Although it may feel like the season just started yesterday, the regular season has come to a close in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It is now known that Clemson, the preseason favorites in the Atlantic Division, will face off with Virginia Tech, picked to finish fourth in the Coastal Division by the ACC media, in the 2016 ACC Championship this Saturday in Orlando. With that matchup now known and the reguar season now behind us, let’s take a look at how the teams sit in the final power rankings relative to how they fell in my preseason rankings.
1. Clemson (11-1, 7-1, no change from last week, no change from preseason rankings)
Clemson may have been a bit guilty of 2014 FSU syndrome which saw the Tigers play down to their opponents’ level on multiple occasions throughout the course of the 2016 season. However, the Tigers ended their regular season on an impressive note, defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks 56-7, the largest margin of victory in the rivalry since 1900.
Up next: CU enters the ACC Championship game essentially as a College Football Playoff play-in game. If Clemson defeats Virginia Tech, it will lead to a second straight CFP appearance for the Tigers.
2. Florida State (9-3, 5-3, up one spot from last week, no change from preseason rankings)
After a 3-2 start, the Seminoles won six of their final seven games, including their final four games, to salvage a season that seemed totally lost in early October. FSU put a bow on its late-season run with a dominant defensive performance in a 31-13 win over Florida.
Up next: With Louisville’s collapse down the stretch, Florida State will have to wait over a week to see if it did enough to earn the ACC’s spot in the Orange Bowl.
3. Virginia Tech (9-3, 6-2, up one spot from last week, up five spots from preseason rankings)
The Hokies may have clinched their spot in the ACC Championship with UNC’s loss on Friday, but that didn’t stop them from laying a beating for the ages on the miserable Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia Tech’s 52-10 win at home is the 13th straight over UVA in the rivalry.
Up next: VT has the chance to play spoiler to Clemson in Saturday’s ACC Championship and will likely land a spot in one of the conference’s many bowl games played in Florida regardless of the outcome.
4. Louisville (9-3, 7-1, down two spots from last week, down one spot from preseason rankings)
A Louisville team that looked the part of a playoff contender for nearly the entire season ended its regular season with a two-game losing streak. Even worse than that, the Cardinals’ final loss came at home to in-state rival Kentucky in a game in which they were favored by four touchdowns. UL QB Lamar Jackson remains the likely Heisman favorite, but his turnover-prone performance against UK did open the door a smidge.
Up next: The Cards could very well finish the year on the outside looking in at a NY6 bid despite a 9-1 start to the season. If they do, Orlando or Jacksonville are potential postseason landing spots.
5. Pittsburgh (8-4, 5-3, up one spot from last week, no change from preseason rankings)
Pitt finished its roller-coaster season with an unbelievable 76-61 win over Syracuse which set a new FBS record for most combined points in a game. After the game, 2014 ACC offensive MVP James Connor, who rushed for upwards of 1,000 yards this season, announced that he will wait until after the Panthers’ upcoming bowl game to decide if he will return for his senior season.
Up next: Pittsburgh clinched what should be one of the ACC’s top bowl spots with an impressive 8-4 campaign. However, the team’s extremely impressive offensive output down the stretch will leave conjecture around the program of what could have been.
6. North Carolina (8-4, 5-3, down one spot from last week, down two spots from preseason rankings)
The Tar Heels, picked as the preseason favorites to win the Coastal Division, did take away solid road wins at Florida State and Miami, but a dismal finish to the season capped off with losses to Duke and NC State in the final three weeks handed the division to Virginia Tech on a silver platter.
Up next: UNC is in contention for an upper-tier ACC bowl game but the competition is plentiful at that level.
7. Miami (8-4, 5-3, no change from last week, down one spot from preseason rankings)
It was a season of stretches for the Hurricanes in their first year under new head coach Mark Richt. They started the year 4-0, followed that up with an 0-4 stretch, and rebounded by ending the regular season on a four-game winning streak..
Up next: Another year, another bowl game for Miami, who finished the season in a three-way tie in the Coastal Division.
8. Georgia Tech (8-4, 4-4, no change from last week, up one spot from preseason rankings)
Georgia Tech demonstrated that last year’s 3-9 campaign was a fluky injury-filled year with a return to bowl eligibility which was capped off with the Yellow Jackets’ second consecutive win over Georgia in Athens.
Up next: After a one-year absence, GT is once again bowl-eligible.
9. NC State (6-6, 3-5, up one spot from last week, down two spots from preseason rankings)
Needing a win at North Carolina to ensure bowl eligibility, NC State came through with a 28-21 win over the Tar Heels that was not as close as the final scoreline indicates. However, this NCSU season will be most widely remembered for the near-upsets of Clemson and FSU that could, and arguably should, have been.
Up next: With the upset victory, NC State is bowl-eligible for the third straight season.
10. Wake Forest (6-6, 3-5, down one spot from last week, up two spots from last week’s rankings)
Bright spot for Wake? The Demon Deacons were bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011 by the first week of November. The dark spot? An 0-3 finish to the season, including an underwhelming home loss to Boston College in week 13, provides evidence of how far behind this program remains.
Up next: As mentioned above, the Demon Deacons are bowl bound for the first time under Dave Clawson and only the 11th time in school history.
11. Boston College (6-6, 2-6, up two spots from last week, up two spots from last week’s rankings)
Against all odds, BC took away a necessary victory at Wake Forest in the final week of the regular season to become bowl-eligible and likely save Steve Addazio’s job.
Up next: The return to postseason play comes after a one-year hiatus and will bring a low-tier bowl trip for the Eagles.
12. Syracuse (4-8, 2-6, down one spot from last week, down two spots from preseason rankings)
A week after allowing 45 points at home to FSU, the Orange surrendered a disastrous 76 points in the season finale at Pitt. Syracuse may be one of three ACC teams not going on to a bowl game, but the Orange always has its upset victory over Virginia Tech, and a more promising future with Dino Babers entering his second season at the helm.
Up next: No bowl for Cuse means its season is over.
13. Duke (4-8, 1-7, down one spot from last week, down two spots from preseason rankings)
With a chance to advance into a bowl with a high APR and 5-7 record if they were able to take away a victory at Miami, the Blue Devils were unable to keep it close, falling 40-21 to the Hurricanes. The 4-8 campaign snaps a four-year streak of bowl appearances, the longest in Duke history.
Up next: Duke’s season is finished.
14. Virginia (2-10, 1-7, no change from last week, no change from preseason rankings)
Year one under Bronco Mendenhall ended on an embarrassing note when the Cavaliers found themselves on the wrong side of a 52-10 blowout at Virginia Tech. That being said, the talent was never there for this team to be very competitive in 2016. The bigger storyline will be how well Mendenhall and staff are able to finish out their first full recruiting class.
Up next: UVA’s season comes to an end with its bowl drought now up to five years.