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Post-spring ACC power rankings

5/4/2015

1. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2014 record: 11-3

Previous ranking: 2

Why the move up to No. 1 from our first set of 2015 power rankings when the season ended? With spring over, there is much more certainty at quarterback with Justin Thomas returning. As the centerpiece of Paul Johnson’s offense, his return makes up for uncertainty at the other skill positions. Plus, the already opportunistic defense should be vastly improved with eight starters back.

2. Clemson Tigers

2014 record: 10-3

Previous ranking: 1

Bear in mind these rankings reflect where we believe teams stand after spring practice is over. Clemson could still be the ACC favorite, but without quarterback Deshaun Watson completely healthy, it is tough to put the Tigers at No. 1 right now. Clemson has yet to see him run a practice following ACL surgery. The defense answered a few questions during the spring, but a small step back is to be expected with so many marquee players gone.

3. Florida State Seminoles

2014 record: 13-1

Previous ranking: 3

The Seminoles had 29 players drafted over the past three years, so this might be a rebuilding year considering all the youth and inexperience head coach Jimbo Fisher has to work with in 2015. Sean Maguire has yet to be named the starting quarterback, and there was inconsistency across the board throughout the spring. The potential is there for Florida State to hit double-digit wins again, but the Seminoles will have to grow up in a hurry.

4. Virginia Tech Hokies

2014 record: 7-6

Previous ranking: 5

Virginia Tech ended spring with its offense ahead of its defense, with enough progress to make us feel optimistic about the Hokies’ ability to compete for an ACC championship this season. Though the defense was without several starters, what we needed to see most out of this team was improvement from quarterback Michael Brewer, his offensive line and the players surrounding him. We did.

5. Louisville Cardinals

2014 record: 9-4

Previous ranking: 6

Just like Florida State, Louisville leaves spring without an official starting quarterback. Though Reggie Bonnafon had a nice spring, it is too early to say what the Cards might look like on offense because of uncertainty at that position and receiver, where five of the top six pass-catchers are gone. Louisville returns just nine starters, leaving many more questions than answers about the roster.

6. NC State Wolfpack

2014 record: 8-5

Previous ranking: 7

This season is shaping up to be the best yet under Dave Doeren, who has gotten results at all of his previous stops. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett and his powerful backfield return, and a few position shifts on the defense have that group poised to be much more physical and aggressive. Factor in better depth, and there are reasons for encouragement. Receiver remains a big question mark.

7. Duke Blue Devils

Record: 9-4

Previous ranking: 4

Nobody knows just yet how Duke will fare without Jamison Crowder, Anthony Boone and Laken Tomlinson headed off to the NFL. Crowder was such a vital part of offense and special teams, it will be impossible to replace his production. Though he has never started a game, Thomas Sirk has been around and a veteran running back group returns. But how quickly Duke finds an answer for Crowder could determine how its season goes.

8. Pittsburgh Panthers

2014 record: 6-7

Previous ranking: T 8

The offense returns Chad Voytik, along with 1,000-yard receiver Tyler Boyd and 1,000-yard running back James Conner, so it is not unreasonable to expect Pitt to potentially contend in the Coastal Division. But we said the same last season, and the Panthers ended up underachieving. New coach Pat Narduzzi has brought enthusiasm and a new style, but major questions remain about a defense that has failed to perform at a high level.

9. North Carolina Tar Heels

2014 record: 6-7

Previous ranking: 10

Forget the usual preseason hype. It is time to start seeing results from the Tar Heels. This must be the season they deliver, with 17 starters returning -- including a whopping 10 on offense. Quarterback Marquise Williams showed flashes of brilliance last season, but did not get much help from his supporting cast. That has to change. New coordinator Gene Chizik should improve the defense, but how much improvement can be expected from a returning core group of players that made up one of the worst defenses in school history?

10. Miami Hurricanes

2014 record: 6-7

Previous ranking: T8

Miami left spring without any clarity on the offensive line or at running back, the two biggest keys to its success in 2015. Sure, quarterback Brad Kaaya returns -- and he did have a terrific spring -- but he needs a running game and stable offensive line to improve upon his standout freshman season. Coaches are extremely high on the defense, which has depth up front for the first time under Al Golden. But we need to see results during games to start to be convinced this group has turned a corner.

11. Virginia Cavaliers

2014 record: 5-7

Previous ranking: T 11

Oh, look, the Hoos are playing musical chairs at quarterback again. Matt Johns is slated to be the starter when the season opens, winning the job over Greyson Lambert during spring practice. Is he the answer for an offense that has lacked firepower over the past three years? The running game was inconsistent in the spring, though T.J. Thorpe was a bright spot at receiver. Questions remain at linebacker, perhaps the most important position on the defense, leaving Virginia near the bottom of our rankings once again.

11. Boston College Eagles

2014 record: 7-6

Previous ranking: T 11

Steve Addazio has proved one thing in his first two years on the job: He always exceeds preseason expectations. But the key difference with this year’s team is inexperience at quarterback and the offensive line. The offense has been the showpiece in Chestnut Hill the past two seasons, but with only three starters back -- and a new offensive coordinator -- it is reasonable to wonder whether the Eagles can be as productive.

13. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2014 record: 3-9

Previous ranking: 13

Coach Dave Clawson is making strides with his Deacs, who are way ahead of where they were when they ended spring a year ago. Quarterback John Wolford is better, and there should be more stability on the offensive line and at running back. Still, Wake Forest remains a work in progress and will likely need another year before potentially competing for a bowl berth.

14. Syracuse Orange

2014 record: 3-9

Previous ranking: 14

Though quarterback Terrel Hunt is back, youth at receiver really showed itself throughout the courses of spring, especially in the spring game, when dropped passes became one of the big storylines. That’s not good news for one of the worst offenses in FBS a season ago, though having a healthy quarterback for an entire season should at least help fix that. Depth issues persist on the defensive line.