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ACC Football Power Rankings, Week Zero: Clemson way out in front

College football is back! Well, kinda. Week Zero brings us two FBS matchups, including one ACC team — Miami — in action. With that in mind, let’s go ahead and get this going. Here are the first ACC Football Power Rankings of the 2019 season. There’s no time like the present.

 

No. 1 Clemson

The No. 1 team in the AP Poll is, unsurprisingly, also our top team, too. Clemson is a juggernaut; we all know this. One of the favorites to bring home another national title, Clemson projects as the No. 3 team in the country in terms of S&P-plus.

While there’s plenty of turnover along the defensive line, the Tigers are still loaded, especially on offense. Heisman Trophy candidates Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne return as Clemson’s star-studded backfield; on the perimeter, Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins form arguably the most dynamic receiving duo in the country.

 

No. 2 Syracuse (tie)

Syracuse, the only other ACC team to land in this week’s AP Poll, enters a bit of a transition season without program stalwart Eric Dungey at quarterback. This is Tommy DeVito’s team to run now; he’ll look for Sean Riley, Taj Harris and Nykeim Johnson — who combined for 213 targets last season — in the pass game. On the ground, Moe Neal (5.6 yards per carry) must lead the way.

Alton Robinson and Andre Cisco headline the defense, which projects as a top-50 unit in terms of S&P-plus.

 

No. 2 Virginia (tie)

During the 2018 season, Bryce Perkins was a revelation in Charlottesville as Bronco Mendenhall turned things around at Virginia.

Perkins joined joins Lamar Jackson (twice) and Deshaun Watson as the only ACC players — since the 2000 season — to throw for 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns while running for at least 900 yards, too. He accounted for 277.2 yards of total offense per game, which ranked third in the conference.

Without Olamide Zaccheaus, Virginia will need new players to step up in the receiving game, although Joe Reed (91.3 all-purpose yards per game in 2018) and Hasise Dubois (68.4 percent catch rate) return.

On defense, the Cavaliers have all kinds of talent, including one of the better linebacking groups in the country. The secondary, even after an injury to cornerback Darrius Bratton, is still strong, thanks to All-ACC performer Bryce Hall.

 

No. 4 Miami

After the opening weekend of games, we should know a good bit more about Miami — following the Hurricanes neutral-site matchup with No. 8 Florida, Manny Diaz’s debut.

Jarren Williams, for now, is QB1 for Miami, and he’ll be tested early in Orlando against Florida. If Miami is to get its passing attack going, Jeff Thomas and Brevin Jordan will factor prominently into the equation.

Once again, though, Miami will rely heavily on its defensive power. This year, that starts up front with rush end Jonathan Garvin.

Miami’s defense has dealt with some injuries and transfers in recent weeks; however, Garvin is a force off the edge. The linebacking crew is strong and has plenty of experience. It’s reductive, but if the offense can score enough, Miami can certainly ascend higher in these rankings.

 

No. 5 Florida State

Similar to Miami, Florida State will need its defense to lead the way. Brian Burns, now causing havoc with the Carolina Panthers, is gone, but there’s still plenty of power up front — starting with defensive tackle Marvin Wilson. Last season, Wilson recorded 3.5 sacks and nine run stuffs, which are tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. Defensively, FSU should be a top-20 unit.

Quarterback James Blackman needs wideout Tamorrion Terry — 10.2 yards per target in 2018 — to have another big season as a sophomore. Of course, running back Cam Akers features prominently as a bellwether for FSU. If he’s going right, things should be much better in Willie Taggart’s second season in Tallahassee.

Florida State needs reliable production from Akers, but so much of his success is connected to an offensive line that fell on its face last season. Akers posted an opportunity rate of 37.9 percent, which means on less than 38 percent of his 161 carries the offensive line “did its job” by creating five or more yards of rushing room.

That has to improve in 2019.

 

No. 6 Virginia Tech (tie)

The Hokies, after a shaky 2018 season and offseason, are back, presumably on solid footing, too. It’s notable that S&P-plus likes Virginia Tech; the metric projects the Hokies as a top-30 team in the FBS this season, higher than UVA and Syracuse.

Virginia Tech has decent balance; this is a team that should be good on both sides of the ball. Ryan Willis has a chance to solidify his status as one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC. For this effort, Willis will have help from one of the more underrated receiving duos in the FBS — Tre Turner and Damon Hazleton.

 

No. 6 Wake Forest (tie)

When it comes to ACC football coaches, Dave Clawson is the league’s Steady Eddie. He’s also pretty darn good at his job. Over the last three seasons, Wake Forest has won 22 games, including three straight bowl victories — something even Jim Grobe couldn’t accomplish during his tenure in Winston-Salem.

Once more, Wake Forest — with redshirt junior Jamie Newman at quarterback — projects to win 6+ games and qualify for another bowl.

Three of the first five games this season — Utah State, UNC and Boston College — are essentially coin tosses, according to Bill Connelly’s projection model. Fortunately for the Demon Deacons, two of those contests are at home, and only one game (BC) is on the road.

 

No. 8 NC State (tie)

For the second year in a row, NC State parted ways with a good bit of talent to the NFL; this time, though, it came mostly from the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Ryan Finely, a three-year starter; center Garrett Bradbury, the No. 18 pick in the NFL Draft; and Kelvin Harmon, one of the most prolific receivers in program history.

In terms of S&P-plus, NC State’s defense projects as a top-40 unit. There’s plenty of talent back, led by edge rusher James Smith-Williams (six sacks in 2018).

On the inside, Larrell Murchison (four sacks) and Alim McNeill (5.5 tackles for loss) hold down the point of attack.

Back to the offense, though. Replacing Finley will be no easy ask, and it seems as though Matt McKay will get the first crack at that tall task. If McKay or one of the other quarterbacks — Devin Leary or Bailey Hockman — can efficiently steer the ship, there’s gobs of talent at the skill positions.

Ricky Person (5.7 highlights per carry) and Bam Knight are the two lead running backs. On the perimeter, Emeka Emezie, CJ Riley and Thayer Thomas are formidable, too.

 

No. 8 Pittsburgh (tie)

The loss of star defensive end Rashad Weaver is a big hit for the Panthers, but Pitt can still be a factor in the ACC. With the departures of Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall — who combined for over 2,300 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns last season — in the backfield, Pitt will lean on quarterback Kenny Pickett more in 2019.

Pickett, who averaged a little over five yards per attempt last season, will work in tandem will veteran receiver Maurice Ffrench, who averaged nearly 15 yards per catch and posted a catch rate of 55.6 percent last in 2018.

 

No. 10 Boston College

Boston College returns just five starters on offense, but two of those players, AJ Dillon and Anthony Brown, are pretty darn good. Dillon, now a junior, is a special player and one of the best running backs in the country. He was one of 30 FBS players to finish the 2018 season with 1,100 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns. Dillon posted five games of at least 115 rushing yards.

Brown continues to get better and better every season, but he’s dealing with the loss of two important receivers — Tommie Sweeney (61.5 percent catch rate) and Jeff Smith (19.4 yards per catch) — are turnover along the offensive line. All-ACC guard Chris Lindstrom, drafted 14th overall by Atlanta, is gone.

That line was pretty important for Dillon (42 percent opportunity rate), too.

 

No. 11 Duke

At the quarterback position in Durham, it’s now a changing of the guard — with Daniel Jones currently lighting things up in the preseason for the Giants. Redshirt senior Quentin Harris, who enters the season with 81 career pass attempts (6.3 yards per attempt), has waited his turn. Harris has big shoes to fill, but luckily for the Blue Devils, a talented pair of running backs should ease the burden, some: Brittain Brown and Deon Jackson.

 

No. 12 North Carolina

Mack (Brown) is back. With Brown back in Chapel Hill, there’s optimism surrounding the program, thanks in part to some success on the recruiting trail. However, it may take a year or two for North Carolina to enjoy those parts of the revival. That said, even with a brutal first month on the schedule, there’s still a roadmap here for a six-win season.

True freshman quarterback Sam Howell, initially a Florida State commit, was Brown’s first prized commitment since he returned to Chapel Hill. The quarterbacks room belongs to Howell, who probably has plenty of space to spread out and get comfortable. Less than a week after Howell was named first-team quarterback, redshirt freshman Cade Fortin entered the transfer portal.

Michael Carter — 9.8 highlight yards per carry, 89.3 percent catch rate — is a star at running back. UNC needs everything he’s got.

 

No. 13 Georgia Tech (tie)

Geoff Collins has his work cut out for him as he looks to bring Georgia Tech Football into the 21st Century after years of Paul Johnson’s option offense.

There are reasons for future optimism, but this will take time.

 

No. 13 Louisville (tie)

Week Zero, meet Year Zero. Similar to Collins at Georgia Tech — and Brown at UNC, to a lesser extent, though — Scott Satterfield has a long road ahead. The opening week of the 2019 season brings No. 9 Notre Dame to town (gulp), followed by a short week leading into a matchup with Eastern Kentucky.

 

Contributor Rankings

 David GlennBrian GeisingerConsensus
1ClemsonClemsonClemson
2SyracuseVirginiaSyracuse
3VirginiaSyracuseVirginia
4MiamiMiamiMiami
5Florida StateFlorida StateFlorida State
6Wake ForestVirginia TechVirginia Tech
7Virginia TechWake ForestWake Forest
8PittNC StateNC State
9NC StatePittPitt
10Boston CollegeBoston CollegeBoston College
11DukeDukeDuke
12UNCUNCUNC
13LouisvilleGeorgia TechGeorgia Tech
14Georgia TechLouisvilleLouisville

 

Read More on ACC Football

Part 1 of our 2019 ACC Football Roundtable