Have you ever read ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens? Yeah, me either but I
would imagine that it is about two vastly different places at the same point in time. That same concept can be applied to the Atlantic Coast Conference over the past several football seasons. It is no secret that the Atlantic division is the class of the conference and has been for the past decade. The Atlantic division has not lost an ACC Championship game since 2010. That’s eight consecutive years of domination over the Coastal. However, even within the Atlantic there is a clear gap in talent and only two teams have hoisted the ACC title in those eight straight years; Clemson (5) and Florida State (3). Will someone new rise up in 2019 in the Atlantic and upset the current balance of power?
On the flip side, the Coastal has been a complete crapshoot year in and year out. The
Coastal has seen six different teams win the division in the last six years. Yes, believe it or not even Duke went to the ACC title game back in 2013. Virginia is the odd team out but the Wahoos are expected to have a good shot at winning the division this year and potentially make it seven different winners in seven years. What team will claw their way to the top of mediocrity in 2019 to be the best of the Coastal?
Looking at each ACC team’s schedule caused me to go down some predicted paths while others led me to some pretty unconventional conclusions. Here is how I see the 2019 ACC season shaping up.
Atlantic Predictions (losses listed in parenthesis)
1. Clemson – Overall: 11-1 ACC: 7-1 (@ ’Cuse)
2. Syracuse – Overall: 9-3 ACC: 6-2 (@ MD, Pitt, @ Duke)
3. N.C. State – Overall: 9-3 ACC: 5-3 (’Cuse, Clem, @ GT)
4. Boston College – Overall: 7-5 ACC: 4-4 (VT, NCSU, @ Clem, @ ’Cuse, @ ND)
5. Florida State – Overall: 6-6 ACC: 3-5 (@ UVA, NCSU, @ Clem, ’Cuse, @ BC, @ UF)
6. Louisville – Overall: 4-8 ACC: 2-6 (ND, @ FSU, BC, Clem, @ Mia, @ NCSU, ’Cuse,
7. Wake Forest – Overall: 4-8 ACC: 1-7 (Utah St., @ BC, L’ville, FSU, NCSU, @ VT,
@ Clem, @ ’Cuse)
In 2019, I expect Clemson to hold serve and win the Atlantic division once again but I
did throw a small wrench into their undefeated season plans by the Tigers losing at Syracuse. What fun is it to predict Clemson going undefeated yet again and plus Syracuse has played the Tigers tough the past two years, including a win back in 2017. This year Clemson travels to western New York to face a hyped Orange team in a night game in mid-September, so anything can happen in those type of situations. Even if Clemson does in fact lose to a team like Syracuse, they should still be in the conversation for another CFP birth and have a good chance to possibly repeat as national champions.
Speaking of Syracuse, they should be a team on the rise in 2019 and make some noise in the Atlantic division. Dino Babers and his staff have slowly built up the Orange’s program over the past few years which has allowed them to enter the 2019 campaign with whispers of top 25 season.
N.C. State, Boston College and Florida State all have a lot to prove this year but each
team is coming into this season from a different perspective. Dave Doeren and N.C. State come into to the year looking to have another 9+ win season but will need to do it without Ryan Finley, Kelvin Harmon and Garrett Bradbury who all moved onto the NFL. There will be a lot of new faces starting for the Wolfpack this season, all of whom will need to learn their roles quickly to keep up with the competition.
Boston College will try to build on the small positives of last year. In 2018, the Eagles
won in Lane Stadium and had a big win over Miami at home but finished the year 7-5. Expect AJ Dillon to be the focal point of the team and I foresee the team going as far as he will carry them, literally.
Last of this group is Florida State who will have James Blackmon and company back
again this year but hope to not repeat last year’s dismal 5-7 season. The Seminoles will have many recognizable faces on the roster but plan to have drastically different results and look to keep Willie Taggart out of the hot seat.
Mercilessly, we come to Wake Forest and Louisville. I expect both of these teams to just
try and keep their head above water for much of the 2019 season. The Demon Deacons do not have any easy schedule this year by traveling to Boston College, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Syracuse. Also hosting a very good Utah State team in week 1 does not do them any favors either. I expect that Wake Forest will face many challenges this season with many of them being too hard to overcome.
Louisville brings in a new head coach with a different system and will try to forget about
the haunting memories of last year. If Louisville can get to 3 or 4 wins, that should be viewed as positive and be seen as a decent start to the rebuilding process.
Coastal Predictions (losses listed in parenthesis)
1. Virginia Tech – Overall: 10-2 ACC: 7-1 (@ ND, @ UVA)
T2. Miami – Overall: 9-3 ACC: 6-2 (UF, VT, @ FSU)
T2. Virginia – Overall: 9-3 ACC: 6-2 (@ ND, @ Mia, @ L’ville)
4. Pittsburgh – Overall: 6-6 ACC: 4-4 (UVA, @PSU, UCF, Mia, @ GT, @VT)
5. Duke – Overall: 4-8 ACC: 3-5 (‘Bama, @MTSU, @VT, Pitt, @UVA, ND, @WF, Mia)
6. Georgia Tech – Overall: 4-8 ACC: 2-6 (@Clem, USF, UNC, @Duke, @Mia, @UVA, VT, UGA)
7. North Carolina – Overall: 2-10 ACC: 1-7 (SC, Mia, @ WF, App St., Clem, @ VT, Duke, UVA, Pitt, @ NCSU)
Like I stated earlier, this is yet another year where the ACC Coastal division is up for
grabs and any of the seven teams has a shot at the crown. Yes, I know some have a better shot than others but remember this is the Coastal and chaos is bound to happen and probably will happen.
After weeding through the mediocrity of this division, I envision the Hokies coming out
on top. The main reason for this pick is because of the Hokies schedule. It doesn’t scare me and doesn’t appear to be too much of a challenge. Two contests in particular may be a difficult, at Miami and at Notre Dame, but the rest of the schedule sets up nicely for Justin Fuente’s squad. Also having the 26th best recruiting class in 2019 should help their cause.
Miami and Virginia should be right there with Virginia Tech this season. Miami ought to
be strong on defense again this year and if the offense can hit its stride early on then all will be right in Coral Gables but the Hurricanes will have to navigate through two high profile rivalry games against Florida and Florida State in order to do so. Virginia has big expectations for the first time in a long time. There were flashes of hope last season and the foundation of a good team was formed but this season will be defined by if the Wahoos can take the program another step further in the right direction. Competing for a division title certainly will be a step in the right direction but Virginia has to hold up under the weight of expectations first.
After an unexpected Coastal division title last year, Pittsburgh looks to recapture some of that magic. However, that may be easier said than done. While the Kenny Pickett to Maurice French connection should remain a bright spot on offense, I see the Pitt defense, and team as whole, being nothing more than average. Let us not forget that Pittsburgh was only 7-5 last year and somehow stumbled their way to a 6-2 conference record, which was good enough to win this middle-of-the-road division. In 2019, Pat Narduzzi will have to get a little something extra out of his guys if he wants more than run of the mill results.
Now we come to the bottom of the Coastal, featuring Duke, Georgia Tech and North
Carolina. Honestly, you could throw these three teams into a hat, draw names and have as good a chance as any at predicting who will come in 5th, 6th and 7th place. I predict that Duke will claim the 5th spot and be the best of the worst. The Blue Devils will struggle this season due to a void at quarterback left by Daniel Jones shocking everyone and being selected 6th overall in the NFL draft. Quentin Harris has some big shoes to fill at the quarterback position and the defense will also have to rise up from the team that gave up close to 400 yards a game last season if Duke wants to be successful in 2019.
This season will not be about wins and losses for the Yellow Jackets but more about
learning a new offensive scheme since the Paul Johnson triple option days are over. If GT can snag a couple of wins here and there with their new offense it will be seen a positive and signal that this team is trending upwards.
Finally, we arrive at the North Carolina Tarheels. There has been a lot of buzz and hype
around this program in the off season, largely due to the return of Mack Brown. That in itself has been a good thing for this program and allowed it to once again be talked about on a national stage. However, I doubt if much, or any, of this hype translates to wins on the field. The Tarheels face a rough five game opening stretch and will most likely have an uphill battle right from the start of the season. It will be interesting to see where Mack Brown takes this program over the next several years but as for this season, I expect that North Carolina will be just as miserable as they were in 2018.
Coach of the Year: Dino Babers, Syracuse
Player of the Year: Trevor Lawrence (Clemson QB)
Offensive Player of the Year: Trevor Lawrence (Clemson QB)
Defensive Player of the Year: Shaquille Quarterman (Miami LB)