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2023 ACC Preseason Power Rankings: Clemson or Florida State for the top spot?

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton07/28/23


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We’re a little more than a month away from the official start of the 2023 college football season. Rejoice!

With various media days wrapping up around the country, it’s time to release our updated preseason 2023 Power Rankings for each P5 conference just before the start of fall camp. We kickstarted the series with the SEC, and released the latest Big Ten preseason Power Rankings yesterday. Today, we reveal our updated ACC Power Rankings.  Who deserves the top spot between Clemson and Florida State? How does the rest of the league shake out?

Here are my 2023 ACC Preseason Power Rankings:

1. Clemson

(The Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK)

While the Tigers haven’t been a national title contender the last few seasons, they remain the kings of the ACC until another school proves they deserve the crown. Clemson has won seven of the last eight ACC titles, including beating North Carolina in the championship game in 2022. 

Cade Klubnick is now the full-time starter at quarterback, and the former 5-star recruit will be operating in a new offense led by wunderkind coordiantor Garrett Riley, who helped guide TCU to the title game last fall. The Tigers lost a pair of impact defensive linemen to the NFL, but otherwise, that side of ball should remain salty. They have the top linebacker duo in the nation in Barrett Carter and Jeremiah Trotter, DL Tyler Davis is back and 5-star freshman lineman Peter Woods is expected to make an impact immediately. 

2. Florida State

(Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat / USA TODAY NETWORK)

The Seminoles are seen as a potential College Football Playoff contender, with more returning production than any team in America. 

Among the 16 starters back are star quarterback Jordan Travis and future 1st Round pass rusher Jared VerseMike Norvell also added key pieces from the transfer portal to last year’s 10-3 team, grabbing impact players like Michigan State wideout Keon Coleman, Western Michigan defensive lineman Brandon Fiske, several OL depth pieces and tight ends Jahiem Bell and Kyle MorlockThe schedule is tough (opener vs. a Top 5 LSU, at Clemson at the end of September), but in a division-less ACC, the ‘Noles have more margin for error to win the ACC for the first time since 2014. 

3. North Carolina


The Tar Heels have a potential generational talent at quarterback in junior Drake Maye, but are they going to squander his career by failing to field even a serviceable defense?

UNC is breaking in a new OC with Chip Lindsey replacing Phi Longo, now at Wisconsin, but the Tar Heels should be fine with Maye, a bunch of returnees at tailback on OL, and impact transfer wideouts Devontez Walker from Kent State (who created all sorts of buzz this spring) and Nate McCollum from Georgia Tech. But what about the defense? UNC ranked last in the ACC in scoring, yards per play, passing defense, sacks and TFLs. They hit the transfer portal looking for help, hoping guys like ETSU defensive back Alijah Huzzie, FSU pass rusher Amari Gainer and  Georgia Tech safety Derrik Allen can provide some sort of immediate support.

4. North Carolina State

NC State football Payton Wilson
NC State linebacker Payton Wilson (Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Dave Doeren has yet to break through and make the ACC Championship with the Wolfpack. Could this be the season? Probably not. 

While NC State returns a solid foundation (six starters including linebacker Payton Wilson and corner Aydan White) off a defense that was Top 5 in the conference in 2022, the Wolfpack have concerns offensively (no more Thayer Thomas and Devin Carter at wideout), for a unit that already wasn’t very explosive last season.  Doeren brought in former Virginia OC Robert Anae, as well as ex-Cavs QB Brennan Armstrong, hoping the pair can reunite and capture similar success they had in Charlottesville (31 touchdowns and 8.9 yards per attempt) back in 2021. 

5. Louisville

Jul 25, 2023; Charlotte, NC, USA; Louisville head coach Jeff Brohm answers questions during ACC Media Days at The Westin Charlotte.
Jim Dedmon | USA TODAY Sports

With Jeff Brohm now at head coach, the Cardinals could be a sneaky ACC contender in 2023. They’re probably still a year or two away from truly pushing FSU or Clemson, but with an improved roster (20 transfers) and a cupcake schedule (no Clemson, FSU or UNC in the regular season), there’s at least a pathway for a surprise run to Charlotte this fall. 

Louisville’s ceiling this season likely depends on how Cal transfer quarterback Jack Plummer performs in Brohm’s offense, as well as if guys like Stanford edge rusher Stephen Herron and UNC corner Storm Duck can replace the production off one of the best defenses in the ACC in 2022.

6. Duke

duke football Riley Leonard notre dame opponent
(Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

After last season’s stunning 9-4 year, the Blue Devils bring back one of the most experienced teams in the ACC in 2023. Riley Leonard might be the second-best quarterback in the conference, and he pilots an offense with nine returning starters, as well as OC Kevin Johns

Duke made a major leap defensively in Elko’s first season (39.8 points per game to 22.1), and it brought in a couple of Power 5 defensive back transfers (AL Blades from Miami and Myles Jones from Texas A&M) to shore up its secondary. The challenge for the Blue Devils is overcoming a much tougher schedule (they draw Clemson, FSU, NC State and Notre Dame and Louisville) and avoiding the turnover regression monster (led ACC in fumble recoveries, tops in least fumbles lost). 

7. Pittsburgh

Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Narduzzi brought in transfer Phil Jurkovec to shore up the Panthers’ passing game in 2023, reuniting the former Boston College quarterback with former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. 

Pitt returns six starters on offense, but must replace star tailback Israel Abanikanda, who led the ACC with 1,431 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns last fall, as well as leading receiver Jared Wayne, who had 1,057 yards and five touchdowns. The Panthers have been among the more overlooked teams in recent years, but the schedule is very tough this fall (non-conference games against Notre Dame, West Virginia and Cincy), and their defense must replace 1st Round pick Calijah Kancey.

