Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

ACC Atlantic

1. Last year, many felt that the Seminoles would be the team to beat in the CFB world, but in reality this is their year. This team is loaded as they have 16 starters back from a team that went 10-3 a year ago. Their offense has back QB Deondre Francois, who lead all freshmen last year in passing and despite the fact that they lose their top RB from last year and top two WRs, they still rate as the best in the league in both categories. The OL is a little young, but still, this offense will top the 35.1 ppg they put up last year. The defense was an issue at the beginning of the year last year as they allowed 42.3 ppg in their first four games, but then it got going and they allowed just 18.5 ppg over their final eight games. Now they have back 24 of 27 lettermen from that group, including 10 starters and that clearly makes this the best defense in the league. The Noles have to travel to Clemson and Florida this year and they have a neutral site game against Alabama, but still, they will win the ACC Title and be a part of the NCAA Playoffs with a real chance of winning it all.

2. Clemson made it to the NCAA Title game last year and they won a thriller as they beat Alabama by a score of 35-31. This year they have some big pieces to replace, especially on offense, where they lose QB Deshaun Watson and return just 22.4% of their yards from last year, which is 128th in the nation. Kelly Bryant will take over at QB, but still, Clemson must replace a 1100 yard back and two WRs that total 2067 yards and 18 TDs last year. I do not see this offense topping the 39.2 ppg they put up a year ago, but expecting around 35 ppg is reasonable. The defense was strong last year as they allowed just 18 ppg and that was with just four returning starters. This year they have 27 letterman, including seven starters back on that side of the ball and should finish the year as the 2nd best defense in the league. The Tigers do get the Noles at home, but also have tough road games against Louisville and NC State, so I do not expect a return trip to the ACC Title game or the playoffs, but they will still have a solid season and another big bowl invite.

3. A bit Surprising to have NC State here, but this team has plenty of returning talent and I like the schedule that they have as well. The Wolfpack went 7-6 last year and finished their year with a 41-17 win over Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl. This year they have 17 starters back from that team and many feel it is Dave Doeren’s best team yet. Ryan Finley is back at QB after throwing for 3059 yards and 18 TDs last year and Jaylen Samuels, who is ready for a break out year at RB. They also have their top 4 W$Rs from last year and an offensive line that is better than average. They should easily top the 27 ppg they put up last year. The defense has eight starters back, including the entire line, which rates as 2nd best in the ACC and 3rd best in the nation. They allowed just 22,8 ppg last year and will be even better this year. Now to the schedule which does have a road game against FSU, but also winnable road games against Boston College and Wake Forest and home games vs Louisville, North Carolina and Clemson. This will be the surprise team of the ACC.

4. The Louisville Cardinals had another solid season a year ago, but they lose a lot from their offense and teams really figured out how to slow Lamar Jackson down at the end of the year as the Cardinals averaged just 19 ppg over their last three games of the year, while their defense gave up 35.3 ppg in those games. They do have Jackson back, but he will not put up the same numbers he did a year ago, especially without his top RB and top three WRs from last year and an offensive line that rates as 8th best in the league. The defense struggled at the end of the year, but still they allowed just 23.8 ppg overall and have 21 of 25 lettermen back from that unit, including seven starters, which means that they could improve slightly on last year’s numbers. The Loss of all their offense will hurt them this year and while they have Clemson at home, they also have road games against North Carolina, NC State and Florida State and that should keep them from moving up in the standings, but they will get to a bowl game.

5. Going to pick a bit of a surprise here by place Syracuse in the 5th slot. The Orange had a very you team least year as they had the 2nd fewest starts from seniors in the nation and this year they are the 24th most experienced team in the nation. They also are in the 2nd year of Dino Babers’ system and the Orange showed some improvements in his first year. They were at 4-4 on the year at one point and then lost their QB, and that prompted a four-game slide to end the year. This year Eric Dungey is back and so are his top two RBs and three of his top five WRs. They should top 30 ppg this year. The biggest improvements should come on defense, where they return 10 starters and 89.7% of their tackles overall, which is tops in the nation. They could allow up to a TD less than the 38.6 ppg they allowed last year. The Orange get Wake and Boston College at home and they have a very weak non-conference slate, which will have them flirting with a bowl bid.

6. Boston College made it to a bowl game last year, but I expect them to take a step back this year. The defense has 26 of 32 lettermen back, including seven starters, but they have some ground to make up as they allowed 34.4 ppg and 414 ypg in ACC play last year. They were 4th in the nation in sacks with 47 and they should improve some on the overall numbers, but still this is not the great defense that we have come to know from Boston College. The offense is always a problem for the Eagles, but they should improve on last year’s 20.4 ppg as they have eight starters back, including their top two RBs and top 6 pass catchers from a year ago. The schedule is not great, but they do get Wake Forest at home and that should keep them out of the basement in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, No bowl game though.

7. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons look like they are in for a long year. They were 7-6 last year and beat Temple in their bowl game, but still I look for them to take a step or two back this year. Last year they had nine returning starters on offense and still put up just 20.4 ppg. This year they have nine back again, but still, this is a team that has ranked 12th or worse in the ACC in scoring the last five year. They will be improved over last year, but all four of their offensive units rank 9th or worst in the ACC, including an OL that ranks 13th. They are 3rd in the nation in percentage of yards returning at 95.9%, but they are also 103rd in the nation in returning tackles at 53.8%. They have just 16 returning lettermen, including five starters back on that side of the ball, so defense will be an issue for them. Their schedule is tough as they have Louisville, NC State, Duke and FSU all at home, while facing Boston College, Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Clemson on the road. I do not see them escaping the basement of the ACC Atlantic.


