Finally, it’s August so that means football is close to being back. The NCAA season is imminent and should provide another set of unexpected as well as chaotic events.
Most people would rather focus on the player that could win the Heisman or even the team that could hoist up a national championship. However, none of these things can be achieved without owning your conference and taking it one week at a time.
Without further ado, let’s break down the ACC.
The Top Teams
The Clemson Tigers will be the ACC’s favorite going into the season and the hype is warranted. The Tigers return a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Last year’s ACC champs return arguably the best defensive line in the country as well as quarterback Kelly Bryant. The Tigers face a tough schedule having to go on the road to Texas A&M in September and Florida State in October, but with the returning talent and coaching of Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables, the Tigers are primed to win their fourth straight ACC title.
“The U” leads the Coastal Division as next season’s favorite under the tutelage of third-year head coach Mark Richt. The Miami Hurricanes rode high last season, climbing as high as No. 2 in the playoff ranking before sputtering at the end and dropping their last three games. Look for the Hurricanes to bring back the turnover chain with a talented defense. Fifth-year quarterback Malik Rosier returns after throwing 3,120 yards last season. The Hurricanes will immediately face a test Week 1 against the LSU Tigers in Dallas, Texas. But if Miami can repeat the success from last year, they’ll be right back in the national playoff hunt.
The theme for the Florida State Seminoles last season was Murphy’s Law: anything that could go wrong did go wrong. This season will be a tough test for first year coach Willie Taggart, who replaces Jimbo Fisher. But the Seminoles return a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball. Deondre Francois returns from last season’s injury with an emerging star in Cam Akers behind him. The ‘Noles face tough road tests at Miami and Notre Dame, but if they can stay healthy they’ll look to keep pace with Clemson in the division race.
Justin Fuente enters his third season with the Virginia Tech Hokies with a 19-8 record as head coach. The Hokies return three offensive linemen to back up quarterback Josh Jackson, who threw nearly 3,000 yards last season as a freshman. Jackson had a brief offseason issue academically, but for now the sophomore is ready to go for the Labor Day opener against conference-rival FSU. The defense lost stars like Tremaine and Terrell Edmunds to the NFL Draft, but defensive coordinator Bud Foster annually produces top-ranked defenses.
Players to Watch
With the arrival of Taggart, sophomore running back Akers, FSU, can find himself flourishing in a system that complements his talents. Akers averaged just over five yards per carry last season and Taggart’s system, that saw running backs flourish at South Florida and Oregon, could help Akers become a star next season.
One of the best defensive lines last season at Clemson returns and will look to wreak havoc once again. Defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins and defensive ends Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell helped Clemson lead the nation last year with 46 sacks and 2018 should see much of the same from this brick wall of a front line.
Francois suffered a devastating injury in last season’s opener against Alabama. But, according to head coach Taggart, the redshirt junior has fully recovered from his injury, and the ‘Noles will need him. Florida State’s success this season could depend on how Francois returns from his knee injury. But if the Seminoles’ star returns to form, he could be in the running for a Heisman trophy.
Duke isn’t on anybody’s radar to make the playoffs, but they do have a star linebacker who is getting NFL attention. Joe Giles-Harris, who made the Pro Football Focus All-American 1st-Team Defense last season, fills the stat sheet on defense. He led all ACC linebackers in tackles for loss and ranks fifth among active FBS players in career tackles per game with 9.33.
An Underrated Team to Watch
Last season, the Boston College Eagles won five of its’ last six games to achieve bowl eligibility and they will look to continue their momentum into this season. One problem facing the Eagles though is a back-loaded schedule, facing Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Florida State in four of the last five weeks of the regular season. But, they’ll face Clemson and Miami at home.
A.J. Dillon could put the Eagles in the middle of ACC contention. In his last seven games, Dillon scored 12 touchdowns and averaged 179 yards per game. The Eagles get the short end of the stick with Virginia Tech and Miami as their Coastal Division crossover games, but they could make some noise next season with a potent ground game and a solid defense that was third in the country last season in defensive pass-efficiency.
The ACC might seem like a foregone conclusion, but there could be enough resistance against Clemson to the point where we see a new champion.