Syracuse shook up the playoff picture, the Coastal race is heating up and former bottom dwellers keep making big strides. Each week in this space we’ll take a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference and examine the most important happenings.
ORANGE ALERT: Clemson fans are used to seeing those kind of quarterback performances, but for the past several years they’ve enjoyed it coming from one of their own.
But Friday night in Syracuse, after Kelly Bryant went down, the Orange had the man of the day taking snaps. Eric Dungey has long been one of the ACC’s most under-appreciated quarterbacks with Syracuse lacking mini signature wins during his tenure. But with 278 passing yards and three touchdowns to lead the upset over the Tigers, Dungey left no doubt he belongs on what is becoming a long list of high caliber quarterbacks across the conference.
The big picture ramifications go well beyond ACC quarterback hierarchy, however. As long as Clemson stayed unbeaten, the ACC’s spot in the College Football Playoff was guaranteed, and a second team in the final four was an outside possibility.
Now the league race and a potential playoff berth are all up in the air. North Carolina State is now the only Atlantic Division team with a perfect conference record, meaning the Wolfpack controls its own destiny. State put a scare into Clemson last year and the Tigers and Pack meet the week the initial playoff rankings are released.
It just might be the game of the year.
COASTAL COMPETITION: In the other division, it’s looking like there could be quite a race come November. Miami and Virginia sit atop the Coastal standings with perfect league records and a combined 10-1 mark. But neither has played a ranked opponent yet, so bigger challenges await.
The Hurricanes and Cavaliers play each other Nov. 18 in Miami and Virginia also has a road game at Louisville and home games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Miami has already taken down Georgia Tech and get Virginia and Virginia Tech at home. Virginia Tech has a loss to Clemson, but might still be the co-favorite in the division with Miami.
But this very well could be the kind of division where the winner comes out of it with multiple losses, but given the state of several programs in the mix — the Hokies, Cavs and Hurricanes all have second-year coaches — a spot in the ACC title game would be a huge accomplishment.
GETTING BETTER: Virginia, Boston College and Syracuse went a combined 5-19 in ACC play last season, finishing at the bottom of their divisions. All three programs have been enjoying a resurgence of some note and are coming off big conference wins over the weekend.
Syracuse got the huge upset of Clemson, beating a team ranked in the top two for the first time in three decades. Virginia snapped at seven-game losing streak against North Carolina and Boston College picked up a confidence building road win against Louisville.
Virginia and Boston College meet this weekend for the first time in seven years, so at least one of them will add another key conference win next time they take the field.
Shane Mettlen is a veteran journalist who lives in Virginia and also writes for The ACC Sports Journal. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneMettlen