There was plenty of news in the ACC this summer, some of which has affected the order of the power ranking since it was last released post-spring. The biggest difference is at the bottom, where Maryland has sunk following the season-ending injury to starting quarterback C.J. Brown. The first five teams remained the same, but UNC got a small boost after positive reviews by the staff and players who were learning the new systems and terminology of first-year coach Larry Fedora.
This list will change with the season, but for now, here is the starting point for how the ACC teams stack up heading into Week 1:
1. Florida State: There is no excuse for coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff not to take advantage of the ubertalented roster this year and run away with it. The biggest questions remaining are how the Noles will handle the loss of cornerback Greg Reid, and how much better the offensive line will look than it did a year ago.
2. Clemson: The Tigers will be without suspended starting receiver Sammy Watkins for the opener against Auburn, but there are enough other options that Clemson’s offense should still be productive. The depth on the offensive line remains a question, though, and the pressure is on first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables to help Clemson fans forget the Orange Bowl.
3. Virginia Tech: The Hokies are confident in the speed, talent and athleticism of their young running backs and receivers, but the lack of experience remains a concern. Bud Foster’s defense should again be the strength of the team, particularly early, but with Georgia Tech on the schedule for Labor Day, there’s no time for a tuneup.
4. NC State: The Wolfpack kicks off the season against Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl trying to sustain the positive momentum with which it ended 2011. Coach Tom O’Brien has said this is the deepest, most talented team he has had since he was hired in Raleigh, but will it be good enough to beat Florida State and Clemson in the same season?
5. Georgia Tech: The Jackets could sneak up on some teams this year, as they have one of the best offensive lines coach Paul Johnson has had since he was hired there. Expectations are higher for the defense in Year 3 under coordinator Al Groh, and the hire of assistant Dave Walkosky should help the special teams.
6. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have the potential to play spoiler this year, or they could have a particularly bumpy ride given the complete overhaul in staff, schemes and philosophy. The players have bought in, though, and quarterback Bryn Renner adapted well to the spread offense this summer.
7. Wake Forest: Coach Jim Grobe has some hidden gems on this team, as players like receiver Michael Campanaro, nose guard Nikita Whitlock and cornerback Kevin Johnson are all-conference candidates. Questions still remain, though, about the offensive line, and two league games in the first three weeks won’t be easy.
8. Virginia: Coach Mike London is expected to release a depth chart today naming his starting quarterback, but the bigger concern should be a secondary that has to replace three starters. The Hoos have two of the best offensive tackles in the country, though, in Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi. They could pave the way for Perry Jones to have a 1,000-yard season.
9. Miami: Quarterback Stephen Morris earned the starting job this summer, and his leadership will be critical to a young offense that must replace seven starters. The Canes will continue to play with the NCAA investigation hanging over their heads, but those within the program say it hasn’t been a distraction.
10. Duke: The Blue Devils have one of the most talented quarterbacks in the ACC in Sean Renfree, but they need to stay healthy and show improvement on the defensive line in order to have a chance at a bowl game. Duke has a legitimately tough task in getting past FIU in a game that will set the course for its season – and possibly postseason.
11. Boston College: The Eagles couldn’t seem to get a break this offseason, as injuries piled up and athletic director Gene DeFilippo announced his retirement. Coach Frank Spaziani enters this season with the hottest seat in the ACC. It’s only Week 1, but the game against Miami is a must-win for the Eagles.
12. Maryland: Barring something catastrophic, the season-ending injury to quarterback C.J. Brown was arguably the worst thing that could have happened to the Terps this offseason. The offense will be in the hands of true freshman Perry Hills, and Maryland will adjust to two new coordinators in its quest to turn around last season’s 2-10 finish.