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ACC Preseason Football Rankings

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NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Virginia Tech Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC starts its 2017 football season this Thursday when Wake Forest hosts Presbyterian College at 630 PM (eastern)! Fans can catch that match up on the ACC Network. Before the conference competition gets into full swing let’s look at Gobbler Country’s 2017 ACC Football Preseason Rankings!

Without a doubt, this is my favorite piece to write throughout the season. Below I will rack and stack the teams of the ACC and provide my thoughts behind the rankings. This preseason write-up is a bit long as I set the foundation for the following rankings.

You will notice that the discussion surrounding the Atlantic squads is more robust than those of the Coastal. In Part One, Two, and Three of my 2017 Season Preview I went into significant depth regarding all the foes the Hokies will face this year. Since VPI must play every Coastal my thoughts on those squads have been conveyed. If you are looking for the same granularity that you will see regarding the Atlantic teams, please refer to the previews linked above!

If your interested in a quick refresher on where we left off, you can read my Final ACC Rankings 2016 and also the End of the Regular Season Rankings.

Alright, let’s get to it!

Atlantic

1. Florida State Seminoles: Last week FSU president John Thrasher conveyed his belief in the Seminoles when he said, “I shouldn’t talk too much trash, but I think we’re going to beat Alabama pretty bad next week. I really do.” President Thrasher’s statement is bold, but there are a lot of reasons supporting his assertion. Last year the Seminoles went 9-3 during the regular season before punctuating their year with an electrifying 33-32 win over the then No. 6 Michigan Wolverines. FSU finished the season at 10-3 and the No. 8 team in both the AP and Coaches polls. They finished with the No. 26 overall defense and the No. 27 overall offense. Although the Seminoles were obliterated by Louisville during the third game of the season, 20-63, their remaining two losses were by a margin of three points or less. FSU dropped a week five game to UNC, 35-37, and a midseason match up against the eventual national champion Tigers, 34-37. Dalvin Cook, the school’s all-time leading rusher (yards AND touchdowns) departed for the NFL. While the running game will be less potent it won’t be weak. Experienced junior RB Jacques Patrick will be looking to fill the vacuum left by Cook, and five-star true freshmen Cam Akers will likely see significant time on field. Sophomore QB Deondre Francois looks to improve on an impressive freshmen effort. Both Athlon and Phil Steele have a tremendous amount of respect for the 2017 Seminole offense, rankings most units in the top 25 of the FBS. Athlon left FSU’s OL out of the top 25 while Steele sticks them at No. 22. The offensive line is the biggest question mark for the Seminoles. Although their rush blocking was impressive (5.1 yards) they struggled last year facing the pass rush, allowing 36 sacks. Despite losing three starters they do return a significant amount of experience to the trenches (two juniors, two sophomores, and a senior). That experience coupled with a more experienced QB under center could lead to better pass protection. The FSU offense looks capable and dangerous.

There is an argument for Clemson, but the Seminoles likely have the best defense in the ACC. Phil Steele lists all their units in the top five of all the FBS: DL No. 5, LBs No. 4, and DBs No. 1. Athlon is a little more conservative: DL No. 4, LBs No. 15, and DBs No. 2. Florida State arguably has the best safety in the nation, Derwin James, returning from a season ending injury. He will lead a terrifying secondary, and will almost assuredly be a top ten choice during the 2018 NFL Draft. Even with the departure of DeMarcus Walker FSU has the deepest DL in the country. They return three starters, but all eight in the rotation are seasoned. The LB corps returns every single starter, and every single starter is a senior. Backing the seniors up are three promising sophomores. The Seminoles’ difficult schedule is the largest obstacle to a national championship run. FSU opens against the best team in the SEC West (Alabama) and finishes the season against a team that will likely be the best team in the SEC East (Florida). The only preseason ranked ACC team they don’t face is VT, but they must still face Clemson, Louisville, and Miami. In the mix is the ACC dark horse Wolfpack who they only managed a four-point win over in 2016. Even with that brutal schedule, unless the offensive line implodes, the Seminoles are equipped to make a run through the playoffs. I would not be surprised if FSU’s first and last game is against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

2. Clemson Tigers: As I detailed in the Hokies 2017 Football Preview Part Two the Tigers have lost all their most potent offensive weapons. Starting QB Watson, RB Gallman, TE Leggett, and their top three WRs from 2016, including Williams, are all gone. What Clemson does have going for them is an experienced and tested offensive line, which looks to be one of the best in the entire country. With a wall like that protecting the QB and blocking for RBs it would be foolish to believe that Clemson’s offense won’t be dangerous. There is a very reasonable argument that Clemson’s defense is better than FSU’s. The Seminoles have depth on the DL, but Clemson also has depth and even more talent. Both the LB and DB corps are listed in the top 20 by Athlon and Steele. The Clemson schedule is still difficult, but not as challenging as FSU’s. Clemson didn’t roll Miami in the Coastal, but they do have an away game against Virginia Tech. They don’t have to play they best teams in the respective SEC divisions, but they do have to play Auburn in week three. Their biggest schedule challenge is when they must face these teams. After a warm up game against Kent State to start the season their next four games include consecutive games against the No. 12 Auburn Tigers and No. 16 Louisville. After a quick break against Boston College, they travel to Blacksburg. Due to the offensive experience and talent that FSU brings to the table I will give the nod to the Seminoles, but the Tigers are most certainly in the CFB elite. If the Clemson offense starts clicking, particularly late in the season when the Tigers must face FSU, they could find themselves back in the CFB playoffs defending their national championship.

3. Louisville Cardinals: Lamar Jackson won the Heisman in 2016 and enters 2017 as arguably the best QB in the entire country. It is a testament to how far the ACC has come that a player like Jackson is on a squad that I, and may others, believe to only be the No. 3 squad in the Atlantic. Jackson put up superhuman numbers in the first two games of 2016 against a cupcake and a rebuilding Syracuse squad. It wasn’t until the very public dismantling of then No. 2 Florida State that everyone started talking about Jackson. Was I surprised? NOPE. Way back in January 2016, in my Final ACC Football Rankings 2015-2016, I said, “How about freshmen QB Lamar Jackson? 227 yards in the air with two passing TDs and 226 yards on the ground with two rushing TDs is simply fantastic! The 27-21 victory over the Texas A&M Aggies was a fine punctuation mark for a season that started out poorly. Louisville will be extremely dangerous next year and in the hunt for the conference title.”

My love affair with Louisville has been well documented on Gobbler Country over the last two years. Some of those feelings may be a bit tempered during the 2017-2018 season, but the Cardinals are still firmly in the CFB Playoff discussion. In 2016 Louisville dropped the last three games of the season against teams they probably should’ve defeated. An inexplicable loss to Houston (10-36), which probably helped Tom Herman earn the Texas job, a ridiculous hangover loss to a 6-5 Kentucky team (38-41) to close out the regular season, and a sloppy loss to a Fournette-less LSU squad in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (9-29) is how the Cards finished 2016. Despite the absurd numbers by Jackson (5,100 yards total offense, 30 passing TDs, and 21 rushing TDs) the Louisville OL was not impressive. The Cardinals’ line allowed the most sacks in the ACC with 37. On the defensive side of the ball they allowed 29 TD passes. Again the most in the ACC. This year Jackson loses his top three passing targets and starting RB Radcliff. There is experience on offense (no freshmen and only two sophomores projected to start), but they return only four starters from 2016. The Cards return more on defense, including their entire secondary, but that unit allowed the most passing TDs in the ACC. With a player like Jackson these units don’t need to play at an elite level to put Louisville in the playoff discussion, they simply must reach the sweet creamy middle. Considering the experience and influx of new coaches, like former Florida assistant Mike Summers to work the OL, it is entirely likely that Louisville improves.

