Preseason ACC Power Rankings

In years past we’ve focused our football power rankings on the Coastal Division, both as part of our summer previews and as running in-season content. How BC, NC State, and Syracuse racked and stacked was ultimately of very little concern to us Hoos; we really only needed to gauge our place in our Division’s heirarchy as we chased a Coastal crown and battled our annual foes VT, UNC, and Miami. 

But this year is different. There are no divisions. We’re one big jumbled mess, especially with the (temporary?) addition of Notre Dame to the mix. So, while it’s over twice as much work this year, we’re going to take a shot at keeping track of all 15 teams this season. Wish us luck; we do it with hoops, after all.

Our Preview contributors have voted and here’s the initial poll:

 

Tier 1: The Powers

#1 – Clemson

Who else would be #1? Clemson didn’t just run the table in the ACC last year, they demolished everyone by at least four touchdowns save for one weird nailbiter against UNC. They lost some guys to graduation and the pros, of course, but Dabo’s got a near seamless pipeline of future NFL’ers, 4 and 5 star recruits they’ve been developing under their excellent coaching staff. Oh, and most importantly, they bring back the two most dangerous weapons in the ACC, QB Trevor Lawrence (36:8 TD:INT in 2019) and RB Travis Etienne (2,046 yards from scrimmate, 23 TDs last sesaon). I don’t care that ND is here now, this is Clemson’s table to run again.

#2 – Notre Dame

Notre Dame has firmly entrenched itself under coach Brian Kelly as a team that easily belongs in the Top 10 or 15 annually, but never in the Top 5. Whenever they’ve gone up against the best of the best, it’s been a disappointment (they haven’t beaten a Top 5 team in nearly 15 years). With that said, they’re probably better than the other 13 teams in the league, boasting a roster full of blue chip recruits, benefitting from coaching continuity, and rolling out continuity at a number of key positions including QB Ian Book (3034 yards, 34 TD, 6 INT in 2019) and his entire starting O-Line. Notre Dame has largely owned the non-Clemson portion of the ACC in recent years, and will be aiming to be undefeated when they welcome the Tigers to South Bend on November 7th

  

Tier 2: The Trendy Up-Starts

#3 – North Carolina

The Tar Heels are easily the trendiest team in the ACC. Mack Brown got Carolina to a modest 7-6 record in 2019, but none of those losses were by more than a touchdown. They were the only ACC team able to put a scare into Clemson, falling by a single point. Quarterback Sam Howell was the best true freshman in America last year, a true phenom who threw for 3641 yards and 38 TDs against only 7 INTs. Most of Carolina’s roster is back this year, still young but very talented and now seasoned. Oh, and they don’t have to play Clemson this year, plus they get Notre Dame at home. UNC expects to be playing for a spot alongside Clemson in the ACCCG at the end of the season.

#4 – Louisville

If it weren’t for UNC sucking all the air out of the room, Louisville would take the crown as this summer’s “trendy party crasher” candidate. Head coach Scott Satterfield arrived last offseason from mid-major powerhouse Appalachian State, took the Cardinals from 2 to 8 wins in his first season, and won ACC CoY for his great work. He brings most of his starters back, including QB Malik Cunningham who impressed over the course of the season as he beat out Evan Conley and Jawon Pass to post a sterling 22:5 TD:INT ratio, scoring another 6 rushing. Louisville’s defense was porous at times last year, though, bad against the run and worst in points allowed. The defense can probably only improve but so much, but they should at least continue to be competitive in Satterfield’s second year.

  

Tier 3: The Aspirational

#5 – Virginia Tech

Last year was a bit of a disappointment for Virginia Tech but they still finished 8-5 (5-3) and were one disastrous 4th quarter in Charlottesville away from winning the ACC Coastal. Much of last season’s fortunes changed when they made the move to Hendon Hooker at quarterback in game #5 (he finished the year with 1,555 passing yards, 13 PaTD vs just 2 INTs, with 356 rushing yards and another 5 RuTDs), winning his first 6 games as a starter (he was hurt for their loss to Notre Dame) before two tight losses at UVA and in their bowl game. They return a good OL, though break in talented but new faces at RB and WR. The defense changes schemes as Bud Foster retires and wunderkind Justin Hamilton is promoted from safeties coach to DC. Hamilton loses all-ACC CB Caleb Farley to an opt out but returns most of his front 6. They won’t be an ACC contender but should at least be top-half on paper.

#6 – Virginia

At the end of the day, UVA has to replace one of the best QBs in its history in Bryce Perkins, a player who arguably was the team’s entire offense, almost 4,300 total yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior. The Hoos had little ground game outside of his legs and also lost two 70-catch WRs in Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed. They do return their entire OL, so a lot rides on RS Sophomore QB Brennan Armstrong’s ability to run the offense. The defense should be stout, returning veterans at all three levels (including maybe the ACC’s best non-Clemson linebacking unit), though they’ll miss breakout DE Aaron Faumui (8 TFLs, 4 sacks as a sophomore) who’s opting out. 

 #7 – Pittsburgh

Snoop around and you’ll see a lot of folks quietly touting Pitt as a team to watch this year. Stud DT Jaylen Twyman elected to opt out but almost the rest of the defense returns, a typically tough Pat Narduzzi-coached unit, especially with stud Paris Ford (90 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 3 INTs, 3 FFs, 9 PDs) in the defensive backfield. It’s Year #2 of the offensive revolution under OC Mark Whipple, an Air Raid proponent who strugged to get results last season. The defense will set Pitt’s floor as a tough out any week. But the offense will set the ceiling. 5th year senior Kenny Pickett returns at QB after underwhelming with a 13:9 TD:INT ratio as a junior, and last year’s run game was even more disappointing. Narduzzi needs this offense to turn a big corner to realize any big expectations this year, though most likely they’re destined for another season around the .500 mark.

