ACC Preseason Power Rankings: Chaos Below Clemson and Miami

What you need to know about this research

When was this fielded?: July 19 – 20, 2018
Number of respondents: 765
Research technique: Online quantitative survey using the MaxDiff Market Research Technique
Who is in this research?: A small majority (54%) of the respondents in this research are ACC fans. The natural fallout was an equal mix of ACC and Non ACC fans, so I did not need to weight the data to reflect an equal mix of in conference and out of conference fans like I did in the Big Ten and Big 12 Preseason Power Rankings. I also looked at the results when they were weighted to equalize participation from the ACC schools, but there were almost no differences between the weighted and unweighted results, so I ultimately decided to report the results completely unweighted.

Interpreting The Results

The MaxDiff scores for each team are indexed at 100. For example, NC State’s MaxDiff score of 168 means that team was ranked 68% higher than the average team in the exercise. It is important to note that these scores should not be interpreted as “votes.” See our explanation of MaxDiff if you would like more information.

FanJuicer’s Take On The Results

Based on preseason hype, I expected Clemson to be the only member of Tier I and for there to be a drop between the Tigers and Miami, similar to what we saw in our Big 12 Preseason Power Rankings, where fans placed Oklahoma as the only Tier I team. That obviously was not the case here, as Clemson is joined by the Miami Hurricanes in Tier I. So I looked into the data for an explanation. To sum it up, fans clearly feel that Miami is superior to every team in the ACC except Clemson. In MaxDiff rankings like these, tiers develop based upon how fans feel each team would fare against every single other team – not just against one team in particular. So although fans chose Clemson as the better team in over 85% of the sets in which Clemson and Miami appeared together, the fact that fans chose Miami in similarly high percentages over every team not named Clemson places them in Tier I. This differs from what we saw in the Big 12 Preseason Power Rankings, where there was no team that separated itself from the pack as the clear challenger to Oklahoma.

It is also worth noting that these results should serve as an excellent illustration of the uncertainty in the conference. In the minds of fans, it is a free-for-all for spots #6 – #14. The large drop after #5 NC State, and the following teams’ relatively similar MaxDiff scores illustrate this. In other words, there is very little consensus around the rankings of the bottom half of the conference.

Research Participants Give Their Outlook For Each ACC Team

#14 Syracuse Orange

  • “They’re in a race for the bottom of the ACC. Virginia could potentially be worse, but we’ll see!” – /u/GatorAndrew
  • “I thought beating Clemson was going to be the break through for the Orange last year and then they proceeded to lose 5 straight. They’re in the wrong division in a conference where no one actually sucks, and they also get Notre Dame this year. I would be surprised if they managed to go bowling this year.” – /u/coreyfra
  • “Syracuse is evolving under Babers and had a huge win over Clemson, but then dropped their last 5 [LAST SEASON]. I think they’ll improve this year and may make a bowl, and a lot will depend on if they can turn the defense around.” – /u/bakonydraco


#13 Virginia Cavaliers

  • “It’s so tough to say. Virginia is on the lower end of the ACC’s middle class, but nobody really knows after Clemson and Miami, and Syracuse will be dead last, naturally.” – Anonymous
  • “Virginia’s prospects for next season? Well, they made it to a bowl this past season which was unexpected, so honestly I have no idea what or how they’ll do.” – /u/Nathanael-Greene
  • “Lower half of the Coastal – 2-6 or 3-5 in conference – fighting for bowl eligibility.” – /u/mbd1mbd1


#12 North Carolina Tarheels

  • “I definitely don’t think UNC is ready to bounce back yet; last year was awful, and I don’t think they’ve done enough to improve significantly. Antonio Williams was a big get though, but I don’t think he’s enough to be a contender – maybe they make it out of the basement though.” – /u/buckeyedrake
  • “North Carolina is the definition of strictly average as far as the ACC is concerned. I don’t see a ton of upside on either side of the ball for them, but Larry Fedora has proven that he can coach his squad to a few big wins every year. If they win the games they’re supposed to and upset 1 or 2 teams; this year they should finish somewhere around 6-7 wins.” – “Ben from Champaign”
  • “UNC will be improved from last year, but still near the bottom of the ACC. It’d be unlikely for them to have as many injuries as last year, so they should win about 2 more games.” – “Tortellini”


#11 Duke Blue Devils

  • “At worst, Duke is a 5 win team with some close losses – middle of the pack team. At best Duke is a middle of the pack 7 win team in a power conference and goes to a bowl!” – Anonymous
  • “Cutcliffe is a good coach and always has his team ready, but he is at Duke and can only do so much with what he has. I expect them to finish in middle of the coastal and ACC” – /u/impulsekash
  • “I would pencil in Duke to finish at 6-6 with a losing record in the conference. There are 3 ACC opponents plus an out-of-conference one that are virtual locks to beat Duke this season: Northwestern, Virginia Tech, Miami and Clemson. Wake Forest and Georgia Tech are better teams, but I think Duke’s defense is good enough to squeak out a win against one of them. Baylor and NC Central are easy wins for Duke, and I think they take care of business vs Army. Out of the remaining conference games, Virginia, Pitt and UNC, Duke should be able to get two more wins. That puts their conference record at 3-5 and overall record at 6-6. I’d say their ceiling is 7 wins (4-4 in conference play) and 3rd place in the ACC Coastal division behind VT and Miami.” – /u/MrRandyMarsh


#10 Wake Forest Demon Deacons

  • “Bottom half of the ACC. Outside teams like FSU, Clemson, Va Tech, Miami, and maybe BC and NC State, the ACC is super wide open for the bottom half of the conference.” – “Skerr”
  • “Wake Forest will continue to be a wild card in the ACC, but won’t compete at all for a division or conference titles. They lost a good-to-great DE in Duke Ejiofor, but hold on to their late bloomer RB Colburn, who ended the year with 150 yards and a touchdown in their wacky Belk Bowl win. Count on them to win one or two big games, but fade away from the rest and lose one or two they shouldn’t. Having Notre Dame and Clemson over a three week span, even at home, doesn’t bode well. That being said, if they sneak a win there, the rest of the schedule is much easier (albeit a lot of road games) and they could find themselves in a half-decent bowl game.” – /u/Cassiyus
  • “I think their 8 – 5 record last season was mostly a flash in the pan. I don’t anticipate they’ll be able to replicate it.” – /u/Packets


#9 Pitt Panthers

  • “As with most ACC Coastal teams, your guess is as good as mine. I would think that Pitt falls more towards the middle of the road. With the exception of somehow beating a then #2 Miami in their season finale, Pitt was a very mediocre team last season, and returning 67% of their production from last year (according to 247), makes them good enough for 7th in the ACC. They also have a very difficult schedule, playing games against Penn State, UCF, and Notre Dame along with the usual division foes. While they aren’t too far removed from a couple of 8 win seasons, I just don’t see any reason to believe that they’ll suddenly break out this year, but I don’t see them being a bottom tier team either.” – /u/thewxdude
  • “Pittsburgh’s offense could keep them in most games, but their defense leaves something to be desired. They are a few key players away from making real noise in the ACC Coastal, but should still fare well in the Coastal Chaos. Finishing 2nd this year in the Coastal seems to be their ceiling with a floor of 5th. Most likely, they’ll finish 3rd behind Miami and Virginia Tech.” – /u/JarrydP


#8 Boston College Eagles

  • “Boston College returns a great defense and offense. The ACC schedule is tough, but the non-conference is very weak, so even if they drop some games to better ACC teams, they’ll still finish with a great record.” – Anonymous
  • “What is there to say about Boston College? Addazio has gone 7-6 three out of four years. They’re Indiana if Indiana could win its bowl game once in a while – a consistent threat to some teams, but seldom the top 25.” – /u/Officer_Warr
  • “Boston College has been known for an incredibly strong defense the past few years, and last year it seemed the offense began to finally click for a few games, so I’d expect them to build on that start to finish in the top half of the conference.” – /u/Livin_Thing
  • “Boston College showed last year that after a rough 2-4 start, they could adjust and win. A victory over a talented but inconsistent Louisville team, and a dominating victory over FSU proved they would win against big teams. They have the hardest second half season schedule in the Atlantic.” – /u/Fermbetterthanfire


