The 2014 NCAA baseball season gets under way today, February 14, and the ACC boasts some of the best teams in the nation. Virginia, Florida State, NC State, Clemson, Miami and North Carolina are all among the top 20 teams in the country, coming into the season. We’ll be updating the ACC power rankings as the season progresses, but here is how the league stacks up the day the season begins. (The ACC tournament features 10 teams, so these power rankings will rank the top 10 teams in the league)
Team (2013 Record)
1. Virginia – (50-12) - The Cavaliers are the top ranked team according to Baseball America’s preseason poll, and they are ranked no differently here. Virginia has one of the most high powered offenses in the country, returning six batters who hit .300 or better a season ago. Infielders Brandon Downes and Miki Papi and outfielder Joe McCarthy lead a Cavaliers team that is probably still smarting from missing out on making it to Omaha after losing at home in a Super Regional to Mississippi State in 2013. The pitching staff was not superb last year, and they will once again determine how far Virginia can go. This team should be a national title contender in 2014.
2. NC State – (50-16) - NC State was a College World Series participant a year ago, and return some of their most important players from last year’s squad. The Wolfpack boast a strong starting rotation, including Carlos Rodon and Logan Jernigan. Rodon led the nation in strikeouts in 2013, and posted a 2.99 ERA while walking just 45 batters. If the Wolfpack are to make it back to Omaha in 2014, they will need to rely on their strong pitching.
3. Florida State – (47-17) - The Seminoles are one of the most intriguing teams in the ACC this year. Not only did this squad win nearly 50 games a season ago, but they return much of that lineup and pitching rotation. In addition to all of that, they welcome back Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston as a P/OF. Winston will undoubtedly be fun to follow, but he will be far from the reason Florida State makes a run at the National Championship in baseball. The Seminoles pitching rotation returns starters Luke Weaver, Brandon Leibrandt, and Mike Compton, as the lineup will once again feature DJ Stewart and Jose Brizuela. This team is deep, talented, and led (at least in the clubhouse) by a National Champion, Heisman trophy winning quarterback. 2014 could really prove to be the year of the Seminole.
4. Clemson – (40-22) - Clemson is coming off of a successful 2013 campaign. Although the Tigers lost in the Regional round of the tournament, they overachieved for much of the year with a lot of young players on the roster. Now, a year later, there is a lot to be excited about for the Tigers. Clemson returns over 70% of their innings pitching and 8 or 9 position starters from a year ago. Last year’s young team is now an experienced group looking to advance deep into the season and ultimately get to Omaha. Pitcher Daniel Gossett looks like the real deal, and he is joined by Matthew Crownover and Zack Erwin as the weekend starters in 2014. The offense will be led by Garrett Boulware and Shane Kennedy, two returning starters from 2013. There is a lot to like about this Clemson team. They are well-rounded and other than Florida State, they may offer the most complete team in the ACC.
5. Miami – (37-25) - It’s been a while since the Miami Hurricanes competed at the very high level they expect to compete at year in and year out. This year’s team, however, should change that. Miami struggled offensively last season, hitting just .258 as a team. If they can find a way to push runs across the plate, Miami may compete for a top spot in the conference. The rotation comes back stronger than ever as Miami returns all three of their weekend starters from a year ago, including Bryan Radziewski, one of the top starters in the country. The pitching will be there, but the question for Miami remains, how much can they hit? That will be the ultimate determinant on how far the Canes are able to go this season.
6. North Carolina – (59-12) - The Tar Heels had a tremendous 2013 campaign, winning 59 games and reaching the College World Series. In order to get to back to Omaha, UNC is going to have to replace some key pieces from last year’s team. Colin Moran and Cody Stubbs are now playing Minor League ball, and Kent Emanuel and Hobbs Johnson need to be replaced in the rotation. The Tar Heels, never short on talent, do return some strong players in Skye Bolt and Landon Lassiter, but need to do a lot in the pitching department with only Benton Moss returning to the weekend rotation. All in all, you can never count the Tar Heels out. And although they lost some key pieces from last year’s team, there is no doubt that another run to Omaha is in the cards for North Carolina.
7. Georgia Tech – (37-27) - Georgia Tech lost some key pieces from their team a season ago. 5 of the Yellow Jackets’ top 6 hitters are no longer in Atlanta, so runs may be tough to come by in 2014. Tech is normally very strong offensively, so it will be interesting to see who steps up and fills the void left by the departured players. The pitching remains primarily in tact from last year’s team, which will be the key to the Jackets’ success in 2014. Will we see the same long ball hitting Georgia Tech we are used to, or will pitching reign supreme in Atlanta in 2014?
8. Duke (26-29) - Unlike Georgia Tech, Duke returns almost all of its top offensive talent from a year ago. 6 of the 7 best hitters from last year’s lineup are back in Durham, as this team looks to take the next step and climb above .500 and compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Joining infielders Andy Perez, Jordan Betts, and Chris Marconcini are all three weekend starts from the 2013 Blue Devils team. There was a lot of turnover at the bottom of the league from a year ago, so look for Duke’s experience to help them to a few extra wins in 2014.
9. Pittsburgh (42-17) - The Panthers enter their first season in the ACC coming off a successful, yet disappointing 2013 campaign. Pitt won 42 games, yet failed to make the NCAA tournament, due in large part to a weak strength of schedule and RPI. That will change this year as they move from the Big East and will have to play almost all of the top teams in the ACC, which include some of the best teams in the entire country. Pitt does return some very strong hitting in their inaugural ACC season, including 5 batters who hit above .300 last year. The Panthers also return two weekend starters and some bullpen help from a season ago. The ultimate test for the Panthers will be how they handle facing stiffer competition every series. I expect them finish somewhere in the middle of the ACC and qualify for the ACC tournament.
10. Virginia Tech (40-22) - The Hokies lost a TON of talent from last year’s 40 win team. Virginia Tech hosted a regional a year ago, but will be hard pressed to do so again with the amount of offense they lost. Three of their best hitters, who accounted for 30 home runs, will not be returning, and their two top pitchers from a year ago are also no longer in Blacksburg. This year’s team will be all about how they respond to the loss of all this production and leadership. Hosting another regional is probably out of the question in an extremely competitive ACC, but a chance at earning a bid to the NCAA tournament is certainly not out of the picture.