Miami is one of five teams in the top 25 that is still undefeated. But up until Saturday, a lot of people weren’t sold on the Hurricanes. After all, they had won their four previous games by a combined 18 points. And it’s not like Miami was playing marquee opponents, week after week. In fact, all four of those nail-biting wins came against teams that are currently .500 or worse. Even one-win North Carolina gave head coach Mark Richt’s team a scare.
The Hurricanes tacked on another victory this past weekend—only this time it wasn’t close. They rolled over No. 17 Virginia Tech, 28-10, all but assuming the Coastal Division throne. Not only was Miami’s win its most convincing since its 31-6 blowout over Duke in Week Five, but it was also its first over a top-25 team this season.
With the win, the Hurricanes have complete control of their destiny in the ACC. One more conference victory, or even a Virginia loss in league play, hands Miami its first Coastal Division title in program history. Clemson is just as close to clinching the Atlantic Division crown. A win at Florida State or a North Carolina State loss at Boston College this week would seal the deal. There’s still about a month of regular season play to go, but the conference championship is all but decided.
The rest of the ACC, though, has still yet to sort itself out.
1. Clemson (8-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast) (CFP Ranking: No. 4)
For the sixth-consecutive year, Clemson topped No. 23 NC State on Saturday. But the matchup just as easily could have gone the other way. The Tigers actually trailed the Wolfpack at the half, and needed a 14-point third quarter to get back in the driver’s seat. As well as the offense played in the latter portion of the game, it was the defense that pulled out the win. Down one touchdown, with the clock winding down, NC State quarterback Ryan Finley methodically moved the ball downfield. But Clemson safety K’Von Wallace saved the day, coming up with an interception on the final play of the game. After losing to Syracuse a month ago, the Tigers have reverted back to their normal selves.
2. Miami (8-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast) (CFP Ranking: No. 7) ↑ 1
Miami silenced the doubters on Saturday. The Hurricanes’ 18-point victory over VT kept their College Football Playoff hopes alive and practically locked up the Coastal Division title. Quarterback Malik Rosier threw three interceptions, and Miami still won the turnover battle. An assortment of Hurricane players donned the turnover chain throughout the night, as Miami picked off VT’s Josh Jackson twice and forced two fumbles. The Hurricanes’ rushing attack bounced back from last week’s 59-yard performance, surpassing the 200-yard mark on the ground. Considering that the Hokies entered the game with the No. 2 scoring defense in the country, Richt has to be more than happy with his offense’s output. Having won 13 games in a row, the Hurricanes are the hottest team in the nation. It’s safe to say that the “U” is back.
3. Virginia Tech (7-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast) (CFP Ranking: No. 17) ↓ 1
Just like VT’s loss to No. 4 Clemson earlier this season, the Hokies were out of Saturday’s game from the start. VT forced three turnovers, but it didn’t matter—the offense was defunct. Jackson took a beating. The redshirt freshman was sacked four times, and coughed up the ball on two separate occasions—the second of which came in the fourth quarter. Jonathan Garvin knocked the ball out Jackson’s hands, and, in doing so, dinged up the rookie signal caller. Jackson stayed in the game, but had to be checked out on the sideline. The Hokies were outgained by 130 yards, and were a combined 3-of-17 on third and fourth-down conversions. Even if VT wins out, it’ll probably miss out on the conference championship. This one stings.
4. North Carolina State (6-3, 4-1 Atlantic Coast) (CFP Ranking: No. 23)
The Wolfpack picked up eight more first downs than Clemson, held the ball for close to 35 minutes, and recorded 76 more yards of total offense than the defending national champions. Finley had himself his third 300-plus yard passing game of the season, completing 62 percent of his pass attempts and tossing a trio of touchdowns. Reggie Gallaspy II and Jaylen Samuels headed NC State’s committee of running backs—a group that had moderate success throughout most of the contest. But in the end, even that wasn’t enough. It was the little things that cost the Wolfpack the game, and most likely, the Atlantic Division title. Following last week’s 12-penalty outing, NC State was flagged six times for 69 yards on Saturday. Finley’s two interceptions and a special teams breakdown in the first quarter didn’t help either.
5. Wake Forest (5-4, 2-3 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 2
John Wolford is peaking at the right time. The senior quarterback threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 59 yards and another score in Wake Forest’s loss to No. 3 Notre Dame. Wolford didn’t notch a single 300-yard passing game all of last season. He’s reached the milestone in back-to-back weeks, totaling a combined 792 yards through the air—116 more than he recorded over the course of the first four weeks of the season. Against the Irish, the Demon Deacons poured on 37 points—17 more than any other team had scored against Notre Dame this year. The only problem was, the Irish offense was just that much better, as the unit tallied 48 points and 710 yards. Still, there’s something to be said about the Demon Deacons hanging with Notre Dame.
6. Boston College (5-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast)
Boston College had one more week to let its 35-3 win over FSU—its first over the Seminoles in eight years—to soak in. The time off gave quarterback Anthony Brown more than enough time to rest up his throwing shoulder that he reinjured in the blowout victory two weeks ago. This weekend, the Eagles will host NC State—a team that head coach Steve Addazio’s team has defeated three of the past four years. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler will have to find a way to work around the Wolfpack’s stout run defense. But if he does that, and BC wins its fourth straight, the Eagles could very well run the table.
