2020 ACC Football Preview

ACC Championship: Clemson over Notre Dame

1. Clemson Tigers

Projected Record: 11-0

Wins: Wake Forest, Virginia, Miami, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Boston College, Notre Dame, Florida State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame (ACC Championship)

Losses: None

The offense will be explosive again with Trevor Lawrence and a boatload of skill players (RB Travis Etienne, WR Joe Ngata, and WR Amari Rodgers). The weakness will be Clemson replacing four starters on the offensive line.

On defense, Clemson’s talented recruiting classes over the last few years all step in. The defensive line returns just about everybody plus instant impact freshman DT Bryan Breese.  While the defensive line is a strength the secondary replaces everyone except CB Derion Kendrick. Hero of the Semi-Final game safety Nolan Turner will also step in at one of the safety spots. At linebacker, Clemson loses first round pick Isaiah Simmons and team leader Chad Smith. LB James Skalski returns, but they need another linebacker to step up.

Final Outlook: Clemson is one of the most talented teams in College Football and an all-ACC schedule will keep them free of real challengers until the playoff.

2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Projected Record: 8-3

Wins: Duke, Wake Forest, Florida State, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Boston College, North Carolina, Syracuse

Losses: Pittsburgh, Clemson, Clemson (ACC Championship)

The final year of QB Ian Book. The Fighting Irish quarterback has had his up and downs, but is largely an effective quarterback. Notre Dame also returns their entire offensive line. The main question is where are they going to find the skill players after RB Tony Jones, WR Chase Claypool, and TE Cole Kmet left for the NFL. A rushing and receiving option will have to step up for this Notre Dame offense to be as effective as last year.

Defensively Notre Dame returns a few key starters including sack leader OLB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and tackle leader LB Drew White. However, Notre Dame lost quite a bit of defensive talent to the NFL including CB Troy Pride, safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott, and pass rushers Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara. Sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton led the team in interceptions last year with 4 interceptions and will look to have an expanded role this season. Notre Dame will also have the help of two grad transfers in the secondary with Nick McCloud (NC State)  and Isaiah Pryor (Ohio State).

Final Outlook: Notre Dame will be solid with an experienced quarterback, strong offensive line, and a solid defense. Beating Clemson seems unlikely though as the offense doesn’t have enough firepower. Expect a good, not great season.

3. Virginia Tech Hokies

Projected Record: 7-3

Wins: NC State, Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Boston College, Wake Forest, Louisville

Losses: Miami, Pitt, Clemson

QB Heldon Hooker comes back after taking the starting job last year and playing strong down the stretch. The skill positions are alright with Kansas Grad Transfer Khalil Herbert/Rutgers transfer Khalil Blackshear at running back and Tre Turner returning as the leading receiver. Virginia Tech returns a ton of talent on the offensive line and also adds transfer Brock Hoffman from Coastal Carolina.

Virginia Tech returns almost everybody to a defense that ranked 42nd nationally. CBs Caleb Farley and Jermaine Waller would have formed one of the best cornerback duos in the ACC, but Farley opted out of the season. Instead, Devin Taylor who was a start cornerback for Illinois State steps in to try and replace Farley. LB Rayshard Ashby is the leader on the defense coming off a 120 tackle season. The defensive line returns everyone, but need better production.

Final Outlook: Virginia Tech has a nice offense and an even better defense. There will be tough competition to make it to the ACC Championship game, but the Hokies are a legitimate contender.

4. North Carolina Tar Heels

Projected Record: 7-3

Wins: Syracuse, Boston College, Florida State, NC State, Virginia, Duke, Wake Forest

Losses: Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Miami

Mack Brown is coming off a great first season turning the program around with a surprising winning record. Now this team could take the next step and may actually make the ACC Championship. QB Sam Howell is a stud and will have his top receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome along with highly rated freshman Josh Downs. Not only that… everyone who caught a pass is back next year. The running game is also strong with 1,000 yard rusher Michael Carter and 900 yard rusher Javonte Williams. All of this firepower will be behind an experienced offensive line.

The defense is led by LB Chazz Surratt (former starting QB) who finished with 115 tackles in 2019. The North Carolina defense lost four starters, but has some instant impact freshman and young talent that will be able to step in right away. This includes one of the best names in football CB Storm Duck. The Tar Heels had a top 50 defense in 2019 which should improve with the new freshmen including reclassified 5-star CB Tony Grimes.

Final Outlook: The offense should finish top 20 nationally… if the defense makes a similar jump, North Carolina will be in the ACC Championship and a potential top ten team.

5. Florida State Seminoles

Projected Record: 6-4

Wins: Georgia Tech, Miami, Pitt, NC State, Virginia, Duke

Losses: Notre Dame, North Carolina, Louisville, Clemson

At quarterback, James Blackman is back, but he has just been average during his time at Florida State. Jashaun Corbin (A&M transfer) will compete with Khalan Laborn for time in the backfield, while WR Tamarrion Terry is coming off an almost 1200 yard season. The Seminoles will need someone to step up as a second option at receiver. The main goal for the Seminoles this year will be to have an offensive line that isn’t an embarrassment. If they can improve, the offense may surprise some people.

On defense, they have talented defensive lineman with DT Marvin Wilson and DE Joshua Kaindoh. The defense also returns starters at linebacker and in the secondary with some solid players including corners Akeem Dent and Asante Samuel Jr. The secondary is also led by safety Hamsah Nasirildeen. The defense has talent to be one of the best in the ACC, but will need to improve as a unit.

Final Outlook: Florida State’s talented defense and improved offense separates makes them a top half of the ACC team.

6. Miami Hurricanes

Projected Record: 6-4

Wins: Louisville, Pitt, NC State, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, North Carolina

Losses: Florida State, Clemson, Virginia, Virginia Tech

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Coach Lashlee is the new Offensive Coordinator after leaving Baylor. He inherits QB D’Eriq King as the new leader of the offense after his transfer from Houston. King doesn’t have many proven options at receiver and will need Dee Wiggins and Will Mallory to prove reliable. King however will have one of the top tight ends in the country with Brevin Jordan. At running back Cam’Ron Harris will take over for Deejay Dallas. Miami needs to figure out how to develop the offensive line after an abysmal year.

Miami returns talent to a top twenty defense. DE Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche (Temple/AAC Defensive POY) lead the defensive line and give Miami two legitimate pass rushers. CB Al Blades Jr. and S Bubba Bolden are back to lead the strong secondary unit While Miami lost linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney to the NFL, Zach McCloud should take over nicely.

Final Outlook: Miami was a strong defense with absolutely no offense last year. King gives them a spark on offense so they can actually compete as a legitimate ACC contender this year.

7. Pittsburgh Panthers

Projected Record: 6-4

Wins: Syracuse, Louisville, NC State, Boston College, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech

Losses: Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson

On offense, Pittsburgh struggled to move the football last season. The Panthers need starting QB Kenny Picket to take a step forward after throwing 13 TDs and 9 INTs. Taysir Mack will be the best receiver returning and AJ Davis ran for 530 yards last year. Pittsburgh also returns four out of five starters on the offensive line.

Pitt’s front seven is one of the best in the ACC. Last year they were third in the nation in sacks and return defensive end Patrick Jones. Pittsburgh will also have four returning starters to a strong secondary from last season. Pitt’s defense ranked 15th in the nation last year and might be even better in 2020.

Final Outlook: The defense will carry this group as a tough opponent for anybody. A dominant defense and decent offense could make Pittsburgh a surprise contender in the ACC.

8. Louisville Cardinals

Projected Record: 5-5

Wins: Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia, Syracuse, Wake Forest

Losses: Miami, Pitt, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Boston College

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Coach Satterfield’s offense put a little life into this team last year including promoting RB Javian Hawkins who finshed with over 1500 yards.. The offense is led by their receiving group of Tutu Atwell, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Marshon Ford. The issue will be the offensive line who last year (other than departed first-round pick Mekhi Becton) was not good. QB Malik Cunningham will also have to continue to improve.

While offensively Louisville improved, defense remains an issue after finishing 102nd in the nation. Louisville returns multiple starters including linebackers CJ Avery, Dorian Etheridge, and Rodjay Burns.

Final Outlook: Coach Satterfield has improved the offense, but the defense has a ways to go. Louisville should be a .500 team this fall.

9. Virginia Cavaliers

Projected Record: 5-5

Wins: NC State, Wake Forest, Miami, Duke, Boston College

Losses: Virginia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State

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Virginia had a great year and competed with Florida in the Orange Bowl. The task now is replacing QB Bryce Perkins. The competition will most likely be between Keytaon Thompson (Mississippi State transfer) and Brennan Armstrong. Not only must they replace the quarterback, but also the top two wide receivers with Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed. Terrell Jana will be poised to become the number one option coming off a 886 yard receiving year. Virginia has a strong offensive line, but will also need to find a reliable running option since Bryce Perkins was the main rushing threat last season.

The defense will be a strength for Virginia who returns most of their starters to a top 50 defense. The strength is in the front seven with linebackers Noah Taylor, Charles Snowden and Zane Zandier. Safety Joey Blount returns to lead a decent secondary.

Final Outlook:  The offense replaces too much after a cinderella season last year. Virginia could still possibly pull some upsets, but I don’t think an ACC Championship birth will be likely.

10. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Projected Record: 4-6

Wins: NC State, Syracuse, Duke, Louisville

Losses: Clemson, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Miami

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Former starting QB Jamie Newman transferred and is replaced with QB Sam Hartman who saw some action last year. They only return two starters to the offense and lost Sage Surrat, one of the best receivers in the country, due to opting out. What the offense does return is the interior of the offensive line and RB Kenneth Walker who averaged 5.7 yards per carry last year.

