Welp, college football is only 36 sleeps away, and that means Watching College Football’s back! Just like last year, I’ll be helping you figure out how best to fill your jam-packed Saturday, sorting the entertaining slam-bangers from the enervating snooze-fests.
To get you all hype for the best sport out there (don’t @ me), I thought I’d throw together a little conference-by-conference weekly season preview. But just like you don’t need to worry about watching every game, you don’t need to worry about knowing every team. So I’ll break it down, talking about the likely champs, the probable contenders, and the possible dumpster fires you can look forward to. I’ll be doing this for every Power-5 conference in alphabetical order (sorry, UCF and Notre Dame and I guess BYU).
And what conference is first in the alphabet but dead last in competitiveness? You guessed it! Welcome to the Atlantic Coast.
CHAMPION: Clemson Tigers
The fact that the most terrifying team in college football (yes, including Alabama) gets to dunk all over a still mostly weak ACC schedule is just plain unfair. Now for all of my Tide-loving fans who are sharpening their knives, I’m sorry, but this year Clemson has to be favored to repeat as national champions. Not only do they have an easier schedule than Bama, they’ve lost no one special and still have the best QB in the sport, prohibitive Heisman frontrunner and resplendent dudebro Trevor Lawrence.
I also strongly believe that the Tigers have the “secret sauce” needed to put together a championship-caliber squad: a stout, nigh-unbeatable offensive line. An OL can make or break your offense because it is a factor on every single play, either in pass protection or slamming defensive linemen out of the way of the RB. Four starters coming back this year to an already top-tier offensive line means the Tigers are in good shape from day one.
And Trevor Lawrence has an embarrassment of riches as signal-caller. Travis Etienne is back carrying the rock, and Clemson’s WRs are a speedy bunch.
Brent Venables is a solid defensive coordinator, but the weakest part of Clemson’s squad is its defense. However, they should still be good, and get better as the year progresses.
RUNNER-UP: Miami Hurricanes
Hey, Manny Diaz is back home! He’s dipped into the Former Saban Coaching Pool and fished out Dan Enos to run his offense. Thing is, he’s got a big question mark at the QB position right now, and they’ll need the offensive line to step up. They were mediocre at best last year.
But Miami could take advantage of the ACC (did I mention it’s weak?). And unlike our Dark Horse below, they don’t have to face the buzz saw that is Clemson.
They do, however, get the dangerous Florida Gators in Week One. After that, their run looks pretty smooth, though VT in early October could provide a bump in the road.
Miami will be able to lean on their defense through the whole thing, which returns a bunch of starters and is their undeniable strength as a program. I expect them to face Clemson in the ACC Championship, where the D will get its biggest test.
DARK HORSE: Syracuse Orange
It’s always a treat to watch Syracuse run the wide-open spread. Their WR corps is zoomy as usual this year. And playing inside a dome is always an advantage for passing teams.
Dino Babers will have the Orange ready for September 14, in probably the ACC’s biggest matchup all year against Clemson. If they knock off the Tigers, watch out. They’ll probably breeze through the rest of their slate.
The majority of their stout defense is back too. They’re a complete cipher to me, and I think they’ll still be a force to be reckoned with in some bowl game even if they don’t make the ACC Championship.
DISAPPOINTMENT: Florida State Seminoles
Look, Willie Taggart is making progress crafting the Seminoles in his inscrutable image, but he doesn’t quite have the talent he needs to make a run yet. They’ll have a lackluster OL this year, which will not help newcomer OC Kendal Briles execute a Baylor-style (I assume) run and gun offense.
Yet as usual, look around at all the pundits and the Noles are getting a massive amount of overhype. They’re not contenders right now in my opinion, though. They’re still rebuilding.
NOT A CHANCE: North Carolina Tar Heels
Mack Brown running a non-Texas program as his eventual springboard back to Texas could be Herm-Edwards-at-Arizona-State levels of funny. But like FSU, the Tar Heels do not have the talent to contend quite yet.
Their QB’s young, and while they have a solid crew of RBs, their offense is currently one-dimensional. Depending on whether ol’ Mack actually puts some effort into recruiting, they could be a surprise Coastal Division contender next year. But not this one.
That’s all for the ACC, folks! Follow me at @WatchingCFB on Twitter for more college football takes and updates. See you next week, where we’ll take a look at the Big Ten.