1. Clemson Tigers: Graduating talent like Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne will almost certainly impact Clemson’s offensive production. In the two games he started at QB, while Lawrence recovered from Covid-19, D.J. Uiagalelei went 59/85 (69.4%) for 781 yards (whoa!), threw four TDs, zero INTs, and added two more scores with his legs. Coach Swinney and company are poised, once again, to be the ACC’s representative in the CFB Playoff.
2. Boston College Eagles: BC avoided the two toughest teams in the Coastal (Miami and UNC) but do have to travel to Clemson. QB Notre Dame transfer, Phil Jurkovec, has a year under his belt and the Eagles are returning nine starters on offense and eight on defense. The road to being best of the rest, in the Atlantic, will go through Chestnut Hill, one way or another.
3. NC State Wolfpack: Another team that could be No. 2 in the Atlantic, returning even more starters than Boston College. Last year the ‘Pack went 7-3 in ACC play, shaking off a horrible 2019 conference record (1-7). Their October 16 matchup, at BC, could determine who will finish behind Clemson.
4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Guess who is bringing back more starters than BC or NCST? Yep! Coach Clawson has 11 offensive and 10 defensive starters returning, in what is one of the most experienced programs in the Atlantic. They do face Clemson and UNC, but the rest of their matchups are winnable games. It wouldn’t surprise me if Clawson fields one of his best teams and ends up taking second place, in the Atlantic.
5. Louisville Cardinals: The Cards have lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and the young ‘uns are going to have to step up if they hope to improve on last year’s disappointing 4-7 performance. They do have an extremely favorable schedule and could be in bowl contention.
6. Florida State Seminoles: FSU has rolled a brutal schedule. Opening against (No. 9 AP / No. 7 Coaches) Notre Dame, they will go on to face both Miami and UNC, from the Coastal, and (No. 13 / No. 11) Florida. Barring a miracle, it looks to be another dark season in Tallahassee.
7. Syracuse Orange: Syracuse only won a single game last season, finishing 1-10. 2019 was also tough, going 2-6 in ACC play and finishing 5-7 on the year. The Orange have struggled ever since Eric Dungey left. Head coach, Dina Babers, has had four losing seasons in the five he’s been with the team. They are returning nine offensive and ten defensive starters and have a favorable schedule. If the team fails to improve on the last two seasons, we might see a coaching change.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels: A lot of smart folks think sophomore QB, Sam Howell, is the best QB in the FBS and a Heisman front runner. They avoided Clemson but do have a game against Notre Dame in late October. If UNC prevails against Miami and ND, they could be looking at their first undefeated season since… 1898!
2. Miami Hurricanes: Is the U back? Well… maybe? Last year, Houston QB transfer, D’Eriq King, showed how dangerous he is in the air and on the ground. The Hurricanes look to be improved in almost all areas and are returning 19 starters. They have the ability and experience to win the Coastal.
3. Virginia Tech Hokies: Last season, the Hokies suffered mightily with COVID-19 issues and considerations. They did take down UVA but finished 5-6 and opted out of a bowl game, even though they were eligible under the NCAA’s Covid-19 considerations, ending the 27-year streak. The offseason was tumultuous, losing star QB, Hendon Hooker, to the transfer portal. There is concern at depth, but the Hokies do have the talent to bounce back and return to their winning ways and bowl eligibility.
4. Pittsburgh Panthers: The Panthers have a tough stretch, in the last half of their season, facing Clemson, UNC, and Miami in a four-week period. They do have some experience on offense, including senior passer, Kenny Pickett, and should be a bowl-bound team.
5. Virginia Cavaliers: Last season the ACC divisions were disregarded, which means Virginia is the defending Coastal champions! Coach Mendenhall is facing a similar situation as he did with Bryce Perkins – his offense is very dependent on one player performing. QB, Brennan Armstrong, is the team’s leading passer and rusher. The Cavaliers are poised to improve from their 5-5 2020 effort, but I expect the Commonwealth Cup to stay in Blacksburg.
6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: GT is still going through the tremendous growing pains of transitioning from a triple-option, gimmicky offense to a more traditional college spread offense. The Jackets also have a brutal schedule that features games against Clemson, UNC, Miami, Notre Dame, and Georgia. I expect Coach Collins to continue pushing them in the right direction, but it’s likely to be another losing season.
7. Duke Blue Devils: Last year was tough for Duke, finishing 2-9. This year they are only bringing six starters back on offense and six on defense. Head coach, David Cutcliffe, seems to have a magic touch that results in Duke regularly outperforming expectations. 2021 is going to be a struggle, but I never count Coach Cutcliffe out.
1. (No. 3 AP / No. 3 Coaches) Clemson Tigers (0-0)
2. (No. 10 / No. 9) North Carolina Tar Heels (0-0)
3. (No. 14 / No. 16) Miami-Florida Hurricanes (0-0)
4. Boston College Eagles (0-0)
5. Virginia Tech Hokies (0-0)
6. NC State Wolfpack (0-0)
7. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (0-0)
8. Pittsburg Panthers (0-0)
9. Virginia Cavaliers (0-0)
10. Louisville Cardinals (0-0)
11. Florida State Seminoles (0-0)
12. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (0-0)
13. Duke Blue Devils (0-0)
14. Syracuse Orange (0-0)