On July 17, Virginia football was picked to finish last in the ACC’s Coastal Division for the fourth year in a row. Not only were the Cavaliers slotted to fill out the bottom of their division, but they also received the least points of any team in the entire conference. UVA didn’t earn a single first-place vote, and reasonably so.
Over the past four seasons, the Cavaliers had won a total of 13 games, only four of which had come in the ACC. To make matters worse, UVA lost 10 starters—seven offensive and three defensive—from last year’s 2-10 team. Before the season started, many were already penciling in UVA as a win on their teams’ schedules. But now, the Cavaliers are no longer a sure victory. In fact, it looks as if they are on their way to their first bowl in nine years.
After six weeks of play, UVA already has four wins under its belt—three more than ACC favorite Florida State. The Cavaliers’ success just goes to show that nothing is guaranteed in college football, especially when it comes to the ACC.
1. Clemson (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) (AP Poll: No. 2)
For the third-consecutive year, Clemson is 6-0 to start the season. But the Tigers aren’t completely unblemished. Quarterback Kelly Bryant left Clemson’s 28-14 win over Wake Forest on Saturday in the third quarter with a left ankle sprain. The junior is expected to start against Syracuse this week, but with the way the Tigers’ defense has been playing, he probably wouldn’t even need to. Clemson kept the Demon Deacons off the board for 51 minutes—a relatively unsurprising stat, considering that the Tigers have held opponents scoreless in 15-of-24 quarters this season.
2. Miami (4-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast) (AP Poll: No. 11)
Miami finally has bragging rights over its Sunshine state rival. The Hurricanes went on the road and edged FSU, 24-20, ending a seven-game losing streak in the series. But for a while, it looked as if Miami was about to give up another fourth-lead to the Seminoles. Having lost to the FSU by a total of 10 points over the past three seasons, the Hurricanes were desperate to close this one out. Down a field goal with less than a minute and a half to go, quarterback Malik Rosier led a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. He hit Darrell Langham in the endzone for a 23-yard score with just six ticks on the clock left. After this win, Miami appears to be a lock for the Coastal Division championship game.
3. North Carolina State (5-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast) (AP Poll: No. 20) ↑ 2
North Carolina’s State rise to the top of the conference continues. After upsetting FSU in Week Four, the Wolfpack downed another high-profile ACC opponent in then-No. 17 Louisville on Saturday. For the fourth-consecutive game, running back Nyheim Hines totaled at least 92 yards on the ground. The rushing attack complemented quarterback Ryan Finley in the passing game. Finley tossed for 367 yards and spread the ball to numerous receivers—two of which surpassed the 100-yard mark and another that was one yard short. Above all else, NC State held quarterback Lamar Jackson in check, sacking the reigning Heisman Trophy winner four times and taking one of his passes back to the house for six. The Wolfpack are for real.
4. Virginia Tech (5-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) (AP Poll: No. 15) ↓ 1
Josh Jackson couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start against BC. The redshirt freshman quarterback was picked off on his second throw of the game—his third interception in the past two weeks. But from then on out, he was dialed in. Jackson torched the Eagles’ secondary, which was ranked 12th in the nation prior to Saturday’s game, for 322 yards and a score. The Hokies were just as dominant on the other side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s unit allowed less than 350 total yards of offense and one touchdown. With North Carolina and Duke up next, VT should pile on a couple more ACC wins before its showdown in Miami.
5. Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
Head coach Paul Johnson got an extra week to gameplan for the Yellow Jackets’ pivotal matchup against No. 11 Miami this coming Saturday. After running all over Pittsburgh and blowing out North Carolina in the previous two games, Georgia Tech will be tested for the first time since it lost its season opener in double overtime to then-No. 25 Tennessee. Luckily for the Yellow Jackets, the Hurricane’s rush defense isn’t anything to ride home about. Miami is giving up 148 yards on the ground per game. If everything goes to plan, TaQuon Marshall and KirVonte Benson will rack up a lot more than that. But if worst comes to worst, the Yellow Jackets still have the sixth-best defense in the country to fall back on.
6. Louisville (4-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 2
Louisville has yet to stop a Power Five offense. In the Cardinals’ four games against the country’s top competition, they have allowed about 37 points and 470 yards per game. When that happens, it’s virtually impossible to win on a consistent basis, as evidenced by Louisville’s 39-25 loss to No. 20 NC State. Jackson and the Cardinals trailed the Wolfpack the entire game. Without a running game, the dual-threat signal caller had to do it all, per usual. Jackson got his fair share of touchdowns (one passing, two rushing), but eventually the workload caught up to him. Down one score, late in the fourth quarter, the junior threw a game-ending pick-six. The Cardinals are looking more and more like a middle-of-the-pack ACC team, and Jackson is paying the price.
