This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).
This is the fourth edition and we will continue predicting the Power 5 Conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.
10. (Pac-12) Washington will win the Pac-12 – Last year we said Washington would not win the Pac-12. Well, we were way wrong and felt like the 2017 would be the breakout season for Washington. The Huskies arrived a year earlier than we expected, but we still like them in 2017.
The offense has seven starters back led by Jake Browning (43 touchdowns against 9 interceptions) and running backs Myles Gaskin (1,371 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Lavon Coleman (852 yards and 7 TDs). The offense loses John Ross (leading receiver with 1,150 yards and 17 TDs), but there are a ton of weapons on offense to ease the burden. After putting up 41.8 points and 457 yards per game in 2016, the offense should be just as powerful.
The defense has done very well the past two seasons. 2015 saw the unit allow 18.8 points and 352 yards per game with four starters back. In 2016, the defense did even better allowing 17.7 points and 317 yards per game. Six starters are back including four in the front six and four of the top five tacklers. They may not match last season’s numbers, but they will still be one of best in the Pac-12.
The Huskies have a very favorable schedule to make a second straight Pac-12 Championship game. They have road games at Colorado, Oregon State, and Arizona State in the front half of their conference schedule. Their final five games include four at home with their one road game at Stanford. They also avoid USC out of the South, a team they could easily face for the Pac-12 title. The Huskies are primed for another big season.
9. (ACC) Lamar Jackson will not win the Heisman – Let’s start by saying this: Lamar Jackson is more than capable of winning a second straight Heisman. He is an electrifying athlete, but he lost a lot of pieces around him and the expectations are sky high.
Louisville’s offense averaged 42.5 points and 533 yards per game in 2016, but loses its top three receivers and top running back. Jackson was easily the top rusher with 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns. The loses along the offensive line (three starters) will hurt as well. Overall, the offense will be potent, but will be hard-pressed to equal their output in 2017.
The other part of the equation is expectations. Archie Griffin is the only two time winner of the Heisman (1974-75) and the 9 returning Heisman winners since have largely seen a drop off in stats. The link here shows the stats for each returning Heisman winner going back to 1945. That is probably the biggest hurdle to winning a second straight Heisman and the supporting cast does not look as strong this year (though still very good).
8. (ACC) North Carolina State will win at least 10 games – 2017 is the best season to date for Dave Doeren to breakthrough with North Carolina State. The Wolfpack have 17 starters back and their opponents have some serious concerns.
On offense, the Wolfpack return nine starters led by Ryan Finley at quarterback (3,059 yards with 18 TDs and 8 interceptions). The biggest question is at running back after the loss of Matthew Dayes (1,155 yards and 10 TDs). The offensive line returns four starters, which should help cushion the loss of Dayes. The top four receivers return and this unit should eclipse the 2016 numbers of 27 points and 417 yards per game.
The defense returns 8 starters from a group that allowed 22.8 points and 353 yards per game. Three of the top five and six of the top eight tacklers are back including the front six that allowed just 109 rushing yards per game. That group will need to be just as good and the defense overall should put up similar numbers to 2016.
The schedule starts with South Carolina in Charlotte followed by back-to-back home games against Marshall and Furman. The next four games are all against ACC foes: Florida State (away), Syracuse (home), Louisville (home), and Pittsburgh (away).
The season closes out against Notre Dame (away), Clemson (home), Boston College (away), Wake Forest (away), and North Carolina (home). It will not be easy to reach 10 wins, but with both Louisville and Clemson at home, they might sneak in an upset to give them confidence and put 10 wins in reach.
7. (ACC) Florida State will win the ACC – The Seminoles look like the standout team in 2017. The offense has six starters back from a unit that put up 35.1 points and 466 yards per game. They lost Dalvin Cook (1,765 yard and 19 TDs) as well as the top two receivers. However, they return quarterback Deondre Francois and three starters on the line. The running back spot will be key to develop, but the talent is immense on depth chart for that position.
The defense took a step back in 2016 giving up 25 points and 349 yards per game. Compare that to 2015 when they allowed 17.5 points and 337 yards per game. Nine starters are back including eight of the top nine tacklers. This group should get closer to 2015 numbers and will be the key to how far the Seminoles go.
Florida State opens with the massive game against Alabama in Atlanta. Their ACC schedule is very kind as they face Miami, NC State, and Louisville at home. They face Clemson away in their last conference game of the season. Florida State looks set for another big season, which we think will culminate in an ACC Championship at the very least.
