With Thanksgiving and Rivalry Weekend in the review mirror, the regular season has come to an end. It seems like just yesterday that the preseason polls were released but it’s nearly time to crown a conference champion. Before concluding the ACC season, the Power Rankings will take a look back at Rivalry Weekend and try and make sense of where the conference stands right now.
Tier 1: National Contender
1 - Clemson Tigers (11-1, 7-1) LW: 1
In his de facto Senior Night game, Deshaun Watson was as good as he’s ever been, passing for 347 yards and 6 touchdowns on 81% passing. Watson led the Tigers to a dominating win over in-state rival South Carolina in a final tune up before the ACC Championship game. Clemson’s defense has dominated the last two weeks and the offense is clicking on cylinders. The Hokies will provide a good test, but the Tigers appear destined for another playoff berth.
Last week: defeated South Carolina 56-7
This week: Saturday, 8:00 pm ACC Championship Game vs Virginia Tech (Orlando, FL)
Tier 2: Bowl Bound - Group 1
2 - Florida State Seminoles (9-3, 5-3) LW: 3
Dalvin Cook and a strong Seminole running game dominated one of the nation’s best defenses to lead the way to a big win over in state rival Florida. The junior running back wrapped up an absolutely stellar regular season and is being criminally underrated in Heisman discussions. Cook does not appear anywhere on ESPN’s Heisman Tracker despite being second among Power 5 players in yards from scrimmage (behind Texas’s D’Onta Foreman). Cook probably won’t get invited to New York, but there is no doubt he’s been one of the best players in the country this season.
Last week: defeated Florida 31-13
3 - Louisville Cardinals (9-3, 7-1) LW: 2
Ranking Louisville behind Florida State feels wrong, but that September blow out seems far away right now. The Cardinals finished their season by getting dismantled by Houston and fumbling away the game against rival Kentucky. Lamar Jackson was, in many ways, brilliant as always against the Wildcats, accounting for 452 yards and 4 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Jackson also accounted for four turnovers, the most costly of which gave the ball back to Kentucky with enough time to drive down the field for the winning field goal. Jackson is still the Heisman favorite but his lead may have grown a bit tenuous over the last two weeks.
Last week: lost vs Kentucky 38-41
4 - Virginia Tech Hokies (9-3, 6-2) LW: 4
The Hokies punched their tickets to Orlando Friday afternoon with North Carolina’s loss, but still came out and took care of business, routing Virginia for their 13th straight win in the rivalry. Virginia Tech was dominate on both sides of the ball, holding the Cavaliers under 250 yards while putting up 579 yards of their own. This weekend, the Hokies will look to get revenge on Clemson for the 2011 ACC Championship game, where the 9-3 Tigers knocked the 11-1 Hokies out of the Orange Bowl.
Last week: defeated Virginia 52-10
This week: Saturday, 8:00 pm ACC Championship Game vs Clemson (Orlando, FL)
Tier 3: Bowl Bound - Group 2
5 - Miami Hurricanes (8-4, 5-3) LW: 6
Duke kept the game close for a half, but Miami blew the game open in the third quarter and won going away. QB Brad Kaaya was electric, throwing for 396 and 4 touchdowns and breaking Ken Dorsey’s school record for career passing yards. Kaaya connected with TE David Njoku twice in the second half for long touchdowns. The first came on a deep pass on a Kaaya audible while the second was a 58-yard catch and run. Kaaya has been noncommittal about his future, but this was likely his last home game as a Hurricane.
Last week: defeated Duke 40-21
6 - Pittsburgh Panthers (8-4, 5-3) LW: 7
Pitt finished the season on a three game winning streak and with its offense running in peak condition. The Panthers combined with Syracuse to set the FBS record for points in a game. The Pitt box score is really something else in this game. They averaged over 10 yards per play and had more touchdowns than passes completed (11 TDs, 9 completions). Pitt had one of the most dynamic offenses in the conference this season, which could make offensive coordinator Matt Canada a hot commodity on the coaching market.
Last week: defeated Syracuse 76-61
7 - North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4, 5-3) LW: 5
Ranking UNC, Miami, and Pitt is splitting hairs at this point but a weak finish to the season puts the Tar Heels at the back of that pack. North Carolina closed the season with an FCS win sandwiched by losses against in state rivals Duke and NC State. This week, the Heels needed to win to maintain any hope at a Coastal Division title, but failed to do so, handing the crown to the Hokies. WR Ryan Switzer had a huge day, catching 13 balls for 171 yards, but no one else was able to step up and make an impact.
Last week: lost vs NC State 21-28
8 - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-4, 4-4) LW: 8
As he has so often in his collegiate career, senior QB Justin Thomas came through in the clutch, leading his Yellow Jackets to a fourth quarter, come-from-behind victory. Thomas was excellent once again, going 6/10 through the air for 164 yards while distributing the ball to his play-makers in the option game. The defense did not turn in their best performance but tightened up in the red zone, forcing field goal attempts, and came up with a timely turnover late in the game.
Last week: defeated georgia 28-21
9 - North Carolina State Wolfpack (6-6, 3-5) LW: 10
The Wolfpack defeated their arch-rival and extended their season, holding on to defeat the Tar Heels and reach bowl eligibility. NC State jumped out to an early 21-0 lead and did just enough to thwart North Carolina’s comeback attempt. A balanced offensive attack led paved the way for the Pack, with WR Jaylen Samuels rushing for one touchdown and throwing for a second on a trick play to WR Stephen Louis. The win was a big one for Coach Dave Doeren, who may have found himself on the hot seat if he failed to make a bowl game.
Last week: defeated North Carolina 28-21
10 - Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6, 3-5) LW: 9
Wake Forest closed out a once promising season on a bit of a sour note, losing a close game to Boston College. The Deacons’ defense did a fairly good job limiting the Eagles’ offense for most of the day, but allowed BC to march down the field late in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead score. Wake’s offense struggled with turnovers early, spotting Boston College a 10-0 first quarter lead. The Deacons also had trouble finishing drives, twice stalling out on failed fourth down attempts in Eagles’ territory.
Last week: lost to Boston College 14-17
Tier 4: The Basement
11 - Duke Blue Devils (4-8, 1-7) LW: 11
Duke’s loss to Miami officially knocked them out of bowl contention. The Blue Devils rank atop the FBS in APR and thus would have qualified for a bowl game at 5-7 since there will not be enough 6 win teams to fill all available bowl slots. Despite the loss, freshman QB Daniel Jones had another strong game but Duke could not establish the run on offense or slow Miami’s passing attack.
Last week: lost to Miami 21-40
12 - Boston College Eagles (6-6, 2-6) LW: 13
The Eagles are bowl eligible and should probably go in Tier 3, but at the end of the day, I’m not convinced they are actually that good. Even in games they won, the Boston College offense struggled to find any sort of traction all season long. On Saturday, the Eagles totaled only 167 yards of offense. BC was able to come away with a win by capitalizing on Wake Forest’s turnover issues and failed fourth down conversions.
Last week: defeated Wake Forest 17-14
13 - Syracuse Orange (4-8, 2-6) LW: 12
On Saturday, Syracuse put up 668 yards of offense and 61 points...and lost. The defense had no answer for Pitt’s explosive offense, giving up nine touchdown drives under two minutes. Every time Syracuse’s offense cut into Pitt’s lead, the Panthers were able to strike back and answer quickly. Star WR Amba Etta-Tawo concluded his superb season with one of his best performances yet. The senior caught 13 balls for 178 yards and all 5 of Syracuse’s touchdowns through the air.
Last week: lost to Pittsburgh 61-76The
14 - Virginia Cavaliers (2-10, 1-7) LW: 14
A disappointing debut season for Bronco Mendenhall came to end in the same manner as the last twelve Virginia seasons have: with a loss to Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers struggled in every facet of the game on Saturday. A week after starting backup QB Matt Johns against Georgia Tech, Mendenhall opted to rotate Johns and Kurt Benkert all day. The pair of quarterbacks were equally ineffective, combining to throw for only 139 yards on 13/36 passing.
Last week: lost to Virginia Tech 10-52