7. Florida State (1-3, 1-2 Atlantic Coast)
Auden Tate nearly did it again. The Seminoles wideout hauled in a potential game-winning, 20-yard touchdown catch with a little of bit of time left on the clock against Miami, just like he did the week before. But this time, FSU’s defense couldn’t hold on for the win. Rosier burned the Seminoles’ highly touted secondary for a handful of big completions, the last of which sealed a Hurricanes victory. At times, quarterback James Blackman looked more comfortable in the pocket, but it’s clear by now that he’s hardly a replacement for Deondre Francois. FSU is averaging just 18.5 points per game and is 1-3 for the first time since 1976.
8. Virginia (4-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 3
Unlike the previous two games, quarterback Kurt Benkert was from perfect in UVA’s 28-21 victory over Duke. The senior was under duress all day, and as a result, forced too many throws. Benkert threw two interceptions in the first quarter—the second of which Jeremy McDuffie returned for a touchdown. But soon, the veteran gunslinger found his groove. He tossed three touchdown passes in the final three quarters to lead the Cavaliers to 21-straight points and their first conference victory of the year. UVA is off to its best start since the team won seven of its first eight games in 2007. The question remains: how long can Benkert and the Cavaliers keep this going?
9. Wake Forest (4-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast)
Wake Forest had no trouble cleaning up non-conference opponents and ACC bottom feeder Boston College, but it continues to struggle against the nation’s elite teams. With Saturday’s loss to No. 2 Clemson, the Demon Deacons dropped to 0-22 against teams that are 5-0 or better. Quarterback John Wolford was sidelined with a left shoulder injury, so sophomore Kendall Hinton got the nod. Despite putting up decent numbers—203 passing yards and two touchdowns—Hinton had a hard time moving the ball downfield. Wake Forest was 4-of-13 on third down and didn’t reach the end zone until the fourth quarter. Head coach Dave Clawson’s team will get a week to regroup before taking on Georgia Tech.
10. Duke (4-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 2
Duke’s defense is balling out. The Blue Devils feature the 16th-best defense in all of college football. They are giving up a shade under 300 yards and just 20 points per game. Not to mention that they are tied for the FBS lead in defensive touchdowns. Their offense, on the other hand, has hit rock bottom. Quarterback Daniel Jones and Co. combined for 101 points in the first two weeks of the season. Since then, they have scored just 88. Against Virginia, Jones completed a mere 14 of his 42 pass attempts and turned the ball over twice—nothing new for the sophomore who was picked off five times in last year’s meeting. Until Jones snaps out of this funk, Duke will have a hard time beating any team.
11. Syracuse (3-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 1
After Syracuse lost back-to-back, single-digit games to then-No. 25 Louisiana State and NC State, it almost seemed as if the Orange were due for a win. They got exactly that when Pittsburgh came to town. Eric Dungey’s record-breaking season continued, as the junior threw for 365 yards and ran for 48 more and a touchdown—his ninth rushing score of his career, tying Donovan McNabb and Bill Hurley for the most by a quarterback in Syracuse history. The Orange’s bowl hopes are still alive, but with Clemson, Miami, FSU, and Louisville still on the schedule, it’s hard to imagine that Syracuse has the firepower to win three more games.
12. Pittsburgh (2-4, 0-2 Atlantic Coast)
Max Browne came back to Earth on Saturday in the loss to Syracuse. One week removed from putting up a career-high 410 yards and four touchdowns, the graduate transfer quarterback managed just 161 yards through the air before leaving the game with a season-ending shoulder injury. Once again, Ben DiNucci was thrown into the line of fire. He didn’t fare much better, completing 6-of-10 pass attempts for 55 yards. In last season’s meeting between the two teams, the Panthers poured on 71 points in the highest scoring game in FBS history. This time around, the only record that was broken came on a field goal. Pittsburgh’s Alex Kessman drilled a 56-yarder, setting a Carrier Dome record. Without Browne, the Panthers’ scoring numbers could very well plummet even further.
13. Boston College (2-4, 0-3 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
Moving the sticks has been a problem all year for head coach Steve Addazio’s team—more so than ever when the Eagles hosted No. 15 VT on Saturday. BC was a combined 2-of-17 on third and fourth down. Twice, the Eagles turned the ball over on downs inside the Hokies’ 25-yard line. But that’s not the only reason why they’re leaving points on the table. For the second-straight week, Colton Lichtenberg missed a field goal from inside 41 yards. To make matters worse, NFL prospect Harold Landry left the game in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury. While BC’s defense is still one of the better units in the nation, its offense is near the bottom of every major statistical category.
14. North Carolina (1-5, 0-3 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 1
Notre Dame played UNC with a backup quarterback and a dehydrated starting running back. Still, the No. 21 Irish handed the reeling Tar Heels a 23-point defeat. Quarterback Chazz Surratt struggled with his accuracy for the third-consecutive week, connecting on just 19 of his 42 passes. The whole offense was out of sync. UNC recorded eight three-and-outs and just 265 yards. But hey, the Tar Heels have been here before. They also started 1-5 in 2013, and actually rattled off six-straight wins, including a bowl victory. That’ll hard to repeat though, especially with a redshirt freshman at the helm and a roster full of injuries.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor