New recruits are on campus. Position battles have been settled, by and large. New coaches have acclimated themselves to their new surroundings.
Football is almost here. USA TODAY Sports will spend the next two months breaking down the power rankings in each conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
First comes the Atlantic Coast Conference. Clemson is the undisputed class of the league heading into September.
This isn’t just the best team in the ACC but perhaps the best team in all of college football. Naysayers will point to the Tigers’ offseason quarterback competition as cause for concern, but look at things another way: Either Kelly Bryant steps up his game to fend off true freshman Trevor Lawrence or Lawrence proves too talented to keep out of the lineup. That’s a win-win scenario for Dabo Swinney and the Tigers. But it’s the nation’s best defensive line that will prove the difference in more games than not.
2. Miami (Fla.)
Miami should be viewed as a heavy favorite to win the Coastal Division and earn a rematch with Clemson in early December to settle the conference championship. The Hurricanes’ biggest issue remains quarterback play, repeating a theme from the tail end of last season. There’s talent, if a little young in some spots, and there’s no question about the coaching along the sidelines. The question is whether Malik Rosier responds to adversity as a senior or if Mark Richt opts to go elsewhere under center. I think Miami is getting close.
3. Florida State
The Willie Taggart era begins with expectations similar to the start of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure: eight or nine wins and a huge uptick in energy and optimism. Positivity does reign as Taggart takes over a team hungry for a rebound after a dreadful 2017. The Seminoles will get to eight wins and flirt with the Top 25, but I’m not sure if the entire structure is strong enough today to challenge Clemson in the Atlantic Division.
4. Virginia Tech
Tech sits in the middle of the pack nationally in returning production. But the personnel losses are significant: Cam Phillips at receiver, Greg Stroman in the secondary and star Tremaine Edmunds at linebacker, to name a few. It pays to trust to Justin Fuente, one of the nation’s most underrated coaches, and it’s also wise to expect improved play from sophomore quarterback Josh Jackson. The Hokies still look like the second-best team in the Coastal.
A question to start: Has the second Bobby Petrino era been a disappointment? There’s a Heisman Trophy winner and a pair of national rankings but no push into major-bowl contention, as was the case during his first stint at Louisville and at Arkansas. This year’s team loses Lamar Jackson but seems very similar to the past four seasons — namely, a team that will win eight games and put up points but fail to take home even a division title.
6. Boston College
Don’t sleep on Boston College beating a team no one thinks it should in 2018, whether that’s Clemson, Miami or Florida State. The Eagles tout the best depth of Steve Addazio’s tenure, a top-flight running back in A.J. Dillon and a run defense that should improve after an awful 2017. This is a definite bowl team and potentially one of the great surprise teams in the Power Five. I don’t have the guts to go that far, but B.C. is going to make things interesting in the ACC.
Look for the Panthers to rebound and return to bowl play thanks in large part to the projected improvement from a defense that returns most of last year’s production. That alone should be enough to eke out six or seven wins. Whether Pittsburgh can do more depends on the offense and on quarterback play in particular. It’s fair to be in prove-it mode with that side of the ball heading into September.
Source: USA Today