Preseason Power Rankings: ACC

Please note that power rankings are meant to rank teams based on current team strength on a neutral field. It is not necessarily a projection of where I think teams will finish or who has a better resume. It is forward thinking but does not factor in strength of schedule, schedule breakdown, etc.

ICYMI Other Conference Preseason Power Rankings:

Mountain West
MAC
Sun Belt
Conference USA
American
FBS Independents
Pac 12
Big 12

2022 ACC Preseason Power Rankings

  1. Clemson: Despite last year being a down year for Clemson, they still managed to win 10 games. Unlike Clemson teams of old, they didn’t blow many teams out. While the defense still played at an elite level the offense regressed significantly leading to many close ACC games. They did show significant improvement throughout the course of the season. In their first 6 games they ranked 45 out of 66 Power 5 teams in Brett Ciancia’s game grader rankings, but in their final seven games they improved to 10th out of 66. When you look at that, it’s no surprise that they rallied to win their final 6 games. The offense was the problem last year. They averaged just 26.3 ppg & 359 ypg. OC Tony Elliott is off to Virginia and Dabo Swinney replaced him with an internal hire of former Clemson QB Brandon Streeter. Dabo is a big “loyalty” guy so most of his hires end up being internal promotions. On the one hand, it should be helpful for the players and new OC to be familiar with one another, but on the other… this offense was bad last year so it may not have hurt to look elsewhere. Dabo has a strong track record for hiring coordinators, so I guess he probably knows what he’s doing. QB DJ Uiagalelei took a step back in 2021. He threw more INT than TD and overthrows we’re a big problem for him. He has slimed down this offseason and Dabo was talking him up at ACC Media Days. We’ll see. If he struggles, 5-star QB Cade Klubnik is waiting in the wings. This kind of feels like when Dabo stuck with Kelly Bryant to open the season before eventually turning things over to a hot shot freshmen named Trevor Lawrence. The rest was history. Dabo values loyalty, but if DJ struggles again this year the fans won’t be shy about calling for Cade. Sophomore RB Will Shipley appears to be poised for a breakout season. The highly rated Freshmen battled injuries last season but rallied to average over 100 rushing yards in his last 3 games. The defense was nasty last season, ranking #4 in the Nation. They surrendered only 14.8 ppg & 305 ypg. Brent Venables was one of the best defensive coordinators in the business, but he bolted this offseason to take over as the HC at Oklahoma. He was replaced with another internal promotion in Wesley Goodwin. The defensive line will be one of the best in the Nation and while the back 7 went through a lot of turnover there is still a ton of talent there. Will they take a step back without Venables? It’s certainly possible but not a certainty with the talent they have. If the offense can make strides Clemson will be back in the ACC championship game this year.
  2. NC State: The Wolfpack put together one of their best seasons in a long time in 2021. They finished the season with a 9-3 (6-2) record in a season that included a win over ACC Power Clemson. They averaged +59.3 ypg in ACC play and we’re 3 points away from an ACC title game appearance and 4 points away from an 11-1 season. A whopping 17 starters return from that strong team. You can’t talk about NC State without talking about Devin Leary. The quarterback set a school record for passing TDs last season as he put together a 35 TD/5 INT season. He has a stacked WR room and this should be an elite passing attack provided the OL gives Leary enough time to throw the ball. The running game was not as effective as the passing game last season and they do lose their top 2 RB and first round offensive linemen. We will have to wait and see if they are able to generate a consistent running game. As good as Leary is, the strength of the team is probably it’s defense. They finished #9 in Brett Ciancia’s opponent adjusted rankings allowing only 19.7 ppg & 332 ypg. They are the only team to have a top 10 defense in 2021 to be in the top 10 in 2022 returning production. They have Phil Steele’s top ranked LB unit & DB units in the conference.
