1. Clemson (Last Week: 41-7 W vs NC State)
Previous Rankings: 1 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 1
The scary death machine turned it up a notch this past week, destroying NC State in an impressive statement of strength and Ivan Drago-ish don’t-give-a-**** attitude. Clemson’s defense completely bottled up an NC State offense that had been a fairly efficient group, holding the Wolfpack offense to its worst performance of the year. Trevor Lawrence threw for 308 yards and a TD in his first full game as the Clemson starting QB and Tee Higgins hauled in eight of Lawrence’s passes (including the TD) for 119 yards. The Tigers lowest projected win margin in their five remaining regular season games is 16.3 points. Dabo’s son fumbled in his chance for glory, though, so at least everyone can laugh at that.
2. NC State (Last Week: 7-41 L @ Clemson)
Previous Rankings: 6 / 5 / 4 / 3 / 3 / 3 / 2
Hey, Clemson, that wasn’t very cash money of you. NC State was putting together a pretty nice season before being unceremoniously dismembered in the western part of South Carolina like this was some sort of scene from Narcos. The lone bright spot for the ‘Pack was that the defense held the Tigers to their lowest yards-per-carry mark of the year and their second-lowest rushing success rate of the season. Gotta hold on to something positive, I guess. The Wolfpack may still very well be the second-best team in the ACC this year, but that performance sure didn’t make it an easy argument. But it’s also really hard to put any other team above them. Man, the ACC is some seriously hot garbage.
3. Virginia (Last Week: 24-14 W @ Duke)
Previous Rankings: 7 / 8 / 9 / 5 / 8 / 7 / 5
Man, the Virginia defense has been killing it since their bye week, holding Miami and Duke (two top-35 S&P+ teams) to a combined 27 points. UVa particularly smothered Duke, holding the Blue Devils to just 4.64 yards/play and a 29% success rate for the game. Bryce Perkins (aka the entire UVa offense) wasn’t the best that he’s been, but he still accounted for over 250 yards of offense and 3 TDs (1 passing, 2 rushing). The TD pass went to little-used senior tight end Evan Butts (I just wanted an excuse to type that). Don’t look now, but that Virginia @ Virginia Tech game in the last week of the regular season could well be the defacto Coastal Division Championship Game.
4. Miami (Last Week: Bye)
Previous Rankings: 9 / 7 / 8 / 4 / 2 / 2 / 7
ACC Coastal Division football is what makes the rockin’ world go ‘round. Wait, no. That’s fat-bottomed girls. ACC Coastal Division football is all that’s left on Miami’s schedule after this week’s game with Boston College. They should be favored in all those games. That means they’ll probably lose one of them.
5. Boston College (Last Week: Bye)
Previous Rankings: 3 / 3 / 2 / 7 / 7 / 6 / 6
Boston College was on a bye, so technically they couldn’t win, but they did. AJ Dillon is back healthy and that has to frighten the hell out of Miami and Virginia Tech (BC’s next two opponents).
6. Syracuse (Last Week: 40-37 W vs North Carolina)
Previous Rankings: 13 / 10 / 8 / 6 / 4 / 10 / 8
Syracuse went to OT but pulled out the win against UNC-CH. Senior QB Eric Dungey (17-of-33, 225 yards; 15 carries, 42 yards, 1 TD) was benched for freshman Tommy DeVito (11-of-19, 181 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT), who played very well in just his second stint of extended playing time. The QB situation is going to be the big storyline going forward, but either QB is capable of making the offense effective - just in different ways. It’s hard to get a firm reading on what this ‘Cuse team really is. The team has been all over the place, and the offense and defense haven’t been able to put together a synced effort (this UNC-CH win was probably the most balanced effort of the season, although it wasn’t the best overall). Then again, that’s kinda what happens with building teams.
7. Virginia Tech (Last Week: Bye)
Previous Rankings: 2 / 2 / 3 / 13 / 5 / 4 / 4
The schizophrenic Hokies had their non-hurricane bye week. They have a pretty challenging last five games ahead of them, all projected to be within a 5.0 point margin.
