ACC Preview

Mark Lindquist
Rotoworld
Mark Lindquist previews the ACC with predictions, draft prospects and fantasy projections, including why Clemson is not completely invulnerable. (Getty Images)

ACC Preview

Mark Lindquist previews the ACC with predictions, draft prospects and fantasy projections, including why Clemson is not completely invulnerable. (Getty Images)

Leading up to the start of the season, Rotoworld will be pumping out previews for every Group of 5 and Power 5 conference (plus Independents), complete with fantasy projections courtesy of RW analytics guru Hayden Winks, draft prospects to watch and a full examination of each conference's team's best and worst case scenarios. Up in this installation: The ACC.

 

Fantasy Projections

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Quarterback

PaYD

PaTD

RuYD

FPPG

Bryce Perkins (Virginia, SR)

2603

24

807

26

Trevor Lawrence (Clemson, SO)

3671

34

219

25

Jamie Newman (Wake Forest, JR)

2827

23

472

25

Ryan Willis (Virginia Tech, SR)

3068

27

214

21

Quentin Harris (Duke, SR)

2801

20

259

21

Tommy DeVito (Syracuse, SO)

2741

23

61

19

*Matt McKay (NC State, SO)

2401

17

101

19

James Blackman (Florida State, JR)

2775

22

74

19

Anthony Brown (Boston College, JR)

2323

22

147

17

*Tate Martell (Miami, SO)

2069

14

105

17

Jawon Pass (Louisville, JR)

2564

13

218

16

Lucas Johnson (Georgia Tech, JR)

1828

11

375

16

Kenny Pickett (Pitt, JR)

2128

17

236

15

Sam Howell (North Carolina, FR)

2766

17

83

15

 

Running Back

RuYD

RuTD

ReYD

FPPG

Travis Etienne (Clemson, JR)

1322

16

66

23

AJ Dillon (Boston College, JR)

1154

10

63

18

Cam Akers (Florida State, JR)

798

7

132

15

Deon Jackson (Duke, JR)

744

6

212

15

DeeJay Dallas (Miami, JR)

825

8

123

14

Ricky Person Jr. (NC State, SO)

780

7

64

13

Cade Carney (Wake Forest, SR)

818

6

78

13

Moe Neal (Syracuse, SR)

728

5

109

12

Hassan Hall (Louisville, SO)

613

6

135

12

Javonte Williams (North Carolina, SO)

657

6

60

11

Jordan Mason (Georgia Tech, SO)

644

7

25

10

Michael Carter (North Carolina, JR)

592

2

135

10

Antonio Williams (North Carolina, SR)

451

5

136

10

Wayne Taulapapa (Virginia, SO)

561

6

19

9

Abdul Adams (Syracuse, JR)

570

5

24

8

Lyn-J Dixon (Clemson, SO)

496

5

9

8

A.J. Davis (Pitt, JR)

534

5

21

8

Deshawn McClease (Virginia Tech, JR)

521

3

85

8

Brittain Brown (Duke, JR)

494

4

38

8

Zonovan Knight (NC State, FR)

464

4

25

7

Khalan Laborn (Florida State, SO)

333

3

144

7

Christian Beal-Smith (Wake Forest, SO)

454

4

9

7

Jerry Howard (Georgia Tech, JR)

353

3

119

7

PK Kier (Virginia, JR)

449

4

19

7

Todd Sibley (Pitt, SO)

427

4

16

6

Cam'Ron Davis (Miami, SO)

386

3

22

6

Jalen Holston (Virginia Tech, JR)

454

3

22

6

Jarveon Howard (Syracuse, SO)

271

4

10

5

Jamious Griffin (Georgia Tech, FR)

316

3

19

5

 

Receiver

Rec

ReYD

ReTD

FPPG

Justyn Ross (Clemson, SO)

52

926

7

16

Tee Higgins (Clemson, JR)

54

859

8

16

Tamorrion Terry (Florida State, SO)

52

954

6

16

Trishton Jackson (Syracuse, JR)

60

809

6

15

Sage Surratt (Wake Forest, SO)

61

795

6

15

Maurice Ffrench (Pitt, SR)

55

796

5

15

Emeka Emezie (NC State, JR)

65

728

5

14

Damon Hazelton (Virginia Tech, JR)

51

803

6

14

Tre Turner (Virginia Tech, SO)

52

788

5

14

Sean Riley (Syracuse, SR)

63

656

5

13

Dez Fitzpatrick (Louisville, JR)

55

743

4

13

J.F. Thomas (Miami, JR)

49

791

4

13

Hasise Dubois (Virginia, SR)

55

612

6

13

Taysir Mack (Pitt, JR)

46

756

3

12

Aaron Young (Duke, SR)

52

648

4

12

Dazz Newsome (North Carolina, JR)

56

633

3

12

Dyami Brown (North Carolina, SO)

54

640

4

12

K.J. Osborn (Miami, SR)

40

668

4

11

Tavares Kelly (Virginia, SO)

43

586

5

11

Taj Harris (Syracuse, SO)

45

552

4

10

C.J. Riley (NC State, JR)

47

550

4

10

Jalen Camp (Georgia Tech, SR)

43

579

4

10

Joe Reed (Virginia, SR)

43

536

4

10

Kobay White (Boston College, JR)

33

479

4

9

Ben Glines (Boston College, SR)

25

333

3

9

Kendall Hinton (Wake Forest, SR)

33

436

3

9

D.J. Matthews (Florida State, JR)

47

439

3

9

Malachi Carter (Georgia Tech, SO)

38

463

3

9

Jake Bobo (Duke, rFR)

37

463

3

9

Thayer Thomas (NC State, SO)

39

416

3

8

Scotty Washington (Wake Forest, SR)

35

432

3

8

Keith Gavin (Florida State, SR)

30

462

2

8

Chatarius Atwell (Louisville, SO)

31

516

2

8

Hezekiah Grimsley (Virginia Tech, JR)

33

407

3

8

Diondre Overton (Clemson, SR)

27

390

3

7

Beau Corrales (North Carolina, JR)

33

387

2

7

Warren Thompson (Florida State, rFR)

29

367

3

7

Seth Dawkins (Louisville, SR)

29

380

1

6

Ahmarean Brown (Georgia Tech, FR)

29

348

2

6

 

Tight Ends

Rec

ReYD

ReTD

FPPG

Brevin Jordan (Miami, SO)

34

376

3

7

Noah Gray (Duke, JR)

30

306

2

6

Carl Tucker (North Carolina, SR)

31

304

2

6

Cary Angeline (NC State, JR)

23

222

2

5

Jack Freudenthal (Wake Forest, SR)

23

273

2

5

Tre' McKitty (Florida State, JR)

25

243

2

5

Tyler Davis (Georgia Tech, SR)

25

257

3

5

Will Mallory (Miami, SO)

22

216

2

5

Dalton Keene (Virginia Tech, JR)

24

258

2

5

 

Projected Standings

Atlantic

Coastal

Clemson 12-0 (8-0 in conference)

Miami 10-2 (7-1 in conference)

NC State 9-3 (6-2 in conference)

Virginia 10-2 (7-1 in conference)

Syracuse 9-3 (6-2 in conference)

Virginia Tech 9-3 (6-2 in conference)

Florida State 7-5 (5-3 in conference)

Pitt 6-6 (3-5 in conference)

Wake Forest 5-7 (4-4 in conference)

Duke 4-8 (2-6 in conference)

Boston College 5-7 (2-6 in conference)

North Carolina 3-9 (2-6 in conference)

Louisville 2-10 (0-8 in conference)

Georgia Tech 1-11 (0-8 in conference)

 

ACC Atlantic

Clemson Tigers

2018 record: 15-0 (8-0 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: RB Travis Etienne. Etienne is a pure athlete who accelerates to top speed like a dream. He lacks to the extreme as a pass catcher, to the point where he has openly admitted to feeling nervous when the ball comes his way.

 

The case for: We could have just omitted this section. Everybody already knows the case for Clemson. We saw it in January. Except this year’s team could be even better than last year’s. And that doesn’t feel hyperbolic -- we don’t know what Trevor Lawrence’s eventual ceiling may be, or indeed if he even has one. To think, he wasn’t starting until October. Lawrence is just getting warmed up.

It’s not just Lawrence, though. This is the fully-operational Death Star offense which we were promised in RETURN OF THE JEDI. Lawrence could fling it deep to Justyn Ross or Tee Higgins, or he could hand off to Travis Etienne. Or knows, maybe Lawrence can fly. As Kevin Garnett once screamed incoherently into a microphone at millions of people watching across America, anything is possible. 

The Tigers do have to retool after taking massive losses, but guess what? That’s cool! Xavier Thomas is the cat to know up front, taking over for Christian Wilkins on the edge. He had 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season, and that was in backup capacity. Isiah Simmons leads the secondary after forcing four turnovers last season.

 

The case against: Well your author would posit that if we all perish in a nuclear war, then TECHNICALLY Clemson won’t be in the title game upcoming. But that’s morbid, and Lawrence would probably throw for 4,000 yards if he was one of those radiation victims at Chernobyl. Setting aside the possibility of nuclear war (which we can’t do in actuality, unfortunately), it’s tough. There are a few potential trip-ups we have spotted.

And they’re early. Clemson will play Texas A&M and Syracuse back-to-back in Weeks 2 & 3. Those are scary games. Maybe the Tigers win them each by 20 points. That wouldn’t surprise in the slightest. But, here’s a scenario for you -- what if those defensive losses we touched on early make the games weird. What if there are juuuuust enough defensive wobbles that Kellen Mond scrambles for 60 yards or Tommy DeVito unleashes a 50-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and suddenly things are in jeopardy late. 

It’s not impossible that they lose one game. What if they do lose one game? Still on solid footing, yeah? What if they lose both? Silence. Unless this is the year that a two-loss team rises up. And Lawrence -- yeah, we’re about to criticize him -- owned a 26/7 TD/INT ratio in his final season of high school in Cartersville. What if he trends closer to seven interceptions than the four he threw as a true freshman last season. That’s enough to matter, small as it may seem. With the best teams we’re looking for small imperfections.

It takes a lot to see Clemson losing a game or two, but it doesn’t take that much. This is something that can happen? Theoretically?

Publish.

 

Vegas win total over/under: 11.5

Prediction: OVER

NC State Wolf Pack

2018 record: 9-4 (5-3 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: S Jarius Morehead. An aggressive, firecracker of a defender who makes life a living nightmare for opposing skill-position players with a strong head for tackling. Morehead has posted at least 80 tackles each of the past two seasons and has shown a stellar nose for the ball, with five career interceptions, including three last season.

The case for: At the gates to the ACC summit stands guard Dave Doeren, forever vigilant to swat down unworthy contenders -- they did not play Pitt, alas -- and kneel humbly when the likes of Clemson come marching up the glacier (NC State has not beaten Clemson since 2011; Doeren is 0-6 against the Tigers since taking over in 2012). 

We’ll give Doeren this, though: His teams are consistently decent, ranging from seven to nine wins (including bowl action) in every year outside of his first on campus. It’s just a matter of whether they can ever rise above “consistently decent.” 

That’s going to be difficult, admittedly, with both QB Ryan Finley and OC Eliah Drinkwitz moving on. Drinkwitz and Finley kept the NC State offense humming. Now, it’ll be Des Kitchens at offensive coordinator (an in-house promotion, something we always like to see)  and one of Matt McKay, Bailey Hockman or Devin Leary at quarterback. We don’t know these cats, of course, because Ryan Finley wasn’t leaving the field too often.

The loss of RB Reggie Gallaspy would seem to sting outwardly after he rushed for 1,091 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, but that shouldn’t be sweat too much, not with true frosh Bam Knight coming in and immediately destroying the universe with 139 yards in the team’s spring game. Reggie “4.8 YPC” Gallaspy lacked the breakaway threat that Bam Bam so obviously possesses. 

Even if Knight can’t replicate that spring showing immediately in actual games, the team does have an established plodder in Ricky Person, who should be able to fall forward for 600 or so yards to supplement Bam’s lightning. NC State also lost WRs Kelvin Harmon and Jacobi Meyers (they lost a ton tbh), but we aren’t worried there, either, not with Emeka Emezie (53-616-5) and Thayer Thomas (34-383-3) set to step up. Emezie, in particular, could be in for a big year.

There’s more than enough offensive juice, here, to stay quasi-relevant late into the season. If they can hit on a quarterback, their Nov. 9 showdown at home against Clemson might actually matter. NC State does face Clemson in the regular season, but the rest of their schedule is remarkably clean to navigate. They will not play Virginia, nor Miami, in our view the two clear best best teams in the conference outside of Clemson.

 

The case against: Our sunny side in the above paragraphs only scratched the surface of what NC State lost on offense. They didn’t just lose their starting quarterback, their starting running back, their two best receivers and their offensive coordinator. They also lost three all-conference offensive linemen, headlined by C Garrett Bradbury. If NC State is to dip from decent to mediocre or worse, it’s because they can’t plug all of these holes immediately.

The Wolf Pack have to look no further than conference mates Florida State and Louisville to see how quickly things can turn south with offensive turnover. In Florida State’s case, it was the gradual disintegration of the offensive line, while in Louisville’s case, it was the exit of Lamar Jackson. Lamar, on his own, filled 10 holes in the dam with those gigantic hands of his and then Bobby Petrino was like “See ya, Lamar” and let the whole thing collapse. 

Doeren isn’t going to Petrino this thing, but it might not matter, because so, so much has vacated on the offensive side of the ball. It’s not difficult to see NC State lacking for the offensive horses to stay competitive. Their one saving grace is that they play in the ACC, the weakest conference in the country in this author’s opinion. That merely makes the level of competition easier to deal with. It doesn’t actually make you good.

 

Vegas over/under win total: 7.5 

Prediction: OVER

Syracuse Orange 

2018 record: 10-3 (6-2 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: DE Alton Robinson. A former four-star prospect who very nearly saw his collegiate career derailed by burglary charges that were ultimately dropped, Robinson plays like a reformed man who knows what it's like to be knocking on the death door for football. He still has technical deficiencies to shore up before he can become an elite pass-rusher -- he can be handled on outside moves -- but the length and athleticism are there in spades. Not exactly Gumby in terms of his bend, but not a steel rod either.

 

The case for: We saw the best case for the 2019 incarnation of Syracuse last October, really, in a 40-37 double-overtime win over North Carolina. Then-redshirt freshman QB Tommy DeVito came on in the fourth quarter for Eric Dungey in a roll of the dice by HC Dino Babers after the Orange had squandered a 21-7 third-quarter lead. DeVito hit on 11-of-19 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Orange back from the brink of defeat. 

Heck, we thought DeVito would start from that point on, but Babers is not so impatient, sticking with Dungey on the way to a program-defining season. But DeVito, man. The upside of any quarterback who can throw in a Babers system is palatable. 

Thing of it is, the palpable optimism surrounding Syracuse isn’t just the excitement around a new starting quarterback. This is an experienced team (13 returning starters) with young playmakers like DeVito and WR Taj Harris, who set program records as a true freshman in catching 40 passes for 565 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 14.1 yards per reception. The defensive is equally equipped with fun playmakers, of whom we would like to highlight DE Alton Robinson and DE Kendall Coleman. Robinson posted 17 TFL and 10 sacks last season, Coleman 12 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. 

And then there’s the Clemson aspect. Syracuse is not scared of the Tigers. They beat ‘em outright two years ago and nearly did so last fall -- albeit with injuries to the starting quarterbacks in both games. Syracuse has been within 10 points in four of the last five matchups. You want a little more au jous on this angle? Syracuse will be hosting Clemson for homecoming on Sept. 14, in primetime, one week after the Tigers host a hungry Texas A&M team. Tell us you aren’t excited.

 

The case against: While Robinson and Coleman are flashy as flash can be on the defensive line, Syracuse’s linebacking corps has been hollowed out considerably with Ryan Guthrie the largest loss complemented by additional vacancies from Keiland Whitlan and Shyheim Cullen. If Syracuse is gouged repeatedly in intermediate passing game, that would not surprise. 

The linebacking corps concerns us. What concerns us even more, perhaps, is actually DeVito. Because Syracuse needs him to be what he showed in the aforementioned hero performance against North Carolina. DeVito’s stats, on the whole, are not quite so rosy. 

For the season, he completed 44-of-87 passes (50.6% completions) for 525 yards and a 4/3 TD/INT ratio. He averaged 6.0 YPA. Playing largely in backup duty is far from conducive to success and is inconsequential to the starting experience, but those aren’t good numbers no matter how long you squint at them. That doesn’t mean that DeVito is doomed. It does raise a momentary eyebrow. 

In order for Syracuse to be the true ACC contender that they are being painted as this offseason, DeVito needs to be a revelation.

 

Vegas over/under win total: 5

Prediction: OVER

Florida State Seminoles

2018 record: 5-7 (3-5 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: Cam Akers. A young badly in need of an offensive line and a rebound year, Akers plays with quickness and has elite speed, having been clocked at 22.4 MPH. He should currently be viewed as a probable Day 2 pick, but there is tremendous upside to build on his stock if he put 2017 behind him.

