Predicting the ceiling and floor for every ACC football team in 2023
There’s nothing magical about it. A philosophy change, sure — but don’t think anything close to a complete overhaul.
What’s evolving at Clemson this spring under new offensive coordinator Garrett Riley is closer to the proficient and efficient offenses led by Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence. At least, with pace.
Talent level is another story for another time. But the patient, almost plodding days of the past 2 seasons are over.
“Everybody loves to play fast, but defenses have caught up and know how to play against tempo,” Riley said earlier this week at his media opportunity. “What’s more important is dictating tempo. The way we line up and formation, it does give us the ability to play a little bit faster.”
Clemson’s offensive overhaul is the top storyline of ACC spring practices, and with it the hopes of the 2023 season. Here are the ceiling and floor for all 14 ACC teams heading into spring practice (ranked by Power Poll):
Ceiling: 11-1. The emergence of QB Cade Klubnik late last season was critical for 2023, and the hiring of Riley gives Clemson an elite, experienced play-caller. A move back to the Playoff is closer than you think. The Tigers are still the favorite in the ACC.
Floor: 9-3. The offensive line got better in 2022, but still hasn’t played the level of Clemson’s championship seasons.
2. Florida State
Ceiling: 11-1. The Noles are loaded, and even the only question (offensive line) looks like it has been replenished through the portal with Keiondre Jones (Auburn), Jeremiah Byers (UTEP) and Casey Roddick (Colorado). QB Jordan Travis, while still not an elite thrower, is an elite playmaker.
Floor: 9-3. FSU lost its 3 biggest games in 2022, didn’t beat a ranked team and beat the worst Oklahoma team since the 1990s in a meaningless bowl game. Let’s pump the brakes just a bit.
3. North Carolina
Ceiling: 10-2. With QB Drake Maye, UNC can win any game on the schedule. He’s that good, and even a new OC (Chip Lindsey) won’t affect what should be a giant sophomore season.
Floor: 8-4. The defense forced only 14 turnovers, had all of 17 sacks and gave up 30 points a game in 2022 — and Maye still had them at 9-1 in November (before losing 4 in a row).
4. NC State
Ceiling: 9-3. There are plenty of questions on offense, beginning with QB Brennan Armstrong reuniting with former Virginia OC Robert Anae. Does it work in Raleigh like it did in Charlottesville, where Armstrong was No. 2 in the nation in passing yards per game in 2021?
Floor: 6-6. If Armstrong plays like he did in 2022, he won’t be the starter past September. A stout defense from last season (19.2 ppg.) will be good again, but must cover better.
Ceiling: 9-3. How about this first season for coach Mike Elko: Duke won 9 games in 2022, Elko developed an emerging star quarterback (Riley Leonard) — and then kept the rest of college football from poaching him.
Floor: 6-6. Clemson, Notre Dame, NC State, at FSU, at North Carolina, Pittsburgh. That’s 6 brutal games, and 6 potential losses.
Ceiling: 9-3. The big question: Was Tyler Van Dyke’s regression because of former OC Josh Gattis or something else? New OC Shannon Dawson brings the Air Raid offense to Miami, and that should allow Van Dyke to get the ball out much quicker (and more efficiently) than 2022.
Floor: 6-6. If the Canes are struggling to reach .500, that’s a bad sign for coach Mario Cristobal. He has been adamant that he will make Miami tougher and smarter, and play with a purpose like the Canes of the past.
Ceiling: 8-4. At this point, we have the empirical data under coach Pat Narduzzi. Even with significant losses from 2022, Pitt will get after the quarterback. The past 4 seasons of sacks by the Pitt defense: 48, 54, 46, 51. The defense dictates everything.
Floor: 6-6. USC transfer QB Kedon Slovis wasn’t the answer in 2022. So now Pitt moves to 2 more QB transfers: Phil Jurkovec (Boston College) or Christian Veilleux (Penn State). The running game will be rebuilt, and there’s not a true No.1 receiver.
Ceiling: 7-5. The defense (returns 6 starters) got hot in the last 2 months of the season (16.5 ppg. over the last 8 games) and not only carried the team to 8 wins, did enough to carry coach Scott Satterfield out of town and into the waiting arms of Cincinnati.
Floor: 4-8. New coach Jeff Brohm will at least have a familiar face at the most important position on the field: QB Jack Plummer. He played with Brohm at Purdue before transferring to Cal in 2022. Now he’s at Louisville, trying to produce points with an offense that returns 3 starters.
9. Wake Forest
Ceiling: 7-5. Deacons coach David Clawson couldn’t keep QB Sam Hartman, but kept the next best thing: OC Warren Ruggiero. That’s great news for QB Mitch Griffis, who has arm talent and a loaded receiving corps. Pass protection could be a problem.
Floor: 5-7. Wake Forest won 3 games in each of Clawson’s first 2 seasons (2014-15). They’ve since won at least 7 games every year but the shortened COVID season. The program is built to survive personnel losses, no matter how significant.
Ceiling: 7-5. QB Garrett Schrader will miss spring practice with an elbow injury, and a rebuilt offense that needs the work with its starting QB will have 15 critical practices without him. Schrader’s dual-threat ability (rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 23 TDs in the Past 2 years) has kept the program floating at .500 (12-13) since 2021.
Floor: 4-8. Coach Dino Babers lost 5 assistant coaches, including OC Rob Anae, DC Tony White and OL coach Mike Schmidt. That’s 3 critical pieces to a staff that led Syracuse to at least 7 wins for only the 3rd time since 2013.
11. Georgia Tech
Ceiling: 6-6. No matter how you look at it, something unique happened last season when Brent Key took over as interim coach. Players react (and play) differently for different coaches. Key got the job and then went out and landed QB Haynes King (Texas A&M) from the transfer portal. But King may not have enough around him to make it work.
Floor: 3-9. The emotion from the interim run under Key flames out, and Georgia Tech is what a it is: a roster devoid of talent. It’s going to take a couple of recruiting classes to make the turn. A gutted defense, and an offense without a legitimate threat at receiver is a problem.
12. Virginia Tech
Ceiling: 6-6. QB Kyron Drones, a former 4-star recruit, transferred from Baylor and will compete with Grant Wells for the starting spot. If Drones can play to his blue-chip potential, the Hokies will dramatically improve a horrendous offense (119th in the nation).
Floor: 3-9. This was a bad defense in 2022 that may not be much better in 2023. They gave up 5.4 yards per play, and gained only 9 turnovers (next to last in college football) in 11 games.
13. Boston College
Ceiling: 6-6. It doesn’t matter who plays quarterback, if the Eagles can’t run (2.09 ypc.) and can’t protect (46 sacks allowed), the offense isn’t moving — no matter how exciting the potential of QB Emmett Morehead.
Floor: 3-9. Defense is coach Jeff Hafley’s specialty, and the unit was horrendous in 2022. When your offense leads the ACC in turnovers (26), it exacerbates problems. Pass coverage gets help from 2 transfers: Khari Johnson (Arkansas), and Alex Washington (Harvard).
Ceiling: 4-8. There’s not much good news. Wideouts Keytaon Thompson and Dontayvion Wicks are gone, and so is QB Brennan Armstrong, who left after he regressed in coach Tony Elliott’s offense.
Floor: 2-10. A difficult season included gut-punch losses to Syracuse, Miami and North Carolina by a combined 7 points. It ended much worse, and tragically, with the deaths of 3 players from a shooting on campus and 2 canceled games. That’s a lot to process in 1 offseason.