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Checking in on the ACC at the midpoint of the season

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Things are probably not going as most people expected, but I’m not here to complain

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Virginia Tech Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

We’re about as close to the halfway point in the season as you can get in terms of both conference games played (unless your team is from the state of Virginia) and overall games played (unless your team is from the states of Florida or Georgia), so now is as good of a time as any to take a look at how the conference is doing. This is also the point in the season where preseason numbers start to factor out of the S&P+ rankings, so we finally get a look at how the teams stack up based on on-field results alone for 2017.

First things first: let’s take a look at the current conference standings!

Damn, that’s sexy.

Let’s also take a moment to look at UNC-CH...

That’s nice. Always enjoyable.

But that’s not why we’re here (well, not entirely why we’re here... we’ll review the struggles of Captain RedBull McTirebeater and his dastardly band of misfits in a bit)! On to the team-by-team reviews! (Reviews ordered by division, then by S&P+ overall ranking) (Click on the school names to follow the link to Advanced Statistical Profile pages for each team)


The Atlantic Division


Clemson

S&P+ Ranking: 10 | Overall Record: 6-1 | ACC Record: 4-1

Clemson is a very very very good team that just happened to have one bad game, which obviously sucks for them, but by no means eliminates them from playoff contention. This is still a top tier program with some really good wins (Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest). The offense might not be what it’s been the last few years (it’s still good, though, even if one-dimensional; 30th in S&P+ Offense), but this team has an elite defense (4th in S&P+ Defense) that will always put them in a position to win.

Clemson always shows up with the lights on, but has struggled with the non-prime time games against middling to lower tier opponents, struggling to put away Boston College and Wake Forest before finally tripping against Syracuse. The Tigers have been a team where at least one half of the house is picking it up if the other isn’t on their game, but that Syracuse game was the first where both the offense and defense weren’t getting it done and it bit them. This is still a very dangerous team, especially with a week off to get Kelly Bryant healthy, but things don’t get easy with Georgia Tech (27), NC State (23), Florida State (25), and South Carolina (63, rivalry) in their last five games.


NC State

S&P+ Ranking: 23 | Overall Record: 6-1 | ACC Record: 4-0

I don’t think I need to say much about the Wolfpack. A balanced offense, a solid defense, a strong group of veteran leaders. State is in the position they want to be in because they have handled their business. There’s still room to improve, and this next two game stretch against Notre Dame and Clemson will be brutal, but this is the most fun NC State Football season we’ve seen in a long time!


Louisville

S&P+ Ranking: 24 | Overall Record: 4-3 | ACC Record: 1-3

Louisville is first in the ACC in PPG (33.75) in conference play... but their defense is giving up 41.5 PPG in ACC play, including allowing 45 points to Boston College. Yes. Boston College! It’s a shame for Lamar Jackson and himself the offense, but that’s the way it shakes out sometimes. The Cardinals have a tough schedule the rest of the way against five probable bowl teams. There shouldn’t be a game that they’re not in, but that defense, man... yeesh. Just look at those Defensive Percentile outputs in games against P5 opponents: 38% (Purdue), 34% (UNC-CH), 23% (Clemson), 22% (NC State), 10% (Boston College). Not only is that horrendously bad, it’s also a solid trendline in the wrong direction. They’ll still end up in a bowl game, but this is not the year that many expected for/from Louisville.


Florida State

S&P+ Ranking: 25 | Overall Record: 2-3 | ACC Record: 2-2

The Seminoles were the popular pick preseason to win the ACC, but things have just not gone their way this year. They have played a tougher-than-expected schedule, lost their QB in the season opener, ended up with three full weeks off due to a hurricane, and have had some bad luck on top of that. This Florida State team has a solid defense (16th in S&P+ Defense), but is completely lacking of an offense (68th S&P+ Offense) that can produce at a high enough level (the offense has yet to crack the 50% Offensive Percentile performance threshold this year) to make them the consistent conference title threat that we are used to. Four straight one-possession ball games (2-2 in that stretch, all ACC games) with a true freshman QB is making FSU an intriguing team to watch this year, even if not for the actual product on the field. This is a bowl team, no doubt about it (thanks to the defense), but probably not a team that will win more than seven games. What’s scary, though: this team could return every skill position player on offense next year, plus Francois at QB.


