ACC power rankings: Tigers, Cards alone at the top; Duke and Wake surge

Was it Lamar Jackson or mistakes that beat the Tar Heels?

Listen to UNC football coach Larry Fedora's press conference following the Tar Heels' loss to Louisville in their ACC opener.
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Listen to UNC football coach Larry Fedora's press conference following the Tar Heels' loss to Louisville in their ACC opener.

Clemson and Louisville answered their two biggest questions and now they get to face each other.

Even with its quarterback problems, Florida State will still have a say, and the Coastal Division is the Coastal Division, but the winner between the Tigers and Cardinals this week will be the ACC’s best shot at sending a team to the College Football Playoff for a fourth straight year.

The biggest question in the preseason for Clemson was, after years of being identified by its offense, could the Tigers win with defense?

After Auburn ran for 38 yards (on 42 carries) and threw for 79 (on 24 passes), in a 14-6 Clemson win, the answer is a resounding yes.

In eight quarters of football this season, Clemson hasn’t given up a touchdown yet.

The question for Louisville, after losing its last three games of 2016, was: Is Lamar Jackson still Lamar Jackson?

Breaking news: The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner is still really good. Preseason lists are silly, and worrying about them even sillier, but when ESPN didn’t list Jackson as one of the five best players in college football this summer, that seemed … odd.

Jackson wasn’t just good in a 47-35 win at North Carolina on Saturday, he’s downright unfair. He makes plays out of nothing and with a running game emerging to save some hits on him, he will be even more dangerous.

The Cards’ offensive line is not great, their defense is full of holes and they take way too many dumb penalties but Jackson gives them a chance to knock off Clemson this week and set them up for a special season.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

Ranking the ACC

1. Clemson

Record: 2-0 (0-0 ACC)

Last game: beat Auburn, 14-6. Next game: at Louisville.

If you’re going to be a “defense first” team, you have to be able to run the ball. For all of its recruiting riches, a shortfall at running back might be the Tigers’ undoing.

2. Louisville

Record: 2-0 (1-0 ACC)

Last game: won at UNC, 47-35. Next game: vs. Clemson

Now we know what “Super Saiyan” (a Dragon Ball reference) means to Lamar Jackson: 525 total yards, 6 touchdowns.

3. Miami

Record: 1-0 (0-0 ACC)

Last game: at Arkansas State, ppd. Next game: at FSU, ppd.

With half of the city underwater after Hurricane Irma, football is secondary for Miami.

4. Florida State

Record: 0-1 (0-0 ACC)

Last game: vs. Louisiana-Monroe, ppd. Next game: vs. Miami, ppd.

Same for the Seminoles, who will go 20 days between games.

5. Virginia Tech

Record: 2-0 (0-0 ACC)

Last game: beat Delaware, 27-0. Next game: at ECU

The Hokies’ lost last their last trip to Greenville. Odds of that happening again? Slim.

6. Georgia Tech

Record: 1-1 (0-0 ACC)

Last game: beat Jacksonville State, 37-10. Next game: at Central Florida

After 44 rushing attempts in the opener, quarterback Taquon Marshall had only 13 against Jacksonville State. He did manage to throw for three touchdowns (on only seven pass attempts).

7. N.C. State

Record: 1-1 (0-0 ACC)

Last game: beat Marshall, 37-20. Next game: vs. Furman

Dynamics of the FSU trip (Sept. 23) have changed but not the stakes.

8. Duke

Record: 2-0 (0-0 ACC)

Last game: beat Northwestern, 41-17. Next game: vs. Baylor

Third-year quarterback Daniel Jones (413 total yards, 4 TDs) began his career as a walk-on. He will probably end his career in the NFL.

9. Wake Forest

Record: 2-0 (1-0 ACC)

Last game: won at Boston College, 34-10. Next game: vs. Utah State

No nonsense by the Deacs in their ACC opener. The next two weeks (Utah State, at Appalachian State) might actually be more difficult.

10. UNC

Record: 0-2 (0-1 ACC)

Last game: lost to Louisville, 47-35. Next game: at Old Dominion

High point: 384 passing yards from two quarterbacks.

Low point: Trash-talking Lamar Jackson.

11. Pittsburgh

Record: 1-1 (0-0 ACC)

Last game: lost at Penn State, 33-14 Next game: vs. Oklahoma State

Who made the Panthers’ schedule? The Pokes might hang 60 on them this week.

12. Syracuse

Record: 1-1 (0-0 ACC)

Last game: lost to Middle Tennessee, 30-23 Next game: vs. Central Michigan

The bowl math doesn’t work without a home win over Middle Tennessee.

13. Virginia

Record: 1-1 (0-0 ACC)

Last game: lost to Indiana, 34-17 Next game: vs. Connecticut

That was a “show me” game for the Cavaliers. Bronco Mendenhall, in Year 2, didn’t have to win but he had to show more fight than that.

14. Boston College

Record: 1-1 (0-1 ACC)

Last game: lost to Wake Forest, 34-10 Next game: vs. Notre Dame

Only nine more weeks until the N.C. State game!