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ACC Power Rankings - Week 4

Setting the stage for a showdown at the top of the rankings

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s ACC Power Rankings are coming at you a few days late this week but better late than never. We’re more or less a third of the way through the college football season and the conference isn’t really any closer to sorting itself out than it was on Labor Day weekend. The top 2 spots are pretty clear and a bottom 5 has started to separate out but spots 3-9 are anyone’s guess at this point. Miami is still largely an unknown quantity while the other teams in that range have shown some strong performances while also displaying alarming weaknesses. The upcoming weekend is headlined by a showdown between the conference’s top 2 teams but I’m most interested to see how this middle pack acquits itself going forward.

1 - Clemson Tigers (4-0, 2-0) LW: 1

It took a while for the Tigers to turn it on, but when they did they really stepped on it. Clemson entered the fourth quarter tied with Boston College but found the end zone 3 times in the final period to pull away. A week after his best performance to date, Kelly Bryant was rocky, throwing 2 interceptions, but he made up for it with 106 yards and 2 TDs on the ground. It wasn’t a banner performance but there was nothing there to knock the Tigers’ out of the top spot.

Last Week: defeated Boston College 34-7
This Week: Saturday, 8:00 pm at Virginia Tech (ABC)

2 - Virginia Tech Hokies (4-0, 0-0) LW: 2

The only other ACC team that is within shouting distance of Clemson will get a chance to knock the champs off their throne this weekend. The Hokies wrapped up a perfect non-conference slate with a shutout of Old Dominion. QB Josh Jackson has looked very good in the early going and WR Cam Phillips leads the FBS in receiving yards (523 yards) but the Tigers’ defense will be the Hokies’ first real test.

Last Week: defeated Old Dominion 38-0
This Week: Saturday, 8:00 pm vs Clemson (ABC)

3 - Miami Hurricanes (2-0, 0-0) LW: 4

Miami returned to the football field after a three week layoff and needed roughly a half to shake off the rust. The Hurricanes went into halftime trailing Toledo 16-10 but came out and put up 42 in the second half to pull away from the Rockets. Toledo is a very good Group of 5 program and have a dynamic offense, so there’s no shame in letting the Rockets hang around for a bit but it was reassuring to see Miami slam the door on any comeback attempt late in the fourth quarter. New QB Malik Rosier will get his first taste of ACC opposition and hostile territory at Duke under the Friday Night Lights.

Last Week: defeated Toledo 52-30
This Week: Friday, 7:00 pm at Duke (ESPN)

4 - Louisville Cardinals (3-1, 1-1) LW: 5

I have Louisville about half a step ahead of the teams ranked 5-9 basically due solely to Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals’ stud QB accounted for 3 TDs against Kent State, leading the route. Despite missing his best receiver, Jackson only had 2 passes hit the ground (he did have two picked off which isn’t great). The Cardinals’ run defense also bounced back after getting gashed by Clemson. The Flashes were held to just 2.6 yards per carry.

Last Week: defeated Kent State 42-3
This Week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs Murray State (RSN)

5 - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-1, 1-0) LW: 7

I don’t really feel great about how I have teams 5-9 ranked. Putting Georgia Tech first feels very homer-ish and it probably is. But right now I have a hard time seeing any team in the ACC (outside of Clemson or a continued case of fumble-itis) slowing down the Yellow Jackets’ offense. If the defense can repeat its outstanding performance against offenses that are more potent than Pittsburgh, Tech might just mess around and win the Coastal.

Last Week: defeated Pittsburgh 35-17
This Week: Saturday, 12:00 pm vs North Carolina (ESPN2)

6 - NC State Wolfpack (3-1, 1-0) LW: 9

The Wolfpack pulled off the biggest win in the ACC last week, heading on the road to Tallahassee and upsetting FSU. NC State’s offense has been really, really good so far this season and the defense finally stepped up to make some key stops against the Seminoles (FSU scored just 1 TD in 7 red zone trips). Can the Wolfpack keep momentum going and avoid tripping up against a high powered Syracuse team?

Last Week: defeated Florida State 27-21
This Week: Saturday, 12:20 pm vs Syracuse (ACC Network)

7 - Florida State Seminoles (0-2, 0-1) LW: 3

I feel really bad putting Florida State ahead of the next two teams but I think I’d favor the Noles over Duke or Wake regardless of where the game was held. James Blackman was fine in his first start, throwing for 278 yards on 58% completion percentage. You’d like to see a little better efficiency but it’s not bad for a true freshman. If FSU can finish more drives they’ll be alright, if not the playoff contenders they were supposed to be going into this season.

