ACC Football 2018: Mid-season grades for every team – Clemson thrives, UNC fails

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WINSTON-SALEM, NC – OCTOBER 06: Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) looks to throw the ball against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on October 6, 2018 at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, NC. (Photo by Brian Utesch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

We’re at the midpoint of the college football season so it’s time to hand out mid-season grades for every ACC football team.

There’s still a lot of ACC football left to be played this season, but every team in the league has played enough to give us a pretty good idea of where they stand. There’s still time to change these grades, but the chances of any team going from an F to an A are pretty minuscule.

We’ll start our evaluations in the Atlantic Division where, as expected, we find Clemson on the top of the standings. That doesn’t mean everything has gone according to preseason predictions. Specifically, Florida State’s 1-3 start in the ACC has caught everyone by surprise. Expect the Seminoles to be graded accordingly.

Let’s dive right in with a look at a legitimate College Football Playoff contender. Dabo Swinney’s team is thoroughly deserving of its 6-0 start.

ACC Atlantic

Clemson (6-0): A

The biggest challenge the Tigers have faced this season was their transition from Kelly Bryant to Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. That resulted in a lot of media attention and hurt feelings, but it was clearly the right move. Lawrence has played well so far and figures to be even better during the second half of the campaign. The real strength of this team comes on defense though. Their front four has more talent than some NFL franchises. That’s why many prognosticators expect the Tigers to make it through the ACC slate undefeated. At this point, we’re inclined to agree.

NC State (5-0): A-

The Wolfpack are the Coastal Division’s “other” undefeated team. Credit Dave Doeren and company for piloting their team to a pretty quiet 5-0 start. On the other hand, this is a team who hasn’t won a football game they shouldn’t have won yet this season. Hurricane Florence cost them a chance to get a signature win against West Virginia. Now, the Wolfpack get extra time to prepare to travel to Clemson. Don’t expect them to go to Tiger Town and escape with a win, but Ryan Finley and company could give Clemson a real scare.

Boston College (4-2): B

The ugly loss at Purdue really is a stain on Boston College’s season. If they would’ve handled the Boilermakers, we’d be talking about a 5-1 team solidly in the Top 25. As it stands, they look more like an average ACC team than a real contender. The trouble for the Eagles is that their schedule is about to get much more difficult. They still have to play Miami, at Virginia Tech and Clemson in their final six games. Expect BC to limp to a bowl game, but this isn’t going to be the special season it could have been for A.J. Dillon and company.

Syracuse (4-2): A-

The Orange opened with an impressive 4-0 start featuring a dominating home win against Florida State. Unfortunately, they’ve dropped their last two games. No one will kill Dino Babers’ team for losing at Clemson, but the overtime loss at Pittsburgh did sting. Despite the loss to the Panthers, Syracuse is still in really good shape to make a Bowl game. That’s a solid step forward for this program. They get an A- based on exceeding their preseason predictions.

Florida State (3-3): D

This has been an awful start to the Willie Taggart era in Tallahassee. When Florida State’s best win is at Louisville, you know it’s been a bad year. In fairness, the team looks like they’ve steadied the ship as of late. No one is going to celebrate a moral victory after a 1-point loss at Miami, but it was progress for this team. The real question now is whether Taggart can keep this team interested with nothing significant to play for. If he can’t, things might get worse down the stretch.

Wake Forest (3-3): D+

Last week’s 63-3 home loss to Clemson was one of the worst defeats of Dave Clawson’s career. This team is pretty young, but they should be more competitive on their home field. The only good news for the Deacons is that they still have a shot at bowl eligibility. Achieving that with a true freshman at quarterback is a reasonable accomplishment. Sam Hartman started the year playing pretty well, but he’s been pretty bad lately. Don’t be surprised to see Clawson entertain other options if his performance doesn’t improve at Florida State.

Louisville (2-4): F

No one expected the Cardinals to thrive after losing Lamar Jackson, but not many people thought they’d be quite this bad. To date, Bobby Petrino’s best win of the season is a three-point victory over Western Kentucky at home. Clearly, that’s not good. The rest of the Cardinals schedule isn’t soft either. They still have games left against Clemson, NC State and Kentucky. It’s hard to see this team making the postseason. That means Louisville is facing more of a rebuild than they anticipated.

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