Clemson Tigers 13-0 (9-0)
Hands down the Clemson Tigers have the football program to be emulated in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Clemson has won the last four ACC Championships and it has not even been close in regards to them and the rest of the competition in the conference. Over the last four years the Tigers have only lost two conference games as they’ve become to the conference what the Florida State Seminoles were in the 1990’s. And as Clemson heads into the 2019 college football season with four consecutive ACC titles under their belt, as well as two out of the last three national titles, don’t expect this crew under the guidance of head football coach Dabo Swinney to slow down.
Last year Trevor Lawrence came onto the scene as a true freshman and had a season for the ages in helping Clemson win the national title. Lawrence was flawless with the football in his hands as he completed more than 65% of his passes, while throwing 30 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. However Clemson opponents now have a year’s worth of game film on Lawrence as they look to slow him down, but this youngster has ice water in his veins which makes the idea of slowing him down easier said than done.
Lawrence also has a wealth of play makers to get the football to in junior running back Travis Ettiene, along with junior wide receiver Tee Higgins and sophomore wide receiver Justyn Ross. Ettiene is a game changer as he is always a step away from making a big play whether that be as a runner or as a receiver. And in the case of both Ross and Higgins, they are each big bodied pass catchers who are adding to the school’s recent legacy of getting big time play makers to wear the purple and orange.
Clemson has a litany of quality offensive linemen that have pro futures, but the bunch are a pair of seniors in center Sean Pollard and right tackle Tremayne Anchrum who dominate their respective positions in order to allow Lawrence and the other skill position players to do what they do.
Defensively the Tigers must replace a wealth of talent, but we’ve learned in recent years that the cupboard isn’t bare in Death Valley. Clemson will only have three seniors that are starting on defense to begin the season, but keep your eyes peeled for sophomore defensive end Xavier Thomas and senior defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney to disrupt things up front, while junior cornerback A.J. Terrell has the potential to be the best secondary player in the conference.
The Tigers know that they’ll once again have a target on their backs heading into the new college football season, but there is not a team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that’ll be able to slow them down.
Boston College Eagles 9-3 (6-2)
The Boston College Eagles will enter the 2019 college football season flying under the radar in regards to competing for the championship in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but don’t overlook this club that has a blue-collar work ethic attached to it. Steve Addazio has six years under his belt as the head football coach at Boston College and he only has one losing season to boot. Under Addazio, Boston College has been one of the toughest outs in the ACC, and 2019 will not be any different.
The Eagles game plan on offense is simple as it is a basic one that focuses on establishing the line of scrimmage with their power running attack which sets up the passing game. Led by junior left tackle Ben Petrula, the Eagles have one of the sturdiest offensive lines in the Atlantic Coast Conference as they consistently opens holes for junior running back A.J. Dillon who is on the conference’s All-Preseason team. Junior quarterback Anthony Brown may not wow you with the big passing games, but he is someone that is very effective due to the fact that he is smart with the football.
BC is also a tough minded team on the defensive side of the football as they are paced by a pair of stud junior outside linebackers in Isaiah McDuffie and Max Richardson who are solid versus the run, while also displaying the versatility to cover in space against the pass.
Right out of the chute we’ll get to see what Boston College is made of as they host the Virginia Tech Hokies in a conference, while they’ll also have to tangle with the Clemson Tigers, Syracuse Orange, and Notre Dame Fighting Irish away from Chestnut Hill this year.
Florida State Seminoles 8-4 (5-3)
For those that were skeptical about the decision to hire Willie Taggart as the head football coach of the Florida State Seminoles were able to walk around and proclaim “I told you so” last year. Taggart’s first year as the head football coach at Florida State was not an easy one as the school’s 36-year bowl streak came to an end, while the ‘Noles endured their first losing season since 1976. There were some Seminoles backers that wanted the school to part with Taggart last year, but the powers that be in Tallahassee were willing to give him a mulligan. And as year two is set to begin for Taggart in Tallahassee, will he be able to get the Seminoles back on track in order to once again be a force in the Atlantic Coast Conference?
Following quarterback Deondre Francois’ decision to transfer from Florida State, the starting job is now James Blackman’s to lose. As Blackman heads into his junior year at Florida State, he finds himself in another offensive system as Kendal Briles is the team’s new offensive coordinator. And it will be Briles’ job to jump start a Florida State offense that was 103rd in the nation last year in total offense.
It was equally as bad on defense last year for the ‘Noles as they were 80th in the nation in total defense as they were pushed around by opposing offenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference. And this year the Seminoles will be green on that side of the football as they will only two seniors that are starters. One of those seniors will be middle linebacker Dontavious Jackson who’ll be the heart and soul of this unit, while another impact player will be junior cornerback Stanford Samuels III who has good hands, along with possessing the coverage skills that we’ve come to appreciate from Florida State defensive backs.
The ‘Noles will get a test right out of the chute when they clash with the Boise State Broncos of the Mountain West conference in Jacksonville. And overall the Seminoles will have to really work to get back on tract as their conference schedule includes road meetings with the Virginia Cavaliers and Clemson Tigers, along with having to face in-state rivals in the Miami Hurricanes and Florida Gators.
Syracuse Orange 9-3 (5-3)
2018 saw the Syracuse Orange have one of the quietest 10-win seasons in the history of college. The Orange recorded their first 10-win season since 2001, while they also gave the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers a run for their money. The Orange also finished the season ranked 15th in the Associated Press Poll, but they received little fan fare outside of Central New York. However as Dino Babers is set to begin his fourth season as the head football coach at Syracuse, he has a team that is ready to be a force in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Orange will have to break in a new quarterback this year following the graduation of Eric Dungey and sophomore Tommy DeVito will have his chance under center. Including DeVito’s redshirt year, he has had two years to familiarize himself with Babers offensive system which should allow the Syracuse offense to have a more seamless transition from Dungey to him.
Senior running back Moe Neal should have a solid campaign on the ground, while DeVito will be able to spread the football to a bevy of wide receivers through the air as this list includes sophomore Taj Harris.
It has been touch and go in recent years defensively for the ‘Cuse, but this could be one of their better units since the school’s days in the Big East Conference. Senior defensive ends Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman give Syracuse the best set of bookend pass rushers in the Atlantic Coast Conference. And the ability of this duo to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks allows players such as sophomore free safety Andre Cisco to clean up in regards to racking up interceptions.
The Orange also have the luxury that most teams around the Atlantic Coast Conference do not have which is quality special teams as senior punter Sterling Hofrichter and sophomore place kicker Andre Szmyt are the best at what they do in the conference.
Last year the close loss to Clemson was all that prevented Syracuse from reaching the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game. This time around the Orange will begin conference play by hosting Clemson as this game could define the season in the ACC for Syracuse.
North Carolina State Wolfpack 7-5 (3-5)
Over the last two years the North Carolina State Wolfpack have been on the verge of being a real force in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but will they be able to break through in order to take the next step as a program? Last year North Carolina State won 9 games for the second consecutive year, but they came up short versus the top competition that they faced. In contests versus the Clemson Tigers and Syracuse Orange, along with their bowl meeting against the Texas A&M Aggies of the Southeastern Conference, NC State was outscored 144-61. And until the Wolfpack is able to take care of their business versus the top-tier talent, they’ll be unable to take that next step as a program. However as North Carolina State is set to begin a new college football season, this squad under head football coach Dave Doeren has what it takes to be pesky in the ACC Title race.
Over the past few years Doeren was able to rely on a steadying influence at quarterback in Ryan Finley. But with Finley now in the National Football League, Doeren has to go with sophomore Matthew McKay at quarterback. Technically this is McKay’s third year at North Carolina State as after redshirting for a year, he spent last year as Finley’s backup. But regardless of who the starting quarterback will be for the Wolfpack, Doeren’s system relies on having an accurate signal caller who is smart with the football.
Defensively the Wolfpack will have four seniors that are starting which includes strong safety Jarius Morehead, but it’s an underclassmen that you need to keep an eye on as after a strong freshman campaign, middle linebacker Isaiah Moore looks to avoid the dreaded “sophomore jinx”.