  1. Miami: We’ve heard this before, but I think this time The U is finally on their way to being back. I think they knocked it out of the park with the HC hire of Mario Cristobal & have made a financial commitment necessary to be elite in football again. Cristobal is a tireless recruiter who ended up out recruiting USC & UCLA in their own backyard of Southern California while at Oregon. Now he goes to the talent rich state of Florida with a program that should be willing to invest in NIL. I think he’s going to bring in lots of talent. He also knocked it out of the park with his new coordinator hires of OC Josh Gattis & DC Kevin Steele. QB Tyler Van Dyke goes into this season with a lot of hype and deservedly so. The offense averaged just 20.8 ppg in the first 4 games before Van Dyke took over & improved to 36.7 ppg in their last 7 with Van Dyke. He put together 6 consecutive games of 300+ passing yards & 3+ TD. One of the biggest issues at Miami lately has been bad Offensive Line play. That won’t continue under Mario. He was a former OLinemen himself and places a high priority on it. He brought over two offensive linemen transfers with him from Oregon to go along with the 3 returning starters at Miami. Cristobal & Gattis know how to coach the OL position and it won’t take long to see improvement with that unit. The defense wasn’t good last year. They gave up 390 ypg & 28.4 ppg and we’re one of the worst tackling teams in the country. New DC Steele will improve the fundamentals and the tackling will get much better. Cristobal has already added 5 transfer defensive starters from other Power 5 teams to improve the talent level. With Pittsburgh losing Pickett & Addison & UNC being a disappointment last season, I like Miami to win the division this year and play in the ACC Championship game.
  1. Pittsburgh: The Panthers had a magical 2021 season winning the ACC Conference and finishing the year best in the conference at +123 ypg in ACC play. The offense put up 487 ypg & 41.4 ppg, but they lose Heisman Finalist QB Kenny Pickett, Biletnikoff Award winner WR Jordan Addison to USC & OC Mark Whipple to Nebraska. It was very peculiar to hear comments from HC Pat Narduzzi last week being critical of OC Whipple for not “running the ball enough” considering the offense put up incredible numbers and had elite talent at QB & WR. I guess it’s clear though… Narduzzi wants to play old school, smash mouth football. He has 5 returning offensive linemen this season, so look for them to place a priority on running the football. They added former USC QB Kedon Slovis in the transfer portal. Slovis was the 2019 Pac 12 freshmen of the year, but had an up and down career in Southern California and probably will benefit from a fresh start. The defense was really solid under Narduzzi again in 2021. They allowed just 354 ypg, 23.6 ppg & recorded 54 sacks. They are one of just two teams to be Top 10 in defense yards/carry in 2019, 2020 & 2021 (UGA being the other). They come into this season with Phil Steele’s 2nd ranked DL unit in the country. Narduzzi’s philosophy is to stop the run, bring a lot of pressure & create TOs. It’s worked for him in the past. I think the defense will be solid, but with the talent they lost on offense I give Miami the edge over them right now.
  1. Louisville: On paper Louisville was a lot better in 2021 than their 6-6 record would have you believe. They we’re second best in the ACC at +83 ypg in conference play. They actually outgained by Clemson & Wake Forest in their losses to those teams. They lost 3 ACC games on the last play (Wake Forest, UVA, Clemson) and blew 3 games with 4th quarter leads (UVA, Clemson, NC State). If they have a little better luck and finish out games a little better that’s a 9-3 season. They return 14 starters this year. The offseason looks stacked and it’s lead by dual threat QB Malik Cunningham. He’s coming off a 2,941 pass/1,031 rush season. He’s electric on the ground scoring 20 rushing TD & 6.0 yards per carry last season. The Louisville offense is always one of the most balanced in the Nation. They are the only team in the country to average 200 rushing yards & 200 passing yards per game the last 3 seasons. It certainly looks like this year will be 4 in a row. They finished #5 in the Power 5 in Brett Ciancia’s opponent adjusted offensive rankings and their offense has the 2nd most returning production in the Power 5. The Offensive line returns all 5 starters and 9 out of 10 from their 2-deep. This unit performed well last year, finishing in the Top 40 in run push & sack rate metrics. Look out for this offense! The defense struggled last year finishing 44 out of 66 P5 teams in Brett Ciancia’s opponent adjusted rankings, but part of that was bad injury luck. They lost their best LB in Monty Montgomery in Week 2 & also their Top CB in Kei’Trel Clark who missed several games. Both are back this season. In total the defense returns 7 starters & added 8 transfers. Louisville is also starting to put together really good recruiting classes lately, highlighted by the commitment of highly coveted Texas RB Ruben Owens. There is a lot of moment in Louisville right now & I think it continues with a nice season in 2022.
