The season is almost here! In a few short days our trek through the wilderness of the offseason will reach its conclusion as our Jackets open the season across the pond. Before we get there, here is a last look at how the ACC stacks up heading into the 2016 season. This will be a weekly feature where I will rank the 14 teams of the ACC based on what we’ve seen on the field. Obviously we’re all Tech homers here, but I’ll do my best to keep these rankings unbiased. Without further ado, here is the Week 1 edition of the Power Rankings.
Tier 1: The Atlantic Elite
1 - Clemson Tigers (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
The reigning ACC Champions start the season at #2 in the AP poll and, more importantly, #1 in these power rankings. Led by Heisman front-runner QB DeShaun Watson and one of the deepest receiving corps in the country, the Tigers are going to score early and often. They lose a lot on defense, but defensive coordinator Brent Venables has shown he can reload and there is plenty of talent to work with.
This week: Saturday, 9:00 pm at Auburn
2 - Florida State Seminoles (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
Right now, there’s a decent sized gap between Clemson and Florida State, as the Seminoles are also having to replace several studs on defense and will be starting a redshirt-freshman at QB but they’re still clearly the second best team in the conference. RB Dalvin Cook is as good a running back as any in college football, which will make things easy on the young signal caller. The defense loses some key cogs, but players like SS Derwin James and DE DeMarcus Walker are still around to anchor the unit.
This week: Monday, 8:00 pm vs Ole Miss in Orlando
3 - Louisville Cardinals (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
I really struggled with what tier to put Louisville in. They’re probably further from Florida State than the Seminoles are from Clemson. That said, I feel a lot more confident in the Cardinals being a very good team than I do any team in the Coastal. I’m not totally buying into the Lamar Jackson hype, but his potential is tantalizing and the Cardinals return a lot on both sides of the ball. I don’t know if they’ll beat Clemson or FSU, but those might be their only losses.
This week: Thursday, 7:00 pm vs Charlotte
Tier 2: The Coastal Cluster (plus NCSt)
4 - Pittsburgh Panthers (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
Predicting the Coastal is impossible right now. I wouldn’t be shocked if any of the next five teams won the division this season, but I’m giving the early edge to Pitt. The Panthers’ defense should continue to improve as they return most of their best players, including ACC DPOY front runner DE Ejuan Price. The passing game is a major question mark, but the run game could be the best in the ACC behind reigning ACC OROY RB Qadree Ollison and the return of star RB James Conner from a knee injury and cancer treatment, easily the best story of the offseason.
This week: Saturday, 1:30 pm vs Villanova
5 - North Carolina Tar Heels (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
Last year, UNC finally fulfilled years of expectations and took home the Coastal division title. In their follow-up season, they’ll have to replace star QB Marquise Williams and deal with a schedule that is significantly harder than 2015 with the additions of Georgia and Florida State. If QB Mitch Trubisky lives up to the hype and the Tar Heels get a win in the Georgia Dome this weekend, they could move up these rankings pretty quickly.
This week: Saturday, 5:30 pm vs Georgia in Atlanta
6 - Miami Hurricanes (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
Miami’s season is going to rest on the shoulders of QB Brad Kaaya and his development under new head coach Mark Richt. Most of the Hurricanes’ offensive weapons from last season return, but they’ll need to see big improvement in the rushing attack to make the leap to the top of the Coastal. The season is off to a rough start on the other side of the ball, with the dismissal of their top two defenders earlier this week.
This week: Saturday, 6:00 pm vs Florida A&M
7 - Virginia Tech Hokies (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
The Hokies move into the post-Beamer Ball era with one of the highest profile hires of the offseason in Justin Fuente. The former Memphis coach has shown to be a versatile offensive mind in the past, but he has his work cut out for him in Blacksburg. Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster was somehow convinced to return after getting passed over for the head coach job but he also has a lot of work to do to fix a pass defense that was uncharacteristically poor last season.
This week: Saturday, 12:30 pm vs Liberty
8 - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
The Jackets are another team that could move up the rankings quickly. I’m starting them off at the back of the Coastal pack, but if the offense can make some noise early against Boston College’s and Vanderbilt’s stout defenses, they could move towards the top of the division.
This week: Saturday, 7:30 am vs Boston College in Dublin, Ireland
9 - North Carolina State Wolfpack (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
This season, the Wolfpack have to break in a new QB and offensive coordinator, and got a package deal from Boise State in grad transfer QB Ryan Finley and coordinator Eli Drinkwitz. They return a lot of skill talent and they’ll look to build on the step forward their defense took last season. I think NC State might be the type of team that improves this season but doesn’t have the record to show for it playing in the top-heavy Atlantic.
This week: Thursday, 7:30 pm vs William & Mary
Tier 3: Fighting for a Bowl
10 - Duke Blue Devils (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
I wasn’t particularly optimistic about Duke’s chances this year, and that was before starting QB Thomas Sirk re-injured his left Achilles tendon in practice, ending his season before it began. The Blue Devils will now turn to redshirt freshman Daniel Jones to lead the offense. Coach Cutcliffe should keep Duke from completely bottoming out, but this could be a tough year in Durham.
This week: Saturday, 6:00 pm vs North Carolina Central
11 - Syracuse Orange (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
One of the more interesting offseason moves was Syracuse’s hiring of Dino Babers. After spending decades as an assistant, Babers has rocketed up the head coaching ranks on his reputation as an offensive mastermind. Syracuse returns one of the most experienced rosters in all of college football, but that may not mean much when the returning players struggled on both sides of the ball a season ago.
This week: Friday, 7:00 pm vs Colgate
12 - Virginia Cavaliers (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
Another ACC team, another offseason coaching change. Hiring Bronco Mendenhall away from BYU was a move no one saw coming and he will be the next coach tasked with getting some sort of consistency out of the Cavaliers. He will have some interesting pieces on both sides of the ball in RB Taquan Mizzell and SS Quin Blanding but may be a year or two away from putting it all together.
This week: Saturday, 3:30 pm vs Richmond
13 - Boston College Eagles (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
Last season, Boston College sported one of the best defenses in college football but paired it with one of the worst offenses on the way to a winless ACC season. The good news is the offense can’t be worse and gets RB Jon Hilliman back from a broken foot that ended his 2015 early. The Eagles figure to regress some on defense, but should still be solid behind LBs Matt Milano and Connor Strachan.
This week: Saturday, 7:30 am vs Georgia Tech in Dublin, Ireland
Tier 4: The Basement
14 - Wake Forest Demon Deacons (0-0, 0-0) LW: N/A
Wake Forest is the only team in the ACC in which I cannot envision a scenario where they end the season in a bowl game. The Deacons took a small step forward last season, though it didn’t show in the record. They tended to be more competitive than they were in 2014. I’d expect the same or slightly better still this season, but a bowl trip is still at least a season away.
This week: Thursday, 7:00 pm vs Tulane