Sports, Football, Fall

ACC Power Rankings: Clemson Takes Top Spot Heading Into 2023 Season

Another college football season is upon us, and as the rumblings of conference realignment creep closer to the ACC, this could be the final season with the conference as currently constructed. 

While it seems like it will be a two-horse fight between No. 9 Clemson and No. 8 Florida State for the ACC title, the conference’s middle tier is wide open, and teams should be jockeying for position all year long.

Nine teams in the ACC have new full-time starting quarterbacks, with Sam Hartman, Devin Leary, and DJ Uiagalelei among the big name signal callers who have left the conference. Meanwhile, Clemson’s Cade Klubnik, Florida State’s Jordan Travis, and North Carolina’s Drake Maye will be in the spotlight this season, even garnering some Heisman Trophy recognition.

  1. Clemson

Sophomore quarterback Klubnik takes over the reins full time for Clemson, who also returns dynamic running back Will Shipley. Head coach Dabo Swinney will have his defense playing tough and nasty, per usual. The Tigers are fortunate to face their most formidable opponents—Florida State and No. 13 Notre Dame—at home, and another double-digit win season should be on the horizon. 

Next Up: at Duke, Monday, 8 p.m.

  1. Florida State

The Seminoles are the popular pick to seize the ACC crown this season, but they’ll have to prove it on the field before supplanting perennial power, Clemson, from the top spot. Travis appears primed to receive Heisman Trophy recognition, and Jared Verse is a game-wrecker on the defensive line. The ceiling is sky high for Florida State, and the Seminoles could find themselves in the College Football Playoff at season’s end. 

Next Up: vs. No. 5 Louisiana State, Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

  1. North Carolina

No. 21 North Carolina is another one of the trendy teams in the ACC this year, and that comes with big expectations. North Carolina is led by do-it-all quarterback phenom Maye, but the rest of the roster is rather unproven. Maye’s supporting cast on both sides of the ball will have to establish itself or else the Tar Heels could be exposed quickly. 

Next Up: at South Carolina, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

  1. Duke

The Blue Devils were one of the big surprises in the ACC last season, and quarterback Riley Leonard was the reason why. Leonard led Duke to its first nine-win season since 2014, and the junior should take another big leap this year. Additionally, DeWayne Carter will be a force on the defensive line, and the Blue Devils should find themselves in the upper third of the conference despite a challenging schedule. 

Next Up: vs. Clemson, Monday, 8 p.m.

  1. N.C. State

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong enters the fold for N.C. State after transferring from Virginia in the offseason. Armstrong should fit into head coach Dave Doeren’s system nicely, and the Wolfpack should score plenty of points. Aydan White and Payton Wilson are also names to watch on the defensive side of the ball. In all likelihood, N.C. State will be headed to its ninth bowl game in the last decade.

Next Up: at Connecticut, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

  1. Louisville

There is a new cast of characters at Louisville this season after the departure of quarterback Malik Cunningham and head coach Scott Satterfield. Former Purdue starter Jack Plummer reunites with new head coach Jeff Brohm to take over under center for the Cardinals. With one of the easiest schedules in the country, Louisville should rack up plenty of wins. 

Next Up: at Georgia Tech, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

  1. Pittsburgh

The Panthers are coming off a nine-win season, but there are many new faces this year. Pitt’s pass rush should maintain its potency, but lead back Israel Abanikanda is gone and former BC quarterback Phil Jurkovec has joined the fray. Head coach Pat Narduzzi is probably praying that Jurkovec’s 2022 season was just a blip on the radar, considering he had his worst season statistically with a total QBR of 36.7—good for 109th in FBS—but only time will tell. 

Next Up: vs. Wofford, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

  1. Miami

Mario Cristobal’s first season at the helm of the Hurricanes was disappointing, as Miami finished just 5–7. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke missed action in six games last year, which ended any hopes for a successful season. If the ultra-talented junior can stay on the field and put it all together, Miami has a chance to rocket up the ACC standings. But there are many question marks that need to be answered with this squad.

Next Up: vs. Miami (OH), Friday, 7 p.m.

  1. Wake Forest

Wake Forest has played in a bowl game each of the past seven years, as head coach Dave Clawson has turned the Demon Deacons into a fixture of postseason play. But with the departure of quarterback Sam Hartman to Notre Dame, things could be different when December rolls around this year. Mitch Griffis should be more than serviceable under center, but Clawson’s pedigree is too good to expect a total clunker this year. 

Next Up: vs. Elon, Thursday, 7 p.m.

  1. Syracuse

The Orange open the season against four non-conference opponents before a brutal three-game stretch that features matchups with Clemson, North Carolina, and Florida State. Quarterback Garrett Shrader will need to stay healthy and somebody will have to fill the big shoes of since-graduated running back Sean Tucker if Dino Babers’ squad is to make a bowl game. 

Next Up: vs. Colgate, Saturday, 4 p.m.

  1. Virginia Tech

The Hokies are coming off their worst season since 1992, and they will look to avoid their fourth consecutive year with a losing record. Grant Wells transferred in from Marshall to start at quarterback for the 2022 season, and he returns to attempt to improve what was the conference’s second worst offense last season. Head coach Brent Pry should have a solid defense, and the X-factor will be the Hokies’ ability to merely score points. 

Next Up: vs. Old Dominion, Saturday, 8 p.m.

  1. Boston College

After last season’s dreadful outcome, Jeff Hafley has handed the keys to the team to quarterback Emmett Morehead, who is full with raw ability. The Eagles return much of last year’s roster while having added a few key contributors in the transfer portal, none more exciting than receiver Ryan O’Keefe. A favorable schedule opens up the possibility for a return to bowl eligibility for BC, but the players will have to perform up to their billing. 

Next Up: vs. Northern Illinois, Saturday, 12 p.m.

  1. Georgia Tech

The Yellow Jackets somewhat salvaged last year’s season by finishing 4–4 once now head coach Brent Key took over. Georgia Tech’s offense should be much better with Haynes King starting at quarterback, but the defense could still be a problem. Key added a few players along the defensive line in the portal, but there still is much work to be done to compete with the top half of the conference. 

Next Up: vs. Louisville, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

  1. Virginia

It is going to be a struggle for Virginia this year. The Cavaliers brought in Monmouth transfer Tony Muskett to play quarterback in year two of Tony Elliott’s rebuild, and the rest of the depth chart is littered with holes. FCS foe William & Mary may be the only team Virginia beats all season. 

Next Up: at No. 12 Tennessee, Saturday, 12 p.m.

September 1, 2023