College Football Conference Preview: Atlantic Coast Conference

By Kevin Fay on August 21, 2017 at 9:15 am
Deondre Francois

Logan Bowles, USA Today

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With Florida State and Clemson back in the preseason top-5, the ACC figures to play a significant role in this year's College Football Playoff race. More to the point, the Atlantic Division will be the epicenter of the action. Along with the Seminoles and Tigers, Louisville and NC State make up the bulk of the league's strength. Can anyone from the Coastal challenge?  

Divisions and Bowl Ties

Atlantic Coastal
Boston College Duke
Clemson Georgia Tech
Florida State Miami
Louisville North Carolina
NC State Pitt
Syracuse Virginia
Wake Forest Virginia Tech

Bowl Ties

New Year’s Six bowl tie:

Orange Bowl: Note I learned while researching this: If the ACC plays the Big Ten in the Orange Bowl, the opportunity will be there for another opening in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

The rest:
  • Capital One Orange Bowl vs. Big Ten or SEC or Notre Dame. It’s interesting/strange that Notre Dame has to play 6 games against ACC opponents but still could potentially play another ACC team in the capital one bowl)
  • Camping World Bowl vs. Big 12
  • Belk Bowl vs. SEC
  • Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Pac-12
  • New Era Pinstripe Bowl vs. Big Ten
  • Franklin American Mortgage Music City vs. SEC OR TaxSlayer Bowl vs. SEC
  • Camping World Independence Bowl vs. SEC
  • Military Bowl vs. American Athletic
  • Quick Lane Bowl vs. Big Ten
  • St. Petersburg Bowl: Conditional if American Athletic or Conference USA can’t fill the spot.
  • Birmingham Bowl: Conditional if American Athletic or SEC can’t fill the spot or if Pitt is bowl eligible.

Big Ten matchups in bold

2016 recap/bowl record

What a year for the ACC. They boast the national champion in Clemson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson (who is for real), and went 8-3 in bowl season. They produced some of the most fun games of 2016 (Clemson – Florida State, Clemson-Louisville) and one of the weirdest (NC State – Notre Dame in a dang hurricane). The league will miss likes of Dashaun Watson, Dalvin Cook, and Mitch Trubisky, but there is a lot of star power waiting in the wings to take over in 2017.

Tiers

The ACC really has two tiers, national title contenders and the rest. There are a few teams where if things broke their way could have a 2016 Penn State type run in them.

National Contenders

  1. Clemson
  2. Florida State

Clemson loses their program changing quarterback, but there is a ton of talent waiting to take over for Deshaun Watson. The wide receiving corps could also be the best in the country. There will be a drop off, but it won’t be much. They recruit at an elite level and have become a program that expects to reload.

Florida State returns Deondre Francois, Derwin James, and 14 other starters to a team that went 10-3 last year and took the eventual national champions to the wire. Losing Dalvin Cook hurts, but bringing in five-star Cam Akers should lessen that blow. The prevailing thought last year was this team was one year away. Expectations will be even higher than they normally are in Tallahassee.

Could Shake Things Up

  1. Louisville
  2. Miami
  3. NC State
  4. Virginia Tech
  5. Pitt

I’m tempted to move Louisville in to a tier of their own just because they don’t really fit in this category, and they don’t really fit in the National Contenders category either. For all of their hype, the Cardinals are still something of a flawed team. Will their offensive line improve? Will their passing defense improve? Louisville regressed immensely toward the end of the year last year on both sides of the ball, and nearly got Lamar Jackson killed against Houston. However, any team that returns the Heisman Trophy winner will be extremely dangerous, and competitive in any game they play.

Miami has been quietly building momentum on the recruiting trail recently. If they can find a quarterback to replace Brad Kaaya, they have some pieces to make a run in the Coastal. Year two of the Mark Richt era should be interesting. NC State is the popular pick to take a big step forward this year as well, even if their record may not reflect it. The Wolfpack face one of the toughest schedules in the league. Virginia Tech loses a lot of offensive side of the ball, but Justin Fuente is known for his offensive mind. Pitt is in this tier simply due to their schedule. They miss Louisville, Clemson, and Florida State this year.

Also Play Football In The ACC

  1. Georgia Tech
  2. North Carolina
  3. Duke
  4. Syracuse
  5. Wake Forest
  6. Boston College
  7. Virginia

Georgia Tech and North Carolina should be solid but unspectacular. The rest won’t really won’t be in the picture. I expect Virginia and Boston College might be looking for new coaches to try any keep up in the arms race after the season.

5 Predictions

  1. The ACC is in the discussion to get two teams in the College Football Playoff. Both Florida State and Clemson have the talent to do it, if they can get by early tests.
  2. Lamar Jackson doesn’t win the Heisman again. This seems like a given, since it’s only happened one time and there seems to be plenty of competition. Nonetheless, he will have plenty of opportunity to shine in the spotlight.
  3. The Coastal Division race comes down to Miami vs. Pitt on November 24. Miami has the tougher road, because as noted, Pitt avoids the three best teams in the conference. If the Canes find their quarterback they have a chance to be right there Thanksgiving weekend.
  4. Miami makes it to its first ACC Championship game.  Yes, you read that right. Miami has NEVER played in an ACC Championship game. I think they beat Pitt to take the Coastal Division.
  5. Florida State wins the Championship to make the College Football Playoff and plays Alabama in a rematch. I think Alabama will take the game next week, but Florida State will bounce back and get their rematch in the playoff.
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