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ACC Power Rankings: Preseason Edition

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Welcome to Week Whatever of college football, where we finally kick off this weird season of ACC football.

NCAA Football: Miami at Toledo
You know my rankings will include disrespecting the U
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

#1 Clemson. Upcoming game: @ Wake Forest, 7:30 PM ABC. Once again, Clemson comes in as the crown jewel of this conference. You’ve gotten preseason articles, and this week will see plenty of pregame articles by better writers than I on STS to get you ready for Clemson’s game against Wake, so I won’t delve too much into the Tigers. Saturday will be weird because, due to North Carolina allowing no more than 50 people at an outdoor event, there will be no fans at Wake Forest’s Truist Field on Saturday. In 2018, Clemson fans took over Winston-Salem and turned the stadium into mini-Death Valley, so it’s a shame Clemson doesn’t get a home-away-from-home advantage, but the players should be plenty hyped to finally play. Still, with a quiet stadium and early season rust/jitters, don’t get frustrated if Clemson looks a bit sluggish at first. It should come together nicely for the Tigers by the second half.

#2 Notre Dame. Upcoming game: Duke, 2:30 PM NBC

If you’ve followed my power rankings for the past few seasons, you probably have seen the controversy in the comments about my decisions of including/not including quasi-ACC member Notre Dame in the rankings. It’s mostly done to add some spice to the rankings (probably the only time anyone affiliated with Notre Dame will be accused of adding spice to something), but this year it’s all legit. For 2020, Notre Dame will compete in the ACC, and will thus be eligible to compete for the ACC championship. With no divisions this season, Notre Dame has become a fairly popular pick to face Clemson in the championship game in Charlotte. Week 1 will see former Clemson quarterback Chase Brice lead the Duke Blue Devils to South Bend for an early shot at the Fighting Irish.

#3 North Carolina. Upcoming game: Syracuse, 12:00 PM ACCN.

North Carolina comes into 2020 with hype that we haven’t seen out of the football Tar Heels in years. After an abysmal 2018, year one of Mack Brown part two saw UNC go 7-6, earn some street cred by going toe to toe with Clemson and losing by just one point after a failed two point conversion attempt, and finish off the year with a 55-13 Military Bowl win over Temple, that gave us another Mack Brown dance party.

The Heels return QB Sam Howell and WR Chaz Surratt, and have folks expecting big things. In a traditional season, UNC would probably be the sexy pick to win the Coastal and face Clemson in Charlotte. Even in a division-less season, UNC finishing second and earning a trip to Charlotte wouldn’t be far fetched if Notre Dame wasn’t in the league. While I am starting them off at #3, I am remaining skeptical until I see more out of them. I think they’re a talented team with good coaching, but I still expect them to drop a game or two that they should win.

#4 Louisville. Upcoming game: Western Kentucky.

Prior to the ACC’s restructuring of schedules, we were staring at the possibility of Louisville’s home opener being the lead in to a rescheduled Kentucky Derby weekend, which would’ve been a beautiful mess of chaos and bourbon. However, we now will see the Cards kick off a week after the horse race. Like UNC, Louisville’s new head coach brought the Cards from the ACC cellar to a pretty good season. After regaining his starting position post-injury, QB Micale Cunningham will lead Scott Satterfield’s attack. The revamped ACC schedule is actually a boon to the Cards because they will now avoid Atlantic opponent Clemson. With the right pieces falling in the place, Louisville good find itself in Charlotte in December.

#5 Virginia Tech. Upcoming game: Sept 19, Virginia.

Year 5 of the Justin Fuente era is going to start off incredibly weirdly. Okay, let’s rewind to last year to set the stage. Last season the Hokies lost their annual end-of-the-season rivalry game against Virginia for the first time in a long, long, long time. So, you’re thinking, “Man, Hokie fans have to put up with UVA trash talk for 365 days until the next game.” Well, no. With the reshuffling of the schedule for Covid-19, the UVA-VT game got tabbed for September 19. The Hokies were originally slated to open the season against NC State but, due to NC State’s covid spikes, they pushed their season back, now giving us VT and UVA opening their 2020 slates. This should be an exciting game, and I wish it could’ve been this week because it’s a very hit or miss week for good football this weekend, particularly with the SEC not starting for a few weeks and the Pac-12 and Big 10 opting out.

