What better way to kick off our 2017 NCAA Football predictions than with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), home to the defending National Champions, the Clemson University Tigers. Whether the Tigers repeat as National Champions depends squarely on if they can first, for a third straight year, emerge as champions of the ACC. Florida State University will once again be up for the challenge, as will some eager faces, some you know and some you have may have recently ignored. Without further ado, let us get on with it, shall we? Here are the teams to watch this year in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Clemson University Tigers (CU) – After years of coming so close to glory, the Tigers enter 2017 as the defending National Champions for the first time since 1982. To think that just nine years ago the team was known for choking at the end of every season, an occurrence so common that it came to be known as “Clemsoning.” Coach Dabo Swinney, with all of his southern charm and wit, has transformed Clemson into Champions. The upside for Clemson this season? They return a good chunk of their championship defense, which made the plays to help get them over the mountain that is the Alabama Crimson Tide. The downside? Quarterback Deshaun Watson is now a Houston Texan, and the ensuing competition to replace Watson will be fierce between an inexperienced, yet hungry, group of players. Meanwhile, the Tigers have a defense that opponents will have to respect, and will be critical to Clemson’s early success while the new offense gets its feet wet. It is a fierce schedule for the champs, as Clemson will have to travel to the University of Louisville, Virginia Tech, and the University of South Carolina, but are benefitted from getting the Florida State Seminoles at home for their final ACC game. Look for a young Clemson team to show the world that 2016 was no fluke, fighting their way into contention for yet another ACC Championship and College Football Playoff berth.
Florida State University Seminoles (FSU) – Remember the name Deondre Francois. You will be hearing his name every Saturday during the highlights shows, again in December at the Heisman Trophy presentation, and on NFL Sundays for years to come. The sophomore quarterback for the Seminoles is a superstar in the making, and you can quote me on that. In addition to Francois, their ferocious defense returns almost intact, and has the chance to improve on an underachieving 2016 campaign. We will know very quickly if the Seminoles are the real deal, as their Week 1 matchup is against the defending National Runners-Up the Alabama Crimson Tide. After the initial test, the schedule lightens somewhat, as the University of Miami, North Carolina State University, and the University of Louisville all must travel to Florida State. The season ends for the Seminoles in a gauntlet run against the defending champions at Clemson, and at their archrivals, the University of Florida. If the immense talent on both sides of the ball can live up to the hype, then look for Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State squad to be in the mix for an ACC Championship as well as a National Championship.
University of Miami Hurricanes (MiaFL) – Mark Richt has a long track record of coaching teams to good seasons. At the University of Georgia, he was at the helm of teams that had immense success in the SEC East, and produced NFL players such as Matthew Stafford, Todd Gurley, and SEC Defensive Legend David Pollack. However, through all of that, he never produced a truly great team. Now that he is in his second season at Miami, can he turn The U into a truly great team? He certainly is in a good place to get that done. The Hurricanes are known for having tremendous athletes, and 2017 will be no different. True Freshmen Quarterback N’Kosi Perry, with his dual threat talent, could help propel this offense to big things this season. On defense, it is not often that a Freshman All-American looks back on his Freshman performance as “disgusting,” vowing to improve his play by losing 15 pounds in an effort to increase his speed and athleticism; Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman has done just that and is in prime shape to have a dominant sophomore season. It would be a stretch to say that Miami will win the ACC in 2017, but if anyone were to do it outside of Florida State and Clemson, the Hurricanes would easily have the best chance.
University of Louisville Cardinals (UL) – Lamar Jackson has returned to defend his Heisman Trophy, the Cardinals are coming off a nine-win season, and Coach Bobby Petrino once again has things rolling in Louisville. Yet, I don’t believe Louisville will be able to improve over last season. With most of the defense returning wiser and stronger, you would think that they would be a contender in my book. Right? Well, that is not the case. I don’t predict that the Cardinals will struggle in conference play by any stretch, but this season will not be the step forward that Louisville is hoping for. Granted, most of it is not their fault. Louisville happens to play in the same division as Clemson and Florida State, and as I have previously mentioned, they are both legitimate contenders to make take a trip to the College Football Playoff. Trust me, Jackson will be every bit as exciting as he was in 2016, and may even find himself making a return trip to New York in December with the chance to do what only Archie Griffin has done in winning a second Heisman Trophy. I see Louisville having another good season, and if they were in any other division, they would be a true championship contender. However, the shadow cast by Clemson and Florida State will leave the talented 2017 Cardinals to wonder what could have been.
North Carolina State University Wolfpack (NCST) – The Wolfpack are in a rare position to contend for a division championship. They return almost their entire defense, including an NFL prospect in Defensive End Bradley Chubb and a potential breakout star in Defensive Tackle Darian Roseboro. If the North Carolina State offense can hold their own, the strength of their defense provides them with a good chance to shock the world. Coach Dave Doeren has quite the uphill climb if he wants his Wolfpack to reach the Clemsons of the ACC, but this is going to be his best chance to knock off Goliath. Although having to travel to Florida State may be too much for an upstart Wolfpack team, having the advantage of facing Clemson, North Carolina, and Louisville all at home will certainly help their chances. If the ball bounces just right for North Carolina State, then do not be caught off guard if this team pulls off the upset and steals the ACC Crown.
The long and the short of the ACC in 2017 is that the fate of the ACC Atlantic Division, and, in turn, the fate of the ACC as a whole, hinges on the result of the matchup of our favorites, Florida State and Clemson, in November. Both are by far the two most athletically superior teams in the conference. Our contender Miami has to be first in line of the teams vying for best of the rest. While our sleeper team North Carolina State and potential disappointment Louisville will have the will to win, those victories may be difficult to come by. Will an outsider win the conference in 2017, or will it once again come down to the Seminoles and the Tigers?
All of the conference champions will be revealed at Midnight on Sunday, August 6 on http://www.tedtalksports.com !