ACC Power Rankings: It’s Clemson, and a Whole Lot of Chaos

“I don’t really know,” Boston College football head coach Steve Addazio said in his weekly press conference. “It’s so early in the season, I don’t really gather too much.” That was in response to a query asking about the state of the rest of the ACC after two weeks of the season. Addazio qualified that it’s difficult to tell much about the state of any team when so much football has yet to be played, but the fact that even the Eagles’ head coach doesn’t really know what to make of the conference is a pretty good indicator of the relative chaos that the ACC has been through the first two weeks of the year.

After Week 1, only two ACC football teams were ranked in the AP Top 25—Clemson and Syracuse. For a conference that boasted the defending national champion Tigers, the lack of depth was already abundantly clear. Today, the quality of the teams behind Clemson is, if possible, even less clear. Teams like Virginia Tech that were supposed to take a step forward in 2019 have already shown warts, while the Orange were dominated in Week 2 at the hands of Maryland, a program that certainly wasn’t cracking anyone’s Top 25 heading into the season. What remains is an ACC Power Rankings that has a clear No. 1, and a whole lot of question marks elsewhere.

1). Clemson (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast, AP No. 1)

The Tigers passed the toughest test (at least on paper) of their 2019 schedule in Week 2, beating then-No. 12 Texas A&M, 24-10, at home to maintain their No. 1 ranking. And the scary thing is, Trevor Lawrence, who carved up opposing defenses last season as a true freshman, isn’t even been playing his best ball. The Cartersville, Ga., high school graduate has a touchdown to interception ratio of 2 to 3 through two games and has thrown for just 436 total yards. Nevertheless, Clemson’s defense under Brett Venables is looking as stout as ever, and as of right now, the Tigers are set to cruise through the rest of their schedule, which doesn’t include another ranked opponent. 

2). Virginia (2-0, 1-0, AP No. 25)

Following a 52-17 demolition of William and Mary, the Cavaliers replaced Syracuse as the second ACC team in the Top 25. Bryce Perkins has been as good as advertised so far and leads UVA in both passing and rushing yards. No one has emerged as his go-to target through the air as of yet, though both Hasise DuBois and Joe Reed have had their moments in the first two contests of the season. But, perhaps more importantly, the UVA defense—which finished 2018 ranked as the 12th-best unit in the country by pass defense efficiency—looks to be just as good or better than it was last season. The Cavaliers have yet to allow more than 17 points or 300 total yards. 

3). North Carolina (2-0, 1-0) ↑1

Once the Tar Heels hired Mack Brown, UNC fans were probably right to expect success. After all, Brown won 10 games every year from 2001 to 2009 while at the helm of Texas, and he led UNC to bowl games in six consecutive seasons from 1992 to 1997. Even the most optimistic fans, however, likely didn’t expect a start this good. The Tar Heels are 2-0, with wins over both South Carolina and Miamitwo teams that made a bowl game last season. The Heels also look to have a budding star at quarterback in Sam Howell. In the always-chaotic ACC Coastal, UNC should feel good about its chances to make some noise this season.

4). Boston College (2-0, 1-0) ↑2

A week after an emotional, season-opening win against Virginia Tech, the Eagles ensured there wouldn’t be a letdown against FCS foe Richmond in Week 2. BC eased out to a 35-10 lead at halftime, ensuring that starters could be rested ahead of a Friday night game against Kansas. The Eagles got the ground game going against the Spiders, rushing for a whopping 346 yards on 50 carries. With a more explosive passing game that has been boosted by the addition of speedster Zay Flowers, BC now has the 23rd-best offense in the country, according to ESPN’s S&P+, and the right balance to pose ACC defenses all kinds of problems. 

5). Wake Forest (2-0, 0-0) ↑2

Much like the Eagles, the Demon Deacons took care of business in Week 2 after a dramatic, opening-weekend win, cruising past Rice, 41-21. After taking over for Sam Hartman for the last four games of 2018, Jamie Newman has elevated his game to the next level early in the year. The junior has thrown for 713 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions through two games and commands a Wake Forest offense that currently averages the most yards per game in the ACC. A Friday night contest against the Tar Heels looms as the first conference test of the season. 

6). North Carolina State (2-0, 0-0) ↑2

The Wolfpack definitely hasn’t been tested yet—its two wins have come against East Carolina and West Carolina—but the team is definitely excited about the play of Matthew McKay, who took the reins of the offense from longtime starter Ryan Finley. Through a pair of contests, the redshirt sophomore has posted an efficiency rating of 141.96 and has completed 66.2 percent of his throws. A road game against West Virginia, which will be McKay’s first look at a Power Five conference defense, is next up on the schedule, and it’ll be interesting to see how McKay and the N.C. State defense, which has allowed a total of six points in 2019, respond.