Their schedule is a much friendlier than FSU’s or Clemson’s. From the Coastal they rolled the Tar Heels and Hoos. UNC is certainly going to take a step back from their 2016 form, and UVA remains the dregs of the entire ACC. Their only SEC foe is in-state rival Kentucky. They face Clemson in the third game of the season where a loss doesn’t spell disaster as they have four games against cupcakes or less capable FBS squads for four consecutive matches (Kent, Murray State, NCSU, and BC) before they face the Seminoles. If, and it is a big if, but if the individual Louisville units can step up and support Jackson, he remains healthy (37 sacks is a lot), they survive Clemson (or lose to Clemson but the Tigers defeat FSU), and they roll FSU up they could find themselves in the ACC Championship with a chance to make the playoffs. Jackson is a generational talent and clearly carries the team. If he gets hurt or the supporting units are regressive the Cardinals will hit a ceiling quickly and most assuredly lose to divisional rivals FSU and Clemson. This is likely the Cardinals last chance to compete for the ACC and the CFB Championship, for the foreseeable future. I would be stupefied if Jackson doesn’t declare for the NFL draft after this season.

4. N.C. State Wolfpack: The Wolfpack is my sleeper in the ACC. They are unequivocally the most experienced squad in the entire conference. Only two of their starters on offense aren’t returning, and on defense only four starters aren’t returning. There are five sophomores starting and zero freshmen on both sides of the ball. Phil Steele lists them as the No. 7 most experienced team in the FBS and the most experienced group in the ACC. Over the last three years the ‘Pack has qualified for bowls on the back of scheduling cupcakes and easy FBS opponents during the first four games of the season. During that time, the worst record they managed, in the first four games, was 3-1 (2016), otherwise it has been 4-0. In all three of the past seasons they have finished 7-5 or 6-6. This year is different. NCSU opens against SEC foe South Carolina and faces No. 3 FSU in week four. Although they suffered six losses in 2016 they were only dominated by Louisville (13-54). They took Clemson to OT and lost to FSU by only four points. Although their first four games aren’t easier the overall schedule is much friendlier than 2016. The Wolfpack will face the usual powerhouse Atlantic suspects, but they avoid the worst of the Coastal. Their games against FSU, Louisville, and Clemson are spread nicely throughout the season. Only the Seminoles are an away match. Without a doubt, the odds are against them to win the Atlantic, but all things considered this is the best squad NCSU has fielded in several years and if the powerhouses in the Atlantic overlook the Wolfpack and couple that with some advantageous stumbles NCSU could find themselves a surprise Atlantic champion.

5. Boston College Eagles: Last season head coach Steve Addazio saved his job by becoming bowl eligible and then defeating Maryland in the Quick Lane Bowl after starting the season 4-6. The Eagles were devastated in back to back games by Louisville and FSU before defeating UCONN and WF to finish the regular season 6-6. The Eagles sported, not only the worst offense in the ACC, but one of the worst in the FBS (124 out of 128), and that was considered an improvement over 2015. As detailed in my 2017 VT season preview, the Eagles’ ceiling is being a second tier ACC team. There is a path to another bowl game, but the only realistically winnable ACC matchups that BC faces are against Wake, UVA, and Syracuse. Perhaps NCSU, but I truly believe the Wolfpack will take a step up this year. The matches against Wake and Syracuse are certainly not guarantees and winning those games could be the difference between bowl eligibility or staying home for all the squads involved. Last year BC was dependent on cupcake wins to make it to bowl eligibility (UMASS, Wagner, and Buffalo). They won’t have that opportunity in 2017. Their non-conference foes include Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, and Notre Dame. All are significantly better than the three I mentioned from 2016. Choosing between BC and WF for the No. 5 spot in the Atlantic was difficult and truly a dice roll. I expect both squads to shuffle their respective places in the ACC rankings throughout the season.

6. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: WF was plagued with off field issues during the tail end of 2016 and the offseason when it was revealed that there was a traitor in their midst sharing game plans with the opposition. Wake started last season strong at 4-0, finished 6-6, and won their bowl game against the Temple Owls. This year will require a similar early performance if the Deacons hope to return to the post season. WF rolls FSU, Clemson, and Louisville all within four games during the mid-season. After back to back matches against the Seminoles and Tigers they face Georgia Tech before dealing with Louisville. After that they will need to find two or three wins against their remaining foes. Things look rough for WF this year but HC Dave Clawson is dangerous, to the point that one must wonder how much longer he will remain with the Demon Deacons before receiving an offer to a bigger program. Wake won’t defeat any of the elite Atlantic teams and positional depth is concerning, but they should be competing for bowl eligibility late into the season.

