This year our conference previews are taking on a slightly different timetable since the conferences are starting in a staggered fashion. They are going to release right before the conferences start.
Today we open up with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and on Saturday you’ll get the Big XII preview right before they get going.
Let’s get into this then…
The Atlantic Coast Conference, home of my University of North Carolina Tar Heels. That’s right, you heard it right, as announced on this week’s podcast, I am now a Tar Heels fan, so expect a heavy dose of UNC favouritism here.
In all seriousness, this is the conference of some east coast powerhouses; some recent champions like Clemson, some college football royalty like The “U”, the Miami Hurricanes and some schools who are college football staples, like Florida State, Virginia Tech and for one year only, Notre Dame.
The ACC is a fun conference, every team in this conference regularly sends talent to the league. Well… Maybe not Duke or Georgia Tech, but most of them.
However, if you want to watch a conference that is open and one where you don’t know who will be conference champions at the end of the year, it might not be the one for you. This conference has been dominated for the past 5 years by Clemson and prior to that the previous 3 championships went to Florida State and before that, in 2011, the conference champions were… you guessed it, the Clemson Tigers. 2010 is the most recent time that a team other than Clemson or Florida State didn’t win the ACC title, and that was Virginia Tech who topped… Florida State… You can see my point here.
This year might be a little different though; with the addition of Notre Dame (#10), there’s a genuine blue-blood college football programme in conference to challenge Clemson (#1) because quite honestly, this conference needs it a little; the next best record last year was the Virginia Cavaliers who had an overall record of 9-5.
There are also intriguing teams, such as North Carolina, who are #18 in the preseason AP poll and Florida State who will be looking to improve under Mike Norvell.
Notre Dame are eligible for the ACC title game but it is just a one year deal for them to be in the conference.
The ACC has adopted a 10+1 schedule, meaning that each team will play 10 conference games and 1 out of conference team in 2020.
Teams and last season’s record:
These are the 2019 records of all ACC schools. However, the conference this coming season includes Notre Dame and therefore is made up of 15 members and is not split into the usual two divisions. However, the Atlantic and Coastal divisions are the usual set up, with the ACC title game being contested between the two divisional winners.
In 2019, Virginia played in a New Year’s Six Bowl, losing in the Orange Bowl to Florida. Clemson lost the College Football Playoff Final 42-25 to LSU.
Team (Conf. record) Overall
Clemson (8-0) 14-1
Louisville (5-3) 8-5
Wake Forest (4-4) 8-5
Boston College (4-4) 6-7
Florida State (4-4) 6-7
Syracuse (2-6) 5-7
Team (Conf. record) Overall
Virginia (6-2) 9-5
Virginia Tech (5-3) 8-4
Pittsburgh (4-4) 8-5
North Carolina (4-4) 7-6
Miami (4-4) 6-7
Duke (3-5) 5-7
Georgia Tech (2-6) 3-9
Team in focus:
Obviously I am going to opt for Clemson here, however I will finish off my offering a couple more for you guys to keep an eye on over the next few months.
Let me begin with the Clemson Tigers, the preseason #1 team in college football, the defeated finalists of last year and the team with the best QB in college football in their ranks.
For those new to college football, that QB is Trevor Lawrence and with considerations to QB value, the presumptive #1 overall draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, (although I guess Joe Burrow showed us last year that no prediction is safe in early September).
Clemson has another returning offensive star in running back, Travis Etienne too but outside of that, it’s a lot of new faces on offense – Which is often the case because when you’re as good as Clemson is, a lot of your players get drafted. Another negative is that star receiver Justyn Ross is out injured with neck injury which could threaten his football career too.
So as much as they have Trevor Lawrence and Etienne, it isn’t the usual standard of supporting cast for the Tigers – Lawrence might have to be at his brilliant best for Clemson to climb back to the top of the mountain in 2020.
Outside of Clemson, an interesting team to watch might actually be my Tar Heels.
The University of North Carolina has good times on the horizon again. If you heard Wednesday’s podcast, you’ll have heard me talking up Sophomore QB, Sam Howell who is maybe the best Sophomore QB in college football and a player who will be looking to build on a very promising True Freshman season under Head Coach, Mack Brown.
Brown is a UNC legend who is pulling the strings in recruitment too – UNC had the #12 ranked recruiting class in the land and second ranked recruiting class in the ACC last year.
Cornerback Tony Grimes was a 5-star freshman who turned down Georgia and USC, amongst many others to go to Chapel Hill and play for Mack Brown. Other big name recruits coming in for 2020 to watch out for are defensive end Desmond Evans and receiver Josh Downs (both 4-star, out of state recruits, who had a lot of options).
Back to 2020, outside of Sam Howell, watch out for receivers Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown as well as running back Michael Carter. On defense, linebacker Chazz Surratt (Brother of Wake Forest receiver Sage Surratt) is the heartbeat of the unit.
Players to watch:
I’ll steer away from the obvious and previously mentioned here, so here are some new names;
D’Eriq King, QB, Miami
King is a player who started his college career at Houston before opting out of last year’s season after 4 games under the new Redshirt rule before transferring to Miami.
King is a small QB at 5’10 (although I suspect he’s shorter), but he makes up for it by being an unbelievable athlete who is a threat with his legs. Slippery and with an ability to extend plays and make throws on the move, King is certainly one of college football’s most exciting players when he’s at the top of his game. King is more than just an athlete though, he has a short and snappy release and is pretty well developed on the mental side of the game – In 2018, in his most recent full season, King threw for 36 TD’s and ran for 14 more.
Jalen Twyman, IDL, Pittsburgh
One of the best defensive prospects in the ACC that you will be able to watch on the field in 2020, Jalen Twyman is a ferocious pass rusher from the middle of the defensive line who is drawing comparisons from some quarters to former Pitt Panther, Aaron Donald.
Twyman has a developed pass rush plan and a motor that is always on, which makes him a constant threat to get in the opposing backfield and wreck the play. Twyman will be looking to build upon his 12 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss next season.
Another good performance in 2020 could cement him as a top-20 draft selection in next Spring’s draft.
Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse
Andre Cisco might be the most ballhawking safety in college football at the moment, boasting 12 interceptions in two years, as well as a further 14 pass deflections.
A player with great movement skills, fluid hips and active hands when attacking the football in the air, he also has dimensions for the modern safety at 6’ and a shade over 200lbs.
Cisco has the short area quickness to beat receivers to their spot and pick the ball off, which is part of the skillset he possesses that makes him a feared adversary of QB’s and offenses around college football – I do think this could lead to passes being aimed in the opposite direction in 2020, so perhaps a dip in numbers could come but isn’t that the ultimate sign of respect for a defensive back?
Game to watch:
November 7th 2020, Notre Dame Stadium – Clemson @ Notre Dame. Clear your diaries and tune in to this one. This will be the biggest game in the conference this year. Both teams might be a slightly lesser proposition than they usually are but make no mistake, these are two of the biggest names in college football squaring off in a conference game.
Dare I say it, it might even be a preview to the ACC title game.
Clemson 10-0 11-0
North Carolina 8-2 9-2
Notre Dame 8-2 9-2
Miami 7-3 8-3
Pittsburgh 6-4 7-4
Virginia Tech 6-4 7-4
Virginia 6-4 7-4
Florida State 5-5 6-5
Louisville 4-6 5-7
Wake Forest 4-6 5-6
Boston College 3-7 4-7
Duke 2-8 3-7
Georgia Tech 2-8 2-9