Last Week: lost to NC State 21-27
This Week: Saturday, 3:30 pm at Wake Forest (ABC)

8 - Duke Blue Devils (4-0, 1-0) LW: 6

Duke slipping two spots here is less about Duke and more about impressive outings from NC State and Georgia Tech/trusting the defensive talent at FSU to keep their heads above water. I was high on Duke in the preseason and I still think the Blue Devils are a pretty good team. However, the things Duke is doing really well are somewhat unexpected. I thought they would be led by Daniel Jones and a high powered passing game but it’s been the ground game, led by the duo of Brittain Brown and Shaun Wilson, and defense that have catapulted Duke to a 4-0 start.

Last Week: defeated North Carolina 27-17
This Week: Friday, 7:00 pm vs Miami (ESPN)

9 - Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-0, 1-0) LW: 8

I’m not as high on Wake as I am on Duke. The Deacons are 4-0 but they barely got by Appalachian State. Nothing against the Mountaineers, who are a very good Sun Belt team and have turned Boone into a dangerous place to play, but if Wake is going to contend in the ACC, they probably needed to make more of a statement against App State. The Deacs had been led by a rock solid defense through the first three games, but the Mountaineers controlled the game, dominating time of possession and out-gaining Wake by 150 yards.

Last Week: defeated Appalachian State 20-19
This Week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs Florida State (ABC)

10 - Virginia Cavaliers (3-1, 0-0) LW: 13

Look at you, Virginia! I never expected the Cavaliers to keep it close in Boise, let alone beat Boise State by 19 points. Kurt Benkert has quietly been really good this season, completing passes at a 66% clip while throwing 10 TDs to just 1 interception. Bronco Mendenhall’s team now has a week off to rest and prepare for the conference season. If they can play like they did last Friday week in, week out UVA is going to upset someone in conference play.

Last Week: defeated Boise State 42-23
This Week: BYE (vs Duke on 10/7)

11 - North Carolina Tar Heels (1-3, 0-2) LW: 10

The Tar Heels have been beat up all season and the injury woes only got worse against Duke with lead WR Austin Proehl fracturing his clavicle and a couple other contributors suffering knee injuries. Between inexperience and injuries, it’s setting up to be a long season for UNC. Against Duke, the Tar Heels really struggled on the ground. Outside of one long run from QB Chazz Surratt, North Carolina was held to 1.9 yards per carry.

Last Week: lost to Duke 17-27
This Week: Saturday, 12:00 pm at Georgia Tech (ESPN2)

12 - Syracuse Orange (2-2, 0-0) LW: 11

Syracuse headed down to the Bayou and gave LSU a good game but ultimately couldn’t hang. The Tigers were able to get enough big plays (11.4 yards per pass) and converted on over 50% of third downs against an outmatched Syracuse defense. The Orange offense was able to move the ball through the air but weren’t particularly efficient, needing 55 attempts to pick up 308 yards. Syracuse will look to play spoiler this week against an NC State team riding high off last week’s upset.

Last Week: lost to LSU 26-35
This Week: Saturday, 12:20 pm at NC State (ACC Network)

13 - Pittsburgh Panthers (1-3, 0-1) LW: 12

Pitt got off to a great start against Georgia Tech, driving down the field on their first possession for a quick touchdown. That would be their only offensive touchdown on the day. The Panthers could not find any success after that opening drive. The Yellow Jackets turned the ball over 4 times but were unable to do anything with them, going three and out each time. They’ll close out their non-conference slate and look to right the ship against a terrible Rice team.

Last Week: lost to Georgia Tech 17-35
This Week: Saturday, 12:00 pm vs Rice (RSN)

14 - Boston College Eagles (1-3, 0-2) LW: 14

I’ve said the same thing about Boston College the last few weeks but it bears repeating again: if the Eagles can’t rely on their defense, what are they? Boston College is giving up the third most rushing yards per game in all of FBS (295 yards per game on the ground). What once was a strength has quickly become a weakness.

Last Week: lost to Clemson 7-34
This Week: Saturday, 1:00 pm vs Central Michigan (ACC Network Extra)