NCAA Football: Florida State at Clemson

The 2024 ACC season will be one unlike any in the league's history as the conference balloons to 17 football members with the additions of Cal, Stanford and SMU. The coast-to-coast approach to ACC football will be new for coaches, players and fans alike as the newcomers find their spots in the pecking order of a conference that's hungry to take steps forward on the field. 

The coaching turnover in the ACC provides a base level for intrigue in how things shake out. Duke, Syracuse and Boston College all have new head coaches, while the Louisville, Georgia Tech and Stanford bosses are only in the second year of their tenures. At this point, even reigning ACC Coach of the Year Mike Norvell, preparing for his fifth season as Florida State's head coach, seems like a mainstay with all the moving pieces across the conference. 

When it comes to ranking these teams ahead of the 2024 season, there is definitely a "what's old is new" feeling as the debate for No. 1 centers around Florida State and Clemson. We see this as somewhat of a 1A/1B conversation, and the oddsmakers have agreed as well with each team having +290 odds to win the conference. Sorting through power rankings in May requires a tiered approach, and those two teams are alone on the top tier. 

Behind the two programs with the most ACC football titles is a tier of intriguing contenders who all have the combination of talent and schedule to be in the championship race over the final weeks of the season. Those four or five teams all seem to sit a step above the next two groups, which is occupied by nine or 10 teams destined to play coin-flip style games against each other this fall. The half that wins more than they lose will make bowl games, while the ones who come up short more often than not will spend the holidays at home. 

Enough about tiers, though, because we know the people want to see decisiveness. Let's shake it all out with the first 2024 ACC power rankings now that spring practice and the spring transfer portal window is in the books. 

