 37-34. The Tigers dominated the first quarter, getting out to an early lead but still needed a touchdown in the final minutes to get the win. Their defensive line dominated the pass game, constantly pressuring FSU QB Deondre Francois. The Tigers would need to lose twice to Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Wake Forest to cede the division to Louisville, so it looks like Tiger fans can start booking hotels for Orlando.
Last week: defeated Florida State 37-34
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs Syracuse
2 - Louisville Cardinals (7-1, 5-1) LW: 2
For the second time in three weeks, the Cardinals struggled to put away one of the conference’s cellar dwellers but once again Lamar Jackson saved the day. Louisville came from behind in the game’s final minute to secure the win. Jackson racked up 361 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air, while adding 88 yards on the ground. The Cardinals need a lot of help to win the Atlantic, but continue to lurk just outside the playoff picture.
Last week: defeated Virginia 32-25
This week: Saturday, 12:00 pm at Boston College
Tier 2: Coastal Contenders (plus FSU)
3 - Virginia Tech Hokies (6-2, 4-1) LW: 3
The Hokies kept maintained control of the Coastal division, going on the road to beat Pitt on Thursday night. Virginia Tech struggled a little bit to move the ball on the ground but had no problem throwing on a weak Panthers’ secondary. QB Jerod Evans threw for 406 yards and 2 touchdowns on 24/40 passing. Most importantly, the Hokies, who have struggled with fumbles, never turned the ball over. VT controls their path to the ACC Championship game, with only games against Duke, Georgia Tech, and Virginia remaining.
Last week: defeated Pittsburgh 39-36
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm at Duke
4 - North Carolina Tar Heels (6-2, 4-1) LW: 4
North Carolina comes out of a bye week ready for a game against Georgia Tech that promises to be high scoring. The Tar Heels’ offense matches up very well against a Yellow Jacket defense that plays a soft zone against passes. On the other side, the Tar Heels have one of the worst run defenses in the ACC, which does not bode well against Tech’s run heavy attack. Both teams should be able to move the ball fairly well, so the game may come down to which defense can make a big play.
Last week: Bye
This week: Saturday, 12:30 pm vs Georgia Tech
5 - Florida State Seminoles (5-3, 2-3) LW: 5
The Seminoles gave Clemson everything they could handle Saturday night, but came up just short. Freshman QB Deondre Francois showed once again that he is the real deal, but couldn’t make enough happen late in the game behind a struggling offensive line. The star of the game was unquestionably RB Dalvin Cook, who made a strong case for a Heisman Trophy nominee despite the loss. Cook, the Power 5 leader in yards from scrimmage, racked up 184 yards and 4 touchdowns on 21 touches against the Tigers.
Last week: lost to Clemson 34-37
This week: Saturday, 7:00 pm at NC State
Tier 3: Bowl Contenders
6 - Pittsburgh Panthers (5-3, 2-2) LW: 6
Pitt’s loss to Virginia Tech made it very difficult for the Panthers to win the Coastal. They’ve lost to both of the division front runners, so both Virginia Tech and North Carolina would need to lose twice to send the Panthers to Orlando. That said, I almost left the Panthers in Tier 2. While their pass defense continues to be a major problem, they’re pretty good in most other areas. The run defense is very good and the offense is effective and efficient behind the play of QB Nathan Peterman and RB James Conner.
Last week: lost to Virginia Tech 36-39
This week: Saturday, 12:30 pm at Miami
7 - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-3, 2-3) LW: 8
Justin Thomas and the Yellow Jacket offense have been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks but the defense has regressed. The pass defense was never particularly good, but the run defense did a good job early in the season. Against Duke, however, Georgia Tech allowed nearly 7 yards per rush. Thomas is good enough to keep Tech in most games, but he will need some help from the defense to pull an upset against North Carolina this weekend.
