2019 ACC Power Rankings: It's Clemson and everyone else once again

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ 2019 conference power rankings. With the official start of the college football season just days away, we’re power ranking the teams in each FBS conference. It’s time for the ACC.

Other Power Rankings: Big 12, Big Ten, Group of Five, Pac-12, SEC

14. Louisville (2018 record: 2-10, 0-8 ACC)

Scott Satterfield has a heck of a rebuilding project on his hands. And it doesn’t help that Louisville is in the same division as Clemson and Florida State and also plays Notre Dame and Miami in 2019. This could take a couple years for some results to show.

QB Puma Pass is back along with wide receivers Seth Dawkins and Dez Fitzpatrick. The pass game was underwhelming in 2018, though so was everything about Louisville football quite honestly. The defense returns 10 starters. It’s gotta be better than the unit that allowed a crazy 44 points per game in 2018.

13. Georgia Tech (7-6, 5-3)

Geoff Collins takes over for Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech and inherits a group that has just nine returning starters. Collins is changing Georgia Tech’s identity from the triple-option that defined Johnson’s tenure and stymied opposing defenses when it was clicking.

QB Tobias Oliver was Georgia Tech’s second-leading rusher in 2018 but the frontrunner for the starting job appears to be Lucas Johnson, a player who was granted another year of eligibility in 2021. The defense is going to be a work in progress, too. Just four players are back on that side of the ball and, somehow, Georgia Tech has gotten fewer than 20 sacks in each of the last four seasons.

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12. North Carolina (2-9, 1-7)

Mack’s back. North Carolina made one of the most surprising hires of the offseason when it replaced Larry Fedora by getting former UNC and Texas coach Mack Brown off the ESPN set. True freshman QB Sam Howell, one of the jewels of Brown’s recruiting class, could end up being the starter for the Tar Heels.

North Carolina lost five games by a possession in 2018, so it’s possible that the Tar Heels could make an easy move to five wins in 2019. But the schedule does include non-conference games against South Carolina and Appalachian State and a quirky non-conference conference game against Wake Forest.

11. Pittsburgh (7-7, 6-2)

Say hello to your 2018 ACC Coastal Division champions. The Panthers won the mess that was the Coastal last year but should take a step back in 2019 with improvement elsewhere throughout the division.

Pitt was dealt a big blow earlier in August with the news that DE Rashad Weaver suffered a knee injury and is out for the season. Running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall are gone as well. They combined for approximately 75 percent of Pitt’s rushing production in 2018.

10. Duke (8-5, 3-5)

Don’t let what’s likely to be a blowout at the hands of Alabama in Week 1 color your view of Duke this season. This is a team that could easily get back to a bowl game again.

David Cutcliffe will need to work some more offensive magic with just four starters back and Quentin Harris replacing Daniel Jones at QB. But Harris got some meaningful time at QB in 2018 and, in a very small sample size, posted a better QB rating than Jones did. Duke’s defense is led by safety Dylan Singleton, a player who can do a little bit of everything.

9. Boston College (7-5, 4-4)

If you’re looking for a sleeper candidate to regress in the ACC in 2019, take a look at Boston College. Star RB AJ Dillon is back, but the Eagles have to replace three starters on the offensive line including a first-round NFL draft pick in Chris Lindstrom.

The defense has to replace even more. LBs Isaiah McDuffie and Max Richardson will have eight new faces around them in the starting lineup. And with games against Virginia Tech, Clemson, Syracuse, Florida State and Notre Dame on the schedule, BC needs to pull an upset somewhere to cut the margin of error to make a bowl game. That could be bad news for Steve Addazio.

Boston College running back AJ Dillon (2) tries to break tackle by Boise State linebacker Curtis Weaver (99) and defensive end Durrant Miles (91) during the first half of the First Responder Bowl NCAA football game Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)
Boston College running back AJ Dillon (2) has combined for 2,697 rushing yards over the past two seasons. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

8. Wake Forest (7-6, 3-5)

Did you know Wake Forest was the fastest team in college football in 2018? The Demon Deacons ran 85 offensive plays per game in 2018, almost a full play a game ahead of Syracuse.

Jamie Newman beat out Sam Hartman for the starting QB job and is back along with RB Cade Carney. Losing WR Greg Dortch is tough, but Sage Surratt should take a much bigger role in the passing game. Improvement from a defense that gave up 30+ points in seven games last season is a must if Wake is to get to a bowl game for the fourth straight season. The Demon Deacons gave up just 22 points per game in defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s final season with the team in 2016.

