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The Pitt News ACC Power Rankings

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Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney, left, holds the College Football Playoff National Championship trophy while he and his team celebrate their 35-31 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 in Tampa, Fla. (Loren Elliot/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney, left, holds the College Football Playoff National Championship trophy while he and his team celebrate their 35-31 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 in Tampa, Fla. (Loren Elliot/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

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Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney, left, holds the College Football Playoff National Championship trophy while he and his team celebrate their 35-31 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 in Tampa, Fla. (Loren Elliot/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

By TPN Sports Desk

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In preparation for ACC play, The Pitt News sports desk had a panel of seven writers rank the conference. Writers ranked the 14 ACC teams and then we tallied up the totals. We will update the rankings toward the end of every week — taking into account the most recent conference results — but for now, here are our preseason rankings:

  1. Florida State – 98 points

The consensus No. 1 pick in our rankings, the Seminoles come into the year ranked third in the country. Led by eighth-year head coach Jimbo Fisher, the team returns redshirt sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois after finishing 10-3 last year. The most notable departure is that of running back Dalvin Cook, who was drafted by the Vikings in the second round of this year’s NFL draft.

Week 1 matchup: Alabama

  1. Clemson – 88 points

Coming off a national championship, the Tigers of Clemson look to defend their ACC title amid a plethora of losses. On offense, the group lost four to the NFL Draft — quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver Mike Williams, running back Wayne Gallman and tight end Jordan Leggett. It will be tough, but the Tigers should be good enough to remain in the conference’s top tier.

Week 1 matchup: Kent State

  1. Louisville – 83 points

The Cardinals have been on a steady rise the past few years under coach Bobby Petrino, and they should be toward the top of the conference again this year with Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson entering his junior season. They’re the clear dark horse pick in the Atlantic division, and if they can knock off either of the top two teams they’ll stand a good chance to take the ACC crown in December.

Week 1 matchup: Purdue

  1. Miami – 79 points

The first Coastal division team on our list, the Hurricanes are the overwhelming favorites to represent the group in the ACC Championship Game. Despite losing long-time starter Brad Kaaya, the offense should be just as good under former 3-star recruit Malik Rosier. Miami’s been on the edge of winning the division for a few years, and this should be its time to take it.

Week 1 matchup: Bethune-Cookman

  1. Virginia Tech – 71 points

After a superb and somewhat surprising 10-4 first year, head coach Justin Fuente hopes to take the Hokies further this season. The group was held back by several disappointing losses in 2016, including a 31-17 defeat to 4-8 Syracuse, but if it can avoid those letdowns, it’ll be able to challenge Miami in the Coastal.

Week 1 matchup: West Virginia

  1. North Carolina State – 57 points

Another team seemingly on the rise, the Wolfpack made its third consecutive bowl appearance last year, beating Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl 41-17. Redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Finley returns after throwing for over 3000 yards a year ago. The team will have go up against a tough schedule, though, playing Notre Dame and South Carolina in nonconference play.

Week 1 matchup: South Carolina

  1. Pitt – 56 points

One of the more unpredictable teams in the conference, the Panthers land in the middle of rankings due to the amount of new players they’ll have. The team lost major pieces on both sides of the ball in addition to offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Not to mention the defense will be without two expected starters for the first three games. If everything works out, the Panthers could find their way toward the top of the conference. If not, they could wind up missing a bowl game for the first time in 10 years.

Week 1 matchup: Youngstown State

  1. Georgia Tech – 53 points

After finishing with a lackluster 3-9 record in 2015, the Yellow Jackets bounced back last season to finish 9-4 overall. With the loss of quarterback Justin Thomas, though, the team will be looking for someone new to lead its tricky triple-option offense. This season will likely depend on whether or not the replacement can be an adequate one, with Thomas having been one of the most experienced players on the team.

Week 1 matchup: Tennessee

  1. North Carolina – 45 points

The Tar Heels will be an extremely inexperienced team this year, and that’s why they land at No. 9 on our list. The group lost both quarterback Mitch Trubisky and wide receiver Ryan Switzer to the NFL, in addition to defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. It will be surprising if they can manage to replace all these parts, and a tough Atlantic division matchup against Louisville will only hurt their conference hopes.

Week 1 matchup: California

  1. Syracuse – 30 points

Despite finishing 4-8 a year ago, the Orange returns a lot from last year’s team and should improve in head coach Dino Babers’ second year. Quarterback Eric Dungey was impressive last year, throwing for 2679 yards and 15 touchdowns. Still, the program has a long way to go to start moving up the conference, and being forced to play Clemson and Florida State every year will only stifle that growth.

Week 1 matchup: Central Connecticut

T-11. Duke – 25 points

After experiencing an upward trend in head coach David Cutcliffe’s first few seasons, the Blue Devils seemed to have hit their peak when making it to the 2013 ACC Championship Game. Ever since then, it’s been a downward slide for the program, one which should continue in 2017.

Week 1 matchup: North Carolina Central

T-11. Wake Forest – 25 points

Last year, the Demon Deacons made their first bowl game in five years, finishing 6-6 in the regular season under coach Dave Clawson. It was the team’s first winning record since 2008, and although they continue to show signs of improvement, it will take several years to erase their perception as a losing team.

Week 1 matchup: Presbyterian

  1. Boston College – 15 points

In 2015 and 2016 combined, the Eagles won just two games in conference play despite playing in a bowl game last year. Under coach Steve Addazio, the team has sported one of the best defensive units in the conference, only to be dragged down by one of the worst offenses. The group is expected to struggle in the conference yet again, as Addazio’s seat keeps getting hotter.

Week 1 matchup: Northern Illinois

  1. Virginia – 10 points

The Cavaliers have long been one of the worst teams in the ACC, only managing two winning seasons in the past 10 years. Second-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall hopes to buck that trend, but he didn’t get off to a good start in year one, as Virginia finished 2-10.

Week 1 matchup: William and Mary

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