Wake Forest

S&P+ Ranking: 29 | Overall Record: 4-2 | ACC Record: 1-2

I’m not sure Dave Clawson is getting enough credit for what he’s doing in Winston-Salem. The team is 4-2 (1-2), but really outplayed Florida State and should be 5-1 (2-1)... but then again, they should have lost to Appalachian State, so I guess things are fairly even there. The schedule has been tougher each week up to this point for Wake, and the results have shown. The rest of the schedule is tough, though, and the Deacs could go 5-1, or just as easily could go 1-5. This Wake team feels like the State teams of the last couple years; good on early downs, good early in the game, but just can’t finish.


Syracuse

S&P+ Ranking: 59 | Overall Record: 4-3 | ACC Record: 2-1

Syracuse is... I don’t know, man... they’re just not all that great. Well, I guess they’re great at being average...??? They, of course, have the biggest ACC win so far this year with their upset of Clemson last week (that was more the case of Clemson not playing well than Syracuse rising to a higher level to beat the Tigers). Still, with Miami, Florida State, Wake Forest, Louisville, and Boston College down the stretch, do you think this is a team that can win eight games? Do you really trust them? They don’t really do anything all that well. Maybe their one-man show on offense (and yeah, that one man - Eric Dungey - is really good) can carry them to something even greater than anyone thought, but I just don’t see it happening.


Boston College

S&P+ Ranking: 104 | Overall Record: 3-4 | ACC Record: 1-3

The Dudes of Addazio are still trying to revolutionize the game of football by attempting to play without fielding an offensive unit. Well, somehow that’s working for them; they did put up 45 on Louisville last week... although, granted, that was against Louisville. Still, with a defense that isn’t on par with the recent BC defenses that have struck fear into ACC teams, and only a single projected win on the schedule (poor UConn), one has to wonder how much longer Addazio will be able to make it in (on?) Chestnut Hill.


(Brief intermission to call out ACC step-brother Notre Dame (5-1) and their 12th place ranking in the S&P+. These guys are legit good, but we’ll talk about them next week. Let’s maintain focus on those teams that are in the ACC waters with both feet.)


The Coastal Division


Miami

S&P+ Ranking: 11 | Overall Record: 5-0 | ACC Record: 3-0

Yes, Miami is good. No, nobody wants to hear about it. Yes, everyone is hearing about it. No, we still don’t care.

Miami has used a bit of good luck (late come from behind wins over FSU and Georgia Tech) along with a better-than-expected offense and a solid defense to get the latest echoes of “The U is back!” going. That #11 S&P+ Offense, led by a fantastic rushing attack, has probably been the biggest surprise, although it will have to adjust to life the rest of the way without RB Mark Walton, a first team All-ACC caliber force. Efficient junior QB Malik Rosier and senior WR (and Raleigh native) Braxton Berrios have led the passing attack that has come up with the big plays when needed most, especially in Walton’s absence. The defensive line is the group driving the, uhh... defensive unit. They’re not getting the level of attention that Clemson or NC State’s D-lines are getting, but they are a very good unit that controls the line of scrimmage and can get after the QB. This is probably your Coastal Division favorite to make it to Charlotte.


Virginia Tech

S&P+ Ranking: 19 | Overall Record: 5-1 | ACC Record: 1-1

Is Frank Beamer still in Blacksburg? Because this Virginia Tech team has all the hallmarks of a Beamer team: a suffocating defense (11th in S&P+ Defense) and an offense (61st in S&P+ Defense) that dominates bad defenses and struggles against the good ones. True freshman QB Josh Jackson has been fantastic and should contend for Freshman All-America honors at the position (it helps to have a stud veteran WR like Cam Phillips to throw to), but the offense has been one dimensional lacking a consistent run game. The defense is no one-trick pony as they’re solid across the board, although the typical signs of a Bud Foster led defense (high havoc rate from the DBs) are there.

The Hokies have really only played two games (looking really good in a win vs West Virginia and really bad in a loss vs Clemson), so the back end of the schedule with games against Miami, Georgia Tech, and Virginia should tell us what type of team this really is. This team does control their own destiny, though. November should be an interesting month for the Coastal Division race.


