With every bowl game now over, the 2011 season is officially in the books. This is the final word on how the ACC stacked up before we move on to 2012. While the bowls played a slight role in figuring this out, it wasn’t the overwhelming part of the equation. (If that were the case, Clemson would be fighting the Terps for the last spot.) Instead, this list is based on the complete body of work for the season. Here’s your final power ranking for 2011:
1. Clemson (10-4, 6-2 ACC) – Clemson’s performance in the Discover Orange Bowl was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Literally, historically bad. But you can’t ignore the fact that the Tigers beat Virginia Tech twice and were the ACC champs. What they didn’t do in their loss to the Mountaineers doesn’t detract from their ACC title. It did, however, detract from the ACC.
2. Virginia Tech (11-3, 7-1) – The Hokies were unable to capitalize on the ACC’s first at-large BCS bowl bid and lost in overtime to Michigan in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but an 11-win season was tops in the ACC. Virginia Tech lost to only two teams all year -- the ACC champs and the Sugar Bowl champs.
3. Florida State (9-4, 5-3) – The Seminoles won seven of their final eight games, including an 18-14 win over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. It was a strong finish, especially for the defense, which left no doubt it was one of the best in the country.
4. NC State (8-5, 4-4) – The Wolfpack represented the ACC well, beating Louisville 31-24 in the Belk Bowl. To finish with eight wins after starting out 2-3 spoke volumes about the determination of this team, and new stars emerged in quarterback Mike Glennon and cornerback David Amerson.
5. Virginia (8-5, 5-3) – The Cavaliers still exceeded expectations by contending for the Coastal Division and playing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but they had no answer for Auburn, and finished the season with back-to-back convincing losses. There is still some work to do in Charlottesville.
6. Georgia Tech (8-5, 5-3) – The Yellow Jackets squandered a 14-point lead and lost to Utah in overtime in the Sun Bowl. It was the seventh straight postseason loss for the program, which also ended the regular season with a loss to rival Georgia. The Jackets lost five of their final seven games.
7. Wake Forest (6-7, 5-3) – The disappointment of the bowl loss to Mississippi State was enough to push coach Jim Grobe, deemed by some as loyal to a fault, to fire two of his assistants. The Deacs came within a field goal of winning the Atlantic Division this year, but crashed in the end and lost five of six games.
8. North Carolina (7-6, 3-5) – The Everett Withers era ended as abruptly as it began after an ugly 41-24 loss to Missouri in the Independence Bowl. North Carolina was unable to reach the Butch Davis benchmark of eight wins and lost five of its final seven games. The Larry Fedora era has begun.
9. Miami (6-6, 3-5) – The Hurricanes lacked any consistency or identity in the first season under coach Al Golden, and the season ended with a double thud, thanks to a self-imposed bowl ban and a loss to Boston College. Between graduation and early departures for the NFL, there will be an overhaul of the roster this offseason.
10. Boston College (4-8, 3-5) – The Eagles regrouped at the end of the season and won three of their final five, despite an abysmal 2-7 start to the season. Coach Frank Spaziani was given another chance to turn things around, and a 24-17 win at Miami in the season finale was the first step.
11. Duke (3-9, 1-7) – This team didn’t look much different in the fourth season under coach David Cutcliffe, as the Blue Devils lost seven straight to end the season and any bowl hopes. The 23-21 loss to Richmond in the season opener set the tone for the whole season.
12. Maryland (2-10, 1-7) – The Terps solidified their spot at the bottom of the ACC long before the season ended, and it could be a while before they dig themselves out of it. The hire of Mike Locksley has already made an impact on recruiting, though, and there’s only one way to go at this point: up.