Conference Stock Report

The ACC is now firmly in the league part of the schedule. That means the contenders and slowly being separated from the pretenders. Last week, we saw two examples as UNC and Clemson dropped games that most expected them to win handily. We also saw Boston College take another big step toward being a contender when they beat Florida State at home.

Nearing the midweek point in the season, we are starting to see the separation that happens every year as the calendar turns to October. September is about what a team can be; October is about what a team is. The first week of the month showed that for a few teams.

The league is breaking down to be one strong division with three teams in the hunt. Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia Tech will decide one side of the conference title game. The other side remains a crap shoot. No team has taken control of the division, but two teams have all but eliminated themselves from contention. Clemson and Florida State have disappointed and now sit with two losses. .

The Buys

Virginia Tech (4-1, 2-0): Right now, the Hokies are the top team in the conference. They are ranked 5th in both polls and generally considered the most complete team in the conference. They have two wins over top-25 teams and gave Alabama, perhaps the best team in the country, their toughest contest of the season.

Still, questions remain. The Hokies went to Duke and had a tough time keeping the Duke offense under control. The Blue Devil offense had their best day against a FBS team this season and was within a score late in the fourth quarter. A little better execution in the red zone and they could have won this one.

Maybe it is the schedule, but the Hokies defense looks like a middle of the pack group right now. They are 67th in rush defense and 47th in total defense. Those are not championship numbers. On the other hand, the running game has come on strong with Ryan Williams leading the league in rushing. Tyrod Taylor has become a clutch performer, leading the offense with his legs and his arm. Maybe that is enough.

Miami (3-1, 2-1): Miami bounced back from their big loss at Blacksburg with a great performance at home against Oklahoma. Granted, Oklahoma is missing their top player and maybe is a bit over rated. The Sooners have not beaten anyone that is remotely good. So, that win at home by Miami may not be as big as it would appear.

That said, Miami passes the eyeball test. Jacory Harris is on his way to becoming a top flight quarterback. The Canes have a ton of young talent that has clearly improved since last season. They have beaten three teams that were ranked when facing Miami. Only Florida State has proven to be a sham. Oklahoma and Georgia Tech are both good teams.

The issue for Miami is the defense. They are ranked 83rd in rush defense and 44th in total defense. Even though Harris looks great, they are the 67th ranked offense in the country. The record says they are a top-15 team, but the numbers suggest they have some issues that will haunt them as they get into the conference schedule.

Georgia Tech (4-1, 2-1): It is hard to figure Georgia Tech right now. They went on the road and beat a feisty Mississippi State team that is maybe a little better than their record. On the other hand, none of the wins at this point jump out and say this team is ready to win a title. Further, beating Clemson and North Carolina at home no longer looks very impressive.

As expected, they have the best running game in the conference. They are fourth in the nation and tops in the conference. Also as expected, they have the worst passing game in the conference. That is not a big deal for a Paul Johnson team. The question is on defense. They are 53rd against the run 88th against the pass. For a running team, those defensive numbers suggest it will be tough to win the division.

The biggest issue is the schedule. They have four of their next five on the road. That means they will have played four road games by the end of October. They also have to go to Florida State next week when that team is looking for a bounce back to support their coach. In other words, the schedule may be their biggest challenge right now.

NC State (3-2, 0-1): This week the Wolfpack stays in the buy category, despite their loss at Wake Forest. It was their first road game and they faced a team looking to recover from a tough loss at Boston College. Plus, it was a close game that could have gone their way if they had not made some critical errors.

The thing that keeps them in the buy category is their defense. They are sixth in the nation in total defense and seventh in rushing defense. The pass defense is a little soft, ranked 61st in the country, but this is not a pass happy league. Throw in the fact Russell Wilson is becoming a complete quarterback and this is a team that remains in the hunt for the conference title.

The red flag, however, is the fact they have beaten one team with a winning record. Pittsburgh, the team they beat, has not won a game against a BCS team this year. Throw in the fact that their vaunted defense was shredded by Riley Skinner and there are plenty of questions about this team right now.

The Holds

Boston College (4-1, 2-1): The Eagles are the surprise of the season so far. No one expected a winning season and they are well on their way to achieving that goal. After a bad loss to Clemson, they responded with two exciting wins over Atlantic division foes. Given the free fall of Clemson, the Eagles are suddenly in a good position to win this thing.

Here's the thing that keeps BC in the hold category. The offense is ranked 95th in the country. The running game is 57th in the nation. Granted, the Clemson debacle is a big part of it, but the questions remain. The run defense is a respectable 25th, but the pass defense 42nd. The question is whether this offense is good enough to compete against the iron of the conference.

Wake Forest (3-2, 1-1): The Deacs got a huge win at home last week. A loss and this team would have been out of the conversation for the division title. Instead, they are right there with a chance to sneak into the title game, assuming they get some help. Beating the team with the best chance to win it gives them a big advantage as the season unfolds.

Wake has the best quarterback in the league. The running game is still a work in progress, but having a veteran like Skinner is big. The issue is the defense. They are 66th in total defense and 59th against the run. They have to do better as their offense is not going to outscore anyone in a shootout. If they get better play on that side, they can easily move into the buy category.

Duke (2-3, 0-1): They lost to Virginia Tech and no one was surprised. They did, however, hang in with a whole game against the best team in the conference. The Dukies are a long way from being good and are not going to challenge for the division. They may not even challenge for a bowl. But, there is hope.

Look at the passing game. Duke is 16th in the country in passing. They put up 359 yards against the Hokies. That's going to give them a a chance against a lot of teams. They have no running game, ranked 111th, and the defense is suspect. But, the defense is not horrible. They are ranked 70th in total defense. A little improvement to go a long with a good passing game and this team will surprise a few team this year.

The Sells

North Carolina (3-2, 0-2): This space has been leery of the Tar Heels all year. Last week confirmed that this group is not in the mix for a title. The main reason is the utter lack of offense. They scored three points at home against hapless Virginia. North Carolina is ranked 115th in total offense this year. That defense is championship caliber, but that offense is dismal. That makes them a strong sell right now.

Clemson (2-3, 1-2): It appears Clemson peaked three weeks ago when they shutdown Boston College. Since then they have lost at home to TCU and on the road against a terrible Maryland team. Worst yet, they blew the last game with poor calls on offense and two missed kicks. The team with the potentially great running game is 67th in the nation. They are 95th in passing. Even a great defense cannot overcome that level of offense.

Virginia (1-3, 1-0): Like Maryland, Virginia got a huge win last week. More important, they got it on the road. That means the team has not thrown in the towel. Even more important the offense showed some life against a very good UNC defense. It is just one win and it does not change much, but it does take them out of the league basement.

Florida State (2-3, 0-2): The last time the Seminoles were 2-and-3, it was 1983. That was before Florida State was a dominant program and no one cared. After so much success, everyone is now wondering if this is the end for Bobby Bowden. It may be. They have the 98th ranked defense in the country. That means there are more losses on the way.

Maryland (2-3, 1-0): The Terps got a big win at home and there is some talk that they may have found their mojo finally. The reality is they won because Clemson turned the ball over three times and missed two easy field goals. All that said, it was a much needed win for the Terps, but they have a long way to go before they can be taken seriously.

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