ACC post-spring power rankings
Mike Norvell's use of the transfer portal to roll off 23 wins across the last two seasons makes it easy to give Florida State the benefit of the doubt as the Seminoles welcome in yet another loaded class of instant-impact additions. While DJ Uiagalelei will demand a lot of the attention from that class, we're more invested in Mavin Jones Jr. and a defense that has a lot to replace but boasts high-level playmakers on the edge and in the secondary.
As mentioned earlier, there is definitely a 1A/1B conversation to the ACC title race. Florida State has the crown for now, and has done enough work in the offseason to retool the roster for another run at a championship. Clemson, meanwhile, is mostly looking for player development to pay off in flipping some of those close losses from 2023 to wins. Clearly it has to start with a step forward for Cade Klubnik, and while that's not a big ask given his talent, tools and the coaching of Garrett Riley, we need to see it before bumping the Tigers into the top spot.
Ah yes, the age-old rivalry between Miami football and ACC title expectations. The Hurricanes were picked to win the Coastal five times between 2013-2022 yet pulled it off just once. After a busy offseason of portal work, we're looking to Mario Cristobal's group as the next-best option between conference heavyweights Florida State and Clemson. Make no mistake, Miami has the offensive firepower to do it as they just brought in Damien Martinez from the transfer portal to bolster the running back position and add strength to the Cam Ward-led offense. Tightening things up on defense is the burning question, especially after some key losses in the secondary from last season's unit.
You can usually tell when a team is all in based on their portal activity, and it sure likes like NC State believes it has a group to make a run at the crown with the way it has both restocked and retained talent during the offseason. Key defensive players like Davin Vann and Aydan White are back in the fold, emerging star wide receiver KC Concepcion was retained and the rest of the offense got a influx of portal talent including former Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall, who at his best can be one of the most efficient passers in the country. I really like this blend of talent that's been developed along with the new additions with experience, setting up for a season with real expectations in Raleigh.
Brent Pry seems to have done this rebuild the "right way," and Year 3 is when we get to see the payoff from early recruiting classes that have rounded into form and smart portal additions from last offseason settling in for Year 2 with the Hokies. Kyron Drones was one of those players who arrived in Blacksburg last year, and the steps he took in the fall have many eyeing him as one of the top quarterbacks in the league for 2024. There's a ton of returning starters on both sides of the ball from last year's seven-win team, giving the Hokies the best combination of depth and continuity that they've had in years.
If Norvell is going to get the benefit of the doubt for being able to flip a roster through the portal and deliver results in the fall, I suppose we need to extend the same to Jeff Brohm, who quickly had the Cardinals in the ACC title game in Year 1. Well, he has retooled the depth chart again heading into 2024. The appearance of a revolving door roster may be overblown, but seeing potential impact players like running back Peny Boone and edge rusher Tyler Baron commit to the Cardinals and then re-enter the portal in the spring is a bit disconcerting. Even still, this is the No. 2 portal class in the ACC -- ranked 11th nationally, according to 247Sports -- so we're counting on Brohm to put it all together in the fall.
Rhett Lashlee and SMU just won the AAC on their way out of the conference and return a starting quarterback in Preston Stone who ranked in the top 15 nationally in passer rating (14th), passing touchdowns (12th) and yards per attempt (10th). The success of last year's 11-win campaign is baked into a strong rating heading into the season, but we do need to adjust expectations based on what is definitely a step up in competition going to the ACC. Lashlee himself seems to have identified the need to bulk up with the move, bringing in multiple big-bodied defensive linemen from power conferences to bolster the Mustangs defense up front.
While SMU is slotted one spot ahead, there should be a lot of buzz about Cal exceeding expectations in their first year of ACC play. Getting Jadyn Ott back in the fold gives the Bears one of the top running backs in the country, and the portal has provided some high-end skill talent as they brought in Mikey Matthews from Utah and Tobias Merriweather from Notre Dame. Cal's portal class as a whole ranks 4th in the ACC, according to 247Sports, and Justin Wilcox believes he's got a group with good experience and improved team speed ready to hit the ground running in their new conference.
I really like Georgia Tech's offense heading into 2024. Haynes King is back in his second season as the Yellow Jackets' starter, and he's joined by 1,000-yard rusher Jamal Haynes and three of the top four receivers from last year. King needs to get better about avoiding the costly errors after leading the ACC in both touchdowns (27) and interceptions (16), but it's a group that could be very prolific. But we're not power ranking offenses here, and the Yellow Jackets were last in the ACC last season in both yards per game allowed and yards per play allowed. If Georgia Tech wants to improve on last year's seven-win season, there are obvious spots to start with limiting mistakes and getting stops.
My Cover 3 Podcast colleague Tom Fornelli was all in early on the idea that Kyle McCord was getting a raw deal in terms of public perception, and deeper analysis revealed he's still very much the blue-chip prospect that can be a game-changer at the power-conference level. While there's no Marvin Harrison Jr. on the roster at Syracuse, he does have one of the most versatile tight end-hybrid weapons around in Oronde Gadsden II and the offense brings back 1,000-yard rusher LeQuint Allen. Fran Brown and his staff have been able to raise the talent level with a few portal additions, but it's very much a Year 1 roster that can flash promise but may lack the consistency needed to compete with the top teams in the league.
After flipping Sam Howell and making a bowl game in his first year back, Mack Brown has mostly been leading North Carolina teams into the fall with expectations of competing for a title. From 2020-23, the Tar Heels were picked in the top three of the ACC preseason media poll three times -- interestingly enough, recording their best finish (2nd in 2022) in the year they were picked 7th -- and twice boasting the Preseason All-ACC pick at quarterback. Now, quarterback is a huge question mark, the wide receiver position has lost key contributors and the defense is looking to finally take a step forward under new coordinator Geoff Collins. North Carolina may have one of the top running backs with Omarion Hampton back, but this is about as much uncertainty has the Tar Heels have had regarding both the ceiling and floor for expectations heading into the season.
This will be an interesting group to track in 2024 as Manny Diaz inherits a team with decent experience, even after losing some notable contributors to the transfer portal and NFL Draft. The players in their third and fourth year with the Blue Devils reset the expectation with 17 wins over the last two seasons, and that core will be key to keeping momentum in Year 1 of the Diaz era. Former Texas quarterback Maalik Murphy will be charged with running an offense that has enough skill pieces to effectively utilize an aggressive approach, and Diaz carries his own strong reputation as a defensive mind to be encouraged with their potential to create havoc on that side of the ball.
A long line of strong quarterback play and dynamic offenses hit a wall in 2023, with injury luck and bad breaks included among the reasons, there is only a focus on improvement heading into 2024. Hank Bachmeier hopes to be a part of that improvement as he's suiting up for his sixth year of college football and hoping to regain the form that had him entrenched as the starter at Boise State in the early years of his career. It's an older group with lots of players who have been a part of previous success and will be hungry to right the ship after the program's worst record in ACC play since 2015.
Bill O'Brien's arrival puts the microscope squarely on quarterback Thomas Castellanos, who is an undeniable playmaking threat but has room to develop into a more well-rounded quarterback. The Eagles have some really interesting portal additions on offense to help Castellanos take that next step in 2024, but defense is still a concern as the Eagles did not have enough depth to avoid bottoming out late in the year on that side of the ball and there are not a lot of obvious answers to how that side of the ball will improve.
The post-spring portal losses of Dayon Hayes and Solomon Deshields added more disappointment for Pitt's defense, which has a seen a handful of players with starting potential seek opportunities elsewhere since the end of last season. Player development under Pat Narduzzi has been a strength throughout his time with the Panthers, and given some of the roster turnover to the portal and the NFL Draft exits, it looks like that player development will be of heightened importance for Pitt to competitive against the ACC's top teams in 2024.
Virginia is the only team you can be enthused by seeing how a quarterback battle between Tony Muskett and Anthony Colandrea might play out or note that wide receiver production should still be strong even after the loss of Malik Washington to the NFL. But judging the Wahoos against the rest of the conference does put some shortcomings on display and lay clear the room for improvement that's left to get Virginia football back to turning in consistent winning seasons.
The Cardinal have the longest odds to win the ACC in 2024 and one of the lowest rankings among ACC schools in the way-too-early sets of preseason power ratings. Stanford is not lacking reasons to be intrigued this fall; after all, it is just Year 2 for Troy Taylor and the offense has one of the best wide receivers in the country with Elic Ayomanor, but there are still steps to be taken before moving up ahead of programs that have experienced recent ACC success.