Scout's ACC/Notre Dame Power Rankings

Here are the ACC/Notre Dame Power Rankings going into the 2015 season. Can the Fighting Irish make a playoff push? Is Florida State the team to beat once again in the ACC or will Clemson, Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech topple the Seminoles? Who are some teams that may surprise?

SEC Power Rankings
Pac-12 Power Rankings
Big Ten Power Rankings
Big 12 Power Rankings

Below are the rankings for the Atlantic Coast Conference. I have also added Notre Dame to this story. And yes, if the Fighting Irish were in the ACC then I would have slotted them at the top spot. But they are not and remain Independent, though they do play six teams from the ACC in 2015.

With that being said, I still like the Seminoles even though they have much to replace, especially on the offensive side of the ball. I see Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech as serious challengers. There are also some surprise teams in this league.

Notre Dame

It’s now Malik Zaire’s team in South Bend and I like his chances to lead this Notre Dame team to big things in 2015. He’s surrounded by talent and play makers, which should help ease him into the starting quarterback of the Fighting Irish. It all starts up front with a very formidable offensive front led by All-American tackle Ronnie Stanley. He’s arguably the game’s top player at his position. Strong play here will keep Notre Dame balanced with the run game behind Tarean Folston and the passing attack of Zaire. Will Fuller was a breakout performer at wide receiver last year. They could use another player or two here to play with more consistency. This unit has some real potential this season.

The same can be said for the defense, though they have some questions on the defensive front, especially after losing defensive tackle Jarron Jones. That was a huge blow to the middle of this defense. Still, Notre Dame should be able to rally. Defensive lineman Sheldon Day and linebacker Jaylon Smith are very good and two of the better defenders in the country.

Key Games: Texas, Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC, Pitt, Stanford
The Irish have six big games with Texas out of gate. Then things get tricky against a very good Georgia Tech team at home before traveling to Clemson. Notre Dame also has tough road games against Pitt and Stanford to close out the regular season. Of course they host USC in their annual matchup with this rival. I really like Notre Dame's chances for a playoff spot.

1) Florida State

Florida State didn’t just lose quarterback Jameis Winston. Gone too are four starters on the offensive line, tight end Nick O’Leary and wide receiver Rashad Greene. And keep in mind that Dalvin Cook’s future with the team is still up in the air. Good thing Jimbo Fisher has recruited incredibly well in Tallahassee. Look for a ton of young and fresh faces packed with talent on the offensive side of the ball. Then you have a veteran who will likely take over at quarterback in Everett Golson. He’s battling Sean Maguire for the starting spot. Freshman running back Jacques Patrick had an outstanding spring. Wide receivers Travis Rudolph, Ja’Von Harrison, Ermon Lane and other young players at this position will all contribute to the passing game for FSU. The key is up front and how they replace most of their veteran offensive front.

I expect the defense to be better in 2015, despite losing defensive linemen Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman in the draft. Depth at linebacker is the major concern defensively. Look for safety Derwin James to be one of the top freshmen in the nation. Jalen Ramsey is arguably the most versatile defensive back in the country.

Key Games: Miami, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida

There are a few stretches that the Seminoles most navigate through on their schedule. The first is the three-game run in October where they face rival Miami at home and then a feisty Louisville team in Tallahassee before hitting the road against the Yellow Jackets. Two weeks later they travel to Clemson. This game should determine their side of the ACC. Finally, they close with the Gators in Gainesville.

2) Clemson

It’s all about Deshaun Watson. When he played in 2014, he played well. Now a true sophomore, it’s his time to take college football by storm and be the man for the Tigers. Watson has immense talent with a unique opportunity to work his way to be one of the game’s top quarterbacks. Wide receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott will lead the aerial attack with some dynamic incoming freshman like Ray Ray McCloud and Deon Cain that should make an impact as well. A good run game will take some pressure of this young signal caller. The front should be pretty good and look for a true freshman to start at tackle in Mitch Hyatt. Chad Morris is no longer the team’s offensive coordinator and is now the head coach at SMU. How will his departure affect this offense? Jeff Scott and Tony Elliot take over.