6. (SEC) Missouri will have the SEC’s highest scoring offense – This prediction will be based on the points per game over the entire season. Missouri made a gigantic improvement from 2015 to 2016 on offense. The Tigers put up a horrid 13.6 points and 281 yards per game in 2015, which ended up being Gary Pinkel’s final season in Columbia. 2016 saw them go up to 31.4 points and 501 yards per game and that happened with a new head coach (Barry Odom) and only three returning starters.
2017 will see 10 starters return on offense and their lone loss was at tight end. Drew Lock is back to lead the offense after throwing for 3,399 yards with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Damarea Crockett (1,062 yards and 10 TDs) and Ish Witter (750 yards and 6 TDs) are also returning in the backfield with Lock. The top four receivers also return: J’Mon Moore (1,012 yards and 8 TDs), Dimetrios Mason (587 and 3 TDs), Johnathon Johnson (435 and 2 TDs), and Emanuel Hall (307 and 2 TDs).
The offense looks wonderful on paper and they open with four straight home games versus Missouri State, South Carolina, Purdue, and Auburn. The offense may need to be even better because the defense was very porous last year (31.5 points and 480 yards per game). In addition, the Tigers averaged only 22.6 points per game in SEC play, a mark that will need to go up if the Tigers want to contend for a bowl game.
Teams like Alabama (38.8 PPG in 2016), Texas A&M (34.8), Auburn (31.2), Arkansas (30.3), and even Kentucky (30) pose a threat to score more (especially the Tide with their main pieces returning). However, Missouri’s offense returns nearly intact and should fare even better in the second year under Odom.
That concludes the fourth set of five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for the final five predictions, which will include two predictions for the SEC and three for the Big 10.
Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 11
We are closing in on the end of the season with about a month until we find out the four teams that will comprise the College Football Playoff. Week 11 is not the best week for games with the best ones being #25 Baylor at #9 Oklahoma, #11 West Virginia at Texas, Pittsburgh at #3 Clemson, #19 LSU at Arkansas, Minnesota at #21 Nebraska, and USC at #4 Washington.
We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.
1. Eastern Michigan at Ball State (11/8 at 7 PM) – Some Tuesday MACtion kicks off the week and this column. This game is all about bowl implications with both teams still looking for 6 wins.
Eastern Michigan is sitting at 5-4 and have lost 3 of their last 4 games after starting a strong 4-1. The Eagles will want to win this game because their next two are against the suddenly hot Northern Illinois Huskies and Central Michigan. Both of those games are at home, but the pressure will build the longer the season goes. In addition, both of those teams are still alive for a bowl berth.
Ball State is currently 4-5 and their road (literally) is just as tough. After this game they face both Toledo and Miami (OH) on the road. Miami (OH) is still alive for a bowl berth at 4-6 while Toledo has a chance at winning the MAC West. This game is big for both schools in terms of a bowl bid.
2. Kentucky at Tennessee (11/12 at 12 PM) – The SEC East is still wide open, which is why this game is crucial. Kentucky still has a glimmer of hope, but needs a lot to go their way to win this division. They own losses to Florida and Georgia, but a win here would put them at 5-3 in conference, in a bowl game, and two Florida SEC losses from a conference title game. Imagine that.
Tennessee’s path is clearer and they just need Florida to lose once in SEC play while the Vols need to win out. The Vols end the season with Missouri (home) and Vanderbilt (away) with the latter being the tougher of the two.
For as crazy as the SEC East has been this year, are there still a few twists left in the plot?
3. Cincinnati at Central Florida (11/12 at 12 PM) – Bowl hopes are on the line here and both teams are facing a must win. Cincinnati is 4-5 with losses in 4 of their last 5 games while their final two games are against good AAC West foes in Memphis (home) and Tulsa (away).
Central Florida, against the backdrop of a horrendous 0-12 season in 2015, sit just one win away from a bowl. They are 5-4, but their final two games are just as difficult as Cincinnati’s. They face Tulsa (home) and AAC East contender South Florida (away).
This game is big, but there is the possibility Cincinnati wins this game and both teams lose their final 2 games to finish 5-7. That would be a disaster for the American Athletic Conference.
4. Tulsa at Navy (11/12 at 12 PM) – There is not much on the line here except the outright lead in the AAC West. Both teams have already hit the six win mark with Tulsa at 7-2 and Navy at 6-2. Both teams control their destiny in this division with identical records of 4-1 and Navy could hold a commanding lead with a win over Tulsa.