Georgia Tech

S&P+ Ranking: 27 | Overall Record: 3-2 | ACC Record: 2-1

Ah, yes. That team nobody wants to play. Ever. Like the ACC Football version of meth... not even once. Paul Johnson doesn’t care, though. He’s just here to glare unapprovingly and ruin your season (and your knees).

Is this GT team for real, though? My gut says ‘no’. Their two losses have come by a total of two points (that sucks), but they’ve also played a weak schedule outside of the game vs Miami (one of the two L’s). Even sitting at 3-2, with the remaining schedule, it’s not hard to see a scenario where this team doesn’t make a bowl game. Chances are they will, though; that offense is just too good at what they do and the veteran defense will keep them in games that it couldn’t the last couple years.


Virginia

S&P+ Ranking: 34 | Overall Record: 5-1 | ACC Record: 2-0

Raise your hand if you thought Virginia would control their own destiny in the ACC Coastal Division heading into late October... Shut up, you liar.

When Virginia hired Bronco Mendenhall from BYU, the consensus was that it was a homerun hire for the Cavaliers; however, it was also widely agreed upon that the rebuild process would take several years. Well, here we are in just Year 2 of the Mendenhall era of UVa Football and this team is one win away from a bowl game with Boston College and Pittsburgh up next. Granted, it helps when you play in the Coastal and start off your conference slate with Duke and UNC-CH, but this is still one hell of a coaching job by Mendenhall and his staff, even if the team fizzles towards the finish line. The defense is good (27th S&P+ Defense), the offense is serviceable with ECU grad transfer Kurt Benkert leading the way (58th S&P+ Offense), and UVa will be going to a bowl for the first time since 2011.


Duke

S&P+ Ranking: 75 | Overall Record: 4-3 | ACC Record: 1-3

Duke started off the year 4-0 and people were talking about “David Cutcliffe is doing it again!” Funny how reality set in once the schedule got real. In the midst of a three game skid that has taken them right on out of championship contention, Duke is now just trying to get to bowl eligibility. A home game against Pittsburgh should provide an opportunity to stop the skid, but there are three likely losses remaining on the schedule. A loss to Pitt likely means this Duke team doesn’t see December football.


North Carolina

S&P+ Ranking: 88 | Overall Record: 1-6 | ACC Record: 0-4

What do you get when you mix together a horrible offense (82nd S&P+ Offense) with an equally horrible defense (82nd S&P+ Defense)? You get this debacle in Chapel Hill that I am enjoying quite thoroughly. Larry Fedora better go and thank his AD for putting Old Dominion and Western Carolina on the schedule (that Western team is 5-2, though, and no pushover, so I hope UNC-CH takes them lightly), otherwise this could have been an 0-12 team. I bet ol’ Captain Redbull McTirebeater wishes he had jumped ship last year while his stock was still high. He was probably holding out hoping for that Texas A&M job to open up after this year. Welp!

Let’s just take a moment to enjoy this summation of UNC’s season thus far, brought to you by a guy named Chazz (because of course UNC’s starting QB would be named Chazz) (also, thanks to no23sports for the gif):


Pittsburgh

S&P+ Ranking: 96 | Overall Record: 2-5 | ACC Record: 0-3

The schedule hasn’t been kind to Pitt (seriously, two of the first three games were against top four S&P+ opponents Penn State and Oklahoma State), and an injury took down their starting QB. This just ain’t the year for Pat Narduzzi, but at least the Panthers are projected for one more win... vs UNC. Ha!

Best case scenario, this is a four-win team. The Nard Dog should just let the GAs coach the rest of the season and get his paid staff out there recruiting. Hit reset and start again, man.

But, Pat... Patrick... Buddy. How is Quadree Henderson only averaging four offensive touches per game?!


So what do we have? An Atlantic Division that’s a two horse race (sorry, Syracuse, I’m just not buying into y’all) between NC State and Clemson... and a Coastal Division that’ll come down to a battle between Miami, Virginia (!!), and Virginia Tech (sorry, Georgia Tech, not buying y’all either).

So sit back, get some popcorn and a beverage of your choice, and enjoy the rest of the show! This has been a fun season to this point, and it has the promise to be even more exciting over the second half!

November’s gonna be fun. Let’s enjoy it!