2021 Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division Preview
College football is right around the corner and so it’s time to start churning out some Conference Previews. I will be doing the five major conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, PAC-12, And SEC). Let’s get to it.
Team & Player Rankings Are Courtesy Of Phil Steele’s CFB Preview.
Teams are in predicted order of finish.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Clemson Tigers: The Clemson Tigers had another strong season last year as they won the ACC Title and made another appearance in the NCAA Playoffs. They ended up losing to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl as the defense was not able to contain the Ohio State offense. Clemson lost that game by a score of 49-28 but the defense should be improved this year with nine starters back on that side of the ball. Clemson ranked 6th in yards allowed last year and 11th in points allowed, giving up just 17.5 ppg. They will be top 10 in both categories this year as all three of their defensive units are ranked in the top 8 in the nation.
The offense suffered the big hits in the offseason as QB Trevor Lawrence is gone, as is RB Travis Etienne and their top three receivers. Five starters are back from a group that was 4th in the nation in scoring at 44.9 ppg. D.J. Uiagalelei will take over at QB and he had a strong showing in a start against Notre Dame last year, throwing for 439 yards with two TDs and no INTs. He will fit in fine here and despite losing all the talent in the WR corps, the Tigers still have the 3rd ranked receiver corps in the nation. Freshman Will Shipley will take over at the RB spot and he is the 3rd rated running recruit in the nation. The offense has just reloaded but they do have some questions along the offensive line, which is very young.
Clemson lost some key pieces on offense but they have just reloaded on that side of the ball and the defense will be improved. The Tigers have a tough game against Georgia to start the season but they will be favored big in the rest of their games this year and will again be a player in the battle for a spot in the NCAA Playoffs.
North Carolina State Wolfpack: NC State had a solid season last year as they went 8-4 overall, including 7-3 in league play. I like them in the second spot in the Atlantic Division as this team is loaded. The Wolfpack has 50 of 61 lettermen mack from last year, including 19 starters. Nine starters are back on offense, including Devin Leary, who threw for 890 yards with 8 Tds and two INTs in four games. He did share time with Bailey Hockman, who is now at Middle Tennessee. Leary has the 4th rated WR corps in the ACC to work as their top three WRs are back from a year ago. NC State’s real strength will be in its running game which could be the best in the ACC with Zonovan KNight and Ricky Person both returning. They combined for 1431 yards and 14 TDs last year. The OL is the weak spot of the offense but with four starters back and solid depth, they will be just fine. The Wolfpack will improve on the 30.3 ppg and 385 ypg they put up last year.
The defense was not great last year as they were 92nd against the pass, 66th against the run, and 68th in points allowed, giving up 29.7 ppg. NC State has 10 starters back on that side of the ball, so they should improve greatly and could rival the 2016 squad that allowed just 22.8 ppg and 335 ypg. Their top 12 tacklers return from last year and all three of their defensive units rank 3rd or better in the ACC. The strength of the defense is a linebacking corps that Phil Steel has ranked 11th in the nation. LB Peyton Wilson led the team with 109 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two INTs, and 3.,5 sacks last year while LB Isaiah Moore had 94 tackles, 8 TFL, and three sacks.
With a stronger offense and a much-improved defense, the Wolfpack has a shot at double-digit wins. They will not catch the Tigers but this is a bonafide bowl-caliber team. They get the Tigers at home, along with North Carolina, while the road slate will not be easy to navigate with games at Mississippi State, Miami, Florida State, and Wake Forest. Still, this team is loaded on both sides of the ball and they will make plenty of noise in the ACC this year.
Boston College Eagles: The Boston College Eagles went 6-5 last year, but two of their losses were by just four points against 12th ranked North Carolina and by six points against top-ranked Clemson. The Eagles have 17 starters back from that team and they will challenge NC State for the 2nd spot in the Atlantic Division. Let’s start with the BC defense, which has eight starters back, despite that they are 116th in returning tackles and their LB corps is one of the worst in the ACC. Boston College will look to make up for it with one of the best secondary’s in the ACC as all four starters from that group return. The Eagles were 80th in the nation against the pass, so we will see some improvement there. Overall, they were 71st in ypg allowed and 59th in ppg allowed, giving up 28.4 ppg. Even with a linebacking corps that is weak, the Eagles should improve on those numbers overall.
