We are less than a month from the start of the college football season, so here are our ACC Power Rankings heading into week 1:
1. NC State
The Wolfpack will be a force to reckoned with in the ACC this year. The team returns a lot on both sides of the ball, albeit with some big shoes to fill on the offensive line. They may be the strongest of all teams in the conference at the one position that matters, quarterback. I am a big fan of Devin Leary. He has found his groove with OC Tim Beck and runs that offense perfectly. He doesn’t turn the ball over and gives his teammates opportunities to make plays.
North Carolina State runs an offense that can do a wide variety of things and it takes a special player to make that happen. No matter who they play, they will get their guys in winnable matchups for 4 straight quarters giving them every opportunity to make plays. On the defensive side of the ball they return some elite playmakers that will make moving the ball on them difficult. With an offense that can control the clock, end drives with touchdowns, and a defense that can stop anyone, the Wolfpack have the opportunity to have a special season.
Road trips to Clemson, North Carolina, Syracuse and Louisville could trip up the Wolfpack. But the rest of the schedule is at home and could provide the opportunity for sensational victories that might springboard the program to something they have never won before: An ACC Championship.
Everyone knows that Clemson has the best roster in the league with stars on both sides of the ball. They land in the second spot in these power rankings because of the lack of playmaking ability at the quarterback position. DJ Uiagalelei is a solid player but is coming off an uninspiring season. It’s hard to bet against the Tigers with this roster, but it’s also hard to believe Uiagalelei will take the necessary steps forward to be an elite quarterback that is needed to contend for the ACC championship.
The floor for this Clemson team is 10 wins and the ceiling might be 14 or 15 wins with a National Title. But until I see more out of the QB spot, I will be skeptical. I debated having them at No. 3 in these rankings but they did beat the No. 3 team last year so the tie goes to the victors.
3. Wake Forest
Sam Hartman is back. A.T. Perry is back. The long mesh is back. Any conversation about Wake Forest will surely include those three topics. The Demon Deacons return one of the most successful combinations in all of college football on offense with a slew of other playmakers that make the long mesh extremely difficult to stop. The running game doesn’t have a bellcow and will be a committee, but that won’t stop the Deacs from putting up lots of point and winning lots of games.
What will hold Wake Forest back will be their defense. The unit gave up 42 points or more five times last year. They will face some strong offensive attacks from Louisville, NCST, Clemson, UNC, and Boston College, but have more than enough firepower to win those games. Look for the Deacs to be a contender for the Atlantic.
It took until the No. 4 spot to find a team in the Coastal on these Power Rankings, which is no slight to that side of conference, but more of a statement about the depth of the league. The Hurricanes have everything on their current roster to contend not only for an ACC title but a National Title aside from one thing: Experience in those circumstances.
The team has a Heisman candidate at QB in Tyler Van Dyke, weapons at every skill position, and talent all over the defense. They have a new head coach who is encouraging the team to take a more business like approach that should pay dividends for this team. For the better part of two decades, Miami could not get out of their own way.
The administration decided a new direction was needed and it could pay dividends in year one. I think this team is a little green when it comes to experience in big moments and that might hold them back from realizing their full potential. For that reason, I am slotting them in at fourth in the conference despite all of the talent on the team.
The defending ACC Champs come in at No. 5 not because they aren’t worthy of a higher ranking, but because out of the top 5, they saw the most change at key positions. QB Kenny Pickett is off to the NFL. Offensive Coordinator Mark Whipple is now at the same position at Nebraska. Jordan Addison now plays at Southern California, leaving this team looking much different than the one that won the ACC championship in decisive fashion.
Replacing Pickett will be top-transfer Kedon Slovis who will now work with former BC offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti who runs a much more balanced, QB friendly pro-style offense. Pitt has an experienced offensive line and a deep WR room, although one that doesn’t have a bonafide star. The defense will still be one of the top performers in the conference and will keep the Panthers in the title hunt. The Coastal division may be determined on the last Saturday of the regular season at Hard Rock stadium between Pitt and Miami.
I am expecting a big step forward for the Cardinals this year. It’s put up or shut up time for Scott Satterfield who vowed to take more deep shots with this offense this year. Malik Cunningham is a terrific quarterback who can make plays with his arm and feet. The team is going to score a lot of points and the defense should be better in 2022. The Atlantic is stacked and it really is anyone’s division to lose. Louisville is a dark horse candidate for the division.
7. Boston College
Boston College scored a big offseason win when QB Phil Jukovec announced he would be returning. The Eagles were 6-2 with him at the helm and if they can get him to suit up for all 12 games, eight wins is the floor for this team. I could see this team sneaking in to the top 5 with the right breaks.
Their schedule is difficult as they play four of the top six in these Power Rankings plus Notre Dame, but they get this Irish late in the season and can pull off the upset. The Eagles are a tough out every night which lands them in the top half of the league.
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8. North Carolina
Mack Brown has recruited well for UNC over the last few years, but outside of the 2020 COVID season they have had little to show for it. Gene Chizik returns to Chapel Hill where he looks to reconstruct a flailing defense. The hope is that he can return the unit to the 2015 version he deployed that helped lead the team to 11 straight wins.
The quarterback situation is a toss up between Drake Maye and Jacoby Criswell. The running back room is loaded but the offensive line, a unit that struggled mightily to keep Sam Howell upright, must replace three starters. UNC lands in the No. 8 spot solely due to the recruiting prowess. They’ll be competitive and should become bowl eligible, but it won’t be pretty.
The Cavaliers have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Brennan Armstrong and an incredible corps of receivers, but major questions about who will block for them. Head coach Tony Elliott takes over for Bronco Mendhenhall after a disappointing 2021 campaign that saw many players transfer elsewhere. This is year one of a rebuild but don’t count the Cavaliers out with Armstrong slinging the rock and Ellitott crafting the offense.
10. Florida State
Florida State is Florida State. This almost feels wrong ranking them so low, but I just have not seen enough change in the roster to convince me that they are better than anyone above them in the rankings. They did land several P5 transfers to help bolster the receiving corps and offensive line in order to help Jordan Travis this year.
One positive note is the team performs very well inside the red zone as they score touchdowns 73 percent of the time they get there. The problem will be getting enough trips in to the red zone to win enough games. The schedule is unkind the Seminoles as well with an early season trip to Louisville, followed by consecutive games against BC, WF, NC State, and Clemson. I can see the Seminoles starting the season 1-6 with their lone win against FCS Duquesne. But this team has the ability to surprise anyone, so we shall see.
11. Virginia Tech
Head coach Justin Fuente is gone and Brent Pry is now in charge. He takes over a program that is down on its luck after several years of sinking into mediocrity. The quarterback situation is bleak, but the defense has enough juice to keep them in games.
Pry hired Joe Rudolph away from Wisconsin to run a more balanced offense that fits the personnel of the Hokies. However, after years of mediocrity under Fuente, the locker room is light on offensive talent. QB transfers Grant Wells and Jason Brown will look to lead the offense to new heights but neither was overly impressive at their previous spots.
The offensive line remains a problem which will affect the run game in addition to the passing game. The same problem is true for the defense that is sorely lacking in talent upfront. The linebacker unit has some playmakers, but the scheme under Pry is much different than what the previous staff deployed.
Look for the Hokies to have an up and down season in the first year of the Pry regime.
» Related: ESPN’s Adelson predicts six wins for Syracuse in 2022
Syracuse enters a pivotal year for the program under Dino Babers, and he knows it. He has hired two excellent offensive coaches in offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck with hopes that they balance out the rushing attack led by potential All-American Sean Tucker. Will it be enough to save his job? Maybe, but that will require the team to be bowl eligible at season’s end.
The defense will be looking to replace five players on the defensive line while the back eight stays mainly intact. The team has the components to win six games, but the schedule to end the season is extremely difficult. A mild upset of Purdue coupled with wins against UVA, Wagner, UConn, FSU, and BC would get the job done.
But the Orange won’t be a favorite in any of those games except for Wagner and UConn. If the offense can be more effective through the air, anything can happen. I’ll be rooting for SU all year but it might be difficult for them to elevate past the 12th spot in these rankings all year.
13. Georgia Tech
Geoff Collins enters year four as the head coach of Georgia Tech, and the program doesn’t look any closer to stability as when he accepted the mission to move away from Paul Johnson’s triple option attack in 2018. Last season’s 3-9 year led to many players heading to the transfer portal, including GT’s top running back and all around offensive weapon Jahmyr Gibbs.
The offense will reduce the amount of time they will spend in the shotgun under new tutelage from Chip Long, but will need a big step forward from Jeff Sims. If Sims can’t hack it, they have QB transfers from Akron and Clemson to turn to, neither of whom have extensive starting experience. The defense was abysmal last season, and while the coaching staff was retained, they lost eight of their top 11 tacklers.
The Yellow Jackets may be able to show improvement, but with a brutal schedule that opens with Clemson and features games against Ole Miss, Central Florida, and Georgia, three wins may be hard to come by.
Head coach Mike Elko will look to replace David Cutcliffe with immediate success. The team will need to break in a new quarterback and running back. The team is not devoid of players, but they are severely lacking in talent.
Elko is considered one of the top defensive minds in football and his teams will come to play every week. However, the difference in talent will show up on the field. The schedule for the Blue Devils is relatively easy to start the season so two wins there are possible, but once the ACC schedule rolls around wins will be hard to come by. It will be nice to see progress in Durham this year but I do not expect to see Duke elevate out of the basement spot this season.
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