If there were ever a season that left me scratching my head, this is the one. The ACC has baffled me week-in and week-out as teams who’ve shown flashes of success have gone on to stumble against teams that they’ve had no business falling to. It’s frustrating too because just when you think a team is on the brink of distinguishing themselves, they somehow find a way to spectacularly blow it.
Wake Forest over a ranked NC State team? UNC over Pitt? Pitt over Syracuse? Georgia Tech over a Virginia Tech team that was undefeated in conference play at the time? Virginia Tech over then-ranked Duke? Pitt again with a win over then-ranked Virginia who was on a three-game winning streak at the time?
My reaction throughout the entire season can best be described as incredulous. Like death and taxes, the only absolutes we’ve known and will continue to know about this conference is that Clemson is the best, and Louisville is the worst. Here’s where I’ve got the teams headed into the 12th week of the season.
1. #2 Clemson (10-0 Overall, 7-0 Conference) (LW: #1)
Dabo Sweeny and company had no problem putting Boston College away and securing their fourth straight trip to the ACC title game. Anchored by their dominant defensive line, Clemson’s defense held the Eagles to just 113 total yards and 9 first downs. Hunter Renfrow set a school record with a catch in 38 consecutive games on his way to an 8-reception, 80-yard day. Will Clemson get back to the College Football National Championship? It’s hard to argue against.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 vs. Duke (7-3) at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN
2. #12 Syracuse (8-2 Overall, 5-2 Conference) (LW: #2)
The Orange are on a four-game winning streak and coming off a Friday night drubbing of a lackluster Louisville squad. Despite defeat at the hands of Clemson and an overtime loss to Pitt the week after, Syracuse has emerged as – dare I say it – the second best in the conference. They’ll probably lose to Notre Dame this weekend, but their last matchup of the year will come against Boston College, so it’s gonna be interesting to see who will secure the claim of first to finish behind Clemson.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 at #3 Notre Dame (10-0) at 2:30 p.m. on NBC
3. #20 Boston College (7-3 Overall, 4-2 Conference) (LW: #3)
The Eagles remain in the same spot coming off a loss to Clemson because, after all, it’s Clemson. Facing the closest thing to a legitimate NFL defensive front, AJ Dillon was underwhelmingly held to just 39 yards on 16 carries and managed again to tweak his ankle. Want a meaningless stat? Boston College is the only team to score a touchdown before Clemson in a game this season and only the third team to score first quarter points at all. Now, here’s some bad news: starting QB Anthony Brown was knocked out of the game and hospitalized with an abdominal injury. Coach Steve Addazio says Brown is day to day, but we won’t know the extent of the injury until later in the week.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 at Florida State (4-6) at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2
4. Pittsburgh (6-4 Overall, 5-1 Conference) (LW: #6)
Pitt racked up a school-record 654 total yards on a good ‘ole fashioned Senior Day ass whipping of Virginia Tech. Qadree Ollison was simply outstanding, rushing for 235 yards and 3 TDs on 16 carries. Teammate Darrin Hall contributed another 186 yards and a score and added to a backfield that combined for 492 yards, 6 TDs and a 13.7-yard average. The team now needs to win just one of its final two games in order to earn a trip to the ACC title game and with Wake Forest and Miami remaining, it’s a very likely probability we see Pitt squaring off for a shot at the conference crown.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 at Wake Forest (5-5) at 12:00 p.m. on ACC Network Extra
5. NC State (6-3 Overall, 3-3 Conference) (LW: #4)
I mean, honestly, I just don’t get it. NC State’s loss to Wake Forest is peak 2018 ACC-play and we’ve seen it time and time again; just when we think we know who a team is and they’re in a position to separate themselves from the pack, they just can’t get out of their own dang way. Granted, the Wolfpack lost the game on a touchdown pass with 30 seconds left, but still, the fact that Wake Forest, who was a 19.5-point underdog and had a quarterback making his first career start, was even hanging around is downright shameful.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 at Louisville (2-8) at 12:20 p.m. on ACC Network Extra
6. Virginia (7-3 Overall, 4-2 Conference) (LW: #5)
The Cavs beat up on the Liberty Flames over the weekend but only after the second half did they pull away from the FBS Independent – it was a one score game at halftime! If it hadn’t been for Liberty’s three turnovers, who knows. Regardless, Virginia is going to finish with their first winning season since 2011 and a trip to a bowl game. I wonder how long Bronco Mendenhall stays…
Up next: Saturday 11/17 at Georgia Tech (7-3) at 3:30 p.m. on ACC Network Extra
7. Duke (7-3 Overall, 3-3 Conference) (LW: #9)
Duke shot it out with rival North Carolina and retained possession of the Victory Bell due largely in part by Daniel Jones; the junior quarterback accounted for a program-record 547 total yards and 4 TDs.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 at #2 Clemson (10-0) at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN
8. Georgia Tech (6-4 Overall, 4-3 Conference) (LW: #8)
Georgia Tech is on a three-game winning streak but let’s be real – their last three opponents are conference pond scum. Their leading receiver on the team has 12 receptions on the year. Virginia Tech might be their most impressive win on their resume, and I’ve got Virginia Tech ranked 10th on this list. Next.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 vs. Virginia (7-3) at 3:30 p.m. on ACC Network Extra
9. Wake Forest (5-5 Overall, 2-4 Conference) (LW: #11)
Despite trailing by two scores heading into the fourth quarter, the Demon Deacons picked up a nice little win over NC State as Jamie Newman, in his first career start, spun a 32-yard touchdown pass with 30 seconds left on the clock to punctuate the upset. Newman finished 22-of-33 for 297 yards and 3 TDs as he led his team to their first road victory over a Top 25 team in over a decade. Greg Dortch Update: still the man.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 at Pitt (6-4) at 12:00 p.m. on ACC Network Extra
10. Virginia Tech (4-5 Overall, 3-3 Conference) (LW: #9)
The Hokies defense was totally inept against Pitt, surrendering 13.9 yards per play. That’s not just bad, that’s freaking insidious. The team is on a three-game losing streak and unless they get it turned around quickly and win their final two games, they risk snapping their bowl streak accumulated over 26 straight seasons. That would suck.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 vs. Miami (5-5) at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
11. Miami (5-5 Overall, 2-4 Conference) (LW: #10)
There was really a time during this season that I thought Miami was a decent team. Not great, not even good necessarily, but decent. That thought evaporated completely Saturday when the Hurricanes dropped their fourth straight loss. In his third year as Miami’s head coach, this is not the trajectory I envisioned for Mark Richt’s team. I know they’ve had their struggles at quarterback this year, but this is a team that was 10-3 last year and went to the bleeping Orange Bowl for God sakes.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 at Virginia Tech (4-5) at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
12. Florida State (4-6 Overall, 2-5 Conference) (LW: #12)
Speaking of three game losing streaks, at least Florida State’s is a little more respectable than Miami’s. After all, they’ve been faced with Clemson, NC State and Notre Dame – all ranked opponents. It doesn’t get much easier from here, though, as they still have #20 Boston College and #13 Florida remaining on the schedule.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 vs. #20 Boston College (7-3) at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2
13. North Carolina (1-8 Overall, 1-6 Conference) (LW: #13)
I’m actually surprised UNC didn’t fire Larry Fedora this week. Coming off a loss to the school’s biggest rival in the midst of a 1-8 season, you’d think that would be enough to get rid of the guy. Let’s see if they can snap their six-game losing streak this weekend against college football juggernaut Western Carolina.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 vs. Western Carolina (3-7) at 3:00 p.m. on ACC Network
14. Louisville (2-7 Overall, 0-6 Conference) (LW: #14)
I just gotta say, Vince Tyra has some stones, man. With as much money pouring out of Louisville’s athletic department amongst the litany of reasons that shall remain unnamed, to pull the trigger on firing Bobby with two games left in the season takes fortitude. To fans it was the obvious decision, but to the higher-ups at the university who live life according to spreadsheets, bottom lines and fine print, the decision to swallow $14 million was probably met with a little bit of frugal resistance. But in the end, it was the right move to make.
Russ Yeast has already returned to the team, and the Cards locked down a class of 2020 commit this week. Can the season be saved by the firing? Not at all. But can the change at the top energize a group of young men with nothing to lose and give them a reason to rally together entering matchups against NC State and Kentucky? It’s possible. And at this point, that possibility is the most positive vibe I’ve had about this team since the season began.
Up next: Saturday 11/17 vs. NC State (6-3) at 12:20 p.m. on ACC Network Extra