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ACC power rankings: How NC State got to the top of the Atlantic Division

NC State's Hines scores his first of two touchdowns at Heinz Field

Watch a time-lapse as N.C. State running back Nyheim Hines makes an 83-yard touchdown run during the Wolfpack's victory over the Pitt Panthers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.
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Watch a time-lapse as N.C. State running back Nyheim Hines makes an 83-yard touchdown run during the Wolfpack's victory over the Pitt Panthers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.

Jimbo Fisher’s reaction was priceless and almost instantly GIF’d.

The Florida State coach was talking after his team’s 17-10 win at Duke on Saturday when he was told the score of the Boston College-Louisville game.

The loquacious Fisher stopped mid-thought and took off his glasses and asked “Is that right?” It didn’t take long for his reaction to get the GIF treatment and be turned into a meme on social media.

After four years of predictable results between the “haves” and the “have nots” in the Atlantic Division, it’s hard not to have the same “wait, what? reaction as Fisher.

Syracuse, a 24-point underdog, stunned Clemson on Friday and Boston College, a 19-point underdog, knocked off Louisville on Saturday. Upside down and downside up might be par for the course in the Coastal Division but not on the Atlantic side.

For four years, from the start of 2013 season through the 2016 season, the only division losses by FSU and Clemson were to each other.

After Louisville replaced Maryland in the division before the 2014 season, those top three teams compiled a 36-0 record against the bottom four teams (Boston College, N.C. State, Syracuse and Wake Forest) in the Atlantic Division in the ’14, ’15 and ’16 seasons.

It wasn’t until N.C State’s win at FSU on Sept. 23 when the tide began to turn. The Wolfpack has since added another win over Louisville. Now those bottom four teams in the division have a 4-3 mark against what were the top three teams.

The Wolfpack, at 4-0 in the ACC, holds the division lead by itself. The last time a team from this group was on top this late in the season was in 2012, when Maryland was 2-0. The Terps, who jumped to the Big Ten two years later, had yet to play Clemson or FSU by that point. They ended up losing to both, and the rest of their conference games.

Technically, N.C. State has never been in this position, alone in first, this late in the season. At 5-2 in the ACC in 2010, N.C. State would have won the division title with a win at Maryland in the regular-season finale but FSU had already completed its conference schedule at 6-2.

What gives with the division upheaval? Dave Doeren has been building towards this season, his fifth at N.C. State, since the day he was hired. The Wolfpack uprising was somewhat predictable.

Syracuse has been feisty under second-year coach Dino Babers. The Orange also knocked off Coastal champ Virginia Tech at home last year. The Orange have the right quarterback in a system that’s just a little bit different from what the rest of the ACC is used to.

Syracuse’s problem is the schedule is relentless. This week, Babers’ crew gets No. 8 Miami. They’ve already faced three ranked teams in the past four weeks.

You can also argue the top three teams have come back to the group:

▪  FSU, the preseason favorite in the ACC, lost quarterback Deondre Francois to a knee injury in the opener. The Seminoles’ offensive line is a mess.

▪  Clemson didn’t have quarterback Kelly Bryant (concussion) in the second half of the Syracuse loss and lost kicker Greg Huegel to a freak knee injury in practice last month.

▪  There’s no easy explanation for Louisville. The Cards’ defense just isn’t very good. As good as Lamar Jackson is, he can’t win alone.

Alas, after a four-year holding pattern, the bottom of the Atlantic is finally getting a taste of how the other half lives.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

ACC Power Rankings

1. Clemson

Record: 6-1 (4-1 ACC)

Last game: at Syracuse, L, 27-24. Next game: vs. Georgia Tech (Oct. 28).

The Tigers won the national championship last year with an ACC mulligan but that was with a healthy quarterback.

2. Miami

Record: 5-0 (3-0 ACC)

Last game: vs. Georgia Tech, W, 25-24. Next game: vs. Syracuse.

Ho-hum another game-winning drive for quarterback Malik Rosier.

3. N.C. State

Record: 6-1 (4-0 ACC)

Last game: at Pittsburgh, W, 35-17. Next game: at Notre Dame (Oct. 28).

Junior running back Nyheim Hines has run for at least 100 yards in four ACC games (and he had 94 at FSU).

4. Virginia Tech

Record: 5-1 (1-1 ACC)

Last game: OFF. Next game: vs. UNC.

The rested Hokies get Carolina and Duke at home before a tip to Miami on Nov. 4.

5. Georgia Tech

Record: 3-2 (2-1 ACC)

Last game: at Miami, L, 25-24. Next game: vs. Wake Forest.

Brutal luck for Paul Johnson’s crew, which has two losses by a total of two points.

6. Florida State

Record: 2-3 (2-2 ACC)

Last game: at Duke, W, 17-10. Next game: vs. Louisville.

The struggle is real for the Noles, who rank No. 110 in the country total offense.

7. Virginia

Record: 5-1 (2-0 ACC)

Last game: at UNC, W, 20-14. Next game: vs. Boston College.

Who can stop the Wahoos? Bronco’s bunch gets two more winnable games – BC and Pitt – before a difficult closing stretch.

8. Syracuse

Record: 4-3 (2-1 ACC)

Last game: vs. Clemson, W, 27-24. Next game: at Miami.

Most surprising part of Clemson upset: the Orange ran for 162 yards against Clemson’s stacked front.

9. Wake Forest

Record: 4-2 (1-2 ACC)

Last game: Off. Next game: at Georgia Tech.

Presbyterian (4.6) was the only team to average more than 4 yards per carry against Wake’s defense.

10. Louisville

Record: 4-3 (1-3 ACC)

Last game: vs. Boston College, L, 45-42. Next game: at Florida State.

Last year was the Cardinals’ year and they didn’t even know it.

11. Duke

Record: 4-3 (1-3 ACC)

Last game: vs. Florida State, L, 17-10. Next game: vs. Pittsburgh.

Most direct route to a bowl for Duke: beat Pitt, beat Army (Nov. 11).

12. Boston College

Record: 3-4 (1-3 ACC)

Last game: at Louisville, W, 45-42. Next game: at Virginia.

The Eagles scored a combined 27 points in first three ACC games and then 45 at Louisville. Go figure.

13. Pittsburgh

Record: 2-5 (0-3 ACC)

Last game: vs. N.C. State, L, 35-17. Next game: at Duke.

Pitt’s got issues at quarterback and on defense. That’s not a great formula.

14. UNC

Record: 1-6 (0-4 ACC)

Last game: vs. Virginia, L, 20-14. Next game: at Virginia Tech.

UNC has only had one winless ACC season (0-7 in 1989). That’s not the company Larry Fedora wants to keep with Mack Brown.

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