Way too Early ACC Football Power Rankings

Joel Auerbach

Can't wait for football season?!?! Me Either! Let's push the off season along by taking a peak at how the ACC might stack up on the gridiron come fall.

I simply can not find enough things to do to get football season here quick enough. So I have been stalking my fellow ACC bloggers' pages, reading every ounce of info I can absorb, watching film/game highlights, and educating myself on Miami's competition in the conference this year (especially the newcomers). And with that here are my highly unscientific and extremely homeristic rankings in the ACC:

#1 Miami

Why they are ranked here: Ok besides the fact I write for a 'Canes blog? Miami returns its' top 7 offensive lineman and all are studs. 20/22 starters overall return. Duke Johnson (6.8 ypc and 14 total TDs last year) is arguably not only the best RB but also the best player overall in the conference. The game really seemed to slow down for Stephen Morris last year by season's end. The WR corps led by explosive play-maker Phillip Dorsett are primed for a break out year. DBs Tracy Howard and Deon Bush looked well beyond their years as freshman, and promise to be even better as sophomores. Denzel Perryman is a beast of LB. Al Golden is a star in the making as a coach, and this is year 3 of the Golden Era.

The biggest reason I expect the Hurricanes to play for their first ever ACC crown? They won 7 games with one of the nation's worst defenses last year, and they can only get better on that side of the ball!

Strengths: Offense, Offense, Offense!!! Miami lit up the scoreboard in 2012, and 2013 should be more of the same (albeit they need to bring their A game against top 25 teams as well). UM also does a fantastic job on special teams, with athletes that make their coverage teams and return game elite. However......

Weaknesses: Defense Defense Defense!!! There is no place to go but up. Especially against the run. Interior lineman Olsen Pierre, Luther Robinson, and Curtis Porter need to stay healthy and productive.

Best Player: Duke Johnson, hands down.

Sleeper: To me this is a toss up between sophomore WR Herb Waters, who was unstoppable in the spring, and true freshman LB Alex Figueroa, who is already penciled in as a starter. Figs will probably have the bigger impact as the run D really needs the 6'3 230 pound man-child to make a difference ASAP.

#2 Clemson

Why they are ranked here: QB Tajh Boyd can do it all (ridiculous 67% completion pct last year). And in Sammy Watkins he has a target who can take it to the house anytime he touches it. Vic Beasley may be smallish for a defensive lineman but he uses his quickness well. Clemson will continue putting crooked numbers on the board and make just enough plays on defense to outclass most of the ACC.

Strengths: This is a team that averaged 41 ppg and 512 yards last season. 'Nuff said.

Weaknesses: The defense is a little undersized up front. Can they replace the skills of underrated RB Andre Ellington? Roderick McDowell should get the first crack.

Best Player: Watkins/Boyd Boyd/Watkins. You can't go wrong with either of these guys.

Sleeper: OLB Stephone Anthony came to Death Valley with high expectations. This could be the year he fulfills his potential.

#3 FSU

Why they are ranked here: Outrageous talent at all three levels on D. Christian Jones is the next big star at LB. We will wait until we actually see him in game action to provide a verdict on new starting QB Jameis Winston, but he will have a plethora of talented targets to throw to, including Rashad Greene, and a monster of a tailback in James Wilder Jr. to hand the ball to. The only reasons that we don't have FSU up top is the unknown factor in Winston, and the perplexing trend of losses to lesser teams under Jimbo Fisher.

Strengths: The Seminoles defense will be one of the best in the country. FSU led the nation in pass defense last season (161 ypg). Ok some of that was beating up on terrible teams, and a lot of that a great pass rush, but they can really cover. Winston has tons of targets to toss the ball to (Greene, Kenny Shaw, 6'6 Kelvin Benjamin, and Christian Green are all very good.) The talent is incredible all over the field on paper.

Weaknesses: I wouldn't call a former #1 overall recruit a weakness. But let's just say Winston is the biggest ? on the team. They have enough 5 star guys to make up for the loss of Bjoern Werner, but it will be hard to replace his him early on. And if the game against UM is tight, do they have a kicker with the stones to make one? (Couldn't resist)

Best Player: Lamarcus Joyner is like a smaller Darrell Revis. He's a big time CB (even if he started his career at S).

Sleeper: With Werner and Tank Carradine having moved on, 6'2 298 pound Timmy Jernigan could/should be the next star on the D line.

#4 UNC

Why they are ranked here: Bryn Renner (3,300 yards passing, 28 TDs) is one of the most underrated QBs in the country. He has the kind of accuracy that could make him a very high pick in the NFL next May. Kareem Martin (15.5 TFL last year) is an ALL-ACC quality DE. Tim Scott is also a solid cover corner on the back end.

Strengths: Good QB, Excellent WRs, good players at all three levels of defense.

Weaknesses: Can they replace the production of Giovanni Bernard (My pick for NFL rookie of the year in 2013)?

Best Player: The easy pick is Renner, But I am going to go with S Tre Boston here. Boston is a 6'1 190 pound terror, who is the undisputed leader of the Tar Heel defense.

Sleeper: Quinshad Davis quietly put up solid #s (61 catches 776 yards) last year. Look for those #s to go up. Eric Ebron is an underrated TE as well.

#5 Virginia Tech

Why they are ranked here: They could slide anywhere from 2-7 depending on which Logan Thomas shows up. So I slotted them somewhere in between. If the Thomas of 2 years ago returns they will prove to be grossly underrated. If last year's version returns, well it's going to be another mediocre year considering the high standards Frank Beamer has set in Blacksburg.

Strengths: Thomas and the O may have struggled last year, but DE James Gayle, LB Jack Tyler and the D never relented. DB Antone Exum (5 picks) should help keep the back end solid, should he recovery fully from off season ACL surgery.

Weaknesses: Turnovers. Thomas threw 16 picks last season, some of them of the absolute awful variety. The lack of a consistent running game did not help either.

Best Player: Thomas. His size and arm strength are not in question. His focus and and receiving corps are.

Sleeper: Kyshoen Jarrett is a 5'11 194 pound heat seeking missile, who accounted for 83 tackles last year from his "rover" spot.

#6 Georgia Tech

Why they are ranked here: QB Vlad Lee looks like a force as a runner and even some as a passer (yes, really) running the triple option. B Back BJ Bostic, Zach Leskey, and David Sims can certainly tote the rock as well. Paul Johnson will always get the most out of his teams.

Strengths: Option!! Option!! Option!! You know it's coming, but can you stop it? Rangy 6'3 S Isiah Johnson makes plays all over the field.

Weaknesses: Despite some decent players on D the Yellow Jackets allowed a ton of yards and points last year. Falling too far behind in games is NOT a good formula for an option team, even one as good as GT.

Best Player: Jeremy Attachou is a hybrid DE/OLB in their 3-4 scheme who has 16 sacks over the past two years, and makes a habit of getting into the opponents backfields.

Sleeper: Jabari Hunt-Days is an athletic LB who has a nose for the ball. We hear good things about the speed of Broderick Snoddy as a B Back as well.

#7 Maryland

Why they are ranked here: I like QB CJ Brown as a dual threat QB. RB Brandon Ross isn't so bad either. Stefon Diggs lived up to the hype as a true freshman. Like so many ACC teams (Clemson, Miami, Duke) their defense is light years behind their O in terms of talent and consistency.

Strengths: Big plays. It all starts with Diggs, but there are plenty of other threats as well.

Weaknesses: Only 4 starters return on D. LBs Cole Farrand and Matt Robinson will need other play-makers to emerge.

Best Player: Diggs. He is not far behind Duke Johnson in terms of being the conference's most explosive player. The more the Terps get him the ball, they better off they will be in 2014.

Sleeper: If Brown falters at QB, New Mexico transfer Ricardo Young will be waiting in the wings.

#8 Wake Forest

Why they are ranked here: The Deacons have one of the best targets in the ACC in Michael Campanaro. QB Tanner Price is experienced enough at QB to get him the ball early and often. Look for tailback Josh Harris to get more carries this year and the running game should improve.

Strengths: Wake's defense is led by hard nosed interior lineman Nikita Whitlock who plays bigger then his size. LB Justin Jackson makes a lot of plays behind Whitlock. Merrill Noel (though he needs to be more consistent) and Kevin Johnson are potential lock down type corners as well. The passing O isn't too bad either.

Weaknesses: Consistency. Noel is a prime example, After a fantastic season in 2011, his 2012 was just ok. Additionally, the offense while solid, is not on the level of the Miami's and Clemson's of the world.

Best Player: Campanaro is the man!!!

Sleeper: WR Orville Reynolds is a converted RB who will be counted on to do a little of everything. the 5'9 185 pound Reynolds can make things happen with the ball in his hands.

#9 Syracuse

Why they are ranked here: They have some talent, but Ryan Nassib is now backing up Eli Manning in New York. 4 QBs battle to replace him. Look for Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen to fill Nassib's very big shoes. Former Miami WRs Coach George McDonald will look to get the most out of the offense.

Strengths: They have some real players on D, starting with DT Jay Bromley.

Weaknesses: The Orange also lost their top 2 WRs in Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales. 6'3 Adrian Flemming will try to be the go-to target this year. I'm not sure they have enough talent on offense to challenge the better teams in the ACC.

Best Player: 236 pound bulldozer Jerome Smith is a future NFL bruiser of a tailback.

Sleeper: 6'3 213 pound OLB Dyshawn Davis makes a lot of plays on the defensive side of the ball. ACC fans will get to know him quick.

#10 Pittsburgh

Why they are ranked here: QB Tom Savage showed he could play a little when he got the chance at Rutgers. Now seemingly in his fifth program, he hopes to lead a Panthers offense that has plenty of ? marks. That is, if he wins the job.

Strengths: Getting the ball to 6'4 Devin Street as much as possible is always a good idea.

Weaknesses: Aside from Savage to Street, how will this team move the ball?? The offensive line is filled with uncertainties.

Best Player: 275 pound DT Aaron Donald (16.5 sacks the past 2 years) is a force in the middle.

Sleeper: Rushel Shell is a pretty good RB. If Savage gives way at QB to freshman Tra'von Chapman, Shell will get plenty of carries.

#11 Duke

Why they are ranked here: They actually have pretty good athletes on both sides of the ball. New QB Anthony Boone will be hard pressed to duplicate the success of Sean Renfree, but has some nice targets to throw to. The defense however, can't stop a nose bleed.

Strengths: Simply put, passing offense. Even with a new QB.

Weaknesses: The defense was one of the worst in the country last year. Unlike Miami, I do not expect massive improvement.

Best Player: Jamison Crowder (76 rec 1,074 yards last year) is a quick slot-like guy who makes a lot of plays in the passing game.

Sleeper: CB Ross Cockrell (5 INT last season) is a smart and solid player who has ALL-ACC potential, despite the Devils' woes covering the pass as a unit.

#12 Virgina

Why they are ranked here: Virginia always seems to give the upper echelon teams in the ACC trouble. But with Philip Sims no longer around at QB (academic reasons), it's hard to rank them higher then this. RB Kevin Parks (734 yards last year) is sure to get plenty of carries.

Strengths: Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell are a pretty good tandem at WR. UVA needs to get the ball to them as much as possible.

Weaknesses: QB. Athletic David Watford is the favorite to win the battle over pocket passer Greyson Lambert. Whoever wins the job behind center, will be very green.

Best Player: Demetrius Nicholson (15 passes defensed last year) is a CB who came to UVA highly touted. He has not dissapointed.

Sleeper: Jake McGee is an athletic TE who will provide a massive target at 6'5, should the Hoos get any kind of solid play at QB.

#13 NC State

Why they are ranked here: This team is a mystery. New Coach Dave Doeren has his work cut out for him. Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas will battle last year's back-up Manny Stocker for the QB job. RBs Tom Creecy and Shadrach Thornton will help. This looks to be a rebuilding year for the Pack.

Strengths: Along with Thornton and Creecy, WR Quintin Peyton gives State some weapons on offense.

Weaknesses: Experience. Too many starters to replace, including star QB Mike Glennon. DBs David Amerson and Earl Wolff have also moved on.

Best Player: Payton (798 yards receiving last year) is a steady target.

Sleeper: WR Brian Underwood is almost as good as Peyton. DT TY McGill isn't too shabby upfront either.

#14 Boston College

Why they are ranked here: Chase Rettig can really spin it, and he has a great WR to toss it to in Alex Amidon. But what has happened to their once venerable rushing attack? And who can they stop?

Strengths: Rettig is a pretty good QB. Andre Williams shows some potential as a TB. They can move the ball.

Weaknesses: Team speed. The Eagles look over-matched athletically against the better teams in the conference. they lack big play potential on both sides of the ball.

Best Player: Amidon somehow managed 78 receptions and 1,210 yards, despite BC's offensive woes. Amidon has some Danny Amendola in him.

Sleeper: Kevin Pierre-Louis is a bit smallish for LB at 215 pounds, and he may not wow you with play. But at the end of the day he will still have 10+ tackles.

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Well there you have it. Please feel free to leave plenty of feedback (negative and positive both welcome) and be sure to keep an eye out for more power rankings as the season begins and progresses.

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