7. Syracuse Orange: If the Orange weren’t facing one of the tougher schedules in all the FBS I would expect them to improve on their 2016 effort and maybe be a bowl eligible team. Unfortunately for Babers and company they are in the second year of a rebuild and have an extremely difficult slate. The Orange must face division powerhouses Louisville and FSU away, while they host Clemson. Past that they also have away games against Miami and the Louisiana State Tigers. Those are five likely unwinnable games. It is entirely possible that they start the season 3-0 after facing Central Connecticut, Middle Tennessee, and Central Michigan. They will need to find three more wins against NCSU, Pitt, WF, and BC if they hope to be bowl eligible. QB Eric Dungy is no joke and Babers has a history of building programs (Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green), but I do not think this is Syracuse’s year.

Coastal

1. Virginia Tech Hokies: If you’ve read all three parts of my 2017 Season Preview then you know where I think the ceiling for the Hokies stands. If not… well, you know… do so. Bud Foster will return one of the best defenses in the FBS, but the ceiling for the Hokies sits firmly with the offense. In years past it would be appropriate to question the ability of the Hokies to be competitive when confronted with the offensive talent drain faced after 2016. Let’s look at some reality – in his first year as Virginia Tech’s head coach Fuente produced a ten-win Coastal champion that played the eventual national champion to within a single score during the conference championship game when the ACC was the best conference in college football. There is much to be hopeful for and a reasonable argument for Coach Fuente to produce a capable and dangerous offense despite the player turnover. “But, Jay,” you might say, “In your preview you said that you think Miami will defeat the Hokies.” Yes, I did. Miami will likely have a slightly better defense and if they perform to their complete potential the offense could be better than the Hokies. I am being conservative regarding my 2017 potential and prediction of performance when I say the Hokies will likely lose to Miami. When providing preseason rankings, well… since joining the ACC in 2004 the Hurricanes have won zero… ZERO… Coastal Championships. The Hokies have been Coastal champs six times since joining the conference with Miami 13 years ago. So, while Miami might have a slight edge to win when I look at their potential throughout the entire season. The Hurricanes have been favored to take the Coastal multiple times and have come up short every time. At this point the Hurricanes must prove it and win the division before I am going to rank them above the current Coastal champions. Ergo, the Hokies start at the top of the preseason rankings.

2. Miami-Florida Hurricanes: Miami faces many of the same obstacles on offense that the Hokies must also contend with. The ‘Canes have similar strengths on defense that the Hokies have. The Hurricanes only lost four games last year and three of those games were by one score or less, except for one. The game against the Hokies when VT won 37-16. This year Miami will face FSU in week three. Other than the Seminoles and Hokies the Hurricanes avoid every other ranked team in the ACC. They have a pedestrian non-conference slate (Bethune-Cookman, Arkansas State, Toledo, and Notre Dame). At worst they will go 3-1, but more likely 4-0. Their game against VT likely determines who wins the Coastal. I give the Hokies the edge in the rankings because they have won the Coastal six times while Miami has not won it once.

3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: GT dismissed starting RB Dedrick Mills for an undisclosed violation of an athletic department policy. Fun fact: VT didn’t face Mills (he didn’t play), but did face the second string QB, and still lost, at home, to the Jackets. Mills was poised to be the most important and potentially most dangerous player on the GT offense. The fact that the Hokies, or anyone in the Coastal, no longer must face him is a significant hit that the Yellow Jackets must answer. Georgia Tech rolls a rough schedule for 2017. They host VT and travel to Coral Gables to deal with Miami within the Coastal. In addition, they open against the No. 25 Tennessee Volunteers, travel to Death Valley to face Clemson, and host No. 15 Georgia. In the current ACC environment GT’s danger is a result of taking advantage of the potential failure of other conference efforts. If Miami and / or VT stumble you can be sure that GT will have put themselves in a position to take advantage. GT is not the dark horse that NCSU is, but in the Coastal they represent a similar potential. Despite the loss of Mills and their tough schedule GT is still a bowl team and could challenge for the Coastal. I firmly believe that VT and Miami will float to the top of the Coastal, but if they don’t the Jackets will be able to fight into the ACC Championship.

4. Pittsburgh Panthers: Last year that Panthers were the biggest “almost” team in the entirety of the FBS. They beat Clemson and they beat the Big 10 champions Penn State. Unfortunately for head coach Pat Narduzzi Pitt figures to be a shell of the team it was last season. In 2017 they lose Peterman, Conner, and their OC Matt Canada. Narduzzi might be a defensive mind, but last year Pitt was a factor due to their offense and sported one of the worst pass defenses in the FBS. Pitt must again face the Nittany Lions, but this time in Happy Valley. Their losses on offense are large, to the point of insurmountable, regarding any hope of competing for the Coastal Championship. I look forward to future Narduzzi sideline meltdowns.

5. North Carolina Tar Heels: In the past few years what made UNC a power was their offense. Almost the entirety of that capability has graduated or moved on to the NFL. The Heels’ offense is extremely dependent on transfer students. Regarding the Atlantic they rolled Louisville and NCSU. For non-conference, they face an ODU, a ten win team that could beat the Heels. UNC’s window closed with the departure of Trubsiky, the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. They will likely be a bowl team, but an afterthought in the competition for the Coastal.

6. Duke Blue Devils: Last year the Blue Devils were ruined by injury. This year I fully expect Duke to improve on their 4-8 record. Regardless of health Duke faces a rough schedule. Baylor and FSU represent the largest non-conference foes that the Blue Devils must contend with. Over the last few years the Blue Devils have been dependent on upsets, and this year that does not change. I expect Duke to be better than they were last year, but there is no way they can a bowl eligible without upsetting teams they will face.

7. Virginia Cavaliers: Head coach Bronco Mendenhall acknowledged that the rebuilding reality facing UVA was larger than he initially assessed. UVA does have an outside chance of being a bowl eligible team. If there is to be a hope for a post season appearance it will have to be built in the first 2/3 of the season. During the last four games the Hoos will consecutively face GT, Louisville (away), Miami (away), and VT. UVA must start the season 3-0 and then find three wins against Boise State, Duke, UNC, BC, and Pitt. Considering the Cavaliers’ plight this will be no easy task. UVA is without a doubt the worst team in the ACC, not just the Coastal, and they have been completely dominated in the recruiting game. It will still be years before UVA is rebuilt and challenges for the Coastal crown.

Overall Conference Preseason Rankings

1. (AP No. 3 / Coaches No. 3) Florida State Seminoles

2. (No. 5 / No. 5) Clemson Tigers

3. (No. 16 / No. 17) Louisville Cardinals

4. (No. 21 / No. 22) Virginia Tech Hokies

5. (No. 18 / No. 18) Miami-Florida Hurricanes

6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

7. N.C. State Wolfpack

8. Pittsburgh Panthers

9. North Carolina Tar Heels

10. Boston College Eagles

11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

12. Duke Blue Devils

13. Syracuse Orange

14. Virginia Cavaliers

Poll

Do you agree with the 2017 ACC preseason rankings?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Another poll?! I LOVE THESE THINGS! Anyway, you are dead on with these preseason rankings. Your clairvoyance is matched only by your impeccable hairline.
    (28 votes)
  • 15%
    What a homer. Miami should be ranked above the Hokies.
    (11 votes)
  • 15%
    What a traitor! The Hokies should be ranked No. 1 IN THE WORLD... AT ALL THINGS...
    (11 votes)
  • 9%
    NCSU is a dark horse? Seriously? Can you point me in the direction of your dealer? These rankings are horrific and I am upset that you are allowed to vote for elected officials.
    (7 votes)
  • 20%
    Ummm... I guess, but the middle should be shuffled around a bit.
    (15 votes)
72 votes total Vote Now