The ACC has a large intimidating beast of a program lording its 2nd National Championship in 4 years and 4 straight league titles over their conference mates. It has been a historic number of years for Clemson but the league as a whole has found itself in a rut with limited success stories such as, “Oh, wow Syracuse finished ranked last year good for them!”
Team – Overall – League – F/+ Rank
* Division Champion
$ Conference Champion
Clemson, 15-0, 8-0, #2 * $
Syracuse, 10-3, 6-2, #34
NC State, 9-4, 5-3, #37
Virginia, 8-5, 4-4, #35
Duke, 8-5, 3-5, #40
Boston College, 7-5, 4-4, #65
Georgia Tech, 7-6, 5-3, #83
Miami, 7-6, 4-4, #32
Wake Forest, 7-6, 3-5, #74
Pittsburgh, 7-7, 6-2, #55 *
Virginia Tech, 6-7, 4-4, #76
Florida State, 5-7, 3-5, #88
North Carolina, 2-9, 1-7, #92
Louisville, 2-10, 0-8, #123
Turns out, Florida State having their worst season in 40 years, Miami still spinning its wheels, and several teams failing to meet expectations equals a giant pile of crap for the 2018 ACC football season. It’s difficult to imagine a worse year for some of the traditionally strong teams. For example, Virginia Tech was ranked 24th in the AP Poll on October 6th when the Irish visited last year and look how far down that list the Hokies finished!
Yes, the ACC has Clemson way out on top with a mix of teams trying to rebuild quickly (FSU, NC State, Virginia Tech, Duke, Miami) and others staying the course (Syracuse, Boston College, Pitt) to offer some competition. Many leagues have turned their fortunes around quickly and we’ll see if that can happen for the ACC in 2019.
Geoff Collins – Georgia Tech
Scott Satterfield – Louisville
Manny Diaz – Miami
Mack Brown – North Carolina
Paul Johnson opted for retirement after 11 seasons in Atlanta, Bobby Petrino was fired in the middle of his 5th season of a second stint at Louisville, Mark Richt abruptly retired after 2 seasons at Miami, and Larry Fedora was fired after 7 seasons in Chapel Hill.
Geoff Collins comes to Tech after 2 seasons of modest success at Temple, Scott Satterfield spent 5 seasons with Appalachian State, Manny Diaz was ever-so-briefly hired by Temple and ran back to Miami where he was defensive coordinator last year, and Mack Brown heads back to his second stint with North Carolina 5 years after leaving Texas.
Say what you want but none of these hires appear to have a terribly high ceiling.
Easiest Schedule: Clemson
The Tigers early schedule may be a bit tricky with an opener against no-longer-triple-option Georgia Tech which could be tricky for a while followed by hosting Texas A&M and a trip to the Carrier Dome. They’ll also close the season on the road against in-state rival South Carolina. Everything in between though looks like complete smooth sailing. Clemson doesn’t face our top 4 predicted teams from the Coastal Division and might challenge 2013 Florida State’s record for margin of victory at 41.8 points per game.
Toughest Schedule: Florida State
It’s not going to be easy for Willie Taggart to turn things around in Tallahassee. Unlike their division rivals above, Florida State faces the top cross-division opponents (Virginia & Miami) and their out of conference games are even tougher with a neutral site opener against Boise State and a finale visit to the Swamp. A finish of 8-4 might actually be really impressive progress for the Seminoles.
Stock Up: Virginia
It’s difficult to imagine Syracuse improving over last year’s strong finish, while the rest of the league is comprised mostly of middling talent or teams dealing with a lot of personnel turnover. The exception seems to Virginia who is nearly everyone’s favorite to win the Coastal Division for the first time in their history. They have a nice core returning from an 8-win team, an emerging star quarterback in Bryce Perkins (sneaky good 3,603 total yards and 34 touchdowns in 2018), and it feels like it’s time for head coach Bronco Mendenhall to make his move in the ACC after a few years of steady if unspectacular progress in Charlottesville.
Stock Down: NC State
The Wolfpack lose quite a bit on defense, and even more on offense in addition to offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz taking over the head coaching job at Appalachian State. Matching the last two campaigns of 9-wins looks like a tall task. Although, the schedule isn’t terribly overbearing and 7 or 8 wins could be possible especially if they get past a road trip to West Virginia in week three.
Burning Question: More than 50 Passing Touchdowns for Trevor Lawrence?
Dawyne Haskins hit 50 passing touchdowns last year but exceeding 50 has only happened 3 times in college football history–and only once (B.J. Symons, Texas Tech, 2003, 52) at the Power 5 level. Trevor Lawrence hit 30 touchdowns through the air while not playing in over 300 snaps as a freshman due to sharing time early in the year with Kelly Bryant.
Clemson will have the best wideout group in the country and elite freshman Frank Ladson joins the mix as an early enrollee, too. Their defense might take a step back just enough to provide Lawrence with more opportunities. However, the strong Clemson running game and the fact that they might be blowing out numerous teams by the third quarter could have Lawrence standing with a towel on the sidelines in many 4th quarters.
Top League Game: Virginia Tech at Virginia (Nov. 29th)
Unless Florida State takes a huge step forward nothing in the Atlantic Division looks appealing as no one is catching Clemson this year (or next, very likely).
Miami being in the most important game is an intriguing option if you can buy Diaz fielding a strong defense and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell bringing explosiveness and playmaking to the quarterback position which has been lacking for years in Coral Gables.
However, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if this regular season finale in Charlottesville decides the division. You can’t imagine a younger, more inexperienced, or bad Virginia Tech defense like last year and Bud Foster should improve that side of the ball quickly. Their offense should be average to fine with quarterback Ryan Willis, too. Can it be enough to win the division?
Worst Team: Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets had the 4th worst F/+ rank last year but tied for the 6th most wins in the ACC. Now, they’re returning 8 starters and going through the difficulty of transitioning away from the flexbone offense. They open with Clemson followed by South Florida and host Geoff Collins’ former team Temple on the road in week 5. If they lose all 3 of those games with tough divisional road games plus Georgia still remaining it could be a 3 or 4-win team at best.
Predicted 2019 Finish
Florida State 7-5
NC State 7-5
Boston College 5-7
Wake Forest 6-6
Virginia Tech 8-4
North Carolina 4-8
Georgia Tech 3-9
These are dark times for the ACC as no one seems capable of beating Clemson let alone challenging the defending champs for the division or league title. My predictions have last year’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place teams in the Atlantic taking a step back with Florida State’s modest improvement coming nowhere near contending.
If there’s hope it comes in a somewhat exciting Coastal Division battle that should be much, much better than last year when a 7-7 Pitt team that finished -32 in point differential ended up taking this side of the league.
We probably shouldn’t get too excited about Virginia–they are way down the blue-chip recruiting rankings with national/ACC team finishes of 34/7, 59/11, 58/12, and 63/13 over the last 4 seasons–and are replacing 10 starters even if most of their best players are back. I’d say buy their stock but be cautious. The league really needs Virginia Tech and Miami to be better–especially the former team where Justin Fuente was once a hot coaching commodity and is coming off a deflating 6-7 season, has been dealing with a lot of roster upheaval, and is 1-6 against ranked teams with a 6-game losing streak since coming to Blacksburg.