By the end of September it was clear: the ACC was Clemson and everyone else. And that was even before the Tigers started to look truly dominant over the last month, like the team we thought they would be in the offseason.
As for the rest of the league, your guess is as good as mine as to who can offer some competition. The league that has a penchant for creative mediocrity has pulled a throwback move: one elite team and then bleh. That was the case for so long when Florida State dominated the 1990s and early-2000s
So who the hell is the ACC’s second best team?
The teams that sure as hell aren’t No. 2:
Let’s also use S&P+, a good tool for predicting how good each team will be going forward:
- Louisville (S&P+ ranking through Week 10: No. 104)
- North Carolina (98)
- Wake Forest (87)
- Florida State (75)
- Virginia Tech (61)
- Georgia Tech (60)
- Duke (45)
- Miami (21, but with a big asterisk)
Nobody in this pack has more than four wins with three weeks left in the regular season. Of this list, just about every team was expected to be better.
Louisville lost Lamar Jackson, which is one thing, but being quantifiably one of the worst teams in college football is a whole other. North Carolina has dealt with incredible attrition, and Larry Fedora at least has colleagues in his corner. Virginia Tech has its own attrition issues and — oh, by the way — lost to Old Dominion.
Miami was picked to win its division by a wide margin, but now is totally lost with serious issues on the coaching staff, its best offensive player suffering a career ending injury, and one of the messiest quarterback situations anywhere. Miami is currently at No. 21, but the proprietor of the system, Bill Connelly, assured us on Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody that the rankings and results will continue to catch up with The U.
Florida State’s been doing the wrong Something most of the season, with an offensive line that has made it certain the team can’t get off the ground.
The playcalling literally does not matter. They have to try to trick people every single play because this is maybe the worst OL in the Power 5 (maybe Rutgers or Kansas could be worse). https://t.co/8wb0UY5mu7— Bud Elliott (@BudElliott3) November 6, 2018
Beyond that, take your pick of a soupy mediocrity minestrone. Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Duke will probably make bowls, but that’s about all you can expect.
Ok, what about the teams that might be No. 2?
- Pitt (S&P+ No. 71, but leading the Coastal Division)
- Syracuse (58)
- Virginia (55)
- NC State (40 and potentially falling, thanks to a Thursday loss to Wake Forest)
- Boston College (38)
There’s a good chance the ACC might not finish the season with a non-Clemson team in the S&P+ top 30. Only three are currently in the top 40, and both Miami and NC State seem likely to have some falling to do.
The Wolfpack refuse to stay out of their own way. That 5-0 start to the season looks like it was built on the backs of an FCS win and two Group of 5 wins, now that NCST has lost two of its last three games.
We’ll find out if Syracuse is really for real if they can easily handle a Louisville they’re supposed to drub before the ultimate test that is the Notre Dame next weekend. According to the Playoff committee, Cuse is the 13th best team in the country. The Orange did give Clemson all it could handle during a game when the Tigers were on their third-string QB at the end.
I want to buy into Pitt, Virginia, or Boston College, but are these teams with promising seasons actually worthy adversaries for Clemson, or are they propped up by taking advantage of the mediocrity league-wide? BC could reasonably hope to challenge the Tigers like they haven’t been challenged in weeks, hosting the Tigers in a GameDay game on Saturday.
All of this will have a significant effect on Clemson’s perception.
The Tigers will walk into the Playoff if they keep winning, but while they’ve looked very dominant recently, they might not get A Test until they reach the Playoff. It makes evaluating Clemson a bit of a different exercise, but the best they can hope to be is a good team that keeps clobbering everyone.
I’ll let you decide for yourself how much that matters as you evaluate whether the Tigers can actually beat the Tide.