Clemson entered the Carrier Dome last Thursday on a 12-game road winning streak—the longest in program history and the second-best active streak in all of college football. Not to mention that the Tigers were a perfect 4-0 against Syracuse since the Orange joined the ACC back in 2013. To top it all off, head coach Dabo Swinney’s team was a three-touchdown favorite, even with a dinged up quarterback. The odds were against the Orange, to say the least. But that didn’t stop them from upsetting the previous year’s national champions for the third time in school history.
Quarterback Eric Dungey tossed three touchdowns and Cole Murphy drilled an eventual game-winner in the fourth quarter to propel the Orange to their biggest win of the season, and probably of the 21st century.
All of a sudden, Clemson’s perfect season was thrown out the window. Now, the Tigers’ path to a third-consecutive National Championship gets a lot more complicated. Not only will they have to win out, but they’ll also need a few other teams in front of them to drop a game or two.
At the moment, Clemson is still the team to beat in the ACC. But the gap between the Tigers and the rest of the conference is closing.
1. Clemson (6-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast) (AP Poll: No. 7)
Clemson is back in a familiar position. Just like last year, the Tigers were upset by an ACC underdog on Thursday night—this time, Syracuse. And it wasn’t even that close. Although Clemson only lost by a field goal, the Tigers were outgained by over 100 yards of total offense, and never had the lead. Quarterback Kelly Bryant, who was playing with a left ankle sprain, sustained a concussion late in the first half. Zerrick Cooper replaced the junior behind center, and was serviceable at best. Cooper completed 10-of-14 pass attempts for a mere 88 yards and no touchdowns. Clemson was 2-of-11 on third down, and only managed 113 yards on the ground. Its bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. Swinney will have to rally his troops, if he wants to get back to the promise land. But if anyone can do it, it’s the Tigers.
2. Miami (5-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast) (AP Poll: No. 8)
Without Darrell Langham, Miami wouldn’t be where it is right now. The 6-foot-4 wideout, who hauled in the go-ahead touchdown against Florida State, came up with another game-saving catch on Saturday against Georgia Tech. On an end all, be all fourth down, Langham snatched a tipped ball, while falling down, for a 28-yard gain. The reception set up Michael Badgley’s game-winning 24-yard field goal with just four seconds remaining. Down to the wire or not, Miami continues to get it done. The Hurricanes are the only undefeated team left in the ACC. But they better watch out, because next week Syracuse is coming to town. And you better bet that the Orange are, once again, ready to throw a wrench in the spread.
3. North Carolina State (6-1, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) (AP Poll: No. 16)
After North Carolina State lost its season-opener to South Carolina, who would have ever thought that the Wolfpack would be in the driver’s seat of the Atlantic Division at this point of the year. Head coach Dave Doeren’s team won its sixth-straight game on Saturday, a 35-17 victory over Pittsburgh. Quarterback Ryan Finley did his thing, throwing for close for 200 yards and a touchdown, and Nyheim Hines had himself a career day. The 5-foot-9 scatback rushed for 135 yards and returned a punt for a 92-yard score to give the Wolfpack their first lead of the game. They wouldn’t give it back. NC State outscored the Panthers 21-3 in the final half of play. The Wolfpack’s six-game winning streak is the their longest in 15 years.
4. Virginia Tech (5-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) (AP Poll: No. 14)
Virginia Tech got some time off, after downing Boston College on the road in Week Six. Even though the Hokies didn’t play, their resume took a hit with Clemson’s loss to Syracuse. Up until Thursday, no one could knock VT for losing to the Tigers. But now, the Hokies’ double-digit loss to Swinney’s team looks a little bit worse. They should have two easy wins lined up in the coming weeks. VT will host North Carolina and Duke, prior to its highly-anticipated matchup against Miami.
5. Georgia Tech (3-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast)
GT’s rushing attack was almost unrecognizable on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets only recorded 226 yards on the ground against a Miami defense, not typically known for its ability to stop the run. Renowned or not, the No. 8 Hurricanes game planned TaQuon Marshall and KirVonte Benson perfectly. GT’s top-two leading rushes combined for just 58 yards on 26 carries. To make matters worse, Benson left the game with a lower extremity injury. Overall, the Yellow Jackets were outgained by 200 yards on offense. Yet they were still leading Miami for much of the game. GT’s red zone defense limited the Hurricanes to just one touchdown in five trips. As heart-breaking as this loss was for the Yellow Jackets, head coach Paul Johnson has to be pleased with his defense’s output.
6. Florida State (2-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
Despite racking up 110 more yards of total offense than Duke, Florida State needed all four quarters to record its second win of the season. The 17-10 win marked the Seminoles’ fourth-consecutive game decided by a touchdown or less. James Blackman was more accurate than he’s been all year throwing the ball. Only three of the true freshman’s 21 pass attempts went down as incompletions. Unfortunately for FSU, two of those three were interceptions. But it was another freshman that willed the Seminoles to victory. Running back Cam Akers broke away for a 42-yard, go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, giving his team enough of a cushion to pull out the win. FSU will get a chance to avenge last year’s 43-point loss to Louisville next week against a plummeting Cardinals team.
7. Virginia (5-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
The score may not show it, but Virginia outplayed North Carolina in every facet of the game this past weekend. The Cavaliers maintained possession for about 40 minutes and ran 25 more plays than the Tar Heels. Quarterback Kurt Benkert added two more passing touchdowns to his season total, and running back Jordan Ellis rushed for a career-best 136 yards. UVA had no trouble moving the ball until it got in scoring position. As a result, the Cavaliers only scored one touchdown in four red-zone trips. But the defense made up for the scoring struggles, picking off Tar Heels quarterback Brandon Harris three times. If UVA is to compete with Miami and VT, it must establish balance on offense like it did on Saturday.
8. Syracuse (4-3, 2-1 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 3
Syracuse hung with then-No. 25 Louisiana State and an up and coming NC State team earlier in the year. But on Thursday, the Orange did more than just play a top-tier opponent close. Behind another monster Dungey performance, Syracuse knocked off Clemson—its first win over a No. 2 team in 13 tries. The Orange ripped off six 20-plus-yard plays, en route to recording 440 yards of total offense. They were arguably more dominant on the defensive side of the ball. Thanks to great play up front, Syracuse held the defending national champions to just 317 yards of total offense. With four wins, including back-to-back conference victories, Syracuse is looking more and more like a bowl team by the minute.
9. Wake Forest (4-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast)
Wake Forest stormed out of the gates, winning its first four games of the season. But the Demon Deacons have lost their past two games, and now are on the verge of dropping to the bottom of the Atlantic Division standings. After a one-week hiatus, head coach Dave Clawson’s team will resume play against GT this coming weekend. Wake Forest hasn’t scored more than 20 points since Week Three. The Demon Deacons will have a hard time snapping that streak on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets’ defense is the 15th-best in the entire country. Luckily, Wake Forest will have quarterback John Wolford—who was sidelined with a shoulder injury in the loss to Clemson—back at full strength.
10. Duke (4-3, 1-3 Atlantic Coast)
On Saturday against FSU, Daniel Jones played significantly better than he did the week before. But that’s not saying much, considering that he was coming off of a 14-of-42, two interception performance. His completion percentage nearly doubled this time around, but the offense failed to eclipse the 20-point mark for the third time in the last four games. Duke was a mere 5-of-13 on third down and rushed for just 111 yards—far short of its season average. The Blue Devils were in this one till the end, but their offensive production, or lack thereof, cost them their third straight-game. Duke matched last year’s win total in Week Four. Since then, it has gone nowhere, but downhill.
11. Boston College (3-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 2
BC scored 27 total points in its first three ACC games. But on Saturday against Louisville, the Eagles offense went off. BC racked up 45 points in a comeback victory over the Cardinals. Running back A.J. Dillon led the charge. The true freshman ran the ball 39 times for 272 yards and four touchdowns—none more impressive than his 75-yard score in the fourth quarter. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson single-handedly recorded 512 yards of offense, but the Eagles made stops on defense when it mattered most. It’s hard to tell whether BC’s offensive explosion was a byproduct of the Cardinals’ porous defense, or if Dillon and Co. are on to something.
12. Louisville (4-3, 1-3 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 6
What else is Jackson supposed to do? The reigning Heisman Trophy winner threw for 332 yards and rushed for another 180 in Louisville’s 45-42 loss to BC. At first, it looked as if the Cardinals were on their way replicating last year’s 52-7 pounding in Chestnut Hill. Jackson quickly got his team out to a 14-point lead. But after the break, Louisville gave up 28-straight points. From that point on, Jackson had to play catch up. He did his part, but his defense couldn’t buy a stop. The Cardinals are the only team in the Power Five to concede that many points to a Steve Addazio-coached Eagles team. Over the past two weeks, Louisville has fallen out of the top 25 and to the bottom of the ACC.
13. Pittsburgh (2-5, 0-3 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 1
Seven weeks in, and Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi is dealing with the same question that he faced following the season opener: who is the Panthers’ starting quarterback? Pittsburgh has played two quarterbacks every game this year. Without USC transfer Max Browne, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury the previous week against Syracuse, Narduzzi decided to split time between Ben DiNucci and true freshman Kenny Pickett. DiNucci got the nod in the first half, and actually kept Pittsburgh within one score of the Wolfpack. Then, Pickett came in, and the game got out of hand. The substitution was nothing less of a head scratcher. Fortunately for the Panthers, they’ll be paired with another struggling quarterback next week in Duke’s Daniel Jones.
14. North Carolina (1-6, 0-4 Atlantic Coast)
UNC head coach Larry Fedora made a change at quarterback on Saturday, and it completely backfired. Instead of going with redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt, who had started the previous five games, he started the veteran, Brandon Harris. The graduate transfer finished with just 46 passing yards—the Tar Heels’ fewest since 2000. Almost all of their offense came in third quarter, when freshman Michael Carter erupted for 127 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. But after that, the unit was stagnant. At 1-6, Fedora might as well call it a season, and give Surratt and Carter some time to develop.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor