Wednesday, August 1, 2018

College Football 2018 Season Preview: The ACC

The top of the ACC might be the strongest of all the Power 5 conferences in college football. The 5 teams of Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Miami and NC State have the talent and ability to stand toe-to-toe with almost anyone in the nation.

Still, even with all these good teams I think the job that Dabo Swinney has done at Clemson has them a notch above the other teams in the conference.

Conference Standings:
Atlantic W L Coastal W L
Clemson 12 0 Virginia Tech 10 2
Florida State 10 2 Miami 10 2
NC State 9 3 Duke 7 5
Louisville 8 4 Georgia Tech 6 6
Wake Forest 6 6 North Carolina 6 6
Boston College 3 9 Pittsburgh 3 9
Syracuse 2 10 Virginia 1 11
Won division Won division
Conference Championship:
Clemson over Virginia Tech
Bowl Teams: 10
CFP: Clemson
Big 6: Florida State
CFP 2: None
Others: Miami
NC State
Virginia Tech
Wake Forest
North Carolina
Georgia Tech
Most Underrated: Virginia Tech
Most Overrated: Boston College
Coaches on Hot Seat: Pittsburgh
Boston College

Here's my team by team:

1. Clemson: There's a lot of noise about "who's going to start at quarterback?" and that's scaring some people away from the Tigers. But the fact is that either option is better than most teams already. Either Kelly Bryant or Treavor Lawrence would be the unquestioned starter for most programs in the country.  If you're going to have a problem, THIS is the one to have.  The Tigers have talent at all the skill positions and a nasty offensive line. Despite losing a lot to the NFL draft they will again have one of the nastiest front 7's on defense in football, and they have young talent for depth as well. Their defensive 2-deep is littered with upper-classmen, so they're going to rotate depth and not get tired. This is a loaded team.

2. Virginia Tech: Justin Fuente has a young quarterback throwing to a young-ish group of WR's so the passing game might need some time to gel. Fortunately they have RB Steven People's to carry them through behind a monster offensive line. On the defensive side of the ball they're going to have a mean defensive line, with a young but talented group of LB's backing them up. They're a little young at DB but a solid pass rush should allow them time to grow.  Add to that one of the best defensive coordinators in the country and I think they get the chance to play Clemson in the ACC Title game.

3a. Florida State: Yes, this is a transition year with Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M and Willie Taggert taking the reins, but they still have offensive talent in bunches with QB Deondre Francios throwing to a talented trio of WR's and a stud running back in the person of Jacques Patrick.  The O-line might need a chance to gel, which makes the early game against Virginia Tech a challenge, but if they can survive that the schedule gets easier for the couple of weeks. Defensively they should be just fine.

3b. Miami: This will be Sr. QB Malik Rosier's last year to make a mark and I think the pieces are in place for him to do so. Miami still has a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and I think they'll score points in bunches. Defensively they're fast, athletic, and a little lacking in depth which is a concern. Miami's early season schedule is friendly, and if they can beat Georgia Tech it probably sets up a barn burner of a game in Blacksburg. Enter Sandman.

4. NC State: This is the year for NC State head coach Dave Dorean. If he's going to contend for the ACC title it has to be with this group. A Senior laden offense and defense are solid, if not spectacular, and it remains to be seen how RS Sr Transfer (Boise State) Ryan Finley handles the offense under this pressure. I think they're going to need to lean on a talented defense early, but their early schedule is laughably easy and I wouldn't sleep on that Week 3 trip to Wake Forest.

5. Louisville: Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they have to start the season getting shellacked by Alabama. Head Coach Bobby Petrino is going to rely on SO QB Jawson Pass to fill the huge gap left by Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson. He might want to look over his shoulder however because Freshman Malik Cunningham might end up being the starting QB by season's end. Louisville is a good, but not great team that's going to struggle when they play the really good teams on their schedule. We've also seen that playing 'Bama to start the season can destroy a team mentally. Do you really have faith in Petrino to hold it together enough to make an ACC title run? 

6. Duke: Head Coach David Cutcliffe has found a home at Duke and considering the disadvantages he has there is doing an amazing job. He's got some offensive talent this time around and an offensive line anchored by Sr Center Zach Harmon that should get better as the year progresses. Defensively they're going to have to rely on a couple of Freshmen to grow up quickly in the defensive backfield, but the front 7 should be just fine. My question is: Can they score enough points consistently to win?

7a. Wake Forest: Welcome to the mushy middle of the ACC, three teams that aren't all that bad, but not all that good either. Wake Forest has a Senior heavy team that's OK, talented enough, and a team that you don't necessarily want to play at their house because Dave Clawson's group typically doesn't beat themselves. I do worry that overall team speed and size will be a huge issue against the better teams they face but they should do just enough to attain bowl eligibility.

7b. Georgia Tech: Yes, Paul Johnson runs the triple option but it's not entirely fair to call it a "gimmick offense". It's a good offense that makes the Yellow Jackets a tough team to deal with on a standard week and it can give teams fits. This is why I think Miami needs to beware of their game in Atlanta.  But this is a team filled with a lot of returning starters who were just average last year, and that's what I see for them this year.  The check-scratchers at Tech are starting to tire of Paul Johnson's ways and I'm not sure whether 6-6 will be enough for them to want to bring him back. Especially when you consider next year is probably a rebuilding year.

7c. North Carolina: Thanks to Larry Fedora for providing us with the best snippits of ACC Media Days. Offensively I've got concerns about an O-Line that is young and untested, and skill players that seem to be a notch below the best in the league. On defense it's the same. They lack a certain speed and tenacity that one finds in the best of circumstances.  If nothing else, we'll have Fedora's odd comments regarding football, tackling and destroying the Republic to kick around before their early-slate bowl game.

8. Boston College: Eagles head coach Steve Addazio hangs his hat on his defense and this year is going to be no different. They're going to try to find a way to run the ball with Sophomores at QB and RB, but at least they're behind a good offensive line. Defensively I think we see the Eagles take a step back this year as they lost a LOT of talent at LB from last year and a lot of what Addazio likes to do on defense is predicated on good LB play. I see this as a rebuilding year for Boston College, and it's going to be rough. But if the young players mature rapidly they could very easily out-perform my season prediction. It wouldn't be the first time I'm wrong about them and it probably won't be the last.

9. Pittsburgh: Put coach Pat Narduzzi in second place in your "ACC coaches most likely to get the boot" list for this year. Pitt is going to struggle scoring points, and struggle to stop teams late in games as lack of quality depth is going to wear down their defense. It's all going to start crashing down for Pitt in week 2, when Penn State comes to town. After that it's tough sledding for them in almost every game. Until they play.....

10. Syracuse: I like Dino Babers, I think he's a good coach that got put in a horrible situation at Syracuse and I think he's been unable to pull himself out of it. This is the last go-round for QB Eric Dungey and while I wish him success, I think the offensive line is going to be this team's undoing. On defense they should be fairly solid but a brutal schedule is going to ultimately do them in. After opening the season against Western Michigan, they snack on a cupcake before Florida State comes to town. Following that is another cupcake and then to Clemson, Pittsburgh, North Carolina at home, NC State at home, to Wake Forest, Louisville at home, to Notre Dame and to Boston College. Ouch.

11. Virginia: Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall obviously had no idea he was walking into a tire fire when he took the Virginia head job but here we are. Not much to say really, except that I think this is the low point before Mendenhall turns it around.

Up Next: The PAC-12 and what might be the most fun regular season of any Power 5 conference.

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