There was plenty of drama in Week 1 of ACC play, with last second wins across the board, and a few surprising results (we see you, Syracuse). Here’s a look at where everyone stands after the first week.
The Tigers ascend to the top spot mainly because of potential. They started slow against Georgia Tech but managed to finish the game in blowout fashion. The defense is stellar, as promised, but the offense was slow to get started. DJ Uiagalelei threw some good passes but didn’t get help from his receivers. Cake Klubnik entered the game for mop up duty and marched the team down the field for a touchdown. Is there QB controversy at Clemson? I don’t think so and neither does Coach Swinney, but the national media is going to make this a story and the Tigers will need to shut out that noise.
The Hurricanes blew out Bethune Cookman this weekend and gave us a glimpse of what the Mario Cristobal era will look like. A strong, balanced attack, discipline on both sides of the ball, and strong defense. The Hurricanes ran the ball 42 times and only passed it 23 times. It was a weaker opponent, but Miami finally embraced the “our guys are better than your guys” attitude and routed an opponent with ease. They have another tune up game this week before things get interesting in Week 3 at College Station.
Pitt played a tough Week 1 rivalry opponent in West Virginia in the 105th edition of the Backyard Brawl. The game was thrilling from start to finish with the Panthers coming out on top. The team looked totally different at times on offense, but showed the ability to put up lots of points despite being a run first offense. Kedon Slovis looked the part of a star quarterback and the defense came up big when it mattered. It’s hard to gauge a team when they play such a difficult opponent to open the season, but the Panthers answered the bell. Things don’t get easier in Week 2 with the Tennessee Volunteers coming to town. Teams make the biggest jump from Week 1 to Week 2, so let’s hope the Panthers can shake the rust off and produce a big win for the ACC this Saturday.
4. NC State
The Wolfpack won the game on Saturday, but it felt like a loss and by all accounts it should have been. After turning the ball over on downs at the ECU 1-yard line, the Wolfpack stopped the Pirates on the ensuing possession. But they promptly turned the ball over to the Pirates who scored a touchdown only to miss the PAT. The kicker for East Carolina missed the game winning kick later in the game, giving North Carolina State the victory. The Wolfpack were rusty playing a rivalry game against a heated opponent but needed lots of luck to get out of there with a W. I am starting to think the expectations might be too great for NCST and they will eventually cough up a game they should win easily. The defense is still one of the top units in the conference but the offense needs to make better decisions to rise up these rankings again.
5. Wake Forest
Wake looked strong in their rout of VMI, but I am dropping them in these rankings until they have Sam Hartman back. With Hartman, they are capable of scoring 50+ every night, but without him it is an unknown as to how consistent this offense will be. They have four tough games in a row coming up on the schedule so we will find out quickly what this team is made of. Mitch Griffis did a great job in Week 1, but they travel to Vanderbilt this Saturday to face a tough Commodores team on the road.
6. North Carolina
Just like NCST, North Carolina won this past weekend but it almost felt like a loss. The offense can certainly score the ball, but they haven’t been tested by a stout defense yet. However, the defense clearly has not improved from last year’s disappointing unit. They have another cream puff on the schedule before a week off when they play Notre Dame, where the offense will surely be tested by the Irish defense. I am putting the Tar Heels here at 6 because they have two wins and can score a bunch of points…but their stay in the top 6 might be tenuous if their defense doesn’t improve.
7. Florida State
Florida State looked good on Sunday night at times. Other times they looked bad, but luckily for them LSU looked worse. I was pretty down on the Seminoles to start the season but they did run the ball well and established dominance at the line of scrimmage. I do not want to read too much into this victory since LSU is going through a lot of upheaval themselves, but wins were hard to come by in Tallahassee last year, and this team is loaded with talent. If they can figure it out, they can rise to the top of the conference pretty quickly. The ACC desperately needs the ‘Noles to perform well in order to get respect nationwide.
The Orange surprised me mightily this weekend. Dino Babers made a lot of changes on offense this offseason, and if they work, this team could skyrocket. On Saturday, that’s exactly what happened. New offensive coordinator Robert Anae got the ball in Sean Tucker’s hands on the ground and through the air. When Tucker wasn’t getting the ball, Garrett Shrader was using his arm and his legs to burn the Cardinals. After watching the first week, I can see a path to six wins for the Orange. Looking ahead to Week 3, Purdue has no ability to run the ball and will be on the road. That plays into the strength of the Orange. I can see them being 5-0 heading in to the meat of their schedule. An update in October could lead to a special season in Central New York.
I do want to state that it is unbelievably important to the future of the ACC that the Syracuse football team rebounds. Other conferences try to claim New York as part of their reach, but we all know Syracuse is New York’s college team. When the Orange are good, people in Buffalo, White Plains, Manhattan, and all the way out to Montauk start dawning the Orange and Blue during the week. Add this to the already passionate fanbase and you have television force. There has never been a better time for Syracuse to burst back on the scene and I am quietly rooting for it.
The Cavaliers won in a matter-of-fact manner against Richmond. Brennan Armstrong added another wrinkle to his game, rushing for 105 yards in the contest. He is still the most impressive offensive player in this league and it will be exciting watching him flourish in Tony Elliott’s scheme. The potential is there for the Cavaliers to have a great season but it remains to be seen how this offensive line will perform against an adequate opponent.
Duke crushed Temple this past week, moving them out of the basement in these Power Rankings. Riley Leonard led the charge by throwing for 300+ and rushing for 64 more. The Blue Devils looked more than formidable against a stout opponent to open the season. They have a big opportunity this Saturday when they face off against Northwestern in Durham. The Mike Elko rebuild is well on its way.
The Cardinals laid an egg against Syracuse. There was not a single thing this team did right on Saturday night. They entered the season with the potential to be a top dog if their defense could improve, but that didn’t happen this past week. Malik Cunningham looked lost, throwing two interceptions in this game. It’s tough to open on the road but this guy is fifth year senior (he still has the Covid year) and should not be playing this poorly to open a season. Scott Satterfield was on the hot seat to start the season and it just got a little bit warmed.
12. Boston College
Boston College had opportunity after opportunity to beat Rutgers this past weekend and couldn’t get the job done, giving up 96 yards on 11 rushes during the go-ahead possession. When it mattered most, the BC line couldn’t keep Phil Jurkovec upright either. Jurkovec threw two interceptions in this game that revealed all sorts of problems for the Eagles. The shine has worn off Jeff Hafley and it looks like he may be wasting his quarterback’s talents in the process.
13. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jacket’s kept it close for the early part of the game, and then they were overmatched by a more talented Clemson team. Let’s hope they rebound this week against Western Carolina because after that, the pickings are slim.
14. Virginia Tech
What is there to say about the Hokies? They lost to a far inferior opponent to start the season and looked bad doing it. The Brent Pry era started with a whimper. This Saturday will feature BC vs VT in the ACC Game of the Week at 8 p.m. ET with the loser being assured last place in the Power Rankings.