When we last left our teams, there appeared to be hope on the horizon. Though the 2012 season was a difficult one, the bowls showed some real glimmers of great things to come, as the ACC racked up its first winning postseason record in seven years. Beyond some long-awaited hope for greater success, 2013 also brings some change to these rankings. Syracuse and Pittsburgh will now actually be participating in the conference, after two seasons appearing in the power rankings despite not doing so. And Louisville, our newest pals set to join in 2014, will also be joining the party — meaning 15 teams will be listed for the remainder of this calendar year (and slightly beyond into bowl season 2014). Cheer up! It’s less than 230 days ’till kickoff.
1. Clemson Tigers (Last Year: 2): Tajh Boyd‘s back, and the defense is improving steadily. So even without DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington, this team will still be fine in 2013. In year two under defensive coordinator Brent Venables, expect an even more aggressive front-seven as the coach works on improving linebacker play in particular. That secondary will still get burned, but be certain they’ve also learned some lessons from last year, too.
2. Louisville Cardinals (LY: NR): After the show Teddy Bridgewater put on during the Sugar Bowl this year, the Cardinals are an extremely hot commodity, and are likely to start strong in their final season of Big East football. It’ll be interesting to see how coach Charlie Strong and his team respond to having a target on their backs from week one, when they’ll likely be handed a top-10 ranking to start the year.
3. Florida State Seminoles (LY: 1): They’re losing a lot on the defensive side of the football, along with QB and senior leader, EJ Manuel. But like those old, Bobby Bowden-coached teams of teams of the 90s, this ‘Noles squad has already reloaded. The offense may take a few to warm up, but the defense will still be very much their strength heading into next season.
4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (LY: 5): After sitting out two straight years of postseason berths, the ‘Canes are really hoping they’re given a break from the NCAA in terms of leniency. With a ton of young talent eager to get a shot at a conference title, and arguably the best QB/RB tandem in the ACC in Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson, Miami could very well be out for blood come opening kickoff this fall.
5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (LY: 6): Tech’s biggest weakness was an effective passing game in 2012. It’s the lifeblood of an effective triple-option, and Tevin Washington could never be efficient enough to worry opponents. With Synjyn Days and Vad Lee at the helm next season, though? Suddenly, you’ve got something to work with, made better by the fact that both of these guys played extended minutes in 2012.
6. North Carolina Tar Heels (LY: 3): You might remember UNC running back A.J. Blue from this time filling in for an injured Giovani Bernard early last year. If not, you should get yourself familiar. The rising-junior is out to top his 400-plus rushing yards and nine scores in limited playing time last year, meaning we could very well see numbers that approach what Bernard put up during his breakout sophomore campaign.
7. Virginia Tech Hokies (LY: 7): Logan Thomas is back, as are Antone Exum and James Gayle. Receiver D.J. Coles, who was supposed to make a huge impact for the Hokies in 2012, is applying for a medical redshirt, and may also return. Say what you want about each, because they certainly have their respective flaws, but this is a squad littered with veteran leadership. That X-factor, so long as it’s paired with a better offensive scheme, will likely yield an improved Tech squad in ’13.
8. Pittsburgh Panthers (LY: 10): Losing Ray Graham is tough, while losing Tino Sunseri largely isn’t. But here’s something fun: the Panthers only allowed 21.1 points per game this year (23rd in FBS). And the large majority of that group will be returning. The offense will need some time to work out the kinks (though really, they should just run the ball repeatedly), but it’s the defense that will carry Pitt.
9. Syracuse Orange (LY: 4): Tumultuous days at Syracuse now, as the team watches Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon wrap up their senior campaigns, while Doug Marrone — now off to the Buffalo Bills — fleeces the program for five coaches (so far), including offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. The jury’s still out on what happens next, since coaches are still leaving, and recruits are dropping like flies. The Orange faithful just hope it’s not a return to the dark ages of
Greg Gerg Robinson.
10. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (LY: 12): Tanner Price is back, and so is Nikita Whitlock. But as we learned in 2012, that doesn’t mean a whole lot if no one else is really showing up. Head coach Jim Grobe will start 2013 on the hot seat, and only a bowl berth may keep him from being shown the door after an up-and-down ride over the past six seasons since the team’s Orange bowl trip.
11. Maryland Terrapins (LY: 13): Before the injury last preseason, I was kind of excited for the C.J. Brown experience. Lucky for us, we get to see it in action in 2013 (hopefully), and throwing to an older version of Stefon Diggs with some experience under his belt. The defense may be a question mark with so much talent departing, but the offense will at least be fun to watch.
12. Virginia Cavaliers (LY: 11): Phillip Sims and Kevin Parks will now be running the show for the Hoos, who actually finished up 2012 with some cause for excitement. Beyond the offense, this team’s success comes down to how well that secondary plays. After getting roasted early on, they looked like they’d learned a few things by the end of the year. Hopefully that carries over.
13. NC State Wolfpack (LY: 8): Dave Doeren, you have your work cut out for you. Then again, people thought the same when then-unknown Mike Glennon was anointed the starter after Russell Wilson departed a couple years back, and look how that turned out. The Wolfpack are likely going to be rebuilt from the ground up, which may take a year or so if fans are patient enough.
14. Duke Blue Devils (LY: 9): I was highly skeptical of this Duke defense last year, and actually believe the Blue Devils to be pretty deep on offense. So as some bemoan losses on the offensive side, remember that QB Anthony Boone and WR Jamison Crowder could very well be better versions of their predecessors. In his one full outing last year, Boone threw for four scores in a big victory over UVA.
15. Boston College Eagles (LY: 14): Steve Addazio has seemed to do more with less in the past, so I’m tempted to believe the Eagles could surprise a few teams in 2013. They’re still lacking in experience and existing talent on the squad, but with the right coach (hopefully Addazio) that matters a whole lot less than execution and fundamental football.