Yeah, it’s a bit late this week and pretty much no one is going to read this before the Saturday games, but I’m writing this anyway. I never had a chance to sit down and update my rankings this week until now, so here goes.
This week, along with the rankings, I’m giving each team a mid-term grade. We’re just past midway through the season, so it’s a fair time to judge. I am grading based on how well the team/coaches have done based on the personnel they have this year. That means a bad team can get a good grade and vice-versa. Otherwise, you could just grade directly off of win-loss records and what fun would that be?
1. Virginia Tech (8-0, 5-0) – Grade: A – I was very impressed with their 27-10 win over Boston College on Thursday night. It was the best I’ve seen the Hokies play this year, although in fairness, I missed the Georgia Tech bloodletting. Tech was dominant on both sides of the ball and were in control of the game from almost the first snap. Yeah, the Eagles actually grabbed a brief 7-6 lead in the second quarter, but it never felt like they were going to win or even stay close.
This team is BY FAR the best coached squad in the ACC. As a Virginia fan, it’s a bit disheartening/impressive to see just how many Hokie starters are from the Commonwealth – almost all of them! Basically, they are playing with the same guys that Virginia has, or potentially could have had, but are doing a much better job of combining them into a team. That is one good football staff.
2. Florida State (6-1, 4-1) – Grade: B – Some might think I’m being a bit kind with my grade, considering they were spanked by Virginia. The thing is though, they did beat Miami in the first week (although they were mostly outplayed) and the Seminoles are a young team. Don’t forget, they also traveled up to Boston and beat a solid BC team on their field. Despite the one loss, the ‘Noles are still a virtual lock to play in the ACC Championship game, meaning they are really just one game away from a BCS bowl.
On the flip side, this team doesn’t give the polished feel that Virginia Tech does. They have some very exciting players and seem more likely to produce a big play, but they also seem just as likely to commit three consecutive penalties and then turn the ball over. I’m also baffled as to why they can’t or won’t establish a better running game.
Maryland pays a visit to Tallahassee this afternoon and I suspect they’ll take an ass-whipping. I think that Virginia loss put a spark in FSU.
3. Miami (5-1, 2-1) – Grade: B – They’ve had a weird season. They had that big first game and it seems like the Hurricanes have escaped notice for the rest of the season. They followed that up with a thriller at Clemson and then a decent non-conference matchup against Colorado. Since then though, they’ve played South Florida, Temple and Duke and then had an unscheduled bye week last weekend due to hurricane Wilma. I think this team is good, but they really haven’t had a chance to prove it in over a month. Thumping Carolina today will only partly help that image, because let’s face it, the Tar Heels can turn in a stinker in any given week.
Still, my hunch is that this team is quite good – possibly even the best in the league. We’ll find out next weekend when they take a trip up to chilly Lane Stadium.
4. Boston College (6-2, 3-2) – Grade: B+ – There’s a big gap between the play of the top three teams and BC. I think there’s an even bigger gap between the talent of those three teams and the Eagles. Other than Mathius Kiwanuka, no player really stands out as exceptional. I think Tom O’Brien is doing a very good job of getting everything he can from this bunch.
In future years though, he’s going to need more speed to compete in this league.
5. Clemson (4-3, 2-3) – Grade B- – What’s the record for number of teams in one league that finish 6-5? Doesn’t it seem like Clemson, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia Tech and North Carolina are all headed that way?
The Tigers have a very interesting game today in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. Like I pointed out, the middle teams of the ACC are all very close to each other and that one will help (maybe) sort things out a bit. I suspect it’ll come down to a score in the last three minutes.
As for the grade, the staff gets bonus points for two very close comeback wins to start the year. They then lose points for losing the next two games in overtime. The loss to Wake costs them a full grade, but the impressive win over the Paper Wolfpack got them a few extra points back. A B- just seems about right, although Tiger fans might consider it generous.
6. Georgia Tech (4-2, 2-2) – Grade: B – You have to give Chan Gailey and his staff lots of credit for going down to Auburn and getting a very impressive win. The W over Carolina looks pretty decent now too. Yeah, they got their asses handed to them in Blacksburg, but the really killer game was the NC State loss. If that crazy play in the end zone went even slightly differently, they win that game and are sitting 5-1 right now. And remember, Gailey was very much on the hot seat to start the season.
All that said, if they lose to Clemson today, the Jackets are in trouble. They still have to travel down to Coral Gables and host Georgia, not to mention travel to Charlottesville. Hell, even the Wake game is no gimme. This grade could change immensely by the end of the year.
7. North Carolina (3-3, 2-1) – Grade: B – I freely admit that nearly every prediction I’ve made about this team this year has been wrong. The only thing I’ve been right about is that you just never know what you’re going to get. Actually, if you throw out the Louisville debacle, they’ve been fairly consistent. It’s just that that game was so bad.
One of my theories about college football is that teams have a set level at which they play, with each game falling just above or below their level. That little variance accounts for most wins and losses. Each year though, most teams have one game that is a complete outlier – they either play out of their minds against a top opponent or crap the laundry hamper. The problem is that when that game happens early in the season, it can be hard to tell if it’s an outlier or not. I think it’s fair to say now that the Louisville game was UNC’s anomaly. But with this coaching staff, don’t be shocked if they have another. You can just never tell with Bunting’s teams.
8. Maryland (4-3, 2-2) – Grade: B- – The Terrapins have been playing better of late, but they do have three home losses this season. With four games left, it’s hard to really project where this Maryland season is headed. They are at Florida State today and follow that up with games at UNC, home against BC and at NC State. Other than the FSU games, all three are about equally winnable and losable.
I have a feeling that they’ll be traveling to Raleigh looking for their sixth win to gain bowl eligibility. That’s not exactly what the Maryland faithful had in mind a few years ago when they had those back-to-back ten-win seasons.
9. Virginia (4-3, 2-3) – Grade: C – Speaking of outliers, how about that Florida State game? While Virginia fans would love for that performance to be part of the team’s natural level, I think we know now that it’s just not. When you score 5 points on North Carolina, you just aren’t that good. Five points.
The Cavaliers get a much needed week off this weekend to see if they can find their spines.
10. Wake Forest (3-5, 2-3) – Grade B+ – You may have noticed, but I love this coaching staff. There may not be any coach in the country who gets more out of the talent he has than Jim Grobe. The only reason I’m not giving them an A is that they lost to Vanderbilt at home (sort of like being beat up by the Homecoming Queen) and, well, they are only 3-5.
Today the Deacons travel to Durham to play Duke in the annual No-Bowl Bowl in front of a crowd of dozens. Thank God that Raycom is putting that gem on TV.
11. NC State (2-1, 1-4) – Grade: D – One thing that NC State fans to very, very well is turn sour on a coach and team. This bunch is passionate and unfortunately has had a lot of experience with hope followed immediately by crushing disappointment. It’s part of their makeup.
Sadly for those fans (and really, I do feel bad. I love to tease State fans, but I do feel for them.), this season could still get worse. Southern Miss is in town today for homecoming, and they ain’t no pushovers. After that game are back to back roadies against Florida State and Boston College. Lose today and the season officially becomes a disaster. Someone call FEMA.
12. Duke (1-7, 0-5) – Grade: D – Is there a rule against scheduling VMI more than once a year? Seriously, couldn’t they work out a home and home or something? The actual service academies have long since passed Duke by, but the Blue Devils can still handle the second-division military schools. Ooooh, what about the Citadel?