7. Georgia Tech (4-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 2
Unlike Georgia Tech’s previous two losses, quarterback TaQuon Marshall wasn’t the problem. Actually, he was the one carrying the offense. The junior threw for a career-high 179 yards and rushed for an additional 143. Not to mention that he accounted for three of the team’s four touchdowns. For a while, the Yellow Jackets were riding Marshall’s success. After the break, it took them all of 35 seconds to turn a one-point lead into a 13-point advantage. But then, everything started to unravel. GT’s secondary collapsed in the final quarter and a half of play, giving up three touchdowns through the air, including the game-winner. In order to make a bowl, the Yellow Jackets will have to beat at least two of the remaining teams: VT, Duke, and No. 1 Georgia.
8. Virginia (6-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 3
On Saturday, 27 was UVA’s magic number. It rallied to score 27 points in the second half—the final seven of which came on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Benkert to Andre Levrone. The scoring play won the Cavaliers their third ACC game of the season, but, more importantly, it granted them bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011. Benkert’s second-half comeback was gutsy to say the least. Without much of a run game, the pressure was all on him. The senior struggled with his accuracy all day, and even threw a pick-six, but when it mattered most, he delivered. Benkert recorded all three of his touchdown passes in the second half and surpassed the 250-yard mark for the fifth time this season.
9. Louisville (5-4, 2-4 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 1
Louisville stumbled into its bye week, having lost three of its past four games and fallen out of the top-25 rankings. No one deserved the break more than quarterback Lamar Jackson. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner leads the ACC in passing and is a close second in the rushing department. Week in and week out, he puts the Cardinals on his back. Lately, even he can’t make up for Louisville’s deficiencies. Last week, the Cardinals allowed over 450 yards through the air to Wake Forest’s Wolford. They’ll get another veteran gunslinger on Saturday in Benkert, who is coming off his fifth three-touchdown passing game of the season. Unless the Cardinals’ secondary flipped a switch during the bye week, Louisville’s matchup against UVA is set to be another shootout.
10. Syracuse (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 1
A few months ago, most Syracuse fans would have deemed a 27-24 loss to FSU a moral victory in itself. But at this point of the season, the Orange were expected to “upset” the Seminoles. That didn’t happen. Unfortunately for Syracuse, Eric Dungey was sidelined for most of the first half with a leg injury. That allowed FSU to jump out to a 21-7 lead. Eventually, Dungey returned, and the junior dual-threat quarterback did his thing. Piloting a second-half comeback, Dungey passed for 278 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He used his legs too, recording 109 yards on the ground. But Cole Murphy couldn’t send Syracuse to overtime, as the senior missed a 43-yarder as time expired. The Orange’s win over Clemson will go to waste if they can’t string together two more wins in the coming weeks.
11. Florida State (3-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast) ↑ 1
By definition, FSU’s victory over Syracuse was a statement game. The Seminoles may not have put up spectacular numbers, but they showed fight. Winning its first game at home this season, FSU heavily relied on its rushing attack. True freshman Cam Akers exploded for 199 yards and two touchdowns—both of which went for 50-plus yards. James Blackman saw a dramatic decrease in workload, but was as efficient as ever. For the first time in five weeks, the true freshman quarterback was turnover-free. Blackman completed 12 of his 19 pass attempts and found Nyqwan Murray for the game’s opening touchdown. This win kept the Seminoles’ season alive. But a victory over Clemson next week would flip the ACC upside down.
12. Pittsburgh (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast) ↓ 2
Pittsburgh’s probably feeling a whole lot better about its convincing win over UVA last week, now that the Cavaliers are bowl-eligible. Once 2-5, the Panthers have revived their season in just a matter of weeks. Running back Darrin Hall has gifted the Pittsburgh offense with balance, and, in effect, has lifted a huge weight off the shoulders of backup-turned-starting quarterback Ben DiNucci. This weekend, the Panthers, coming off a bye, get UNC. Given that the Tar Heels have the 104th-worst rushing defense in the nation, Hall should have another field day on the ground. Even with a win over UNC, Pittsburgh will still be one short of the elusive number six. But who knows, the Panthers took down an undefeated Clemson last year. Maybe they can spoil Miami’s perfect season too.
13. Duke (4-5, 1-5 Atlantic Coast)
Head coach David Cutcliffe used Duke’s bye week to his advantage. He had the scout team go live against the Blue Devils’ defense, all while imitating Army’s triple-option. But sometimes even intensive preparation isn’t enough to stop an all-out rushing attack like that. Duke’s run defense has taken a hit the past few weeks. Against Pittsburgh, the Blue Devils conceded over 300 yards on the ground to a Panthers team that ranks just 96th in the country in rushing offense. Then, the week after that, they allowed 187 yards rushing yards to VT. No matter what happens on Saturday, Duke will at least get a sneak peek at what to expect from GT—another triple-option offense—the following weekend.
14. North Carolina (1-8, 0-6 Atlantic Coast)
Nineteen UNC players are out with season-ending injuries, and the Tar Heels are 1-8. Their bye week would have come in handy a long time ago. Nonetheless, some time off at the start of November couldn’t have hurt either. The extra week gave quarterback Nathan Elliott some more time to study up on Pittsburgh. The sophomore got his first start of his career last week against Miami, and nearly pulled off the upset of the year. Elliot made plays with both his arm and his legs, but all in all, was extremely inconsistent. Elliot only completed 16 of his 39 pass attempts and was picked off three times. Saturday is UNC’s best shot to get an ACC win this season. Elliot will have take care of the ball, and the defense will have to slow down the Panthers’ now-explosive run game.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor