For the past three seasons the ACC has been dominated by Clemson. The Tigers have become the force to be reckoned within the conference. Even their dominance across the national landscape of college football has been remarkable having played in two of the past three College Football Playoff National Championship Games.
Even with the conference’s control in the hands of Clemson, there have still been teams building to put themselves in place to challenge the Tigers. Teams such as Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, and NC State have established themselves as true contenders going into 2018. Similarly, teams such as Boston College, North Carolina, Duke, and Wake Forest have been rebuilding in order to make waves within the conference and prove they can contend in the conference as well.
Looking ahead, the ACC season in 2018 will give fans plenty of excitement every Saturday. Here’s what to look for this season:
As Clemson has dominated the ACC as of recently, they even more so have dominated the Atlantic Division. The Tigers’ defense this season may be the best in Dabo Swinney’s tenure as head coach, but retooled offenses at Boston College, Florida State, NC State and Wake Forest won’t make it easy for Clemson as they go for their fourth straight Atlantic Division title. In the conference this is the stronger of the two divisions as six out of the seven teams should go bowling. Taking out heavyweights Clemson and Florida State, the middle of this division will be an absolute war this season. Given the strength of this division, by season’s end, even a 6-6 team will be a solid pick in their respective bowl matchup.
Predicted Order to Finish:
- Clemson (12-0, 8-0): With arguably the best defense in the country, the Tigers should roll through the ACC.
- Florida State (9-3, 6-2): New coach Willie Taggart inherits tons of talent, and should rebound the Seminoles from a tough 2017 campaign.
- NC State (8-4, 5-3): The offense will score, but can a rebuilding defense keep other teams from scoring?
- Wake Forest (7-5, 4-4): The Deacons can surprise a lot of teams if their offense can stay consistent.
- Louisville (6-6, 3-5): With no Lamar Jackson someone has to step up and lead the offense.
- Boston College (6-6, 2-6): Solid offensive production and leadership on defense could lead the Eagles to big things in 2018.
- Syracuse (3-9, 0-8): Tough away games and a lack of depth could have the Orange looking at their fifth losing season.
Sleeper Teams: Wake Forest & Boston College: Both squads have solid talent coming back. BC will be led by an excellent QB/RB duo in Anthony Brown and AJ Dillon. As a freshman, Dillon rushed for over 1,500 yards and was voted 1st Team All ACC. Wake Forest also has a solid RB in Matt Colburn. He will split carries as Wake is pretty deep at the RB position, and the running game will help establish the Deacons’ offensive attack. Both defenses are also in good hands in terms of depth and leadership. Each team brings back six returning starters on defense. With both teams having tough schedules to battle through, they will be in a lot of close games. Even though their predicted records may not look amazing, many of their games could go either way.
This year’s Coastal Division is fairly top heavy with Virginia Tech and Miami leading the way. Out of the two divisions, the Coastal Division has the most talent at QB. All but Virginia return their starter from last year. Where the Atlantic Division is more even in the middle, the Coastal Division looks to potentially only send four teams to bowl games. For the most part, the division winner should come down to the Hokies or the Hurricanes, but a resurgent North Carolina team could make a huge impact amongst its Coastal competition. At the end of the season there may not be many bowl eligible teams coming from the Coastal, but there could be a New Year’s Six Bowl at-large bid in store for a team at the top.
Predicted Order to Finish:
- Virginia Tech (10-2, 7-1): Veteran front lines and a solid QB could lead the Hokies to big places in 2018.
- Miami (11-1, 7-1): A favorable schedule and veteran leadership mixed with speed across the field makes the Canes a scary team in the ACC.
- North Carolina (10-2, 6-2): Resurgence and revenge will fuel a talented Tar Heels squad through their 2018 season.
- Duke (6-6, 4-4): A veteran defense will have to lead the way if the Blue Devils want to make any noise this year in the ACC.
- Georgia Tech (5-7, 2-6): If the Yellow Jackets can’t rebound from last season’s disappointment, they could be looking at their third losing season in four years.
- Pitt (3-9, 2-6): The Panthers will need to find balance and trust the running game in order to avoid back-to-back losing seasons.
- Virginia (2-10, 0-8): If the Cavaliers can’t find leadership and consistency on offense they may be looking at a third losing season in a row.
Sleeper Team: North Carolina: The Tar Heels are coming off a 3-9 season last year where their only wins were against Old Dominion, Pitt, and Western Carolina. To say the Heels have a lot to prove in 2018 is an understatement. They do, however, have the tools to surprise a lot of people this season. QB Chazz Surratt took a beating at times last year, but showed promise in his ability to run and throw. He’ll have a great WR in Anthony Ratliff-Williams, and an experienced TE in Brandon Fritts, to throw to while being supported by a veteran defense. The Heels gave up 30+ points in seven games last year. Expect that number to drop, and with the solid veteran core the Heels bring back, expect their win total to increase significantly.
ACC Championship Game Matchup
Clemson vs Virginia Tech: This rematch of the 2016 ACC Championship Game should feature two similar offenses. The Hokies lost that ACC Championship Game 42-35, and should keep this year’s title game just as close, if not closer. Clemson should win and advance to the College Football Playoff for the fourth year in a row, but don’t overlook Virginia Tech as they could give the Tigers a battle until the final second.