 

The case for: Let us travel to another spot in Florida, say, Boca Raton, for a brief moment. In 2017, FAU was 8th in the country in per-game scoring average, putting in just over 41 points a game. But the Owls fell all the way off to 45th while averaging 10 points less. What gives? Why that would be offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, to Houston. 

Kendal Briles creates explosive, malleable offenses which fit to the talent on hand. At FAU two years back, he had a singular talent at running back without any passing game. At Houston last season, he helped make a star out of QB D’Eriq King -- and that was without any running game to speak of (just ask college fantasy owners who gambled on Briles turning Mulbah Carr into a stud). 

We can already envision Cam Akers finding his true freshman form, when he rushed for an FSU record 1,025 yards. And we’ll be honest. We’ve always kind of had a soft spot in our hearts for James Blackmon, who will finally have a real starting shot with Deondre Francois melting away in dismissal and disgrace. Blackmon’s not green, having played out the 2017 season while Francois was recovering from a knee injury. He posted a 19/11 TD/INT ratio while completing 58% of his passes. That was as a true freshman. So of course he barely played last season despite the fact that Florida State could have used some kind of spark, any kind of spark. Clemson beat them 59-10 last season. They almost lost to Samford. 

We like Blackman. We like Akers. We like athletes like WR Tamorrion Terry and S Levonta Taylor and DE Joshua Kaindoh. Even as a spiraling trainwreck, a team like Florida State is going to have talent on hand. 

 

The case against: Is their offensive line ready to play FBS football or? Mixed results from the spring on that front, and that’s when a receiver making any sideline catching being named a “breakout performer.” Spring practice is barely even a tune-up for the season, to be fair. 

But Florida State remains problematic at both tackle spots, without the possibility of reprieve from the oft-injured Landon Dickerson, who transferred to Alabama as a graduate during the offseason. Perhaps NIU transfer Ryan Roberts helps to fix things, kind of, but he is but a man. Ditto four-star freshman G Dontae Lucas, who is probably just a smidge too young to help out in more than a bit role. 

Even Briles, for his offensive pyrotechnics, might not be able to scheme his way around the offensive line. Or perhaps to be more accurate, his schematics are going to be limited because the offensive line is limited. Hope the Seminoles are ready to face off with Boise State EDGE Curtis Weaver at the drop of the flag, because the Mountain West preseason Defensive Player of the Year will be coming at them on Aug. 31, to open the season.

 

Vegas over/under win total: 7

Prediction: PUSH

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2018 record: 7-6 (3-5 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: CB Essang Bassey. Bassey is going to have to do everything right during the evaluating process, because at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, he simply does have a desirable height-weight combination. What is desirable in his game, though, is his irritatingly constant presence around the ball. Over the past two seasons, Bassey has logged 31 passes defensed with four interceptions (three of those picks coming last fall). His activity alone will at least put him on the NFL radar. Just how much he manages to blip figures to depend on his measurables. Again, size ain't helping, here.

 

The case for: Unleash the Clawfense. It’s a catchy nickname, anyway. Dave Clawson has yet to put together a legit huge season, a 10-win campaign or even a nine-win one, but he has brought Wake Forest to a stable level, at least, with bowl showings each of the last three seasons.

It’s easy enough to see Clawson and crew cresting over the seven-win mark with the right breaks. That’ll start at quarterback, with one of the more interesting quarterback competitions in the country in Sam Hartman and Jamie Newman, true sophomore and true junior respectively. Both saw playing time last season, with Hartman starting out of the gate and Newman for the final month of the campaign.

Newman’s the quarterback we find slightly more intriguing, turning in a pair of sharp performances of three or more touchdowns passes against NC State and Duke, both programs which are not nobodies. Hartman should be able to show something in preseason camp, too. There are worse problems to have than two startable quarterbacks. Heck, Pitt would kill for one.

Wake Forest is set at running back with Cade Carney and Christian Beal-Smith and bring back an experienced set of tackles -- a little more is up in the air inside -- to help pave the way for Carney and friends, to help keep Newman/Hartman clean. And this is a team with a dominant defensive front against the run, ranking 36th in the country on that front by ESPN’s Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rush defense metric. That’ll happen when you have a guy like Carlos Basham wrecking havoc. Basham tied for best mark in the conference with his 23.5 run stuffs last season. 

 

The case against: Sure, the Demon Deacons can stonewall the run. They are not nearly as adept at shutting down the pass. No, they are not adept at all. Last season, Wake Forest ranked 117th in the country against opposing passing games on a per-contest average. There is no immediate hope with that unit.

Then there’s the big loss on offense, in superstud wideout Greg Dortch. Wake Forest is not without bodies in the wide receivers room, but they lack for a clear Dortch replacement, and that in general would point to the cap on Wake’s upside generally speaking -- this is a team largely devoid of explosion on offense. And what’s a Clawfense without teeth?

 

Vegas over/under win total: 7

Prediction: UNDER

Boston College Eagles

2018 record: 7-5 (4-4 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: RB AJ Dillon. Dillon is a hefty back at 6-foot, 250 pounds and can bulldoze through defenders with the best of them. A step up in both his blocking and his pass catching would help his NFL case, but at this juncture, Dillon is probably squarely in the Day 2 mix.

 

The case for: It’s a lot to put on one individual player, but Boston College’s entire offense hinges on AJ Dillon. Not just the running game. Everything. Dillon’s mere presence opened up the play-action game for Anthony Brown. Per PFF, Brown last season had the highest adjusted completion percentage on deep passes among returning ACC quarterbacks. That’s AJ Dillon’s presence.

It’s not that Brown’s numbers on the whole were particularly exciting -- 55.4% completions, 7.4 YPA, 20/9 TD/INT ratio -- but Dillon’s gravity-shifting being is what makes this offense go. Perhaps the most exciting part of the fall campaign for Boston College is that we probably have not seen Dillon’s full upside on display yet. He broke out for 1,589 yards rushing (5.3 YPC) and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman, then struggled through ankle issues as a true sophomore. 