If this year’s defense can play as well as last year’s defense then the Tigers will certainly be there at the end. But keep in mind that this unit lost some key players like Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and Grady Jarrett. Good thing they will be good in the backend, especially cornerback Mackenzie Alexander. Coordinator Brent Venables really has done a terrific job with this defense.

Key Games: Louisville, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Miami, FSU, South Carolina
The Tigers will have their work cut out for them. They have a three game stretch where they play at Louisville before hosting Notre Dame and then Georgia Tech. They also have to travel to Miami and South Carolina. Florida State comes to Clemson in early November which could decide the fate of the ACC.

3) Georgia Tech

I love this program under Paul Johnson. To me, no one ever gives Georgia Tech their due. With what they have returning I certainly believe that they are the team to beat on the Coastal side of the ACC. Quarterback Justin Thomas is an outstanding fit for the triple option attack. He can beat you with this arm and legs and keys this offense. The Yellow Jackets must find a ton of production that they lost from a host of running backs. That will be the key. It helps that most of the offensive line returns.

Georgia Tech returns most of their defense and should be a better in 2015. Though some may feel that’s not saying much. They have got to play better, especially against the run, if they want to win the ACC.

Key Games: Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Pitt, FSU, Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia
The Yellow Jackets have one of the better and more challenging schedules in the ACC. It starts will a game in South Bend against Notre Dame. The following week this team travels to Duke. In the coming weeks Georgia Tech then plays UNC and at Clemson. Then they have home games against Pitt, FSU and Virginia Tech before traveling to Miami. Of course they close out the season with the in-state Bulldogs.

4) Virginia Tech

Frank Beamer hopes to avoid the injury bug in 2015. If so then his offense should put up enough points to compete for the ACC Division on their side. Quarterback Michael Brewer has the talent to lead this team to places but must play with more consistency. Isaiah Ford is coming off a killer spring and very good freshman season in 2014. He has a chance to emerge as one of the top wide receivers in the ACC. The Hokie run game should be good as long as the offensive line can do some damage up front. This Virginia Tech offense should be balanced and be able to complement one of the top defenses in the conference. The defense has talent, depth and production across the front, which is the strength of this football team. Of course their secondary is one of the best in college football. This could be a dangerous team if things come together for them on the offensive side of the ball.

Key Games: Ohio State, Pitt, NC State, Miami, Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina
The Hokies get the national champs in the opener at home. Blacksburg will be rocking as Beamer and Virginia Tech looks to upset Ohio State again. That would really kick start this season. This team has two true road tests this season when they travel to Miami and Georgia Tech. They don’t have to play FSU or Clemson.

5) Louisville

The big question for Bobby Petrino’s offense is the quarterback position. Four are battling for the starting spot. That group includes Reggie Bonnafon, Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin along with true freshman Lamar Jackson. Losing DeVante Parker to the NFL is a big blow to the passing game and it’s time for James Quick to evolve into the Cardinals go-to guy. Those early, tough games could be trouble for the offensive line, as that group will need to gel quickly.

On the other side of the ball look for Junior College transfer Devonte Fields to make an enormous impact for this Louisville defense. He’s an outstanding athlete and pass rusher. He joins a good group up front. The Cardinals are also talented at linebacker. They lost some members of their secondary but also have Georgia transfers cornerback Shaq Wiggins and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. This has a chance to be a very good unit once again.

Key Games: Auburn, Clemson, N.C. State, FSU, Pitt, Kentucky
If Louisville can navigate their way through a tricky first half of the season then they could be a major surprise in college football. They have two huge home games to start the season, with September contests against Auburn and Clemson. That will be a great barometer for Bobby Petrino. They also play back-to-back road games in Raleigh and Tallahassee.

