Ranking the Rankings: ACC’s best teams

“Although we’ve come to the end of the road, still I can’t let go.” – Boyz II Men

OK, we made it through each set of position rankings in the ACC, and where did it leave us? Well, Media Days is upon us, so the good news is we’re ever so close to real football. But we’re not quite done with talkin’ season yet, because now’s the time when the real predictions begin.

And that brings us to this post: Ranking the rankings. We projected out each position group, so let’s tally ’em all up and decide on some overall rankings.

The chart below shows how we ranked each position group, but you can find the specifics here for QB, OL, WR/TE, RB, DL, LB, DB, ST.

Below, we simply added all the rankings up, then ranked those totals from smallest (best) to highest (worst).

(Note: Please appreciate my color selections. I feel it really ties the chart together.)

Screen Shot 2019-07-07 at 9.57.12 AM

What’d we get? Honestly, about what I expected.

Who’s the best team in the ACC?

That’s not a hard one. It’s Clemson, and we didn’t need all this math to decide that. The offense should not only be the best in the ACC, but it could be the nation’s best, too. Brent Venables’ history with the defense suggests they’ll weather all the turnover just fine, but I do have some concerns about stopping the run.

Who’s No. 2? The conventional wisdom (and last year’s records) say it’s Syracuse, and so do our rankings. I have my concerns about the Orange this year based on luck factors, but I also think Tommy DeVito will be fine at QB, and the Orange return one of (if not the) best defensive fronts in the ACC. So, there’s still a lot to like, too.

Who’s the best team in the Coastal? Well, I’ve been high on Virginia, and the ‘Hoos placement here is a bit disconcerting. Have I been a little too focused on the things I really like (LB, DB, QB) and ignoring the real problems (RB, WR)? Perhaps. But the other thing about ranking the teams this way is that it views all position groups the same, and I’m not sure that’s fair. Which leads us to…

Miami. Ask me who the most talented team in the Coastal is, and I wouldn’t hesitate in saying it’s the Canes. But when QB and OL (and WR, to an extent) have struggled as they did last year, it’s hard to win a lot of football games. So Miami is sort of the inverse of Virginia. Miami has more talent and no QB. Virginia has a very good QB and less talent elsewhere. Which situation would you rather be in? Honestly, the answers will likely vary.

What these rankings do show about the Coastal, however, is the other thing most folks seem to be predicting (mostly because it’s always a safe bet): It’s going to be close. Miami, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Pitt are all fairly closely aligned here, and I can’t say I’d be shocked if any one of those four won it. Miami and Pitt need better QB play. Virginia needs more from its backs and receivers. Virginia Tech needs to figure out its D-line and have its secondary grow up a good bit to support a pretty good offense. All have real strengths and all have obvious flaws. So these rankings should make perfect sense intuitively.

If there’s a real shocker on the list, it’s the team at No. 4. Thing is though, I’m not too surprised by Wake Forest. If you asked me for a team that could be “this year’s Syracuse” — i.e. the team no one is talking about preseason that turns into a real contender — it’s Wake. Why? Well it’s easy to overlook the Deacons because I’m not sure they’re elite at anything right now. QB is the only position I have them ranked in the top 3, and that might be optimism on my part. But they’re also not awful at anything either. Receivers is the only group I had them ranked worse than eighth, and with two talented freshmen in the mix, that group could certainly take a big step forward. The schedule has some potential hiccups — Utah State in Week 2 — but it’s manageable if Wake plays well. There’s not a ton of depth at most spots, which is not unusual for a school like Wake, but if they have good health luck (as Syracuse did last year) the top-end guys — Essang Bassey, Sage Surratt, Carlos Basham, Justin Strnad, Cade Carney — all represent some serious All-ACC contenders.

The bottom half of the rankings also plays out according to my expectations, too. FSU, Boston College and NC State are effectively in a dead heat. I’d probably put NC State a tick ahead of the other two for the same reasons I like Wake Forest — they’re not truly awful anywhere. BC, on the other hand, could have some major issues on defense, and Florida State’s O-line and special teams are a nightmare. They’re just offset, to a degree, but players like A.J. Dillon and Cam Akers, Anthony Brown and Levonta Taylor. As we saw with FSU last year though, it’s a lot harder to overcome a black hole in one major area, even if the rest of the team might be good. So I’ll roll with the guys I think aren’t terrible anywhere and hope a few unexpected stars rise up.

At the bottom, we have the four teams I think are clearly in the biggest holes in the ACC: UNC, Duke, Louisville and Georgia Tech.

You can make a fair case that both UNC and Louisville are undervalued here.

For the Heels, they may not be as far off as most people think, as we wrote about earlier this year. And, of course, it’s hard to know for sure what Mack Brown’s version of this team will look like. But the youth at QB and the turnover on the O-line worries me, and I think there aren’t enough obvious wins on the schedule for the Heels to contend for the division this year. A bowl game? Maybe.

At Louisville, the path to success would seem steeper, mostly because last year’s team was so, so bad. But those stats can often be a bit deceiving. For example:

Team A: 0-5, 110 points scored, 216 points allowed, .583 opponent win%

Team B: 0-5, 94 points scored, 295 points allowed, .742 opponent win%

Team B is the final five games of the year for Louisville. Team A is the final five games of the year for Syracuse in 2017.

Now, that’s hardly and apples:apples comparison. Louisville ended on a 10-game losing streak, not five. And they were bad all year, whereas Syracuse fell off a cliff after the Clemson upset. But it’s also true that things deteriorated quickly last year for Louisville, and I’m not sure a single person in that locker room still wanted to be there by late October. So can we really judge the talent level when the effort wasn’t there? Moreover, Louisville’s schedule was no joke down the stretch. After a stunning snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory against FSU, every team they played the rest of the way went to a bowl game, and three of those opponents finished ranked in the top 15.

All of this is a long way of saying that Scott Satterfield’s biggest job is to take a train wreck and get it back on the tracks. Once that happens, it’s really anyone’s guess how far the train can go.

And that leaves Duke and Georgia Tech.

For the Yellow Jackets, it’s a huge rebuild. We all knew this would be the case. Geoff Collins has done a great job putting a positive spin on things, and he’s certainly marketing Tech better than anyone has done in a long time. I like the longterm future there. But the short term is this: No team in recent memory has endured such a massive offensive makeover, and that is compounded by the fact that Georgia Tech has arguably less established talent on defense than probably half the Group of 5 teams out there. If Collins gets Tech to five wins this year, he probably deserves a few coach of the year votes.

And Duke. Maybe I’m way off here. David Cutcliffe is a good enough coach that I wouldn’t be surprised if this team made me look like an idiot. But I look at the depth chart right now and I don’t see much to really like aside from the defensive backfield. Before digging into the numbers, I thought the running backs could be solid — so perhaps they will be. But the deeper dive stats sure didn’t show it. And maybe Quentin Harris becomes a true dual-threat star at QB. But Daniel Jones was a first-round draft pick and still didn’t put up monster numbers last year in his third season as the starter. Maybe the D-line improves and pushes the defense into the top tier of the ACC. Maybe. There are a lot of maybes with this team. I hate picking against Cut, but that’s where I’m at.

OK, so are these my official ACC picks for the year? Clemson vs. Miami in the ACC title game. Wake as the surprise team. A close battle in the Coastal between the Canes, Hoos, Hokies and Pitt?

Possibly. That all sounds about right to me. But I’m not quite ready to put it all in ink and mark it with my official seal just yet. Let’s see how camp goes, how some key position battles unfold, what injuries crop up and take a deeper look at the schedules before committing.

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