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Team Previews

ACC Preview

by Christopher Crawford
Updated On: September 9, 2020, 1:52 pm ET

Welcome to Rotoworld's annual conference-by-conference preview of the upcoming college football season. We've never quite had an offseason like this one, as the coronavirus has not only prevented teams from going through normal spring practices and the like, it could well end up wreaking havoc on the season itself. But that remains to be seen.

In these team previews, we'll touch on the ramifications of the pandemic (relating specifically to depth charts) when needed, but by-and-large, we'll be approaching these capsules as though (fingers crossed) there will actually be a season in the fall. If there are any crucial COVID-19 updates pertaining to individual teams or conferences, we'll be sure to keep you in the loop as we go. 

Note: The projected win-loss records reflect the new schedules put in place, and that Notre Dame will be a conference member for this 2020 season. 


Projected ACC Standings

Team

Record

Clemson

11-0 (10-0 in conference)

Notre Dame

9-2 (8-2 in conference)

Virginia Tech

8-3 (7-3 in conference)

North Carolina

8-3 (7-3 in conference)

Louisville

8-3 (7-3 in conference)

Florida State

7-4 (6-4 in conference)

Miami

6-5 (5-5 in conference)

Virginia

5-5 (5-5 in conference)

Boston College

5-6 (4-6 in conference)

Pittsburgh

4-7 (3-7 in conference)

Syracuse

4-7 (3-7 in conference)

Duke

4-7 (3-7 in conference)

NC State

3-8 (2-8 in conference)

Wake Forest

3-8 (2-8 in conference)

Georgia Tech

2-9 (2-8 in conference)


Clemson Tigers

2019 record: 14-1

NFL Draft prospect to watch: QB Trevor Lawrence 

The case for: I mean, this is pretty easy.

It of course starts with Trevor Lawrence, a prohibitive -- not a lock, but prohibitive -- favorite to be the first-overall pick in the draft. He’s basically Joe Burrow away from winning two titles in his two years as a starting quarterback, and he can make every throw while also making plays with his legs. As long as he’s healthy, he’s going to make Clemson a title contender. 

It also helps that he gets to hand the ball off to one of the real surprise returners in college football. Travis Etienne spurned the NFL for a chance at another title -- and a chance to improve his draft stock in turn -- and after rushing for over 1,600 yards in each of the last two seasons while scoring a whopping 51 touchdowns on the ground, he gives Clemson two legitimate Heisman contenders. There’s some depth behind Etienne as well, as Lyn-J Dixon would start for most teams, and there’s a five-star freshman (note: Clemson has a lot of five-star players waiting in the wings) in DeMarcus Bowman as well. 

The Tigers lost two playmakers at the wideout positions that would have most teams panicking in Tee Higgins (NFL) and Justyn Ross (neck injury), but Clemson should be just fine in that regard this year. Amari Rodgers is back after tearing his ACL, and he should be one of Lawrence’s top targets. Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata are supremely talented underclassmen who should get more targets now, and the Tigers will also get Braden Galloway back from suspension; giving them a safety target over the middle. 

Clemson is always loaded in the front seven, and even with Xavier Thomas likely redshirting in 2020 after battling COVID-19, it should be a strength again. James Skalski might be the best linebacker in the conference -- and one of the tops in the country -- and can make plays all over the field. Mike Jones Jr. has an unenviable task of replacing Isaiah Simmons, but he’s flashed brilliance and impressed in the limited offseason. On the defensive line, Tyler Davis was one of the top freshmen in the country, and he’ll be joined by Bryan Bresee; arguably the top recruit in the country. Add in Nyles Pinckney and a host of four-to-five star recruits, and Clemson should be able to get to the quarterback and stop the run -- again -- in 2020.

The case against: The Vegas over/under for Clemson is 10.5. That means you’re basically betting on Clemson to win every game in 2020. While it’s very likely they will because of the lack of quality in the conference, it’s hard to be perfect. Just something to keep in mind.

One of the few true question marks for the Tigers is on the offensive line. It’s not at left tackle as Jackson Carman could be an All-American, but Clemson will be replacing four of its five starters at offensive line. Of course, they’ll be replacing those players with highly-recruited players because it’s Clemson, but there’s not much experience either as starters or in their potential backups. 

The only other potential issue here is the secondary, but again, it’s nitpicky. A.J. Terrell left for the NFL as a first-round pick, and Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace also used up their eligibility. Derion Kendrick -- who also battled injuries this spring -- should be a fine top corner and again, there are a boatload of talented options. We just have to list as a question mark because we haven’t seen it in games.

Vegas over/under win total: 10.5

Prediction: OVER


Notre Dame Fighting Irish 

2019 record: 11-2 

NFL Draft prospect to watch: OT Liam Eichenberg

The case for: Notre Dame will be a conference member of the ACC in 2020, and if not for Clemson, they’d be the favorites to win their first -- and maybe only -- conference title. Even with the Tigers, they’ve got a shot. A slim one, but a shot. 

It wasn’t a huge surprise that Ian Book decided to return for school, but his decision to forego the NFL for one more year confirmed that Notre Dame would be a candidate to win double-digit games in 2020. After dealing with some struggles early in the year, the quarterback threw for 34 touchdowns, and also ran for 549 yards with four rushing scores. Book isn’t a superstar, but saying he’s solid is an understatement.

And Book should have no problem being kept upright in 2020. While Clemson’s offensive line may be its one true “weakness,” there is no doubt that Notre Dame’s group is its strength. It just might be the best unit in the country. All five starters return, and Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey are two of the best bookends in college football. The interior isn’t quite as dominant, but Tommy Kraemer and Aaron Banks at guard with Jarrett Patterson at center all have NFL potential.

Notre Dame has questions at the back of their defense -- more on that later -- but the front seven should be just fine. Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji are strong options at the end, with Myron Tagovailoa-Amose and Kurt Hinish likely plugging up the middle. Solid options, but the linebackers are the strength. Drew White can get lost at times, but he has a knack for making plays and is the leading tackler among returners, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah might be the most talented player on the defense. 

The case against:  Book is a solid option at quarterback. His weapons? Well, that remains to be determined. Chase Claypool was the top option for the signal-caller, and he’s now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chris Finke is also gone, as is Cole Kmet; one of the top tight ends in the country. Kevin Austin is also going to miss the majority of the season after undergoing surgery on his foot. The Fighting Irish did get Bennett Skowronek as a transfer from Northwestern and have speedy options like Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys  but there are much more questions than answers here.

And the same can be said at the tailback position. Book is the leading returning rusher for Notre Dame, which with all due respect to the signal-caller, isn’t ideal. Jafar Armstrong has flashed in his time with the Fighting Irish and there’s a five-star commit in Chris Tyree, but again, more questions than answers.

And there are way more questions than answers in the secondary. The exception here is safety Kyle Hamilton, who may be a star after picking off four passes in his freshman season. The other three starters are gone, however, and while Shaun Crawford and TaRiq Bracey have game experience, they’ve mostly struggled when asked to step into the limelight. Nick McCloud was a solid addition from NC State as a graduate, but if they’re going to compete with Clemson and UNCs talented wideouts, things have to get better quickly. 

Vegas over/under win total: 8.5

Prediction: UNDER


Virginia Tech Hokies

2019 record: 8-5

NFL Draft prospect to watch: CB Chamarri Conner

The case for: We won’t lie, the schedule helps here. A lot. Yes they have to play two ranked teams in UNC and Clemson, and also have to travel to Louisville. The Hokies will likely be favored in every other game, so if they can split the games against the Tar Heels and Cardinals, Virginia Tech has a chance to play for a conference title. 

Very quietly, Hendon Hooker was one of the better quarterbacks in the conference when under center, and he should be even better in a full year of being a starter. That is, assuming he wins the job anyway; Braxton Burmeister and Quincy Patterson are also competing for the gig. Still, Hooker should be under center for the opener (!) against Virginia, and his dual-threat ability makes the Virginia Tech offense much more formidable. 

Be it Hooker, Bermeister or Patterson under center; the Hokies have options at wideout to get the ball to, even after Damon Hazelton transferred to Missouri. Tre Turner could be in for a breakout season after picking up 500 yards in his first two seasons, and he added 231 yards on the ground for good measure. Tayvion Robinson should be a solid second option, and even with Dalton Keene now in the NFL, the Hokies have a potential star at the position in James Mitchell. Mitchell caught 21 passes for 361 yards and a couple of scores, and should be even better this year.

Virginia Tech’s defense last year was not very Virginia Tech-esque, and while it won’t be an elite unit, it should be better in 2020. Justus Reed was a big pickup as a graduate transfer who posted 12.5 sacks last year for Youngstown State, and DaShawn Cawford along with Jarrod Hewitt give the Hokies two of the better interior options. Rayshard Ashby was as good at middle linebacker as anyone last year with 17 tackles for loss, and Dax Hollifield is another strong option in the middle; although he’ll be asked to play more on the outside because of Ashby.

The case against: While the secondary still should be ok because of Jermaine Waller and Chamarri Conner, they do lose Caleb Farley; who was one of the first players to opt out of the season. Farley is a potential first-round pick, and anytime you lose a corner of that talent, it’s not a good thing. 

And while Virginia Tech brings back most of their offensive line, it’s worth pointing out that this wasn’t a very good unit last year, so that experience is a bit overstated. Christian Darrisaw is solid at left tackle, but the rest of the line is still a bit of a mess, and the fact that the Hokies weren’t able to get a real camp in to settle the other positions is another factor. There are some solid options to run the football here with Raheem Blackshear gaining eligibility after transferring from Rutgers and fellow transfer Khalil Herbert from Kansas. Will they get enough room to run?

