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2016 Clemson Football Season Preview: ACC Initial Power Rankings

Will Florida State dethrone Clemson in the ACC Atlantic? Is Louisville the real deal? Can anybody find their way in the cluttered ACC Coastal? Join us as we take our shot at answering all the questions as we rank all 14 ACC teams.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the ACC Power Rankings. Yes, the long, long, wait is over and the ACC will kick off another exciting season of college football next weekend. What better way to get excited for the upcoming season then attempting to put all of the new look members of the ACC in power ranking order! This list is sure to change A LOT over the season, and we want to hear your feedback. Be sure to sound off in the comments below. We love your feedback and this list is for you readers.

#1 Clemson (2015 Season 14-1, 8-0)

Coming off an ACC Championship and National Title game appearance, Clemson looks poised to repeat and easily earns the #1 spot in our initial rankings. The offense remains intact with the return of Heisman hopeful Deshaun Watson and Heisman dark-horse Wayne Gallman. Combined with an offensive line noted to be one of the best in the country and the return of Redshirt Junior WR Mike Williams, Watson has a dangerous weapon almost at every turn. We expect the Clemson offense to not only be the best in the ACC, but one of the best in the country. The question mark lingers with the defense as Clemson will have to yet again replace 8 starters from last year's 10th ranked squad and currently face question marks at the Defense End position with the recent injury to Austin Bryant and the secondary which must replace both starting corners.

#2 Florida State (2015 Season 10-3, 6-2)

In what continues to look like a two horse race, it is no surprise that the Florida State Seminoles check in at #2 in our initial power rankings. The Seminoles will return one of the top 3 running backs in the country in Dalvin Cook who will see the ball early and often if he can remain free of the injury bug that plagued him toward the end of the 2015-16 season. The question for the Noles comes at the quarterback position. Senior Sean Maguire has shown that he can get the job done, but has been inconsistent at times. Maguire is expected to miss time in the beginning of the season, and it appears that Redshirt Freshman Deondre Francois may start the season under center, leaving the quarterback position a big unknown for Florida State. Francois and the Noles will be tested immediately as they open with #11 Ole Miss, but have the benefit of playing Ole Miss, Clemson and North Carolina all at home this season. Florida State is deep and athletic on the defensive side of the ball and has the ability to give opposing offenses fits.

#3 Louisville (2015 Season 8-5, 5-3)

It looks like the ACC Atlantic will again be top heavy in the 2016-17 season as Louisville claims the #3 spot in our initial power rankings. There is a gap here in our rankings between Florida State and Louisville, but make no mistake, the Cards are a major threat to both Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic Division. Lamar Jackson showed flashes of being a potential elite quarterback with his feet, but will have to prove that he can do it with his arm as well if Louisville will look to dethrone Clemson and Florida State in our rankings down the line. The offensive line will need to improve from a team that gave up the second most sacks in the nation last season (44) and a group that is expected to start three sophomores will need to show that it can protect Jackson. The Louisville defense will remain aggressive under Todd Grantham and will put the pressure on opposing teams in an effort to make bad decisions. Louisville blitzed more than any team in the ACC last season which is a trend that we expect to continue.

#4 North Carolina (2015 Season 11-3, 8-0)

North Carolina finally realized their potential in the 2015-16 season and Tar Heel fans are expecting the same coming into the 2016 season. The departure of Marquise Williams will officially begin the Mitch Trubisky era in Chapel Hill, who has shown that he is very capable of running the offense, which can be particularly easy as he is assisted by Elijah Hood, who is expected to be one of the best running backs in the country in the upcoming season. While greatly improved from the 2014-15 season, the defense for North Carolina remains the question mark. Coordinator Gene Chizik will need the team to improve from a squad that averaged only 1.6 sacks per game and had an ACC worst 44.2 percent 3rd down conversion rate. North Carolina has the fire power to hang with anybody, but will only go as far as their inconsistent defense will take them.

#5 Miami (2015 Season 8-5, 5-3)

After yet another mediocre season not up to the standards of the Miami fan base, UM alum Mark Richt takes over in an attempt to bring the program back to its former glory. Make no mistake, Brad Kaaya is the real deal and easily the second best quarterback in the conference, with some saying he has the potential to challenge Deshaun Watson. Kaaya should fit well into Richt's pro-style type of offense which is known for taking shots down the field, but this may be yet another year of acclimation and adjustments for the U. The defense will have to adapt to the 4-3 defense of new coordinator Manny Diaz and have to replace four players from their secondary. Once again, the potential is there, but we don't see Miami climbing much higher unless the team acclimates to their new systems very quickly.

#6 Pittsburgh (2015 Season 8-5, 6-2)

The Pittsburgh coaching carousel has stopped for the moment with Pat Narduzzi who experienced success in his first year with the Panthers, despite some injuries to key players.  Up north in Pennsylvania we find yet another quality ACC running back in James Conner. Conner is coming back from a season ending injury and a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma so the 2014 ACC Player of the Year will have to be eased into game action gradually, but the talent is there in the backfield for the Panthers. The Chad Voytik experiment has ended and the reigns of the offense will be solely in the hands of Nathan Peterman. Peterman can be capable, but will have to find a new favorite target as Pitt will have to replace Tyler Boyd who had 43% of the receptions last season for Pittsburgh. If Pittsburgh can stay healthy and the defense can once again rally behind Ejuan Price, I expect Pittsburgh to climb these rankings and potentially win the Coastal Division.

#7 Virginia Tech (2015 Season 7-6, 4-4)

It sure is going to be strange looking down on the field in Blacksburg and not seeing Frank Beamer, and now that Justin Fuente is at the helm at Virginia Tech, I really don't know what to expect from the Hokies in 2016. Fuentes is an offensive mastermind who will bring an up-tempo offense into town and it looks like it will be run by JUCO transfer Jerod Evans. Virginia Tech will need to replace key components on the defensive side of the ball, including Kendall Fuller. Time will tell what we can expect to see from the Hokies in 2016, but for now, we will keep them middle of the pack until we have a little better idea of how the squad will acclimate to their change in culture.

#8 Duke (2015 Season 8-5, 4-4)

Duke stumbled hard down the stretch last season and will have to put those memories behind them if they wish to continue to grow on the success that the program has had over the past 5 years. One of the main problems is that the Blue Devils appear to be a one man show on both sides of the ball. Thomas Sirk led the Blue Devils in both passing and rushing on the offensive side of the ball, while Jeremy Cash seemed to provide all of the tackles for the Duke defense. This will have to change for the Blue Devils as Sirk is already battling injury and Cash has moved on. Duke has a particularly deep stable of running backs that will be able to make this transition easier along with a very well rounded head coach, but this is definitely a team to keep an eye on as their progress can seemingly go in either direction.

#9 Georgia Tech (2015 Season 3-9, 1-7)

Another year, another Paul Johnson triple-option attack at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are coming off of a year that they would like to forget, finishing 3-9. They come in at number 9 in our initial rankings because we believe last year's record was a bit of a fluke, mainly because it can't be possible for the offensive line to perform worse than it did a year ago. Justin Thomas returns as a senior with knowledge of the offense and the ability to replace All-ACC Adam Gotsis with a particularly deep group of rotational players, expect Georgia Tech to be much improved from last year's disaster, but not quite enough to bump them into the top tier in the ACC coastal.

#10 Syracuse (2015 Season 4-8, 3-6)

Syracuse comes in at number 10 as a team that has some talent on both sides of the ball that may begin to put things together under new head coach Dino Baber. Eric Dungey will return to run the offense with some explosive playmakers such as WR Steve Ishmael and an improved offensive line. The Syracuse defense returns many key starters, including all linebackers from last season's squad, but the transition to the Tampa-2 defense will take some time. Expect some blown assignments and a breaking in period for the Orange defense which will keep them relatively low in our rankings in the early season. Syracuse could make a move up, as the talent is there.

#11 NC State (2015 Season 7-6, 3-5)

We expect NC State to have a down year due to the turnover on the offensive side of the ball. Matthew Dayes is yet another ACC running back who can be one of the better backs in the country if he avoids injury, but that is where the buck stops on the offensive side of the ball for the Wolfpack. With no standout wide receivers and an offensive line with major holes, it looks like potential new QB Ryan Finley won't have much to work with. NC State's defense is deep with many returning starters, but a continuing trend in the lower portion of our initial power rankings seems to be defenses that just won't be good enough to make up for poor offense.

#12 Wake Forest (2015 Season 3-9, 1-7)

It looks like another year of building for Wake Forest. While the talent appears to be slightly improving on a year to year basis in Winston-Salem, the results remain somewhat the same. It seems John Wolford will retain his starting job on a Wake Forest team that is one of only two teams in the NCAA to average less than 20 points per game in the past 4 seasons. The Wake Forest defense can be a bright spot this season with quality players in Duke Ejiofor, Marquel Lee and Brad Watson, but a quality defense won't be enough to make up for another year of what looks to be a continuation of the sputtering offense. Expect to see Kendall Hinton under center relatively early in the season if the offense continues the downward trend.

#13 Boston College (2015 Season 3-9, 0-8)

The Boston College offense was absolutely dreadful in 2015 due to the revolving door at Quarterback. Head coach Steve Addazio recently stated that Darius Wade will be on top of the depth chart to start the season...for now. Wade won't have much help as Boston College lacks offensive playmakers and the line is so poor they are counting on an FCS transfer from Eastern Illinois to stabilize the offensive line. Boston College had one of the best defenses in the ACC last season, but still wasn't able to contend. A new defensive coordinator and the need to replace Steven Daniels and Connor Wujciak has all signs pointing to another potential winless season in Chestnut Hill.

#14 Virginia (2015 Season 4-8, 3-5)

Not much went right for the Cavaliers in the 2015 season, and things don't appear to be getting better anytime soon in Charlottesville. Bronco Mendenhall will take over and will have to pick from a mediocre stable of quarterbacks including Matt Johns, Connor Brewer and ECU transfer Kurt Benkert. Virginia's defense was the worst in the conference last year. Add on the fact that the poor defense from last year will have to adapt to a new 3-4 alignment leads me to believe that we will see more of the same this season.