After Miami blew by Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and Virginia, many assumed that the Hurricanes were well on their way to their first College Football Playoff (CFP), and maybe even an undefeated season. With Pittsburgh on tap, no one, including myself, saw an upset coming. But maybe we should have.
After all, the Panthers were in the same exact situation a decade earlier, and shocked the country. Down its starting quarterback, a 4-7 Pittsburgh team traveled to Morgantown, W.Va. to take on the No. 2 Mountaineers. Somehow, someway, the Panthers pulled out a 13-9 victory. Practically 10 years to the date, head coach Pat Narduzzi’s team had the chance to do it all over again, only this time the Panthers were at home—same record, same quarterback situation, and an identical caliber of opponent. Right on cue, Pittsburgh blindsided Miami, 24-14.
But the Hurricanes weren’t the only ACC team that failed to live up to its expectations over the weekend. Winners of three of its last four, Wake Forest face-planted against Duke. And for a while, it looked as if N.C. State’s best start in 15 years might just go to waste, as the Wolfpack trailed North Carolina for more than two quarters of play on Saturday. The final week of the regular season was full of twists and turns, and a whole lot of chaos in the ACC.
1. Clemson (11-1, 7-1 Atlantic Coast) (CFP Ranking: No. 1) ↑ 1
Just like last year, all the marbles have fallen into place for head coach Dabo Swinney and Clemson. When Syracuse squeezed out a three-point victory over the Tigers in the Carrier Dome about six weeks ago, it appeared as if Clemson’s mini-dynasty was nearing an end. But, week-by-week, Kelly Bryant and Co. has worked their way back to the top of, not only the ACC, but the country. The Tigers’ 35-10 blowout win over neighboring South Carolina on Saturday was a better indication than any that they’re truly a force to be reckoned with.
2. Miami (10-1, 7-1 Atlantic Coast) (CFP Ranking: No. 7) ↓ 1
Time and time again this season, Miami has come from behind to preserve the nation’s longest winning streak—but not this past Friday. The Hurricanes’ offense, a unit that averaged close to 38 points per game in its previous three games, mustered a mere two touchdowns and a season-low 232 yards in the loss to Pittsburgh. Even though the Hurricanes dropped five spots in the polls, they’re not out of the CFP race. A win over No. 1 Clemson in the ACC Championship should get them there.
3. North Carolina State (8-4, 6-2 Atlantic Coast) (CFP Ranking: 24) ↑ 2
Heading into halftime, the Wolfpack trailed in-state rival North Carolina, 14-12, on Saturday. But in the latter portion of play, N.C. State ran away with the game. Literally. Behind Nyheim Hines’ career-best 196 rushing yards, the Wolfpack rattled off three touchdowns—all of which came on the ground. As a team, N.C State nearly reached the 300-yard rushing mark, and chewed up over 36 minutes of clock. The win ups the Wolfpack’s season total to eight, and was just enough to get head coach Dave Doeren’s team back into the top 25.
4. Virginia Tech (9-3, 5-3 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 1
Bud Foster deserves all the credit for the Hokies’ 10-0 win over UVA last Friday. Without a handful of defensive starters at his disposal, the long-time defensive coordinator put together a gameplan that completely stumped the Cavaliers. When all was said and done, UVA’s four rushers combined for just five yards. Overall, the Hokies only allowed 191 total yards of offense. All year, VTech’s defense has balled out. But as the Hokies enter the bowl season, it’s important to note that seven of their nine wins came against FCS schools or teams at or below .500.
5. Louisville (8-4, 4-4 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
Unlike 2016, Louisville finished the regular season on a high note, winning each of its last three games. More importantly, head coach Bobby Petrino’s team laid down the law in the state of Kentucky. On Saturday, the Cardinals avenged their loss to the Wildcats with a 44-17 beatdown in enemy territory. For the 12th-consecutive game, Lamar Jackson accrued 300-plus yards of total offense. But, with the help he was getting in the backfield, he probably didn’t even need to. Not only is Louisville winning, but it’s finally playing like a team.
6. Boston College (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
As soon as running back A.J. Dillon touched the ball, the Eagles’ scoring spree began. The true freshman took his first carry of the game 22 yards to the house. The rest was history. Dillon racked up over 190 yards on the ground for the third-straight game, and found the end zone twice more. Through the air, quarterback Darius Wade had a career day, passing for 248 yards and one score. During BC’s 5-1 stretch, it has posted 36 points per game—19.7 more than its first-half average. The future is bright for the Eagles.
