Far-Too-Early 2012 ACC Power Rankings (April 16)

Florida State Will Rely Heavily On QB EJ Manuel This Season. Is He Up for the Task?

With spring practices nearing completion, we have another installment of our early power rankings for the entirety of the ACC. As always, we take into account what’s happened both on and off the field, and try not to read too far into what happened in practices this spring. This will be revised monthly throughout the offseason.

1. Florida State Seminoles (LW: 1): The O-line may seem shaky, and the jury’s still out on whether quarterback E.J. Manuel can truly carry this offense, but that hasn’t stopped the hype in Tallahassee. Predicated on defense last year, the Seminoles won’t be above leaning on what should be one of the best units in the country again, if need be. But if forced to go that route, their ceiling may be winning an ACC title — rather than the national championship.

2. Clemson Tigers (LW: 2): A lot’s changing for the Tigers, who are raising the bar for the program after a 10-4 campaign in 2011. New defensive coordinator Brent Venables has hit the ground running since his arrival, and by all accounts his more aggressive style is already rubbing off on a group that desperately needs to improve upon last season’s performance. On the offensive end, fans will be curious to see how much they incorporate the pistol offense, and how well Tajh Boyd adapts to both the new scheme, and new pressures of being the league’s most highly-touted signal-caller.

3. Virginia Tech Hokies (LW: 3): Dissatisfied with offensive production, Virginia Tech has also given the pistol a shot this spring, with varying results. While the team has incorporated the spread with Logan Thomas‘s mobility as the focal point, it appears they’re mixing things up to see what works best with the inexperienced offensive line. Both attacks have their own respective challenges, and it’ll likely come down to which projects best over the course of the year.

4. NC State Woflpack (LW: 4): Off-the-field issues have played a much larger part in NC State’s spring than the program would’ve liked, and the question marks are starting to pop up about how successfully they can really be in 2012. More and more, it’s appearing as if Mike Glennon will have to shoulder much of the load — something that may improve his draft stock, but could also force them to be far too one-dimensional in a year they were originally projected to break through in the ACC.

5. North Carolina Tar Heels (LW: 5): Pure talent may be what gets the Heels through a trying 2012 season. As much as the defense lost some key cogs from last year, the returning group has a better chance to improve under muted expectations. Plus, the offense is once again stocked with weapons, with Bryn Renner and Giovani Bernard as the focal points.

6. Virginia Cavaliers (LW: 6): There’s a culture shift in Charlottesville under head coach Mike London, and it’s becoming more and more apparent by the day. Recruiting well, and showing some newfound intensity, how high the Hoos can climb is now anyone’s guess. Of course, they’ll have to get past “big brother” Virginia Tech first, but I wouldn’t be shocked if this was the year.

7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (LW: 7): It’s put-up or shut-up time for Tevin Washington and Paul Johnson’s triple-option. As we’ve detailed here on the site, fans are getting restless, especially with quarterbacks waiting in the wings, and no proven receivers on the roster. On the defensive end, they also need to regroup after losing standout linebacker Julian Burnett for the season.

8. Pittsburgh Panthers (LW: 10): If quarterback Tino Sunseri can prove himself at least an average signal-caller this year (always debatable) and cut down on mistakes, the Pitt run-game should be able to handle the rest. Folks are curious to see how well running back Ray Graham will perform in his return from injury. If he’s back to his old self, the one-two punch of Graham and heralded freshman Rushel Shell could be among the most lethal in college football.

9. Syracuse Orange (LW: 11): There’s a fair chance Syracuse fails to make the postseason again this year, but it won’t be for lack of ability. With one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules, the team is experimenting with everything this spring to see what sticks. That includes an intriguing two-quarterback formation that will try to employ the strengths of both incumbent Ryan Nassib and the future, Ashton Broyld.

10. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (LW: 8): Another team with distractions galore, Miami needs to find a way to decrease the program’s current talent churn-rate. It’s possible, however, much is still up in the air until the NCAA rules on its violations. With that dark cloud and a tough schedule, how the Hurricanes perform this season is really anyone’s guess.

11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (LW: 9): Tanner Price needs help for the Deacs to be successful in 2012. But he may not get much of it. Replacing key targets, and nearly his entire offensive line, the rising-junior will be called upon to be more mobile with the football. A competent running game would also help him out, but it just hasn’t been the case for Wake of late.

12. Duke Blue Devils (LW: 12): Is this that turn-the-corner year everyone both within and outside of Duke’s program have foretold for so long? Actually, maybe. The enormous talent-gap now gone between the Blue Devils and at leas the middle of the ACC, the offense is good enough to hang with opponents — so long as the defense can make stops.

13. Boston College Eagles (LW: 13): Even without departed star Luke Kuechly, the BC defense can hold its own in 2012. But what about the offense? The anemic group celebrates Montel Harris‘s return, but not without more injury concerns. Should the burden fall to QB Chase Rettig to run the show, it could be another very bumpy ride for the Eagles.

14. Maryland Terrapins (LW: 14): With the Danny O’Brien circus over, focus now shifts to Maryland learning how to win football games again. There’s a lot of inexperience on this team, of course, but that can also bring promise. At this point, anyone opposed to head coach Randy Edsall has likely left the program, leaving it up to him to work with personnel to produce results. No one’s saying it won’t be rough, but at least there’s a chance at success.

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