And although Hooker showed some serious flashes last year, the fact he isn’t named the starter right now is pretty concerning. Burmeister was a four-star recruit and Patterson got to play last season, but if they’re going to compete for an ACC title appearance, they’re going to need stability under center. It appears that isn’t quite the case, as of yet.

Vegas over/under win total: 7.5

Prediction: OVER


North Carolina Tar Heels

2019 record: 7-6

NFL Draft prospect to watch: LB Chazz Surratt 

The case for: While the Tar Heels lost six games last year, it’s worth pointing out that UNC’s losses last year were by: 6, 3, 1 (to Clemson), 2 (in six overtimes), 7, and 7 (in overtime). Now, they also won three one-score games, but it’s fair to say that North Carolina was better than that record, and they have a chance to make some noise in the ACC. 

Trevor Lawrence is the favorite to be the first pick in 2021. It’s certainly possible that Sam Howell is that guy in 2022. The freshman threw for 3,641 yards and 38/7 TD/INT ratio while completing 61.4 percent of his passes in his freshman campaign, and really impressed as the season went on. Does Howell have some work to do? Of course he does, all sophomore quarterbacks do, but he’s as talented as any signal-caller in the country. 

Howell certainly isn’t lacking in weapons, either. Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown are the best 1-2 combo at wideout in the conference -- and could be the best regardless of location -- and both wideouts went over the thousand-yard mark and caught double-digit touchdowns. Oh, and Beau Corrales was able to put up 40 catches for 575 yards and six scores as well in this dynamic offense. 

And as if that wasn’t enough? UNC returns a dynamic combo at tailback, for good measure. Javonte Williams ran for 933 yards and five scores, and finished second on the team in rushing yards. Michael Carter went over the thousand-yard barrier, and both have a chance to do so again in 2020. They also are capable of catching the football with 38 catches between the two, so yeah, North Carolina would be a fun team to play with if NCAA Football 2021 was a thing. 

The case against: The offensive weapons are electric. The offensive line is a problem. UNC was 113th in allowing sacks last year, and they lost their best offensive lineman in Andy Heck. If they are not able to keep Howell upright and don’t do a better job of keeping UNC from second/third and long, it’s going to be tough for them to live up to their lofty expectations.

And there are some defensive question marks here, as well. Both of the starting defensive tackles are gone in Jason Strowbidge and Aaron Crawford, and the secondary -- while talented, especially with the addition of Tony Grimes after he reclassified from 2021 -- is still young. Chazz Surratt has a chance to be a mid-round pick, but this is more of a solid than a spectacular unit overall.

Really, the case against UNC right now is that this team feels like it’s one year away. It’s certainly possible that these guys all breakout -- particularly if the offensive line makes drastic improvement -- and this is an ACC contender, but because of the youth, it seems more likely to happen in 2021. Goodness gracious could they be good that next year, however. 

Vegas win total over/under: 7

Prediction: Over


Louisville Cardinals

2019 record: 8-5

NFL Draft prospect to watch: WR Tutu Atwell

The case for: There weren’t many teams that looked more improved than Louisville did in 2019, and at least a portion of that credit belongs to Scott Satterfield and his staff. A large portion, really, and Satterfield and company bring back an even more talented team -- on paper, anyway -- in 2020.

We’ve started with quarterbacks in the case for so far, but Javian Hawkins is the headliner in the Louisville offense, and for good reason. The redshirt sophomore was able to run for 1,525 yards and nine touchdowns in his first year as a starter, and if Etienne would have left for the NFL, he would have been the top tailback in the conference. Louisville does lose star tackle Mekhi Becton as well as Tyler Haycraft, but the rest of the offensive line is back, and should open plenty of holes for Hawkins. Not that he needs much room. 

Louisville is going to be able to run the ball, and the passing game should be a strength as well. Once Micale Cunningham took over as the starting quarterback, the offense really clicked; he led the nation in pass plays of 70-yards or more. He’s also a dual-threat who scored six rushing touchdowns while picking up 487 yards as a rusher, and he has two dynamic receivers to throw the football to in Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick

The case against: Louisville’s going to be able to score points. The question is if they can stop anyone. They allowed 33.4 points per game last year, which was 109th out of 130 teams last season. 

The biggest issue was stopping the run, and after giving up 6.33 yards per carry, and while there’s some young talent on the defensive line and senior Jared Goldwire has a chance to be an NFL player, it’s likely going to be a problem again for the Cardinals. The secondary should be serviceable and got a big boost when Kei’Trel Clark -- a transfer from Liberty -- was given eligibility, but teams might not need to throw the football to beat the Cards’ defense this fall.

Louisville will be a tough beat for everyone in the ACC, but like UNC, they may be a year away from being true contenders for the conference.

Vegas over/under win total: 7

Prediction: OVER

 

Christopher Crawford

Christopher Crawford is a baseball and college football writer for NBC Sports Edge. Follow him on Twitter @Crawford_MILB.