The passing game was solid at 25th in the nation, but the running game was not at 116th. Ex-Notre Dame QB, Phil Jurkovec had a solid first season for the Eagles, throwing for 2558 yards with 17 TDs and just 5 INts. He does lose 2nd leading receiver Hunter Long, but still, six of his top receiver are back overall. BC’s receivers do rate 3rd in the ACC. The running back corps rates as 11th best and Jurkovec could use some help from that group. Travis Levy is back after finishing 2nd on the team in rushing with 321 yards and no TDs. We could see red-shirt freshman Pat Garwo, who ran for 122 yards last year and was the 25th running back recruit in the nation a couple of years ago. The Running game should be better, especially with the ACC’s 2nd rated offensive line. Overall, the offense will improve on last year’s numbers of 27.8 ppg and 386 ypg.
Boston College has a tough road game against Clemson, but they should be favored in road games against Louisville, Syracuse, and Georgia Tech within the conference and Temple & UMass in non-league play. At home, they have tough games against NC State, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest, who could surprise this year, but they also have Missouri, Colgate, and Florida State at home. The Eagles are improved on both sides of the ball and they have a schedule that could net them 9 wins this year.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Dave Clawson has done an excellent job here at Wake Forest. After going just 3-9 in each of his first two years, the Demon Deacons have been to five straight bowl games. Yes, they went just 4-5 a year ago, but still ended up in a bowl game, where they lost to Wisconsin by a score of 42-28. Clawson has this team on the right path and he could have his best team yet. The defense has struggled the last few years as the Deacs have allowed at least 28.3 ppg in each of those seasons. They are hoping that nine starters back on that side of the ball will help immensely. Still, all three of their defensive units rank 9th or higher within the ACC. That is not good news as they will be facing some good offenses.
The offense will have to do much of the heavy lifting this year and it will be a good one. The Demon Deacons averaged just 17.5 ppg in Clawson’s first three years at the helm, but they have put up 34 ppg the last four seasons and Wake has 11 starters back on that side of the ball this year. The offense has a chance to be very scary. Sam Hartman is back for his sophomore season after throwing for 224 yards with 13 TDs and five INTs a year ago. His top six receivers are back this year, along with four of his top five RBs and they all will set up behind an offensive line that rates as 3rd best in the ACC. Last year, Wake had just two starters back on offense and still averaged 36 ppg and 444 ypg. This year’s group has plenty of depth and they play very fast, so I would not be surprised to see them top 450 ypg and 40 ppg this year.
Wake Forest has a very solid offense but their defense will keep them from being higher in the standings. You can expect many high-scoring games with the Deacons this year. Road games against Virginia, Clemson, North Carolina, and Boston College will also keep them from moving up in the standings, while a very easy home slate will allow them to do just enough to earn their 6th trip to a bowl game in a row.
Florida State Seminoles: Mike Norvell went just 3-6 in his first year at the helm and while he has 17 starters back this year, we should see Florida State continue to struggle. The Noles are 79th in the nation in terms of experience this year and they are in a division with many teams that have improved over last year. Florida State has also had some of their older players leave due to not wanting to play for Norvell. The Noles have some experience in their starting lineup, but the depth is not there for them and that could cost this team a bowl game invite. The defense was horrid last year as they allowed 36 ppg and 456 ypg and while they have their top four tacklers back from that squad we note that the DL ranks 9th in the ACC while the secondary ranks 7th. The LB corps is actually solid and is led by Emmett Rice, who led the team in tackles for loss with 7.5 last year. They will be improved on defense, but the noles have a ton of ground to make up on that side of the ball.