Defensively, Carlos Bashum is back after a 11 sack season and returns with three other defensive line starter. At linebacker Wake Forest brings back a nice duo of Jacquez Williams and Ryan Smenda. The challenge will be replacing the secondary.

Final Outlook: Wake Forest replaces a lot of starters, but never doubt Dave Clawson to put together a solid football team.

11. NC State Wolfpack

Projected Record: 3-7

Wins: Wake Forest, Duke, Syracuse

Losses: Virginia Tech, Pitt, Virginia, North Carolina, Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech

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Coming off a 4-8 season. There isn’t a lot to get excited for on offense with QB Devin Leary leading the group. Last year Leary completed only 48% of his passes for only 8 TDs and 5 INTs. Other than that they have a few good skill players including Zonovan (Bam) Knight coming off 745 yard season and WR Emeka Emezie. NC State also return all five starting offensive lineman which will help.

The defense didn’t play great last year and must replace most of their starters. There are a few young promising players, but this is going to be a project.

Final Outlook:  NC State’s offense and defense might both struggle in 2020. It is hard to get excited for this team unless quarterback Devin Leary takes a huge step forward.

12. Boston College Eagles

Projected Record: 3-7

Wins: Pitt, Georgia Tech, Louisville

Losses: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Virginia

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Coming off a 6-7 season, Boston College hired new head coach Jeff Hafley (former Ohio State D-Coordinator). Quarterback Anthony Brown also transferred to Oregon and left the position wide open. The decision will most likely be between Dennis Grosel and Notre Dame transfer QB Phil Jurkovec. RB David Bailey steps into AJ Dillon’s role as an experienced runner rushing behind one of the best offensive lines in the ACC. They should keep to running the ball because Boston College lacks receiving threats other than Kobay White.

On defense Boston College returns a decent amount of starters… to a bad defense that finished 125th. LB Max Richardson and CB Brandon Sebastian are the few bright spots. With Coach Hafley, the defense will definitely finish better than 122nd in passing yards which is where it finished last year.

Final Outlook: Boston College is in a transition year. The goal for Coach Hafley is to run the ball and try to get back the tough nose Eagles teams from the past.

13. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Projected Record: 3-7

Wins: Syracuse, Pitt, Duke

Losses: Florida State, Louisville, Clemson, Boston College, Notre Dame, Miami, NC State

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The Yellow Jackets continue their transition from running the option two years ago. The quarterback competition is wide open and could even result in freshman Jeff Sims beating out incumbant starter James Graham. RB Jordan Mason is a stud and true freshman Jahmyr Gibbs turned down powerhouse schools for the chance to play for the Yellow Jackets right away. At receiver, Georgia Tech returns everyone… but they will need the leader to have more than 396 yards like last year. The offensive line added two grad transfers and a good recruiting class which should help the continued transition.

The secondary leads the defense after finishing 36th in the nation last year. With most of the starters returning, including one of the best corners in the conference in Tre Swilling, they will be good again. Where the defense must improve is in the front seven.

Final Outlook: Georgia Tech is adding some serious talent in recruiting and should be a legitimate player in the ACC over the next few years. However, with too many young starters… expect just a slight improvement from last year.

14. Syracuse Orange

Projected Record: 2-8

Wins: Duke, Boston College

Losses: North Carolina, Pitt, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Wake Forest, Louisville, NC State, Notre Dame

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QB Tommy Devitto is back, but the offense is tasked with replacing 1000 yard receiver Trishton Jackson and leading rusher Moe Neal. Look for RB Abdul Adams and WR Taj Harris to fill in.

Safety Andre Cisco is one of the best in the Nation as he leads the country in career interceptions. Other than him and the cornerback duo of Trill Williams and Ifeatu Melifonwu… there isn’t much to be optimistic about.

Final Outlook: Syracuse looks to just have an adequate offense and adequate defense. This is a program that has definitely lost steam since their 10-3 season in 2018.

15. Duke Blue Devils

Projected Record: 1-9

Wins: Boston College

Losses: Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, NC State, North Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Florida State

QB Chase Brice arrives from Clemson to take over the starting job. Brice won’t have many dynamic options at receiver like he did at Clemson. The best receiving option for the Blue Devils is senior TE Noah Gray. The offensive line is experienced with four starters returning. The running back Deon Jackson will try again to lead the offense coming off 641 yards and 6 TDs.

The defense is led by their DEs in Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph who combined for 15 sacks. In the secondary J’Marick Woods transfers from Michigan and should be an instant impact player. Safety Marquis Waters will be a key piece from last year and lead the secondary again. Duke has a chance to improve from last year where they ranked 57th, but continue to be an average defense.

Final Outlook:  Duke has an average defense and a poor offense with not a lot of weapons. With the improvements to mid-tier ACC from last year, getting just a few wins will be an accomplishment.

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