The most recent edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings were rendered useless by the end of the weekend as three of the four playoff teams fell. The ACC faced similar turmoil, as three of the four remaining ACC Championship contenders lost. Even the victorious contender trailed entering the fourth quarter of their game. For fans of the teams that lost the only good news is that with so much Chaos, nothing has really changed. Nationally, the three projected playoff teams that lost will all have ample opportunity to play themselves back into the playoffs during the last three weeks of the season. Within the ACC, the same two teams control their destiny and will go to Orlando if they win out.
Tier 1: National Contenders
1 - Louisville Cardinals (9-1, 7-1) LW: 2
The best and worst of Louisville were on full display Saturday against Wake Forest. The Cardinals that play down to their opponent showed up in the first half, as turnovers led the Deacons to a 12-0 lead. The second half Cardinals were as explosive and dominant as they have been all season, recording 34 points in the fourth quarter to blow the game open. Lamar Jackson was shaky, but RB Brandon Radcliffe (11 carries, 141 yards, 3 TDs) and the defense (7 sacks, held Wake to 37 yards after halftime) carried the day. The Cardinals are done with ACC play and now must count on the same Wake Forest team they dominated to upset Clemson in order to book a trip to Orlando and the ACC Championship Game.
Last week: defeated Wake Forest 44-12
This week: Thursday, 8:00 pm at Houston
2 - Clemson Tigers (9-1, 6-1) LW: 1
After escaping several close games earlier in the season, the Tigers were finally upset. Clemson’s normally stout defense gave up over 400 yards to Pitt while star QB Deshaun Watson struggled with turnovers, including two red zone interceptions. Despite the interceptions, Watson was extremely productive, going 50/72 through the air for 580 yards. The Tigers needed every bit of that production because their run game was shut down by Pitt’s defensive front. The loss gives Clemson less margin for error, but the Tigers should still be in the playoffs if they win out. I nearly kept the Tigers atop these power rankings, and they own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Louisville, but if these two teams played today on a neutral field, I think the edge would go to the Cardinals.
Last week: lost to Pittsburgh 42-43
This week: Saturday, 7:00 pm at Wake Forest
Tier 2: Coastal Contenders (and FSU)
3 - Florida State Seminoles (7-3, 4-3) LW: 5
The Seminoles returned to their dominating ways under Friday night lights, rolling over Boston College 45-7. The Eagles are no one’s idea of an explosive offense, but given the struggles Florida State’s defense has had this season, it was nice to see them completely shut down an opponent. On the other side of the ball, sophomore receiver Auden Tate was the star of the game, hauling in two touchdown passes. Tate’s continued development into a number 1 receiver will be critical for the ‘Noles next season after RB Dalvin Cook’s presumed departure to the NFL.
Last week: defeated Boston College 45-7
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm at Syracuse
4 - North Carolina Tar Heels (7-3, 5-2) LW: 4
North Carolina’s defensive woes caught up to them in a loss to arch rival Duke on Thursday night. The Tar Heel defense could not get off the field as Duke went 10-17 on third down and dominated time of possession. The offense did not help matters, as QB Mitch Trubisky was picked off twice, including one late to ice the game. Luckily for the Tar Heels, they stayed alive in the ACC Coastal race with Virginia Tech’s loss on Saturday. The Heels need help, but still have an outside shot at Orlando.
Last week: lost to Duke 27-28
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs The Citadel
5 - Virginia Tech Hokies (7-3, 5-2) LW: 3
With a chance to clinch the Coastal and facing a depleted Georgia Tech team, Virginia Tech came out and laid an egg on Saturday. The Hokies turned the ball over four times, botched a snap on a field goal, and had no answer for a fairly vanilla Yellow Jacket offense. The offense was never able to get in synch, as exemplified by star WR Isiah Ford dropping a fourth down pass that hit him square in the chest. This was the second time this season that Virginia Tech came out and looked completely listless, a worrying trend going forward. The Hokies need to put this game behind them quickly to prepare for a trip to South Bend and a second chance at clinching the Coastal.
Last week: lost to Georgia Tech 20-30
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm at Notre Dame
Tier 3: Bowl Contenders
6 - Miami Hurricanes (6-4, 3-3) LW: 6
The Hurricanes reached bowl eligibility behind a balanced offense and a stifling second half defense. At halftime, the Hurricanes were only up by 3 points, but they came out after halftime and held Virginia under 30 yards in the third quarter while the offense pulled away for a comfortable win. The three headed running back monster of Mark Walton, Gus Edwards, and Joseph Yearby all ran for at least 50 yards on greater than 5 yards per carry, which helped buoy an up and down day from Brad Kaaya. The star quarterback was productive (228 yards and 2 touchdowns) but was under 50% passing and was intercepted on Miami’s first play from scrimmage.
Last week: defeated Virginia 34-14
This week: Saturday, 12:30 at NC State
7 - Pittsburgh Panthers (6-4, 3-3) LW: 7
The joke was been beaten into the ground by now, but it is really unfair that a kicker named Blewitt keeps making game winning field goals. Headline writers everywhere weep. Bad puns aside, the Panthers managed to hang around long enough to pull a huge upset in Death Valley. The offense was able to take advantage of Clemson’s turnovers and the defense stuffed Wayne Gallman and the Tiger running game. The secondary continues to be a weakness, but they made enough plays for the Panthers to steal a win and clinch bowl eligibility.
Last week: defeated Clemson 43-42
This week: Saturday, 3:00 pm vs Duke
8 - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-4, 3-4) LW: 9
The Yellow Jackets were without their two leading rushers and senior leader on the offensive line but were able to pull off the upset in Blacksburg behind a masterfully simple game plan. Backups Matthew Jordan and Marcus Marshall pounded the ball up the middle of Virginia Tech’s defense, combining for 51 carries and 264 rushing yards. The real story, though, was the play of the Yellow Jacket defense. Ranked as one of the worst in the conference, if not the country, heading into the game, Ted Roof’s defense put pressure on Jerod Evans and forced the Hokies to make mistakes. The offense will likely return to normal this weekend with the probable return of Justin Thomas. If the defense can build on what they did on Saturday, the Jackets could reach a new level.
Last week: defeated Virginia Tech 30-20
This week: Saturday, 12:30 pm vs Virginia
9 - Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-4, 3-3) LW: 8
For three quarters, it looked like Wake Forest was on their way to pulling a major upset. Unfortunately, no one told the Deacons that games are indeed four quarters long. Truth be told, even while they had the lead, they were unable to capitalize on the Cardinals mistakes. Wake recovered three fumbles in the first half, but were unable to get the ball in the endzone, instead settling for field goals. If the Deacons want to actually pull an upset this weekend they will need to take full advantage of any mistakes the Tigers might make.
Last week: lost to Louisville 12-44
This week: Saturday, 7:00 pm vs Clemson
10 - Duke Blue Devils (4-6, 1-5) LW: 11
For weeks, Duke has played teams close but hadn’t been able to make the big play or get the big stop they needed to register a conference win. That changed Thursday night. The Blue Devils moved the methodically up and down the field on the Tar Heel defense, holding the ball for over 37 minutes. Freshman QB Daniel Jones was tremendous, recording 334 total yards and 3 touchdowns while the Duke defense stepped up and kept UNC out of the endzone in the second half. Duke’s path to a bowl game is difficult, but if they can continue to do what they did Thursday, they have a chance.
Last week: defeated North Carolina 28-27
This week: Saturday, 3:00 pm at Pittsburgh
11 - North Carolina State Wolfpack (5-5, 2-4) LW: 10
NC State quietly dominated Syracuse on Saturday and pulled themselves within one game of bowl eligibility. The Wolfpack were lead on offense by RB Matthew Dayes, who ran all over the Orange to the tune of 108 yards and 3 touchdowns. QB Ryan Finley was both productive and efficient, throwing for over 300 yards on a nice 69% completion rate. But it was the defense that led the day for NC State, holding the high-powered Syracuse offense to just 218 total yards. The Pack will need to pull an upset to go bowling, but there best chance likely comes to town this weekend as Miami visits Carter-Finley Stadium.
Last week: defeated Syracuse 35-20
This week: Saturday, 12:30 vs Miami
Tier 4: The Basement
12 - Syracuse Orange (4-6, 2-4) LW: 12
The Orange struggled in all facets of the game and fell to the brink of bowl elimination after a loss to NC State. Syracuse, who played without injured starters QB Eric Dungey and WR Steve Ishmael, could not move the ball consistantly, getting only 10 first downs and 218 total yards on the day. The ground game in particular was non-existent as Orange ball carriers combined for 28 yards on 28 carries. The defense was no better, allowing NC State to accumulate 544 total yards and hold the ball for over 40 minutes. With games remaining against Florida State and Pittsburgh, Syracuse is all but eliminated from bowl contention. If they are to have any shot, they will need the return of a healthy Dungey.
Last week: lost to NC State 20-35
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs Florida State
13 - Virginia Cavaliers (2-8, 1-5) LW: 13
Virginia’s rough season continued last weekend, as the Cavaliers hung around for one half before falling to Miami. The Hoos struggled to move the ball in the second half, losing four fumbles and allowing the Hurricanes to pull away from what had been a competitive game. Starting QB Kurt Benkurt was pulled in the fourth quarter for former starter Matt Johns. Johns is a senior, so this appeared to just be a Senior Day recognition at first, but Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall announced yesterday that Johns would start this week against Georgia Tech.
Last week: lost to Miami 14-34
This week: Saturday, 12:30 pm at Georgia Tech
14 - Boston College Eagles (4-6, 1-6) LW: 14
The Eagles sputtered yet again against one of the ACC’s elite teams. In games against top 5 teams in these Power Rankings (Virginia Tech, Clemson, Louisville, & Florida State) Boston College has been outscored 202-24 and, on average, out gained 479-182. The Eagles have two very winnable games left and, thus may still make a bowl game, but the leash on Head Coach Steve Addazio has to be nearing its end.
Last week: lost to Florida State 7-45
This week: Saturday, 1:00 pm vs Connecticut