Today at the NFP marks the first of seven post-spring conference power rankings, beginning with the ACC.
Around the time preseason practice begins in the fall, we will revisit these rankings before 2012's opening kickoff.
Thursday: Big Ten
Friday: Big 12
Saturday: Big East
1. Florida State: The Seminoles may be ready to live up to the lofty expectations placed upon them last year, as Jimbo Fisher’s squad is even deeper on defense — especially along the line — with another loaded recruiting class. Veteran quarterback EJ Manuel is poised for a big season, but the ‘Noles will only go as far as their running game will take them. Early enrollee Mario Pender made a strong impression this spring running behind a young offensive line that seems to have come together very well.
2. Clemson: Quarterback Tajh Boyd will have two stud receivers to work with in explosive Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, so the offense will continue to be prolific under second-year coordinator Chad Morris. However, Watkins awaits his punishment after being arrested on misdemeanor drug charges. The defense needs to improve under new coordinator Brent Venables, however, after its embarrassing Orange Bowl performance against West Virginia.
ICONQB Logan Thomas could be in store for a big season if the Hokies have enough playmakers emerge on offense.
3. Virginia Tech: The Hokies come in behind Clemson because of the two wins that Dabo Swinney’s team had against Frank Beamer in 2011. In order for the Hokies to continue their run of winning at least 10 games in eight consecutive seasons, coordinator Bud Foster’s defense may have to carry the load early in the season until the offense gels. Replacing star running back David Wilson, receivers Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin as well as four offensive linemen will be a challenge. But quarterback Logan Thomas is primed for a huge year because there is depth at receiver and the Hokies always have a running back to step up when a star moves on.
4. Georgia Tech: I’m buying Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets as a rising squad in the ACC, as the offense will once again be a juggernaut on the ground behind a seasoned offensive line. A good portion of the roster returns from last season, but Al Groh’s defense will need to continue to make strides if this team is going to contend for a Coastal division crown.
5. N.C. State: Head coach Tom O’Brien navigated his team through an up-and-down season in 2011 but finished strong, ending the year on a three-game roll including wins over Clemson and a bowl victory over Louisville. Quarterback Mike Glennon cut down on his interceptions late in the year, but the Wolfpack need James Washington, Tony Creecy or the troubled Mustafa Greene to emerge to improve on a rushing attack that ranked No. 109 in the country last fall. An experienced offensive line will help.
6. Virginia: Mike London had the Cavaliers vying for a division title deep into the season last fall, so the expectations are high as the head coach enters his third year in Charlottesville. The Hoos, however, have to replace seven starters on defense, and the real concern is a secondary that will need to lean on true sophomore Demetrious Nicholson. Offensively, can quarterback Michael Rocco find his talented receivers on a consistent basis?
7. Wake Forest: Jim Grobe had the Demon Deacons in position to claim the Atlantic division crown last season, and quarterback Tanner Price continues to improve each campaign. However, four starters on the offensive line must be replaced, and running back Josh Harris must stay healthy. Replacing stud receiver Chris Givens will be difficult.
8. North Carolina: Some quality replacements must emerge on the defensive side of the ball for new head coach Larry Fedora, and it will be interesting to see the Tar Heels running a 4-2-5 scheme. Offensively, four starters return up front, and quarterback Bryn Renner is healthy after playing well with bone spurs in his ankle last season. He looked good running the new offensive scheme this spring. However, how motivated will UNC be knowing that a postseason ban is in place?
9. Miami: Al Golden was able to bring in another standout recruiting class, but the Hurricanes still await likely NCAA sanctions. Early departures for the NFL Draft certainly will hurt the team’s fortunes in 2012, and replacing eight starters on offense — including leading rusher Lamar Miller — will be difficult. But Memphis transfer Ryan Williams really impressed at quarterback with Stephen Morris out this spring with a back injury.
10. Maryland: Randy Edsall couldn’t have had a worse debut season in College Park just a year removed from taking UConn to a BCS bowl game. But hiring Mike Locksley as offensive coordinator should help both on the field and on the recruiting front. The major question is whether C.J. Brown can consistently deliver quality efforts at quarterback for a team that has dealt with way too many off-the-field drama.
11. Duke: David Cutcliffe has yet to elevate the Blue Devils program to minor bowl status, and it will be up to second-year coordinator Jim Knowles to get the defense to make strides in the 4-2-5 scheme. Top safety Matt Daniels is gone, so safety Lee Butler, end Kenny Anunike and linebacker Kelby Brown must lead this unit. Veteran quarterback Sean Renfree could lead a prolific offense if he limits his turnovers.
12. Boston College: Doug Martin is the team’s fifth offensive coordinator in as many seasons, and it won’t be easy moving the football with running back Montel Harris dismissed from the team. However, the health of Harris was a question mark after he re-injured his knee on the first day of spring drills. Martin wants a more physical rushing attack along with some up-tempo no-huddle looks. Quarterback Chase Rettig looked improved this spring, but it’s near impossible to replace the leadership and outstanding play of Luke Kuechly on the defensive side of the ball.
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