Yesterday I highlighted what I believe to be the favorites and sleepers from the SEC. That was part 1 in a 6 part series where I’ll look at the 5 power conferences and the best from the group of 5.
Being from Atlanta and living in the heart of SEC country I’ve noticed one trend, either you love the SEC or you hate it. If you are in the latter company, then you are more than likely an ACC person.
Little background on me, My dad played football for Georgia Tech. I grew up going to the games, meeting the players, and getting to go into the locker rooms and facilities. Naturally, I grew up a GT fan and subsequently an ACC fan. The ACC vs SEC rivalry is real and especially recently with the emergence of Clemson and Florida St as national title contenders. In the past 4 years, Georgia Tech has split 2 out of 4 from UGA, Florida St has swept Florida, Clemson swept South Carolina, Louisville is 3-1 vs Kentucky, and of course there was Clemson vs Alabama part I & II for the National Championship and Part III in the semifinal round. ACC vs SEC is alive and well.
Naturally we started in the heart of the south yesterday and today we’ll move up the Atlantic Coast to take a look at the ACC.
Clemson comes into the season as the Odds on favorite to win the ACC (-195) and the 2nd best odds to win the National Championship (+500). Rightfully, the expectation is high for the ACC Tigers. Clemson returns 15 starters from a team that lost in the College Football Playoff Semifinal a year ago. The Tigers biggest returning group is the NFL caliber defensive line that some claim to be the best in history. I’m not going that far but anytime you can bring back 25 sacks, 209 total tackles, and 45 TFL on your D-line you’re in a good spot. Whether of not Clemson can win the national championship will come down to either Kelly Bryant improving as a passer (only 13 passing TDs to 8 INT’s) or Trevor Lawrence taking over and making it truly difficult for teams to gameplan. Notable Games: @Texas A&M, @GT, @Florida State, vs South Carolina
Since arriving in Coral Gables, Mark Richt has rekindled the fire under Miami and expectations are higher than ever. Richt enters his 3rd season as head coach after posting 9-4 and 10-3 seasons and the expectations for the Hurricanes are 11+ wins, potentially an ACC championship, and a CFP berth. Malik Rosier will look to improve under center after losing his top 2 targets from a year ago. Rosier posted 3,120 yards, 26 TD’s, and 14 INT’s respectfully in 2017. Miami returns their leading rusher Travis Homer and he will look to improve his 966 yard season to break into the 1,000 yard club in 2018. Lastly, Miami returns the Turnover Chain from last season when they created 31 turnovers (14 FR & 17 INT) which was 3rd in the country. All eyes will be on the defensive side of the ball to see if they can keep the turnover machine rolling as the Hurricanes look to get back to the ACC Championship game. Notable Games: vs LSU, vs Florida State, @Boston College, @Georgia Tech, @Virginia Tech
Florida State had their season derailed right out the gate last year when Alabama injured starting QB Deondre Francois for the season and forced true freshmen James Blackman into action for the remainder of the year. Blackman was clearly not ready to lead the Seminoles to a special season. Teams game-planned against him which put all the pressure on Cam Akers and the running game. Though Akers was still able to rush for 1,025 yards, things look to work out a little differently this season with Francois back under center and 1st year coach Willie Taggart implementing an uptempo offense. They are sure to catch teams off guard offensively, however the question mark will be on the defensive side of the ball. They must replace NFL talents Derwin James (84 TOT, 2 INTs, 1TD), Josh Sweat (56 TOT, 12.5 TFL, 5.5 Sacks), and Derrick Nnadi (53 TOT, 10 TFL, 5.5 Sacks). For a defense that returns only 4 starters the pressure will be on the offense and the young guys to improve if they want a shot to dethrone Clemson as Atlantic Division Champions. Notable Games: vs Virginia Tech, @Miami, vs Clemson, @NC State, @Notre Dame, vs Florida
Georgia Tech lost 3 games within the final minute or double OT last season. In a year that could’ve easily been 8-3 (UCF game was cancelled) the Jackets finished 5-6 and missed a bowl game for 2nd time in 3 years. The triple option isn’t the prettiest of offenses to watch at times but when it’s working, it works like a well oiled machine. GT relies on the ground game to open up the field and this year will be no different. GT returns the top 6 rushers from last season including Senior QB TaQuon Marshall (1146 rush yards, 27 total TDs) and Redshirt Junior KirVonte Benson (1053, 6 TDs). On the defensive side of the ball, new Defensive Coordinator Nate Woody looks to use a 3-4 scheme to actually be able to stop opposing offenses from going up and down the field at will, something Ted Roof and his 4-2-5 nickel defense completely failed at doing last season. Seriously, if it’s 4th and 1, why do you have 5 DB’s on the field? I digress. GT should be able to stay close to the top of the ACC Coastal division this season and potentially play for the ACC Championship. Notable Games: @South Florida, vs Clemson, @Louisville, @Virginia Tech, vs Miami, @UGA
Virginia Tech starts the season against Florida State on Labor Day, which will illuminate where both of those teams sit for the 2018 season. Virginia Tech’s schedule lines up pretty easily from there until hosting Notre Dame October 6th. That’s a good amount of time to get the new starters acclimated to playing in Bud Foster‘s system. Even if VT loses to Florida State and Notre Dame, Their ACC Coastal standing will be unaffected as they finish the final 6 weeks against Coastal opponents. The new guys will have until the middle of October to adjust. If VT is to contend for an ACC title berth they’ll lean on redshirt sophomore QB Josh Jackson and senior RB Steven Peoples to guide Justin Fuente‘s offense as Fuente takes the Hokies into his 3rd season at the helm. They lost a good bit on defense but as long as Bud Foster is there you can never count them out. Notable Games: vs FSU, vs ND, vs GT, vs BC, @Pittsburgh, vs Miami
Boston College has a lot going for them this year, more so than in years past. BC returns 16 starters from last year’s squad which won 5 out of 6 games to end the year to become bowl eligible where they lost a close game to Iowa. The Eagles 1,500 yard rusher, AJ Dillon, returns to an offense that finished 25th in rushing yards. BC also returns 9 other starters on offense which should bode nicely for the Eagles as they look to surprise everybody in a heated ACC Atlantic race this season. The defense also looks to be a daunting one as the Eagles return 4 of their top 5 leading tacklers and will be led by senior free safety Lukas Denis (83 TOT, 7 INTs, 2 FF) and senior DE Zach Allen (100 TOT, 15.5 TFL, 4 Sacks, 1 INT). BC will be a hard out for any team as the Eagles look to have their best team in years. Notable Games: @Purdue, @NC State, vs Miami, @VT, vs Clemson, @FSU
Other Keys to the 2018 ACC Season:
NC State could easily go into the above categories as they return the #2 ACC QB from a year ago in Ryan Finley (3514 yards, 17 TD, 6 INT) and his top 2 wide receivers in Kelvin Harmon (1017 yards, 4 TD’s) and Jokobi Meyers (727 yards, 5 TD’s). Offensively they look to improve but they return the fewest starters this year in the ACC, including only 3 on defense. They are just a huge question mark because they’ve only finished 2nd in the Atlantic division twice since the ACC split into divisions and have never won the Atlantic. It’ll also be interesting to see how they play losing 3 1st team All-ACC players in Bradley Chubb, Nyheim Hines, and Jaylen Samuels, as well as 2 2nd team offensive lineman in Will Richardson and Tony Adams. I just think they lost too much but they should still be an above-average team who derails a season or 2.
I’m really interested to follow Wake Forest, something I haven’t really said in a while. Leading rusher Matt Colburn returns to improve and lead an offense that has experience along the offensive line. The defense returns 6 seniors and 3 juniors. Much in the way of NC State, they may have just lost too much to be contenders but the Demon Deacons will make it difficult for teams who are overlooking them on the schedule.
One of these years Pittsburgh is going to surprise everyone. Pat Narduzzi is one of the best defensive minds in college football and returns 9 starters on defense and boasts 7 seniors on offense. If they are going to do any damage this year they’ll need true sophomore QB Kenny Pickett to be able to “pick” defenses apart when asked. We know they’ll have a strong run game and defense but QB is huge question mark as Pickett went 39/66 for 509 yards and 1 TD to 1 INT in 4 games last season.
Lastly, it’ll be interesting to see how Louisville transitions out of the Lamar Jackson era. You almost feel bad for them to play Alabama right out of the gate leading Alabama to yet another fairly easy out of conference game. Hopefully, whoever is the starting QB will be able to stay healthy so the Cardinals can avoid what happened to FSU last season.
The ACC isn’t exactly wide open this year as Clemson looks to once again lead the way as the highest ranked team and highest chance to receive yet another CFP berth. As usual, the Coastal division looks to be a 4 team race and Duke will probably surprise somebody again this year. Clemson is in the middle of a 3 year run of ACC championships and looks to extend the streak but all good things must come to an end. Is this the year the streak is broken?
We’ll see. May the best team win.
***Wikipedia was used for team history and coaches history
******Sports-reference.com was used for all player statistics
*******Odds were provided through Bovada.com