No. 1 Clemson has established what feels like a gulf between itself and the rest of the ACC. We look to the college football rankings and see evidence of a strong league in 2020 with four teams ranked in the top 15 of the AP Top 25, but in the last couple years when one of those challengers has turn into the Tigers in top form, the result has only confirmed that Clemson is on another level right now.
In fact, Clemson is on the verge of making ACC history in 2020 with another big milestone on the line this Saturday when it hosts Boston College. The Tigers have won 27 consecutive games against ACC opponents, a streak that dates back to a loss to Syracuse in 2017. With a win against the Eagles, Clemson would move into a tie with Florida State (2012-15) for the second-longest streak in league history.
That streak for the Seminoles encompassed three ACC championships, a BCS National Championship and a College Football Playoff appearance, but it was one game short of the longest streak in league history. The record of 29 consecutive victories against ACC opponents was set by Florida State when it joined the league in 1992 and proceeded to win every one of its conference games until finally being upended by Virginia in on Nov. 2, 1995.
If Clemson beats Boston College, the opportunity to match that epic ACC run by Bobby Bowden's Florida State program will be on the line in one of the biggest games of the year: at Notre Dame on Nov. 7. And the opportunity to break Florida State's 1992-95 record should the Tigers tie it in South Bend? A road to trip to Tallahassee on Nov. 21. You couldn't write a more perfect set of circumstances for Clemson to stare down ACC history.
But then again, none of those storybook settings are on the table if Clemson can't take care of business against Boston College on Saturday.
Week 9 ACC odds, picks
Boston College at No. 1 Clemson (-31): This will be a good chance for Clemson to show its teeth, particularly defensively as it faces the best passing attack its seen since Miami. If the Tigers avoid turnovers, they should win easily and get the cover. My lean is Clemson comes out with a little more focus and energy towards playing a complete game, bouncing back from the disjointed effort against Syracuse. Pick: Clemson -31
Wake Forest (-11) at Syracuse: Strong performances in back-to-back weeks at home have Wake Forest carrying some momentum on the road and probably inflated this line a little bit. The Deacs are the better team and should win, but asking them to cover nearly two touchdowns feels a little steep for a potential letdown spot. I'm going to target the total instead, since both teams will play with pace and Syracuse's defense has been decimated by injuries and opt-outs. Pick: Over 59
No. 4 Notre Dame at Georgia Tech (-20): This is a tough spot for the Yellow Jackets, since it sure seems like Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame coaching staff have this team dialed in to an ACC Championship mindset. Notre Dame is comfortable with its identity, the defense has been playing lights out since halftime of the Florida State game and there's a relentlessness to the way the Irish take care of business once they get rolling. We were looking for some juice out of Georgia Tech last week which never materialized, so best not to try and squeeze what couldn't produce when Notre Dame is a sure thing. That said, the best play here might not be Notre Dame, but to take the under since it can rely on its defense to win and keep the best offensive plays off the tape heading into next week's game against Clemson. Pick: Under 57
Virginia Tech (-3.5) at Louisville: There were far too many self-inflicted wounds for Virginia Tech in its loss to Wake Forest. Coaches like to talk about hidden yards, and there were not only hidden yards but lost possessions due to turnovers, penalties and other miscues. It's a gut-check week for the Hokies after one of its worst performances of the season, and I think we see much more of Khalil Herbert and less Hendon Hooker mistakes in a bounce-back road win. Pick: Virginia Tech -3.5
Charlotte at Duke (-10): An already thin Duke offensive line took another hit with the loss of starting center Will Taylor following an injury in the loss to NC State. The Blue Devils had an off week to adjust but return to action against a tough nonconference opponent with Charlotte coming to town. Will Healy's 49ers are hoping to play spoiler to Marshall in the Conference USA title race with a 2-1 record in league play, but the goals here are more for state-wide respect as the program looks to record its first win against an ACC opponent. Duke needs a good win badly, but Charlotte will be feisty. Pick: Under 56
No. 15 North Carolina (-6.5) at Virginia: Stinky line. Gross, stinky, smelly line that suggests the oddsmakers have North Carolina on upset alert heading to Charlottesville after a romp of a rivalry win against NC State. Quarterback Brennan Armstrong being back in the lineup makes Virginia significantly more competitive against the better teams in the ACC, and the run defense has held up well against an impressive slate of ground attacks in Clemson, Miami, Wake Forest and NC State. I think Virginia wants to make this game ugly and keep it close with a chance to win late, so I'll take the points. The lean is Virginia +6.5 because I think North Carolina wins close, but a fourth-quarter Sam Howell touchdown in a tie game can break your heart. So I'd wait to see if it hits +7 or buy the hook if you want to go that route. Pick: Under 61.5
Last week: 4-3 | 2020 season: 22-23
Each week, we'll be offering these top-half power rankings for the 15-team, one-division ACC. Results matter, but won't match the standings necessarily as we look to identify the teams that have the best chance to contend for one of the top two spots (by winning percentage) and play for the conference championship in December.
1. Clemson (Last week -- 1): I do think we'll be "at the right press conference" after Clemson shows a more consistent wire-to-wire win against Boston College.
2. Notre Dame (3): On upset alert going up against Pitt, Notre Dame flexed in a big way that suggests Brian Kelly has this team peaking at the right time.
3. Miami (2): Unlike Notre Dame, Miami seems to be headed in the wrong direction. The Hurricanes are winning, but winning ugly thanks to its defense. The offense hasn't looked great since rolling Florida State more than a month ago, so until D'Eriq King and Co. start to turn it around, the Canes are going to give up some ground in the power rankings.
4. North Carolina (5): No other team in the country has two running backs averaging more than 100 yards per game. Michael Carter and Javonte Williams both rank in the top 15 nationally in rushing yards per game and have an argument as the best one-two punch in the sport. That's the key to keeping the offense balanced and limiting the pressure on Sam Howell, and a defense that's trying to get healthy and more experienced in this late stage of the season.
5. Boston College (8): I sold my Boston College stock too early. Phil Jurkovec and the Eagles' passing attack is legit, and Jeff Hafley's impressive debut continues after stomping Georgia Tech over the weekend.
6. Wake Forest (NR): Nick Andersen was the story of the weekend after the former walk-on had three interceptions in the win against Virginia Tech, but just as impressive has been the way Sam Hartman and this Wake Forest offense continue to play at a high level over the last couple of games.
7. Virginia Tech (4): The Hokies are better than their performance at Wake Forest, but now it's a test of focus and coaching to return to the form that had us talking about ACC Championship contention even if that goal is likely slipping away after the loss in Winston-Salem.
8. NC State (6): The Wolfpack have a week off to sort out their quarterback situation. Bailey Hockman stepped back under center following the injury to Devin Leary, but freshman Ben Finley (younger brother of former NC State quarterback Ryan Finley) also saw some action against North Carolina. We'll see how both play and how the offense looks in Week 10 against Miami, a game that will set the stage and stakes for the conclusion to the 2020 regular season.
Dropped from the rankings: Pitt (7)