7. North Carolina State (9-4, 5-3)

Dave Doeren’s recruiting will be tested once again, this time on the offensive side of the ball. After losing a ton of defensive talent up front including DE Bradley Chubb following the 2017 season, NC State’s defense ended up giving up slightly fewer points per game in 2018.

A similar scenario for the offense would be a fantastic result. Gone is QB Ryan Finley, RB Reggie Gallaspy and WRs Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers. WR Emeka Emezie was a nice player in 2018 with 53 catches and five touchdowns. He could have 80 or 90 in 2019. The quarterback competition is among Matt McKay, Devin Leary and Bailey Hockman. Look out for RB Ricky Person, a top 100 recruit from 2018.

6. Florida State (5-7, 3-5)

If Willie Taggart doesn’t get things turned around in his second season at Florida State, oh boy. The Seminoles return 16 starters, though QB James Blackman is competing with Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook for the starting job. RB Cam Akers is back too. He averaged only 4.4 yards a carry as Florida State’s offensive line struggled yet again.

The 2018 defense was also the worst in program history — at least from a points allowed perspective. FSU gave up 31.5 points per game despite allowing a relatively modest 5.2 yards per play. A schedule that includes Florida and Boise State outside the ACC isn’t too forgiving, but FSU could and should get eight or nine wins and easily end up higher than we have them here.

5. Virginia (8-5, 4-4)

If you played college fantasy football in 2018 you know how productive QB Bryce Perkins was. He rushed for nine touchdowns and threw for 25 in 2018 and also completed 65 percent of his passes. He’s back in 2019, though UVA has to replace RB Jordan Ellis and WR Olamide Zaccheus.

A defense that featured S Juan Thornhill and DE Chris Peace made a massive leap in 2018 and allowed just 20 points per game. Replacing each of them will be a tall task, but with eight starters back including MLB Jordan Mack, this will be a strong unit once again. The Cavs will be in the mix for the Coastal crown.

Virginia's Bryce Perkins (3) looks to pass against South Carolina during the first half of the Belk Bowl NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Virginia's Bryce Perkins had 34 total touchdowns in 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

4. Syracuse (10-3, 6-2)

The Orange took massive advantage of a down year for perennial Atlantic contender Florida State and reeled off a 10-win season in 2018 while giving Clemson quite the scare.

Tommy DeVito takes over at QB for Eric Dungey and is joined by RB Moe Neal, who led the team in rushing in 2018. WRs Sean Riley, Taj Harris and NyKeim Johnson are also back. We know the offense will be good. Will the defense? Seven starters are back and it took a big leap forward in 2018.

3. Virginia Tech (6-7, 4-4)

2018 was a disaster for Virginia Tech. We expect the Hokies to rebound in defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s final season with the team. After giving up 14.8 points per game in 2017, Virginia Tech allowed a whopping 31 points per game in 2018. But with 10 starters back, that number should be much closer to 20 than it is to 30 in 2019.

Kansas transfer Ryan Willis has the QB job following the transfer of Josh Jackson to Maryland. WRs Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner are field-stretchers and an easy schedule that doesn’t include Florida State or Clemson could lead to nine or even 10 wins.

Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis (5) throws a pass in the first half of the Military Bowl NCAA college football game against Cincinnati, Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis threw for 24 touchdowns in 2018. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

2. Miami (7-6, 4-4)

Miami should have won the Coastal in 2018 but instead found itself two games out of first place thanks to mediocre QB play and a turnover margin that went from +13 in 2017 to -1 at the end of the season in 2018.

There were signs in the Saturday night loss to Florida that Miami will be far better in 2019. The offensive line struggled against Florida’s pass rush, but Jarren Williams showed flashes in his first game as the team’s starter. With a relatively easy schedule the rest of the season, there’s little reason to think Miami won’t be at or near the top of the Coastal at the end of the season.

For a more in-depth look at Miami, No. 15 in our preseason top 25, click here.

1. Clemson (15-0, 8-0)

It’s Clemson and everyone else in the ACC. The Tigers have what could be the best QB in the country in sophomore Trevor Lawrence to go with a stud running back in Travis Etienne and a group of wide receivers that’s second only to Alabama.

There’s a couple questions about the Tigers, but they’re minor compared to everyone else. Clemson has to replace its entire starting defensive line, including three players taken in the first 17 picks of the 2019 NFL draft. But Xavier Thomas had 3.5 sacks in limited playing time as a five-star freshman last season and there’s a ton of other talent. Plus there are three starters back in an exceptionally strong secondary. Don’t worry about Clemson.

For a more in-depth look at Clemson, No. 1 in our preseason top 25, click here.

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