Welcome to the Full 10 Yards ACC Conference Preview
The ACC is very much a talent laden conference but realistically Clemson will again sit atop the conference when all is said and done. The defending National Champs return one of the most talented offenses in all of football with Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and a handful of offensive linemen returning to Death Valley.
Whilst I expect Clemson to run away with the ACC there are still teams that on their day could cause an upset against the Tigers. Syracuse gave the Tigers everything they could handle at the Carrier Dome in 2018, Miami look to be much improved in Manny Diaz’s first full season as Head Coach and Virginia return one of the most explosive quarterbacks in the conference in Bryce Perkins.
What About 2018?
Well…. Clemson finished the season 15-0, atop the Atlantic Division, beat the Pitt Panthers comfortably in ACC Championship game (winning 42-10) and then went on to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide 44-16 in the College Football Championship game.
The Pitt Panthers (7-7) were the best team in a competitive yet somehow underwhelming Coastal Division in 2018. 5 teams finished above .500 in 2018 with Pitt (7-7), Georgia Tech (7-6), Virginia (8-5), Miami (7-6) and Duke (8-5) all besting the mark, unfortunately for Virginia and Duke who both posted better overall records than the Panthers their conference play was mediocre at best, Virginia finished 4-4 in conference play whilst the Blue Devils somehow managed to put together a 3-5 conference record.
Behind Clemson the Atlantic division was a little more competitive with both Syracuse (10-3) and North Carolina State (9-4) both posting records that would have come atop the Coastal division. No team in the ACC took a bigger step back in 2018 than the Louisville Cardinals, they went from finishing 8-5 in 2017 to just 2 wins. Losing Lamar Jackson, one of the most dynamic players college football has seen proved to be too big an issue to get over. Florida State went into 2018 with a new Head Coach for the first time in 8 years as Jimbo Fisher left for the challenges of the SEC and Texas A&M, a combination of Willie Taggart’s first season as head coach plus bad play from tumultuous quarterback Deondre Francois saw the Seminoles drop from 8 wins to just the 5 wins in 2018.
Back to Looking Ahead?
So, is there anybody in the ACC that can realistically push the Clemson Tigers? Probably the most suited to do so is are the Syracuse Orange, last season the Orange gave Clemson everything they could handle in a 23-27 loss, they go into this season with Tommy DeVito as their new starting quarterback. Whilst serving as Eric Dungey’s backup in 2017 DeVito flashed that he might be something special, against Florida State (whilst spelling for an injured Eric Dungey) DeVito guided the Orange to 24 second half points, against North Carolina the Orange blew a lead in the third quarter DeVito came in and changed their fortunes, tossing three touchdowns in a triple overtime victory. As well as going into the season with DeVito as QB1 the Orange return seven defensive starters, including Andre Cisco, one of the best safeties in the country who led College Football in interceptions in 2018.
The Miami Hurricanes look to be a completely different kettle of fish in 2019. This offseason they’ve seen a quarterback battle become the concentration of their Spring and Fall practices with returning sophomore N’Kosi Perry, freshman Jarren Williams and transferred ‘star’ Tate Martell battling for QB1. On August 12th Manny Diaz officially announced that Jarren Williams will be Miami’s starting quarterback heading into 2019, whilst Williams is a freshman and the decision was somewhat unexpected the hopes are that he can lead a much improved ‘Canes offense. Only four starters return from last years offense that finished 13th in the ACC in yards per game. Defensively Miami look to remain the best in the ACC and one of the best nationally, last season they finished 1st in the ACC and 14th nationally and bring back the best linebacking group in the country with Michael Pinckney, Shaq Quarterman and Zach McCloud returning for their senior years. The Coastal Division looks to run through Miami as they Hurricanes play both Virginia and Virginia Tech on home soil in 2019.
Speaking of Virginia, everything revolves around the play of Senior quarterback Bryce Perkins. Last season Perkins threw for 2680 yards and 25 touchdowns whilst rushing for an additional 923 yards and 9 touchdowns… that’s electric. Two of his top three receivers (Hasise Dubois & Joe Reed) return for 2019 so should help cover the loss of the Cavaliers leading guy in Olamide Zaccheaus and provide a level of stability going into this season. Virginia returns seven starters on one of the best defenses in the ACC, an explosive offense plus a very good defense in a division that has uncertainty for talented teams could mean the Cavaliers win the Coastal division for the first time.
Who Else Should You Keep Tabs On?
A couple teams that could surprise in 2019 are the Florida State Seminoles and Virginia Tech Hokies The Seminoles were horrific in 2018, Deondre Francois and all that comes with having him at quarterback are no longer on the roster, instead Willie Taggart will choose between James Blackman and Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook. Both of which should represent an upgrade over Francois, who will now be competing at the FCS level. There is a considerable amount of hype surrounding Florida State this offseason, they have bounce back candidates in running back Cam Akers and return eight starters on the defensive side of the ball. Florida State should bounce back and get themselves back into a bowl game.
The Virginia Tech Hokies finished last season 6-7 and yet they go into this season with a little bit of hype surrounding them. Defensively the Hokies put together the worst season that a Bud Foster unit has ever had, finishing 77th in the nation. The same eleven starters are coming back in 2019, and whilst that might sound bad it isn’t, all eleven starters come back more experienced than the year before and with a chip on their should after such a bad year. The main reason the Hokies are getting a bit of hype? Senior quarterback Ryan Willis, the former Kansas-transfer replaced Josh Jackson after two games last year (Jackson went down with an injury) and honestly outplayed all expectations, Willis threw for 2716 yards with 24 touchdowns to just the 9 interceptions. It is fair to expect Willis to replicate and even improve on those numbers in 2019, especially if the defense makes the jump people expect.