Outside of getting blasted by Ohio State, Tulsa has played well in every game. They lost by a touchdown to Houston, but also went to overtime against Fresno State and SMU. Since that 38-31 loss at Houston, Tulsa has won their last three games by an average of 24.3 points per game. That loss to Houston also means they need to win out against Central Florida and Cincinnati or get another loss from Houston in addition to two more losses by Navy.
Navy is coming off their 28-27 win against Notre Dame and they have already beaten Houston this year. Navy needs a win this week and one win in their final two AAC games against East Carolina and SMU to clinch the AAC West Division. Both of those games will be on the road, which may be a little cause for concern because that is where they had their two losses this season (at Air Force and at South Florida).
This could be a high scoring affair as both teams have been putting up points. Then again, Navy could just do what they did against Notre Dame and allow only 2 possessions for Tulsa in the final 30 minutes. This should be a good game.
5. North Carolina State at Syracuse (11/12 at 12:30 PM) – Here are two 4-5 teams that will still need quite a lot to go their way if they win. A win will push one team to 5-5 and the other 4-6, but both teams’ final two games will be hard to win.
NC State started 4-1 this year, but have lost four in a row including three games by a touchdown or less (Clemson, Boston College, and Florida State). They end with Miami (FL) at home and North Carolina away. If they can get enough offense, they may be able to sneak into an upset, but they must beat Syracuse first.
For Syracuse, they have had an up and down season. The offense has looked good at times, though last week against Clemson was terrible. The defense has not been great, but has shown some improvement at times. Both sides will need to be in sync with games against Florida State (home) and Pittsburgh (away) to end the season.
6. UT-San Antonio at Louisiana Tech (11/12 at 3:30 PM) – The C-USA West Division will be on the line here. UTSA is 5-4 overall and 4-2 in C-USA while Louisiana Tech is 7-3 overall and 5-1 in C-USA.
UTSA is playing really well the last five games with a 4-1 record and their lone loss was a 52-49 to UTEP that went to five overtimes. Their win against Middle Tennessee last week was impressive as they won by 20 points on the road and considering UTSA has struggled away from home this year. A win here puts them in their first bowl game in their short history and in first place of the C-USA West.
Louisiana Tech has been on fire the last six weeks, which have all been wins. Five of those games have been blowouts and the close game of those was a 55-52 win over Western Kentucky. Even their 1-3 start is deceiving because they lost 21-20 at Arkansas, demolished FCS South Carolina State, lost 59-45 at Texas Tech, and lost 38-34 at Middle Tennessee. A win here does not completely clinch the C-USA West because Southern Miss has only 2 losses in conference play.
7. Appalachian State at Troy (11/12 at 3:30 PM) – What a game we have here in the Fun Belt. 7-2 Appalachian State (5-0 in SBC) and 7-1 Troy (4-0 in SBC) meet in one of the biggest conference games of the year.
Appalachian State has a strong defense and they will be put to the test against Troy’s offense that averages 39.4 points per game and have scored at least 31 points in six of their eight games (6-0 in those games). Appalachian State’s defense has given up 19.6 points per game and just 8.4 points per game in Sun Belt games.
A win for Appalachian State would pretty much put them in position to win the Sun Belt or at worst tie for the title. Their final two games are against UL-Monroe (home) and New Mexico State (away).
Troy’s final four games are daunting. They face Appalachian State, fellow Sun Belt undefeated Arkansas State (home), Texas State (away), and Georgia Southern (away). Keep an eye on this game to see which side can gain the upper hand.
8. South Florida at Memphis (11/12 at 7 PM) – The third AAC game to make an appearance this week and this one also has possible conference title game implications. South Florida is 7-2 overall while Memphis is 6-3 overall.
South Florida, which already holds a loss to Temple, is 4-1 in the AAC East and needs Temple (5-1 in the AAC) to lose another game while winning out to win the AAC East. They face SMU (away) and Central Florida (home) in their final two games so their last three games in total will not be easy wins.
Memphis is 3-2 in the AAC and are a long shot to win the AAC West division having lost to both Navy and Tulsa already this year. Still, this is a solid team that could ruin South Florida’s AAC hopes if they are at their best. Memphis also faces Cincinnati (away) and Houston (home) to end the year so this could be a chance to build momentum heading into the bowl season.
Check back next week for the week 12 edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.
Five Predictions For Atlantic Coast Conference In 2016
The 2016 College Football season is coming fast and that means prediction time. Below are five predictions for Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.
There are no changes for the Atlantic Coast Conference as the fourteen teams remain the same and are split into Atlantic and Coastal Divisions. The seven teams in the Atlantic Division are Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina State, Syracuse, and Wake Forest. The seven teams in the Coastal Division are Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia, and Virginia Tech.
