Not too long ago, Miami was on the verge of losing to a one-win North Carolina team. Luckily for head coach Mark Richt, the Hurricanes escaped Chapel Hill, N.C. with a five-point victory—their fourth-consecutive decided by eight points or less. With the win, Miami extended its nation-leading, 12-game win streak, remaining perfect on the year. But, numbers aside, the Hurricanes were light years behind No. 2 Clemson. Not only was Miami a couple plays away from falling out of the College Football Playoff (CFP) picture, but it had also yet to take down a ranked opponent.
Fast forward two weeks, and the Hurricanes are the team to beat in the ACC. Last week, they put Virginia Tech to bed, 28-10. Then, on Saturday night, Miami upset No. 8 Notre Dame, 41-8. Richt’s team has blown out back-to-back top-25 teams, jumping seven spots in the CFP Rankings.
On the other hand, Clemson is starting to look like a mid-season Miami. In both of the Tigers’ past two games, their defense has had to play with its back against the wall in the fourth quarter. Thanks to a pair of timely interceptions, Clemson has staved off another loss—one that would crush its national title dreams.
The top two teams have undergone a role reversal of sorts, and the Hurricanes are the clear beneficiary.
1. Miami (9-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast) (CFP Ranking: No. 3) ↑ 1
The Hurricanes’ rout of Notre Dame put an exclamation point on their first Coastal Division title in program history—one that they clinched hours before kickoff, following Virginia’s loss to Louisville. Travis Homer racked up 146 yards on the ground, and Malik Rosier, playing on the same day that his father suffered a stroke, totaled two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing). Above all else, Miami forced four turnovers for the fourth-straight game.
2. Clemson (9-1, 7-1 Atlantic Coast) (CFP Ranking: No. 2) ↓ 1
In what would have been a marquee matchup months ago, Clemson shut out Florida State, 17-0, in the first half of Saturday’s game. But head coach Jimbo Fisher’s team drew within three points of the Tigers in the fourth quarter. Van Smith extinguished the comeback, picking off James Blackman in Clemson territory. Ugly or not, the win clinched Clemson’s third-consecutive Atlantic Division crown.
3. North Carolina State (7-3, 5-1 Atlantic Coast) (CFP Ranking: No. 19) ↑ 1
Even though Ryan Finley only completed 40.6 percent of his passes, and recorded just 146 yards through the air—both of which were season lows—and Kyle Bambard missed three field goals, the Wolfpack still pulled out the victory in Chestnut Hill, Mass. But if Boston College quarterback Anthony Brown doesn’t leave the game with a season-ending leg injury in the second quarter, NC State probably doesn’t win this game.
4. Virginia Tech (7-3, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) (CFP Ranking: No. 17) ↓ 1
The Hokies’ early-season success is starting to feel like a distant memory. VT lost its second-straight game on Saturday at Georgia Tech, and the offense continued to struggle. Josh Jackson went his second game in a row without throwing a touchdown pass, and Travon McMillian and Jalen Holston had a hard time getting anything going on the ground. Once an ACC Championship contender, the Hokies are now headed for a tier-two bowl.
5. Georgia Tech (5-4, 4-3 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 2
TaQuon Marshall completed two passes in the win over No. 17 VT, and he made each one count. The first went for 60 yards and a score, and the second was just that much better: an 80-yard bomb to Ricky Jeune for six. Not to mention that Marshall also tacked on a pair of rushing touchdowns. For a Yellow Jackets team that had lost three games by a combined six points earlier this year, this victory was as good as it gets.
6. Wake Forest (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 1
As of late, John Wolford has looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate. And Saturday’s 64-43 win in the Carrier Dome was perfect evidence. The senior threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for an additional 136 and three scores. Oh, and he orchestrated a two-score, second-half comeback to guarantee Wake Forest bowl eligibility. Wolford has recorded 15 total touchdowns in the past three weeks—just as many as he logged in the first seven games of the season.
7. Louisville (6-4, 3-4 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 2
Lamar Jackson racked up four total touchdowns and 342 yards against Virginia, en route to becoming the first FBS player to have two seasons with at least 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards on the ground. That was expected. The defensive outing, however, was not. Louisville held the Cavaliers to just 277 yards of total offense—351 less than it gave up to Wake Forest two weeks prior. The Cardinals eliminated UVA’s run game, making the Cavalier offense predictable and one-dimensional.
8. Boston College (5-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 2
BC let a winnable game against No. 19 NC State slip on Saturday. A few questionable play calls—namely the decision to run a halfback jump-pass on fourth down inside the Wolfpack 20-yard line—and a lackluster offensive performance in the second half cost the Eagles their fourth-straight ACC victory. But the real loss was at the quarterback position. Without Brown, running back A.J. Dillon will literally have to carry this team from here on out.
9. Virginia (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 1
Despite scoring first and entering the break, down just three, the Cavaliers found themselves in a one-sided affair midway through the third quarter in Saturday’s loss to Louisville. Kurt Benkert never really established a rhythm, and once again took a beating. The Cavaliers turned the ball over twice, costing them 10 points. With Miami on tap, UVA will have to shore up ball security if it wants any chance at thwarting the Hurricanes.
10. Florida State (3-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
A double-pitch back, Blackman flea-flicker that went for a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter brought the Seminoles back to life. But just about two minutes later, the true freshman threw the game away. His interception jumpstarted a 14-point Clemson fourth-quarter run that made the game look a lot more lopsided than it actually was. FSU has to win out, in order to avoid missing out on the bowl season for the first time in 35 years.
11. Syracuse (4-6, 2-4 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 1
Backup quarterback Zack Mahoney wasn’t the problem on Saturday. The Syracuse defense was. After the Orange stormed out to a 38-24 lead at halftime, they gave up 40 points to the Demon Deacons in the latter portion of play. By the game’s end, Syracuse had allowed 734 yards of total offense and, worst of all, 64 points—the most an opponent has recorded in the 37-year history of the Carrier Dome. If Wolford could do that, it’s hard to imagine what kind of performance Louisville’s Jackson could put together this weekend.
12. Pittsburgh (4-6, 2-4 Atlantic Coast)
About a month ago, Darrin Hall revived Pittsburgh football. Out of nowhere, the junior running back single-handedly fueled the Panthers’ two-game win streak, rushing for a total of 365 yards and four touchdowns. He kept chugging along on Saturday against North Carolina, surpassing the 100-yard mark for the third-straight game, and breaking the plane four times. Unfortunately for the Hall, the rest of his team couldn’t keep up. Pittsburgh now has to beat both VT and Miami to make a bowl.
13. North Carolina (2-8, 1-6 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
Head coach Larry Fedora may have found something in quarterback Nathan Elliott. In his first start as a Tar Heel, the sophomore completed 20-of-31 passes for 235 yards and two scores, without turning the ball over to the Pittsburgh defense. But, most importantly, he led UNC to its first win since September, and its first ACC victory of the year. All things considered, the Tar Heels have impressed the past couple of weeks.
14. Duke (4-6, 1-5 Atlantic Coast)
Two years ago, Duke embarrassed Army at Michie Stadium, 44-3. It was only fitting that the Black Knights avenged their blowout loss on Veteran’s Day in West Point, N.Y. Although the Blue Devils played Army’s triple-option better than any team this year, only allowing 226 rushing yards—139.4 under the Black Knights’ season average—scoring-wise, Duke was inept as ever. Ultimately, an interception, fumble, and a blocked punt that Army returned for a touchdown proved to be too much for the offensively-challenged Blue Devils to overcome.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor