Let’s start by stating the obvious: We don’t know what 2017 will bring for the ACC. There will be hefty turnover at the quarterback spot throughout the league, big stars returning and plenty of storylines to follow between now and the start of the season. But hey, it’s never too soon to make some predictions, right? With that, here’s our way-too-early look at the ACC’s 2017 power rankings.
What? Not the defending champs? We get it. Clemson is good. But the Tigers also lose Deshaun Watson and tons of NFL talent, while a young Florida State should be even better in 2017. Deondre Francois, Derwin James and a host of stars should make this team a legitimate national title contender for 2017.
No Watson? No Mike Williams? No Wayne Gallman? No problem. Zerrick Cooper will be the intriguing quarterback-in-waiting this offseason, but get past the quarterback and Clemson still has oodles of talent, from Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence to Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud. It will be a different Tigers team, but it’ll still be a very good one.
Is this the year Miami finally turns the corner and plays for an ACC title? We’re believers. Even without Brad Kaaya, the Canes return Mark Walton, Ahmmon Richards and a young defense that could be one of the best in the country. With so much transition elsewhere in the Coastal Division, this has to be Miami’s year.
They have the Heisman winner, but how much else is left on the roster? Lamar Jackson is a star, but the late-season swoon showed he can’t do it by himself. With so much talent departing from the defense, it’ll be interesting to see how Louisville recovers and tries to build upon a successful 2016.
Coach Paul Johnson never stays down for long, and the Jackets’ late-season surge reminded fans how dangerous this team can be. Justin Thomas is gone, but plenty of talent returns, particularly on a young O-line and in a burgeoning secondary. The biggest questions will be up front on defense.
The 2016 season was supposed to be coach Justin Fuente’s rebuilding year. Instead, it was a return to 10-win credibility for the Hokies. The problem is, they might have been too good, with stars such as Jerod Evans, Bucky Hodges and Isaiah Ford leaving for the NFL. There’s still enough left on the roster for Virginia Tech to compete for the Coastal Division, but Fuente’s real rebuilding begins now.
Max Browne looks like a great fit, and there’ll be plenty of quality players surrounding him at quarterback. The biggest issue for Pitt is on defense, where the Panthers need to take a big step forward in the secondary if they want to be a legitimate contender for an ACC crown.
Dave Doeren finished strong to keep his coaching job, and he has ample pieces in place to turn 2017 into a big season at NC State. The offense has loads of talent, with quarterback Ryan Finley leading the charge, and defensive end Bradley Chubb’s decision to return for 2017 makes this a defense to be reckoned with.
Wake made big strides on offense, and it did so without a single senior playing a vital role at a skill position. If the defense can maintain its success with a new coordinator, there’s a good chance the Deacons cause real problems for other Atlantic Division contenders in 2017.
10. Duke Blue Devils
Quietly, Daniel Jones put together a terrific season in 2016, and the defense, while enduring its share of problems, is filled with developing talent. It’s hard to predict a huge leap forward for Duke, but the pieces are in place for this to be an eight- or nine-win team.
Maybe we’re too pessimistic and coach Larry Fedora will find pieces to plug in on offense, but the loss of so many critical players at the skill positions certainly looks troubling, while the defense continues to be a concern. Chalk up North Carolina as the team that has a high ceiling and low floor.
12. Syracuse Orange
Coach Dino Babers said it will likely be midseason 2017 before his offense really clicks, but it’s the defense we’re worried about. Syracuse needs to find a way to stop opponents if that high-flying offense is going to do any real damage next season.
BC needs to be able to run the ball better. It’s a pretty simple formula. When the Eagles can move the ball on the ground and chew up clock, they have a defense that can win games. But when the offense offers nothing, there’s just not enough talent to turn things around.
We’re still high on the Bronco Mendenhall era at Virginia, but if 2016 showed anything, it’s that there’s a steeper hill to climb than most assumed. The Hoos will get there eventually, but not in 2017.