With nine weeks in the books, the ACC picture is beginning to look a lot more clear with regard to which two teams will travel to Orlando to take part in the ACC Championship game. In fact, both frontrunners went on the road and brought back huge road wins in week nine to further cement their spots. But how does the rest of the conference look?
1. Clemson (8-0, 5-0, no change from last week)
It wasn’t always pretty but when push came to shove, the Tigers came away with a win in Tallahassee for the first time since 2006, defeating Florida State 37-34. The Clemson defensive line looked the part of the best unit in the country and singlehandedly clinched the game and Deshaun Watson’s Jekyll and Hyde season continued as he added a pair of interceptions to his exceedingly high season total but also made some spectacular throws in key situations.
Next up: With FSU in the rear-view mirror, Clemson has to lose two of its final three conference games to drop from atop the Atlantic Division standings. The first of those three is Saturday at home against Syracuse.
2. Louisville (7-1, 5-1, no change from last week)
In a continuation of the Cardinals’ up-and-down month, they fell behind early on the road against a sub-.500 Virginia team, needing a last-minute touchdown drive to survive and remain in the College Football Playoff discussion. Lamar Jackson continues to be the Heisman frontrunner and his game-winning touchdown pass is just another Heisman moment for the sophomore quarterback.
Next up: UL stays away from home this week, traveling up to Chestnut Hill for a noon matchup with Boston College.
3. Virginia Tech (6-2, 4-1, no change from last week)
VT took home a Thursday night victory for the second straight week when the Hokies defeated Pittsburgh 39-36 last week. The VT defense may be the best all-around defense in the conference and has put the team in position to win the Coastal Division in Justin Fuente’s first year.
Next up: Virginia Tech has three conference games left and holds the tiebreaker over North Carolina thanks to a head-to-head victory. The remaining slate does not appear challenging on paper and kicks off Saturday on the road at Duke.
4. North Carolina (6-2, 4-1, no change from last week)
The Tar Heels held their spot in this week’s rankings in spite of them being on bye due to close losses from the two teams directly beneath them. UNC is still very much in the Coastal race but it needs some help in the form of a Virginia Tech loss.
Next up: North Carolina’s week ten matchup sees the Tar Heels return home for a matchup with a Georgia Tech team that needs one more win to reach bowl eligibility.
5. Florida State (5-3, 2-3, no change from last week)
FSU took one of the top teams in the country down to the wire but was unable to come away with a victory, falling to the Clemson Tigers, 37-34. Running back Dalvin Cook seems poised to earn a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist but the Seminoles’ high aspirations for at least another New Years’ Six bid were dashed with the most recent loss.
Next up: Florida State looks to get back on track with a trip to Raleigh for a primetime showdown with NC State in a place where the ‘Noles have struggled historically under Jimbo Fisher.
6. Pittsburgh (5-3, 2-2, no change from last week)
Pitt’s attempt to re-insert itself into the Coastal race came up just short as the Panthers fell at home to Virginia Tech, 39-36, but running back James Connor added a trio of touchdowns in a continuation of the feel-good story of the season.
Next up: Pittsburgh has a road game against a reeling Miami team this weekend in an attempt to become bowl-eligible and avoid falling below .500 in ACC play.
7. Wake Forest (5-3, 2-2, no change from last week)
In its second attempt to become bowl-eligible, Wake Forest came up flat in its own stadium, falling 21-13 to Army. The Wake defense remains very impressive but the offense’s inability to score has become a significant problem in the pursuit of a return to postseason play.
Next up: The Demon Deacons have perhaps their best chance at getting that elusive sixth win this Saturday when they welcome in a poor Virginia team fresh off a disappointing home loss.
8. Miami (4-4, 1-4, no change from last week)
The post-Florida-State skid continued last week as the Hurricanes made it four straight losses in a loss to 2-5 Notre Dame which saw the Canes erase a 20-0 deficit before falling 30-27.
Next up: Miami has no easy task in an attempt to right the ship this week as the Hurricanes welcome in a 5-3 Pitt team for a 12:30 kickoff.
9. Syracuse (4-4, 2-2, no change from last week)
The Orange’s red-hot progress came to a screeching halt last week as they were on bye after back-to-back conference wins. Quarterback Eric Dungey and wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo continue to impress but the Orange needs two more wins to become bowl-eligible and the remaining slate is extremely tough.
Next up: That challenging stretch of games kicks off Saturday when Syracuse travels to Clemson to take on the No. 3 Tigers in their house.
10. Georgia Tech (5-3, 2-3, up one spot from last week)
GT saw a 28-7 halftime lead wiped out by a near-miraculous comeback bid from Duke before the Yellow Jackets responded, surviving the scare from the Blue Devils, 38-35, behind an almost-perfect outing from quarterback Justin Thomas.
Next up: Georgia Tech now has four chances left to earn one more win, which would return them to postseason play. The first of those opportunities comes Saturday when the Ramblin’ Wreck treks to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina.
11. NC State (4-4, 1-3, down one spot from last week)
You knew some team had to do it and, as it turned out, that team was North Carolina State. The Wolfpack fell to Boston College on Saturday, allowing the Eagles to snap their lengthy conference losing streak. The worst part? It was in their own stadium. NCSU remains a very talented team but consistency continues to be a huge concern under Dave Doeren.
Next up: Perhaps the loss can be attributed to NC State looking ahead to Florida State, who is coming to town this weekend for a primetime matchup.
12. Boston College (4-4, 1-4, no change from last week)
It finally happened. Boston College snapped its 700+ day, 12-game ACC losing streak when the Eagles defeated NC State 21-14 to take home their first ACC win since the end of the 2014 season. The BC offense may have finally taken a step forward with graduate transfer QB Patrick Towles at the helm and the win gives Boston College an outside chance at bowl eligibility.
Next up: BC’s first of two consecutive difficult opponents comes on Saturday when the Eagles play host to a Louisville team desperate to make a statement.
13. Virginia (2-6, 1-3, up one spot from last week)
For the second time in as many years, the Cavaliers took a top-ten team to the brink at home before coming up short. This time, UVA blew a 17-7 lead over Louisville, took the lead back with just a shade over two minutes left, and then allowed Lamar Jackson to orchestrate a game-winning drive to cause heartache in Charlottesville.
Next up: Fresh off the heart-wrenching loss, Virginia travels to Wake Forest to take on the Demon Deacons
14. Duke (3-4, 0-4, down one spot from last week)
The Blue Devils erased a 21-point deficit on the road against Georgia Tech before coming up short, leaving them as the only ACC team that remains winless in conference play.
Next up: Duke stays home this week but the first conference win won’t come easy as the Blue Devils welcome in the Coastal-leading Virginia Tech Hokies.