#7 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

  • “Probably finish around third in the Coastal. Definitely look for them to upset either Clemson, Miami, or Virginia Tech only to drop to a few games they have no business losing.” – Anonymous
  • “The Yellow Jackets are a team of seasons past. For those of us old enough to remember, they we’re once one a formidable force in the ACC, but for what has seemed like quite some time, that is no longer the case. They will more than likely finish around .500 while giving a few of the better teams in the conference a scare. Until what seems to be the status quo can be shook from this team, I don’t see any reason to change expectations from the past few seasons.” – /u/LordFerguson
  • “Georgia Tech is a wonky team with a wonky system. If they get lucky with injuries and their team clicks, then they can do quite well, but it’s a once every 4 or 5 years occurrence. If it’s one of those years, maybe 2nd in the Coastal, but otherwise more middle of the pack.” – “James”


#6 Louisville Cardinals

  • “I think the departure of Lamar Jackson will be an incredibly difficult loss to overcome given that he was the majority of their offensive output. Their defense also has been subpar, so in my opinion they will not be nearly as difficult to beat [AS PREVIOUS SEASONS]. I think that Louisville will finish around 4th to 6th in the Atlantic and 6th to 8th overall.” – /u/axberka
  • “Louisville is a huge wild card this year. They will obviously miss Lamar Jackson a lot. There will be growing pains with Jawon Pass, and the defense is a total question mark after getting a new coordinator for the 3rd straight year. I see them finishing 4th or 5th in a tough Atlantic division and the 7th or 8th best team in the ACC. They draw Georgia Tech at home and Virginia on the road to help offset the fact that they play 2 P5 out-of-conference games (Bama and UK), so 7-5 and a bowl game feels about right, but they could wildly over or under-perform with the uncertainty on defense and at QB.” – /u/JPalad1ns


#5 NC State Wolfpack

  • “3rd in the Atlantic behind Clemson and FSU. Veteran offense led by Ryan Finley and complemented by potentially conference best recievers will be a challenge for most of the ACC defenses. Losses on the defensive side of the ball means the defense may see a step back. Will probably have a few losses to teams with defenses that can stop them. Will most likely not be challenged by the lower tier teams that they can easily outscore.” – /u/Keymaster43
  • “I feel that NC State will always threaten FSU and Clemson which always makes them scary. They have talent, but there is still a gap between them and the other 2 schools I mentioned. Finley is great, maybe the best ACC QB, but they lost a decent amount on D.” – Anonymous


#4 Virginia Tech Hokies

  • “VT came off a high-powered 9-4 season last year. This year’s schedule features matchups against William & Mary, East Carolina, Old Dominion, Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia, all of which should be guaranteed wins for the sophomore Josh Jackson and company. However, loss of three offensive line starters could muddy the waters a bit. Without an existing breakout running back, their offense could falter. In addition, while their defensive line remains, their defense backs are almost entirely new. If Tech can beat either Florida State or Miami, take all of their easy games, and find their offensive footing before the second half of the season, they could once again challenge for the ACC title after missing last year.” – /u/lotusscissors
  • “Virginia Tech has had a pretty rough off-season. I think there are a lot of question marks on this team right now, and it will be interesting to see how Justin Fuente and Bud Foster handle it. The defense lost a lot and will be thin in areas. Some playmakers need to show up on offense. I’m looking forward to seeing how Fuente develops Josh Jackson. I think they’ll take a step back this season and firmly be in that middle of the pack group with Louisville, NC State, and Georgia Tech. I don’t think they have the talent or experience to challenge FSU or Miami this year. With their schedule, they’ll likely end up 7-5 to 9-3 depending on how things turn out. – /u/gmoney542