Here are five predictions for the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2016:
1. Georgia Tech will get back to a bowl game – 2015 was not a good year for the Yellow Jackets. They went 3-9 overall and saw their offensive output fall below 30 points per game for the first time since 2010. Georgia Tech did lose five games by seven points or less and if they can flip some of those to wins, they will easily make a bowl game. The offense has six starters back including quarterback Justin Thomas as well as running backs Marcus Marshall (led team with 654 yards in 2015) and Clinton Lynch (457 yards and 5 touchdowns). Top receiver Ricky Jeune is also back after recording 24 catches for 520 yards and 4 touchdowns. The defense has only five starters back from a unit that gave up 25.8 points and 368 yards per game last year. That group may struggle at times, but the front four has three starters back after allowing 165 rushing yards per game.
The schedule is what favors Georgia Tech to make it back to a bowl. They face Boston College on the opening weekend in Ireland before getting Mercer, Vanderbilt, Clemson, and Miami (FL) all at home the next four weeks. After a road game at Pittsburgh, they will play Georgia Southern and Duke at home. They end the season with three road games in their last four with North Carolina (road), Virginia Tech (road), Virginia (home), and Georgia (road). Even if GT is able to beat the teams that look most likely (BC, Mercer, Vandy, GS, Duke, and Virginia) they will make a bowl game.
2. The ACC Champion will make the National Championship – This prediction is mainly tied to Florida State and Clemson out of the Atlantic. It appears it will come down to that game between them on October 29th at Doak Campbell. Florida State has all their offensive starters returning and will also have six starters back form a defense that allowed 17.5 points and 337 yards per game in 2015.
Clemson made the National Championship last year playing the incredible game against Alabama that they lost 45-40. They have eight starters back on offense led by DeShaun Watson and running back WayneGallman. The defense has only four starters back, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Entering 2015, the Tigers had only three starters returning and still only allowed 21.7 points and 313 yards per game. Assuming it is one of these two teams that plays in the College Football Playoffs, they will be extremely tough to beat in the Semifinals and the National Championship.
3. Pittsburgh will have a double digit win season – There is potential for Pittsburgh to have a great season led by the return of running back James Conner. The Panthers went 8-5 in Pat Narduzzi’s first season and there is no reason to think they cannot improve again. The offense has eight starters back from 2015 after putting up 28.2 points and 377 yards per game. Conner’s absence was filled by Qadree Ollison who was named 2nd Team ACC and ACC Rookie of the year after rushing for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns (5.3 YPC). They provide a one-two punch with quarterback Nathan Peterman back as well. The receiving unit is a bit of a worry as they lose Tyler Boyd and only have Dontez Ford (26 catches for 505 yards and 2 touchdowns) back from 2015’s top three.
The defense has eight starters back from a group that allowed 26.1 points and 363 yards per game. They will be in the second year of Narduzzi’s schemes with the top three tacklers back. They also add in Tennessee transfer DeWayne Hendrix on the line and highly touted freshman Damar Hamlin in the secondary. This group should improve noticeably in 2016.
The schedule is manageable for Pittsburgh early on. They face Villanova and Penn State at home before back-to-back road games at Oklahoma State and North Carolina. They will then face Marshall and Georgia Tech at home to start October which will go a long way to determining if they hit 10 wins. They finish October at Virginia and home to Virginia Tech before playing Miami and Clemson in back-to-back road games to kick off November. They close the regular season against Duke and Syracuse, two more winnable games for them. The potential is there for Pittsburgh to reach 10 wins and they can certainly do it with this team. As usual, the big question with potential is will they actually show it?
4. Boston College will average at least 25 points per game on offense and give up less than 20 points per game on defense – 2015 was a year to forget for Boston College as they went 3-9 and failed to win a game in conference. The offense was horrendous as they averaged a putrid 17.2 points and 276 yards per game, but they did have only two starters back. The defense, however, was excellent as they allowed only 15.3 points and 254 yards per contest with six starters back.
It was by committee at nearly every position in 2015 for the offense. The top running back had 450 yards rushing while the top quarterback had 464 yards passing. Patrick Towles transferred in from Kentucky and he has the potential to top those 464 yards in just a single game. The top three receivers are back from 2015 and the presence of Towles alone should double the numbers of Thadid Smith (17 catches for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Charlie Callinan (14 catches for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns). The offensive line has three starters back and there is no reason the offense should come close to the terrible numbers they put up in 2015.
