2021 ACC Football Preview

ACC Championship: Clemson over North Carolina

ACC ATLANTIC

1. Clemson Tigers

Projected Record: 11-2

Wins: South Carolina State, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Florida State, Louisville, UCONN, Wake Forest, South Carolina, North Carolina(ACC Championship)

Losses: Georgia, NC State

DJ Uiagalelei takes over for Trevor Lawrence with a very talented Clemson team. However, a few key questions surround this Tiger team, particularly on the offensive line and secondary after last year’s blowout loss to Ohio State. On offense WR Justyn Ross returns from injury and there is a boatload of young receivers surrounding him. The question will be who steps up (EJ Williams? Joseph Ngata? Ajou Ajou?). The defensive front seven is stacked with almost everyone returning. The issues are in the secondary as it is yet to be seen if a corner opposite of Andrew Booth Jr. can emerge. Overall, Clemson has a huge home opener against Georgia… and then it is smooth sailing for the rest of the regular season. If the issues aren’t fixed on the offensive line and secondary, then this team will again not be able to compete with the elites.

2. NC State Wolfpack

Projected Record: 8-4

Wins: South Florida, Clemson, Louisiana Tech, Louisville, Florida State, Syracuse, North Carolina

Losses: Mississippi State, Boston College, Miami, Wake Forest

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This is an intriguing Wolfpack team coming off a 8-4 season. They have weapons with RB Bam Knight, WR Emeka Emezie, and WR Thayer Thomas. Add in a very good offensive line and QB Devin Leary coming back from injury… the offense should be pretty good. Defensively, LB Payton Wilson is one of the best players in the country and LB Isaiah Moore is a pretty dang good player himself. With the defense returning most of their starters from last year, expect an improved defense. Overall, this should be the favorite to finish second to Clemson in the Atlantic.

3. Boston College Eagles

Projected Record: 7-5

Wins: Colgate, UMass, Temple, NC State, Louisville, Syracuse, Georgia Tech

Losses: Missouri, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Wake Forest

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Coach Jeff Hafley has a good thing going on over at Boston College. Coach Hafley will look to follow up his winning season with an experienced team. The offense returns almost everyone and is led by QB Phil Jurkovec, WR Zay Flowers, and one of the best offensive lines in the ACC. The problem last year was the running game and they will need someone to step up this year. Defensively, this team is moving in the right direction improving from 125th to 73rd in total defense. The Eagles will have to overcome losing two key linebackers to the NFL, but I wouldn’t overrule another slight improvement. Overall, this is a quality ACC team who will compete for second place in the Coastal behind Clemson.

4. Florida State Seminoles

Projected Record: 6-6

Wins: Jacksonville State, Wake Forest, Louisville, Syracuse, UMass, Boston College

Losses: Notre Dame, North Carolina, Clemson, NC State, Miami, Florida

The Seminoles are still in rebuild mode, but they are moving in the right direction. Offensively, QB McKenzie Milton (UCF transfer) could add a little, much needed, fire-power to this team as he looked very good in the spring game. QB Jordan Travis will most likely also see action as a running option. A huge concern is whether any of the wide receivers will emerge as key, impact players. Defensively, they are still building and trying to bridge the talent gap. A huge addition is DE Jermaine Johnson (Georgia transfer) who is already one of the best players on the defense. Linebackers Emmett Rice and Amari Gainer will also help. Overall, with a tough non-conference schedule, if Florida State makes a bowl game it will have been a good year.

5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Projected Record: 7-5

Wins: Old Dominion, Norfolk State, Louisville, Syracuse, Army, Duke, NC State

Losses: Florida State, Virginia, North Carolina, Clemson, Boston College

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The Demon Deacons could be a sneaky good team in the ACC. Their offense was efficient last year and they return every single starter including stud WR Jaquarii Roberson. Defense is going to be the issue after finishing 90th last year. Wake Forest returns most of their starters, but it is hard to identify any standouts. Overall, Wake Forest will be a team led by their offense, but dragged down by their defense in 2021.

6. Louisville Cardinals

Projected Record: 5-7

Wins: Eastern Kentucky, UCF, NC State, Syracuse, Duke

Losses: Ole Miss, Florida State, Wake Forest, Virginia, Boston College, Clemson, Kentucky

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The Cardinals lost most of their playmakers on the offensive side including Tutu Atwell, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Javian Hawkins. QB Malik Cunningham must be better than he was last year for this team to avoid another losing season. On defense, the secondary is a huge concern but the Cardinals should be solid upfront led by LB CJ Avery. Overall, I trust Coach Satterfield to get the offense going, but I wouldn’t expect more than just an average bowl game.

7. Syracuse Orange

Projected Record: 3-9

Wins: Ohio, Albany, Pittsburgh

Losses: Rutgers, Liberty, Florida State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Louisville, NC State

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Syracuse sure has fell off after their 10-3 season in 2018. The offense finished last in the ACC and it doesn’t look much better this season with one of the worst offensive lines in the conference. The battle at quarterback is intriguing with returning starter Tommy DeVito attempting to not be replaced by Garrett Shrader (Mississippi State transfer). At least they have WR Taj Harris who has displayed NFL talent. Defensively, they weren’t much better last season. However, the Orange do return 10 starters and should make an improvement. Especially with young, talented starters CB Garrett Williams and LB Mikel Jones. Overall, expect a rough year with a bowl game being the optimal result.