8. Duke (Last Week: 14-28 L vs Virginia)
Previous Rankings: 4 / 4 / 5 / 2 / 6 / 5 / 3
The Blue Devils fell behind the Wahoos early and could never make it all the way back, with Virginia constantly keeping an arms-length distance. Duke’s offense wasn’t that much worse than Virginia’s, but when you lose the field position game as badly as Duke did (-13.6 yard difference in average starting position), an inefficient offense can turn into an unproductive one in a hurry. The Duke defense actually played decently well in this one to keep them in the game - especially with their backs against the wall, allowing just 3.38 points per scoring opportunity on 8 scoring opportunities.
9. Florida State (Last Week: 38-17 W vs Wake Forest)
Previous Rankings: 10 / 12 / JV-1 / 9 / 11 / 11 / 10
The Seminoles used their bye week well and put together one of their two best performances (Northern Illinois) in a complete and thorough win over a hapless Wake Forest squad. The passing game was clicking with Deondre Francois (29-of40, 343 yards, 2 TDs) and Nyqwan Murray (8 receptions, 131 yards, 1 TD), the running game was working better than it has all year with Cam Akers (13 carries, 98 yards, 2 TDs) leading the way, and the defense was stout in holding the Wake offense to a 33% success rate for the game and tallying six sacks (led by Brian Burns and Joshua Kaindoh with 2.0 sacks each - Burns now has 9.0 sacks on the year). FSU has the talent that if things start to click, they’re going to be dangerous and ruin some seasons. Despite the difficult remaining schedule, a bowl game is not out of the question if FSU plays at that level every week.
10. Georgia Tech (Last Week: Bye)
Previous Rankings: 5 / 9 / 12 / 10 / 10 / 8 / 9
Paul Johnson undoubtedly spent the bye week mailing Brian VanGorder a 500-piece puzzle, one piece at a time, that when put together, is the scoreboard from Georgia Tech’s destruction of Louisville the previous week. The final package contained a post-it note that simply said, “Fight me.” Paul Johnson is a treasure of pettiness.
11. North Carolina (Last Week: 37-40 L @ Syracuse)
Previous Rankings: 14 / JV-NR / JV-NR / 11 / JV-1 / JV-1 / 12
Antonio Williams ran for 116 yards and a TD on 15 carries and Nathan Elliott threw for 321 yards (but it took him 52 attempts to get that) and 2 TDs despite a very ‘meh’ performance, yet UNC-CH still found a way to lose. Make no mistake, this is not a very good North Carolina team, but they’re somehow finding ways to stay in games and put themselves in a position to win even when everything says they shouldn’t be. Four of their six games have now been one possession affairs (they’re 1-3 in those, by the way), including the last two. The defense is terrible and the offense (which is pissing away a very explosive running game) is stuck in neutral with the QB play they have.
12. Pittsburgh (Last Week: Bye)
Previous Rankings: 8 / 13 / 10 / 12 / JV-NR / 9 / 13
Pitt was on a bye, but let’s appreciate the 2018 light switch of the ACC. In their three wins, Pitt has been really good. In their three losses, the exact opposite. Long live Pitt football!
13. Wake Forest (Last Week: 17-38 L @ Florida State)
Previous Rankings: 12 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 12 / 11
Oh, Wake. I remember fondly the days of the early season when you were still considered a good team. Seems like just yesterday... yet also like so much further away than that. Anyways, Wake got their doors blown off at Florida State. QB Sam Hartman looked like he was going to be a breakout freshman early in the year, but has come rocketing back down to earth the last two games (granted, those games were against Clemson and Florida State; two of the three most talented teams he’ll face this year - the other being Notre Dame, against whom he also struggled). The Deacs still have Louisville and Pittsburgh on their schedules (although they’ll likely be underdogs in those games, too), and if they have any semblance of hope of a bowl game, they better capitalize on those opportunities. Yeesh.
14. Louisville (Last Week: Bye)
Previous Rankings: 11 / 11 / 12 / 14 / 12 / JV-2 / 14
Louisville fans spent the bye week dusting off old Jeff Brohm posters and making googly eyes at the TV while Purdue murdered Ohio State in primetime. Louisville administrators spent the bye week staring at pizza sauce-red financial statements and trying to figure out how to make a $14M buyout work.