In a division where not one but two teams might be vying for a spot on the College Football Playoff, but some are saying that another could be a division sleeper. This is the ACC Atlantic.
Florida State Seminoles
In Tallahassee, the Seminoles finished 10-3 last season in what was a rebuilding year. Preseason All-American and Heisman candidate running back Dalvin Cook rushed for nearly 1,700 yards last season fighting through an injury-plagued offensive line as well as his own ankle and hamstring injuries. Cook will have a more experienced offensive line in front of him, led by preseason all-American tackle Roderick Johnson. Preseason all-ACC wide receiver Travis Randolph leads a corps that is loaded. With Sean Maguire recovering from foot surgery and freshman Malik Henry suspended indefinitely, will freshman Deondre Francois have to hold down the fort at quarterback?
Preseason All-American defensive end DeMarcus Walker thought about going to the NFL, but decided to come back. Along with five star recruiter Josh Sweat at the other end, they could become a monstrous pass rush. Though All-American Jalen Ramsey is about two hours away in Jacksonville now, there’s still talent and experienced in the secondary led by all-ACC safety Derwin Jones and Nate Andrews.
To Clemson, where the Tigers just missed winning a national title, falling to Alabama. Though they set the record for most wins in a single season, they feel that there’s unfinished business. They averaged over 38 points a game last year but their offense could be even scarier. Preseason All-American and Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson was just the third quarterback in FBS history to pass for over 4,000 yards and rushed for over a 1,000 in a season. Running back Wayne Gellman, who rushed for 1,500 yards last season is also back. Preseason All-American wide receiver Mike Williams is back after a season-ending neck injury leads a stealth corps.
The defense finished number one overall but lost nine starters including Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, and Mackensie Alexander. Yet despite those departures, there’s still stacked. Linebacker Ben Boulware, the team’s leading tackler last season is the heart and soul of the group. Preseason All-American tackle Carlos Watkins and fellow Christian Wilkins lead the way up front. Preseason all-ACC cornerback Cordrea Tankersley leads a secondary that gave up a lot of big plays last year.
They must play Auburn on the road to start the year, they also face Georgia Tech and Florida State on the road. They host Louisville and Pittsburgh.
Louisville’s our next stop, where the Cardinals won six of their last seven games last season. There are a few folks who say with the talent coming back, the Cardinals could be a sleeper in the Atlantic. Dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson could be a Heisman candidate. Though head coach Bobby Petrino hopes running backs Brandon Radcliff, Jeremy Smith, and L.J. Scott will garner big yards so that Jackson will not have to run much. Jamari Staples leads a formidable receiving corps.
The Cardinals’ defense is loaded with NFL-caliber talent such as preseason All-American linebacker Devonte Fields, who could one of the best in the country, and the versatile Josh-Harvey Clemons. Preseason all-ACC defensive tackle DeAngelo Brown could be the facilitator up front. The defense caught 17 interceptions and grabbed nine fumbles last season.
They host Florida State, Duke and Kentucky. They’ll face Clemson and Houston on the road.
The Rest of the Atlantic
In Raleigh, where despite back-to-back bowl games, the North Carolina State Wolfpack want to take the next step. Jalen McClendon replaces Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Running back Matt Dayes is back from a foot injury, which kept from being the program’s first 1,000 yard rusher since 2002. Jumicheal Ramos and tight end Thaddeus Moss (son of Randy Moss) lead a talented but unproven receiving corps. A solid defense which finished 29th in total defense last year could be a strength once again, with a lot of their guys back, led by tackles B.J. Hill and Kentavius Street and linebacker Jeron Hernandez.
In Winston-Salem, Wake Forest head Dave Clawson hopes that players having more experience will help his Demon Deacons gain notoriety. Tight end Cam Serigne and defensive end Duke Ejiofor, who’s returning from a concussion lead the way for the Deacons.
Meanwhile just outside of Boston, though they had the number one overall defense in the country, the Boston College Eagles finished 3-9. The offense was plagued by injuries. Running back Jon Hillman, who broke his foot early last season, is back and hopes to move the ball down the field for the Eagles. Jim Reid takes over as defense coordinator. The cupboard isn’t bare for Reid. Linebacker Matt Milano and defensive end Harold Landry could lead the Eagles to being one of the nation’s top defenses once again.
Finally to Syracuse, where the Orange made one of the best hires, as Dino Babers takes over as head coach. He’ll have his work cut out for him though, he brings a hurry-up spread offense. He has a very young team, give him a couple of years and he could turn things around.
That’s it for the Atlantic, next up, we’ll preview, the always interesting ACC Coastal division.