The ACC has been well represented in the playoffs the last few years. The hype surrounding both Clemson and Miami is well deserved. While the conference may not be a haven for elite teams, there are a plethora of quality squads.
Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers enter this season with three consecutive ACC titles. Unless something catastrophic happens during the season, nothing should prevent Clemson from winning their fourth consecutive conference title this season. Kelly Bryant produced a solid season last year, but he may not be the returning starter this season. He was solid last season, but Trevor Lawrence possess a tantalizing amount of upside. Even if he doesn’t start the season as the starter, it is reasonable to believe that Lawrence will eventually win the starting job sooner or later. Whoever is behind center will have a fantastic receiving corps to throw to. Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers, and ultra consistent Hunter Renfrow are the latest standout receivers to play at Death Valley. Travis Ettiene and Tavien Foster will be a two headed monster running behind the three returning starters in the interior of the offensive line.
When you look up the term “loaded” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Clemson’s defensive line. They have the best collection of talent up front in the entire country. Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are all potential first round picks next year, and they still have two 5-stars in Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry waiting in the wings. Outside of linebacker Dorian O’Daniel, the Tigers’ entire front seven will be returning this season. Ryan Carter will be the only returning starter from their fantastic secondary, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem with their front seven wrecking so much havoc.
2. Florida State
Willie Taggart is inheriting a program that is in decent shape. The Seminoles aren’t completely devoid of talent, but they certainly have several holes to fill. The biggest question mark is by far the offensive line. Four of the five starters are returning, but that’s from the same group that allowed Alabama to tee off on their Quarterback until they knocked him out of the game. Junior Landon Dickerson will be returning after missing most of the 2017 season with an injury. Running back Cam Akers should be the focal point of the offense after he rushed for 1,024 yards and 7 touchdowns last season as a freshman. Deandre Francios and James Blackman are both returning as signal callers, but the former should be able to supplant himself as the starter once again.
Florida State lost a ton on defense. They will have to replace EIGHT starters from last year, including their best player in Derwin James. New defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett is implementing a much simpler scheme, which is much needed considering the lack of talent that they have on that side of the ball. Two of their three toughest games will be at home, as Virginia Tech, Florida, and Clemson will all be home games. They do have to travel to Miami, Notre Dame, NC State, and Louisville though, all of which are tough matchups.
3. NC State
The Wolfpack won 9 games last season, allowing them to finish in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in nearly a decade. They lost three games last season by a touchdown or less, meaning that they could have been even better than they were last year. Ryan Finley is one of the top Quarterbacks in the country and is poised to make some Heisman noise this season. Kelvin Harmon, Stephen Louis and Jakobi Meyers are one of the best trio of wide receivers in the country as well. They lost Nyheim Hines, but Reggie Gallaspy is should be an adequate replacement as the lead back. His bruising running style is different from Hines’, so he will be able to add a power running dimension to this offense. This will be one of the most explosive offensive units in college football this upcoming season.
NC State is going to have to regroup defensively this season.They’re losing 8 starters from last season, including Bradley Chubb. Senior Darian Roseboro will lead this unit in his attempt to try to replace Chubb’s production.They also lost Jerod Fernandez, who lead the team in tackles last season. Their linebacker unit will be lead by Germaine Pratt, who has flashed his playmaking ability in the past. The secondary was horrendous last season ( No.104 in the nation) and will look to improve.
That Lamar Jackson guy was good, really good. Nonetheless, the show must go on without him this season. The Cardinals should be fine at that position with redshirt sophomore Jawan Pass taking the reins under center. He’s been in the system for two years and has a good amount of potential. He won’t be Jackson, but he should still be effective. He’ll be throwing to one of the top receiving corps in the conference, with Jaylen Smith headlining the group that is return the top for receiving threats from last season. The running game is probably the biggest question mark for this team this season. Their best options in the backfield are Dae Williams and Colin Wilson, both of whom have significant injury issues.
