Still Way Too Early: ACC Power Rankings

North Carolina’s Khafre Brown (#1) scores a touchdown in the first quarter Saturday night against Virginia. Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The 2021 college football season has not gotten off to the start that those around the Atlantic Coast Conference would have liked. ACC teams have seen several tough out-of-conference losses, including an number of blowouts to begin the year which has heightened the national media narrative about the state of the league. It hasn’t been all bad for the ACC though, as there have been some great moments, stories and surprises to come out of the first three weeks. With all of that being said… here is my ACC Power Rankings through Week 3.

#1 – Wake Forest Demon Deacons – 3-0 (1-0 ACC)

The Demon Deacons have looked like the most complete team early on here in 2021. The Deacs have an explosive offensive attack led by QB Sam Hartman. While Wake Forest has yet to be fully tested, they have breezed through their first three games outscoring their opponents 118-40. We will get to see what Wake is really made of when they head to Charlottesville this week for their first road trip of the season. But so far, Wake is playing as well as anybody in the country through their first three games

#2 – Clemson Tigers – 2-1 (1-0 ACC)

It has not been the start that the Tigers would have hoped for coming into the season. The strength has been on the defensive side of the ball, as the Tigers lead the ACC in points against and are fourth in total defense. The disappointment has come from the offense. The Tigers are really missing Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne as the Tigers are last in the ACC in total offense and 13th in ppg. The passing attack has been non-existent, and the offense line needs serious help. There are plenty concerns surrounding this Clemson team, however if the Tigers can get through NC State this Saturday, they won’t get tested again until late October with a road trip to Pitt. The Tigers have way too much talent to continue to struggle like this and I fully expect them to get it locked in this weekend.

#3 – Virginia Tech Hokies – 2-1 (1-0 ACC)

The Hokies started the season with a great win over North Carolina at home in Lane Stadium. It looked as if things were turning a corner in Blacksburg, until the Hokies went on the road last week to face West Virginia. The Mountaineers jumped on Tech early, but give the Hokies credit, they fought their way back into the game and had a chance to tie late but were stopped on fourth and goal. The offensive struggles have continued for Virginia Tech as their offense is near the bottom in yards and points per game. The defense and special teams, however, reminds us of the old Bud Foster and “Beamer Ball” days. The Hokies should be just fine and with a win over UNC already, they are in the driver seat for an ACC Coastal division title.

#4 – North Carolina Tar Heels – 2-1 (1-1 ACC)

The Tar Heels started off 2021 with plenty of expectations and conference title dreams. Those took a step back after getting dominated by a fiery Virginia Tech defense. Sam Howell, who had pre-season Heisman hopes, was sacked six times and threw three interceptions against the Hokies. Since then, the UNC offense has been playing exactly how we expected them to. After scoring just 10 points in the opener, the Heels have scored 59 in both of the succeeding two games against Georgia State and Virginia. The offense is currently one of the best in the ACC, which is a good thing as their defense has really been a cause for concern. The schedule sets up perfectly for UNC as they face ACC bottom dwellers the next four weeks before big showdowns with Notre Dame and Wake Forest.

#5 – Boston College Eagles – 3-0 (0-0 ACC)

The Eagles are the only other undefeated team left in the ACC. Granted, the Eagles have played Colgate, UMass and Temple (who have a combined record of 1-8). I’m keeping Boston College near the top of the power rankings exclusively due to their perfect record thus far. The Eagles got a big blow in Week 2 when their star QB Phil Jurkovec was knocked out of the game (and the rest of the season) with a serious hand injury. It’ll be up to Dennis Grosel to lead Boston College the rest of the way, including their first real test of the season this week against Missouri.

#6 – Louisville Cardinals – 2-1 (0-0 ACC)

It looked as if it was going to be a long year for Scott Satterfield and the Cardinals after the whipping they took at the hands of Ole Miss in Week 1. However, Louisville has bounced back nicely with wins over FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky and future Big 12 member UCF, it a truly wild game last weekend. Coming into the season, I fully expected the Louisville offensive attack to be explosive, which it has for the most part, but I really thought the Louisville defense would be much improved. So far, that has not be the case as the Cards are near the bottom of the league in total defense and ppg against. The Cardinals offense will need to be on their “A” game every week. Maybe not so much this week as they get ACC play underway against Florida State.

#7 – North Carolina State Wolfpack – 2-1 (0-0 ACC)

I, like many in Raleigh, had big expectations for the Wolfpack coming into 2021. I still believe they are one of the best teams in the league and the one true threat to Clemson in the ACC Atlantic. While the Pack do have blowout wins to USF and Furman, the loss to Mississippi State in Week 2 makes me question everything I know about NC State. The Pack are now without their best defensive weapons in Payton Wilson and Cyrus Fagan. They didn’t need them against Furman, but with a ticked off Clemson team coming to town this weekend, they might really feel the void those two players have left. The offense really struggled with a mediocre Mississippi State team, so I can’t imagine what they’ll be like when facing off against teams with much better defenses like Clemson, Boston College and Wake Forest.

