- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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The middle of the league is just a tad bit clustered.
1. Clemson (6-0, 4-0; LW: No. 1). The Tigers sputtered offensively in a close call against Boston College, so there are some problems that have to be fixed headed into the major ACC showdown against Florida State on Saturday. The good news for Clemson fans is the defense continues to improve and has become a strength.
2. Florida State (5-0, 3-0; LW: No. 2). The Seminoles had the benefit of getting an extra week to prepare for Clemson. But a difficult challenge still awaits. This team has not won in Death Valley since 2001, and Clemson has lost only two ACC home games under Dabo Swinney.
3. Miami (5-0, 1-0; LW: No. 3). The Canes moved up into the Top 10 for the first time since 2009 despite being off, thanks to a few upsets across the country. They face a big test Thursday night against a UNC team desperate to keep its bowl hopes alive. The game marks the first outside the state of Florida for Miami this season. The Canes are just 1-4 all-time at Kenan Stadium.
4. Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0; LW: No. 4). The Hokies needed a win in the final game of the regular season last year to become bowl eligible. What a difference a year makes. Virginia Tech reeled off its sixth consecutive win on Saturday, 19-9 over Pitt, and is now guaranteed a bowl game. There is little doubt the Coastal is a two-team race between the Canes and Hokies.
5. Maryland (5-1, 1-1; LW: No. 6). Despite missing quarterback C.J. Brown, the Terps found a way to bounce back from a disheartening loss to beat Virginia. Barely. But Maryland will take any win it can get. Backup quarterback Caleb Rowe threw for a career-high 322 yards and running back Brandon Ross had a career-high 169 yards of total offense.
6. Pitt (3-2, 2-2; LW: No. 5). Now the real fun begins -- trying to pick and choose the order among teams 6-12. The Panthers looked terrible in their loss to Virginia Tech. But Virginia Tech's D has a way of doing that to teams. Pitt does own two league wins, more than the next four teams on our list. That includes one over Duke.
7. Duke (4-2, 0-2; LW: No. 10). The Blue Devils do not have a league win yet, but they do have a 4-0 record in nonconference play and looked like a different team with Anthony Boone at quarterback in a dominant 35-7 win over Navy. They have a winnable game this weekend against Virginia. Given the remaining teams on the schedule, Duke should win at least two more.
8. Syracuse (3-3; 1-1; LW: No. 12). The Orange impressed once again with their run game in a 24-10 win at NC State, their first ACC victory. Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley each went over 100 yards, something they each did in the bowl win last year. The passing game remains an issue as Terrel Hunt threw for 74 yards and had two interceptions.
9. Boston College (3-3; 1-2; LW: No. 9). The Eagles played Clemson and Florida State tough this year, but coach Steve Addazio takes little solace in moral victories. Still, Boston College has shown it is not a walkover opponent any longer. Its physical brand of football should keep the Eagles in contention for a bowl spot in the second half of the season.
10. Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2; LW: No. 11). The Deacs also own a win over NC State the way Syracuse does. But they lost to Boston College and have a worse nonconference loss than the teams ranked ahead. Wake Forest was off this week and has a winnable game Saturday at home against Maryland.
11. Georgia Tech (3-3, 2-2; LW: No. 7). While the Jackets do have two league wins, they have dropped three in a row and have looked completely discombobulated on both offense and defense in the past two. If the Jackets cannot beat Syracuse this Saturday, their bowl streak might be in serious jeopardy.
12. NC State (3-3, 0-3; LW: No. 8). We don’t think many people expected the Wolfpack to be winless in ACC play at this point, but that is where they are after a second consecutive loss. Both, against Wake Forest and Syracuse, were winnable games. But injuries to key starters have really taken a toll on this team and it has shown.
13. North Carolina (1-4, 0-2; LW: No. 13). The Tar Heels were off last week as they prepared to take on Miami. Coach Larry Fedora said last week he had “no doubt” this season was salvageable after the poor start. Well, if it is going to be saved, it has to start Thursday night with an upset win over the Canes.
14. Virginia (2-4, 0-2; LW: No. 14). The Hoos have one more win than North Carolina, but they have lost three straight and have had just about everything go wrong for them in that span. The latest was a heartbreaking missed field goal to lose to the Terps. The defense, which started the season playing so well, has shown some cracks.
7hAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna