ACC Football Power Rankings Week 5: Clemson avoids disaster, Travis Etienne saves the day

The 2018 season has been rather unkind to the ACC, which entered the year with relatively high expectations. After three straight trips to the College Football Playoff, Clemson nearly saw its title contention hopes slip through its hands on Saturday. However, after a desperate comeback performance against Syracuse, Clemson’s postseason goal remains alive — as does the team’s reign atop our ACC Football Power Rankings.


No. 1 Clemson

It’s been a wild week for Clemson. First off, let’s hope that Trevor Lawrence is OK; that hit he took on Saturday was nasty. Secondly, wow, did Clemson avoid disaster against Syracuse. Without Kelly Bryant, third stringer Chase Brice went 7-of-13 for 83 yards and an interception. Travis Etienne (8.1 yards per carry in 2018) saved the day, though: 27 carries for 203 yards and three touchdowns (all career highs); Clemson will need him even more going forward

Next up: at Wake Forest


No. 2 Miami

N’Kosi Perry made his first career start last Thursday against UNC, but it was Miami’s defense that stole the show in South Beach. Miami became the first ACC defense to force six turnovers (which doubled their season total) in a game since Virginia Tech in 2016, and scored three defensive touchdowns for the first time, as a program, since 2000. Miami’s defense ranks No. 1 in the FBS in Havoc Rate (20.9 percent), per Football Study Hall.

Next up: Florida State


No. 3 NC State

We obviously missed a big test for NC State a few weeks ago when the West Virginia game was cancelled, but, so far, the Pack has continued to handle its business. Kelvin Harmon leads the charge but, man, this team is loaded at wide receiver; Ryan Finley (68.8 percent completion rate) has an assortment of options to target.

The soup de jour on Saturday was Emeka Emezie, who caught five balls (on seven targets) for 90 yards and a touchdown. This was an impressive performance; Virginia’s no slouch on defense. Finley and this receiving corp are the strength of NC State.

Next up: Boston College


No. 4 Syracuse

Syracuse loses on the road to Clemson but advances in the rankings. Eric Dungey and the offense struggled against Clemson’s absurd defense; however, Syracuse had the Tigers on the ropes in Death Valley. That’s no small feat. And if not for some really shaky clock management by Dino Babers at the end of game (timeout usage is a real concern), maybe the Orange mount a game-winning drive to close this game.

Next up: at Pitt


No. 5 Virginia Tech

Well, this is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Hokies — a 31-14 win over No. 22 Duke on the road. Virginia Tech didn’t exactly split the atom in terms of play-calling, but Ryan Willis carved up a depleted Duke secondary: 17-of-27 (63 percent), 332 yards and three touchdowns. Willis joins Bryce Perkins as the only two ACC quarterbacks with games of 330 passing yards and three touchdowns this season.

On defense, the Hokies rebounded from the drubbing Old Dominion put on them, holding Duke to under two yards per carry.

Next up: Notre Dame


No. 6 Duke

Last week was the first time Duke had landed inside the AP Top 25 since 2015. Let’s hope they enjoyed the brief stay while it lasted. Daniel Jones (fractured clavicle) returned to the field and had some nice moments, but his receivers came up short with several pivotal drops against a depleted Virginia Tech defense.

This was a golden opportunity for the Blue Devils, but with starting corners Mark Gilbert and Michael Carter out with injuries, Duke had all kinds of issues defending Tech’s vertical routes.

Next up: Off week (at Georgia Tech, Oct. 13)


No. 7 Boston College

After last week’s head-scratching loss at Purdue, Boston College got back in the win column — taking down Temple, 45-35. This is now two straight so-so defensive performances from the Eagles, who again allowed four touchdowns and over 5.5 yards per play. Zach Allen, who recorded two sacks (3.5 for the season) against the Owls, was pretty darn good, though.

Star running back AJ Dillon left the game with an ankle injury; no official word yet on his status for next week.

Next up: at NC State


No. 8 Wake Forest

Wake Forest got back to the good side of .500 with a 32-point home win over Rice. Freshman quarterback Sam Hartman had a career day; once again, his main target was Greg Dortch, who hauled in 11 passes (on 12 targets) for 163 yards and four touchdowns, which tied a career high.

This performance marked the fourth time in Dortch’s 13-game career that he’s caught at least 10 passes. It’s also his fifth 100-yard receiving game.

Next up: Clemson

No. 9 Virginia

Bryce Perkins had his moments but, for the most part, NC State held the dynamic quarterback in check (two interceptions). Virginia’s defense entered the day ranked 27th nationally in marginal efficiency on pass plays, per Football Study Hall; however, the Cavs gave up a lot through the air: 257 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for Ryan Finley. UVA returns home for a bye week, but things don’t get any easier from here with Miami coming to Charlottesville.

Next up: Off week (Miami on Oct. 13)


No. 10 Florida State

Down two scores entering the fourth quarter, Florida State held off another crisis by rallying to win at Louisville. Nyqwan Murray came through with the game-winning catch-and-run on a 58-yard touchdown reception.

Another positive for FSU: the offensive line — going up against Louisville’s lackluster pass rush (only six sacks this season) — didn’t allow a sack. Good luck, however, replicating that next Saturday against Miami.

Next up: at Miami


No. 11 Georgia Tech (tie)

In a week where the school’s athletic director had to publicly defend his head coach, Paul Johnson’s squad put together its best game of the season. The Yellow Jackets ran wild against Bowling Green: 372 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Georgia Tech became the first ACC team since Louisville in 2016 (four of them courtesy of Lamar Jackson) to ran for over 350 yards and seven touchdowns in the same game.

Next up: at Louisville (Friday, Oct. 5)


No. 11 Pittsburgh (tie)

Well, that went about as expected, right? Central Florida and 19th-year senior quarterback McKenzie Milton went for 568 yards of total offense and six touchdowns in the 45-14 win over Pitt. On defense, the Panthers have allowed 32 points per game — 13th in the ACC.

Next up: Syracuse


No. 13 North Carolina

The only ACC defense to allow more points per game so far in 2018: you guessed it — the North Carolina Tar Heels (36.8). As I wrote last week, Thursday’s loss at Miami was an awful offensive performance: six turnovers and three defensive touchdowns.

In his return to the field, Chazz Surratt became just the fourth ACC quarterback since the 2000 season, and the first since Wake Forest’s Tanner Price in 2013, to throw three interceptions on 10 or fewer pass attempts

Next up: Off week (Virginia Tech, Oct. 13)


No. 14 Louisville

The home loss to FSU concludes yet another sad chapter in this program’s post-Lamar Jackson existence. Louisville can’t generate a pass rush, and on offense things are still a struggle. Jawon Pass got the start, but completed just 53.3 percent of his passes and threw two more interceptions, too.

Next up: Georgia Tech (Oct. 5)


Contributor Rankings

David GlennBrian GeisingerJosh GrahamConsensus
2MiamiMiamiNC StateMiami
3NC StateNC StateMiamiNC State
4SyracuseVirginia TechSyracuseSyracuse
5Virginia TechSyracuseVirginia TechVirginia Tech
6Boston CollegeDukeDukeDuke
7DukeBoston CollegeBoston CollegeBoston College
8Wake ForestVirginiaWake ForestWake Forest
9Florida StateWake ForestVirginiaVirginia
10VirginiaFlorida StateFlorida StateFlorida State
11UNCGeorgia TechPittGeorgia Tech
12PittLouisvilleGeorgia TechPitt
13Georgia TechPittLouisvilleUNC

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