#3 Florida State Seminoles

  • “There are so many unknowns. Taggart looks to be a good coach, but he didn’t prove it at Oregon. Last year was such a debacle, but the talent is solid.” – “A Pitt fan”
  • “Florida State will rebound this season from last year’s 7-6 season. They will run the ball early and often as they implement a new spread style of offense in Tallahassee. They have a great group of running backs and a stout defensive line. If they can fill the void at linebacker after losing 3 starters, they should have a decent season. I don’t believe they have the QB play to contend with Miami or Clemson this year, but they will be Tier 2 and make another bowl this year without having to reschedule another game late.” – “Noah P.”
  • “The question for Florida State isn’t talent. They have good to great players across the board from years of recruiting very well. What I want to know is how well the new coaching staff can perform. Looking at Taggart’s body of work at USF and Oregon primarily, he doesn’t stand out to me as an excellent X’s and O’s coach. The man is known for his recruiting abilities, but has a below .500 career winning record. If he is able to maximize the talent and potential of his team, FSU could very well make the Atlantic interesting and push Clemson. That being said, the jury is still out on him. Will he perform with his most talented roster to date?” – /u/sebas678


#2 Miami Hurricanes

  • “Miami should be the favorite in the Coastal division again. Richt has done a good job recruiting and building up the program and this will be his best Miami team yet. I expect they’ll win the division and lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship, as they’re still not at the level of Clemson.” – /u/patrickclegane
  • “Miami’s placement in the Coastal alongside it’s schedule allow the team to finish 11-1 with a repeat appearance in the ACC championship. Their loss will be to FSU.” – /u/wallace-wade-5ever
  • “I think Miami will have another solid year, carrying the momentum of last season into this one, but I think Miami takes a slight step back this season and comes in second place in the coastal to Virginia Tech. Miami had several games that they could have very easily lost last season, and I don’t think they’ll be as fortunate this time around.” – /u/Soaringeagle43
  • “A number of their games could be classified as “toss ups”. LSU will be a struggle, FSU may prove to be a real test, and visiting Blacksburg late in the season could trip them up. A lot has to go right for them to take their division with ease.” – “Ian The Tiger”


#1 Clemson Tigers

  • “I believe that Clemson will more than likely return to the top of the ACC. I don’t really see a clear Challenger now that Jimbo Fisher has left Florida State. It seems unlikely to me that any other team in the ACC will be able to unseat Clemson from total dominance of the conference until Dabo Swinney leaves or another top tier head coach arrives.” – Anonymous
  • “Firstly, their All-pro DL is pretty freaking scary and they always have a smooth offense.” – /u/Belichick4President
  • “Although Clemson was slightly over-ranked last season, they nonetheless won the ACC outright and appeared in the College Football Playoff. Coach Dabo Swinney is doing just about everything right, especially recruiting and developing the key defensive players his DC Venables needs to keep his high-skill schemes running. Despite speculation that Swinney will leave for Alabama once that coaching job finally opens up, Clemson will remain at the top of the ACC as long as Swinney remains at Clemson and they keep bringing in exactly the talent he needs.” – /u/Charlemagne42
  • “Obviously, Clemson is competing for another CFP spot. They will be led by their nightmarish defensive line, RB Travis Etienne, an impressive recruiting class, and most likely Kelly Bryant at QB. I expect [5-STAR TRUE FRESHMAN] Trevor Lawrence to take full advantage of the new redshirt rule. Bret Venables always gets his defense ready to play. Combine that with one of the best rosters in America, and I think this team is the favorite for the National Championship.” – Anonymous
  • “Dabo has been putting together good competitive squads the past 5 years and he’s only been building on it. Do I think he’ll be back in the national championship? No. Do I think he’ll win the ACC again? I’m reasonably confident he can, but I expect better things out of Miami this year.” – /u/onesidedsquare
  • “Clemson will finish first in the Atlantic but lose the ACC Championship Game. They have lost too many play makers.” – “Chris”
  • “Clemson will win the conference for a 4th straight year due to the strength of the defense. With four potential 1st round picks, the line will be suffocating, and will be able to cover for a thin defensive backfield. On the offensive side of the ball, things are not as clear, particularly at the QB position. Kelly Bryant will be the starter, and if he can consistently connect with Tee Higgins, he will remain the starter throughout the year. If Bryant has trouble connecting on the long ball, then I see Trevor Lawrence playing a more significant role in the offense. Clemson has an advantage in that the two toughest teams it will face on the road – A&M and FSU – both are experiencing coaching turnovers, and with a relatively mild home schedule should be expected to win 10 games. Barring key injuries, another 11 win season is not out of the question.” – Anonymous


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