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ACC Conference Ranking Preview

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Clemson at Florida State Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s a new era in ACC football. Divisions have been thrown out the window in favor of a 4-team pod system that allows teams to face each other more regularly. Every team will experience a home and road game with everyone else in a four-year span. The best part is Coastal Chaos has been set free to reign upon any who would wear the ACC patch on their jersey. Perhaps that is genuinely why FSU is looking to flee the conference. The shield of the Atlantic division can longer save them from an embarrassing loss to a former Coastal team trotting out their third-string quarterback.

When the divisions were created in 2005 it was with the idea that Florida State and Miami would be regular matchups in the conference game that was conveniently placed in Florida. Florida State managed to show up several times but Miami only won the Coastal once in 2017 where they earned the prize of being crushed by Clemson in the championship game. Virginia Tech was the dynasty among the Coastal teams in the early years, but starting with Duke in 2013 every Coastal team won the division. Only four teams from the Atlantic have made the ACC title game: Clemson, Florida State, Boston College, and Wake Forest.

Now the idea is that the best two teams within the conference will be able to play for the ACC Championship. The marque matchup and favored teams this year would be Clemson and FSU but this is the ACC and nothing ever goes according to plan. Eight teams won eight or more games last year and a few returned some very good quarterbacks. The middle of the conference should be a wonderful, muddy mess. There is a great chance one could emerge from the muck.

Preseason Power Rankings

  1. Clemson - It was a down year for the Tigers last season, but that is because they are accustomed to playing for and winning national titles. They haven’t made the playoffs since Trevor Lawrence departed but Garrett Riley was brought in from TCU to revitalize the offense. Will Shipley is going to get his yards on the ground so if QB Cade Klubnik can manage the offense in his first full year as a starter then the Tigers are going to be just fine.
  2. Florida State - Jordan Travis might make a case for the best quarterback in the ACC and the Seminoles have exceptional talent spread around the roster. Defensive end Jared Verse is a true NFL talent who returns to wreak havoc in the backfield with his 9 sacks from last year. I still feel this isn’t quite a fully cohesive unit yet. They appear to be a mix of really good pieces that could still struggle against Clemson as they did last year. On a good day, they can beat any other team in the conference just fine but could still be vulnerable.
  3. North Carolina - The Tar Heels certainly have offensive firepower by returning QB Drake Maye who is the favorite to win the ACC Player of the Year award. He will need help from his offensive line who let him take some beatings last year if they want to move up to FSU’s or Clemson’s caliber. They have a fairly favorable conference slate but the road games to Pittsburgh, Clemson, and NC State will test them. If they can win against a rising South Carolina team to open the season it would keep them in the peripheral of the playoff voters through the season.
  4. Pittsburgh - The waters start to muddy when it comes to separating the middle of the ACC. Pittsburgh finished out their season strong with a 5-game win streak that included a bowl win over #18 UCLA. Coach Pat Narduzzi has been known to ruffle feathers among his conference peers but his ability to build defenses can’t be understated. Pitt loses a chunk of their playmakers on the defensive side so he will have to work his magic again this year. The non-conference schedule could trip them up this year. They start out with Wofford but decided to punish themselves with a home game against Cincinnati and two road trips to West Virginia and Notre Dame.
  5. North Carolina State - Never one to fall short of expectations but never one to exceed them either. NC State has made a comfortable living in the 8 or 9-win range which is a great accomplishment for most teams. Wolfpack fans are dying to get to that tenth win. They scored a 2OT win against rival UNC but dropped the ball against Maryland in the bowl. QB Brennan Armstrong transfers over from Virginia and will try to inject life into an offense that struggled to find its groove. They lose some talented linebackers this year but if the offense improves NC State is going to be a tough out.
  6. Miami - Da U is back to their annual preseason potential. Once again Miami fields a team full of talented players and supposedly great coaches. They went 5-7 after spending as much as the New York Mets on a coaching staff. Outside the Texas A&M game, they get one of the softest non-con schedules to open the season and then a bye. Miami will need that win over the Aggies because they were handed a tough ACC slate with Clemson, FSU, NC State, and UNC. Clemson will be the only one they face at home and the Tigers get a bye week before. Coach Cristobal has to get more out of his offense and QB Tyler Van Dyke if they want to be serious contenders.
  7. Louisville - Louisville’s offense is going to get an overhaul with Jeff Brohm at the helm and his brother as offensive coordinator. It will be a pass-heavy attack and they brought Jack Plummer from Cal to be the quarterback. He will have plenty of returning cast around him but Coach Brohm’s system hasn’t fared well with the run game. Defenses have struggled under Brohm as well and Louisville will be replacing over half the starters. They have the most manageable ACC schedule with no Clemson, FSU, or UNC so they could get by while they work things out.
  8. Syracuse - Dino Baber’s team got off to a hot 6-0 start last season that included two quality wins over NC State and Purdue. Syracuse was on the verge of an upset over Clemson that would claim their spot as the top team in the Atlantic. Instead, they fell short and plummeted the next four games before beating Boston College to end the regular season. They get QB Shrader back and his position coach, Jason Beck, has been promoted to offensive coordinator. They lose their best player Sean Tucker at running back whose production fell off in his final season. They have a chance to get on another hot streak in non-conference play but once again, Clemson, FSU, and UNC await in the middle of the schedule.
  9. Georgia Tech - The Yellow Jackets finished 5-7 overall and 4-4 in conference play last season. Head Coach Brent Key said his team should never be happy with a .500 performance at ACC Media Days after his former boss was let go midseason, but it was still an impressive achievement given their past struggles. They finished 4th in the Coastal Division but also defeated the three teams that placed ahead of them; UNC, Pitt, and Duke. There is going to be competition for starting positions through Fall Camp as Tech was hit hard with transfers but also brought in a number as well. The QB competition will be one to watch with transfer Haynes King competing against Zach Pyron and Zach Gibson.
  10. Duke - Mike Elko took over the Blue Devils last year and went an astounding 9-4 in his first season. QB Riley Leonard was exceptional in both passing and running the ball last year. He has 699 yards rushing with 13 touchdowns. Through the air he ad 20 touchdowns to 6 interceptions and 2967 yards. Duke will return the bulk of their team with 18 starters returning. So why are they so low in the rankings? The combined record of FBS teams they beat last year was 35-61. Wake Forest and bowl opponent UCF were the only ones with winning records. The four teams that beat them were a combined 29-23.
  11. Wake Forest - Dave Clawson has done a wonderful job with the Demon Deacons since taking over 10 years ago. Most of that has to do with how well he runs his offensive system and being able to get the most out of players who weren’t considered top recruits. Sam Hartman has been the heart of the offense for the past two years but he transferred to quarterback for Notre Dame. Clawson will need to find a replacement to keep the offense humming because his defense did them no favors last year, which resulted in Wake losing 4 of its last 6 games.
  12. Boston College - The Eagles only managed three wins last season and the two conference wins were by a point each. QB Phil Jurkovec was good in 2021 but his offensive line was decimated by departures and early-season injuries. Jurkovec would be injured himself against Uconn and Emmett Morehead would finish the season. Jurkovec has left for Pittsburgh but the Eagles will also lose their top two receivers. They do get back most of the running game but it provided little help. The defense wasn’t impressive either giving up 30 pts per game.
  13. Virginia - Tragedy struck Virginia last year as three of their teammates Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr, and D’Sean Perry were killed during a shooting by a former player. Virginia opted not to play their final two games for the team to grieve and honor their teammate. The Cavaliers had promise on offense returning Brennan Armstrong at QB but he never meshed well with new Head Coach Tony Elliot’s new offense. They averaged only 17 pts per game and claimed three wins on the season. The defense did their best to keep them in games and do return 7 starters this year. Virginia isn’t going to ease into the season with an opening game against Tennessee so they will have to figure out their offense in Fall Camp.
  14. Virginia Tech - The Hokies have fallen a long way since their glory days in the early expanded ACC. They went 3-8 last season and only managed a single conference win against Boston College. The defense started to regain their former composure last year only allowing 24.7 pts per game but the offense only managed 19 a game. QB Wells struggled to protect the ball last year as he threw 9 touchdowns to 9 interceptions. He is back this year but doesn’t have much behind him to push him to improve. Their rushing attack kept them afloat in most games and they lose the top two from the running back group. Their schedule isn’t brutal but it is hard to find any guarantees on their schedule without improvement.