#8 – Miami

The Hurricanes sputtered last year under first year head coach Manny Diaz, finishing 6-7 (4-4) with embarassing season-ending losses to FIU, Duke, and Louisiana Tech. They’re banking heavily on a trio of new faces to turn the tide: new Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee brings his up-tempo spread system from SMU, Houston transfer OT Jarrid Williams will aim to stablize a turnstile offensive line that was worst in the league in sacks allowed, and 5th year Houston transfer QB D’Eriq King who accounted for 3,500 yards and 50 TDs in his junior season (2018) in the AAC. Defensively, Miami should again be stout, even with the loss of all-ACC DE Greg Rousseau to opt-out. Once again the media is in love with the Hurricanes, betting on King to be this year’s Joe Burrow. 

#9 – Florida State

Florida State starts a new era under former Memphis head coach Mike Norvell. He inherits a mess of a locker room, though it’s not devoid of talent. The defense will be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, so expect some hiccups as the Noles defenders get confident in a new scheme, though they should still be okay headlined by projected NFL 1st rounder Marvin Wilson at DT (5 sacks, 8.5 TFLs, 4 PDs as a junior) and DB Asante Samuel Jr (14 passes defended last year). Offensively, incubment QB James Blackman was way too turnover prone last season (11 INTs) and didn’t do enough with his legs to make up for a porous offensive line that was near the bottom of the league in sacks allowed. Oh, and did I mention they’re replacing all-ACC RB Cam Akers with a lightly used Texas A&M transfer? Don’t expect Norvell to work miracles in his first season, though don’t expect them to fall totally flat either.

 

Tier 4: Treading Water

T-#10 – Duke

This is a David Cutliffe coached team, so you can expect some degree of discipline and overachieving. But they struggled last year trying to replace Daniel Jones, finishing with only 5 wins, and this year will bet the house on Clemson transfer Chase Brice to lead them back to a winning record. Cut’s a QB whisperer, but the shortened offseason means there may be some hiccups early. The defense boasts some nice edge rushers in Chris Rumph and Victor Dimukeje (15 combined sacks) but needs to shore up things in the middle of their 4-3. There’s a bit of a talent gap to overcome for the Devils, but after opening at Notre Dame, they’ve got a very favorable schedule early with bottom half teams BC, Cuse, Wake, GT and NC State on this year’s slate.

T-#10 – Wake Forest

The Deacons have a couple of stars in WR Sage Surratt (1001 yards, 11 TDs in 2019) and DE Carlos Basham (10 sacks, 18 TFL last year). But they do have to replace the excellent dual-threat QB Jamie Newman, with junior Sam Hartman taking the reins (830 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT in relief of Newman). Clawson will roll out a steady defense that finished in the middle of the league last year in both scoring and yardage. The Deacons won’t challenge for the top of the ACC, and will likely take an early beating with both Clemson and Notre Dame in September. But they should still be competitive in October and November and could ultimately finish around .500 in league play.

 

Tier 5: Rebuilding

T-#12 – North Carolina State

Dave Doeren is on the hot seat in Raleigh after a lackluster 4-8 (1-7) season where the Wolfpack were beset with injuries and featured the league’s worst scoring offense, mostly due to their inability to develop any consistency at quarterback. QB Devin Leary (48%, 8:5 TD:INT as a freshman) needs to take a giant step forward to buoy the Pack. The defense wasn’t terrible last year, but it wasn’t good either, fairly pedestrian in most statistical areas. The defense returns a promising amount of talent, though they need the injury bug to spare them last year, as most of their secondary spent a lot of 2019 injured. State should be better than last year, with more experience under center and law of averages hopefully meaning better health, but maybe a lot to ask them to get back to the league’s top half this year.

T-#12 – Boston College

Despite starting over with a new head coach this year in ex-Ohio State DC Jeff Hafley, there is some reason to think the Eagles may do okay. They return a trio of all-ACC offensive linemen who should provide good continuity for the offense and got a boost from the transfer of former 4-star ex-ND backup QB Phil Jurkovic. If Jurkovic can keep defenses honest with his arm, it should allow the Eagles to stay one of the league’s most consistent rushing offenses. Defensively Hafley’s got his job cut out for him, as BC struggled against both the rush and the pass last season, the league’s worst defense by total yardage allowed. It’s asking a lot for the defense to turn around overnight as they didn’t get any sort of offseason talent injection. But once they gel under the new regime, they could at least make like uncomfortable for some opponents.

 

#14 – Syracuse

Last year was a disaster, going 5-7 (2-6), enduring one of the ACC’s worst defenses in both yardage and scoring while surrendering 50 sacks on offense. Tommy DeVito is back at QB (19:5 TD:INT ratio), but the Orange have to replace the sturdy Moe Neal at tailback (1,088 yards from scrimmage and 7 TDs). Defensively they start fresh under new defensive coordinator Tony White, but coach Dino Babers admits the goals are long term, not immediate. Expect the new 3-3-5 alignment to generate little in the way of pressure or run defense with much of their front 6 turning over.

#15 – Georgia Tech

Head coach Geoff Collins’ team understably struggled as it ditched the triple option last year and went more traditional, but they argubly looked a little ahead of schedule at times, beating Miami and NC State and pushing UVA. The defense gave up too many points, but arguably the inability of the offense to stay on the field led to a GT defense that was often tired and demoralized. GT needs to figure out a solution at quarterback, as James Graham was recruited to be an option QB and his 12:7 TD:INT ratio and 45% completion rate were as bad as you’d expect. Collins is a good coach, but the offense is still too big a work in progress. Maybe next year.