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The ACC had a bit of a down year in 2018. A few surprises and the defending National Champs call the ACC home but the bright spots were few. Traditional powers collapsed and the league top to bottom was unappealing. But with 2019 comes a new year and new found hope for most.
1. Clemson – 15-0 in 2018
There is no surprise here. The defending champs are loaded again and have arguably the best QB in college football. Trevor Lawrence can’t do it himself and he won’t need to. With one of the best receiving cores in college football and an explosive back in Travis Etienne, this offense will be lights out.
The defense could be a question, it likely won’t be, but they need to replace quite a bit. Clemson loses tons of talent at all three levels of their defense and to show how impactful they were, four went in the first 40 picks of the NFL draft. While they had an embarrassment of riches last season, that won’t necessarily change in 2019. They have been bringing in blue chip players for years so they just reload. Replacing that talent could cause a few speed bumps but it will likely end with another playoff berth.
Toughest games for next year will be Texas A&M @ home, @ South Carolina, @ Syracuse and @ NC State
2. Syracuse – 10-3 in 2018
Watch out for Dino Babers and the Syracuse Orange. Syracuse finally broke through last season and finished with a bowl win over West Virginia. This was the first 10 win season since 2001 for the Orange and shows that Babers is one of the better coaches in college football. They lose Eric Dungey at QB but have Tommy Devito ready to take over.
Devito is one of the highest recruits Syracuse has had in a while and has seen action when Dungey was injured at points in 2018. Devito will also be working under Babers who has mentored QB Jimmy Garoppolo in the past and has a proven record as an offensive guru.
Going into 2019 and the Orange still have to get through Clemson. While they have had their number the last few years, even the Orange faithful know that is a tall and unlikely task. Syracuse has playmakers and a talented QB, but not Clemson talent.
3. NC State – 9-4 in 2018
NC State has had back-to-back 9 win seasons for the first time in almost 30 years. The best way to describe the offseason for NC State would be turnover. The Wolfpack lose their starting QB, three offensive linemen, their top receiver and a top linebacker. But they also return two studs at defensive end that should help hide some of the younger players.
NC State is right at the Syracuse level but have a lower ranking due to the uncertainty. The QB battle could make or break their season if they can’t find a competent starter to take over for Ryan Finley.
4. Florida State – 5-7 in 2018
Willie Taggert, damn.
After having a total collapse and one of the worst seasons in a while for Florida State, it must feel lonely in Tallahassee. The Seminoles finished with a losing record for the first time since 1976, missed a bowl game for the first time since ’81, and allowed more points per game than any Florida State team ever. But 2019 is a year for optimism and should help shine some light on what has been a dreary tenure to this point. He also doesn’t deserve all the blame as many believe that Jimbo Fisher left at the right time.
Florida State still has plenty of talent at the skill positions. If they had to compete in 7 on 7, they would fair pretty well. Unfortunately they need a line on both sides of the ball and that is something the Seminoles need to get sorted. Brian Burns was their best defensive end and he is off to the NFL as a first round pick of the Carolina Panthers. On the other side, the offensive line will see five new starters in 2019. With five new faces comes another who will be coaching the group. Randy Clements from Houston will now be tasked with finding a rotation and cleaning up the disaster that was the offensive line.
James Blackman will officially take over after Deondre Francois was dismissed from the team. He is considered the model teammate by the most and it isn’t tough to come by after the Francois era. He had plenty of up and down play in 2018. Not all blame falls on his shoulders however as he was in and out of the lineup and running for his life most weeks.
Florida State is going to be young and full of questions. Willie Taggert should show some promise in year two as they start to right the ship. But Taggert still needs to clean up a major mess. 2019 should be the first glimpse of progress for Florida State fans but it still won’t be up to expectations.
5. Boston College – 7-5 in 2018
Boston College had a promising year but fell flat at the end of the season going 1-3. They actually held a 7-3 lead over Clemson despite losing their starting QB on the first possession. Clemson eventually stormed back and Boston College slowly slipped away the rest of the year.
Headed into 2019 and BC will have a strong running back rotation leading their offense. While they lost plenty of talent up front, the cupboard won’t be left bare. With experience returning up front and talented runners, it could help dominate time of possession but it may end up being to little to help. BC also lost a larger portion of the defense that was so dominant last season. If they want to compete again, it will have to be with fresh faces. Both sides of the line will see massive turnover and unless the newcomers can step in, it could be a difficult year in Chestnut Hill.
