ACC mid-season football power rankings: Clemson and Notre Dame remain safely atop

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Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence throws a touchdown pass against Louisville on Oct. 19 at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. Lawrence was out last week against Boston College due to COVID-19 protocol.

By Henry Jackson, Staff Writer

As the 2020 college football season enters week 10, normality appears just a relic of 2019. The headlines grow stranger each week — LSU and Penn State look quite bad, Indiana sits atop the Big Ten and the undefeated BYU Cougars look legit.

For the ACC, however, little has changed. Whereas other conferences typically have somewhat consistent rankings, the ACC — especially the Coastal division — has embraced chaos for years.

It’s hard to tell whether this year’s volatility in conference play can be attributed to the pandemic, or if the ACC has just enjoyed a normal season. Regardless, this week’s power rankings will provide a snapshot of a conference defined by its unpredictability.

1. Clemson (7-0, 6-0 ACC)

Although the rest of the ACC may stand out for it’s erratic behavior, Clemson manages each season to place itself well above the chaos. This year has proven no exception, with the Tigers coasting smoothly so far to an undefeated record.

That said, the Tigers struggled last week to put away an outmatched Boston College team, and the team currently misses star quarterback Trevor Lawrence. With a Notre Dame matchup looming, Clemson still has plenty to prove before the season’s up.

2. Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0 ACC)

The placement of Notre Dame at second place on this list is completely arbitrary — the Fighting Irish’s chance to move up will come Saturday at home against Clemson.

The importance of beating Clemson cannot be overstated for Notre Dame. The team has struggled to live up to its storied past in recent decades, but this year’s Fighting Irish have the chance to win the ACC — a loss, however, would serve as a crushing blow.

3. Miami (5-1, 4-1 ACC)

The Hurricanes have played well this season, but they never seem further than a touchdown away from the relative mediocrity defining the Coastal division. Perhaps Miami will kick it into high gear with the return of tight end Brevin Jordan, but it looks as if fans must endure a white-knuckle ride to the finish.

4. Wake Forest (4-2, 3-2 ACC)

Nobody ever expects a small private school from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to be competitive in ACC football, so the Demon Deacons have to get creative to succeed. This year’s squad has built itself around speed and offensive efficiency, powered by running back Kenneth Walker III’s unprecedented 11 touchdowns.

While Wake Forest has seen success so far, the team will have to finish strong in matchups against North Carolina, Miami and Notre Dame. Whether the Demon Deacons will stay fourth remains in their control, but they will certainly face an uphill battle.

5. Virginia Tech (4-2, 4-2 ACC)

The Hokies have performed very averagely this season, neither upsetting nor getting upset. Quarterback Hendon Hooker played tremendously last week against Louisville, becoming just the fifth quarterback in FBS history to achieve a 100% completion rate while rushing for two touchdowns, but the rest of his team struggled. With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how Virginia Tech does against No. 25 Liberty on Saturday.

6. North Carolina (4-2, 4-2 ACC)

The Tar Heels took another embarrassing result last week with a sluggish loss to Virginia. Considering this team was once ranked a laughable fifth in the nation, it has truly been a delight to watch UNC’s painful slide back into mediocrity.

Despite having one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, this underwhelming Carolina team has simply allowed too many upsets. The losses against Florida State and Virginia overshadow any real accomplishments, and considering the high expectations going in, chalk this one up as a disappointing season.

7. Boston College (4-3, 3-3 ACC)

No team better represents the wild inconsistencies of ACC football better than this year’s Eagles. To predict how Boston College will perform is a waste of time, but to underestimate this team is a mistake — just ask Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers.

In fact, Boston College appears the most interesting team to watch in the ACC right now. The Eagles started cold, squeaking away with wins over Duke and Texas State, then traded punches with conference opponents. Boston College nearly upset Clemson last week in one of its best performances of the season, and the team looks to pick up momentum as the season wraps up.

8. North Carolina State (4-2, 4-2 ACC)

State looked strong at points this season, but the loss of quarterback Devin Leary was a dagger. With games against Miami and Liberty looming, the Wolfpack will be hard pressed to maintain their current position in eighth place.

9. Virginia (2-4, 2-4 ACC)

UVA’s season was on life support going into its Saturday win against UNC, and it still is. The Cavaliers have not played well this season, but one thing they are good at is converting on fourth down — in fact, UVA ranks second in the nation in fourth down conversions. Perhaps that boldness will help the Cavaliers snatch a few games down the home stretch — like it did against the Tar Heels — but then again, maybe not.

10. Pitt (3-4, 2-4 ACC)

No more pre-season hype for Pitt ever again. Oh, and Paris Ford is gone now, too.

11. Louisville (2-5, 1-5 ACC)

This team should’ve had a better season. Unfortunately, turnovers have doomed the Cardinal’s high-powered offense led by quarterback Malik Cunningham. At this point, it might be time to just start planning for next year — Louisville is talented but currently unable to perform.

12. Duke (2-5, 1-5 ACC)

Nobody ever expects a small private school from Durham, North Carolina, to be competitive in ACC football, and Duke certainly is not. The Blue Devils have been consistently outmatched all season, with their only wins coming against Syracuse and UNC-Charlotte.

The glory days under head coach David Cutcliffe appear a distant memory right now, but basketball season should start up soon …

13. Georgia Tech (2-5, 2-4 ACC)

Tech’s season has been, well, a ramblin’ wreck. The team never seemed to recover from its 73-7 beatdown at the hands of Clemson and has yet to put up 30 points in a game. It hasn’t been all bad though — first-year running back Jahmyr Gibbs has put up solid production, averaging 4.5 yards per carry in five appearances this season.

14. Florida State (2-4, 1-4 ACC)

It’s hard to believe Jameis Winston led the Seminoles to the College Football Playoff just five years ago, especially considering how this season has gone. Apart from a gutsy win over UNC, Florida State’s opponents have simply outplayed the Seminoles in all facets of the game.

Even though the ‘Noles played terribly all season, they are still favored to beat Pitt by two points this Saturday. By now, though, it really doesn’t matter who wins.

15. Syracuse (1-6, 1-5 ACC)

The Orange looked solid in their late-September win over Georgia Tech. No further comment.

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