Everything should be coming together for the big back as he enters his first draft-eligible season. Assuming health. Everything assuming health. Without a healthy Dillon, this is an exceedingly mediocre offense. He gives it its cache.

 

The case against: We’ll hit back on our original point with Dillon -- everything hinges on him performing at full strength. And Boston College has been optimistic about his health entering the fall. The issue for HC Steve Adazzio is that for as much as Dillon carries this team, Dillon alone is probably not enough to lift them to eight or nine wins. 

He needs help elsewhere. He needs help from Brown and in a receiving corp which just lost TE Tommy Sweeney and WR Jeff Smith (deep threat Kobay White should be able to pop on those aforementioned play action shots), he needs help from a ravaged defense which is out ends Zach Allen and Wyatt Ray and LB Connor Strachan and is essentially break in a completely new secondary.

We just don’t think Dillon will actually get the support he needs to elevate Boston College to a new plane of existence in the ACC. And setting aside the obvious holes all over the place on this roster, the Eagles face a rough schedule which includes games against Clemson, Syracuse, Notre Dame, NC State and Virginia Tech. We love Dillon, but if he gets injured, this ship could sink, fast. Adazzio’s job will sink with it if that happens.

 

Vegas over/under win total: 6.5

Prediction: UNDER

Louisville Cardinals

2018 record: 2-10 (0-8 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: OL Mekhi Becton. Becton has a field-shifting gravity just in terms of his size at 6-foot-7, 355 pounds. That size immediately stands out for pro purposes, though with any player that big, you start to dip into questions about healthy playing weight. If he can trim a few pounds and test well, though, Becton's frame alone should get him attention.

 

The case for: Scott Satterfield, savior. After Bobby Petrino left the Cardinals a flaming wreck last season, Louisville shot its shot on Purdue’s Jeff Brohm. That shot missed, with Brohm opting to stick with the Boilermakers. Louisville then pounced on arguably the best coach in the Group of Five in Scott Satterfield.

Satterfield already has experience in guiding a transition crew, taking Appalachian State from the FCS to the FBS without missing a step. At App State, Satterfield compiled a 51-24 record, 38-10 within the Sun Belt. And theoretically, shepherding an FCS to FBS transition is more difficult than shepherding an ACC squad from disaster to respectability. Theoretically.

At Appalachian State, Satterfield buttered his bread with consistently sharp defensive outfits and it would be nice if he had some kind of base to build off there. Colgate LB transfer T.J. Holl (121 tackles, 17 TFL, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pick) has an opportunity to make a huge immediate impact, and the defensive front as a whole is not a complete shambles. But realistically, there's just not much to work with, here. A successful first year for Satterfield will not be record-dependent, rather it will truly be development dependent. He has a lot of clutter to clean up.  

 

The case against: Did you watch Louisville football last season? It offered embarrassing performance after embarrassing performance. Louisville was the most embarrassing team in the entire country, and that’s including a UConn program which surrendered an historic number of points. At least with the Huskies, you knew you were dealing with a train wreck. Louisville was coming off two years of Lamar Jackson and had a quarterback nicknamed Puma. 

Bobby Petrino rotted the team from the inside out. Satterfield is exactly the kind of coach this rudderless program needs. But it will take time for everything to click into place. He doesn't have exciting skill-position talent at his disposal, he doesn't have a proven winning quarterback. He just has a roster filled with players who have been emotionally traumatized by a bad coach.

A similar situation, if not an exact 1:1 correlation, Chad Morris taking over Arkansas a year back. Remember, the Razorbacks were actually good under Brett Bielema not too long ago. And then the floor out from under them. Even at Arkansas’ nadir, they never swirled in the same frothy backwash of ineptitude that Louisville did last fall, though.

 

Vegas over/under win total: 4

Prediction: UNDER

ACC Coastal

Miami Hurricanes

2018 record: 7-6 (4-4 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: DE Jonathan Garvin. Garvin performed sharply even while working in more of a rotational role last season, registering 60 tackles (17 TFL) and 5.5 sacks with five passes defensed. With Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson out the door, Garvin should have a chance for huge film this fall as he looks to take on his role as next-in-line for the Miami defensive draft machine.

 

The case for: Ooo, ooo, we’ve been waiting all summer to write this. We love Miami for a rebound off of last year’s bizarre season. Take a trip with us to July of 2018. The writers are going gaga for Miami as a potential Playoff team. The AP had them ranked 8th in the country. The questions were about whether Malik Rosier was OK enough to lead them to the Playoff. Not whether they would make a bowl. Everything was going great, right up until LSU whacked them with an uppercut in the opener. 

Miami never really covered from that blow, and by the end of the season things had imploded to the degree that Mark Richt would rather do nothing than couch the Hurricanes. Richt’s retirement had an odd ripple effect, though, with the opening luring Manny Diaz from Miami and Rod Carey (yay?) to Temple and Thomas Hammock to NIU, the latter after spending the last four years as the running backs coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Shrug emoji.

Diaz saved Miami in many ways, but it’s not like this team needed much. Just more than the Jello foundation set by Richt. His impact was felt almost immediately in the form of a rush of transfers, at every imaginable position. There was OSU QB Tate Martell, who talked a big social media game when it came to Justin Fields right up until Fields actually transferred to the Hurricanes. There was Buffalo WR K.J. Osborn, one of the best deep threats in the country. There were Virginia Tech DE Trevon Hill, the UCLA duo of T Chigoze Nnnorukaand and DE Jaelan Philips (out of medical retirement), and USC S Bubba Bolden 

No team took better advantage of the initial chaos of the transfer portal than Miami. If the Hurricanes can make a quarterback of Martell, N’Kosi Perry or Jarren Williams this is a team which can legitimately shake up the Playoff picture. 