The defense was stout last year and this year’s group has seven starters returning. The defense allowed just 83 yards rushing per game and 172 through the air. The secondary will have three starters back while middle linebacker Connor Strachan (75 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss) returns to anchor the middle three. There will be a new defensive coordinator with Jim Reid, but this group is very good.
It will be worth watching to see if the improvement on offense can lead to Boston College flirting with bowl eligibility
5. Duke’s bowl streak will end at four – This is a tough prediction to make and quite frankly, one that we hope is wrong because Duke’s resurgence is great to see. Each side of the ball has six starters back on each side, which is similar to last year’s numbers (six on offense and five on defense in 2015). They put up 31.5 points and 439 yards per game while giving up 25.4 points and 395 yards per game in 2015.
The challenge for Duke is the schedule. The open with FCS North Carolina Central and Wake Forest at home before back-to-back away games against Northwestern and Notre Dame. Next up are two games that are winnable, but will still be a challenge at home against Virginia and Army. The final six games are killer for Duke as they face Louisville (away), Georgia Tech (away), Virginia Tech (home), North Carolina (home), Pittsburgh (away), and Miami (away). It will take a few of those Duke upsets to get back to a bowl game in 2016.
The Prediction Schedule
With the ACC predictions above, there are now predictions for eight conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.
We are taking an in-depth look at the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division after looking at the Coastal Division on Tuesday. The Atlantic looks competitive, just like the Coastal division, with any one of four teams having a chance. Below is the schedule of previews completed and those still to come.
Let’s take a closer look at the seven teams in the ACC Atlantic.
1. Clemson Tigers
Dabo Swinney took over in 2009 and has done a wonderful job for Clemson. He has led them to a bowl game each year in charge, but the last few years have been excellent. The Tigers have won at least 10 games in each of the last four seasons, won the ACC Championship in 2011, and been to two Orange Bowls. Will 2015 be more of the same?
The offense has seven starters back including the big pieces on offense. Deshaun Watson was injured last year, but managed to throw for 1,466 yards and 2 touchdowns while also rushing for 200 yards and 5 touchdowns. Wayne Gallman is back to run the ball after rushing for 769 yards and 4 touchdowns with CJ Davidson (248 yards and 3 touchdowns), Adam Choice (218 yards and 1 touchdown), and Tyshon Dye (151 yards and 2 touchdowns) all back as well. The top three receivers return led by Mike Williams (57 catches for 1,030 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Artavis Scott (76 catches for 965 yards and 8 touchdowns). Three starters are gone from the offensive line. Clemson put up 30.8 points and 408 yards per game in 2014 and they should best those numbers with Watson healthy this year.
The worry for Clemson is on defense where only three starters are back after allowing 16.7 points and 261 yards per game in 2014. The defensive line was ravaged by losses with no starters back. Shaq Lawson recorded 34 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss last year in a back-up role. The line is a big worry this year. Linebacker will have Ben Boulware back after recording 40 tackles, 1 sack, 4 tackles for loss, and 1 interception. The secondary has three starters back led by Jayron Kearse, who had 60 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense is less experienced and they will not match last year’s incredible numbers, but will still be formidable.
Clemson opens the season with Wofford and Appalachian State coming to town before they begin ACC play. The other two non-conference opponents are much tougher against Notre Dame at home and South Carolina on the road. Clemson has to face Louisville, North Carolina State, and Syracuse on the road while taking on Boston College, Florida State, and Wake Forest at home. They also draw Georgia Tech (home) and Miami (road) from the Coastal, but they can win both of those games. Clemson is picked to win the ACC Atlantic, but their margin for error is small.
2. North Carolina State Wolfpack
Dave Doeren came to North Carolina State in 2013 after two season at Northern Illinois. Doeren led the Wolfpack to a 3-9 record, but made a big jump last year to 8-5. Doeren’s coaching has clearly been effective in both the win column and the numbers on paper. 2015 is the third year for Doeren and could lead to a surprise.
The offense went from 22.8 points and 404 yards per game in 2013 to 30.2 points and 409 yards offense per game in 2014. There are seven starters back in 2015 (same number as 2014) including at the skill positions. Jacoby Brissett threw for 2,606 yards with 23 touchdowns while keeping the interceptions low at 5. He ran for 529 yards and 3 touchdowns and is back along with the top two rushers last year. ShadrachThornton ran for 907 yards and 9 touchdowns while Matt Dayes had 573 yards and 8 touchdowns. Tight end David Grinnage is the top returning receiver with 27 catches for 358 yards and 5 touchdowns. Bra’Lon Cherry had 27 catches for 354 yards and 3 touchdowns while Dayes was fourth on the team last year with 32 catches for 321 yards and 5 touchdowns. Three starters are back on the offensive line and the development of two more wide receivers will likely lead the offense to higher numbers in 2015.
