Ready or not, the kickoff to whatever the 2020 ACC football season is going to be happens this weekend.
You can toss hyperbole out of the window when we say we have no clue what to expect this season. Between a schedule no one expected, nearly deserted campuses across the country, and the possibility that every game could be the last of the season, it absolutely feels odd to try and get excited for football. That said, Mack Brown has been doing everything possible to assure fans the team has been cautions, and the fact that no one on the team has tested positive since July for the virus that clouded this whole season is a great sign. The rubber, though, is about to meet the road.
Football indeed kicks off this weekend, and before the Hurricanes kick off against UAB on Thursday, let’s take a look at our inaugural power rankings for the 2020 season. A season so odd, we’ll have fifteen teams on there.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Tigers enter the 2020 season licking their wounds after losing to LSU in the National Title game. Coming off the domination of their 2019 title over Alabama, most didn’t think that anyone would be able to beat this team for the three years Trevor Lawrence would be under center. Now, there’s a question as to whether or not they’ll have more than one thanks to just how weird this season promises to be. Still, Clemson returns all their weapons and until proven otherwise, even in this modified type of season, they sit on the throne.
2) Notre Dame
You can have a long debate about whether or not the ACC is being taken advantage of by allowing the Irish into the conference for this season only, but the decision was made and the field in South Bend will have the ACC logo on it, gloriously showing up on those NBC telecasts that Notre Dame has the contract for and will share with the conference this year. The ACC media seem to think they’ll have a rematch with Clemson in Charlotte, which would be a dream scenario for ESPN.
3) North Carolina
The Tar Heels ended 2019 on a serious roll just to make a bowl game, and then thoroughly trounced Temple when Sam Howell was allowed to run free. Mack Brown’s recruiting, the return of the dark horse Heisman candidate Howell and his great receiving corps, the depth and running back, and a defense that is now familiar with the system that Jay Bateman was to run have fans expecting a lot this year. Their schedule also avoids Clemson, and should be one that allows them to get on a roll before hitting some real tests in Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Notre Dame.
Scott Satterfield stormed into town and surprised everyone by making the Cardinals not only competitive early, but a real threat. The Tar Heels have gotten a lot of attention as media darlings, but the truth is the media is really high on Louisville’s chances as well. The Cardinals also caught a break in that their modified schedule allows them to avoid traditional Atlantic foe Clemson, giving them a real chance to make some noise in 2020.
5) Virginia Tech
The Tar Heels could have changed the course of the ACC if they had managed to finish off the Hokies in Blacksburg, who still hold onto any grudge they can find. In the end, though, their multi-OT win saved their season and allowed them to play a thrilling bowl game, and it gave them momentum going into 2020. The fact is, with a lot of schools below them going through a lot of change, while the Hokies’ situation isn’t great, they seem to be the best of the rest, as it were.
New coach for 2019, but same mercurial Hurricanes. Miami finished last season with a thud despite some real promise, and even though Manny Diaz has had some great recruiting wins, you can’t help but to be skeptical of how Miami will do until they prove a little more consistency than last year. They do manage to avoid Notre Dame, but will see Clemson about halfway through, which will let us know a lot about where they stand.
7) Florida State
A lackluster 2019 led to the Seminoles swiping Mike Norvell from Memphis after last season, and so it’s always tough to know what to expect from a team recruited for one system and having to adapt to a new system and new coach, especially in a season such as this. Norvell will be the latest to try and recapture the magic in Tallahassee, a school that not too long ago appeared set to dominate the ACC for decades.
As usual, the Panthers are just...there. They are a team you don’t want to play, will be in every game, will win a game or two that you don't expect and then will lose a game or two you don’t expect. The schedule sets up for them to make some noise, though, as they don’t see Clemson until the final game of the season, and this team with momentum could be dangerous.
The 2019 ACC Coastal Division Champions lost a lot of people for this season, a reality for just about any program not named “Clemson” or “Alabama.” Bronco Mendenhall maximized the abilities of his team last season, all the way to Miami, and most expect them to take a step back while retooling the talent. The Tar Heels have to go to Charlottesville this year, and it’ll be interesting to see if Mack Brown can get his first win there.
10) Wake Forest
We’ve hit the “rebuilding” section of the power rankings, in case you couldn’t tell. It tells you something about the next five teams when a squad that graduated its quarterback and its best receiver decided to skip the season due to COVID still is viewed as having a better chance of doing well as the rest. A lot of that goes to the coach Dave Clawson, who’s brought stability to the Deacons and plays an option style that is difficult to play against, even if the talent is cycling through. It’s also worth noting here that Clawson is showing the lengths some are having to go through for us to enjoy football, as he is having to isolate from his cancer-surviving wife in order to coach this season.
11) NC State
I guess? The Wolfpack get the nod above the rest for the stability at coach and returning a lot of the same talent, but their season hadn’t even started yet before they became the first team to have to delay their scheduled game due to COVID results. In normal times, Dave Doreen might be considered on the hot seat, but between his still recent contract extension and the financial difficulties all sports are about to face, it’s likely that he’d have to have a Larry Fedora 2018 type of year in order to be let go.
The Blue Devils missed going to a bowl in 2019 and things aren’t looking to be much better this season, finally just settling on a starting quarterback this week in Chase Brice. They are hoping some of that Clemson magic will rub off on the team, but the truth is there shouldn’t be a lot of optimism in Durham.
13) Boston College
The Eagles decided they were done of a yearly 6-6 mark and moved on to new coach Jeff Hafley. The former DC from Ohio State inherits a team short on talent, meaning he is going to have to build this squad from the ground up. It’s going to take some time to get some consistency in Chestnut Hill.
14) Georgia Tech
Up till now, these rankings have mirrored the preseason ACC rankings, but Tech comes into the season slightly more upbeat as they have a full season under Geoff Collins now, and a lot of the growing pains they had as they moved from the triple option should be done. They still have a ways to go, but the Jackets were feisty at the end of the season, giving Virginia a good fight, upsetting Miami, and ended NC State’s hopes for a bowl game. 3-9 was honestly more than folks expected out of Tech, so it’s tough to believe they start this year as the worst...especially...
Carolina’s opponent this weekend has been the definition of chaos going into the 2020 season. They already weren’t looking to have a stellar season after crashing to earth in 2019, their offensive line they bring this season opener doesn't look promising, and as a team they struggled to practice as the players were demanding more protection against COVID. But hey, at least their home dome will finally have air conditioning.