Clemson The Tigers are the consensus favorite in the ACC. With Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne returning, their offense is loaded. Their defense lost a lot of pieces, but Dabo Swinney’s program usually reloads, rather than rebuild. The arrival of Notre Dame in the ACC gives them a stiffer challenge in-conference, but Clemson is certainly the team to beat here.
Notre Dame Notre Dame should be shooting for a conference championship appearance in what is likely their only year – for now – in the ACC. They are widely assumed to be Clemson’s top challenger. Ian Book enters this third year as starter and 2nd complete one. They’ll need to rebuild their wide receiver corps, but the freshman playmakers have looked good in practice early for the Irish.
Florida State I’ll give the Seminoles a little of respect here. I think they’re not necessarily a championship contender, but I think FSU will put forth a better team than many expect. Cohesiveness has seemingly been the issue as of late, as they continue to rake in impressive recruiting classes. Next to Clemson, they have the 2nd-best recruiting in the ACC (including Notre Dame) over the past five years. They’ve had on-field struggles recently, but their talent is too tantalizing not to bet on.
Miami Much of what was said for Florida State can be said for Miami as well. The Hurricanes have disappointed on the field, but they continue to rake in pretty elite recruiting classes. With transfer quarterback D’Eriq King under center, the Hurricanes might be able to inject some life into their offense and put together a solid season. Prior to the merging of the divisions and addition of Notre Dame, Miami was my pick to reach the ACC Championship as a token sacrifice to Clemson.
Virginia Tech In my opinion, there’s a pretty decent drop off in talent after the top four teams in these rankings. Virginia Tech is a solid program, but their recruiting just does not compare with that of the aforementioned teams. They return arguably the most production of a defense that was pretty good in 2019. The Hokies looked very good for a 7-game stretch last year, that saw them go 6-1 with a one-point road loss to Notre Dame. I think this is a 7-8 win team if they play to their full potential.
UNC Count me in as a UNC-doubter. This ranking has little to do with Sam Howell. I think he leads an absolutely lethal offense, one I would probably rank 2nd to Clemson in the conference. Their defense should be pretty good, although maybe not the strength of their roster. I don’t think they’ll be bad by any stretch, and if a few bounces go their way, I could see the Tar Heels being a darkhorse challenger for a berth in the ACC Championship. But ultimately, I’m not positive this is UNC’s year just yet…it feels too early.
Pittsburgh Placing the Panthers smack in the middle of the power rankings feels about right. They are always pretty good and rarely terrible, but Pitt will rarely wow you with starpower. That being said, they can generally be counted on to be a feisty underdog, which makes them an undesirable opponent. I see this Pitt as exactly that – a solid roster with a defense I would argue may be a top-3 unit in the conference, and an intriguing offense led by NFL Draft prospect Kenny Pickett. 5-6 wins sound about right for Pitt, but you can be sure nobody will be exactly thrilled at the prospect of matching up with the Panthers.
Louisville This may be a tad low for the Cardinals, but I’m just not seeing Louisville take another big step forward after greatly improving their 2-10 mark in 2018 to 8-5 and a Music City Bowl victory last season. I don’t think they’ll be bad necessarily, but I think the Cards peak at around 6 ACC wins this season. Malik Cunningam is a talented quarterback, but I have questions elsewhere on the roster. The Cardinals avoid Clemson and face Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College, and Wake Forest to end the season, but the first half of their schedule involves a road trip to Notre Dame and clashes with Miami and Florida State. It’ll be tough road, and I’m thinking it’s a 5 or 6-win season in ACC play for Louisville.
Syracuse Some ACC rankings have Cuse as the worst team in the conference, and I don’t see it. They’re a year removed from a 6-2 ACC record, and while that may have been a one-off, I don’t see last year’s 2-6 record as a new normal. They lost two games by one score and one of their wins was an absolute slaughter of Duke in Durham, 49-6. I think Syracuse at least comes close to .500 this year. They’ll need Tommy Devito to play better under center, but the Orange look average, but not horrifically bad on both sides of the ball, so I’m seeing 4 or 5 wins for Syracuse in 2020.
Duke This won’t be a season to remember from the Blue Devils. Last season, they started 4-2 but then dropped five straight conference games last season, winning their Senior Day game over a floundering Miami team. I think it’s another tough road for the Blue Devils, who start with a road trip to Notre Dame on September 12. They have possibly the worst offense in the conference, as they still haven’t found answers in the post-Daniel Jones era, so it’s hard seeing much more than 2 or 3 wins from Duke in 2020.
Georgia Tech Georgia Tech is a team that I think may be sneakily good in a few years. But not this season. The Yellow Jackets are still moving on from the triple option, and they don’t have the playmakers to compete with many of the spread offenses that are taking over college football. Much like Duke, Georgia Tech should be happy if they exceed three wins in 2020, particularly with clashes against Notre Dame, Clemson, Florida State and Miami – three of which come on the road.
Virginia The Cavaliers became the 7th different ACC Coastal Champion is as many seasons last year, finally toppling archrival Virginia Tech en route to a 9-3 regular season. They finished with a ACC title game loss and Orange Bowl loss, but it was still their most wins since 2007, and first appearance in a major bowl game since a 1998 loss in the Peach Bowl. This year, however, with do-it-all quarterback Bryce Perkins off to the NFL, there’s a lot of questions about Virginia’s offense, and I’m not sure their defense has enough pieces returning to make up for it. I could potentially see Virginia stealing 4 wins, but I don’t think they’re better than Tech or Duke – they just have an easier schedule.
NC State With Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia, and Georgia Tech all on the schedule, it seems unlikely that NC State can’t scratch out a win in 2020 – even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. But I don’t see the Wolfpack getting much more than that. After five straight winning seasons, NC State regressed to 4-8 last season, and I’m seeing another step back. They have a case for having the worst defense in the ACC, and their offense doesn’t raise any eyebrows. 1, maybe 2 wins for the Wolfpack in 2020.
Boston College I’m a believer in Jeff Hafley and that he can turn around the BC program. But not in Year 1. A team that has been mediocre at best returns a quarterback that had a 48% completion rate in 2019 in Dennis Grosel, and they lost A.J. Dillon to the draft in the 2nd round. Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec may take the starting reigns under center, but I’m reserving judgement as he as only thrown 17 meaningless passes in his career. BC also were a huge loser of the ACC schedule expansion, as Wake Forest was taken off their schedule, taking away a potential victory for the Eagles. Maybe Jurkovec plays better than he ever did in trying to win the QB battle at Notre Dame, but I’m not seeing many Ws on this schedule for the Eagles.
Wake Forest Losing Jamie Newman to the transfer portal is a brutal loss for Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons will struggle to replace their star dual-threat quarterback, and much like Boston College, they were disappointed to see their fellow cellar-dweller removed from the schedule. If I had to bet the house on 1 ACC team going winless, it would definitely be the Demon Deacons.