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2019 ACC Summer Power Rankings

By Dave Holcomb
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It’s hard imagining anyone dethroning the defending national champions. After that, though, the ACC will be one of the more interesting conferences in the country.

It’s the first week of June. Not much is happening around college football right now with school out of session.

But in less than two months, fall camp will begin in the ACC, and before we know it, the 2019 regular season will be here.

Heading into this fall, it’s once again Clemson and everybody else in the ACC. It’s hard imagining anyone dethroning the defending national champions. The Tigers are 30-2 against conference opponents in the last four seasons, all of which have ended with Clemson winning the ACC Championship and earning a bid to the College Football Playoffs.

After that, though, the ACC will be one of the more interesting conferences in the country. There are a handful of programs that could realistically finish with the second-best record in the conference.

Here are my ACC Power Rankings heading into the summer:

1. Clemson

Obviously, this one is a no-brainer. The Tigers lost all four starters along their defensive line, which may go down as the greatest unit in conference history, but return all of their major pieces on offense, including Heisman-hopeful quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

While Clemson’s defense may not be as elite in 2019, opponents will probably need to score five touchdowns to beat the Tigers.

2. Miami

Honestly, the No. 2 spot on our list could go to any of the next four schools. Essentially, Miami, Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Florida State are interchangeable at this point.

But Miami gets an early nod here because of all the talent on defense and the ability of transfer quarterback Tate Martell to play immediately. If the Hurricanes can show just a little bit of life on offense, they will become the favorite to win the ACC Coastal.

3. Virginia Tech

Injuries hit the Hokies harder than any other team in the ACC during 2018. That could work out to their benefit this fall.

Because of all the ailments, lots of underclassmen gained valuable experience playing last season. Virginia Tech will need to replace three senior offensive linemen, but the Hokies possess two options at quarterback and a plethora of complementary weapons at wide receiver and tight end.

Defensively, coordinator Bud Foster always figures things out. Well, that was until last year when Virginia Tech allowed 31.0 points per game. But again, a lot of that was because of injuries, so the unit should be better in 2019.

4. Syracuse

After the program’s first 10-win season since 2001, Syracuse faces the daunting task of avoiding the label, “one-hit wonder.” The Orange have enough talent returning and an easy enough schedule for that to be possible.

Sophomore-to-be Tommy DeVito appears ready to replace team leader Eric Dungey behind center, so Dino Babers’ offense should continue to hum. The Orange must replace their entire linebacker core, but the rest of the defense returns most of its starters.

As far as the current status of the ACC, no program benefits more than Syracuse. Road games against Florida State and Louisville aren’t guaranteed losses like they were in 2017. The Orange also beat Clemson the last time the Tigers played at the Carrier Dome.

5. Florida State

Despite a 5-7 finish last fall, expectations remain high for Florida State, partially because Willie Taggart has set the bar high for his second season. If the Seminoles are going to make some noise in 2019, they must be better on the offensive line.

Last year, Florida State started nine different offensive line combinations in 12 games. Nine different players started two games along that line too.

The lack of stability prevented quarterback Deondre Francois and running back Cam Akers from doing much of anything. With more consistency upfront and new innovative offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, the hope is Florida State can score a lot more points in 2019.

6. Virginia

Six different teams have won the Coastal Division over the last six seasons. The lone team that hasn’t captured the division crown? Yep, Virginia.

The Cavaliers could continue that crazy streak, though, because they have plenty of talent returning. Quarterback Bryce Perkins will be back along with cornerback Bryce Hall, who could have left for the NFL. Virginia’s defense allowed the third-fewest points and yards in the ACC during 2018.

Virginia will have to visit Miami, but the Cavaliers draw rival Virginia Tech at home this year. Virginia hasn’t beaten the Hokies since 2003; to win the Coastal, the Cavaliers must end that losing streak.

7. N.C. State

The Wolfpack offense will be completely new in 2019. When I say completely new, I mean it. N.C. State is replacing quarterback Ryan Finley, running back Reggie Gallaspy and wide receivers Jakobi Meyers along with Kelvin Harmon. The Wolfpack also lost three starting offensive linemen and offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz.

With all that turnover, it’s hard to expect N.C. State to record a third straight nine-win season. But the Wolfpack should be in the mix for second place in the Atlantic Division.

8. Pitt

The Panthers bulldozed opponents with their rushing attack during the second half of the season. Pitt averaged 264.6 rushing yards per game in their final seven contests.

But in their final three games, the Panthers averaged 8.7 points per contest. As a result, Pitt made a change at offensive coordinator, hiring former Steelers quarterback coach Mark Whipple. He’ll need to get more out of junior-to-be quarterback Kenny Pickett, who averaged only 6.4 yards per attempt last fall.

9. Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons lost one of the best playmakers in the conference with Greg Dortch departing for the NFL, but running back Cade Carney returns along with signal caller Sam Hartman, who gained valuable experience as a freshman before suffering an injury.

Wake Forest will be looking for its fourth straight winning season. They are flying under the radar heading into the year, but Wake Forest has a decent chance of capturing seven wins again.

10. Duke

Quarterback Daniel Jones is on to replacing Eli Manning with the New York Giants. Duke coach David Cutcliffe is known for developing quarterbacks, and it wouldn’t at all be a surprise to see him deliver another capable starter under center this fall. But more than likely, defense will be the Blue Devils’ strength in 2019.

Defensive back Dylan Singleton became an honorable mention All-ACC player in 2018, and cornerback Mark Gilbert should return healthy. Duke also has an elite pass rushing tandem in Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph.

11. Boston College

The Eagles return quarterback Anthony Brown and running back A.J. Dillon. Two years ago, they starred as freshmen, but neither experienced an exceptional sophomore campaign. Dillon saw his rushing average fall from 5.3 in 2017 to 4.9 in 2018. He averaged 3.25 yards per rush in the final three games, all of which were losses for Boston College.

Steve Addazio’s squad could surprise some people in 2019, but that would mean Dillon returning to his late-2017 form, and Brown completing more than 55.4 percent of his passes.

12. North Carolina

The bottom three teams on our power rankings list possess new coaches. That’s not a surprise, considering these programs badly needed new direction after disappointing 2018 campaigns.

Head coach Mack Brown will also deploy new offensive coordinator Phil Longo and a different signal caller. The offense will need to rely heavily upon wideout Dazz Newsome, who replaces Anthony Ratliff-Williams as the team’s top target in the passing game.

13. Georgia Tech

Head coach Geoff Collins faces an uphill battle in 2019, as his program transitions away from the option offense. Starting a more traditionally-styled quarterback is the biggest question mark, but Georgia Tech has depth behind center with Lucas Johnson, James Graham and Tobias Oliver all competing for playing time.

On defense, the Yellow Jackets landed defensive back transfer Myles Sims. As a former 4-star prospect from Georgia, that was a big recruiting win.

14. Louisville

The Cardinals are a mess, and one calendar year isn’t enough time to fix it. Louisville went 0-8 in conference play while allowing 44.1 points per game and scoring only 19.8 per contest during 2018.

Brighter days are probably ahead under new coach Scott Satterfield, but it’s hard envisioning Louisville finishing anywhere but the basement in the Atlantic Division this fall.