Early ACC Football Rankings For 2016

    Early ACC football rankings for 2016. Will Clemson be the best team in the conference again, or will Florida State, Louisville or someone else lead the way?

    January 15, 2016

    Although it came up short in the national title game, Clemson proved it’s a championship caliber program under the direction of Dabo Swinney. But are the Tigers the team to beat in 2016? What about Florida State? Jimbo Fisher continues to reel in elite talent to Tallahassee. And then there’s Louisville, led by superstar-in-the-making Lamar Jackson. While a lot will transpire between now and the start of next season that will continue to shape the conference, here’s way-too-early ACC football rankings for 2016. This might be the strongest the conference has been from top to bottom in a long, long time.

    Early 2016 ACC Football Rankings

    1. Clemson

    So close to winning the national title, the Tigers come back even stronger with Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman returning in the backfield working behind a good line with three starters back. Six of the top seven receivers are back to help make Watson look good again – and vice versa – but the defense has to overcome some huge losses to the NFL. Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd took off early from the defensive line, while star CB Mackenzie Alexander, SS Jayron Kearse and FS T.J. Green are also done. Fear not – the team lost a lot more last year on defense and did just fine. Even with the losses, most of the top tacklers return. The Tigers are the strongest team heading into next season and thus sit on top of the early ACC football rankings.

    2. Florida State

    After slipping a year – at least by the team’s high standards – the Seminoles are back to being their old selves. The quarterback situation is the key with Sean Maguire back but with a slew of great young players waiting in the wings. RB Dalvin Cook is the Heisman-caliber star working behind a line that gets back all five starters, while the top six receivers return to add more explosion. The defense loses star CB Jalen Ramsey and has to overcome some huge losses at linebacker, but the front seven should be fantastic.

    3. Louisville

    Bobby Petrino’s team revamped and reloaded in 2015, and now it should be a contender with Lamar Jackson one of college football’s rising superstar quarterbacks, with the top four receivers back along with the three best running backs. Making the attack even nastier is a line with four starters back. The secondary gets all four starters and three of the top four linebackers return for what should be a solid run D.

    4. Miami

    Experience should bring consistency, at least that’s the hope with nine starters back on offense and seven returning on D. Mark Richt gets a very, very nice team to work with right out of the gate with all five starters back on the offensive line, Brad Kaaya back at quarterback and a running game that should be ready to do far more. The key parts back on the defensive front and all three starting linebackers return.

    5. Georgia Tech

    The Yellow Jackets should rebound after a dud of a 2015 with QB Justin Thomas back along with almost all the key runners and three linemen to pave the way. The offense should be more explosive, while the defense welcomes back all four starters up front and the linebackers to make the run D a rock. The secondary is the concern with all four starters done.

    6. North Carolina

    QB Marquise Williams is done, but there’s enough talent back to keep the offense rolling with four starters back up front and the key running backs returning. All four starters are back in the secondary and three starters return up front after getting gouged in the bowl loss to Baylor. The linebacking corps is the slight concern with two starters gone, but the rest of the defense is good enough to pick up the slack.

    7. Pitt

    WR Tyler Boyd is leaving early for the NFL, but the rest of the offense returns loaded with veterans lead by a line that gets back four starters and with the backfield intact. QB Nathan Peterman is back along with young running backs Quadree Ollison and George Aston. Five starters return to the defensive back seven, and they’ll need to be strong early on with just one starter back up front.

    8. NC State

    QB Jacoby Brissett is done, but the rest of the offense should be dangerous with the top running backs and receivers are back. The concern – besides the loss of Brissett – is on the line with two starters returning. All three starters are back at linebacker and there’s just one loss on the line, but two starters need to be replaced in the secondary.

    9. Virginia Tech

    Quarterback is the only concern in terms of experience with Michael Brewer gone, but new head coach Justin Fuente knows how to get passer rolling. Four starters return on the line and most of the key receivers are back to ease in the transition. The secondary will be fantastic even with the loss of Kendall Fuller to the NFL early, but the front seven will be a concern early on with just two starters back.

    10. Boston College

    The addition of Kentucky transfer Patrick Towles should improve the quarterback situation, and he’ll have help with the three top running backs returning and just enough talent up front to crank up the ground game. One of the nation’s best defenses should be even better with five starters returning to the front seven along with a veteran secondary with three starters coming back.

    11. Syracuse

    Let’s just assume Dino Babers makes a big difference right away for an offense that gets back just about everyone who made a big play. The line is the one concern with three starters gone, but most of the key skill parts are back. All four starters are back in the secondary and almost all of the top tacklers return – the front seven should be more aggressive and active.

    12. Duke

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, keep underestimating the Blue Devils and keep watching them come up with strong seasons. The quarterback situation is great and the playmakers are there for the passing game, but the running backs have to be replaced. Considering Jeremy Cash was out at the end of the season, all of the starters in the secondary for the bowl win over Indiana are back, while the front seven should be okay with a little bit of time.

    13. Virginia

    Bronco Mendenhall isn’t walking into a bad situation with the backfield loaded with veterans and option and with three starters back up front. The receiving corps is the concern, but there’s enough talent in the ground game to take over. The defensive back seven has good potential with three starters back in the secondary, but the line is a gut job and Mendenhall’s biggest problem right away.

    14. Wake Forest

    This was a young team last year and now the payoff should come after starting 11 underclassmen by the end of the season. The Demon Deacons should be far, far better on experience alone. Just about everyone is back on an offense that only loses one offensive lineman and gets back almost all the key skill players, while the defense should have its best front four in years along with a solid secondary. Wake Forest could find itself moving up the ACC football rankings if everything comes together how it should. 

    MORE: Way-Too-Early Top 25 College Football Rankings

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