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As the ACC has earned its recognized place in college football, the talent pool has also grown tremendously, with programs like North Carolina, Florida State, and Miami flexing their muscles as conference contenders. All this talent should make for an interesting and competitive Atlantic division, but Clemson might have other plans.
The ACC Atlantic Division has become a graveyard for those who've fallen to the mighty paw of the Tigers. Since 2015, they’ve brought every single competitor to its knees, notching wins in six of seven ACC championship appearances. The Atlantic hasn’t seen another winner like such since 2014 when Jameis Winston led the FSU Seminoles to their their-consecutive title. And if I'm being honest, I wouldn’t expect anything different this time around.
With Dabo’s crew locked and loaded, let’s talk about what the ACC Atlantic is going to look like at the end of the fall.
It’s no surprise that Clemson is at the top of this list. As a national championship contender for the last 5 seasons, the Tigers have earned their stripes as one of the most lethal teams in all of college football. After taking a heavy loss to LSU in the CFB championship, Dabo will settle for nothing less than another title under his belt.
The fall looks promising as Trevor Lawrence returns under the snap, after helping lead Clemson to 659 points last year—though he will be playing his last season in orange. Supporting him is Clemson’s all-time leading rusher, Travis Etienne and junior receiver, Justyn Ross, both of which showed their blazing speed and scoring capabilities. What every team should be worried about is their defense. With a cluster of returning starters and Bryan Breese, the no.1 defensive tackle in the class of 2020, it will be tough to punch anything into their endzone.
Count on Dabo and his crew to sweep—that’s right, sweep—the ACC and make a run at another CFB championship.
Before you get upset that we threw Notre Dame in here, let us remind you that they are an ACC program in every other sport—plus we like the look of Irish gold on our pants. That being said, the Irish are in for another playoff-contending season. After throwing up an impressive 9-2 record, and a win at the Camping Bowl—bad name, we know—Brian Kelly has the talent to bring home the CFB title, and most definitely an ACC championship.
Since the Irish aren’t that lucky, here are a few things every team, ACC included, should look out for with the 2020 Notre Dame team. First, Tommy Rees has upgraded from quarterback’s coach to offensive coordinator and is looking to Ian Book for leadership on the field. If the senior quarterback can deliver another 3,000+ yard season, there aren’t many teams on the schedule who can take them down. On the defensive side, it would be shameful not to mention junior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, whose name will likely be mentioned for the Butkus Award.
All that, combined with some inherent luck, and you might see Notre Dame making a run at a national championship.
Louisville, Luhville, LouEville, tha’ Ville—doesn't matter how you say it, just be ready to say it often this season. The Cardinals are returning a majority of their offensive starters including Micale Cunningham who slung it for 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns last year. The biggest threat will be the feet of Javian Hawkins, the redshirt sophomore, who will be a force in the Atlantic division.
The Cardinals will be less sturdy on the defensive side of the ball as they lost pieces of their defensive line and have a few transfers coming in from Juco programs. Scott Satterfield and his new staff are still working out the kinks to their defense, but you can count on them to focus their recruiting efforts in that direction.
With a top ACC quarterback, a seasoned coaching staff, expect Louisville to post a strong winning season, maybe even double digits.
Not even Osceola and Renegade could have predicted the average season Florida State delivered in 2019. After making some much-needed cuts in the leadership department, they announced Mike Norvell as head coach—who was so eager to get to the sunshine state, that he skipped coaching the Cotton Bowl game. Norvell led Memphis to their best season in program history at 12-1 and if the Seminoles are lucky, he can do it again.
He enters a unique offensive system, selecting Kenny Dillingham, former Auburn OC, to lead the charge. Last season the Seminoles flexed a dual quarterback system rotating James Blackman and Deondre Francois under center, but this year might be different. Their running back situation is still unknown and we’re not sure what to expect from Dillingham calling the shots. As we’ve seen with Florida State before, it takes time to transition into new leadership, which puts them here at number 4.
Wake Forest has found their stride under Dave Clawson. In 6 seasons, he’s led the Demon Deacons to four consecutive bowl games as well as their best record since 2007. After defeating all three of their in-state rivals—Duke, UNC, and NC State—they are looking to dethrone those who sit at the top of the Atlantic.
Sam Hartman will start for the Deacons, as graduate Jamie Newman announced his decisions to play a final season at Georgia. Hartman landed 16 touchdowns and 1,000+ yards in 2018 before breaking his leg and sitting out. With one of the highest-scoring offenses last season (ranked 15th), Wake Forest is scary when it comes to stacking up points. Where they will struggle is defense. The Deacons lost a portion of their line as well as their elite corners, forcing younger talent to step up this fall. If they can find the right players to fill absent roles on defense, Wake Forest could knock off some big names this season.
The Eagles are ready for a fresh start with their newest hire Jeff Hafley. As the previous co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, he led the Buckeyes to be the top defensive team, as well as the most sacks and tackles for a loss as a unit. If that’s not enough, he’s also considered one of the best recruiters in the nation.
That being said, Boston College still needs offense and defense to pull together anything better than a 7-win season. Dennis Gorsel will assume the starting quarterback role after Anthony Brown entered the transfer portal in 2019—Gorsel saw action in a few games last year totaling 900+ yards and nine touchdowns. AJ Dillon opted out of another season with hopes of finding his way onto an NFL team, leaving the Eagles with a major question mark at the running back position. If the Eagles can pull together an offense and Hafley crafts a notorious defense like his previous one at OSU, they have a shot at marking more than seven notches under their belt this season.
NC State took a dive off the deep end in 2019, posting a 4-8 record after going 9-4 the two previous seasons. As a result, they watched 9 players including 5 starters enter the transfer portal. To aid in the rebuild, head coach Dave Doren has brought in five new assistant coaches as well as 17 recruits in the class of 2020.
Not much is clear about their offensive approach this year, but Doren confirmed Devin Leary will start again for the Wolfpack. Leary went for 1,200 yards and 8 touchdowns last season. He will need Ricky Person and Trent Pennix to move the ball more, as their receiver group struggled to catch anything in 2019.
With a tough schedule that includes Clemson, Mississippi State, and Chapel Hill, it is going to be a battle throughout the fall.
The Orange struggled in 2019. After dropping to a soft 2-6 in the division, some serious changes had to be made in the coaching office. It started with the hiring of defensive coordinator Tony White, who slid in after recently-hired Zach Arnett received another offer from Mike Leach and his staff. Then came offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Sterlin Gilbert, a close friend and a previous member of Dino Barber’s staff at Bowling Green. All of this hopefully can turn around a Syracuse program that has been dying for an ACC divisional title.
Tommy DeVito will be leading the Orange again with Taj Harris and Aaron Hackett as strong catching options. The running game will look very different, with Moe Neal gone and a gaping hole in the backfield. Hopefully, Abdul Adams or Jarveon Howard can fill in where it’s needed. This unsure offense, paired with a dilapidated defense that lost a slew of linebackers and offensive lineman, makes for a Syracuse team that will struggle throughout most of the season—but don’t worry Orange fans, basketball is always around the corner.
I’d be shocked to see anyone else besides Clemson at the top of this list when the fall is over. With their collection of elite talent and recent title history, it seems inevitable that Dabo and his Tigers will secure another ACC Atlantic title.If you think your 2020 predictions are better, tell us. We want to hear your Hot Takes on Hot Takes. Follow us on Instagram, @thefanpants, and tell us who you think will take the ACC Atlantic in 2020.