The ACC is arguably the most talented conference from top to bottom and even though a large portion of the conference will be breaking in new signal callers, there is still a ton of talent and a few playoff contenders. Although the conference is fairly stacked, the Atlantic Division is much more talented and will again feature two perennial powerhouses. Clemson is the returning National Champion, but do they have enough firepower to win this conference again in 2017? Below are the predictions for the conference with a brief summary of what to expect from each team.
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- Florida State Seminoles 12-1 (9-0): FSU won ten games last season and with a strong nucleus returning it is hard to imagine them losing more than one game this season. The Seminoles will have an absolutely devastating defense lead by Derrick Nnadi at defensive tackle, Tarvarus McFadden at cornerback, and Derwin James at safety. The offense should not be far behind with talent up front led by Alec Eberle at center and a stable of capable running backs featuring Jacques Patrick. The Seminoles will be the greatest beneficiary of the slight drop in talent at Clemson.
- Clemson Tigers 10-2 (7-1): As stated earlier, there is a slight drop off in talent from their National Championship roster from last year, but it would be crazy to envision a Clemson team winning less than ten games. The offense should still produce at an elite level, especially with such a talented offensive line featuring Mitch Hyatt at tackle and Tyrone Crowder at guard. The new quarterback will also have an elite wide receiver to rely on in Deon Cain. On defense the Tigers will have sophomore superstar Dexter Lawrence as the focal point from defensive tackle. Clemson will have their chance to seize the ACC once again when Florida State visits in November.
- N. C. State Wolfpack 10-2 (6-2): Dave Doeren enters his fifth season manning the sideline in Raleigh and this could be a special season for N.C. State. This should be a dominant offense with a strong O-Line led by Tony Adams at guard and a talented receiving core that features Jaylen Samuels at tight end. The Wolfpack will also bring an extremely talented defensive line to the table that will take advantage of Bradley Chubb’s explosiveness at defensive end. After making three consecutive bowl games, N.C. State looks ready to compete for a championship.
- Louisville Cardinals 9-3 (5-3): With the reigning Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson taking snaps anything is possible and that includes an ACC Championship. The defense should be solid as well with Stacy Thomas headlining an impressive linebacker core and Jaire Alexander elevating the defensive backfield from the corner. Louisville ended 2016 with three straight rough losses and they need to find their groove early in 2017.
- Syracuse Orange 5-7 (2-6): Dino Babers will be entering his second year at Syracuse and it would be unfair to expect much change in such a short period of time. The most impressive factor of the Orange is their special teams and punter Sterling Hofrichter, who should see the field plenty in what could be another losing season. When the offense did find their rhythm they were exciting and wide receiver Ervin Phillips will be returning after catching 90 passes last season.
- Wake Forest Demon Deacons 5-7 (2-6): Dave Clawson will be entering his fourth season with Wake Forest after going 7-6, but 2017 maybe more unkind. This is another team, where the most dangerous weapon maybe the punter with Dom Maggio returning after an impressive year. On offense the Deacons will feature Cam Serigne, who should be the focal point from tight end. The defense consists of Duke Ejiofor, who is hoping to improve on his 17 TFLs last season from the defensive end position and Jessie Bates III is a young impressive safety who cracked 100 tackles in 2016.
- Boston College Eagles 4-8 (1-7): Same old story for Boston College as they can expect another solid defensive unit to pair with an underwhelming offense. Harold Landry returns at defensive end after recording 22 TFLs last season and he is one of the nation’s best pass rushers. Jon Hillman is the retuning lead back on offense and he is a strong runner that will be the offensive centerpiece. Steve Addazio needs to find a way to make this team win or he maybe looking at the exit door.
- Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 10-3 (7-2): This team is on the upswing after winning nine games in 2016, which includes victories against Kentucky in a bowl game and a big win against their rival Georgia. The Jackets will be feeding the rock to the extremely productive Dedrick Mills, who will be the starting fullback. He ended last season with 169 yards in their bowl and he needs to keep that momentum moving forward. The defense was rough last season, but brings back eight starters including twin brothers Lance Austin at corner and Lawrence Austin at Nickel. The twins combined for six interceptions last season. After starting their conference season 1-3, Georgia Tech rebounded great and I expect them to be a factor in the ACC in 2017.
- Miami Hurricanes 9-3 (6-2): Miami is another team coming into 2017 with some serious momentum as they won their last five games in a row and they won convincingly with all victories being by double digits. The Hurricanes should be impressive on offense, especially with Mark Walton returning as the lead running back after rushing for 1,117 yards last season. The passing attack will have some flavor as well with arguably the fastest player in all of college football in Ahmmon Richards at wide receiver. The kicking game will be strong, with Michael Badgley just 91 points away from being the career scoring leader in school history. This will be a team to watch for and they just may end up in the ACC title game.
- Virginia Tech Hokies 9-3 (5-3): Justin Fuente earned 10 wins in his first season as head coach and the faithful in Blacksburg hope he can repeat that mark. Like Virginia Tech teams in the past, this one should be dominant on defense. All-ACC selection, Tremaine Edmunds will be the leader of an elite group of linebackers . They will also be strong in the kicking game with Joey Slye just six field goals away from being the school’s career leader. If the Hokies can find a quarterback, than they may slip into the conference championship.
- North Carolina Tar Heels 6-6 (3-5): So much firepower has left from last season’s 8-5 squad it would be surprising if they hit that mark again. The offensive line will be the biggest strength for North Carolina with Bentley Spain headlining that group from his offensive tackle spot. The Heels were successful against the pass last season and cornerback M.J. Stewart was a big reason why as he lead the team with 11 pass break-ups. They will also have a leg up on special teams against most of their opponents, especially with Tom Sheldon at punter. North Carolina losses its starting quarterback, top two receivers, and two leading rushers from last season, it might be a rough 2017.
- Pittsburgh Panthers 5-7 (3-5): This team will not be competing for a championship this season, but there is reason to remain optimistic. The Pittsburgh offense should be exciting to watch and Brian O’Neill will be the leader of a solid offensive line from his tackle position. The special teams will be electric as well with star wide receiver Quadree Henderson pulling double duty as the kick returner. Henderson is an extremely versatile weapon, who gained over 2,000 all-purpose yards in 2016. If the Panthers want to make a statement in the ACC, they need to improve on defense in a big way.
- Duke Blue Devils 4-8 (1-7): Duke was left watching bowl season at home last year after a disappointing 4-8 finish and the 2017 version does not offer much more in talent. The Devil defense will be inexperienced, but there is some skill in the linebacker core, especially with Ben Humphreys roaming from sideline to sideline. The offense is expected to be better, but still lackluster. The offensive line should be their strength and Austin Davis will be the leader of that group from center. It will be hard for Duke to eclipse the four win mark.
- Virginia Cavaliers 2-10 (0-8): In the last five seasons, Virginia has won only 17 games. This means there needs to be some extra patience afforded to second year man Bronco Mendenhall. The Cavaliers have an impressive defense with two All-American candidates in linebacker Micah Kizer and safety Quin Blanding, but the offense lacks an abundance of talent. Virginia has only gone bowling once in the past ten years and it doesn’t look like 2017 will be any better.