6) N.C. State

14 starters are back for Dave Doeren’s team. That includes one of the conference’s best players in Jacoby Brissett. He led the Wolfpack to an eight win season. They are looking for more in 2015. He’s not alone offensively. N.C. State has a deep set of talented running backs that includes veterans Matthew Dayes and Shadrach Thornton as well as some really good freshman that could make an impact. Where this side of the ball really needs some help is at wide receiver. Here, a player or two needs to really step up and give this offense some big plays down the field. The defense in Raleigh has a chance to be good, especially with what this squad returns up front and in the back end.

Key Games: Louisville, Virginia Tech, Clemson, FSU, North Carolina

The Wolfpack will cruise through their first four games. Then they host Louisville before going to Blacksburg. The back half features big games at FSU and home games against Clemson and North Carolina.

7) North Carolina

This is going to be an interesting season in Chapel Hill because this offense is going to score a ton of points and North Carolina made a great off-season hire in defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. That combination should translate into more wins for Larry Fedora’s program. I think they could be a real sleeper in the ACC.

Marquise Williams is one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation and a great fit for what this scheme calls for. There is an abundance of talent around him at both running back and wide receiver that includes 10 starters coming back. This offense has a chance to be really good and really dangerous in 2015.

Can Chizik improve one of the worst defenses in college football? They only have one way to go and that’s up. There’s some talent to work with here for the former Auburn head coach. If Chizik can work some magic and the offense produces then Fedora should have the Tar Heels in the thick of the ACC race.

Key Games: South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Duke, Miami, Virginia Tech, N.C. State
Fedora and North Carolina play South Carolina out of conference. The Tar Heels have big road games at Georgia Tech, Pitt, Virginia Tech and N.C. State.

8) Miami

Is there a coach on a hotter hot seat than Al Golden? He really needs to have a big season in 2015. Quarterback Brad Kaaya had an outstanding first season as the starting signal caller in Coral Gables and was really one of the top true freshmen in college football in 2014. Stacy Coley needs to bounce back and have a breakout season this fall. He has too much talent not to dominant. Coley must also pick up the slack and production with Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford gone to the NFL. Also now playing on Sundays is Duke Johnson. Fortunately for Miami Joseph Yearby is there. He needs to live up to enormous promise. Mark Walton and Gus Edwards also will get plenty of touches. The Hurricanes also are losing a ton of starts on the offensive line and must replace three starters.

Miami returns arguably it’s most talented defensive player in defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad. He’s a rush end who they desperately need a big season from this fall. Still, this unit is a far cry for the Miami championship teams. Their best football player on this side of the ball is safety Deon Bush.

Key Games: Nebraska, Cincinnati, FSU, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Pitt

This is a daunting schedule for Golden and his ‘Canes. Nebraska at home early is a nice non-conference game. They travel to Cincinnati in October, who is no push over. Then it will get hairy with a string of games against FSU, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Duke and UNC. They close out the year with two tough road games and Georgia Tech at home.

9) Pitt

It’s another new regime at Pitt. This time it’s Pat Narduzzi’s turn. The former Michigan State defensive coordinator is the third head coach since they fired Dave Wannstedt in 2010. He inherits a pretty talented squad that includes some of college football’s top talent like running back James Conner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd. The key will be quarterback Chad Voytik. He needs to be a consistent signal caller for all 12 games. If that happens than the Panthers will contend. The new Pitt offensive coordinator is Jim Chaney. He’s one of the college game’s best.

Defensively, you would think that there would be big improvement Narduzzi and coordinator Josh Conklin. But they will have their work cut out for them this fall.

Key Games: Iowa, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami
This program scheduled two big non-conference games in Iowa on the road and Notre Dame at home. They also get home games against UNC, Louisville and Miami. They travel to both Techs.