8. Miami

Tyler Van Dyke
© Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Mario Cristobal would like to pretend 2022 never happened after a calamitous Year 1 at his alma mater.  As if he was playing NCAA Football 14, the former Oregon head coach essentially hit the restart button on Miami’s ‘Dynasty Mode,’ overhauling both the staff and roster. The Hurricanes have seven new assistants, including new coordinators on offense and defense. 

They were able to keep quarterback Tyler Van Dyke in school after a public flirtation with Alabama, and they believe the OL should be much-improved with transfers from Alabama and UCF, as well as a pair of 5-star offensive tackle signees. The Hurricanes have a solid safety duo and some other intriguing pieces for aggressive DC Lance Guidry to work with, but this is still not a roster set to compete for anything more than a bowl game in 2023.

9. Wake Forest

Wake Forest HC Dave Clawson
(Grant Halverson | Getty Images)

The Demon Deacons have embraced Mitch Griffis as the next standout quarterback in Dave Clawson’s slow-mesh attack. Top wideout A.T. Perry is gone, but sophomores Donavon Green and Taylor Morin combined for nearly 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2022.

Clawson is as steady as they come, so even though Wake Forest plays a more difficult schedule this fall (road trips to Notre Dame and Clemson + a home game vs. Florida State), the expectation is still 7-8 wins.  The Demon Deacons’ ceiling could be higher if it shores up an awful secondary (No. 13 in the ACC in pass defense). The problem is Wake didn’t add a single defensive back from the transfer portal this offseason. 

10. Syracuse

Syracuse head coach Dino Babers

Dino Babers enters the fall on nearly every hot seat list in the country. The Orange lost six of seven to end the 2022 season, and saw offensive coordinator Robert Anae leave for rival ACC-foe NC State.  Syracuse does return veteran quarterback Garrett Shrader, as well as the ACC’s leading receiver in converted tight end Oronde Gadsden II, but star tailback Sean Tucker is now in the NFL and the OL will look totally different with four new starters. 

The Orange’s defense, with 3-3-5 mastermind Rocky Long hired to continue the ‘Cuse’s recent scheme, returns eight starters off a unit that was No. 3 in the ACC in 2022. The group did suffer some notable portal departures (Darion Chestnut to LSU and Ja’Had Carter to Ohio State), but if Syracuse is going to make a bowl game this season the defense is going to have to lead the way. 

11. Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech head coach Brent Key
(David J. Griffin | Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Georgia Tech enters fall camp with an ongoing quarterback battle between Texas A&M transfer Haynes King and Zach Pyron, among others. Brent Key was promoted from interim head coach to the full-time job, and he overhauled his staff, hiring Georgia analyst Buster Faulker as his offensive coordinator to jumpstart a unit that ranked 13th in scoring and 12th in yards per play last season. 

The Yellow Jackets flirted with bowl eligibility once Key took over for Geoff Collins, but unless their defense — which was bad in 2022 and lost their best players in pass rusher Keion White and linebackers Charlie Thomas and Ayinde Eley — makes major strides this is not team poised for a postseason appearance. 

12. Boston College

notre dame jeff hafley
(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Last year was a disaster season for Jeff Hafley and the Golden Eagles, as Boston College was a bottom-three team in the ACC in both offense and defense. The offensive line was decimated by injuries and the defense could never play with any sort of consistency.  The good news is the Eagles’ defense could make serious improvements this fall, as they return a bevy of starters including All-ACC pass rusher Donovan Ezeiruaku (team-high 14.5 TFLs), defensive tackle Khris Bank, and top linebackers Vinny DePalma and Kam Arnold

But Hafley faces pressure to fix an offense that’s been unable to do much of anything the last few seasons, and it’s breaking in a new quarterback in Emmett Morehead. Top wideout Zay Flowers is gone, but the offensive line, which allowed an ACC-high 46 sacks last season, does welcome the return of potential All-ACC guard Christian Mahogany, who missed the year with an injury.  There’s a path to six wins, especially with no Clemson, UNC or NC State on the schedule. 

13. Virginia Tech

(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

The Hokies had their worst season since 1992, as Brent Pry inherited a mess and couldn’t do much to clean it up in Year 1.  The Hokies have legitimate talent at receiver — ODU transfer Ali Jennings III and Da’Quan Felton — and they brought in North Carolina A&T transfer tailback Bhaysul Tuten, who had over 1,700 total yards and 17 total touchdowns, to shore up the second-worst rushing attack in the ACC. But everything depends on potential improved QB play. Va. Tech suffered from awful quarterbacking last year, as former Marshall transfer Grant Wells had as many touchdowns (nine) as interceptions. Pry brought in former Baylor quarterback Kyron Drones  to compete for the job this fall.

Va. Tech was actually decent defensively in 2022 (24.1 points per game, 5.4 yards per play allowed, No. 8 in the ACC), and its secondary should remain solid this fall, but there’s holes at defensive line and linebacker. 

14. Virginia

(Icon Sportswire / Getty Images)

The Cavs averaged just 17 points per game in 2022. The bad news is a terrible offense must replace their quarterback, four starting offensive linemen and their top three wideouts. The good news is maybe some fresh faces will be better for Tony Elliott & Co., in Year 2.  Early enrollee quarterback Anthony Colandrea created lots of buzz this spring and will compete with FCS transfer Tony Muskett from Monmouth for the starting job in fall camp. The offensive line expects to be better with multiple additions from the transfer portal, while the Cavs’ defense returns six starters off a unit that was quietly Top 5 in the ACC last fall. 

This is a program looking to move forward after last season’s tragedy to end the year, so even flirting with a bowl game should be considered a success in 2023.