The offense was not great last year as they averaged just 25.8 ppg and 397 ypg. They ran for more yards 200 ypg than they threw (197 ypg) and that is a bit odd for an FSU squad. The running game will be solid again as they have the 5th rated RB corp in the ACC. Jordan Travis led the team in rushing for the QB spot with 559 yards and seven TDs last year, while Jashaun Corbin is back after rushing for 401 yards and five TDs. Corbin should have a solid season behind an OL that has all five starters back. Travis will lose the starting QB spot to McKenzie Milton who transferred in from Central Florida. Milton has missed the last two years after getting injured at the end of the 2018 season. In 2017, he threw for 4037 yards with 37 TDs and nine INTs, while also rushing for 613 yards and eight TDs that same season. The talent is there, but how good will he be after missing the last two years. FSU does have five of their top six receivers back from last year, but still, it is not a talented group. The Noles will struggle to top last year’s offensive output.
Florida State is a bit shy on talent this year and the schedule will not help them at all. They have roadies against Wake Forest, Clemson, North Carolina, Boston College, and Florida while having to face Notre Dame, Miami, and NC State at home. FSU will pull an upset somewhere this year but they still will not top five wins. The Noles will miss a bowl game for the 2nd year in a row.
Louisville Cardinals: The Cards went 8-5 in Scott Saderfield’s first year at the helm, but last year they dipped to just 4-7, despite having 16 starters back. This year may not be any better for the Cardinals, who come in ranked 10th in the nation in terms of experience. They have 13 starters back this year, which is not bad, but the Cardinals still have a tone of . QB Malik Cunninghame threw for 2617 yards with 20 TDs last year, but he also threw 12 INTs and his top two receivers from a year ago are gone. Louisville receiving corps rates as 10th best in the ACC, while the running back corps rates as 11th best. Cunningham has some talent, but the skill players around him will hamper the offense this year. Louisville averaged 29.5 ppg and 444 ypg last year, but will not top those numbers this year.
The defense was not terrible last year as they allowed just 26.6 ppg on 369 ypg of total offense. They lose five of their top seven tacklers from that group, so the defense could struggle this year. Louisville has the 12th rated defensive line in the ACC and the 10th rated secondary, so I would not expect them to rank 19th in pass defense, as they did a year ago. The Cardinals have improved on defense in each of Satterfield’s first two seasons, but it could be tough keeping that streak alive this year, especially if the pass defense falters.
Louisville has many issues on both sides of the ball. The skill players are weak and they have one of the worst defensive lines in the ACC, while the secondary will not be nearly as good as last year. The schedule has many pitfalls, including road games against FSU, Wake Forest, and NC State, while having to deal with Clemson, Boston College, Virginia, and Kentucky at home. They also have a neutral site game against Ole Miss to start the season. Shy on talent and a tough schedule will allow the Cards just four wins on the season.
Syracuse Orange: Dino Babers is on the hot seat at Syracuse, after going just 1-10 last year. He was 18-9 in two years at Bowling Green but has gone 24-36 in his first five years here at Syracuse. The Orange have been to just one bowl game in his tenure and that was in 2018 when they went 10-3. Babers does have 19 starters back from last year, but still, they have a lot of ground to make up after finishing -197.3 ypg in conference play a year ago. Louisville averaged just 17.8 ppg last year, which is down 10.5 ppg from 2019 and 22.4 ppg from 2018. Bowling Green averaged 30 and 42.2 ppg in Dino’s two years at the school, so to see the offense struggle as it did last year is a shock.
Nine starters are back on offense but still, three of the four offensive units rank 11th or worse in the ACC. Sophomore Garrett Shrader was the 23rd best QB recruit a few years ago and he is expected to get the starting role this year as Rex Culpepper is gone. Shrader is a transfer from Mississippi State and does have some starting experience. Syracuse does return their top two WRs and top two RBs from last year, but the offensive line rates as the worst in the ACC. On defense, they allowed 32.7 ppg and 464 ypg but should be a bit better this year with 10 starters back on that side of the ball. The run defense needs to improve after allowing 209 ypg on the ground last year. The ‘Cuse return 83.8% of their tackles from last year which is 42nd in the nation.
The Orange are more experienced than last year, but still not talented enough to move up in the standings. They have a lot of ground to makeup and the division is very tough. A road game against Ohio, followed by home games against Rutgers, Albany, and Liberty could get the Cuse off to a decent start, but the rest of the schedule is very tough. Three wins may be the limit for them this year.