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Preseason ACC Rankings

SB Nation logo SB Nation 8/4/2018 jayjohnson09
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Atlantic

1. Clemson Tigers: Clemson is the clear favorite to win the ACC and make their fourth consecutive CFB Playoff appearance. Athlon sports ranks the Tigers’ QB unit as the No. 2 in the nation. Last year Kelly Bryant had a tall order replacing the electric Deshaun Watson. His ability on the ground is not in question with 665 yards and 11 rushing TDs. He also had a solid completion percentage in 2017 (65.8%), but a passing TD – INT ratio of 13-8 is not spectacular. Despite having a playoff caliber QB on the roster the presence of the top overall recruit in QB Taylor Lawrence and the developing Hunter Johnson present Clemson with a surprising QB controversy. The other Clemson offensive units rank as some of the top in the nation. As good as the offense looks, it is nothing compared to the absurdity that is the Tigers defense. The 2018 Clemson defensive line should not only be the best in the nation, but arguably in the discussion for the best collegiate DL ever fielded. Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, and Dexter Lawrence are likely all first round NFL picks. The Clemson Tigers are starting an NFL line. That would be rough enough, but the depth is what truly sends this unit into the stratosphere. Clemson will have professional caliber talent rotating through on every play. The Tigers’ DB and LB units are easily top ten in the country. Considering the defenses that Dabo Swinney has fielded over the last half decade it might seem crazy, but this could be his best defense ever.

2. Florida State Seminoles: Was last year’s horrible showing an aberration? This is the season that will determine if FSU is in a rebuilding mode or if Willie Taggert can lead the Seminoles to eventually challenge for the conference. There is something of a QB controversy between Justin Blackmon and Deondre Francois, but RB Cam Akers is set to break out. In my opinion Akers is a dark horse Heisman candidate. FSU lost some recruits and suffered some transfers, but still managed to recruit 11 four-star student athletes in 2018. The Seminoles will likely not challenge Clemson, but one would be foolish to expect a similar performance as last year.

3. Boston College Eagles: BC running back A.J. Dillon is about to be a household name. He had 1589 yards and 14 TDs on the ground last year. He had five games over 150 yards, two of which were over 200. Before his injury, late in the season, Anthony Brown represented the most consistent QB play the Eagles had seen in years. Regardless of that, Dillon will be the centerpiece of the BC offense and really their entire effort in 2018. The Eagles have a very winnable first half of the 2018 season, but the second half features Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida State… all in a row… in that order. This is probably the best squad fielded by Boston College in half a decade, but they will need to collect their wins early before the gauntlet presented in the last five weeks of their season.

4. N.C. State Wolfpack: The ‘Pack could easily supersede the Eagles as the No. 3 team in the Atlantic. Ryan Finley returns as the most experienced QB in the ACC and he will have his top three receivers. The offense will be solid, but they only return three starters on defense. The strength of NCSU is experience. Even though they don’t have former starters filling forward they have juniors and seniors. Last year NCSU only lost to valid FBS units South Carolina, Notre Dame, Clemson, and Wake Forest. The Wolfpack could easily go 6-0 to open the season, depending on how they handle BC on 06OCT. I have them down at No. 4, but the Wolfpack have the potential to be the No. 2 team in the Atlantic, especially if Taggart isn’t the second coming FSU thinks he is and / or something happens to hinder BC’s Dillon.

5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: I love Wake Forest. I just like seeing this team do well. Last year was something of a revelation, and in my opinion demonstrated just how much the Wakey Leaks scandal hurt them in 2016. John Wofford was a great QB and replacing his production will be THE challenge for head coach Dave Clawson. Honestly, after his performance over the last few years I am surprised that Clawson wasn’t snatched up by a bigger program this year. John Wofford isn’t returning, but nine offensive starters are, including the entire offensive line, the RB, and two WR. A new starting QB cannot ask for much more support. Will the offense return to the historically program best performance of 2017? Unlikely, but they won’t be the pedestrian unit of the initial Clawson years.

6. Louisville Cardinals: I almost put the Cardinals at the bottom of the Atlantic. I legitimately think that the generational talent of Lamar Jackson hid the gross deficiencies of the overall Cardinals effort. I genuinely feel that Louisville will only be a considered a bowl contender because they rolled easy teams (UVA and GT) out of the Coastal. They already must face Alabama, FSU, Clemson, and the full compliment of the Atlantic… if they had rolled Miami and VT they would likely be watching the bowl season from their couch.

7. Syracuse Orange: The Orange are difficult to predict. Over the last two years they have collected two of the biggest upsets in college football. Last year’s defeat of Clemson is arguably one of the biggest upsets of the last decade. Miami’s Mark Richt and Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente have stolen the headlines regarding third year coaches in the ACC. Dino Babers inherited a significantly unhealthier program, but he’s managed to go 1-0 against Fuente and 1-1 against Swinney. Give Dino a few more years and he will have the Orange in bowl contention, if he doesn’t do it this year.

Coastal

1. Miami-Florida Hurricanes: Mark Richt and the ‘Canes had quite the sophomore season. Miami “started” the season with an impressive ten-win streak that included victories over FSU, VT, and Notre Dame. They collapsed during the last three games of the season, dropping a surprising egg against Pitt before being destroyed by Clemson in the ACC Championship and losing to the Wisconsin Badgers during the Orange Bowl. There is something of a QB controversy in Miami with Richt making it clear that he is willing to replace incumbent starter, Malik Rosier, if he fails to meet the standard. There is depth at RB but concerns on the offensive line. Those concerns on the offensive line are where I want to anchor. There is depth and experience concerns in a key unit of the offense. Look, I hate the turnover chain. I hate how the media rallies around it, but the ‘Canes are going to have one of the better LB units in the country. The entire starting LB lineup, from last year, returns, and they have experience behind them with seniors and sophomores. Just like last year, the game against VT will probably determine who represents the Coastal in the ACC Championship game.

2. Virginia Tech Hokies: Coach Fuente and company continue to recruit well, but the hemorrhage of talent during the offseason is notable. The losses on defense are concerning. The DL brings experience and returning starters. Except for Mook Reynolds the LB and secondary units are largely inexperienced. BUT, with that reality firmly in hold… in Bud we trust… the talent and athleticism that has been recruited over the last two years will have to step up. The Hokies’ ceiling is set by the freshmen and sophomores that fill forward. Bud has faced this situation before, more than once, and excelled. For the first time since Michael Vick was under center the Hokies are going to look to the offense. There are returning starters and experience on the offensive line. The media pundits call the running game into question, but Peoples and McClease are going to be the new thunder and lightning. Kumah, Savoy, Carroll, and Patterson are going to light it up at WR. Kumah is a superstar in the making. The Hokies are young. For the first time in his career Coach Fuente will be largely coaching a team of his own making. If skill positions develop and step up the Hokies can win the Coastal.

3. Pittsburgh Panthers: Narduzzi was hired because he was defensive minded, and Pitt had questions that needed answers on defense. For the last two years the Panthers have represented the dregs of NCAA defense, particularly in the secondary. The Pitt secondary clocked in as the No. 103 unit out of 2017, allowing a 7.8-yard average per pass and 254.2 yards per game. 2018 may be different with six returning starters on defense. Defensively this is likely the best team the Panthers have fielded in recent memory. But, he must find answers on an offense that returns only four starters. There is plenty of young talent on Pitt’s offense. The Panthers should compete for a bowl berth.

4. Duke Blue Devils: David Cutcliffe. That’s the only name that matters when it comes to Duke football. If the man was younger, he would likely be poached by a higher tiered program. Their offense will likely be dangerous with seven returning starters to include QB Daniel Jones who is a threat in the air and on the ground. Last season, after starting 4-0 the Blue Devils collected at six game slide but upset GT and WF to become bowl eligible. They went on to defeat Northern Illinois at the Quick Lane Bowl and finish the season 7-6. Rolling in to 2018 and considering the capabilities of Mr. Cutcliffe it is entirely reasonable to consider Duke a bowl level team.

5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: GT is maybe the biggest wild card in the ACC. They were able to muster up the ability to defeat VT and WF. Additionally, they had an extensively difficult schedule. The 2018 schedule is not that much easier for the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech will struggle to make a bowl and Paul Johnson’s time might be drawing nigh.

6. North Carolina Tar Heels: Larry Fedora is a good coach and that is the best thing going for UNC. The years of Mitchell Trubisky being alright at North Carolina are long gone. Of all the squads in the ACC none were affected by injury more than UNC. Still, it is important to understand that the Tar Heels are very dependent on transfers. The Tar Heels do not have a lot regarding depth nor do they have a lot regarding recruitment. With the resurgence of Miami and Virginia Tech and the pillaging of NC talent it seems hard to see UNC making a bowl game run.

7. Virginia Cavaliers: Bronco Mendenhall’s first season was a wake up call and his second season’s performance was based on an effort of players that are no longer part of the Virginia football program. UVA ended up being something of a surprise, but with the departure of Benkert the Hoos are dependent on a transfer QB. After being grossly out-recruited by VT and the offseason losses it is hard to imagine UVA being able to return to the form last year that was so dependent on players that are no longer playing.

Overall Conference Rankings

1. Clemson Tigers

2. Miami-Florida Hurricanes

3. Virginia Tech Hokies

4. Florida State Seminoles

5. Boston College Eagles

6. N.C. State Wolfpack

7. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

8. Pittsburgh Panthers

9. Duke Blue Devils

10. Louisville Cardinals

11. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

12. North Carolina Tar Heels

13. Syracuse Orange

14. Virginia Cavaliers

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