The Wolfpack won’t be as strong as they were last year, but they’ll still have enough to reach a bowl game for the sixth consecutive year.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 7-5 (3-5)
Don’t look now but the Wake Forest Demon Deacons enter the 2019 college football season on the verge of doing something that has never been done before in school history which is to reach four consecutive bowl games. In five years as Wake Forest’s head football coach, Dave Clawson has been steadily building his program in Winston-Salem, and he’s done this in spite of not having a huge football budget like the football powers of the Atlantic Coast Conference, or the school having a storied history in the sport. And as there will be people underestimating the Demon Deacons heading into the new college football season, they have the potential to be bowl eligible once again.
After a solid freshman campaign where he threw 16 touchdowns, Sam Hartman is poised to take his game to the next level. Hartman does not have the prototypical “big arm”, but he is efficient and effective as he’ll be a catalyst for this Wake Forest offense.
Hartman also has the luxury of handing the football off to an experienced ball carrier in senior running back Cade Carney who averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season. And led by left tackle Justin Herron, Wake Forest has one of the most experienced offensive lines in the Atlantic Coast Conference with three seniors up front as this has the potential to be one of the better offenses in the league.
Lyle Hemphill is beginning his first year as Wake Forest’s defensive coordinator, and his task will be to improve a unit that was 116th in the nation last year in total defense. One bright spot for the Demon Deacons defense will be senior middle linebacker Justin Strnad who is a solid tackler, but will his ability alone, be enough to carry this unit?
Wake Forest will have to take care of their business early because three of their last four games will be on the road versus the Virginia Tech Hokies, Clemson Tigers, and Syracuse Orange.
Louisville Cardinals 2-10 (0-8)
The 2018 college football season was one to forget for the Louisville Cardinals. The Cardinals went 2-10 for their worst season since 1997, while they were consistently blown out. The Cards were nearly minus-25 in the point differential column last season as their defense surrendered 50 points or more in seven ball games. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Louisville suffered six losses by at least 30 points. This horrific season by the Cards would result in Bobby Petrino being relieved of his duties as Louisville’s head football coach as he was replaced with Scott Satterfield.
Satterfield comes to Louisville fresh off of having immense success as the head football coach of the Appalachian State Mountaineers as he made them one of the top teams in the Sun Belt Conference. In five years at Appalachian State, Satterfield’s record was 51-24 as it was only going to be a matter of time before he got a job with a Power Five school. And now as Satterfield had success with the Mountaineers, will he be able to get the Cardinals back to what they prior to last year’s collapse?
The bottom line is that Louisville has to get tougher, and it starts on defense. Last year the Cards were 122nd in the nation in total defense as they were pushed around all season. For first-year defensive coordinator Bryan Brown, he will have four seniors that are starting, but the problem is that the Cards are lacking the play makers on that side of the ball as the bottom line is that Rome was not built in a day.
Louisville will have their work cut out for them on offense as well where the one positive is that junior quarterback Jawon Pass has gotten his fair share of reps over the last two years, but it’s a different ballgame now as he’ll be now asked to do it for a head coach who did not recruit him.
The Cardinals will take it on the chin in 2019, but Satterfield is the right man to get this program turned around.
Miami Hurricanes 9-4 (6-3)
In 2017, the Miami Hurricanes appeared to be finally turning the corner in the Atlantic Coast Conference. For the first time since joining the ACC in 2004, Miami reached the conference title game for the first time and the folks in South Florida had visions of their beloved football program returning to the glory days. But as 2018 started with high expectations for the Hurricanes, they didn’t finish that way as Miami limped to a 7-6 finish. And when the storm had finished, Mark Richt had decided to retire after just three years on the job as Miami’s head football coach.
Enter Manny Diaz as Richt’s replacement who aside from being Miami’s defensive coordinator over the last three years, is also a native of the town. And as so many head coaches before Diaz at Miami have failed to make this program a contender in the Atlantic Coast Conference, will he fare any better?