#6 Virginia. Upcoming game: Sept #19 @ Virginia Tech.

As previously mentioned, UVA broke their 16 game losing streak last season. The Cavs also won their first Coastal division title, and after a stomping by Clemson, went on to put up a hard fought showing in their Orange Bowl loss to Florida. Really, just a good overall year for UVA football. Now, here comes the bad news. The quarterback who led them to this, Bryce Perkins, is gone. The good news? Bronco Mendenhall’s squad returns it’s entire offensive line. We’re definitely not seeing UVA making another trip to Charlotte and/or the Orange Bowl this year, but I think they have the makings of a solid middle of the pack team, and who knows, maybe they’ll win two in a row against Va Tech.

#7 Florida State. Upcoming opponent: Georgia Tech, 3:30 ABC.

Man, where to start with FSU? The Willie Taggart era lasted just two seasons before the Noles decided to move on to the next one. Enter Mike Norvell. Norvell is a fairly young HC who left his OC position at Arizona State to take over as head coach for three seasons at Memphis. He had a good run with the Tigers and is now leading FSU. The Noles also return quarterback James Blackman, who seems like he has been in Tallahassee since the Peter Warrick days. FSU returns 3/5 o linemen, which would probably give Noles fans some hope that a more experienced unit will give Blackman some protection instead of having him running for his life like he has for the past three seasons. Noles fans should have tempered expectations for year one under Norvell. Noles fans will not have tempered expectations for year one. #FSUTwitter was overzealous about year one for Taggart. I hope a few years of mediocrity will have FSU fans being a bit more reasonable, but FSU will probably have an off game or four and fans will start questioning Norvell.

#8 Miami. Upcoming game: September 10, UAB, 8:00 PM ESPN.

Miami is now entering year two of Manny Diaz. What did year one bring, you say? Thank you for asking. Year one started out semi-hopefully with Miami just barely losing in a sloppy, rain-soaked week zero matchup with Florida in Orlando. Miami would later get a win over eventual Coastal champion Virginia before losing in hilarious fashion in overtime to Georgia Tech to give Geoff Collins his first conference win. Miami beat lackluster Florida State, then capped the regular season off with losses to Butch Davis’s FIU squad in Marlins’ Park and at Duke. At 6-6, the Canes got a bid to beautiful Shreveport, Louisiana, to play Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. How did that go? Miami lost to the Bulldogs 14-0.

Miami is an enigma in some ways. Looking at recruiting rankings, they should be better. Not CFP caliber, but not so bad that going 10-3 in 2017 should be such an outlier right now, and even that season ended flames for the U.

I tend to get schadenfreude from Miami’s struggles because their over the top antics get annoying when they can’t back them up. I’m certainly not a member of the no fun police in sports, but group dancing on the sideline after getting shutout in the first half against FIU isn’t exactly a great look. But I digress.

For the second season in a row, the Canes are bringing in a talented transfer quarterback. Last year, it was Tate Martell, who had a notorious social media war of words with Justin Fields before Martell left Ohio State. Martell saw limited action for Miami as a reserve QB and a receiver. Now, D’Eriq King joins Miami from Houston and will start. King is a fascinating story in the new “free agent era” of college football. King started for the Houston Cougars at the beginning of 2018 before being sidelined for an injury. He came back to start in 2019, but after a 1-3 start elected to sit out the remainder of the season and take his redshirt year. Originally, his plan was to return to the Cougars for 2020, but then elected to enter the transfer portal. King was a three star athlete in the class of 2015 who had offers from many programs, including Clemson.

#9 Wake Forest. Upcoming game: Clemson, 7:30 ABC.