ACC Coastal

1. The Miami Hurricanes had not finished a season in the top 25 since 2009, until last year and they are ready for another solid season. QB Brad Kaaya is gone, but Malik Rosier should step in nicely and he has the best set of WRs in the ACC to throw to, including Ahmmon Richards, who caught 46 passes for 86 yards as a freshman last year. Mark Walton is also back at RB after rushing for 1117 yards and 14 TDs last year, plus they have the top rated OL in the league. They could very well top the 34 ppg they put up last year. The defense returned four starters last year and finished allowing just 18.5 ppg. This year they lose just three of their top 15 tacklers and have eight starters back, so they could be even stingier. Mark Richt is an excellent coach and really has this team on the right path. They missed out on the ACC title game last year, but they should get there this year, especially with three of their four road games being against Duke, North Carolina and Pittsburgh. They should win at least two of those games and run the table at home, which means a 10 win season and a strong bowl invite will be in store for the Canes this year.

2. The Virginia Tech Hokies had a solid 1st season under Justin Fuente as they went 10-4 overall. They nearly beat Clemson in the ACC title game and did beat Arkansas in the Belk Bowl. The Hokies lost QB Jerod Evans, who left for the NFL draft early and they will now turn the reigns over to Joshua Jackson, who is a redshirt freshman. Fuente is an offensive-minded coach and he will get the most out of Jackson and this offense that returns just five starters overall. Evans was also their top rusher and they must replace 3 of four of their top receivers. It will be tough for them to top the 35 ppg they put up last year, but still they will be a solid offense. Defense has been a staple of the Hokies over the year and while they allowed 22.8 ppg last year, they should get back to allowing under 200 ppg as they have seven starters back on that side of the ball. They have tough roadies vs Georgia Tech and Miami near the end of the year and that will keep them from walking away with the ACC’s Coastal Division.

3. Pittsburgh will not be a great team this year, but still I have them in this slot as their schedule is a bit easier than that of the Tar Heels. Their four conference road games include Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Duke and Virginia Tech. They should at least win two of those games. At home they Virginia, NC State, Miami and North Carolina and they should win at least two of those. The Panthers averaged 40.09 ppg last year, but they lost three of their top four WRS, heir top RB and QB from that team. They do have the 3rd best OL in the league and that is a good start to build on, especially since they have recruited well of late to fill in the missing piece from last year. They will not top last year’s point total, but this will still be a decent offense. The defense is where they might struggle as they have just four starters back from a team that allowed 35.2 ppg. Pat Narduzzi is a defensive coach so he will have this unit improved. They will get to a bowl, but no ACC Coastal title.

4. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets went 9-4 last year and they have 16 starters back from that team. The big loss from this team is QB Justin Thomas, but Matthew Jordan has experience and should be able to step in nicely, especially with the 2nd best set of RBs in the league, including Dedrick Mills, who ran for 771 yards and 12 TDs as a freshman last year. The OL is average and the WRs are among the worst in the league, but this is a triple-option team, so WRs don’t really play a big role. The defense has eight starters back and 73% of their tackles overall, which is 33rd in the nation. They allowed 24.5 ppg last year and should improve on that this year, even though all three of their defensive units rate as 8th or worse in the league. The schedule is not too daunting as them as they get winnable games against Duke and Virginia on the road, plus winnable home games against Pitt North Carolina and Wake Forest and for that I have them taking the 4th spot in the Coastal Division and another solid bowl invite.

5. The North Carolina Tar Heels had a solid 8-5 season last year, but they have a very tough schedule and have just five starters back on offense, which will make it tough for them to get to eight wins again. In 2015, they set a school record for averaging 40.7 ppg, but slipped to 32.3 ppg last year and may slip even more this year. They lose QB Trubisky to the NFL, along with two RBs that combined for 1508 yards and 15 TDs and four of their top five receiver. In all, they have just 12.7% of their yards back from last year, which is last in the nation. This offense could be in trouble. The defense is in much better shape with 78.8 % of their tackles back, which is 11th in the land. They have seven starters back on that side of the ball and have recruited very well on defense, so look for them to improve on the 24.9 ppg they allowed last year. The schedule is tough as road games vs Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and NC State will all be tough, while getting Miami and Louisville at home will be no cakewalk. The Heels could very well miss a bowl game this year.

6. The Duke Blue Devils had gone to four straight bowl games, but that streak was snapped last year as they fell to 4-8 on the year. The biggest reason for their slippage was on offense as they averaged at least 31.5 ppg in each of their four bowl seasons, but put up just 23.3 ppg last year. The offense should be improved this year with seven starters back, including QB Daniel Jones, who set or matched 23 school records as a freshman last year. He has three of his top four WRs back, but the running game and OLs are among the worst in the league. They should be good for around 28 ppg, but that still might not be good enough as they have just five starters back from a defense that allowed 28.2 ppg a year ago. They have a decent LB corps, but rate the worst secondary and 2nd worst DL in the league. The Schedule is tough with Virginia and Wake Forest being winnable on the road, while getting the likes of Miami, Florida State, Pitt and Georgia Tech at home. Look for Duke to miss out on the postseason party again.

7. Bronco Mendehall realized last year that rebuilding the Virginia Cavaliers will take longer than expected. They were 2-10 last year and -104 ypg in league play. The offense averaged just 22.5 ppg and with five starters back, they could struggle to score again. QB Benkert is back, along with their top WRs, but their top two RBs are both gone as is three of their offensive linemen. This could be the worst offense in the league. The defense has eight starters back and will look to improve on the 33.8 ppg they allowed last year. The biggest returner on this side of the ball is Micah Kiser, who was a beast last year as he had 134 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, 6.5 sacks and he has 7 PBUs as well. I look for an improved defense, but it will not be enough to get them out of the basement in the Coast Division or to a bowl game.