Way-too-early ACC football power rankings

Photo via Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Spring games are over, recruiting is wrapping up, and it’s time to start seeing how teams will square off against each other next season. Here are the JR Report’s thoughts on how the ACC will shape up, going from best to worst for both ACC divisions.

Atlantic Division


1. Florida State

The Seminoles ended last season on a high note by finishing 10-3, including an Orange Bowl win, with two of their losses coming by less than 3 points.

Although they lost running back Dalvin Cook to the NFL, FSU isn’t losing any sleep. They will replace Cook with freshmen running back Cam Akers, who is the No. 1 ranked running back in his class.

In his senior year of high school, Akers rushed for 2,105 yards and 34 touchdowns in addition to passing for 3,128 yards and 31 touchdowns.

The Noles are also bringing in the No. 4 ranked freshman running back, Khalan Laborn, and the No. 15 ranked RB Zaquandre White.

As for returning running backs, the Seminoles have junior RB Jacques Patrick, Cook’s former backup.

Most importantly, Florida State has quarterback Deondre Francois coming into his sophomore year after a 3,350-yard freshmen season. He is a dynamic dual-threat and presumably will get better each game he plays.

With a strong veteran defense and a promising recruiting class, the Seminole’s don’t lack anything on the other side of the football. They are no doubt the top of the ACC and a favorite to play in the conference championship.

2. Clemson

The biggest question mark for the Tigers is who will replace future Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson.

The Tigers have two main contenders: junior Kelley Bryant and redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper. While Bryant hasn’t seen much of the field, he has completed 13 of his 16 passes and has one touchdown. Cooper passed for 1,132 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior year of high school.

If Clemson can’t find the right QB fit for the team, they won’t stand a chance against Florida State.

That being said, Clemson still has a strong defense that stops both the run and the pass. Clemson has three players who had more than 50 solo tackles in the 2016 season: Van Smith (65), Kendall Joseph (59), and Ben Boulware (58). Smith and Joseph will both return.

In fact, the Tigers might have the best defense in the country next season, although it’s a bit too early to tell.

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Cardinals QB Lamar Jackson led his team to a breakout season his freshman year, and won the Heisman on the way. Photo via Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

3. Louisville

The Louisville Cardinals have been in and out of national attention for the last couple of years for various upset wins and surprise losses.

They might not be starting next season in the top 10, but they have the potential to climb their way back up.

Louisville is coming back with Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. If he gets the O-line support he needs to succeed, the Cardinals will be a powerful force. Jackson was sacked a whopping 46 times, including being sacked 11 times in a loss to Houston.

Receiver Dez Fitzpatrick was signed in 2016 and showed promise during the spring game. Jackson needs adequate protection and needs to get the ball into the hands of his receivers if the Cardinals have title aspirations, but, in my opinion, they won’t be able to do enough to win the division this year.

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Dynamic NC State RB Matt Dayes graduated this past year, leaving a lot of questions as to who will replace him. Photo via NC State Athletics

4. NC State

NC State has a great team coming into next season but might struggle because of the stiff competition in the Atlantic division.

The Wolfpack have several players returning from injury that could make a difference on the field this fall and have bolstered their recruiting department to help in future seasons.

Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels seek to replace running back Matt Dayes. Hines had 782 yards at RB last year, while Samuels had 565.

NC State’s defense is one of the top in the country—the NCAA had them at No. 24 in total defense after the 2016 season. The Pack had 37 sacks as a team last year, and their entire D-line will be seniors. The O-line will have four returners, and NC State will return a total of 16 starters from last year.

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Photo via Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

5. Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons ended their season on a high note with a Military Bowl win against Temple. They went 7-6 on the season and had a close game against the Seminoles.

The Deacons leave a lot to be desired on offense. They need to find someone to carry the ball, as the team averaged only 4 yards per carry last season, while the O-line allowed 39 sacks. Without a doubt, there is a lot of work need to be done.

6. Boston College

The Eagles also ended their season at 7-6, with notable wins against Wake Forest and NC State.

They struggle to throw the football, only completing 46.5% of their passes last season. There also isn’t any apparent heir at quarterback, making it improbable they improve much from 2016.

Many of their receivers are returning, however, so we’ll see if any quarterbacks can take up the mantle and make plays.

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Photo via Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

7. Syracuse

Syracuse had a rough year, finishing 4-8. The Orange have a pretty difficult schedule for a team of their caliber—they had games against USF, Notre Dame, Clemson, FSU, and NC State to keep them busy—and they couldn’t pull through last year.

They gave up over 38 points per game and weren’t able to generate much noise on offense either.

They are in a rebuilding process and are unlikely to make any noise next season.

(Coastal Division on next page below)

December 30 Bowl Game Previews and Predictions

Photo via Associated Press

Tomorrow will be the most exciting day in the bowl season thus far. There are five games throughout the day starting at noon (EST) and ending with the start of the Orange Bowl at 8. In this article I’ll focus on the Sun Bowl and the Orange Bowl, but I’ll also include some quick notes on the remaining three games.

Sun Bowl — UNC vs Stanford


El Paso, Texas


Winner: UNC

This is going to be a tight one. The Cardinal haven’t had the best season, especially at the beginning, and losing Christian McCaffrey to the NFL draft will only cause more harm. Check out our article

Should Future NFL Prospects Skip Their Bowl Game? for more on this subject. Regardless on whether it was the right decision, it might prove to be detrimental to Stanford’s offense.

UNC is starting Mitch Trubisky (projected top 10 pick), and he will be the key to a Tarheel’s victory. He has only thrown an interception in two games, and has reliably led this explosive offense. If Trubisky plays as he has all year, the Cardinal will be hard-pressed to shut down the Heels.

If UNC can get over the apathy they seemed to possess during the NC State and Duke losses and the Cardinal can’t get over the loss of McCaffrey, the Heels should be a lock to win.

Orange Bowl — FSU vs Michigan


Miami Gardens, Florida


Winner: Michigan


#5 Jabril Peppers

Image by Tony Ding/AP Images

The Orange bowl is always a big game, and this year should be no different. It has huge implications for next season and promises to be a close one.

The Seminoles have had a hard time this season playing balanced teams like Michigan, and I think the Wolverines will take advantage of their weakness.

FSU’s impact player is Dalvin Cook; whenever he lights up in a game and delivers on his full potential, FSU wins. Cook is one of the nation’s best RBs and he’ll definitely get his yards—the question is whether it’ll be enough to win the game. I think Michigan’s defensive line will tear FSU’s sub-par O-line apart and render Cook ineffective. This will also serve to frustrate most of Francois’s attempts to move the ball. The Wolverines only allow 3.1 yards per carry and have 44 sacks on the year (2nd in FBS).

If FSU’s O-line can come out aggressive, Francois has the chance to be a mobile and effective QB. He has 3,128 yards this season and may be up to the Wolverines’ challenge.

FSU’s defensive line shouldn’t be overlooked. They lead the nation with 47 sacks, and have had 15 of them come from DeMarcus Walker.

Jimbo Fisher’s team is always impressive, but this year has been barred with disappointment because of a bitter loss in the bowl game last year vs Houston and several losses this season. Michigan is bitter after losing their chance at the college football playoffs, and will want to use this game as a catapult towards a national championship next season. It’ll be a close one, but the Wolverines will come out on top.

Liberty Bowl — Georgia vs TCU


Memphis, Tennessee


Winner: Georgia


#27 Nick Chubb

Contributed Photo /Times Free Press

It is hard to believe that the Horned Frogs and the Bulldogs are meeting in the Liberty Bow. It wasn’t too long ago these programs were churning out wins and were top ranked opponents. This definitely isn’t what either team wanted, but as with any bowl game, winning is important to give them confidence going into next season. TCU simply won’t be able to stop anything that Georgia throws at them, and Kenny Hill won’t be able to jump-start his own pass offense after throwing just 3 touchdowns in his last 6 games. Jacob Eason isn’t golden either, but he’ll get the job done despite his 55% completion rate.

Music City Bowl — Nebraska vs Tennessee

3:30PM EST

Nashville, Tennessee


Winner: Tennessee

Obviously you can’t overlook the home field advantage, but it’ll be hard for Tennessee to pick up enough slack to win the game. The Vols had a tough loss against Vanderbilt to end the regular season and they need to shake it off and come into this game fresh and ready. Nebraska is dealing with some pretty big injuries, and although the Cornhuskers have a pretty good team coming in, the Volunteers will take the W.

Arizona Bowl — Air Force vs South Alabama

5:30PM EST

Tucson, Arizona

America Sports Network

Winner: Air Force

South Alabama won’t be able to shut down an impressive Falcons run game.  Although South Alabama will be able to throw a few touchdowns, Air Force has the more impressive offense and should win by more than a few scores. South Alabama’s 6-6 record doesn’t give me confidence that they’ll win in just their second bowl game ever against a 9 win Air Force team.