#8 – Pitt Panthers – 2-1 (0-0 ACC)

After the first two weeks of the season, I was ready to jump on the Pitt bandwagon and believed they might be the best team in the ACC Coastal. Then they lost to Western Michigan last week. The offense has been good, that’s not the problem. They are Top 4 in total offense and are averaging 44.3 ppg. The surprising concern for the Panthers has been their lack of defense, especially against the pass. Pitt is in the bottom half in pass defense and is 12th out of 14 teams in ppg against. While they should be fine the next couple of weeks, the back end of their schedule is loaded with high power offenses that can put up a bunch of yards and points.

#9 – Virginia Cavaliers – 2-1 (0-1 ACC)

Not sure what to think of the Cavaliers this season. They had no problems beating up on lesser opponents William & Mary and Illinois. But when faced with a real challenge, the Cavs defense completely folded. Virginia gave up 59 points and nearly 700 yards to North Carolina a week ago which included 392 on the ground. QB Brennan Armstrong leads the ACC in passing, but when your defense is giving up over 400 yards a game, it’s going to make Armstrong play flawless football in order to win games. Things don’t get any easier this week as the Cavaliers face off against another explosive offensive attack as Wake Forest comes to town.

#10 – Duke Blue Devils – 2-1 (0-0 ACC)

Two weeks ago I would have listed Duke at the bottom of this list after the lost on the road to Charlotte. Since then, the Blue Devils have done nothing but improve. There are still some issues on defense, mainly against the run, but Duke as rebounded nicely from the Week 1 loss to winning two in a row against a tough FCS opponent in NC A&T and then against Northwestern out of the Big Ten. With a game against Kansas this week, the Blue Devils are in a great position to be 3-1 heading into conference play. I still don’t think Duke gets to six wins this season, but they for sure don’t look like the worst team in the ACC.

#11 – Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets – 1-2 (0-1 ACC)

Much like Duke, I was ready to write off the Yellow Jackets after their Week 1 loss to Northern Illinois. They did rebound with a nice win over Kennesaw State and then played Clemson to the very end in a 14-8 nail-biter in “Death Valley” last Saturday. Georgia Tech’s defense is much better than they have been in the first two years under Geoff Collins, however, the offense still has not taken shape. The Jackets still have problems moving the ball at times and that’s going to be a real problem this week against UNC and with much of their remaining schedule. The biggest bright spot for Georgia Tech this year may just be the fact that they only lost to Clemson by 6 points.

#12 – Syracuse Orange – 2-1 (0-0 ACC)

All I really have to say about Syracuse is that lost to Rutgers…. at home…. by 10 points. Again… they lost to Rutgers. The Orange have been extremely mediocre on offense, as they find themselves ranked right in the middle of the ACC in total offense. Surprisingly, the Orange are tops in the ACC in total defense and fifth in ppg against. Take into account the Orange have played Ohio, Rutgers and Albany. I seriously doubt those rankings will hold has they progress through the conference schedule.

#13 – Miami Hurricanes – 1-2 (0-0 ACC)

Remember when Miami and Florida State were dominant college football programs? Yeah that was a long time ago. The Hurricanes have been by far the biggest disappointment in the ACC, and that’s with the struggles Clemson is currently having. The Canes were right up there with UNC as favorites to win the ACC Coastal this season. While that’s still a possibility, the likeliness of that happening gets slimmer and slimmer each week. The Hurricanes are essentially a one man show on offense as no one has stepped up to help out QB D’Eriq King. And then there’s the issue with the defense. Miami has been outscored by Power 5 teams by a combined 82-30 and nearly lost to App State. The Hurricanes are last in the ACC yards and points given up per game, and are the only team in the ACC to have given up over 100 total points through the first three games. They should get a win this week against Central Connecticut State, but after that the schedule gets a lot tougher as their next four games are against teams that rank in the top 5 in the ACC in total offense. It may be a long year for fans in Coral Gables.

#14 – Florida State Seminoles – 0-3 (0-1 ACC)

Is anybody actually “fearing the spear” anymore? It’s still mind-boggling that teams in the ACC can look at their conference schedule and see FSU as a for sure win. The college football world thought FSU was turning the corner in the opening OT loss to Notre Dame. Now it seems like that was just a good game between mediocre to bad football teams. The Noles followed up that heartbreaking loss with an even more heartbreaking loss by letting FCS opponent Jacksonville State score on a last second miraculous Hail Mary. Follow that up with a blowout ACC loss to Wake Forest in which the Seminoles turned the ball over six times. Things have gone from bad to worse in Tallahassee and there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. At this moment, Florida State might (and that’s a big might) win two games unless things take a dramatic turn.

Week 4 ACC Schedule

Friday, September 24
Wake ForestVirginia7:00 PMESPN2Tickets as low as $7Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, VA
LibertySyracuse8:00 PMACCNTickets as low as $5Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
Saturday, September 25
MissouriBoston College12:00 PMESPN2Tickets as low as $23Alumni Stadium , Chestnut Hill, MA
New HampshirePittsburgh12:00 PM
Tickets as low as $14Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
RichmondVirginia Tech12:00 PMACCNTickets as low as $21Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, VA
Central ConnecticutMiami12:30 PMESPN3Tickets as low as $6Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL
#9ClemsonNC State3:30 PMESPNTickets as low as $67Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, NC
LouisvilleFlorida State3:30 PMESPN2Tickets as low as $14Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, FL
KansasDuke4:00 PMACCNTickets as low as $14Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, NC
#21North CarolinaGeorgia Tech7:30 PMACCNTickets as low as $47Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

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