North Carolina

ACC Power Rankings: Who’s No. 2?

Mack Brown: ‘He’s got ice in his veins’

North Carolina coach Mack Brown talks about the success of freshman quarterback Sam Howell after leading the Tar Heels to another fourth quarter victory on Saturday, September 7, 2019 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.
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North Carolina coach Mack Brown talks about the success of freshman quarterback Sam Howell after leading the Tar Heels to another fourth quarter victory on Saturday, September 7, 2019 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The answer to “Who is the second-best team in the ACC?” might just come in a nonconference game this week.

It was clear by the time Maryland had rolled up 42 points (before halftime) that Syracuse is not the ACC’s vice president.

The Orange, off of a 10-3 season, started this season as the only other ACC team (besides No. 1 Clemson) in the top 25. A 63-20 road loss to a battered Maryland program in transition disqualifies Syracuse from the conversation.

Miami (0-2) and Florida State (1-1) have the most talent behind Clemson, but their coaching isn’t commensurate with their talent level. (Related: Dan Mullen is the luckiest man in the state of Florida).

Virginia, off to a 2-0 start, was the preseason pick on the Coastal Division side and is a logical choice to be the ACC’s second-best team. So far, so good for the Wahoos and they’ll certainly get a chance to make their argument.

But through the first two weeks of the season, the ACC’s second-best team has either been North Carolina (based on resume) or Wake Forest (based on scoring prowess).

Lo and behold, the Tar Heels (2-0) and Demon Deacons (2-0) will meet in Winston-Salem on Friday night ... in a nonconference game. Huh?

Yes. UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham and former Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman wisely decided their programs (both original ACC members) don’t get together frequently enough in conference play.

So instead of waiting every seven years for the division-crossover rotation like a watched pot, they decided to get together outside of the league structure (and they’ll do the same in Chapel Hill in 2021).

(Earth to N.C. State and Duke: What are you waiting for?)

It just so happens to come at a time when the Tar Heels are the toast of the ACC, reborn under coach Mack Brown, and the Deacs are running hot under sixth-year coach Dave Clawson.

With inspiring comeback wins over South Carolina and Miami, UNC has already matched its win total from 2018. Brown’s flip of impervious freshman quarterback Sam Howell on the recruiting trail might go down as a turning point for both UNC and Florida State (where he had originally committed).

The Deacs have scored 79 points in two games (albeit in wins over Utah State and Rice) and their quarterback Jamie Newman has been every bit as good as anyone in the country. No, really.

During Brown’s first go-round at UNC, he lived for “Big Four” games. He even hung a “state championship” plaque in the Kenan Center. From 1992 to ‘97, he won his last 16 games against Wake, Duke and N.C. State. No coach in the ACC era (since 1953), has ever put together a longer streak (hence, the annual “Mack Brown Cup” standings).

Clawson has won four of his last six “Big Four” games (and the Mack Brown Cup in ‘18) but this will be his first crack at the Tar Heels since a 50-14 loss in Chapel Hill in 2015.

On to the “Only* ACC Power Rankings That Matter:”

1. Clemson

Record: 2-0

Last game: beat Texas A&M, 24-10

Next game: at Syracuse (Saturday)

After beating Clemson in 2017 and a close call in 2018, Syracuse has the Tigers’ full attention. Caveat Otto.

2. UNC

Record: 2-0

Last game: beat Miami, 28-25

Next game: at Wake Forest (Friday)

You’re not allowed to compare UNC and N.C. State players but Sam Howell definitely has some Russell Wilson qualities to him.

3. Wake Forest

Record: 2-0

Last game: won at Rice, 41-21

Next game: vs. UNC (Friday)

In six starts, Jamie Newman has thrown for 1,721 yards, ran for 242 yards and has 19 total touchdowns. The Deacs are also 5-1.

4. Virginia

Record: 2-0

Last game: beat William & Mary, 52-17

Next game: vs. Florida State (Saturday)

The Hoos should expect FSU’s fastball. That’s not what it once was but this isn’t going to be a walk for UVa.

5. N.C. State

Record: 2-0

Last game: beat Western Carolina, 41-0

Next game: at West Virginia (Saturday)

West Virginia has not been good through two games. Will the Mountaineers find religion when the Wolfpack comes town?

6. Boston College

Record: 2-0

Last game: beat Richmond, 45-13

Next game: vs. Kansas (Friday)

The Eagles with a chance to pick up two “Power 5” wins before getting back to ACC play. (Shhh, don’t tell anyone it’s Kansas and Rutgers.)

7. Miami

Record: 0-2

Last game: lost at UNC, 28-25

Next game: vs. Bethune-Cookman (Saturday)

There’s so much Chuck Amato to Manny Diaz, it’s uncanny. That’s both good and bad for the Canes, who now have to climb uphill in the division race.

8. Syracuse

Record: 1-1

Last game: lost at Maryland, 63-20

Next game: vs. Clemson (Saturday)

That Maryland loss was reminiscent of N.C. State’s loss to ECU in 2016. The Orange, in Year 4 of Dino Babers, had no business losing to a first-year coach. Coincidentally, Maryland’s offensive coordinator is Scottie Montgomery.

9. Duke

Record: 1-1

Last game: beat N.C. A&T, 45-13

Next game: at Middle Tennessee (Saturday)

David Cutcliffe is not afraid to play a “Group of 5” road game (Memphis, Troy, Tulane, FIU). He also always wins them.

10. Virginia Tech

Record: 1-1

Last game: beat Old Dominion, 31-17

Next game: vs. Furman (Saturday)

At least Justin Fuente got his win back from Old Dominion. On to Furman!

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11. Pittsburgh

Record: 1-1

Last game: beat Ohio, 20-10

Next game: at Penn State (Saturday)

The Panthers were embarrassed at home by Penn State last year (51-6). You figure they pour it out here.

12. Louisville

Record: 1-1

Last game: beat Eastern Kentucky, 42-0

Next game: vs. Western Kentucky (Saturday)

I’ll see you an Eastern Kentucky and raise you a Western Kentucky. Scott Satterfield making his way through the Bourbon Trail in his first year.

13. Florida State

Record: 1-1

Last game: beat Louisiana-Monroe, 45-44 (OT)

Next game: at Virginia (Saturday)

Willie Taggart’s buyout is enormous ($18.5 million) but empty seats always lead to change. And Doak Campbell Stadium was virtually empty by the time Louisiana-Monroe provided the overtime gift of a missed PAT.

14. Georgia Tech

Record: 1-1

Last game: beat South Florida, 14-10

Next game: vs. The Citadel (Saturday)

Nice defensive effort, which is new coach Geoff Collins’ calling card, in a win over USF.

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