 

The case against: It’s impossible to have full faith in Miami until we see who comes out of their quarterback snake pit. Martell made all the headlines, but in mid-April, Martell was still sputtering about at third-string. Perry should be considered the frontrunner, here. He started six games last season, to mixed-poor results, completing just half of his passes for 1,091 yards and a 13/6 TD/INT ratio all told.

Richt certainly did not help matters, yo-yoing Perry about, but if anything, that obscures the picture that much more. For the intrigue at wide receiver with Osborn and Jeff Thomas (who pulled an okie-doke on a would-be Illinois transfer), for the intrigue at running back with DeeJay Dallas and Lorenzo Lingard (coming back from a knee injury), Miami is not going to be able to immediately hit the ground running as a Playoff team without a dependable quarterback. 

The Hurricanes at least dodge Clemson during the regular season, but if they are to meet the Tigers at the summit, they will have to survive a schedule filled with early landmines. The biggest of those will come the first day of the CFB year, when Miami takes on Florida.

October will also see them take on Virginia Tech, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Pitt. Virginia is an obviously difficult contest -- Virginia might be better than Miami -- while Geoff Collins and Pat Narduzzi are both crafty coaches who know how to ruin a season. Get through that with one loss, you’ll play Clemson in the conference title game. Just beat them and you’re in the Playoff. Piece of cake, yeah?

 

Vegas over/under win total: 8.5

Prediction: OVER

Virginia Cavaliers

2018 record: 8-5 (4-4 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: CB Bryce Hall. Hall very well could have been a first- or second-round selection this past spring had he decided to declare. He possesses impressive movement skills and burst, with a out-of-the-way-this-one-is-mine mentality when the ball is thrown in his direction. One of the top draft prospects in the ACC.

 

The case for: We blush at just how enamored we are with Virginia. It’s HC Bronco Mendenhall, who has built this program for a run at the division -- their Oct. 11 matchup with Coastal foe Miami should be must-see TV -- it’s an experienced defense which returns eight starters led by star corner Bryce Hall. And it’s the other Bryce, QB Bryce Perkins. Oh it’s so much Bryce Perkins

There just aren’t many dual-threat quarterbacks out there like Bryce Perkins, who accounted for 34 touchdowns last season while throwing for 2,680 yards and rushing for 923 yards. Perkins isn’t just the straw that stirs the drink -- he is the drink itself when he wants to be. He did undergo finger surgery during the offseason, but assuming his digit does not give him issues, you can expect a dynamic season with a few heart-stoppingly-beautiful performances.

The former JUCO signal-caller leads all-comers in the ACC in terms of total returning offense. While UVA lost two of their lead skill-position talents from a year ago in WR Olamide Zaccheaus (SP?) and RB Jordan Ellis, they aren’t hopelessly deprived at either position. MORE ON RB/WR.

Heading into preseason camp, just about everything is set up for Virginia to make serious noise in the conference. Their schedule is all kinds of cake outside of that Miami matchup and a September showdown with Notre Dame. They will not be facing Clemson unless it’s in the ACC Championship Game. 

 

The case against: Can Mendenhall and Perkins get this crew to turn the corner? Can they not bungle contests late -- they dropped crucial games to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech last season (they are now on a 15-game skid against the Hokies). We aren't asking for much. UVA is not that far off. It's simply a matter of whether Mendenhall can guide them through potentially implosive spots.

If Virginia is unable to fulfill expectations, we suspect that it's going to come because of games like last year's Virginia Tech mess show. Every team in Virginia's tier -- the surprise looking for the next step up -- faces the question of establishment. It's not just a matter of putting together winning records, anymore. Now, it's a matter of establishing the program as a winning program, not just one that can throw together a one-off year.

For the record, Cavaliers faithful, we do see Virginia finally, finally snapping their losing streak against Virginia Tech. 

 

Vegas over/under win total: 6

Prediction: OVER

Virginia Tech Hokies

2018 record: 6-7 (4-4 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: S Reggie Floyd. Floyd has position versatility and could potentially find a fit in the NFL as either a dime linebacker or strong safety. He has posted five picks over the last two seasons. Virginia Tech lacks for draft talent on the whole, especially given their transfer losses (more on those below)

 

The case for: Everything looked so encouraging in Justin Fuente’s first year in the program, with Fuente leading the Hokies to the ACC title game back in 2016. That feels like a long, long ways off from where we are right now. Virginia Tech barely, barely made it to bowl eligibility last season, requiring a wild win against Virginia to trigger a makeup game for their infamous stormed out contest against East Carolina against Marshall, with Fuente’s crew pulling together to win that game.

It wasn’t a good year, make no mistake. We can’t help but feel at least a little encouraged by some of their down the stretch play, though. The team kept playing for Fuente, and things started to pop late with QB Ryan Willis. Willis posted multiple touchdown passes in eight games last season, with his most magisterial moment coming in a 312-yard, four touchdown performance in the aforementioned do-or-die game against Marshall. 

Willis is a big dude at 6-foot-4, 223 pounds, and he sometimes plays a bit like a cement bowling ball on a field of ice -- he can be reckless and wild -- but that’s exactly what makes the Kansas transfer so alluring.

The Hokies lost WR Eric Kumah to an Old Dominion transfer -- that’s not one you see every day -- but still have cereal in the position pantry. Damon Hazelton leads the way, while four-star frosh Jaden Payoute pairs track speed with a ready-to-go frame at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds. 247Sportss’ Brian Dohn refers to Payoute as a “[b]ig strong body who looks the part.” Even without Kumah, there’s talent, here, for Willis to work with.