  1. Florida State: Florida State showed a lot of improvement throughout the 2021 season. They opened the season 0-4 which included an embarrassing loss to FCS Jacksonville State, but rallied to finish the season on 5-3 run. In the first half of the season they ranked 59th out of 66 Power 5 teams according to Brett Ciancia’s opponent adjusted game grader rankings, but in the 2nd half they improved to 36 out of 66. That was the 8th best improvement in the Power 5. They return 16 starters from that improving team, which is tied for 1st in the ACC. The offseason played 2 different QB’s in 2021 but was better when Jordan Travis was out there. He needs to prove he can stay healthy and play a full season. They return 8 starters on offense and also added 7 transfers. They should be able to run the ball. Travis is a dual threat QB and they have a deep RB room. The Offensive Line battled injuries, but improved throughout the season and they added a key transfer from Wisconsin this offseason. The biggest reason for the team’s improvement throughout the course of 2021 was the defense. In the first half of the season they we’re a solid 28th out of 66 teams in opponent adjust rankings, but in the 2nd half they improved to 9th out 66 power 5 teams. While they do lose ACC DPOY in Jermaine Johnson, they return just about everyone else. In fact they are one of just two defense that was a Top 20 defense in 2021 that is Top 50 this season in returning production with 9 starters back. The defense should be a strength this year. A lot will hinge on the offense. They need QB Jordan Travis to stay healthy and the OL to give him time. Mike Norvell always had good offenses at Memphis. Maybe this is the year his offense breaks out and gets more explosive in Tallahassee.
  1. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons had one of their best seasons ever last year finishing the year 10-3 (7-1) and earning a trip to ACC Championship game. Dave Calwson’s offense was electric scoring 41 ppg & 468 ypg. 4-year starting QB Sam Hartman is back coming off a 50 TD season (39 pass, 11 rush). He is a master of Clawson’s ROP offense. His top WR is back as well in AT Perry who caught 15 TD last year. In total the offense returns 9 starters & has a veteran OLine. They should score plenty of points again this year. The issue is the defense. Last year they ranked 47 out of 66 Power 5 teams according to Brett Ciancia’s opponent adjusted rankings. What’s worse is that they allowed a whopping 47.8 ppg to teams with a winning record. You just can’t win consistently with defense like that, no matter how good your offense may be. They return 6 starters on defense and brought in Brad Lambert as the new DC. He spent 10 years at Wake Forest previously, before moving on to a HC job at Charlotte & then DC jobs at Marshall & Purdue. I don’t think he has the talent to work with this year and I see this defense struggling again this year. Even with all the talent they have coming back on offense, I see this is a middle of the pack team because of their defense. They will be shifting from the hunter to the hunted and I think they peaked last year. Conference foes like Clemson, NC State & Pittsburgh have really strong defensive fronts that will be able to disrupt the RPO offense at times & with a defense like Wake has there is a lot of pressure on the offense to score on almost every drive.
  1. North Carolina: UNC was one of the biggest disappointments in 2021, coming into the season with a Top 10 ranking but they ended up going only 6-7 with a bowl game loss to rival South Carolina. The offense regressed from 2020 to 2021 even with QB Sam Howell coming back. There still is plenty of talent on the roster, even with the loss of Howell, as head coach Mack Brown has been recruiting well. The last 3 recruiting classes have been #13, #14 & #11 as he’s been particularly strong in the talent rich states of North Carolina & Virginia. The QB battle looks to be a 3-way race right now between Drake Maye, Jacolby Criswell & freshmen Conner Harrell. All 3 are talented and whoever wins the job will have to earn it & should be a capable ACC starter. It doesn’t matter how good they are though, if the OLine doesn’t improve. They gave up the most sacks in the power 5 conferences last year. The skill players are talented & the QBs have potential, but the OL has to give them a chance. The defense was pretty brutal last season as well. They gave up 30+ points to 9 of their 11 power 5 opponents & 8 of their 11 P5 opponents went above their scoring average. Brown brought in former Auburn HC Gene Chizik has the new DC and is trying to make the unit more physical. He reinstituted full tackling in practice. This is still a talent team that is recruiting well, but I’m keeping them in the middle of the pack until the OL & defense shows me some improvement.
  1. Virginia Tech: This seems like a transition year for Virginia Tech. In 2021 they got off to an exciting start with an upset win over Top 10 North Carolina, but ended up going just 6-7 and firing Head Coach Justin Fuente. They have brought in the defensive minded Brent Pry as the new head coach. The offense scored just 23.7 ppg & 361 ypg in 2021 and lose their starting QB, top RB, top 2 WR, TE & 3 NFL OLinemen. That’s a ton to replace for an offense that wasn’t anything special to begin with. They added QB Grant Wells in the transfer portal, who performed pretty well at Marshall. But with so many question marks around Wells, I’m not expecting too much from the offense. The defense needs a shakeup as well. They finished below average in both 2020 & 2021. HC Brent Pry is defensive minded (unlike his predecessor Fuente) so hopefully he can help shake things up. He’ll be moving them to a more traditional 4-3 defense. Overall this looks like a rebuilding/transition year to me. They will probably have their moments, but will take their lumps at times as well.
  1. Syracuse: Syracuse surprised everyone by getting out to a 5-4 start in 2021. They had 3 opportunities to earn a trip to a bowl but lost their last 3 games by an average of 26 points & we’re outgained by an average of more than 150 yards. They finished the year 2-6 in ACC play but we’re only -11 in ypg. They return 17 starters to a team that surpassed expectations in 2021. What was interesting was the shift in the offense. Overall they scored 24.9 ppg & 367 ypg but HC Dino Babers had been known has a passing coach, but they shifted to a run first (and run second team) last year with athletic QB Garrett Shrader. They went from 92 rushing yards per game in 2020 (last in the conference) to 214 rushing yards per game in 2021 (best in the conference). What’s interesting though is that in November they dropped to only 111 yards/game and 3.1 yards per carry. Did defenses finally catch on to this new running style of play? They return 4 offensive line starters as well so it will be interesting to see if they can continue their success running the ball in 2022. The new offensive coordinator hire was a bit curious going with Robert Anae from pass happy Virginia. It doesn’t seem like a fit with the approach Babers took last season? Maybe the running approach was out of necessity but Babers still wants to throw the ball more? We’ll see. The defense allowed 330 ypg & 26.3 ppg last year. They lose all 3 starters on the DL, but return all 3 starters at LB in their 3-3-5 defense.
  1. Virginia: UVA finished 2021 a misleading 6-6. I say misleading because they won 2 games (Louisville & Miami) where their opponent missed a game winning FG as time expired. Those misses we’re the difference between 6-6 & 4-8. They we’re -36 in ypg in ACC play. HC Bronco Mendenhall resigned at the end of the season. He had taken UVA to new heights during his tenure, which included 5 straight seasons of bowl eligibility and an Orange Bowl appearance. Former Clemson OC Tony Elliott was named HC, but he has only 10 returning starters to work with in his first season. Fortunately for him, one of those returning starters is QB Brennan Armstrong. Armstrong is coming off a 4,449 yard, 31-10 TD-INT season. UVA averaged 37.5 ppg in the 11 games Armstrong started last season. They also return RB/WR Keytoan Thompson who combined for over 1,200 yards last season. Look for Elliott to try to bring more balance to the pass happy UVA offense though. He will run for 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) than Mendenhall did. They have to rebuild their entire offensive line though, losing all 5 starters. That’s a big challenge. The defense allowed 31.8 ppg & 466 ypg. They return 6 starters with nowhere to go but up. Elliott brought in John Rudzinksi from Air Force as his new DC, who will implement a 3-4 defense.
  1. Boston College: Boston College started the season 4-0, but losing starting QB Phil Jurkoveic for 7 games in the middle of the season was a huge blow, and they ended up 6-6 on the season. They we’re actually in ypg in ACC play. The offense was night & day different depending on whether or not Jurkoveic was in the lineup. In the 5 games with him they ranked 38 out of 66 Power 5 teams in opponent-adjusted offense; In 7 games without him 64th out of 66. And it’s important to remember that Jurkoveic wasn’t even fully healthy when he returned for those 3 November games. The good news for BC is that Jurkoveic is back, as is his #1 target Zay Flowers (who has NFL potential). The bad news is that the entire OLine needs to be rebuilt. They lost 4 guys to the NFL & the one returner tore his ACL in June. That’s a huge concern especially when you consider how important it is that they keep their starting QB healthy. The defense was solid last year allowing only 22.2 ppg & 344 ypg. They return 11 of their top 15 tacklers including 6 of their top 8 DBs & 3 of their top 4 LBs. On paper this should be a pretty strong unit. If they keep Jurkovec healthy they have a decent chance at a bowl; without him it should be a pretty bleak season.
  1. Georgia Tech: HC Geoff Collins has one of the more challenging undertakings when he was hired to transfer Georgia Tech from an option team to a spread offense team. The results have been about as expected going 3-9, 3-9 & 3-9. With this being year 4 & this being the transfer portal era, it’s time to stop using that as an excuse. Last year GT did play the toughest schedule in the Nation which featured Clemson, Notre Dame & Georgia. They started 3-3, but then limped to a 3-9 finish which included losing the last two games of the season to ND & UGA by a combined score of 100-0. This year they are last in the conference with just 8 returning starters & with so little experience on the team this is looking like rebuild part 2 for Collins. They brought in Chip Long as the new offensive coordinator who did nice work at Notre Dame from 2017-2019. His offenses are predicated around strong OLine play and running the football. That will probably take time as the OL will feature 4 new starters & their stud RB Jehmyr Gibbs transferred to Alabama. The defense allowed 33.5 ppg last year and is one of the lowest in the country in returning production with only 3 returning starters. Maybe GT will prove me wrong, but it doesn’t look like there is much to get excited about this season for the Yellow Jackets.
  1. Duke: It’s a big time transition year for Duke as they move on from long-time head coach David Cutcliffe. Unfortunately 2021 was a tough season for Cutcliffe to go out on. They finished 0-8 in the ACC and finished last in conference yards per game by over 100 yards finishing at -211 ypg. They lost their conference games by an average score of 47-15. Yikes. If that wasn’t bad enough, they head into this year ranked #121 out of 130 in FBS returning production. If you’re expecting immediate success from new HC Mike Elko, you’re going to be disappointed. Unlike Cutcliffe, Elko is a defensive minded HC. He brought in Kevin Johns to run his offense who had previous stops at Memphis, Texas Tech & Indiana. He runs a balanced offense with varying packages. He loses his QB, top RB & top WR. On defense Elko will run an aggressive 4-2-5 defense. There isn’t a whole lot more to say about this team right now. They we’re really bad last year & are really inexperienced this year. Year one for Elko will be more about establishing the culture in the program than on field success.

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