7. Wake Forest (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 3
Leading 17-10 with less than five minutes to go in the first half of Saturday’s game against Duke, Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford marched his team downfield. But as soon as the Demon Deacons crossed the 50, the senior threw an interception—just his fifth of the season. But it wouldn’t be his last: Wolford was picked off again in the fourth quarter, and Wake Forest’s offense came to a screeching halt. Head coach Dave Clawson’s team was outscored 21-6 in the second half, losing both the game and a shot at its first eight-win season in nine years.
8. Duke (6-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 3
Talk about a roller coaster season. After starting the year 4-0, and even receiving a few votes to crack the AP Top 25 poll, the Blue Devils lost six games in a row, only to finish the season with back-to-back wins. Duke’s latest victory over Wake Forest was probably its best of the season. Back to playing at a high level, quarterback Daniel Jones threw for a career-high 346 yards and two scores. And to top it all off, he snuck into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown—one that sent the Blue Devils back to the postseason for the fifth time in six years.
9. Florida State (5-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
For the second-straight game, the Seminoles scored over 30 points, and inched one step closer to their 36th-consecutive bowl appearance. But the scoring outburst wasn’t a byproduct of FSU’s offense. In fact, quarterback James Blackman and the Seminoles only totaled 216 yards. Quite simply, their defense won them the game. The unit was responsible for a pair of touchdowns, and practically set up two more. FSU will be playing in the first week of December—not for an ACC Championship, but for bowl eligibility.
10. Virginia (6-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 1
Once again, UVA failed to materialize any sort of run game, and, as usual, the Cavaliers paid the price against VTech. Running back Jordan Ellis, who led the team with 10 carries, averaged just 0.9 yards per rush. As a result, everything rested on the shoulders of quarterback Kurt Benkert. The senior buckled under pressure, taking four sacks and only completing half of his 34 pass attempts. After starting the season 5-1, UVA stumbled to the finish line, just barely earning the right to play in the postseason.
11. Pittsburgh (5-7, 3-5 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
Before the break, Narduzzi told an ESPN sideline reporter that it was about time the Panthers knocked off one of the country’s best in Pittsburgh. Boy, did he call his shot. Led by freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett, the Panthers bested Coastal Division champion Miami, 24-14. The third-string quarterback rushed for a pair of touchdowns and threw for another in what was Pittsburgh’s first home win over a No. 2 team in program history. Even with the miraculous victory, the Panthers fell one win short of clinching a bowl for the first time since 2007.
12. Georgia Tech (5-6, 4-4 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 4
Georgia Tech lost both its bragging rights over in-state rival Georgia, and its chance to play in a bowl on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets’ defense—a unit that was ranked 10th in the nation after five weeks of play—was as vulnerable as any in the home stretch of the season. GTech conceded 35-plus points in three of its last four games, including twice to teams below .500. Since winning 11 games in 2014, the Yellow Jackets have missed the postseason two of the last three years. A once-promising season has turned into a head-scratching disaster.
13. Syracuse (4-8, 2-6 Atlantic Coast)
Eric Dungey’s injury isn’t the only reason why the Orange collapsed in the back half of the season. After upsetting Clemson in mid-October, Syracuse’s defense fell apart. The unit allowed an average of 43.2 points per game to close out the season, and Saturday’s loss to BC was just the icing on the cake. It wasn’t long before the game turned into a shootout. Redshirt freshman Rex Culpepper couldn’t keep pace with the Eagles, and the Orange ended up staring at a 28-point loss. Now, Syracuse will have to start all over again next year, but without two of the best wideouts in the ACC.
14. North Carolina (3-9, 1-7 Atlantic Coast)
UNC didn’t extend its season-best two-game winning streak on Saturday, but Nathan Elliott showed why the Tar Heels might be primed for a turnaround season in 2018. Even though his accuracy dipped, the sophomore gunslinger threw for a career-high 277 yards, as well as three or more touchdowns for the second-straight week. UNC played its best football in November, and considering the number of injuries it endured this year, that’s all head coach Larry Fedora could’ve asked for.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor