Earlier this morning, we looked at how the ACC stacked up after the 2010 season. Now it’s time to look ahead, and there’s a new leader in the league. And as of right now, the No. 1 spot is about the only one that seemed clear-cut. Every other one is debatable. This year should bring a wide-open race, and this list will fluctuate many times before the season’s end.
Here are the first ACC Power Rankings for 2011:
1. Florida State: This spot was a no-brainer for the Noles, as they finished the 2010 season with a win over the SEC East champs, and they did it with their backup quarterback. Jimbo Fisher led FSU to an appearance in the ACC title game in his first season, so expectations should be even higher in his second.
2. Virginia Tech: It’s a rebuilding year for the Hokies, who will have a new starting quarterback and are down to one proven running back after Ryan Williams and Darren Evans decided to leave for the NFL draft. That one running back, though, might be the best in the league, and until proven otherwise, the Hokies are still the team to beat in the Coastal Division.
3. NC State: Quarterback Russell Wilson hasn't announced he's going anywhere yet, so this is where the Pack land as long as he's on the roster. NC State also gets the nod over UNC because, well, the Heels haven't been able to beat NC State under Tom O'Brien.
4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels' roster is loaded with talent, and aside from the resignation of John Blake, there haven't been any major staff changes, despite the NCAA investigation. UNC will have a new quarterback, but expectations are high for Bryn Renner.
5. Miami: Despite the staff transition, Al Golden at least has enough talent to start with. He needs to name his starting quarterback and offensive coordinator, but Golden will rejuvinate the program and win in his first season.
6. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have to improve in all three phases of the game, but at least quarterback Tevin Washington got some experience, albeit at the expense of injured starter Joshua Nesbitt. The defense should also take a step forward in the second season under coordinator Al Groh.
7. Boston College: The Eagles have a Heisman-caliber player in linebacker Luke Kuechly, but it’s not the defense that needs an overhaul. BC’s offense, which could be under the direction of a new offensive coordinator, looked like it regressed against Nevada in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Still, with Kuechly, running back Montel Harris and quarterback Chase Rettig returning, the Eagles have enough returning for another winning season.
8. Maryland: First-year coach Randy Edsall inherits a talented team led by ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O’Brien. The defense will stay the same under coordinator Don Brown, whom Edsall brought with him to Maryland, but Maryland's best win last year was over NC State. What separates Maryland from Clemson right now is its quarterback situation.
9. Clemson: The Tigers have a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive line coach, and a new quarterback, not to mention they lost their top player, defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, to the NFL draft. The pressure is on coach Dabo Swinney to avoid a second losing season and three straight losses to rival South Carolina.
10. Wake Forest: The Deacs should improve now that quarterback Tanner Price has had a year of experience, but they’ve still got something to prove. The linebackers will lose two starters, and center Russell Nenon and receiver Marshall Williams will be missed, but an extremely young roster in 2010 could pay off in 2011.
11. Duke: The Blue Devils will have to overcome the revolving door at defensive coordinator, as they’ve had three in three years, but they’re leaving because they’re good. In order for Duke to become bowl eligible, the Blue Devils have to develop a running game and take a big step forward defensively.
12. Virginia: Mike London has had instant success on the recruiting trail, but it’s going to take some time before it translates into a bowl appearance. He has to name a new starting quarterback and find the best spots for the new talent.