Keep in mind that this is not a preseason ranking. The fact that Georgia Tech just lost four of its best players to the NFL draft has nothing to do with this. We’ll save that one for later. Here is the final power ranking for the 2009 season:
1. Georgia Tech (11-3, 7-1) – Despite the loss to Iowa in the FedEx Orange Bowl, this is still the team that beat the best the ACC had to offer. The Jackets’ win over Virginia Tech and their two wins over Clemson are what earned them the top spot. They are still the defending ACC champs, a title Iowa couldn’t take away.
2. Virginia Tech (10-3, 6-2) – The Hokies put together a complete performance in their convincing win over Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and earned their sixth straight 10-win season. They head into 2010 on a five-game winning streak and with a much improved offense.
3. Clemson (9-5, 6-2) – The Tigers made a habit out of regrouping this year. First, after their 2-3 start to the season, and then heading into the Music City Bowl after back-to-back losses to rival South Carolina and Georgia Tech. The Tigers sent C.J. Spiller off with a win over Kentucky.
4. Miami (9-4, 5-3) – The Hurricanes took another step forward under coach Randy Shannon, winning nine games, but remained status quo in the postseason. The Canes ran into a more physical Wisconsin team in the Champs Sports Bowl, and lost their chance at entering 2010 with a top 15 ranking.
5. Florida State (7-6, 4-4) – The Noles earned respect for their surprising upset of West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, and proved they can make the plays on defense if they want to. In one game, the Bobby Bowden era ended, and the Jimbo Fisher era officially began.
6. Boston College (8-5, 5-3) – The Eagles put up a respectable performance against USC in the Emerald Bowl and were in a position to win the game. One glaring weakness remained all season, and that was freshman mistakes at quarterback, where Dave Shinskie is bound to improve with time.
7. North Carolina (8-5, 4-4) – The Tar Heels left much to be desired in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, losing again in the same city to another Big East team. This time Pitt took advantage of UNC’s mistakes, and the Heels couldn’t get their ground game going again.
8. Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5) – The Deacs should be remembered as the ACC’s unluckiest team in 2009, as they were only a few points away from an entirely different season. The win over Stanford, in retrospect, was among the best the conference had to offer in its nonconference schedule.
9. Duke (5-7, 3-5) – The Blue Devils again made progress under coach David Cutcliffe, clinging to bowl hopes for the majority of the season, but they faded down the stretch with a four-game losing streak. If Duke couldn’t make the postseason with quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, it will be difficult to do it without him.
10. NC State (5-7, 2-6) – Tom O’Brien’s career at NC State has been a series of one unfortunate event after another. There is no questioning his ability as a coach -- his resume speaks for itself. But once again, the Pack couldn’t overcome significant injuries, and the devastating news that their offensive coordinator, Dana Bible, had been diagnosed with cancer. They could, however, overcome UNC. Again.
11. Virginia (3-9, 2-6) – The Cavaliers ended the season they way they started -- in disappointment. Six straight losses, including in the season finale to rival Virginia, cost Al Groh his job. The last time the Cavaliers lost nine games in a season was in 1982.
12. Maryland (2-10, 1-7) – There wasn’t a bowl game, but coach Ralph Friedgen escaped a dreadful 2-10 season with his job instead. The one thing the Terps could celebrate this season was their still-baffling 24-21 win over ACC-runner up Clemson.