There might even be a new kid on the block before the start of August camp. Former Clemson RB Tavien Feaster is reportedly down to Virginia Tech and South Carolina for an impending transfer. Feaster never found any sort of consistent groove with the talent-laden Tigers, but he would bring another big-play option in an offense that could come together very quickly if Willis can take a developmental step forward.

 

The case against: Strange as it may be with legend Bud Foster overseeing the unit, our biggest concern with the Hokies comes on the defensive side. The Hokies ranked 85th nationally in points per game allowed, one spot better than Texas Tech. Oy. And that was before the Hokies lost DE Trevon Hill, CB Bryce Watts and LB Aundrey Kearney to transfer.

Betting against Foster probably isn’t advisable, but there is no immediate fix for what the Hokies lacked on defense a year ago. Foster, Fuente and crew will be helped by a baby soft non-conference schedule -- Furman, Rhode Island and ODU, plus Notre Dame -- and that alone should allow this thing to stay on track. We’ll be interested to see if the defense takes another step back.

If Virginia Tech struggles like it did last season, Fuente’s seat is going to start to slowly heat up, though. The offense appeals to us. It should show well. If it doesn’t, we’re going to start to feel nervous for his job security.

 

Vegas over/under win total: 8.5

Prediction: OVER

Pittsburgh Panthers

2018 record: 7-7 (6-2 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: CB Dane Jackson. Jackson might need to a little on top of his 190 pounds, but he already comes with fine height at 6-foot-0 even. He posted 14 pass breakups along with four forced fumbles last season. His aggressiveness might scare some teams off -- he is a rambler, a gambler -- but a pro squad looking for an in-your-face cornerback late in the draft or off the UDFA free agent pile might see some intrigue, here.

 

The case for: The Panthers truly had themselves a charmed 2018 season, right up until Clemson started wagging its finger and shutting Pitt down. Their best case scenario, now, is less another run to the conference game and more simply making it into the bowl party without issue. Yes, sights needs to be lowered with this outfit.

We aren't putting much faith in the offense to carry the load -- we weren't even doing that last year, when they actually had running backs and an offensive line -- and we aren't expecting major strides from QB Kenny Pickett, but defensively, at least, the Panthers should be respectable.

That starts with DE Rashad Weaver (47 tackles, 14 TFL last season) and carries all the way back into the secondary with feisty go-for-broke corner Dane Jackson. Make no mistake, this is not a perfect defense, posting the 75th-worst mark on a per-game scoring average while landing 53rd on S&P+. Not perfect, but it's going to need to drag this offense across the finish line. Because the offense might be horrible.

 

The case against: We don’t want to be mean. We are positive people. We don’t even want to be mean in a season preview. That said, Pitt’s magic carpet ride last fall could very well turn into a normal carpet freefall this coming season. They found their way to the conference title game on the backs of backs Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison, both of whom are no longer on roster, with that pair blocked for by a line that largely no longer exists (four of five starters, gone).

That will leave it to Kenny Pickett to take a step forward as a passer to lead this offense. Pickett has come across as a confident cat this offseason -- at least in terms of words -- and maybe he really is ready to offer something (anything) upcoming, but that’s not something which the Panthers can depend on realistically. 

Pickett threw for just 1,969 yards (6.4 YPA, 58.1% completions) with a 12/6 TD/INT ratio in “helping” Pitt reach their surprise showing against Clemson. In that ACC Championship Game, Pickett completed 4-of-16 passes for eight yards and an interception. *scared emoji* And that was with Ollison and Hall working to offer him a little relief. 

We don’t want to be mean, but a step out of bowl contention could very easily be in play upcoming. That’s how little faith we have in Pickett to level it up this year. We don’t want to be mean, we swear!

 

Vegas over/under win total: 6

Prediction: PUSH

Duke Blue Devils

2018 record: 8-5 (3-5 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: CB Mark Gilbert. Welcome back, buddy. We missed Gilbert this past season with the cornerback sitting out due to a hip injury, but assuming that injury did not sap any of his athletic activeness, Gilbert should have a legitimate chance for Day 2 next spring. He has posted six picks and 17 pass breakups in just 27 games played.

 

The case for: Without Daniel Jones at quarterback, the best way for Duke to attack and conquer will be to lean hard hard hard on their running game. Because the rushing unit is essentially still intact -- and perhaps ready to improve -- over last season. 

That includes an uber-experienced offensive line that boasts 60 starts among six lineman and a trio of productive backs, led by Deon Jackson, who totaled 1,100 yards from scrimmage last year. Brittain Brown -- over 700 yards rushing in 2017 -- will serve as a complement to Jackson. And you know what, we’ll throw a vote of confidence on QB Quentin Harris, who has shown flashes of respectability when given opportunities over the past three seasons. He owns a career 8/1 TD/INT ratio and performed admirably while Jones was out with a collarbone injury last season, throwing for 376  yards and a 6/0 TD/INT ratio while chipping in with 146 rushing yards. 

It would be nice if Harris actually had somebody to throw to (more on that below) and the passing game does figure to take a dip with Jones out the door, but so long as it doesn’t dip too far, this remains a well-coached team with an experienced defense, an experienced line and an experienced running back corp. If they drop off from last year’s eight total wins, it might not be by much. 

 

The case against: Say what you want about the Giants drafting Daniel Jones with the sixth pick, but Jones was an NFL-ready quarterback who brought a level of stability to the Blue Devils. They lose that steady hand, now, at the most important position on the field. It’s not just the loss of Jones, though. Duke is also now painfully, painfully thin at receiver, with all four of the team’s leaders from a year ago -- T.J. Rahming the most notable among them -- no longer on roster.

The Blue Devils might not have had the sickest receiving corp in the land by any stretch (in fact, Jones was hamstrung by it when being evaluated in this author’s opinion), but even so, those aforementioned top four wideouts accounted for a total receiving line of 183-2105-18 in 2018. No shade on the Aaron Youngs and Jake Bobos who will now be asked to step up, but there’s just not much to work with, here. 

