Editor’s Note: Each week, I will release my ACC power rankings. Rather than standings, power rankings take into account the big picture—not only a team’s record, but its overall talent and week-by-week performance.
Florida State football head coach Jimbo Fisher can’t catch a break. For the second-straight year, the Seminoles entered the regular season ranked inside the top-five with legitimate College Football Playoff, and even National Championship, aspirations, only to see them disappear 54 minutes and 10 seconds into the season opener against top-ranked Alabama.
Last year, Louisville blew out then-No. 2 Florida State, 63-20, in week three, costing the Noles 11 spots in the national rankings. But on Saturday, Florida State suffered an even bigger loss: the availability of its leader and quarterback, Deondre Francois.
On a third-down play, Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison blitzed, infiltrated the backfield, and chased Francois, who was rolling right to avoid the sack. But as soon as Harrison made contact, the Florida State signal caller fell to the ground, grabbing his left knee.
Francois was carted off the field, and a day later, ruled out for the remainder of the season. One play can change the complexion of a game, or even a season.
In college football, fluctuation is constant. The ACC is no exception.
1. Clemson (1-0) (AP Poll: No.3)
With the injury to Francois, Clemson is now the team to beat in the ACC. It’s no surprise that the Tigers put up 56 points against Kent State. After all, Alabama—last year’s defending national champions—dealt the Golden Flashes a similar loss in its 2016 season opener. Clemson’s impressive outing has to be taken with a grain of salt, but we still learned a few things. He’s no Deshaun Watson, but Kelly Bryant looks like he’ll be more than fine quarterbacking the Tigers. Bryant showcased mobility and the ability to move the ball down the field. Even without Mike Williams and Wayne Gallman, Clemson recorded 665 yards of offense—more than they ever did last year.
2. Florida State (0-1) (AP Poll: No. 10)
At this point, it’s unfair to rule out Florida State. Just three years ago, then-Ohio State senior starting quarterback Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury in fall camp. Immediately, fans and analysts stuck a fork in the Buckeyes. But thanks to a pair of underclassmen quarterbacks—J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones—Ohio State took home its first College Football Playoff National title. Will the same thing happen when James Blackman steps in for Francois? Probably not. But until we know for sure, Florida State’s defense is too good for this team to drop below the No. 2 ranking.
3. Louisville (1-0) (AP Poll: No. 17)
Miami is hot on Louisville’s heels, but I’ll give the defending Heisman Trophy winner and Co. the benefit of the doubt. Louisville escaped Indianapolis with a seven-point victory over a mediocre Purdue team. A slew of penalties and three fumbles, two of which came at the goal line, kept the Boilermakers in the game. If it wasn’t for Lamar Jackson’s 485 total yards, the Cardinals would be looking at their fourth-consecutive loss dating back to last season. Louisville can’t keep shooting itself in the foot. There’s only so much Jackson can do to keep its playoff chances alive.
4. Miami (1-0) (AP Poll: No. 16)
After quarterback Brad Kaaya left for the NFL last year, head coach Mark Richt was tasked with finding a new gunslinger to fill out his loaded roster. Instead of going with four-star recruit N’Kosi Perry, Richt named redshirt junior Malik Rosier the starter. It might not have been a flashy move, but it was the right one. On Saturday, Rosier completed 17-of-28 pass attempts for 217 yards and three scores in the Hurricanes’ 41-13 win. But most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over. With star running back Mark Walton and an elite front seven, Miami just needs Rosier to be serviceable for the Canes to have a chance at an ACC Coastal division title.
5. Virginia Tech (1-0) (AP Poll: No. 18)
Entering the season, the biggest question surrounding Virginia Tech was the quarterback position. Like Miami, the Hokies were left without a signal caller when Jerod Evans decided to go pro. But that question was answered after Sunday night’s win over then-No. 22 West Virginia. Not only did redshirt freshman Josh Jackson throw for 235 yards and a touchdown, but he also rushed for 101 yards and another score. To top it all off, the VT defense held the Mountaineers out of the end zone on back-to-back plays from the 15-yard line to close out the victory. Jackson is only going to grow, and so will the Hokies.
6. Georgia Tech (0-1)
TaQuon Marshall is the real deal. Monday marked the first start of his collegiate career. All he did was set the Georgia Tech single-game rushing touchdown record. Marshall totaled 249 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. As a whole, the Yellow Jackets offense dissected Tennessee. GT ran 96 plays for an overwhelming 655 yards, 33 first downs, and 41 and a half minutes. And if running back J.J. Green didn’t cough up the ball inside Volunteer territory during the Yellow Jackets’ game-clinching drive, they would have gotten the win too. Instead, Tennessee rallied to force overtime and eventually stole the game. Still, no one wants to play this team, particularly with Marshall at the helm.
7. North Carolina State (0-1)
After all the offseason hype, head coach Dave Doeren’s group looks like the same ol’ Wolfpack. Yes, quarterback Ryan Finley aired out for 415 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he did so on 64 pass attempts. NC State’s running game was inept. The Wolfpack’s running back-by-committee averaged just 2.5 yards a clip and coughed up the ball once. But that wasn’t the only problem. NC State has yet to figure out the place kicking position. Last year, the Wolfpack converted on just 9-of-17 field goals. And on Saturday, Carson Wise shanked his only attempt—a 29-yarder. Right now, NC State doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same conversation with the conference heavyweights.
