Curtis: So how do we think the ACC shakes out this year? Are we finally in an era post-Clemson? Or will they avoid being out of the picture for a 2nd straight year? To give everyone an idea of the general consensus: Most analysts are picking either Clemson or NC State to come out of the Atlantic, and either Pitt or Miami to come out of the Coastal.
Niraj: Clemson still has to have the nod here despite the lingering questions around DJ and finally some turnover on staff. They are still loaded with talent, particularly on defense. Even though they were so remarkably un-Clemson-like last season, they finished the season so strong, including an absolute beatdown of Wake. NC State has a lot to like and have particularly inviting odds, even if they do always blow it. Last year’s dramatic double OT win over Clemson might actually be a difference this time. I’ll give them the nod.
Miami is more interesting with how quickly it seems Mario Cristobal is changing the program (including retiring the turnover chain). A strong new staff and an excellent quarterback make quite the pairing. I like them coming out of the Coastal. Pitt losing Pickett and Addison is too important, and don’t forget new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. Lots of talent still, but too rich for me. I’ll take Miami there.
Curtis: Point taken on Frank Cignetti especially for Pitt. I think Boston College fans have a unique perspective on just how underwhelming that hire was for them to replace Mark Whipple. For that reason, and the loss of Pickett & Addison, I’m also taking Miami in the Coastal. But I don’t think Miami is even necessarily super strong themselves.
In the Atlantic, I’m actually a bit more bearish on Clemson. The talent is absolutely there, but I think the transition from both Brent Venables and Tony Elliot is going to be too much chaos and I expect the Tigers to take a slight step back this year. They’ll still be near the top of the division, maybe even win it, but rankings like #4 in the nation in the Coaches’ Poll are way too optimistic in my view.
Arthur: I think Clemson has to be the team to beat although saying they’re fourth best right now is ludicrous and preseason polls are bad.
Curtis: I also think Wake Forest is somehow getting overlooked once again. They won the Atlantic last year and didn’t lose any crucial pieces. Their defense will be suspect, but that was the case last year too and they still blew the lid off of most teams.
Niraj: Hey they at least are ranked in the top 20. They’ll be very competitive for sure and in the conversation, but I say still a notch below NC State and Clemson. They got blown out in that Clemson game, blown out in the ACC championship against Pitt, won a shootout against NC State, but lost one to UNC. We’ll see what happens Oct 22nd against us.
Curtis: What do we think about the tier of schools around BC? I could see BC, FSU, and Louisville finish in pretty much any order. I lean towards putting Louisville at the bottom of that list due to their defense, but Malik Cunningham is one of the best QBs in the nation and can change the dynamic of any singular game.
Arthur: I think they all have big question marks. Louisville is obvious because it’s really going to have to win in a shootout every time, you don’t really have confidence in its defense. FSU feels like it’s forever in a mediocrity loop. And with BC, there’s a lot of talent but also a lot of questions, offensively you have to be concerned about having a completely new offensive line. So who knows honestly, it really could go any way.
Curtis: Although FSU finished last season with a 5-7 record and a disappointing loss to a Florida team in chaos, it’s important to note that they closed out their last 8 games going 5-3 including wins over BC and Miami. They started to piece it together much better and the team is looking strong entering this season (except for their offensive line once again).
Arthur: Sure, and you think there’s enough talent there to push them over the edge. And you certainly can’t put BC on a pedestal and not FSU because they have the same weakness. But to push back, Mike Norvell is in his third season, you have to think the seat is at least a little warm for him, and if things go south early on it’s hard to imagine the team being able to stay focused and together.
It’s worth mentioning that even though it beat BC and Miami, FSU also lost to FCS Jacksonville State, so it’s not like they’ve been pushing forward but for a rough start. That was one of the more embarrassing losses that an FBS team faced all year last year.
Niraj: Agreed, it’s a bit of a cluster with the rest of the crop. Louisville has a really strong veteran presence and Cunningham like Curtis said can keep them in most every game. Even with that early JSU loss, FSU still went toe to toe with Notre Dame the week before. Consistency issues, but even they felt like they were turning a corner as the season went on. And Syracuse may be a shade below, but they have some really talented players and their rushing attack could bump them up. And I know we have Wake in the tier above, but with the uncertainty now around Sam Hartman, they may be in some trouble.
Curtis: Syracuse is definitely an interesting team this year. Although I try to disregard games lost in large part by Dennis Grosel (and Emmett Morehead), the Orange did beat BC last season and they’re returning one of the conference’s best RBs in Sean Tucker. I’m not going to predict them to finish above last in the Atlantic, but I wouldn’t be particularly shocked if they did. Not to mention Dino Babers will be coaching hard to keep his job.
Arthur: Oh, how the mighty have fallen.