The team is also facing major losses in the linebacking corps with the exits of Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys. They’ll be getting back CB Mark Gilbert from injury, which should  be a huge help, and the defense doesn’t face major attrition elsewhere, but there are enough pieces missing from this squad on the whole whom Cutcliffe needs to cover for that this should realistically be viewed as something of a rebuilding year.

 

Vegas over/under win total: 6.5

Prediction: UNDER

North Carolina Tar Heels

2018 record: 2-9 (1-7 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: T Charlie Heck. Heck is a three-year starter on the line and comes equipped with a pro-ready body at 6-foot-8, 310 pounds (call him Slenderman with a few Big Macs under the belt). Athleticism and technique questions must be answered over the coming months if Heck is to make his way into the draft.

 

The case for: Return of the Mack! Dipping into the deep football past is not necessarily a winning strategy, but we saw one former ESPN talking head/former head coach pull of the CFB CEO + head coach routine successfully last season in ASU’s Herm Edwards, who fielded one of the most consistently competitive non-top-25 outfits in the country last season. 

We are tentatively encouraged by the early returns on Mack’s hiring. His hiring of Ole Miss OC Phil Longo was an inspiring one -- Longo’s Rebs Air Raid put up points galore -- and Brown came through with the biggest flip of the early signing period on top of that, swaying four-star QB Sam Howell off of Florida State. 

Howell is by no means guaranteed to win the starting job -- he is competing with Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder -- but while he might be a true freshman, it’s not like either Fortin or Ruder have a huge experience edge on the youngster. Fortin started two games last season while appearing in four, throwing for 388 yards while completing under 50% of his passes at 6.0 YPA in that space. Yech. And Ruder attempted all of five passes last season.

They’re all young, they’re all relatively green. Good thing Howell/Fortin/Rudin will have some support out of the backfield in the duo of Michael Carter and Antonio Williams, who combined for 1,100 rushing yards last season. Both runners came through with a YPC clip of over 5.0, with Carter exceling to the tune of 7.1 YPC. 

They’ll be running behind a relatively solid -- if unspectacular -- offensive line. Another avenue where Longo could help simply because the offense will be operating at speed, in theory taking some of the pressure off.

 

The case against: For all the intrigue surrounding Brown, Longo, Howell, Carter et al. this remains a true rebuilding project. While dreaming on a young quarterback like Howell is a fun prospect, realistically, there are going to be growing pains. Most true freshmen are not Trevor Lawrence or Johnny Manziell (deep analysis, we know). 

And while UNC has productive bodies at running back, less so at wide receiver -- Dazz Newsome is the lone receiver returning with more than 20 catches now that Anthony Ratliff-Willliams has scooted onward to the NFL. Then there’s the defense, that’s where matters get particularly thorny for Coach Brown. 

In particular, their defensive line is basically have to start over. Malik Carney was the big loss on the front, but Carney was not the only defection off last year’s line. Joining Carney in the ranks of the no-longer, DT Jeremiah Clarke and LB Cole Holcomb

UNC is in a better place with their secondary, but it might not matter. The opposition ran at will last season -- North Carolina surrendered just over 218 yards on the ground on average in 2018, the 111th-worst team in the country -- and that was with standouts like Carney, Clarke and Holcomb around to try their best to contain matters. Dark clouds on the horizon. Dark clouds in the form of Travis Etienne running wild.

Compounding all this, the Tar Heels have a wicked first-half schedule. They open against South Carolina, follow the Gamecocks up with a Miami team which we see as a potential top-10 outfit, and finish out the month of September facing Group of Five upset experts Appalachian State and defending champs Clemson. 

There’s reason for long-term optimism with the Tar Heels, and we should see a fun experiment on offense even if it takes time, but UNC probably isn’t ready for bowl action just quite yet. 

 

Vegas over/under win total: 4.5

Prediction: UNDER

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2018 record: 7-6 (5-3 in conference)

Best NFL Draft prospect: N/A -- Sorry Coach Collins.

 

The case for: Geoff Collins sure does like a challenge, it would appear. Collins stepped away from a frisky Temple team to take over for the retiring Paul Johnson. But really what he’s taking over is an offense which must be rebuilt on the fly.

Collins has said upfront that he does not plan on immediately breaking the Yellow Jackets in with the same offense he ran at Temple. He has pointed to some roster deficiencies which will change his own tactics -- for one thing, we won’t be seeing much 12 personnel, simply because Georgia Tech has a mere two tight ends on roster. 

Collins views his situation exactly like any good coach does, in that you fit your scheme to the players, not the other way around. Johnson recruiters players for a triple-option. Collins will just have to deal with that. Option concepts never go out of style and we could end up seeing some cool things in terms of pitches out of the shotgun, plays which will be within the passing ability of Lucas Johnson -- our bet to win the starting job. Johnson (who missed the whole of 2018 with a foot injury) was remarkably competent in the team’s spring game, connecting on 12-of-16 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. 

That’s a whole lot of dink/dunk, but it’s encouraging regardless. These little encouragements are best-case scenario in Year 1 for Collins.

 

The case against: The reasons Georgia Tech could be a shambling outfit are the exact ones you would think. This is going to be an offense stuck between schemes, because as much as Collins wants to mold his offense to his players, the fit was never going to be clean. You can reasonably expect an unevenness -- at best -- on offense.

And on defense, well, there’s kind of nothing. Not much that is proven at least. As if this adventure into the era of the forward pass wasn’t difficult enough, Georgia Tech might have the most difficult schedule in the entire ACC. They open against Clemson, face all three of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Miami and close against Georgia.

Even if Collins had everything locked into place the schedule would be difficult. As is, we might see a few games where the Yellow Jackets are clinging to a flagpole in the middle of a hurricane.

 

Vegas over/under win total:

Prediction: UNDER

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