With spring practices mostly wrapped up across the ACC, it’s time for our ‘Way Too Early’ 2021 ACC Power Rankings.
Top Tier – The Incumbent
The Tigers are easily the favorite in the ACC next year… and the year after that… and the year after that. They will need to replace Trevor Lawrence and several others, but they have more than made up for it on the recruiting trail. I don’t expect a national championship caliber team due to all new faces, but I do expect them to be in Charlotte in December.
Tier 2 – The Challengers
2. North Carolina
Sam Howell comes back as the best quarterback in the conference and he will be a force all season. Mack Brown has started to rebuild the defense through recruiting, but his team lost a lot of good players in the draft this past weekend. They will be in the Coastal hunt all season.
The U has found their stride under Manny Diaz. They will be bringing D’Eriq King back for another go at the ACC Championship. They lost several great players to the draft but have always recruited well. The one thing that’s holding them back is the injury King suffered in the bowl game. Will he be the same player once he returns? Hard to tell, but if he is, I expect the Miami-UNC game to have Coastal championship implications.
Pitt gets Kenny Pickett back for a fifth season in addition to a much improved offensive line that paved the way for some huge performances against VT and GT to end the season. The Panthers will be strong in both trenches for the first time since 2016. With a strong defense and a veteran quarterback, they will be a dark horse in the Coastal conversation all season.
5. NC State
Dave Doeren continues to put together a solid team year in and year out. They will be getting Devin Leary back from a season ending injury and his abilities could launch the Wolfpack in to the next stratosphere of ACC contention. We will find out if NCST is for real after the fourth week of the season when they play Clemson at home.
Tier 3 – Programs on the Rise
6. Boston College
Boston College has Phil Jurkovec to build off of, and that is plenty. The transfer was impressive all season long and put the Eagles in position to win even when the odds were against them. The schedule lightens up with a big showdown against Missouri in Week 4 that will let us know if this team is for real. A strong performance to start the season can propel them in to the challengers conversation very easily.
The Cavaliers were a tad bit disappointing last season coming off their Coastal Championship but they still have a lot of pieces to work with and the ability to challenge anyone. The Coastal is getting stronger but they are certainly primed to take a run at the title or at least play spoiler.
This team fell off the map in 2020. But they have a heck of a lot of talent and speed to work with. The Cardinals should learn to win a few games after getting plastered on the road all season. Let’s call that valuable experience; stuff that builds character. But this team needs to find some defense before next season or we could expect a repeat of 2020.
9. Wake Forest
The Deacs put together some great football in 2020 but they just weren’t consistent enough to win every week. I would look for this team to rally around Sam Hartman and play more consistent football in 2021. They can take on any team on a Saturday and give them hell. I just don’t see them doing it every Saturday, which keeps them out of the challengers conversation.
Tier 4 – Unknowns
10. Virginia Tech
The Hokies had another interesting off season with several players leaving and several stars jumping to the draft, but they always seem to put it together when the season comes around. The biggest question for the Hokies it this: Who is going to play quarterback? If they find the right guy they will shoot up this list, if they don’t they will sink like a stone by seasons end.
11. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets showed up every week ready to play. However, they just weren’t good enough to win most weeks with their talent. Head coach Geoff Collins is a guy that likes to get his team fired up but his behavior on the sidelines leads to his team accruing penalties en mass. The single most important development for the Yellow Jackets might be the maturity of Collins, which will have a ripple effect on the rest of the team. If Collins doesn’t grow up then his stay in Atlanta might be shorter then we all initially thought.
12. Florida State
What will Florida State be this year? It’s a good question and not one that’s easy to answer. They had a new coach and loads of talent but struggled for most of the season. I would generally give them the benefit of the doubt because they are Florida State and keep them in the top half of these rankings. But the offensive line needs so much help that I can’t do that in good faith. This might be a little low for the Seminoles but it seems fair to me considering the circumstances.
Tier 5 – Prayers are needed
Duke has a good football coach in David Cutcliffe, one that can get the most out of his players every Saturday. But they don’t have much talent and QB Chase Brice left the team in December. It seems like they may be clawing from behind in every game and if you take them lightly you will lose but team’s that lineup to play hard will put the Blue Devils to bed easily.
2020 was awful for the Orange. Tommy Devito comes back, and hopefully not to take a beating all season long. The Dino Babers’ regime has been underwhelming so far and the recruiting has been towards the bottom of the ACC. This team will remain in the basement until they prove they belong elsewhere. Luckily, the OOC schedule is not horrible and could allow the team to get a little momentum before heading in to conference play.