Countdown to Kickoff: 47 Days
We’re going to continue our ACC divisional previews today with the division that will probably be a little bit easier to predict, but predictions are still pretty meaningless, so take these all with a grain of salt. Let’s look at the Atlantic, shall we.
Note: These rankings include any and all tie-breakers.
1 - Clemson (8-0)
Wins: Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, NC State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Wake Forest
Key Players: QB Deshaun Watson, RBs Wayne Gallman and Adam Choice, WRs Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, CB Cordrea Tankersley (no relation)
What does Clemson need to do this year: Rebuild the defense again and keep Deshaun Watson healthy.
Just like they had to do last year, Clemson is once again faced with the challenge of replacing a good deal of players on the defensive side of the ball. The change won’t be quite as drastic this year, but they do still have a lot of work to do, specifically on the defensive line, where the Tigers lose Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, who had a combined 49.0 tackles for loss and 24.5 sacks (yes, those numbers are right). That is unearthly and something you don’t normally see from just two players unless you’re playing NCAA Footba—oh wait.
On offense, as long as Deshaun Watson stays healthy, there is no reason Clemson shouldn’t be in the Playoff again this year. This team is that good and could very well be the National Champions come January.
2 - Louisville (7-1)
Wins: Boston College, Duke, Florida State, NC State, Syracuse, Virginia, Wake Forest
Key Players: QBs Lamar Jackson and Kyle Bolin, RB Brandon Radcliff, OLB Devonte Fields, S Josh Harvey-Clemons
What does Louisville need to do this year: Carry over the offensive surge from the end of last season.
Towards the end of last season (specifically in the last five games), the Cardinals offense really started to catch fire, averaging 35.6 points per game in those games (28.7 season average). Between its two quarterbacks, Louisville has a ton of potential. Jackson and Bolin both had bright and shining moments last year, but they do need some more consistency to really solidify Louisville as the second-best team in the ACC Atlantic.
3 - Florida State (6-2)
Wins: Boston College, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Syracuse, Wake Forest
Losses: Clemson, Louisville
Key Players: RB Dalvin Cook, WRs Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield, DE DeMarcus Walker, S Derwin James
What does Florida State need to do this year: Find a quarterback.
This season could either be really good or just kind of ehh for Florida State, and it all hinges on its ability to find a quarterback who can slide in and be at least a game manager so defenses don’t load the box against Dalvin Cook. Right now, the frontrunner for that job is Sean Maguire, but the Seminoles have two freshmen in Deondre Francois and Malik Henry who are both talented and could compete for the job. I see Maguire winning the job and the Seminoles attempting their best chance at trying to be Alabama (without a lot of the talent that Bama has).
4 - Boston College (3-5)
Wins: Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Losses: Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, NC State
Key Players: RB Tyler Rouse, Pretty much the entire defense
What does Boston College need to do this year: Find some semblance of an offense.
Boston College had one of the best defenses in the country last year and since they aren’t losing a whole lot there, that should continue to be the case. The offense, however, was not as great. And by not as great, I mean that they were one of the worst offenses in the country last year, which ultimately required them to find a new offensive coordinator, so they hired ... Scot Loeffler? I was absolutely confused by this hire when they did it and I still don’t quite understand it. The last few offenses that Loeffler has overseen are Virginia Tech from 2013-2015, before that was Auburn in between Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlie, and before that was a year under Steve Addazio at Temple (that one being the only decent stop he’s had). And now, for the third time in a row, he’s being asked to do the impossible. Needless to say, he’s got a lot of work ahead of him.
T-5 - Syracuse (2-6)
Wins: NC State, Wake Forest
Losses: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech
Key Players: QB Eric Dungey, RB Jordan Fredericks, WR Steve Ishmael, LB Zaire Franklin, S Antwan Cordy
What does Syracuse need to do this year: Let Dino Babers get to work quickly.
Dino Babers has an easy offensive system: get yards and score points. He’s also really good at running it without a whole lot of time to establish it. In his first head coaching job at Eastern Illinois, he took a team that had gone 4-17-1 in the last two seasons and had them go 7-5 and 12-2 in his two years there, scoring at least 37 points 19 times in those two seasons (13 times in his second season). At Bowling Green (his second stop), Babers went 8-6 and 10-4 in his two seasons, with last year’s team being the best it’s ever been. For Syarcuse to be better this seasons, Babers is going to have to do what he does best.
T-5 - NC State (2-6)
Wins: Boston College, Wake Forest
Losses: Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, Syracuse
Key Players: QB Ryan Finley, RB Matt Dayes, TE Jaylen Samuels, DE Bradley Chubb, LB Airius Moore
What does NC State need to do this year: Give the ball to Matt Dayes.
Without a doubt, Matt Dayes is the best player on this team. Prior to getting hurt last season, Dayes was on track for 1,400 yards, but ended up finishing with 865 yards and 12 touchdowns. With a new offensive coordinator coming in, having Dayes is a godsend as he will automatically give Eli Drinkwitz (the new offensive coordinator) someone to lean on so he can establish his offense.
7 - Wake Forest (0-8)
Losses: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Louisville, NC State, Syracuse, Virginia
Key Players: QBs John Wolford and Kendall Hinton, WR Cortez Lewis, LB Marquel Lee, CB Brad Watson
What does Wake Forest need to do this year: Keep growing.
There really isn’t a whole lot of good for Wake Forest. Dave Clawson is now in his third year as the head coach and it still seems like he’s at least two years from fielding a competitive team. Even though there isn’t a lot of hope, there is a little bit, mostly in the players I listed above. Between John Wolford and Kendall Hinton at quarterback, one of them should be able to set themselves apart from the other, but right now, it’s a wait-and-see situation for the whole team.