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Florida State or Clemson? ACC power rankings after spring practice

The seismic shifts rippling through college football haven’t yet reached the Atlantic Coast Conference so far as its membership lineup is concerned. But there are changes afoot in the ACC nonetheless as the 2023 season approaches.

For one thing, the Atlantic and Coastal divisions are no more. But beyond that structural alteration, a changing of the guard on the field might be in the offing as well.

In the end, it might indeed be Clemson raising the championship trophy once again, but the Tigers’ grip has loosened a bit in recent years. But if the door is indeed ajar, is anyone else positioned to barge through it?

With spring practice wrapped up, here’s a look at how we think the conference stacks up with the biggest question for each team.

1. Florida State

Will the offensive line hold up?

The biggest reason for the program’s decline in prior to last season was a leaky front that couldn’t open holes or prevent quarterbacks from getting pounded. That unit appears to be a lot deeper now, and with incumbent quarterback Jordan Travis and receiver Kentron Poitier ready to shine next to star Johnny Wilson. The Seminoles will look to hit the ground running and avoid the early skid that effectively eliminated them from the championship picture in 2022.

2. Clemson

Where will the big passing plays come from?

Cade Klubnik is now firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, but the dynamic plays from the wide-outs that have largely been missing over the last couple of seasons were again absent in the spring. The defense should be fine as usual, and the running back room has plenty of options as well, but the Tigers might need to hit the portal for some long pass catchers to make first-year coordinator Garrett Riley’s offense truly hum.

3. Pittsburgh

Who will replace Israel Abanikanda’s ground production?

It will likely be running back by committee for the Panthers with Abanikanda off to the NFL after a phenomenal 1,431-yard, 20-touchdown season. Boston College transfer Phil Jurkovec will enter fall camp as the favorite to take over at quarterback and should improve the passing game if he can stay healthy.

4. North Carolina State

Can the defense carry the team?

The sloppy conditions at the Wolfpack’s spring game made a true read on the offense difficult, but it was still apparent that the defense as a group is ahead. The attack should be sharper in the fall once Virginia transfer quarterback Brennan Armstrong gains familiarity with his new teammates.

5. Wake Forest

Will the secondary make the needed improvements?

There’s not nearly as much concern on the offensive side as one might expect with quarterbacks Sam Hartman’s transfer to Notre Dame, as heir apparent Mitch Griffis is ready to step in with the cupboard at receiver still well-stocked. The defense, particularly the pass coverage, must get better after giving up an alarming 42.3% conversion rate on third down.

6. North Carolina

Can the defensive front generate more pressure?

The Tar Heels recorded just 17 sacks in 2022, a major reason the team stumbled down the stretch despite earning a spot in the ACC championship game. Mack Brown liked what he saw from the group in the spring, especially from veteran tackle Kevin Hester, but the team figures to turn to the portal to build more depth.

7. Miami (Fla.)

Will the passing game have more pop?

The Miami aerial attack didn’t exactly scare anyone in 2022, and new coordinator Shannon Dawson wants to change that with more deep shots. Returning quarterback Tyler Van Dyke has some weapons, but keeping him upright could be a concern for an offensive line that was shorthanded with injuries in the spring.

8. Duke

Can the Blue Devils continue their positive momentum?

Year one under coach Mike Elko was an unqualified success as Duke made it back to a bowl and won nine games for the first time since 2014. There will be no soft launch in 2023 with an opening-night visit from Clemson on the docket, but the vibes coming out of spring drills were definitely positive, culminating with solid performances from incumbent quarterback Riley Leonard and defensive lineman R.J. Oben in the final scrimmage.

9. Louisville

Will Jeff Brohm’s return reenergize the fans?

The timing was finally right for the former Cardinals star quarterback to come home to assume the coaching reins after his successful run in revitalizing Purdue and Louisville fans not thrilled with predecessor Scott Satterfield. The defense figures to be ahead of the offense early on, but well-traveled quarterback Jack Plummer knows Brohm’s system from his time at Purdue before his stint at California.

10. Syracuse

Will Garrett Shrader be ready?

The Orange’s starting signal caller missed most of the spring due to shoulder surgery but should be back in time for fall camp. His absence gave backup and likely eventual successor Justin Lamson a chance to take some valuable reps, and there shouldn’t be any issues with staff or system changes as quarterbacks coach Jason Beck was promoted to offensive coordinator.

11. Boston College

Will the defensive backfield be the team’s strength?

That group certainly shined during the spring, CB Amari Jackson in particular. Whether that was a function of the Eagles’ new-look offense struggling to find its footing remains to be seen, but having multiple takeaway threats in the defensive backfield doesn’t hurt, especially considering BC was last in the league in turnover margin at minus-12 last year.

12. Virginia Tech

Will the Hokies’ running game be better?

Virginia Tech managed a pedestrian 3.1 yards per rushing attempt, contributing to an often beleaguered Grant Wells throwing as many interceptions (nine) as touchdown passes. There were signs of improvement in the ground game with a deeper running back room and better blocking, and Wells will continue to compete with Baylor transfer Kyron Drones in the fall to retain the starting job.

13. Georgia Tech

Can the Yellow Jackets make a bowl game?

In theory, Georgia Tech would only need to improve last year’s mark by one game to reach the postseason in Brent Key’s first full year helming the program. That could prove easier said than done, however, as the non-conference schedule includes a date with Mississippi in addition to the Yellow Jackets’ usual clash with Georgia. Barring an unexpected result in those contests, they must therefore at least break even in ACC play to reach six wins possible in the era of the portal but hardly a given.

14. Virginia

When will UVa fans expect wins?

Returning to the practice field in the spring was more about getting back to some degree of normal given the tragic events of last fall. The university community as a whole will exercise a considerable amount of patience once the team returns to actual competition. But at some point they’ll want to see results, and early enrollee Anthony Colandrea provided a spark of hope for the future with his flashy spring game appearance at quarterback.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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