The 2016 college football season is now less than four months away, so it is about time that we begin our conference previews for the Power 5 conferences, starting with the ACC.
The 2016 college football season will be here before you know it, as opening night is now less than four months away! Besides, it is never too early to begin your research for your early season college football picks, and in an attempt to assist with those endeavors, we are previewing every one of the Power 5 conferences over the coming weeks, beginning today with the ACC.
There was once a time not that very long ago that the ACC was considered the weakest of the power conferences but that is no longer the case with the conference improving through expansion, although it is some old conference stalwarts in Florida State (2013) and Clemson (2015) that have advanced to the national championship games in recent years.
The Seminoles of course emerged victorious with Jameis Winston at quarterback in the final BCS Championship Game ever, while the Tigers lost by just five points in a exhilarating game vs. Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship Game this past January.
Now, not all conference odds are up yet at this still relatively early stage, but the college football odds are up for the top contenders and Clemson is the current favorite to repeat as ACC Champion. However, we are going in a different direction, as you will see in our projected 2016 ACC standings that follow. Please note that we have provided odds to win the ACC only for those schools that currently have actual conference odds posted.
Florida State Seminoles (+220): While we have a great deal of respect for Clemson, Florida State could have a nice advantage by getting the Tigers at home this year in the game that should probably decide the Atlantic Division title. The Seminoles had an “off” year last year at 10-3 including a loss at Clemson, but they now return 17 starters including all 11 on offense, although quarterback Sean Maguire could face a challenge from freshman Deondre Francois. Regardless, having a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back in Dalvin Cook is never a bad thing.
Clemson Tigers (-110): Take nothing away from the Tigers, as they were undefeated last season before losing 45-40 to Alabama for the championship. Clemson returns eight starters on offense including the current Heisman Trophy favorite in quarterback Deshaun Watson, but aside from having to travel to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles this year, the Tigers also lost two of the best defensive players in the country last season in defensive end Shaq Lawson and cornerback Mackensie Alexander. Do not expect another undefeated regular season from Clemson this year.
Louisville Cardinals (+700): If there is one team capable of upsetting the top two favorites to win the ACC, it is this Louisville team. The Cardinals got off to a slow 0-3 start last season while playing musical chairs at quarterback, but once they settled on the dangerous dual threat Lamar Jackson, they won six of their last seven games culminating with a win over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl. Jackson is now the undisputed starter to begin this season, and he is just one of 18 returning starters. It may also help that Louisville catches both Florida State (September 17th) and Clemson (October 1st) early in the season.
NC State Wolfpack: NC State benefitted from a soft schedule last season when it finished 7-6 including a Belk Bowl loss to Mississippi State as it did not beat one single team all year that went to a bowl game. The Wolfpack do return 15 starters however and after the Big Three of the Atlantic, they do not really have much to beat out for fourth place in the division. Still, they could use that one statement win this season that they lacked last year.
Syracuse Orange: The Orange have fallen on hard times in football since joining the ACC, and they finished just 4-8 overall last season. That led to the firing of former coach Scott Shafer in favor of Dino Babers, whose up-tempo style varies sharply from Shafer’s more methodical system. Yes Syracuse returns 15starters, but is the personnel capable of adjusting to a hurry-up offense that could also expose the defense by keeping it on the field longer if the transition is not a smooth one, or is this an attempt to fit a square peg in a round hole?
Boston College Eagles: Boston College made history last season by going winless in ACC play both in college football and in NCAA Basketball! Still, believe it or not the Golden Eagles had one of the best defenses in the entire country, ranking fourth in the nation in points against at 15.3 per game! The defense should be stout again, and if the offense can show some improvement with the guidance of Kentucky transfer Patrick Towles at quarterback, then not only should the Eagles snap their conference losing streak but they could also escape the ACC Atlantic cellar.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons: In fact, there could be potential to have another winless team inside the ACC this upcoming season, except this time that team could be Wake Forest. On the one hand, the Demon Deacons return 17 starters. On the other hand, we are not so sure that is such a good thing in this case for a team that ranked 119th in the country in scoring with 17.4 points per game, with returning quarterback John Wolford throwing 11 interceptions vs. just nine touchdown passes. If not for three easy non-conference opponents in Army, Delaware and Tulane, there would have been concern about a winless season overall this year.
North Carolina Tar Heels (+850): North Carolina is favored to repeat as Coastal Division Champions, but the fact that the Tar Heels actually have higher conference odds than a Louisville team that is the third choice to win the Atlantic speaks to the relative weakness of the Coastal. It also does not help that the Heels lost quarterback Marquise Williams and the defense that looked so improved vs. Coastal Division rivals last year was exposed whenever North Carolina ventured outside of the division.
Miami Hurricanes (+1000): The Hurricanes could be serious threats to dethrone North Carolina in the division after badly underperforming for former coach Al Golden, leading to his firing midway through last season. The Canes now have their man in former Georgia Coach Mark Richt, and he inherits a lot of talent on the offense with quarterback Brad Kaaya surrounded by playmakers at all the offensive skill positions. There is talent on defense too that could come to fruition under new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
Duke Blue Devils: Duke is no longer a considered just a basketball school with the football program becoming relevant since David Cutcliffe took over as head coach. However, the Blue Devils suffered a big blow when their dual-threat quarterback Thomas Sirk ruptured his Achilles tendon during the spring, probably knocking him out for the season. Sirk was also the team’s leading rusher last season and there is not much experience behind him, so this third place prediction in the division could even be a bit generous.
Virginia Tech Hokies: It is going to seem strange this season watching Virginia Tech football without Frank Beamer manning the sideline, but we like the hiring of former Memphis coach Justin Fuente and his up-tempo offense may actually suit the skill sets of quarterback Brenden Motley, running back Travon McMillian and wide receiver Isaiah Ford. An improved offense combined with an always aggressive Hokies defense, something that will not change with one of the best defensive coordinators in the country in Bud Foster returning despite the new coaching regime, could have Virginia Tech on the rise again in 2016.
Pittsburgh Panthers: The Panthers probably overachieved last season, and besides the normal regression that oftentimes follows surprising seasons, Pittsburgh also lost its leading receiver in Tyler Boyd to the NFL. Now, it would be a great story if running back James Connor is able to come back after first tearing knee ligaments in the opening game of last season and later being diagnosed with lymphoma, but we are not counting on that happening, nor would we anticipate Connor resembling the back that was the ACC Player of the Year as a freshman two years ago even if he does come back.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: My how the mighty have fallen as Georgia Tech went from challenging Florida State in the ACC Championship Game two years ago to a 3-9 season last year, and now the Yellow Jackets could be potentially worse this season. Quarterback Justin Thomas slipped badly last year after losing much of his supporting cast on offense during a great 2014 season, as we went from 1,719 passing yards with 18 touchdowns passes vs. six interceptions that season to 1,345 passing yards with 13 touchdown passes vs. eight interceptions last year. And the worst news of all is that the offensive skill positions do not seem to be improved this year either.
Virginia Cavaliers: Virginia is another team that has gone from a bowl team to an also-ran in recent years and the Cavaliers may very well end up in the Coastal Division basement in 2016. We love the hiring of former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall as the new head man, but it will take some time for Bronco to put his footprint on this program and the Cavaliers return only 12 starters. One of the returnees is quarterback Matt Johns, but he needs to be much more efficient after tossing 17 interceptions to go along with 20 touchdowns passes last season.
Predicted ACC Champion: Florida State +220
Darkhorse: Louisville +700