The defense went from 30.2 points and 399 yards per game in Doeren’s first season in 2013 with only five starters back. Last year, the defense improved to 27 points and 373 yards per game with seven starters back. There are eight starters returning this year. Mike Rose (46 tackles, 5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss) and BJ Hill (40 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss) will be back on the line. Jerod Fernandez is the lone linebacker returning. He was second on the team in tackles last year with 78, but also recorded 3 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The secondary returns intact with all five starters back. As a unit, they gave up 205 yards passing per game and allowed 55.8% completions. Strong safety Josh Jones had 56 tackles, 1 sack, 7 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions last year. The defense will continue to improve in Doeren’s third year.
North Carolina State has an easy non-conference schedule. They open with Troy and Eastern Kentucky at home before facing Old Dominion and South Alabama on the road. In conference, they will face Louisville, Clemson, and Syracuse at home while facing Wake Forest, Boston College, and Florida State on the road. They draw Virginia Tech (road) and North Carolina (home) from the Atlantic, which are not easy games. However, the Wolfpack have improved under Doeren and the third year is usually the magical year for coaches. The Wolfpack will pull a few surprises and getting Louisville and Clemson at home helps. NC State is a dark horse contender in the ACC Atlantic.
3. Florida State Seminoles
After Bobby Bowden’s retirement in 2009, Jimbo Fisher took over and the Seminoles have been consistent since then. Florida State has failed to register double digit wins only once in 2011 when they went 9-4. FSU won the National Title in 2013 before losing in the College Football Playoff semifinals last year. Fisher has continued to recruit well, which could mean another dangerous FSU team in 2015.
The 2013 team was incredible on offense averaging 51.6 points and 519 yards per game with Heisman winner Jameis Winston at the helm. The offense came back to earth last year averaging only 33.7 points and 441 yards per game. Winston is gone and Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson is in. Golson threw for 3,445 yards with 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last year, but was turnover prone at times. DalvinCook ran for 1,008 yards and 8 touchdowns last year, but his status is currently up in the air. The top two receivers are gone, but Travis Rudolph (38 catches for 555 yards and 4 touchdowns), Jesus Wilson (42 catches for 527 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Ermon Lane (13 catches for 267 yards and 1 touchdown) are ready to step up. Another negative is there is only one starter back on the offensive line in RoderickJohnson at left tackle. There is no doubting the talent here, but the lack of experience this year could hurt especially if Golson has a lot of turnovers.
The defense has been excellent under Fisher. Between 2010 and 2013, the defense did not allow more than 20 points or 360 yards per game (three seasons under 300 yards per game). 2014 was the worst season for the defense under Fisher with 25.6 points and 397 yards per game allowed. This year, seven starters are back including the top four tacklers. On the defensive line, DeMarcus Walker and Derrick Mitchell are back with Walker recording 38 tackles, 1 sack, and 5 tackles for loss. Linebacker is loaded with ReggieNorthrup and Terrance Smith both returning. Northrup led FSU with 122 tackles while also recording 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss, and an interception. Smith was the #3 tackler with 87 and also put up 3.5 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions. The secondary is also loaded with three starters back led by Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey had 79 tackles (#4 on the team), 3 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, 12 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. It is no surprise he was named a 2nd Team All-American last year. The defense will be better in 2015.
Florida State opens with Texas State and South Florida both visiting Tallahassee. Their non-conference schedule ends with the final two games of the season against Chattanooga at home and a visit to the Swamp to face Florida. In conference, they will have winnable road games against Boston College and Wake Forest before a stern test against Clemson. Louisville, Syracuse, and North Carolina State will also be visiting Tallahassee. From the Coastal, FSU will take on Georgia Tech (road) and Miami (home). The offense is a bit of a concern, but once again FSU will be a contender to win this division.
4. Louisville Cardinals
Bobby Petrino was here at Louisville from 2003 through 2006 where he won both a C-USA and Big East Championship. Over those four seasons, Louisville went 41-9 and also won the 2007 Orange Bowl. After a failed attempt in the NFL, he returned to coach Arkansas where he went 34-17, but again his tenure ended badly and in controversy. He went to Western Kentucky for a year before replacing Charlie Strong prior to the 2014 season where Louisville went 9-4 in their inaugural ACC season.