BC has a tough schedule in 2019 going on the road against Notre Dame, Clemson, Syracuse and Pitt. They would need to steal a few wins to even get out of the middle of the ACC pack in 2019.
6. Wake Forest – 7-6 in 2018
Wake falls into a similar category as Boston College. They have an absolute brutal November playing NC State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Duke and Syracuse. If that wasn’t bad enough, They have to play Rice in Texas and turn around to play UNC at home five days later.
The biggest issue with Wake Forest will be depth. They are pretty thin on defense as they are short handed on linebacker and defensive back. The defensive line just doesn’t have any real proven players outside of Boogie Basham. Shamar McCollum seemed to emerge at the drop end position this Spring but it is still to early to tell if this will carry over into the Fall.
The Demon Deacons seem to have a QB on the roster they will be happy with, they just have to pick one. Both Jamie Newman and Sam Hartman are locked in to a QB battle that will likely go through the Spring. The competition will bring out the best in both but Wake Forest still has to wait for one to emerge.
Wake could salvage the year with some early wins but the end is a bear. If injuries or turmoil start to mount during the season, it will go downhill fast.
7. Louisville – 2-10 in 2018
There is good and bad news for Louisville fans in 2019. The good news is that they should grab two early wins and could have a winning record in September. The bad news is they will likely only get two wins and won’t see a win outside of September.
Louisville has a new coach and system coming to town after Petrino was let go last season. As easy as it is to knock Petrino, the Lamar Jackson years were fun. But those days are gone and the immediate future doesn’t look bright. Louisville has to play Notre Dame and Kentucky out of conference in 2019. They also have to play a stretch of seven ACC opponents that finished 2018 with a winning record.
Scott Satterfield also brought in the worst recruiting class in the ACC which didn’t feature a single four star recruit according to 247. Maybe they can get this thing turned around, but 2019 won’t be the year.
1. Virginia – 8-5 in 2018
Virginia is going to be a force to reckon with in 2019. After being picked to finish last in the Coastal last season, they finished 8-5 and shutout South Carolina 28-0 to finish the season. After a great finish, they went into the offseason that star QB, Bryce Perkins. Virginia also returns 15 of their 22 starters from 2018 including projected future first round pick, Bryce Hall.
The schedule in 2019 is favorable for the Hoos. Virginia doesn’t have to make any long cross country trips and face six teams with new head coaches. The biggest point of emphasis will be consistency and finishing the game. Virginia beat Miami and Duke but lost to Georgia Tech and Pitt. If Virginia is going to capitalize on this potential, they need to beat the middle of the road teams. Virginia has to go to Notre Dame and to Miami in 2019 but they get a bye week in between. 2019 is a year that Virginia can surprise the country, they just have to take it.
2. Miami – 7-6 in 2018
After a big 2017 season, Miami came crashing back down to Earth. Mark Reicht seemed to be the answer, until he wasn’t. Unable to recapture that Miami culture from their hey day was unfortunate. But now there is a new era in Miami and they have plenty of talent to get Coach Diaz off and running.
The biggest question around the program will be the QB battle that will roll into the Summer. With the transfer of Tate Martell and return of N’Kosi Perry, they have plenty of optimism that someone will emerge. Fixing the Miami QB problem will be priority number one but Manny Diaz has to get Miami back to what they were. Mark Reicht was a great recruiter and a talented coach but he just couldn’t get it done anymore. With a roster full of talent, a top 30 recruiting class and two competent quarterbacks, 2019 should be exciting again.
3. Virginia Tech – 6-7 in 2018
Virginia Tech has slipped in recent years since Frank Beamer is retired. 2018 was just an unlucky year with tough losses, injuries and suspensions. But there were signs of hope and headed in the right direction. They have finally had time to settle in instill their culture and get their players in the system.
in 2019, the passing attack should be improved with the top five pass catchers returning. They also have 8 of 11 starters returning on the defensive side of the ball. Virginia Tech was young had started mostly Freshman and Sophomores in the Military Bowl last season. With a large portion of late season contributors returning, Virginia Tech should turn a corner but will still be young in 2019. They will be improved and have an easier schedule in 2019, but won’t be a true contender just yet.
4. Pittsburgh – 7-7 in 2018
Pitt was 7-7 and played in the ACC Championship in 2018 but they were an average team. Capializing off a weak ACC Coastal division put a .500 team up against Clemson, it didn’t end well for the Panthers.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi has proven to be good for a few big games a year but he can’t repeat success. They took Notre Dame to the wire in 2018, beat Clemson a few years ago and he does have an ACC Championship appearance to his name. You know that Pitt will have a defense that will give opponents fits under Narduzzi but the offense always leaves more to be desired. While they took advantage of a down year in 2018, they likely split their out of conference schedule in 2019 and play in an improving ACC. Pitt will continue to be Pitt in 2019.
5. Duke – 8-5 in 2018
This isn’t a slight at Duke, they are a good team with a great coach and they do have talent. But 2019 will be brutal on the Blue Devils. They lost their quarterback, Daniel Jones to the NFL and the heart of their linebacking core. Duke has to open the season against Alabama and also have to play Notre Dame. The entire month of November will be a struggle with Notre Dame, Syracuse, Miami and Wake Forest. If they can get through the early part of their schedule relatively unscathed, it could build confidence going in to November.
Seeing what Coach David Cutcliffe has done at Duke is impressive and shows how talented of a coach he is. Duke was one of the worst schools in division one until Cutcliffe arrived. Since then Duke has played in a bowl game in six of their last seven seasons winning their last three. You can’t count Duke out with Cutcliffe at the helm, but there is a lot of turnover and talent loss to overcome. Their leader on defense could end up being a defensive back that only played in two games in 2018 due to injury. Duke has a whole lot of questions and will need to find answers early in 2019.
6. Georgia Tech – 7-6 in 2018
Georgia Tech is another school in the ACC facing some major change in 2019. The Spring started with the shocking news of the passing of Brandon Adams. The rising Senior was a projected starter for the upcoming season before his life was tragically cut short.
The Yellow Jackets had to push forward as the Spring continued after mourning their teammate. In 2019 they find themselves in an unfamiliar spot after moving on from long time coach, Paul Johnson. With the noew coaching hire, Georgia Tech finds themselves joining the 21st century as they will be moving to a spread offense.
While the QB situation is still a problem, this could have helped with the recent influx of recruits for 2020. As for the season itself, there has been a running theme with a few of these teams and what you can say about most teams in college football. The Yellow Jackets have potential and are putting together an impressive upcoming 2020 class. But last year they were, you guessed it, inconsistent. The start of the 2018 season was rough but they turned it around going 6-3 after a 1-3 start.
Unfortunately they will likely see the opposite in 2019. Citadel, UNC and Temple should be easy to handle to open the year. But November pits them against Pitt, Virginia, Virginia Tech, NC State and Georgia. Other teams on this list look to slide with no hope towards the future. It is still early but Georgia Tech currently has the 12th ranked recruiting class with 11 hard commits. New coach Geoff Collins is in one of the better situations taking over a team with talent and right in the middle of a recruiting hot bed. If it wasn’t for such a difficult schedule, Georgia Tech would be sitting higher.
7. North Carolina – 2-9 in 2018
UNC has Mack brown running the program and he is here to make them a contender, eventually. Honestly I wasn’t crazy about this hire to start with as Brown has been out of the game for a few years and flamed out of Texas. Sometimes it is best to mutually part ways at certain jobs, but Texas has as many resources as anyone. Brown is a good coach with a great pedigree, but this just felt like the Les Miles hire in Kansas, kicking the tires on a once successful coach.
For 2019 UNC will have to implement new systems, new coaches and new players. Mack Brown will have a whole new philosophy change after taking over for Larry Fedora. The Tar Heels also brought on Jay Batemen from Army. Army had a top 10 defense last season which is an incredible feat for an academy school.
At this point they are kind of an unknown because we don’t know what we will get from a Mack Brown Led team. He takes over a team that went 2-9 and they have a whole host of issues. Questions at the QB position, loss of their best receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams and finding replacements for their defensive leaders. Seeing how poorly 2018 went and how poor of shape Larry Fedora left the team, you can’t fall much further. They could possibly steal a few wins but 2019 is likely to be pretty bleak in Chapel Hill.
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Started Saturday Tailgate in 2018. Covering all things college football and talking Notre Dame on Twitter.