Heading into a new season there is plenty of buzz around sophomore quarterback Tate Martell. Martell began his collegiate career with the Ohio State Buckeyes, but after two years in Columbus, he decided to give Miami a try. Coming out of high school, Martell was known for his ability as a dual-threat quarterback, and now he has an opportunity to show off that athleticism.
Miami also has a long and storied history of producing quality running backs, and junior DeeJay Dallas has an opportunity to add his name to that mix. In limited action last year Dallas averaged 5.7 yards per carry, and he’ll have ample chances to lean his 220-pound frame on opposing defenses.
Last year Diaz oversaw a Hurricanes defense that was fourth in the nation in total defense, and he once again has a unit that’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Senior middle linebacker Shaquille Quarterman is a prime candidate to be the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year for his prowess. And if Quarterman isn’t enough to deal with, Miami also has another solid linebacker that plays alongside him in senior Michael Pinckney who has solid coverage skills in space.
The Hurricanes also have depth in their secondary which includes junior cornerback Trajan Bandy who arguably has the best hands of any defender on the team.
Diaz has an opportunity to start of his career at Miami with a bang as the Hurricanes will travel to Orlando to face the Florida Gators of the Southeastern Conference. The Hurricanes will have a favorable schedule when Atlantic Coast Conference play begins as this team could be in the mix to get to Charlotte for the conference title game.
Virginia Cavaliers 8-4 (5-3)
In a very short time Bronco Mendenhall has down what he was brought to Charlottesville to do, and that was to make the Virginia Cavaliers into a contender in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 2016 was Mendenhall’s first year as Virginia’s head football coach and his Cavs were only able to win two games. But by 2018, Virginia was able win eight games. And here in 2019, the Cavaliers could make a push to reach the ACC Title Game for the first time in school history.
The engine of Virginia’s offense is senior dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins. Perkins accounted for 34 touchdowns last season, and defenses around the Atlantic Coast Conference will once again have problems stopping him.
Defensively one player to keep an eye on for Virginia will be senior middle linebacker Jordan Mack. Mack has the potential to be all over the field in regards to playing both the run and pass as his style of play will be infectious for this Cavs defense.
Virginia has a chance to set the tone for their season early as they open on the road versus the Pittsburgh Panthers, while their conference home opener will take place two weeks later against the Florida State Seminoles. However the middle of Virginia’s schedule will be more daunting as it includes road games against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Miami Hurricanes.
Virginia Tech Hokies 7-5 (4-4)
2018 was a tough one for the Virginia Tech Hokies as they suffered their first losing season since 1992. The Hokies also had four games in which they lost by 20 points, while also losing to Conference USA’s Old Dominion Monarchs. But as Virginia Tech is looking to rebound after a very tough year, is there any reason to believe that they are ready to compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference?
Since 1987 Bud Foster has been involved with Virginia Tech football which includes serving as the team’s defensive coordinator for the last 24. But just before the start of the upcoming season, Foster announced that 2019 will be his final one as Virginia Tech’s defensive coordinator. And on Foster’s watch he has coached some of the best defensive players in the program’s history which includes DeAngelo Hall and Kam Chancellor. Now Foster will look to go out on a positive unit, while getting the most out of his defense.
It’s hard to believe that Virginia Tech was 98th in the nation in total defense as that is something that is un-Virginia Tech like. But one returning player to keep an eye on will be junior middle linebacker Rayshard Ashby who led the Hokies in tackles last season with 105, and he’ll be the heart and soul of this unit here in 2019.
Offensively the Hokies should once again be able to count on a solid season from senior quarterback Ryan Willis, but there are questions around him on defense which includes an offensive line that does not have any seniors starting.
The Hokies are staring at road meetings in-conference with the Boston College Eagles, Miami Hurricanes, and Virginia Cavaliers, while a non-conference tilt versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will definitely test how much that this team has improved under head football coach Justin Fuente.
Duke Blue Devils 3-9 (3-5)
The Duke Blue Devils currently find themselves in their best run in program history since becoming a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953. Six of the last seven years have seen Duke reach a bowl game as head football coach David Cutcliffe has made this more than just a basketball school. And as Duke doesn’t get the quality football recruits, will they find a way to be a force in the ACC in 2019?
Quarterback Quentin Harris has spent the last several years serving as a backup to Daniel Jones. But with Jones now in the National Football League, Harris will have his time to shine. Throughout Cutcliffe’s coaching career, he has been known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, and he will have another project this year in Jones. However being that Jones has already put in some time under Cutcliffe, that familiarity should allow him to have a solid year.
The talent pool is thinner that usual this year at Duke which is going to make it tougher for Cutcliffe to pull something out of his hat in order to get this team to a bowl game once again.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 4-8 (2-6)
2019 will be a transition year for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets as the forward pass will once again be en vogue in Atlanta. After 11 years at the helm as Georgia Tech’s head football coach, Paul Johnson has decided to retire as he and his triple-option rushing attack which kept defenses around the Atlantic Coast Conference on their toes. In steps Geoff Collins who spent the last two years as the head football coach of the Temple Owls where he compiled a record of 15-10. And now Collins will look to install his system in Atlanta in the hopes of keeping the Yellow Jackets relevant in the ACC.
Usually the first year for a new head coach with a new system is tough, but in the case of Collins he’ll literally be starting from scratch as the Georgia Tech supporters will need to practice patience.
Pittsburgh Panthers 3-9 (1-7)
When most college football teams lose seven games like the Pittsburgh Panthers did last season, their campaign would be viewed as a disappointment, but not with the squad. Yes, you cannot overlook Pitt losing seven games, but they still managed to go 6-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference which netted them a berth in the conference title game. And as Pat Narduzzi is set to begin his fifth year as Pitt’s head football coach, will he be able to build off of last year’s surprise trip to the ACC Championship Game, or will his team take a step backwards?
The Pitt program has a long and storied history when it comes to running the football, and junior running back A.J. Davis will look to add his name to that ledger. Davis has seen limited action during his time with the Panthers, but there is no time like the present in regards to getting his feet wet, while attempting to impose his well on defenses around the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Panthers will also have to replace a ton of talent on the defensive side of the football, but one player to keep an eye on will be junior defensive end Rashad Weaver who’ll be in the mix to be one of the top pass rushers in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Pitt won’t have too many holes in their conference slate of games, and once you factor in a trip to Happy Valley to face the Penn State Nittany Lions of the Big Ten Conference, this season could get away from the Panthers before it even starts.
North Carolina Tar Heels 2-10 (0-8)
In 2015, the North Carolina Tar Heels came out of nowhere to reach the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game for the first time in school history. But since then the Heels have seen a rapid decline which resulted in consecutive 9-loss seasons, and thus a head coaching change head to be made.
From 1988-1997 Mack Brown compiled a record of 69-46-1 as the head football coach at North Carolina as he steadily built the program to one of the top ones in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But Brown could not turn down the money that the Texas Longhorns put in front of him in 1998. At Texas, Brown had immense success which included winning a national title in 2005. But following a 13-1 season in 2009, there were those who began to deem Brown as “ancient” to the coaching ranks and that the game had passed him by. Brown would ultimately be forced out at Texas in 2013, and all signs pointed to his coaching career coming to an end. But whereas that Texas thought that Brown was done, the folks in Chapel Hill were more than happy to welcome the 68-year old back with open arms with the hope that he can drum up some of the magic from his first tenure at the school. And just like it was for Brown in 1988, he will have to start over from scratch in order to make North Carolina a contender in the ACC.
As Brown’s second run at North Carolina begins, he is putting his trust in a true freshman at quarterback in Sam Howell. Howell will have his ups and downs here in 2019, but he has the right coach to oversee him who has had his fair share of success with young signal callers as Vince Young and Colt McCoy are two that come to mind.
But overall the current talent pool at North Carolina is not what it was when Brown left the first time around as he has his work cut out in order to make this program a contender once more in the Atlantic Coast Conference.