7). Syracuse (1-1, 0-0) ↓4

Talk about a wake-up call for the Orange. After a less than comfortable 24-0 win over Liberty in Week 1, Maryland put a beating on Syracuse in Week 2, with former Viriginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson carving up the Orange defense. Jackson threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Terrapins’ offense to a 63-point explosion. Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito wasn’t bad—he ended up completing 28-of-39 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns—but it simply wasn’t enough to keep up. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Orange either—it welcomes No. 1 Clemson to town this weekend.

8). Virginia Tech (1-1, 0-1) ↑2

There were probably some unpleasant flashbacks for Hokies fans in the fourth quarter of their game against Old Dominion Saturday. The Monarchs did, after all, pull one of the biggest upsets of the 2018 season when they beat then-No. 13 Virginia Tecg, 49-35. So when Old Dominion cut the Hokies’ lead to just 24-17 in the fourth quarter, a sense of deja vu was likely inevitable. Nevertheless, Virginia Tech held on for its first win of the season, as Ryan Willis accounted for three touchdowns and 272 yards passing. The lack of running game remains a problem—the Hokies are averaging just 2.8 yards per rush in 2019—but the emergence of Hezekiah Grimsley at wide receiver has helped offset that in the early going.

9). Miami (0-2, 0-1) ↓4

Head coach Manny Diaz is now off to an 0-2 start, after the Hurricanes blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight game in a 28-25 loss to UNC. Issues in the secondary and offensive line have really hurt Miami in the early going—the Hurricanes have allowed 14 sacks through two games—but at the very least Diaz can take some solace in the play of Jarren Williams. The redshirt freshman has completed 71 percent of his passes through his first two starts and been turnover free. 

10). Pittsburgh (1-1, 0-1) ↑1

The Panthers rebounded from a rough opening weekend loss to Virginia with a 20-10 win over Ohio in Week 2. Pittsburgh’s defense looked spectacular in limiting the Bobcats and dual-threat quarterback Nathan Rourke. Rourke finished the contest with just 177 yards passing and didn’t have any support on the ground, as Ohio totaled just 35 rushing yards on 29 carries. With Kenny Pickett still trying to settle into new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s offense, the Panthers’ defense, which finished last season as the 46th-best unit in the country by points per game allowed, might have to keep stepping up.

11). Louisville (1-1, 1-1) ↑1

After a 35-17 season-opening loss to Notre Dame, the Cardinals got their first win of the season by shutting out Eastern Kentucky, 42-0. Jawon Pass, who flashed in spurts against the Fighting Irish, threw for 196 yards and four touchdowns in the victory, and the Cardinals’ defense looks to have taken a step forward following a dismal end to the 2018 season. What Louisville will look like when the ACC slate hits is anyone’s guess, but new head coach Scott Satterfield looks to have the program headed in the right direction.  

12). Duke (1-1, 0-0)  ↑1

As expected, the Blue Devils’ offense performed much better this past weekend than it did during its Week 1 matchup against a suffocating Alabama defense. Freshman quarterback Quentin Harris bounced back in a big way, picking apart the North Carolina A&T defense to the tune of 345 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, and 83 yards on the ground, while Duke’s defense allowed just 249 total yards. It remains to be seen if Harris—who is taking over from three-year starter and first round NFL draft pick Daniel Jones—can replicate that performance against tougher defenses, but at the very least, he doesn’t have to face a defense like the Crimson Tide’s again this season. 

13). Florida State (1-1, 0-1) ↓4

It certainly wasn’t pretty for the Seminoles last weekend. FSU just barely eked out a 45-44 victory over Louisiana-Monroe, thanks to a missed extra point in overtime, a result which certainly won’t quiet the questions surrounding embattled head coach Willie Taggart. The Seminoles have question marks all over the field, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and it certainly doesn’t get any easier with a road date against UVA looming.

14). Georgia Tech (1-1, 0-1) ↔

In two games since moving on from the triple-option offense, the results haven’t been stellar for the Yellow Jackets under new head coach Geoff Collins. Georgia Tech has scored exactly 14 points in both of its first two games, losing, 52-14, to No. 1 Clemson, before just barely edging South Florida, 14-10, for Collins’ first win. There’s no shame in losing to the defending national champions, and Collins will be impressed by the fact that his defense showed up big against the Bulls, forcing a turnover at the goal line to preserve a four-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

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About Peter Kim 195 Articles
Peter Kim is the assistant sports editor of The Heights. He’s from Seattle, will die happy if the Mariners make the playoffs once in his lifetime, and still refuses to watch any of Super Bowl XLIV. Follow him on twitter @PeterKim_4