Before you read this, keep one thing in mind: These power rankings are based on what each team looks like right now, and right now, Miami has 13 players suspended, according to a source. If that changes by Labor Day and Miami is at full strength for its game against Maryland, I would bump the Canes up to the No. 3 team in the conference. But without 13 players, Miami is going to struggle. Regardless of what Miami looks like, one thing is for sure: Beyond the front-runners in each division, this conference is up for grabs, and this list will fluctuate as the season goes to reflect that.
Here are your first official power rankings for the 2011 season:
1. Florida State: The Seminoles are the preseason favorite to win the ACC in only Jimbo Fisher’s second season, and with good reason. Florida State returns the majority of talent that won last season’s Atlantic Division title, and this looks like a championship team. If there’s one question mark lingering, it’s on the offensive line, which has been injured almost all offseason.
2. Virginia Tech: Frank Beamer enters his 25th season and is by far the conference veteran. First-year starting quarterback Logan Thomas will go through some growing pains, but he has a veteran supporting cast to help him through the transition. The Hokies have been warned about Appalachian State’s ability to upset.
3. North Carolina: The best thing interim coach Everett Withers has going for him is the team itself, a talent-laden group more than capable of contending for the Coastal Division if it can block out all distractions and get the leadership and coaching it needs without Butch Davis. The offensive and defensive lines are among the best if not the best in the conference.
4. Clemson: There is plenty of talent to challenge Florida State for the Atlantic Division title, but how far the Tigers go depends on how quickly first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd and his teammates pick up the new offense in game situations. Boyd made significant progress in summer camp.
5. NC State: The Russell Wilson era is over, but those within the program are confident in the abilities of Mike Glennon. The question is who besides T.J. Graham will help him out at wide receiver. With true freshmen at kicker and punter, the kicking game is also still a concern, though both rookies fared well in summer camp.
6. Maryland: The Terps have new uniforms and a new coach but the same goal -- to win the Atlantic Division. Whether they do that under first-year coach Randy Edsall depends on how the team adjusts to the new terminology and schemes of the new staff. Maryland’s biggest asset is quarterback Danny O’Brien, the ACC’s 2010 Rookie of the Year.
7. Miami: If Miami’s roster is decimated by suspensions, its season isn’t over, but its championship hopes under first-year coach Al Golden will definitely be derailed. There are a few teams on the schedule Miami might be able to beat with its backups, but not enough to win the Coastal Division. The good news for the Canes? Stephen Morris is a more-than-capable option at quarterback, and some of their backups are outstanding. Not ready to write the Canes off yet.
8. Boston College: The Eagles have been raving about their offensive improvement this month, some of which can be attributed to the progress of quarterback Chase Rettig in his second season as a starter, and because of the hire of offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers, who has made an immediate impact. Was the offense that good this summer, though, or does the defense have a few weaknesses? Northwestern should provide a better clue.
9. Georgia Tech: Just how much improvement the Jackets have made since last season remains to be seen. Quarterback Tevin Washington was pushed this summer by Vad Lee and Synjyn Days, and the defense is still working to generate a pass rush.
10. Duke: Quarterback Sean Renfree has improved in every facet of the game, according to coach David Cutcliffe, and the entire team has shown enough promise this offseason that Cutcliffe said he thinks they could get to a bowl game. First-year defensive line coach Rick Petri has made an immediate impact on the area most in need of improvement, but the offensive line remains a question after some offseason reshuffling.
11. Wake Forest: Those within the program are convinced this year’s team is better than last year’s 3-9 finish, but the Deacs’ schedule will make it tough to prove it. Quarterback Tanner Price is more comfortable in his second season as a starter, and running back Josh Harris has been impressive.
12. Virginia: The defense is going to present some problems for opponents, but offensively, questions remain. If Michael Rocco is the answer at quarterback, he still has to prove it in a game situation, and while explosive, the Hoos’ running backs are undersized. Mike London isn’t settling for his program taking baby steps in his second season, but considering he has to depend on some true freshmen and a rookie quarterback, there are bound to be some growing pains.