The defense was simply atrocious last season, as they were consistently carved up by any passing attack worth its salt. They were 10th in the ACC last season, and they lost their top two corners and two of their leading tacklers from last season. The best case scenario is that transfers P.J. Mbansaor and Rodjay Burns combine with Dee and TreSean Smith to assemble a secondary that won’t bleed out every time they step onto the field. The front seven is better than the back end of this defense, particularly the linebackers. Dorian Etheridge is one of the best young linebackers in the conference, and Josh Greenard is good as well. The defensive line isn’t quite as talented, but the addition of both Michael Boykin and Jared Goldwire. Both players are big pluggers in the middle that should help the defensive line that is returning only one starter.
5. Boston College
The Eagles’ offense didn’t wake up until halfway through the season, but once they did they became very effective. They were able to beat Louisville and completely embarrass Florida State. AJ Dillon could be a dark house Heisman candidate this season after his sensational year in 2017. They are remarkably thin behind him at the running back position, one injury to Dillon would derail their entire season. Anthony Brown’s knee might limit what he’s capable of doing, and he was relatively inconsistent even before his injury last year. Tommy Sweeney is a good target at tight end that could help the passing game at least become consistent. As long as the offense picks up the pace and doesn’t drag its feet, they should be fine. Not great, but fine.
They’re better defensively, even though they lost more on that side of the ball.Losing Harold Landry and Noa Merritt will hurt, but Zach Allen is a fantastic defensive end. John Lamot is a quality inside linebacker that will have to pick up his play to replace the production of their recently departed leading tackler, Ty Schwab. They have a quality secondary that returns three starters as well. They have a tough road slate, as they have to travel to NC State, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Purdue.
6. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons actually resemble a quality college football recently. They have an actual offense now, a good one at that. They finished 17th in the nation last season, averaging 466 yards per game. The entire offensive line is returning this season in hopes to produce another solid season together. They lost their starting QB, John Wolford, who threw for over 3,000 yards and almost 30 touchdowns last year. Fortunately, they have a pretty good collection of receivers.
Their secondary was lethargic last season. Those collection of guys weren’t able to stop a nosebleed and that shouldn’t change this season. They lost talent on all three levels of their defense, which was already a subpar unit to begin with. Ideally, they’ll master the “bend but don’t break” approach this season.
Eric Dungy is returning under center once again, which is a reason for the Orange faithful to have hope. He struggled with accuracy a bit last season and has dealt with injury issues. This team is known to huck the ball around the field, but they lost their two top receivers this past season. Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips combined for 194 catches and 2,200 in addition to 11 scores last season. That’s hard to replace.
The Orange gave up 32 points and 444 yards per game last season. The defense sucked. They lost a lot, they have zero pass rush, and the secondary isn’t any good. This unit will be mind numbingly terrible once again this season.
The Hurricanes aren’t overflowing with elite talent offensively. Yes, they have Jeff Thomas at receiver. Ahmon Richards should be healthy, providing Miami with one of the best players in the conference at that receiver spot as well. Travis Homer is a quality running back too. They also lost their leading receiver Braxton Berrios, in addition to tight end Chris Herndon IV. The offensive line will continue to be a question mark until shown otherwise. Miami definitely has talent on offense, but they don’t have enough game breakers or a stud signal caller to lift them into an elite offensive status. They were critically allergic to third down conversions last season, converting at a 29% clip. Malik Rosier is never going to lead a championship caliber team. He’s turnover prone and can be wildly inaccurate. This could be a really good offense if they had almost any other Quarterback from this conference.
Miami is right behind Clemson in terms of defenses in the ACC. They weren’t elite last year, despite all the hype. They created 31 turnovers and 44 sacks, which was wonderful. With that being said, they struggled and got exposed when the turnovers didn’t come. Georgia Tech ran all over them and should have won that game. Their defensive line, headlined by Joe Jackson, is really good. Shaquille Quarterman leads a linebacker group that will be almost as good. Their schedule was created by a bakery, because they’re playing a bunch of cupcakes this year. Their biggest test will probably be in the opening game against an LSU team with an even worse QB than Malik Rosier. Mark Richt will find a way to lose some games though.
2. Virginia Tech
Josh Jackson is one of the better QBs in the conference. He’s mobile and can throw the ball well and efficiently. He’ll miss his best target last year, Cam Phillips. The rest of the receivers make up a group that’s fine but nothing special, considering the fact that they don’t really have a solid number one guy. Their offensive success will be determined by how well they can run the ball, something they haven’t been particularly good at in awhile. The Hokies lack a true lead back, instead opting for a running back by committee approach. Each of their backs rushed for no more than 550 yards, and no fewer than 220. None of them are truly exciting.