10) Duke

I have a lot of respect for Duke coach David Cutcliffe, as he has done an incredible just with this Blue Devil program. They have won 19 games over the last two seasons and 25 in the past three. That’s a lot for this program. Now Cutcliffe and his staff must maintain the success and see wins in 2015. The big question will be at quarterback. How will Thomas Sirk do for Duke? It’s his turn. They also must find some lost production from wide receiver Jamison Crowder. The running back group is good. Defensively, their secondary is the key and one of the best units in the ACC. If they can figure out a way to get pressure on the quarterback they are going to shut down some people.

Key Games: Northwestern, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Pitt
Cutcliffe and Duke get Northwestern and Georgia Tech at home. Then they have a three game stretch against Virginia Tech, Miami and North Carolina.

11) Virginia

Whoa… lots of pressure on this staff to win and turn the corner and they have a stacked schedule (see below). Matt Johns will be the starter at quarterback and he must clean things up. Virginia should lean heavily on a ground attack. They are hoping that Taquan Mizzell finally lives up to his ability, as he has a ton of talent. It will help that the deepest part of this squad is their offensive front. They need to do a better job of controlling the line of scrimmage for this unit to be consistent and productive. The Cavs will have to replace a lot of sacks on the other side of the ball and will really miss Eli Harold and Max Valles. They do have a super sophomore safety in Quin Blanding but he can’t do it all for this Virginia defense.

Key Games: UCLA, Notre Dame, Boise State, Pitt, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami, Louisville, Virginia Tech
Holy smokes, what a schedule for Mike London and his Cavaliers. They start off against two really good teams in the Bruins and Fighting Irish. Week four Virginia hosts Boise State. They travel to UNC, Pitt, Miami and Louisville and get Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech at home. It could be a long season in Charlottesville.

12) Boston College

One thing I have learned over the past few seasons is that Steve Addazio is one heck of a good coach. His expertise is on the offensive front and they are going to have to be coached up big time this fall breaking in five new starting offensive linemen. They will also have a new starting quarterback in sophomore Darius Wade. If that offensive line can get a push then look for the Eagles to grind it out with their run game with Jon Hillman. The B.C. defense is good, especially against the run. This unit will keep them in just about every game. It’s up to the offense to put some points on the scoreboard.

Key Games: FSU, Duke, Clemson, Louisville, Virginia Tech, NC State, Notre Dame
BC has a five game run of Clemson, Louisville, Virginia Tech, NC State and Notre Dame. That’s tough.

13) Syracuse

Terrel Hunt returns as the team’s quarterback after fracturing his leg during the 2014 season. Syracuse needs a monster year from him in both production and leadership. He needs others around him to step up. Running backs George Morris and Devante McFarlane need good seasons. Steven Ishmael is one of the better wide receivers in the ACC. There’s a mix of youth and experience on the other side of the ball. Defensive tackle Wayne Williams left the program. That’s a big loss for this side of the ball. Syracuse must replace eight starters.

Key Games: LSU, Virginia, Pitt, FSU, Louisville, Clemson, N.C. State
The Orange has to take care of the front half of their schedule if they want to make sure that they secure some wins, playing URI, Wake Forest, Central Michigan, and USF. If they don’t get off to a good start then this season could be a long one with who they play from mid-October on.

14) Wake Forest

Playing a true freshman quarterback behind a bad offensive line spelled doom for the Demon Deacons one year ago. Things can’t possibly be that bad again for Dave Clawson’s Wake Forest offense. Quarterback John Wolford will be a sophomore who got a year’s worth of valuable experience in 2014. The offensive line should be better. There will be more young competition at the running back position, as this team needs some kind of spark in the ground game. This offense is also young at receiver. Wake Forest is pretty solid on defense, especially the front seven. The issues will be in the secondary, especially after losing one of the conference’s best players in cornerback Kevin Johnson.

Key Games: Indiana, FSU, Boston College, North Carolina, N.C. State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Clemson
The Demon Deacons have a stretch where they play Florida State, BC, North Carolina, N.C. State, Louisville, Notre Dame and Clemson.

Scout CFB Top Stories