Pre­sea­son pre­dic­tions for the up­com­ing ACC foot­ball sea­son

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Football - BY JOE GIGLIO [email protected]­sob­server.com

As much as Clem­son is threat­en­ing to turn the clock back to the 1990s on ACC foot­ball, the league is ac­tu­ally deeper and bet­ter than it has ever been.

The Tigers will be the run­away pick to win the con­fer­ence (again) this week in Char­lotte at the league’s me­dia event, but there’s more bal­ance in the league than when Florida State was dom­i­nat­ing in the 1990s.

On pa­per, there are no bad teams in the At­lantic Divi­sion. All seven teams on the At­lantic side could reach the post­sea­son. That’s only hap­pened once be­fore in the ACC (when six At­lantic Divi­sion teams made a bowl in 2008). The SEC West, in 2014 and ’15, is the only other Power 5 divi­sion to match that feat.

So while the Tigers have won 48 of their past 56 ACC games (and four con­fer­ence ti­tle games since 2011), the rest of the league has done a bet­ter job of keep­ing up than when FSU dom­i­nated in the 1990s (the Noles won 54 of their first 56 ACC games from 1992-98).

Mi­ami will be the pick again on the Coastal side, but it’ll get a push from the Techs (Ge­or­gia and Vir­ginia). You’ve got Clem­son on one end, and Vir­ginia on the other, but you could prob­a­bly throw the other 12 teams in a hat and pick out names for the or­der of fin­ish. The re­cent coach­ing hires, es­pe­cially in the Coastal Divi­sion, have helped keep the league from be­ing too top heavy. Even if you wouldn’t be able to fig­ure that out based on what will likely be a lop­sided vote (for Clem­son and Mi­ami) this week in Char­lotte.

Here’s one opin­ion on how the sea­son will shake out:

AT­LANTIC DIVI­SION

1. Clem­son

Pro­jected record: 8-0 ACC, 12-0 over­all

Plus: The Tigers have the best de­fen­sive line in col­lege foot­ball.

Mi­nus: By their own stan­dard, and even judged against the rest of the ACC, the of­fense was just av­er­age last sea­son and has to be re­built this sea­son.

Bot­tom line: The Tigers will win their fourth straight ACC ti­tle (and fifth in eight years) and do so with­out a hic­cup in league play. Their de­fense will be that good.

T2. Bos­ton Col­lege

Pro­jected record: 4-4 ACC, 7-5 over­all

Plus: The Ea­gles re­turn all five starters on the of­fen­sive line and their top rusher (A.J. Dil­lon) from the 25th-ranked rush­ing of­fense in 2017.

Mi­nus: They have the most dif­fi­cult sched­ule in the ACC with cross­over games against Mi­ami and Vir­ginia Tech.

Bot­tom line: Steve Ad­dazio is hop­ing the ceil­ing is higher, with such an ex­pe­ri­enced group, but the sched­ule – af­ter the first month – is not con­ducive to much more than eight wins.

T2. Syra­cuse

Pro­jected record: 4-4 ACC, 7-5 over­all

Plus: Eric Dungey, when healthy, is the most dan­ger­ous quar­ter­back in the ACC.

Mi­nus: The Orange’s de­fense (No. 106 in to­tal de­fense) is not good and their style of play com­pounds their de­fi­cien­cies.

Bot­tom line: This is your “sur­prise” team. The Orange get a home-cook­ing spe­cial early vs. Florida State and then sweep the Tri­an­gle in Oc­to­ber to make their first bowl ap­pear­ance since 2013.

T2. N.C. State

Pro­jected record: 4-4 ACC, 8-4 over­all

Plus: The Wolfpack has the best col­lec­tion of receivers in the ACC and ju­nior Jakobi Mey­ers is poised for a mon­ster sea­son.

Mi­nus: The de­fense was a weak point last sea­son and has to re­place the league’s player of the year in de­fen­sive end Bradley Chubb.

Bot­tom line: The Wolfpack will look a lot like a Big 12 team this sea­son with a high-scor­ing of­fense try­ing to off­set a leaky de­fense. But the sched­ule is softer than last year’s, which means it can match last year’s reg­u­larsea­son win to­tal, even while missing Chubb, Ny­heim Hines and Jaylen Sa­muels.

T2. Florida State Pro­jected record: 4-4 ACC, 7-5 over­all

Plus: It’s a “re­set but­ton” kind of year for firstyear coach Wil­lie Tag­gart with a still very tal­ented ros­ter left be­hind by Jimbo Fisher.

Mi­nus: Both lines have fallen off in re­cent years. It’s hard to be elite, which FSU was from 2012-14, when you’re soft in the mid­dle.

Bot­tom line: The play­ers are go­ing to be more di­aled in for Tag­gart af­ter Fisher’s mes­sage had been scram­bled. That doesn’t mean the Noles are go­ing to mag­i­cally run the table again. They have too many is­sues up front.

T6. Wake For­est Pro­jected record: 3-5 ACC, 6-6 over­all

Plus: In one of the great re­builds in league history, the Deacs have the best of­fen­sive line in the ACC. This af­ter hav­ing the worst three years ago.

Mi­nus: Quar­ter­back John Wol­ford made a lot of plays last sea­son (39 to­tal touch­downs) and his re­place­ment, Ken­dall Hin­ton, has al­ready been sus­pended for three games.

Bot­tom line: It’s go­ing to get bumpy in Oc­to­ber but Dave Claw­son can re­ally coach. The Deacs’ of­fense will be very good again, and they’ll have a chance to make some hay late. T6. Louisville Pro­jected record: 3-5 ACC, 6-6 over­all

Plus: Bobby Petrino is one of the best X-and-O coaches in col­lege foot­ball.

Mi­nus: The main cog that made Petrino’s play­call­ing work, quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son, is now in the NFL.

Bot­tom line: The Cards are in a tran­si­tion year. Their de­fense, which wasn’t good last year, has to be re­built. Their of­fen­sive line, which wasn’t good last year (No. 104 in sacks al­lowed), returns nearly in­tact but needs to make dra­matic strides to find a run­ning game to ease the pres­sure on new quar­ter­back Ja­won Pass.

COASTAL DIVI­SION

1. Mi­ami

Pro­jected record: 6-2 ACC, 9-3 over­all

Plus: The power of the “turnover chain” was real and so is Mi­ami’s de­fense. The back seven, led by line­backer Shaq Quar­ter­man, is the best in the ACC.

Mi­nus: The Canes got a nose­bleed when they got too high in the rank­ings last sea­son. They have to fig­ure out a bet­ter way to han­dle the pres­sure of suc­cess.

Bot­tom line: The Canes need more con­sis­tency at quar­ter­back, but their de­fense, and sched­ule, set up per­fectly for another divi­sion ti­tle.

T2. Ge­or­gia Tech

Pro­jected record: 5-3 ACC, 8-4 over­all

Plus: The Jack­ets have al­ter­nated winning and los­ing sea­sons the past four years. They had a los­ing sea­son (5-6) last year.

Mi­nus: The de­fense needs to find a way to cre­ate more turnovers. They forced only 10 in 11 games last sea­son (No. 125 na­tion­ally).

Bot­tom line: QB TaQuon Mar­shall (1,146 rush­ing yards) and RB KirVonte Ben­son (1,053) are a great one-two punch in Paul Johnson’s op­tion of­fense. With the rest of the divi­sion (save for Mi­ami) tread­ing wa­ter, Johnson’s team will bounce back.

T2. Vir­ginia Tech

Pro­jected record: 5-3 ACC, 8-4 over­all

Plus: Quar­ter­back Josh Jack­son (20 TD passes) is in­deed el­i­gi­ble af­ter there were re­ports to the con­trary in the spring.

Mi­nus: Two im­por­tant de­fen­sive backs, Mook Reynolds and Ado­nis Alexan­der, were dis­missed from the pro­gram in the sum­mer.

Bot­tom line: Justin Fuente has been ex­cel­lent in his first two sea­sons (19-8), but the real work be­gins for the Hok­ies’ coach. The sched­ule is soft enough that it will only be a half-step back.

4. Duke

Pro­jected record: 4-4 ACC, 7-5 over­all

Plus: The Blue Devils fig­ured some things out at the end of 2017 and have 14 re­turn­ing starters.

Mi­nus: There’s not one road game where they will be the fa­vorite, and they play six of them.

Bot­tom line: The ver­sion of the team that fin­ished with wins over Ge­or­gia Tech, Wake For­est and North­ern Illi­nois found a groove on of­fense. With quar­ter­back Daniel Jones and run­ning back Brit­tain Brown, there’s a good chance the Devils can get back in a winning groove.

5. Pitts­burgh

Pro­jected record: 3-5 ACC, 4-8 over­all

Plus: It took some time, but the Pan­thers fig­ured out that se­nior run­ning back Dar­rin Hall is very good.

Mi­nus: That’s the kind of non­con­fer­ence sched­ule (Penn State, at Cen­tral Florida, at Notre Dame) that gets a coach fired. Ask Mike Lon­don.

Bot­tom line: Pat Nar­duzzi is an ex­cel­lent de­fen­sive coach, but he’s play­ing a style that he doesn’t have the per­son­nel to make work. On the flip side, the of­fen­sive line, which has been a strength, has to be re­built. Learn­ing on the fly against that sched­ule is a bad for­mula.

6. UNC

Pro­jected record: 2-6 ACC, 4-8 over­all

Plus: The dis­as­trous, in­jury-filled 2017 sea­son is over.

Mi­nus: There’s still a ma­jor con­cern at quar­ter­back. Chazz Sur­ratt is sup­posed to be the guy, but the play­ers re­spond more pos­i­tively to Nathan El­liott.

Bot­tom line: Larry Fe­dora wants to win with of­fense, but that’s dif­fi­cult with­out sta­bil­ity at quar­ter­back. The Tar Heels have some good tal­ent across the depth chart, but Fe­dora needs to find a so­lu­tion at quar­ter­back. His fu­ture ul­ti­mately de­pends on it.

7. Vir­ginia

Pro­jected record: 1-7 ACC, 4-8 over­all

Plus: Quar­ter­back Bryce Perkins fits what Bronco Men­den­hall wants to do on of­fense and will be bet­ter than peo­ple think.

Mi­nus: Ac­cord­ing to Men­den­hall, the team’s own coach, the Cava­liers have 27 “ACC-cal­iber play­ers” on the ros­ter. The schol­ar­ship limit is 85.

Bot­tom line: No one said it was go­ing to be easy. Af­ter a sec­ond-year surge un­der Men­den­hall (6-7 and Mil­i­tary Bowl ap­pear­ance), the Wa­hoos take a large step back.

AWARDS

ACC of­fen­sive player of the year: A.J. Dil­lon, RB, Bos­ton Col­lege

ACC de­fen­sive player of the year: Chris­tian Wilkins, DL, Clem­son

ACC player of the year: Wilkins

ACC coach of the year: Dino Babers, Syra­cuse

RICHARD SHIRO AP

Clem­son’s de­fen­sive line­man Chris­tian Wilkins is pre­dicted to win mul­ti­ple ACC awards: Player of the Year and De­fen­sive Player of the Year.

CHRIS SEWARD cse­[email protected]­sob­server.com

With quar­ter­back Daniel Jones re­turn­ing, Duke’s of­fense is ex­pected to build upon on the strong fin­ish to last sea­son.

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