Last season, the Deacons finished 3rd in the Atlantic and at times looked to be the biggest division threat to Clemson before injuries set in. Now, the Deac’s defense looks pretty similar, but the offense has a lot of turnover. First off, there’s the offseason saga of quarterback Jamie Newman. Newman took over the reigns in 2018 after then starter Sam Hartman suffered a broken leg late in the season. Newman was electric for Wake in 2019, and then elected to pursue a graduate transfer season at Georgia. Then, following the transfer of J.T Daniels to UGA and the spike of coronavirus cases on campus, Newman recently opted out of the 2020 season and had announced instead of trying to play in 2021 that he will enter the NFL draft. The good news for the Deacs is that Hartman is back. Before his injury, Hartman was 4th in the league in passing yards. However Hartman’s style is a bit different than Newman’s, meaning on Saturday we may not see as much of the famed Wake long mesh point.

Wake’s delayed mesh point was a talking point all throughout 2019. It was fairly unsuccessful against Clemson (Wake ran for just 64 yards) both because Clemson’s obscenely talented defense snuffed it out and because Brent Venables has dedicated countless hours to stopping every permutation of the option you can find. With a more pocket passer in Hartman, it will be interesting to see what the Deacs do on Saturday.

The other issue at hand is that stat wideout Sage Surratt has opted out of the season, so Hartman will be losing a main target. Defensively, the Deacs return their front 8. Defensive end Carlos Basham Jr is a big factor. Basham plays both strong and week side DE, so I imagine Wake may try to set him up on RT Jordan McFadden to test the sophomore early on.

#10 Duke. Upcoming game: @ Notre Dame, 2:30 PM NBC.

Duke football is not a thing I often recommend getting excited for, and I’m definitely saying you should keep your win/loss expectations reasonable, but I am very eager to see what David Cutcliffe does with Chase Brice this year. Brice was a fan favorite at Clemson, and now we possibly may get to see two seasons of him under Cutcliffe with the NCAA’s revamped Covid eligibility rules. Brice has shown out in practice for the Devils and was named QB1 for this week against Notre Dame.

#11 Pitt. Upcoming game: Austin Peay, 4:00 PM ACCN.

Pitt continues to be the chaotic entity that pretty perfectly encapsulates the ACC Coastal. You don’t try to forecast Pitt. You just watch it and see what unfolds.

#12 NC State. Upcoming game: 9/19, Wake Forest, 8:00 PM ACCN.

State was extremely bad last year. So bad that Dave Doeren would firmly be on the hot seat in a normal year. However, the challenges of Covid probably give him a bye this season, and the ACC’s reshuffling of schedules allows him to avoid Clemson (RIP Textile Bowl). He also returns a good bit of his offense this year. A decent showing in an odd year and Doeren will probably feel a bit more comfortable in 2021. A bad season though? Well, he may want to get out his laptop and check the job boards.

#13 Syracuse. Upcoming game: @ UNC, 12:00 PM, ACCN.

‘Cuse was also pretty bad last year. The good news is they are returning QB Tommy DeVito and 23 of their offensive line. The bad news is Dino Babers is replacing most of their skill position and a good bit of their defense. It could be a long year for the Orange.

#14 Georgia Tech. Upcoming game: @ Florida State, 3:30 PM, ABC.

In year two under Geoff Collins, Tech looks to make more progress. I’m starting them low because there is still a lot of overhaul to be done in the rebuild of this program and expectations should be tempered, but I think Jacket fans should see some big strides this year. If Tech takes the right steps in 2020, bowling in 2021 should be an expectation.

#15 Boston College. Upcoming game: Sept 19, 12:00 PM.

See if this sounds familiar: BC has possibly the best OL in the ACC, and yet have a lot of work ahead of them at skill positions. I don’t know what it is, but Chesnut Hill continues to produce some damn good linemen. The big hole that BC will have to replace is running back A.J Dillon. I’m sure David Bailey will be a competent replacement, but Dillon was such a workhorse. It’s also Jeff Hafley’s first season, bringing in a new scheme for the Eagles. This will be an interesting transition year for Boston College.