2019 NCAAF Preview: Atlantic Coast Conference

August 24, 2019

If the ACC turned out to be a one team show all season, it wouldn’t surprise many people outside of the city of Syracuse, New York. But there’s more going on in this conference than it appears at first glance.

A changing of the guard in the Coastal Division is a strong possibility, and there are a host of quarterbacks not named Trevor Lawrence that could elevate themselves to household names by the end of the season.

Yes, this conference receives time in the national spotlight because of one man’s program and the unconventional way in which it operates. But competition in the ACC isn’t dead – those noon kickoffs with Beth Mowins on the call are as worth watching as they’ve ever been.

College Football Playoff Contenders


The only thing standing between the Tigers and a fifth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff are themselves (and maybe Syracuse – more on that in a bit). If you thought Clemson’s offense couldn’t look any scarier than it did in last season’s national title game, think again. With a full year under his belt, Trevor Lawrence is poised to be one of the top passers in the college game right from the start of the season. Unfortunately for opposing defensive coordinators, you can’t just key on one target of Lawrence’s, either. At the offensive skill positions, junior wideout Tee Higgins, running back Travis Etienne Jr. and sophomore Justyn Ross could all end up being first team All-ACC selections this year. The opposition is bound to get scored on – just pick your poison.

Defensively, Clemson loses some big names to the NFL on the defensive line, but Dabo Swinney has found a way to keep defensive coordinator Brent Venables around amidst this half decade of inarguable success. Venables could be a head coach at a Power 5 school somewhere, but instead has stuck around with the Tigers and continues to reload on his side of the ball. Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence are gone, but the secondary returns players and Venables will have the defensive front in good shape by mid-season. If you’re looking for the safest bet amongst the Power 5 conferences to make the CFP, Clemson is your team.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Miami (FL)

The Hurricanes returning to the form of the early 2000s is unlikely to happen this year, but there is still enough talent on this squad to suggest that new head coach Manny Diaz can battle for a spot in the ACC title game. By no means did Mark Richt leave the cupboard bare – rather, the Hurricanes just need to get better play out of the quarterback position. Surprisingly, Miami will roll with redshirt freshman Jarren Williams as the starter to begin the season, which may be a huge gamble. Williams was barely in the conversation in the spring, but transfer Tate Martell is now working in at wideout, telling you what Diaz’s staff saw from the former Ohio State Buckeyes backup.

If the offense is brought along, this will be a tough team to beat in the ACC Coastal division. Defensively, Diaz is familiar with this crew and they will likely continue to represent well the culture of the ball-hawking, turnover chain wearing gang started a couple of years ago.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player to Watch)

Bryce Perkins, Virginia senior quarterback

Everyone already knows of the best pure passer in the ACC, but who many are not familiar with is the best dual threat quarterback in the league. That title belongs to Bryce Perkins, who finished third in the conference in total offense last season, amassing over 2,600 yards passing and 923 yards rushing for the Cavaliers.

The reason that you’ll want to know his name this season is that he’ll be the key to what could end up being a very successful campaign in Charlottesville. Virginia is poised to be a contender for the Coastal division title, a feat which would be the first in school history and give the program its first shot at a conference title since 1995. Bronco Mendenhall’s team won’t sniff those accolades unless Perkins is once again one of the ACC’s most productive offensive players.

Out-of-Conference Games to Watch

Florida vs. Miami (FL) [game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando] (August 24)

The first game of the season is a pretty good one, reviving an in-state rivalry and giving fans a look at two teams that should vie for divisional titles in 2019. The Hurricanes come into this one as the underdog, but don’t be surprised if Miami hangs around with the Gators for at least a half.

No one is quite sure what to expect from Miami’s offense with Jarren Williams at the helm, but the defense should do enough to keep Dan Mullen & Co. honest on the other sideline.

Texas A&M at Clemson (September 7)

The Aggies would love to exact revenge on the Tigers in this one, after a controversial fumble call in last year’s game erased what would have been a game-tying score for Texas A&M late in the fourth quarter. While Jimbo Fisher’s squad will be counting on Kellen Mond to step up in a big way early in the season, Clemson’s offense will look to do what everyone knows it is capable of against a solid Aggies defense.

This year’s contest might not be as close given that the game will be played at Death Valley instead of Kyle Field, but it’s still a marquee matchup and one of the few on Clemson’s schedule that could truly scare the defending national champs.

In-Conference Games to Watch

Clemson at Syracuse (September 14)

One of the few games in-conference that the Tigers may struggle to win this season is this one against Dino Babers & Co. The Orange had a season to remember in 2018, but return enough pieces that they will still be a contender in the Atlantic Division.

Recall that Syracuse almost beat Clemson last year, but that effort was also aided by Clemson’s loss of Trevor Lawrence in the first half. To pull off a surprising upset, the Orange will need to force turnovers against a team that isn’t likely to commit a lot of them this season.

Virginia Tech at Virginia (November 29)

The Hokies are currently riding a 15-game winning streak in this rivalry, but there is real optimism in Virginia’s camp that the streak could come to an end this season. The Cavaliers are a dangerous squad and there is a possibility that this game may end up deciding who takes the Coastal Division crown.

If Virginia Tech wants to avoid snapping its current run against its in-state rival, Bud Foster’s defense must be better than it was in 2018. Bryce Perkins is fully capable of wreaking havoc against the Hokies, and to avoid that he must be contained in the pocket as much as possible.

Conference Predictions

Atlantic Division

1. Clemson (12-0, [8-0])

2. Syracuse (10-2, [6-2])

3. Wake Forest (8-4, [4-4])

4. Florida State (7-5, [4-4])

5. Boston College (6-6, [3-5])

6. North Carolina State (7-5, [3-5])

7. Louisville (3-9, [1-7])

Coastal Division

1. Miami (FL) (10-2, [7-1])

2. Virginia (10-2, [7-1])

3. Virginia Tech (9-3, [6-2])

4. Pittsburgh (6-6, [4-4])

5. North Carolina (4-8, [2-6])

6. Duke (3-9, [2-6])

7. Georgia Tech (2-10, [0-8])

Championship Game: Clemson vs. Miami (FL)

Winner: Clemson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *