From “Clemsoning” to ruling the ACC. The Orange Bowl to conclude the 2011 season looked like it could’ve been a death blow for the Dabo Swinney era. Two years later rivals Florida State were National Champs, but Clemson’s ascent began in earnest during 2012 and they haven’t relented since. Coming off 3 straight playoff appearances and their own National Title in 2016 Clemson appears here to stay for a while.
Summary of Last Year
The 2017 season was memorable in that Florida State fell off a cliff following the injury to quarterback Deondre Francois and a dive down to 7-6, their most losses since 2009. The aforementioned Clemson powerhouse more or less cruised to the division title once they dispatched NC State in early November.
The Coastal division saw the rise of Miami as they raced out to a 10-0 start, only to lose their final 3 games of the season including a blowout against Clemson in the league title game.
Unlike our Pac-12 preview the coaching ranks in the ACC remained largely unchanged except for Jimbo Fisher’s exit from Tallahassee. By way of USF and one year at Oregon, Willie Taggart is back in the state of Florida overseeing the Seminoles program.
In recruiting, Clemson (#7), Miami (#8), and Florida State (#11) topped the league as per usual. North Carolina (#23), Virginia Tech (#24), NC State (#26), and Louisville (#29) also finished inside the Top 30.
Clemson grabbed the top overall recruit in the nation in QB Trevor Lawrence, while also snagging 5 out of the 6 recruits with 5-star status signing to ACC teams. Miami grabbed the other in No. 25 overall and running back Derion Kendrick.
Top Out of Conference Game: Miami vs. LSU [Arlington]
If you’re a believer that Virginia Tech is going to take a step or two back from their 9-4 campaign then who will be challenging Miami in their division? North Carolina coming off a 3-9 season? This opener for the Canes could be one of only 2 ranked teams they face throughout the regular season! A loss here wouldn’t prevent Miami from coasting to the ACC title game but it could be the difference between a repeat of last year’s hot start with a top 5 ranking for a large portion of the season or something a little more humbling.
Most Important League Game: Clemson at Florida State
As alluded to above, the Coastal division could be some varying levels of hot trash this year outside of Miami. It’d be foolish to think any game in that side will be so important at this time. As it is, you can’t not pick the Clemson-FSU game. Both NC State and Louisville are expected to be weaker which doesn’t leave many other matchup options. The Seminoles aren’t expected to be in Clemson’s tier this year, however, it’s in Tallahassee and the Tigers have lost 4 out of their last 5 visits to the town.
Sell 2018: Virginia Tech
They were due to lose a good chunk of talent and have dealt with a brutal, one could say Notre Dame-y, type of off-season with even more personnel losses. There’s enough to prevent a major collapse though, plus facing William & Mary, East Carolina, and Old Dominion with no Clemson will surely help the win column. I’d expect maybe a 7-5 team that’s really maybe not quite as good as that record suggests.
Buy 2018: Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets appear to have fallen into a good year/bad year time continuum with no escape in sight. Nothing about their schedule should make you feel good. They get USF and Georgia out of conference plus Clemson thrown in there from the other division. Yet, Georgia Tech is returning a ton of starters on offense and I like that a lot in the triple option. Coming off 5-6 last year can’t this be an 8-win team? If so, they’d be a team to challenge Miami for sure.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Deondre Francois, Florida State
I was a big Francois fan prior to his injury and believe he’s talented enough to run away with this award. Technically, he’ll be entering a quarterback competition during fall camp but most signs from new head coach Willie Taggart suggest they truly favor Francois, and that makes sense. You could take Boston College running back A.J. Dillon here too because he might get enough carries for 2,000 yards.
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Joe Giles-Harris, Duke
There are too many candidates on Clemson or Miami who will cancel each other out, plus Florida State has a shocking absence of players capable of winning such an award. My man JGH (no, not Jordan Genmark Heath) was a terror last year for the Blue Devils (125 tackles, 11.5 for loss) and gets my vote.
League Title Game: Clemson vs. Miami
College football isn’t supposed to be this predictable. So far looking at the Pac-12 and ACC each league really essentially the same–one division with a heavy favorite and the other division with a pair of teams ready to slug it out. Everyone looks some varying degrees of mediocre.
I’d imagine this game will be a lot more competitive than last year (38-3 in Clemson’s favor) as Miami has many pieces coming back and should improve in Mark Richt’s 3rd year.
Clemson’s in an interesting spot with all the pieces to win a National Title except their quarterback situation is still murky. Everyone seemed pleased with Kelly Bryant last year but a loss to Alabama has a way of scrambling the brain. In fact, Bryant’s passing stats weren’t that impressive and the aforementioned Trevor Lawrence looked awfully enticing during the spring. There’s already talk of a two-quarterback system which is an automatic downgrade of Clemson’s stock on my part.