Another week and now another conference preview. Last week we had the Ohio State Buckeyes taking on the Iowa Hawkeyes, and OSU taking home that crown. This week we have the ACC, where the runner-up to the National Title game in Clemson lives. Clemson also beat out Florida State last year in the Atlantic division, and those two teams will be at it again. North Carolina won the Coastal last year after ripping off like 10 straight wins, and will look to repeat in a down Coastal division.
First up is the Atlantic and we will get right to it, this division will come down to the game on Oct. 29 in Tallahassee. Last year, the Seminoles were in a rebuilding year you can say, and still won 10 games. The QB position was a mess; with Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson not working out. This year Jimbo Fisher will have a similar problem at the position. As of right now it looks to be redshirt freshman Deondre Francois’ job to lose. He is a true duel threat QB, and apparently has really impressed so far. A lot of last year’s team is back with more college football playing experience, which is why many in Tallahassee are talking National Title. The QB position though is so so importan, and the edge in this battle has to go to Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson, and his Clemson Tigers. Their offense was prolific last year and actually could be better this year. Watson will have Wayne Gallman and an offensive line that returns three starters back with him. He will also be getting back stud wide receiver Mike Williams from his neck injury that sat him out all of last year. Williams was poised for a big year last year after a good sophomore year, but 2016 might be his big year. The defense lost a lot of key players to the NFL Draft, but they do return Carlos Watkins and Christian Wilkins up front and senior leader Ben Boulware. The Tigers also added freshman DT Dexter Lawrence, who was ranked the #2 recruit in all the land in 2016. The one glaring issue is the defensive backfield where the Tigers lost 3 starters including both starting safeties. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have some serious work to do, but he has done this before. Two years ago the Clemson defense was ranked #1 in the country, and after losing 9 starters from that team they were #10 last year. In the end, I have Clemson winning the Atlantic because in that Oct. 29 game who would you rather have, JR. Heisman candidate in Deshaun Watson or redshirt freshman Deondre Francois?
A lot like the West division in the Big Ten the Coastal division is really weak. UNC should be the favorites but their star QB isn’t around anymore in Marquise Williams. The next man in is Mitch Trubisky. The good thing is that head coach Larry Fedora is still around, and is a genius on the offensive side of the ball. He will probably rely heavily on Elijah Hood with 4 starting offensive lineman coming back. The defense also took a step in the right direction under the first year led by Gene Chizik. It will need to take another right step because if it doesn’t then this team might be in trouble. Even though this division is weak it can get stronger quick with Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Pitts James Conner throwing and running all over your defense.
ACC Championship Game- Clemson over UNC- I know the last two title games I picked were repeats of last year, and that is most likely not going to happen, but this is how I see it. Clemson is still loaded on the offensive side of the ball, and if they don’t get back to the playoff with Watson then this season will be a huge let down.
Offensive POY-Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson-
Deshaun Watson was a star last year and he shouldn’t slow down this year. He had a Heisman type season and once again should be in the running again this year. He should have his best WR back in Mike Williams which is always a bonus. Watson is a stud as long as he can stay on the field. Dalvin Cook was my runner –up and if they want to compete for a title then Cook needs to have a monster year.
Defensive POY- Devonte Fields, LB, Louisville-
It feels like Fields has been around for 8 years now, but the kid can still ball. He had to sit out the 2014 year because he transferred from TCU. Last year he came back, but came back slow. Then the last 7 games he had 10.5 sacks including 3 in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl victory against Texas A&M. Another full year for Fields could have him sitting pretty at the 2017 NFL Draft.
Breakout Player- Josh Sweat DE, FSU-
Sweat was a consensus five star defensive end coming out of high school only a year ago. He played in all 13 games, starting nine of them last year. He finished with 41 tackles, 5.0 TFL, two sacks, an interception, three pass break-ups, three quarterback hurries and three fumble recoveries in 2015. Those numbers helped him to a Freshman All-America Honorable Mention. He also was named one of FSU’s Top Newcomers of the Year on defense at the end of the year banquet. He has loads of potential and with him pegged in as a full-time starter look for him to really shine.
Freshman of the Year- Dexter Lawrence, DL, Clemson-
Lawrence is a load of a freshman and can really give this Clemson interior line a shot at being the best in the country. He was the #2 ranked recruit in the country and will see the field even though he has two great players in front of him in Carlos Watkins and Christian Wilkins. He will also get to learn from those guys and should really be able to contribute.
Coach of the Year- Larry Fedora, UNC-
This probably should go to Dabo if Clemson go back to back but the same should be said for Fedora and UNC. He was on the verge of losing his job last year, and made some good hires and boom in the ACC Title game. If UNC can go back to back it will be because of their offense which runs through Fedora, especially with a new QB.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : George