The pre-spring version of the CFN 2021 rankings with a first look at all the ACC teams.
ACC Rankings: 2021 Pre-Spring
ACC Atlantic Division
1. Clemson Tigers
Why To Be Happy: At the moment, the defense gets all 11 starters back after leading the ACC in total and scoring D. This was a young group up front, and now all the stars return. Linebackers James Skalski and Baylon Spector announced they’re returning for another year, corner Derion Kendrick is back, and on and on and on. Oh yeah … the offense did this last year without a few key receivers who’ll be back.
What To Work On: Turnovers were a bit of a problem – especially fumbling – and the running game wasn’t its normal killer self. Travis Etienne is done, but the veteran O line has to be better at pounding away.
Bottom Line: It’s Clemson. It lost a transcendent NFL QB prospect in Trevor Lawrence, the most productive ACC running back ever in Etienne, and it’s going to be even better.
2. NC State Wolfpack
Why To Be Happy: The defense loses the main man Asim McNeill from the middle of the line, but everyone else of note appears to be back. Throw in a few key transfers – especially at safety – and the Pack should be nasty on that side of the ball.
What To Work On: Most of the offensive skill parts are back – helped by the return of leading receiver Emeka Emezie – but the production has to come. The O was fine, but it wasn’t explosive enough and there were too many turnovers.
Bottom Line: NC State was great at beating the teams it was supposed to, and the experience will be there to repeat the decent level of success of 2020, but big-time playmakers have to emerge.
3. Boston College Eagles
Why To Be Happy: It was a strong first season under head coach Jeff Hafley, and he gets the pieces back for the offense to be even more dangerous. The backfield of QB Phil Jurkovec and RB David Bailey will be great if …
What To Work On: The running game has to start working again. It wasn’t a function of the offensive style, but with all five offensive linemen expected to return to pave the way for Bailey, there’s no excuse for being 118th in the nation in rushing again.
Bottom Line: Just about everyone returns on offense, and the defense that needs a little reworking needs to start getting behind the line more. The Eagles will be stronger.
4. Florida State Seminoles
Why To Be Happy: There needs to be a whole lot of work and a whole lot more production, but almost all of the entire starting offensive 11 from the end of last season is expected to be back. The defensive side loses several key parts, but instant help appears to be on the way from the transfer portal.
What To Work On: Yeah, the offense. The defensive side has to generate some semblance of a pass rush, but the O has to be more efficient throwing the ball and has to figure out how to move the chains.
Bottom Line: 2020 couldn’t have been any worse for head coach Mike Norvell and the national title-level program. There’s experience, there’s a reset mindset, and … there’s a lot of work to do.
5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Why To Be Happy: The offense should be even more explosive and more dangerous. The offensive line returns almost intact, the receiving corps is loaded, and Sam Hartman – bowl meltdown against Wisconsin aside – is a terrific triggerman to run it all. There’s more than enough talent back on D to be fine, but …
What To Work On: Losing star end Carlos Basham matters. The pass rush was a problem for the Demon Deacons with him, and now it’s going to take a whole lot of work to get even more out of the D that has to work to hold serve.
Bottom Line: It’ll be more of the same. Dangerous, fun, explosive offense that should be able to keep up with just about everyone, but questionable defense that should have enough issues to make every game a shootout.
6. Louisville Cardinals
Why To Be Happy: The offense is going to be interesting with Georgia Southern option wizard QB Shai Werts transferring in to add another option. Expect more consistency and production from a team that should be able to keep up with just about everyone.
What To Work On: The receiving corps loses Dez Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell to the next level, and the linebacking corps has to replace almost all the starting linebackers along with nose tackle Jared Goldwire.
Bottom Line: Coming off a 4-7 season, the Cardinals have to bounce back quickly despite a slew of key departures compared to the rest of the Atlantic Division. Improvement on the O line and limiting the turnovers are a must.
7. Syracuse Orange
Why To Be Happy: The Orange have almost everyone back on offense and on the defensive front seven, and the arrival of Garrett Shrader from Mississippi State should help the quarterback room. The experience is there on both sides of the ball, but …
What To Work On: The secondary loses its top playmakers, and losing receiver and return man Nykeim Johnson to Kent State hurts, and … offensive line, offensive line, offensive line. The Orange have GOT to figure out how to block after not doing enough of it over the last few years.
Bottom Line: We know it’s possible for Syracuse to win – we all saw it a few years ago – but after a lost year with horrible play on both lines, the program has to get the infrastructure right.