8. Duke (1-0)
Daniel Jones is primed for a big year. Now a sophomore, the Blue Devils quarterback has all the tools to put up big numbers in the ACC. In 2016, Duke scored a mere 23.3 points per game. But this time around, things are already starting to look better. Jones and Co. poured on 60 points—the most ever under head coach David Cutcliffe—in a blowout win over North Carolina Central this weekend. The score wasn’t the only positive takeaway. Led by Brittain Brown and Shaun Wilson, Duke rushed for a total of 243 yards on 5.2 yards per carry, an encouraging sign for a team that averaged less than four yards per carry for the first time since 2012 last season.
9. Pittsburgh (1-0)
Pittsburgh gave up a 21-point lead to Youngstown State. I repeat, Youngstown State. Unsurprisingly, Penguins quarterback Hunter Wells threw for 300-plus yards and a pair of touchdowns against a Panthers secondary that finished second-to-last in pass defense last season. The offense going cold in the second half though? That was shocking. Yeah, Pittsburgh lost quarterback Nathan Peterman to the NFL, but USC transfer Max Browne is a pretty darn good replacement. With a sturdy offensive line, and one of the most potent wide receiver duos in the league in Jester Weah and Quadree Henderson, the Panthers matchup against Youngstown State had blowout written all over it. But the offense stalled in the second half, and Pittsburgh had to pull out an overtime victory. If the Panthers can’t score 35-plus points per game, consider them out of the ACC race.
10. Wake Forest (1-0)
Wake Forest’s 51-7 rout of FCS Presbyterian was eyecandy. The Demon Deacons scored 37 first-half points and proceeded to break the 50-point barrier for the first time since 2010. John Wolford, who led Wake Forest’s 124th-best offense for most of last season, logged three passing touchdowns—only six less than he threw in 2016—on just 15 passing attempts. But anyone could have put up that statline. His backup even proved it. Kendall Hinton stepped in and tossed a pair of touchdowns himself. Wolford and Wake Forest won’t turn any heads until they put on a performance like that against an FBS team.
11. North Carolina (0-1)
Talk about a drop off. North Carolina has gone from starting an NFL-ready quarterback to not having one at all. Against a traditionally poor California defense, quarterbacks Chazz Surratt and Brandon Harris combined for a meager 221 passing yards, one touchdown, and two picks. But the weak quarterback play was expected. The defensive breakdowns were not. The Tar Heels conceded two 50-plus yard touchdowns. UNC’s road only gets tougher from here on out. The Tar Heels will face an explosive Louisville in Week Two.
12. Boston College (1-0)
Head coach Steve Addazio stepped out of his comfort zone during Friday night’s matchup versus Northern Illinois. Not only did he roll with redshirt-freshman Anthony Brown, but he also lived up to his word by employing a high-octane offense. At times, it looked great. Others, not so much. Brown showcased his potential, but aside from a few drives, the BC offense was relatively stagnant. Although the Eagles ran 92 plays, they only averaged 3.68 yards per clip. The defensive line, specifically Harold Landry and Zach Allen, was underwhelming. Neither defensive end recorded a sack on the night. Still, it looks like BC has improved, especially on special teams. Kickoff man Maximilian Schulze-Geisthovel booted a handful of touchbacks, and Colton Lichtenberg drilled all three of his field goals, including the game winner. We’ll see what Brown and the offense can do against Wake Forest this week.
13. Syracuse (1-0)
Like Wake Forest, Syracuse opened up the season with a gimme game against FCS opponent Central Connecticut. Naturally, the Orange dominated, defeating the Blue Devils, 50-7. Quarterback Eric Dungey recorded three passing touchdowns and an additional two on the ground. Nothing’s changed there—he hasn’t been the problem. This is a team that, despite its occasional red zone struggles, can score. Remember, the Orange’s 61-point outing versus Pittsburgh. Well if you do, you’ll also recount that they lost that game. The defense is more experienced, but it’ll take a lot more than that to right the ship. Last season, Syracuse gave up more than 500 yards and 39 points per game. The Orange will continue to score and deceive for a few more weeks with Middle Tennessee and Central Michigan on tap. But when they travel to Baton Rouge, we’ll see what they’re really made of.
14. Virginia (1-0)
Virginia defeated in-state rival William & Mary, 28-10, on Saturday. Good thing, because it may be one of the only chances the Cavaliers get to stick their chests out this season. East Carolina transfer quarterback Kurt Benkert looked sharp. The newcomer passed for 262 yards and three touchdowns. But Benkert won’t be able to keep that up all year. And if he flounders, UVA will have to turn to some sort of run game—one that was nonexistent against the Tribe. As a team, the Cavaliers rushed the ball 32 times for 92 yards. Time will tell if added talent and a shift in defensive scheme will save UVA.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor