Okay, enough fooling around. It’s time to do those ACC Power Rankings.
No. 1 FLORIDA STATE
Consider this a vote of confidence in Jameis Winston.
The conventional wisdom at the ACC Preseason Football Kickoff was that Clemson would be the team to beat in the league. And yes, I was a part of that crowd.
But since then, the more I’ve thought about FSU, the more I’ve liked. Or maybe the less I’ve become concerned.
I’m not that concerned about all the personnel losses on defense. I’ve got faith that the Seminoles are deep enough on that side to produce a reasonable fascimile of last season’s dominant unit.
I’m not that concerned about the loss of defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, either. Okay, I’m a little concerned that the new guy, Jeremy Pruitt, will have the Noles thinking a bit too much with his varied schemes, but I still think talent will carry the day on that side of the ball.
And I’m not too concerned about replacing EJ Manuel with a redshirt freshman. Winston’s got a great line in front of him, great skill players around him, and undeniable talent. The only question is: Does he have the poise? Based on an admittedly small sample size, I’m voting yes.
Next Game: Monday, 8 p.m. at Pitt.
NO. 2 CLEMSON
I haven’t looked up the over/under for total points in the Clemson/Georgia game, but go ahead and take the over anyway. You can thank me later.
Or am I making too many assumptions? Will Clemson’s offense be as high-powered without a stud running back, now that Andre Ellington has moved on? And is the Tigers’ secondary really that much of a weak spot?
Dunno. I do know we’ll have a much better feel after this weekend. And if the Tigers do indeed “beat the mess” out of the Bulldogs, well, then they’ll move up to No. 1, no matter what FSU does up at Pitt.
Next Game: Saturday, 8 p.m. vs. Georgia
NO. 3 GEORGIA TECH
I’m not all-in on the Yellow Jackets, but I’m shoving more and more chips to the middle of the table, it appears.
Here’s my reasoning: I believe in the run aspect of Paul Johnson’s option attack. Always have. Always will. I believe Vad Lee is by far the best passer Johnson’s had during his tenure. And I believe that Ted Roof’s defense will be better than Al Groh’s.
One possible catch? While I think Vad Lee will be a clear passing upgrade, I’m still not sure he has the intuitive feel for the offense, the way Tevin Washington did.
Next Game: Saturday, Noon vs. Elon.
NO. 4 MIAMI
Miami’s got a ton back on offense and while its defense was awful last season, it was young. And Al Golden’s recruited pretty well. Thus, the optimism in Coral Gables.
I largely share in the good feelings. But I do want to see how Stephen Morris responds to his new offensive coordinator, James Coley, and how Coley responds to actually getting a chance to call the plays – something he didn’t do at Florida State.
(I still don’t see how you can be an offensive coordinator if you don’t call the plays.)
Next Game: Friday, 8 p.m vs. FAU
NO. 5 UNC
JADEVEON CLOWNEY IS A FREAK. HE IS THE GREATEST … Oh, sorry. I got sucked into all the pre South Carolina-North Carolina hype, which is basically all about the Gamecocks’ star defensive end and not much about, well, the Tar Heels.
I’ve been consistent in saying I’d take the 11.5 points the Heels have been getting. Why? Because that offense was good and historically Larry Fedora’s offenses get even better in the second season. I’m not saying that will happen – not without Gio Bernard and Jonathan Cooper – but neither do I think UNC takes a step back on that side of the ball.
The real question: can the Heels take a step forward on defense? And even if they do, will it be a big enough step? I’m … not optimistic, which is why I still can’t bring myself to pull the trigger on a UNC-over-South Carolina upset pick. But I am looking forward to watching some entertaining shootouts this season!
Next Game: Tonight, 6 p.m. at South Carolina
NO. 6 Virginia Tech
I voted the Hokies No. 3 in my preseason Coastal Division poll, but I’m starting to think I overrated them. Check out this F/+ graph (Football Outsiders’ measure of team quality) for Virginia Tech. That suggests that maybe last year was not a fluke, but rather the symptom of deeper issues in Blacksburg.
But even if you ignore that stat, you can’t deny this: the offense is in a state of flux, with a new coordinator, Scot Loeffler; injuries have absolutely riddled the Hokies on both sides of the ball; Alabama is coming up on Saturday.
I’m not going to punish Virginia Tech for losing to a team that every other team in America would likely lose to, as well. But I’m worried about lingering effects from the game and what might happen to the Hokies if they have a collective crisis of confidence.
That said, I didn’t think twice about moving the Hokies lower than sixth. That’s because … well, let’s just move on to the rest of the league, shall we?
Next Game: Saturday, 5:30 p.m. vs. Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff
Before I go any further, let me go ahead and try to sooth the feelings of the fans who will be irate that I picked their ACC team toward the bottom of these power rankings. Understand that I really don’t think there’s a ton of separation between No. 7 and No. 14 on this list. In fact, I probably should have just weaseled out of this by going an eight-way tie for seventh. But what’s the fun in that?
NO. 7 N.C. STATE
(Shuts eyes, throws dart at dart board)
Aaaand … it lands on the Wolfpack!
In last week’s podcast Chip Patterson and I both talked about how this season is a “mulligan year” for new coach Dave Doeren. But we also believe State’s sandbagging a bit.
I like what the Wolfpack returns on defense, particularly its underrated defensive line. And I like how the schedule sets up as well. When Debbie Yow fired Tom O’Brien, she talked about this season was going to be a rebuilding one anyway for State. I didn’t see it that way. I thought TOB had a bowl team – albeit a low-level bowl – returning.
Admittedly that assumption rested in part on the belief that transfer QB Pete Thomas would fit in well in Dana Bible’s pro-style offense. Now? State’s likely going to rely on another transfer, Brandon Mitchell, to run Matt Canada’s spread attack. If Mitchell, who was playing wide receiver the last time he was in live action, struggles, well … hey, it’s a mulligan season anyway!
Next Game: Saturday, 12:30 p.m. vs. Louisana Tech
No. 8 Maryland
I had Maryland a little lower in my preseason ACC poll, in part because key games against opponents of a similar level (Wake Forest and N.C. State) are on the road. But for now, I’m thinking less about schedules (although still a little bit) and more about overall talent.
The knee-jerk reaction for the Terps is “Hey, they don’t have a linebacker playing QB this season! They’ll be better!” And they will … on offense. On defense though, they lose playmakers such as DT Joe Vellano and LBs Darin Drakeford and Demeterius Hartsfield. So … middle of the Atlantic Division pack, I think.
Next Game: Saturday, 12:30 vs. FIU
NO. 9 WAKE FOREST
I had Wake at No. 3 in the Atlantic Division in the preseason, but that was based in part on the belief that surely, this time the Deacs could stay healthy on the offensive line and finally overcome the ever-consistent Wake Offensive Line Injury Bug (WOLIB?) Maybe they will, as tackle Steven Chase and guard Antonio Ford are recovered enough from injuries to be ready for the opener. Still, no Colin Summers at right tackle and I’m concerned about Chase’s durability.
If – and it’s a big if – that unit can gel, then maybe this is the year we see the full potential of Josh Harris at running back. (Checks, realizes he’s written that sentence for the past three years.)
Next Game: Tonight, 6:30 p.m. vs. Presbyterian
NO. 10 DUKE
The Blue Devils were picked last in the Coastal by the rest of my media brethren, but I think that may be a bit of a Pavlovian reaction. Or perhaps fresh memories of Duke’s horrid defense last season.
I’m inclined to be a bit more bullish on Duke because it’s very experienced in the two places where I really value experience – offensive and defensive lines. And yes, the secondary is young, but really, it’s not like there were many healthy, experienced defensive backs on the field last season for the Blue Devils either, when they made a bowl.
Oh, and that non-conference schedule has N.C. Central, Memphis, Troy and Navy (Read: No Stanford)
Next Game: Saturday, 4 p.m. vs. N.C. Central
NO. 11 VIRGINIA
The Cavaliers have the potential to make me look really bad. If new defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta does his usual thing and if David Watford finally brings stability to the quarterback position, then the Cavaliers could jump up a level or two from last season’s disappointment. And Smoke Mizzell could be Duke Johnson North this season for UVa … man, I’m starting to talk myself into ranking the Cavaliers higher.
But this also feels like a program in transition. And programs in transition shouldn’t be playing BYU and Oregon during the non-conference schedule.
Next Game: Saturday, 3:30 vs. BYU
NO. 12 PITT
Everything I read about Pitt these days emphasizes Paul Chryst’s focus on bringing stability to the program and about improving chemistry. That’s a necessary step to take when you’re in the midst of a rebuild job. But it’s also usually one that comes before you start to see real results on the field.
If transfer QB Tom Savage shows some of his 2009 form from Rutgers, then I’ll likely be wrong on this. But we’re talking about form from … four seasons ago.
Next Game: Monday, 8 p.m. vs. FSU
NO. 13 SYRACUSE
Am I disrespecting the ACC’s new members by ranking them No. 12 and No. 13? That’s entirely possible. But coming into a league that – at least in theory – will feature more talented opponents and doing this with a first-year head coach and with a ton of questions at quarterback, as well as significant personnel losses from last season, seems like a recipe for a forgettable season.
That said, I’m curious to see how ACC teams handle the trip to the Carrier Dome. If that proves to be a significant home field advantage I … wait for it … could see Syracuse finishing higher in the Atlantic.
(Have I driven home my uncertainty about 7-14 enough yet?)
Next Game: Saturday, 3:30 vs. Penn State in E. Rutherford, N.J.
NO. 14 BOSTON COLLEGE
I make this pick knowing full well it could get me banned for life from “Dude” status in Steve Addazio’s book.
This isn’t a knock at Addazio at all. I think he’s got a great shot at turning BC around. I just don’t see it happening this year.
Next Game: Saturday, Noon vs. Villanova