The Virginia Tech defense was very good last year. They lost both Edmund brothers, who were the stars of the defense. They have a lot of youthful talent across the board. Almost every linebacker on their roster is an underclassmen with very little experience. The line is good enough to keep those linebackers clean for the most part, allowing them to attack downhill. The secondary should be fine, with both Reggie Floyd and Mook Reynolds returning at safety.
3. Georgia Tech
TaQuon Marshall is the best and most electric QB to bless Bobby Dodd stadium in awhile. He has the talent, he just needs to connect on his passes. Paul Johnson doesn’t ask for much, just hit at least half of the handful of passes he’ll attempt per game. He completed only 37% last season. The offensive line has four returning starters this year. While they lack a number one receiver without Ricky June, it’s Georgia Tech we’re talking about here. They’ll be fine as long as they have running backs, and boy do they ever. KirVonte Benson is going to rush for over a thousand yards again this season.
The Jackets weren’t a great defensive team last year. They’ll have to replace their entire starting secondary this year. They’re a little on the smaller side, especially up front. Victor Alexander led the team in tackles last season, hopefully he’ll be able to be used as a pass rusher a bit more. They don’t really have the size to be a true 3-4 defense, at least not yet. They have a brutal road schedule, as they have to travel to Virginia Tech, Pitt, Louisville and Georgia. They even get Clemson at home, but it seems like every time Tech is picked to finished sixth in the division they do the opposite.
The Panthers have questions when it comes to pass catching options. They don’t have a clear cut number one receiver this season. Their most talented receiver, Jester Weah, isn’t returning this season. The offense struggled at times last season, despite being blessed with stable quarterback play. Their running game is the highlight of their offense. They may not have shown it, but they have talent between Darrin Hall and their shiny new toy in Mychale Salahuddin. They also have Qadree Ollison as a stable option out of the backfield as well.
Pitt is going in a new direction defensively, which is a necessity after the way their secondary got shredded week in and week out. The front seven, specifically the linebackers, are a really good unit. Oluwaseun Idowu was the team’s leading tackler last season. Quintin Wirginis is also expected to be fully healthy after missing games this season. They get the nod over Duke because they have a much more favorable schedule.
The Blue devils have an extremely intimidating schedule. They go on the road to face Northwestern, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Miami, AND Clemson. Ouch. They’re stable at the signal caller position, with Daniel Jones returning. The offense as a whole struggled with consistency during much of the season. They’re losing three starters on that line, one that wasn’t special to begin with.
Duke’s defense was fantastic last season, as they gave up 333 yards per game (21st in the nation). Joe Giles-Harris is definitely one of the best linebackers in the country. Mark Gilbert was also one of the best in the country at his position, posting six picks in his capacity as the starting corner.
6. North Carolina
Just a few short years ago the Tar Heels were battling Deshaun Watson’s Clemson Tigers for supremacy in the ACC. Now they’re coming off of an embarrassing 3-9 campaign. Things went from bad to worse when 13 players were suspended for selling team issued shoes. When one of those 13 is your starting quarterback you have a problem. Their offense was lethargic at times, as they failed to score 20 points for half of the season. They need to cut down on their turnovers and find a way to replace the production of Austin Proehl and Jordan Cunningham.
As usual, North Carolina’s defense prefers to see the names on the back of the other team’s rather than tackle. They finished dead last in the ACC in run defense too. They gave up over 213 rushing yards per game last year. They didn’t lose much, but that just means they’re essentially returning the same awful unit.
Virginia’s offense struggled mightily last season, as they were the worst offensive unit in the ACC. The offensive line was horrendous last season, particularly in the running game. They had absolutely zero success as a team in that area, which was apparent in their 3.1 yards per carry last season. They lost their starting QB in Kurt Benkert, but Bryce Perkins will need help from the offensive line and the running backs in order to generate more offense.
The defense is a mixed bag. They’re losing star veterans Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding, who combined for almost 300 tackles last season. The linebacker unit should be fine, with Jordan Mack leading the middle. The defensive line took several hits with a number of key departures last season. They have a lot of talent to replace