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2015 ACC football power rankings: Add Louisville to the FSU-Clemson mix

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The conference of standings mayhem could again be decided by a game between Atlantic Division powers. But don't be surprised if this year's swing game involves the Cardinals.

At the end of each conference run-through (here's the whole ACC), I look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into 2015. This is in no way based on schedules. These are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each.

For a while, the ACC race has broken down into two narratives. The winner of the Coastal Division emerges from a battle royale of clearly flawed competitors, while the winner of Clemson-Florida State wins the Atlantic. The Coastal winner has had at least two conference losses for three straight years, while the Tigers-Noles victor has taken the last six Atlantic crowns.

This year could throw a kink into the ACC's habits. Georgia Tech's rough schedule might ensure that the Coastal winner is no better than 6-2 again, but the Atlantic is a three-team race. And with Louisville-Clemson coming early, we could see quite a few plot twists. So we could have an entertaining race on our hands, even if the conference doesn't produce a single elite entity.

Tier 1

1. Florida State
2. Georgia Tech
3. Louisville
4. Clemson

You could talk me into putting these four in any order.

Georgia Tech was legitimately awesome last year but must replace virtually every skill position player. Louisville is going to have a spectacular front seven but is retooling on the offensive line and in the secondary. Clemson has the most tantalizing player in the conference when he's healthy (quarterback Deshaun Watson) but is starting from scratch on both lines.

And then there's the defending champ. FSU has a new quarterback, one of the least experienced lines in the country, and questions to answer in the front seven. The Noles also have an absurd amount of raw talent, especially at the skill positions and in the secondary. They are ripe for defeat, but the other Tier 1 teams might be too flawed to take advantage.

Tier 2

5. Virginia Tech
6. Miami

If you're the optimistic type, you could make a case for either of these also being included in Tier 1. All Virginia Tech needs is a mediocre offense, and the Hokies could roll to the ACC title. But it's been long enough since we saw a decent Tech O that we can't rely on seeing it. Meanwhile, if Miami can figure out how to continue living after the Florida State game, the Hurricanes could threaten 9-3 or better.

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Tier 3

7. Pitt
8. NC State
9. North Carolina
10. Duke
11. Virginia
12. Boston College

And here's where things get messy. This is almost a Tier 3a and 3b situation, as I feel more confident in the first three teams than the next three. But any of these is only a break or two away from a top-25 performance.

Really, this tier is the strength of the league. There might not be a single elite team in the ACC, but 12 of the 14 have top-40 potential. Not all will reach it, but expect someone from this tier to be a surprise story.

Tier 4

13. Wake Forest
14. Syracuse

These two are not the strength of the league. Wake wasted a solid defense with a historically inept offense, and while you can talk me into the Demon Deacons being competitive in 2016 or 2017, they're still far from that. Syracuse has mysteries on offense and lost nearly everybody from a decent defense.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

ACC Atlantic

Team 2014 Record (Conf.) 2014 F/+ Rk 5-Yr F/+ Rk 2-Yr Rec. Rk 5-Yr Rec. Rk 2014 TO Luck/Gm Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)
2014 2nd-order wins
Florida State 8-0 (13-1) 15 7 3 3 -1.6 11 (4, 7) 9.5 (+3.5)
Louisville 5-3 (9-4) 23 30 45 34 +3.7 10 (4, 6) 9.5 (-0.5)
Clemson 6-2 (10-3) 14 22 12 14 +1.2 11 (7, 4) 9.4 (+0.6)
NC State 3-5 (8-5) 55 57 39 51 +0.2 15 (7, 8) 7.5 (+0.5)
BC 4-4 (7-6) 36 60 53 64 -0.5 9 (3, 6) 8.2 (-1.2)
Wake Forest 1-7 (3-9) 101 98 65 63 -1.2 14 (7, 7) 2.4 (+0.6)
Syracuse 1-7 (3-9) 80 62 60 68 -2.1 9 (7, 2) 3.4 (-0.4)

ACC Coastal

Team 2014 Record (Conf.) 2014 F/+ Rk 5-Yr F/+ Rk 2-Yr Rec. Rk 5-Yr Rec. Rk 2014 TO Luck/Gm Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)
2014 2nd-order wins
Ga. Tech 6-2 (11-3) 8 35 37 42 +0.8 13 (5, 8) 10.1 (+0.9)
Va. Tech 3-5 (7-6) 33 24 26 25 -1.2 16 (8, 8) 7.0 (+0.0)
Miami 3-5 (6-7) 31 31 19 19 -3.4 11 (5, 6) 7.1 (-1.1)
Pitt 4-4 (6-7) 43 39 42 46 -1.9 15 (8, 7) 8.3 (-2.3)
UNC 4-4 (6-7) 70 51 25 22 +1.6 17 (10, 7) 4.9 (+1.1)
Duke 5-3 (9-4) 51 66 44 56 +2.6 14 (6, 8) 8.4 (+0.6)
Virginia 3-5 (5-7) 39 76 43 37 -0.6 12 (6, 6) 6.0 (-1.0)

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