Last week: defeated Duke 38-35
This week: Saturday, 12:30 pm at North Carolina
8 - Miami Hurricanes (4-4, 1-3) LW: 7
Miami continued their free-fall, losing their fourth straight game. The Hurricanes struggled early, letting Notre Dame jump out to an early lead. Miami fought back behind a couple of key special team plays, taking a lead before giving the game away late in the fourth quarter. The offensive line continued to struggle, paving the way for only 18 rushing yards and allowing a weak Notre Dame pass rush to record five sacks. The Hurricanes need to get things turned around in a hurry or they could risk falling out of bowl contention.
Last week: lost to Notre Dame 27-30
This week: Saturday, 12:30 pm vs Pittsburgh
9 - Syracuse Orange (4-4, 2-2) LW: 11
Syracuse is less likely to make a bowl than the teams ranked 10th and 11th in these Power Rankings, but the Orange might be playing better football right now. Dino Babers’s offense seems to be finding its footing as the Orange entered the bye week with back-to-back ACC wins. Coming out of the bye week, the Orange need to win two games of their remaining four to go bowling (at Clemson, NC State, Florida State, and at Pittsburgh). While not impossible, it is a tall task to ask of a young team.
Last week: Bye
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm at Clemson
10 - North Carolina State Wolfpack (4-4, 1-3) LW: 9
It feels like the Wolfpack should have dropped further after dropping a home game to Boston College, but the bottom of the conference had a poor weekend as a whole. NC State continues to be a maddeningly inconsistent team and really struggled with the Eagles’ dominant run defense. The Pack were able to move the ball through the air, but QB Ryan Finley turned the ball over twice, including an interception in the end zone that ended State’s chances at a comeback. NC State is another team that is in danger of dropping out of bowl contention down the stretch. This weekend they welcome Florida State to Carter-Finley, which has been a bit of a house of horrors for the Seminoles in the past.
Last week: lost to Boston College 14-21
This week: Saturday, 7:00 pm vs Florida State
11 - Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-3, 2-2) LW: 10
The Demon Deacons squandered a perfect opportunity to wrap up bowl eligibility before November by losing their homecoming game to Army. Wake Forest was in good shape through three quarters, but fell apart in the fourth as Army’s grinding option attack wore them down. Wake gets another chance at that magical win number 6 this weekend at home against an improving Virginia team.
Last week: lost to Army 13-21
This week: Saturday, 3:00 vs Virginia
Tier 4: The Basement
12 - Boston College Eagles (4-4, 1-4) LW: 14
Boston College finally won an ACC game, earning a temporary repreive from the bottom of these Power Rankings. While the Eagles got the monkey off their back, they did not look particularly impressive in doing so. Their run defense was excellent, limiting NC State to 31 yards on 23 carries, but the pass defense was porous as has been the case much of the season. On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles had one of their best performances of the season but, at times, did it in spite of QB Patrick Towles. The Eagles still have an outside shot at a bowl game, but are facing a tough two game stretch against Louisville and Florida State.
Last week: defeated North Carolina State 21-14
This week: Saturday, 12:00 pm vs Louisville
13 - Virginia Cavaliers (2-6, 1-3) LW: 13
The Cavaliers took advantage of a Louisville turnover and a big punt return to build an early lead on the Cardinals before falling just short of pulling a massive upset. Bronco Mendenhall’s team has shown signs of improvement as the season has gone on, but the Hoos haven’t been able to break through yet.
Last week: lost to Louisville 25-32
This week: Saturday, 3:00 at Wake Forest
14 - Duke Blue Devils (3-5, 0-4) LW: 12
The Blue Devils rallied from a 28-7 halftime deficit to take a lead on Georgia Tech before eventually falling to a transcendent Justin Thomas. Duke was able to move the ball at will against the Yellow Jackets with freshman QB Daniel Jones posting one of the best games of his short career. Duke remains the only team in the ACC without a conference win and they will have a hard time getting their first (remaining games: vs VT, vs UNC, at Pitt, at Miami).
Last week: lost to Georgia Tech 35-38
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs Virginia Tech