Petrino’s teams have always been known for their offense and he will have five starters back in 2015. Last year, the offense put up 31.2 points and 395 yards per game without Teddy Bridgewater. Will Gardner returns after throwing 1,6691 yards with 12 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, who had several injuries during the season. Brandon Radcliff ran for 737 yards and 12 touchdowns and also have Malin Jones available after transferring from Northwestern. The Cardinals lose their top wide receiver in DeVanteParker, but James Quick returns after grabbing 36 passes for 566 yards and 3 touchdowns. Also entering the mix is Ja’Quay Savage from Texas A&M, who was highly touted out of high school. The offensive line has only two starters back, but in year two of Petrino’s offense, this group should be able to match last year’s production.
The defense has only four starters back from a group that allowed 21.8 points and 309 yards per game. The line has two starters back in Sheldon Rankins and Pio Vatuvei. Rankins was fourth on the team in tackles last year with 53 while also recording 8 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. The linebacking unit has two starters back in Keith Kelsey (87 tackles and 6 sacks) and James Burgess (71 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, and 3 picks), but the biggest addition is former TCU and 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Devonte Fields. Fields will be wreaking havoc all year long if he stays healthy and has been cleared to play this season. The secondary has zero returning starters, but two former Georgia players resurface here in Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins. The defense will be solid again in 2015.
Louisville opens the season with a neutral site game in Atlanta versus Auburn before Houston comes to town. The non-conference schedule concludes with Samford in week four and a road game at Kentucky on the final weekend of November. The Cardinals will face North Carolina State, Florida State, and Wake Forest on the road while playing Clemson, Boston College, and Syracuse at home. From the Coastal Division, Louisville will play Virginia (home) and Pittsburgh (road) in two winnable games. Louisville has been picked fourth due to some losses on offense and defense, but do not sell them too short. They can move up in Petrino’s second season and have a chance to win the division.
5. Boston College Eagles
Boston College appeared in two ACC Championship games in 2007 and 2008, but lost both of those contests to Virginia Tech. Since then, BC has not registered higher than eight wins in a season and have had two losing seasons as well. Steve Addazio started in 2013 and has led BC to back-to-back 7-6 seasons with losses in the bowl game each year. Year three for Addazio is a mixed bag with some positives and some negatives.
The offense averaged 26.2 points and 384 yards per game last year despite only two starters back. That number is doubled to four this year, but one of them is not quarterback Tyler Murphy, who accounted for 1,623 yards passing, 13 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He also was the leading rusher with 1,184 yards and 11 touchdowns. Darius Wade is likely to win the starting job, but he has thrown only 8 passes (3 completions for 23 yards) in his career. The good news is that the entire running game returns minus Murphy. Jon Hillman ran for 860 yards and 13 touchdowns, Myles Willis had 459 yards and 2 touchdowns, Sherman Alston had 352 yards and 2 touchdowns, Marcus Outlow ran for 243 yards, and Tyler Rouse ran for 214 yards and 3 touchdowns. Dan Crimmins is the top receiver returning with only 305 yards on 25 catches, but the leader was not much better with 27 catches for 346 yards. The wide receivers only had 933 yards combined. The offensive line will be brand new in 2015 with no starters back. Murphy accounted for a lot of production last year and the Eagles may not top last years numbers.
The defense was excellent last year by surrendering only 21.3 points and 324 yards per game and there will be six starters back. The rush defense was incredible giving up 94 yards per game and the entire starting line returns. Mike Strizak had 43 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 tackles for loss while Kevin Kavalec recorded 40 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 7 tackles for loss. The line is the strength of the defense and will be important to helping the other units come together. Steven Daniels is the lone returning starter at linebacker. Daniels had 72 tackles (#2 on team), 1.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. He will be flanked by the inexperienced, but talented Connor Strachan (12 tackles last season). The secondary has only JustinSimmons back, but he led the team in tackles with 76 as well as recording 1 sack, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense may not match the numbers of 2014, but should be close.
Boston College opens with back-to-back FCS teams at home with Maine and Howard, which puts them in an interesting spot for a bowl game. Should BC win those games, they would then need to win 7 games on the season. If they lose those games, they would still only need to reach 6-6. The other non-conference opponents are Northern Illinois (home) and Notre Dame (Boston). The face Florida State, Wake Forest, and North Carolina State at home while playing Clemson, Louisville, and Syracuse on the road. From the Coastal division, BC will take on Duke (road) and Virginia Tech (home). BC will need an upset to reach a bowl game for the third straight year in 2015, but are capable of getting that upset.
