Diagnosing the ACC

CLEMSON - Three full weeks into the 2008 season, it's still too early to tell which teams belong at the top.

#1. WAKE FOREST: The Deacs are already off to a 2-0 start, including a convincing road win at Baylor, and a come-from-behind victory at home over Ole Miss. QB Riley Skinner is also completing an astounding 75 percent of his passes, picking up right where he left off when he led the nation in the same category a year ago. A huge test awaits this weekend at Doak-Campbell Stadium, where Wake defeated the Seminoles by a mind-boggling score of 30-0 two years ago. Still, the Deacs are undefeated and are THE team in the league worth talking about right now.

#2. NORTH CAROLINA: After an ugly, close win over McNeese State to open their season, the Tar Heels made a big statement in a road win Thursday night at Rutgers. True, Rutgers is nowhere close to being the top 10 team it was two years ago with Ray Rice, but it was the first time in six years UNC won a game outside of the Tar Heel state. Brandon Tate may be the best player in the nation nobody knows about- yet. The Tar Heels get the nod over Clemson because they A) don't have a loss and B) weren't embarrassed on national television to open the season.

#3. CLEMSON: The season-opening loss to Alabama hasn't been forgotten and until the defense shows improvement in the front seven the Tigers won't be able to live up to preseason expectations. However, if Ricky Sapp and Rashaad Jackson can get back on the field at 100 percent, the Tigers should still end up being the team to beat. A home game in two weeks against Maryland looks more difficult than before after what the Terps did to California this weekend.

#4. MARYLAND: The loss to Middle Tennessee State was inexcusable but the win over California gave the ACC its first victory over a ranked opponent this season. If QB Chris Turner plays how did Saturday against Cal, the Terps could be a big factor in the Atlantic Division by the end of the season. If not, score 20 points and you'll beat the Terps every time this year. Keep an eye out for RB Da'Rel Scott, who rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns in the surprisingly easy win over the Golden Bears.

#5. FLORIDA STATE: Truthfully, we don't know much about FSU just yet after easy wins over Western Carolina and Chattanooga, but at least the Seminoles won both games in convincing fashion. In previous years, they were physically incapable of doing that. QBs Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson have done well so far but will be tested in a big way this coming weekend against Wake Forest. To suggest a huge game looms Saturday against the Deacs would be an understatement.

#6. VIRGINIA TECH: After a disappointing start to the season losing to East Carolina, Virginia Tech rebounded with an uninspiring win over Furman in a game it only led 3-0 at halftime. A 19-16 win over Georgia Tech on late fourth-quarter field goal looks good but it's hard to tell how good the Yellow Jackets are just yet under first year head coach Paul Johnson. Early plans to redshirt QB Tyrod Taylor quickly dissipated and rightfully so as the offense has been punchless with Sean Glennon under center.

#7. MIAMI: The talent is there but the experience is not. The 'Canes played top five Florida in The Swamp within a touchdown for three quarters a week ago and now must rebound entering conference play. QB Robert Marve played surprisingly well and could be the first decent signal caller for Miami since Ken Dorsey. It may not be too much longer until this program moves to the top of the Coastal Division.

#8. GEORGIA TECH: Paul Johnson's offense has been average but the defense has been fantastic. A tough win on the road at Boston College followed by a close loss on the road at Virginia Tech has us thinking the Yellow Jackets will go bowling this season while also notching an upset win or two along the way.

#9. BOSTON COLLEGE: The defense will keep the Eagles in every game they play this season, but the offense? That's a different story. QB Chris Crane has been average at best so far and with so many playmakers gone from last year's team there could be a huge drop off in Chestnut Hill this year.

#10. DUKE: The David Cutcliffe era has gotten off to a bang this season with the Blue Devils winning two of their first three games before entering conference play, including an exciting 41-31 win over Navy this weekend in Durham. The immediate schedule is also manageable, with Virginia coming to Wallace-Wade after an off-week on Sept. 27. Can you say, "bowl game?" Not yet but stranger things have happened.

#11. N.C. STATE: The defense is good but lacks depth. The offense is bad and also lacks depth. Expect a large number of close, low-scoring losses this season in year two under Tom O'Brien. Where is Mike Glennon?

#12. VIRGINIA: Welcome to last place in the ACC Al Groh, you'll be there a while.

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