ACC Coastal

1. North Carolina Tar Heels

Projected Record: 10-2

Wins: Virginia Tech, Georgia State, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Duke, Florida State, Miami, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Wofford

Losses: Notre Dame, NC State

Mack Brown keeps on building up North Carolina. After an 8-4 season, expectations are high. Offensively they lose some really talented guys including RB Michael Carter, RB, Javonte Williams, WR Dyami Brown, and WR Dazz Newsome. Everyone else on the offense returns though and they added Tennessee transfer RB Ty Chandler. The bowl game against Texas A&M gave a little sneak peek that quarterback Sam Howell has some players to work with including WR Josh Downs. On defense there are plenty of young playmakers looking to step up. They are extremely deep at defensive line and the trio of corners Storm Duck, Tony Grimes, and Kyler McMichael should take a step forward. Overall, this is a really talented team that will be the favorite in the ACC Coastal.

2. Miami Hurricanes

Projected Record: 10-2

Wins: Appalachian State, Michigan State, Central Connecticut, Virginia, NC State, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Duke

Losses: Alabama, North Carolina

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Quarterback D’Eriq King led Miami to a great 8-3 comeback season. Now King will have to make his own comeback returning from a torn ACL prior to the 2021 season (reports from Miami have him ahead of schedule). The offense was explosive with King and this offense returns almost everyone and added WR Charleston Rambo (Oklahoma transfer). The offensive line is strong and the running back room has two outstanding players with Cam’Ron Harris and Don Chaney Jr. Defensively, the Hurricanes will have to replace DE Jaelen Phillips and have a linebacker issue after allowing 175 rushing yards per game last year. The secondary may be the strength with S Bubba Bolden and corners DJ Ivey, Al Blades Jr., and Tyrique Stevenson (Georgia transfer). Overall, this could be a top ten team… but don’t expect them to beat Alabama.

3. Virginia Tech Hokies

Projected Record: 7-5

Wins: Middle Tennessee, Richmond, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Duke

Losses: North Carolina, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Miami, Virginia

This may be the last season of Justin Fuente if it does not go well. The Hokies have their challenges replacing QB Hendon Hooker, RB Khalil Herbert, and first round pick OT Christian Darrisaw. The offense does return most of its receiving weapons and QB Braxton Burmeister has experience. Look for the offense to be alright. Defensively, they were terrible last season and now lost one of their best players Divine Deablo. DE Amare Barno and corners Chamarri Conner and Jermaine Waller will try to change the course of this defense. Overall, I think this could be Coach Fuente’s last season as I don’t see them as serious contenders in the ACC Coastal.

4. Virginia Cavaliers

Projected Record: 7-5

Wins: William & Mary, Illinois, Wake Forest, Louisville, Duke, BYU, Virginia Tech

Losses: North Carolina, Miami, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh

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The Cavaliers finished on a roll last year winning four out of their last five games… to finish 5-5. Virginia brings most of those same starters back. The offense was decent last year and QB Brennan Armstrong returns. The defense was a little underwhelming and must find an edge rusher to replace Charles Snowden. Expect a slight improvement though with LB Nick Jackson leading this defense. Overall, Virginia will be a tough out, but not one of the elite ACC teams.

5. Pittsburgh Panthers

Projected Record: 6-6

Wins: UMass, Western Michigan, New Hampshire, Georgia Tech, Duke, Virginia

Losses: Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, Syracuse

QB Kenny Picket returns for his fifth year after just an average 13 TD and 9 INT season. The offensive star is WR Jordan Addison coming off a phenomenal freshman season. Outside of Addison, there really isn’t much including a below average offensive line. On defense, the Panthers lose some key defensive lineman and the secondary is a little concerning. The strength will be the linebackers led by Cam Bright. Overall, expect just an average Pittsburgh season.

6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Projected Record: 4-8

Wins: Northern Illinois, Kennesaw State, Duke, Virginia

Losses: Clemson, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Notre Dame, Georgia

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The Yellow Jackets are still in a multi-year process from transitioning from the triple-option. Unfortunately, it will most likely take another year. Coach Geoff Collins is doing a good job on the recruiting trail, but his best classes are still young. However, a few players have already stood out including RB Jahmyr Gibbs and QB Jeff Sims. Sims will have to improve off his 13 touchdowns and 13 interception season. Defensively, this team is still figuring it out. However, the talent is improving evidenced by adding Alabama transfer and former four-star DE Kevin Harris. Overall, expect a slightly below average season from Georgia Tech especially with their tough schedule. But in a few years, this could be a team that is competing for ACC Coastal championships.

7. Duke Blue Devils

Projected Record: 3-9

Wins: Charlotte, North Carolina A&T, Kansas

Losses: Northwestern, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Miami

The Blue Devils were flat out bad last year finishing 2-9. Things don’t look much better this year after losing two talented edge rushers and returning just 10 starters on both side of the ball. Coach David Cutcliffe has his work cut out for him, but Duke does have a talented running back in Mateo Durant. Overall, this team will be lucky to get a few ACC wins and a bowl game seems out of reach.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Projected Record: 9-3

Wins: Florida State, Toledo, Purdue, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Navy, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Stanford

Losses: Wisconsin, Cincinnati, USC

The offense lost four offensive linemen, their quarterback, and two starting wide receivers. Luckily they have 1100 yard rusher Kyren Williams returning and one of the best tight ends in football with Michael Myer. Look for Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan to most likely take over at quarterback who will provide similar production to Ian Book. Expect the Irish to be led by their defense in 2021, particularly no doubt first round pick safety Kyle Hamilton. I wouldn’t expect the 2021 team to be as good as 2020, but still think they put together a really nice season.

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