6. Syracuse Orange
Between 2005 and 2009, Syracuse did not win more than four games in a season. In 2010, they went 8-5 before falling back to 5-7 in 2011, but bounced right back up to 8-5 in 2012. Scott Shafer took over in 2013 and led Syracuse to a 7-6 with a bowl victory over Minnesota. Last year, the Orange went 3-9 with eight losses by double digits. A similar season for Shafer could spell the end of his time at Syracuse.
The offense has seven starters back from a team that put up only 17.1 points and 330 yards per game. Quarterback Terrel Hunt threw for 983 yards with 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions in an injury shortened season. AJ Long threw for 935 yards with 4 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while AustinWilson threw for 253 yards and 4 interceptions. The top two running backs are gone with DevanteMcFarlane the top back. He ran for 169 yards on 28 carries while Ervin Phillips rushed for 194 yards. The top wide out is also gone, but Steve Ishmael (27 catches for 415 yards and 3 touchdowns), Ben Lewis (24 catches for 275 yards and 1 touchdown), Ashton Broyld (15 catches for 174 yards), and BrislyEstime (10 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown) all returning. Three starters are back on the offensive line and if the quarterback position stays healthy this year, the numbers can only go up.
The defense was solid last year allowing 24.3 points and 349 yards per game. This year, three starters return with one at each level. Ron Thompson is the lone returning lineman after recording 32 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 5 pass breakups. Marqez Hodge back after recording 38 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss in an injury shortened year. The secondary has Julian Whigam back after recording 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and an interception. With the lack of experience on defense, it would be a surprise if the numbers did not regress.
Syracuse opens the season with four consecutive home games against Rhode Island, Wake Forest, Central Michigan, and LSU. They close out the non-conference slate after a bye on the road at South Florida. In conference, the Orange will take on the aforementioned Wake Forest team as well as Pittsburgh and Boston College at home. On the road, they will play Florida State, Louisville, and North Carolina State. From the Coastal division, Syracuse will face Pittsburgh (home) and Clemson (road). It is difficult to see Syracuse navigating their way to a bowl game in 2015 with the inexperienced defense, but could come close.
7. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Wake Forest won the 2006 ACC Championship and played in the 2006 Orange Bowl, but lost to Louisville 24-13. Since that magical season, it has been downhill for the Demon Deacons. They went 9-4 in 2007 and 8-5 in 2008, but failed to achieve a winning record since then with only a 2011 bowl loss to show for it. Dave Clawson was hired from Bowling Green to turn around the program and he led the team to a 3-9 record last year.
The offense was putrid last season with only four starters back. The numbers were 14.8 points and 216 yards per game with the rushing offense averaging a pathetic 40 yards per game. John Wolford threw for 2,037 yards with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and he will have his top target back. Cam Serigne, a tight end, caught 54 passes for 531 yards and 5 touchdowns. The top wide receiver from last year is JaredCrump, who caught 32 passes for 339 yards and a touchdown. The running game has the top rushers back in Dezmond Wortham and Isaiah Robinson. Wortham ran for 240 yards on 84 attempts (2.9 YPC) while Robinson had 175 yards and 3 touchdowns on 98 carries (1.8 YPC). The offense should perform better in 2015 in year two of Clawson’s system and a total of seven starters back.
The defense returns seven starters like their offensive counterparts. For as bad as the offense was, the defense was respectable by giving up 26.4 points and 369 yards of offense per game. The line has three starters returning led by Josh Banks, who had 36 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss. The linebacking unit has three starters back. Brandon Chubb was second on the team in tackles last year with 109, but also had 3 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Fellow linebacker Marquel Lee had 101 tackles (#3 on team) as well as 4 sacks and 8 tackles for loss. The secondary has just Ryan Janvion back, but he was the top tackler at 115. He also recorded 7 tackles for loss and 6 pass breakups. The defense could be solid again in 2015.
Wake Forest opens with Elon at home before back-to-back road games versus Syracuse and Army. They face Indiana in week four at home and then travel to Notre Dame in mid-November for the final non-conference game. In addition to Syracuse on the road, Wake Forest will play Boston College and Clemson as well. At home, they will take on Florida State, North Carolina State, and Louisville. From the Coastal, Wake Forest draws North Carolina (road) and Duke (home). Wake Forest will not be contending for a bowl game in 2015, but 3-4 wins would be good for this group.
The ACC Atlantic will come down to the quartet of Clemson, NC State, Florida State, and Louisville. Behind them will be Boston College and Syracuse as that duo will need an upset or two to reach a bowl game. Wake Forest is probably a year or two from a bowl game. Below is the predicted order of finish.