This might be slightly out on the limb but I really like what Wake Forest have coming into 2019. They have one of the best quarterback situations in the conference with both Sam Hartman and Jamie Newman proving to be more than capable starting quarterbacks. Before breaking his leg Hartman had thrown for 1984 yards, 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in nine games, whilst Newman played in six games tossing 9 touchdowns, 4 interceptions for 1083 yards. Head Coach Dave Clawson should be more than happy with whoever trots out as the week one starter.
The biggest question marks surrounding the Demon Deacons revolve around their mediocre defense, last season they had no real stars and struggled to rush the passer with only 25 sacks all season long. They return only four starters from that defense so it’s unknown as to how their defense will look in 2019, there is a chance they could be every bit as bad but the hope is that an almost completely new defense can provide a little more test for teams than last year’s showing.
Dropping Down a Notch from 2018?
One team stands out as a team that is almost certainly going to take a step back in 2019 – the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Following back to back 9 win seasons you would be forgiven for thinking that NC State could build on that momentum, the problem is that they have lost as much offensive talent as any team in the country. They lost 3900 yards and 25 touchdowns in Ryan Finley, 1000 yards and 19 touchdowns in Reggie Gallaspy II, a combined 2000 yards and 11 touchdowns in Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers, All-American centre Garrett Bradbury and their offensive co-ordinator Eliah Drinkwitz left to become Head Coach of the Appalachian State Mountaineers. This many losses might be too much for the Wolfpack to overcome in 2019.
Shout Out To?
Boston College, Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils. All four of these teams won’t be good enough to compete for either the Atlantic or Coastal division in 2019 but have talented players and should be at least interesting to watch.
Boston College are Boston College, they’re about as consistently average as a college football programme can be, they more or less float around seven wins every season and there isn’t really any reason to expect differently this year. They return a trio of very good offensive players in quarterback Anthony Brown, receiver Kobay White and potential dark-horse Heisman candidate AJ Dillon. Unfortunately for BC their defense is bad, they only return three starters, this will probably halt any progress the offense has made.
Pittsburgh finished the 2018 season atop the Coastal division, they did so by having two 1000 yard rushers in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall… unfortunately for Pittsburgh both Ollison, Hall and four of their starting offensive linemen are no longer on the team. Pitts defense should remain solid in 2019, their season will hang on the play of Kenny Pickett at quarterback. Pickett was less than spectacular in 2018, he threw for just shy of 2000 yards and just the 12 touchdowns. Those numbers need to improve, without Ollison and Hall Pickett will see far more opportunity to utilise his arm.
Why are the Tar Heels interesting to watch in 2019? One reason really, the return of Mack Brown. North Carolina don’t have a particularly good roster, there is a reason they won just the two games in 2018 but Mack Brown has proven to be a fantastic college coach (might be understating that a bit), if anybody can inspire a Tar Heels turn around its him.
The Blue Devils finished the 2018 season with an 8-5 record and a win against Temple in the Independence Bowl, so why isn’t there any real buzz surrounding them going into 2019? Well, they have a new quarterback in senior Quentin Harris but don’t have many weapons surrounding him. Their defense should remain solid as they return nine starters, but they have a brutal schedule in 2019, in non-conference play they face both Alabama & Notre Dame and face Syracuse & Wake Forest from the Atlantic division. The only way this could have been worse is if they ended up with Clemson on their schedule as well.
There are only two teams that I expect very little from in 2019, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Louisville Cardinals.
I’ll keep this short and sweet, the Yellow Jackets hired Geoff Collins as their new head coach but don’t really have the personnel to play his traditional system. They return just four starters on offense and only the three starters on defense. That is a LOT of gaps that need filling, if that wasn’t enough to say the Yellow Jackets were going to be bad their schedule should put the final nail in the coffin. In 2019 they travel to Clemson, Miami (Fla) and Virginia whilst hosting Virginia Tech, North Carolina State and Georgia to end the season…. I struggle to see a win in any of those games.
I’ll be equally as short with Louisville, they just don’t have a talented roster. The offense without Lamar Jackson was abysmal in 2018, quarterback Jawon Pass was really bad (8:12 TD:INT & less than 2000 yards in ’18), their leading rushers were backup quarterback Malik Cunningham and freshman Hassan Hall (who had only 303 yards) and their defense was horrendous, finishing last in the ACC in both scoring defense and yards allowed. Not a lot has changed heading into 2019, the Cardinals have seemingly fallen even further behind the rest of the ACC.
1. Clemson 12-0
2. Syracuse 10-2
3. Florida State 8-4
4. North Carolina State 8-4
5. Wake Forest 6-6
6. Boston College 6-6
7. Louisville 3-9
1. Miami 10-2
2. Virginia 9-3
3. Virginia Tech 8-4
4. Pittsburgh 6-6
5. Duke 4-8
6. North Carolina 3-9
7. Georgia Tech 3-9
Follow Thomas on Twitter @Rowberry_
Follow us on Twitter @Full10YardsCFB