1. Florida State (last week: 24-15 W @ Florida)
As odd as it sounds, the Seminoles are simply in “survive and advance” mode now that Jordan Travis is out for the rest of the year. They passed the first test in beating the Gators in The Swamp. An added bonus in the win is that it keeps Florida from reaching a bowl game, which gives FSU fans another poker to stick in the side of their rivals. QB Tate Rodemaker wasn’t asked to do a whole lot - and he didn’t do much - but outside of taking a 2nd quarter sack for a safety, he didn’t make any costly errors. FSU now heads to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game opposite Louisville. Win there, and it’s off to the College Football Playoff.
2. NC State (last week: 39-20 W vs North Carolina)
The Wolfpack saved their best effort of the season for last, jumping out to a 26-7 halftime lead and never letting UNC threaten in the game. NC State’s defense held the Tar Heels to 384 yards of offense, just 11 yards more than their season-low, while State’s offense used and abused the woeful UNC defense to the tune of a season-high 504 yard offensive explosion while converting 8-of-16 third downs and playing a turnover-free game. As the regular season comes to an end, there’s no denying that the Wolfpack are playing the best of any team in the conference outside of Florida State.
3. Virginia Tech (last week: 55-17 W @ Virginia)
In a battle of two improving teams, with Virginia having the opportunity to deny their rivals bowl eligibility, the Hokies throttled the Cavaliers, all but putting the game away by halftime. Even when Virginia finally managed to get on the scoreboard with a 25-yard field goal midway through the 3rd quarter, VT returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. The Hokies finish 5-3 in ACC play, their first winning record in conference since 2019.
4. Clemson (last week: 16-7 W @ South Carolina)
One of the best feelings is to beat your rival. A better feeling is to beat your rival in the final game of the regular season to prevent them from reaching bowl eligibility. Mix in that you got to do it on their home turf and it’s all the more sweet. The Tigers head into bowl season on a four-game winning streak. It was an off year for Clemson, particularly struggling on the road (2-3), and the program will finish with single-digit wins for the first time since 2010, but at least they’ll keep Shane Beamer home for the holidays for the first time during his South Carolina tenure.
5. Miami (last week: 45-20 W @ Boston College)
The U put an end to their 3-game skid by putting away BC early. Almost doubling up a team in total yards will typically turn most games into a rout. Everything clicked for the Hurricanes with Tyler Van Dyke looking good throwing the ball and the multifaceted running game churning out yards at a healthy 6.1 ypc clip. Whether Van Dyke stays for his fifth year in 2024 or transfers is the big offseason question.
6. Louisville (last week: 31-38 L vs Kentucky)
The Cards outgained Kentucky 403-to-289, but committed three turnovers, gave up 100-yard kickoff return TD, and had no answer for Ray Davis in the 2nd half. While slim going in, what was left of Louisville’s playoff hopes completely vanished when Devin Leary and company completed the Cards’ loss. The game should be motivation for Louisville heading into the ACC Championship Game against an FSU team using a backup QB. An effort in that game like they put up against Kentucky will result in a blowout loss to a team as good as the Seminoles. Don’t expect any support from NC State, though, as the Wolfpack need to pass the Cardinals in the final CFP standings to earn a berth in the Orange Bowl.
7. Duke (last week: 30-19 W vs Pittsburgh)
Mike Elko went out as a winner in his final game as Duke’s head coach. Even though he was on campus for just two years, the Blue Devils have to be thankful for what Elko did in that short time, producing arguably the two best Duke teams since David Cutcliffe’s 2013 squad that went 10-4. With the coaching staff in the air, all eyes will be on QB Riley Leonard and what he does. Prior to his injury, Leonard was gaining momentum as a fringe 1st round draft pick for the 2024 draft. There will be a lot of NIL money for him in the portal, should he follow Elko to A&M, go the Sam Hartman path to Notre Dame, be the fish to finally bite on the desperate Auburn line, be the next project for the the QB Whisperer Lincoln Riley, or go elsewhere. The good news for Duke is that Grayson Loftis appeared to grow into the QB role over the last month of the season, saving his best effort for the win over Pitt.
8. Syracuse (last week: 35-31 W vs Wake Forest)
Well, this is hilariously awkward. Syracuse fires Dino Babers, and then the next week the team reaches bowl eligibility for the second straight season after missing the postseason for the three prior to that. The Orange aren’t wrong for looking for a change; the program clearly plateaued under Babers going 11-31 in ACC play over the last five years. Clearly the 10-3 campaign of 2018 was the outlier to his tenure. Even with the win over Wake, Cuse lost six of their final eight in the regular season, with the lone other win being over a hapless Pitt team. Following a 4-0 start to the year, a loss to Clemson sent the season off the rails. QB Garrett Shrader battled ineffectiveness and injuries the rest of the way and so went the season. Holding onto RB LeQuint Allen will be Priority #1 for Syracuse’s next coach.
9. Georgia Tech (last week: 23-31 L vs Georgia)
Good on the Yellow Jackets for making this one competitive. I’m sure that appeases absolutely nobody within their program, but considering the line was 24.5, the 8-point final margin is fairly impressive. Also taking into account that the Bulldogs thrashed ranked opponents Ole Miss and Tennessee in their prior two games heading into their matchup with GT, that was a dang good performance. The Yellow Jackets have a firm offensive identity returning next year with QB Haynes King, RBs Jamal Haynes and Trevion Cooley, and WR Eric Singleton.
10. North Carolina (last week: 20-39 L @ NC State)
Mack is back...sliding again. The bad news? The Tar Heels got blown out at their rival. The good news? UNC can expect a Christmas card from Dave Doeren this year, signed “Your Daddy”. The ACC’s best running back, Omarion Hampton, was bottled up for a season-low 28 yards on 9 carries. NC State’s defense kept the Tar Heels behind the chains and forced them to go away from their best weapon and instead keep the ball in QB Drake Maye’s hands. Maye, too, could not deliver against the formidable Pack D and UNC was saddled with their third straight loss against their down-the-road rival.
11. Boston College (last week: 20-45 L vs Miami)
The Eagles are heading to a bowl game thanks to a super soft schedule (the only team they beat that has a winning record is a 7-4 Holy Cross team from the FCS level), but that’s all that really matters, I guess. If Tom O’Brien was the 9-win king and Steve Addazio was the 7-win prince, what does that make 6-win Jeff Hafley? BC actually got out to a 7-0 1st quarter lead, but Miami scored the next 28 points to put this one away at the break. We’ll see who BC gets in a bowl game, but I’d bet on their opponent.
12. Virginia (last week: 17-55 L vs Virginia Tech)
That’s one way to end a season with a thud. The Cavaliers made progress in Year 2 under Tony Elliott, with their 2-5 record in one-possession games being indicatives that a little better luck could have had them near bowl eligibility. They’ll need to take another step next year, but the non-conference slate will feature Maryland and Notre Dame, plus a trip to Coastal Carolina. The Wahoos at least have found their QB of the future in Anthony Colandrea, but will lose their best weapon in WR Malik Washington. The defense will need work, especially on the DL, but S Jonas Sanker and LBs Kam Robinson and James Jackson are good building pieces.
13. Pittsburgh (last week: 19-30 L @ Duke)
The cooler weather this week down in NC is probably the sigh of relief coming from Pat Narduzzi’s office now that his worst season at the helm of the Pitt program is over. Narduzzi has already been confirmed as returning in 2024 for his 10th year leading the Panthers program; going 20-7 over the prior two years to this season’s 3-9 campaign will help buy you some good will. Pitt already fired OC Frank Cignetti Jr. and more changes, both to the coaching staff and the roster, are sure to come. The real waste was in not getting more national attention to an All-Name Team level roster: Phil Jurkovec, C’Bo Flemister, Montravius Lloyd, Che Nwabuko, Konata Mumpfield, Daejon Reynolds, Bub Means, Gavin Bartholomew, Jake McConnachie, Israel Polk, Zion Fowler-El, Marlon Devonshire, Bangally Kamara, Bam Brima, Braylon Lovelace, Nahki Johnson, Cruce Brookins, Caleb Junko, Jahvante Royal. I mean, you have to win with those guys. It’s a disservice to the football world.
14. Wake Forest (last week: 31-35 L @ Syracuse)
This sure wasn’t the season the Deacs had hoped for, but there’s promise with pretty much all their top offensive weapons (2 QBs, 3 RBs, 3 WRs) returning... barring transfers, of course. The 31 points against Syracuse was the first time Wake topped 21 in a game since their Week 3 win over Old Dominion, so there’s obviously more work to do with the offense than just getting players to return, although Dave Clawson’s program is built on maturing players and keeping them in the system for an extended time.