#ACC Football Best/Worst 2016

Last season Clemson became the national darling, finishing oh so close to a national championship. This season they still have their Heisman favorite at QB and are still loaded across the roster. One could make the case that the ACC has stepped up into the spot right behind the SEC as college football’s best conference. Will there be a North Carolina this year? Will Mark Richt get the U back into an elite level? There are many interesting questions in this conference. We are going to go team by team and project the best case and worst case scenarios, as well as throw in how close we came last season. This is not a projection of which team will go to which bowl, just a general outline of how the conference will shake out over the course of the season. We will also outline some key games that may define the season.

Boston College

Last season: 3-9

Vegas over/under: 6.5

We stated in last year’s article the worst case scenario would be finishing below Vegas’ over/under prediction. However I do not feel anyone foresaw an 8 game losing streak to finish the season to take place. Vegas seems to like BC more this season, their prediction is 1 win higher than the last. The first 3 games seem daunting, hosting a Georgia Tech team looking to rebound; then going to UMASS and Virginia Tech. There is a possibility the losing streak reaches double digits before they get a chance to right the ship. Best case: Making a bowl game. Worst case: matching the 3-9 record from last season.

Clemson

Last season: 14-1 (Defeated by Alabama in the National Championship Game)

Vegas over/under: 10.5

We identified Clemson as one of the teams to watch at this time last year. It was almost a banner year in Death Valley. 6 more points and Clemson would have a national championship and an 18 game winning streak dating back to 2014. As mentioned above they have Watson returning at QB looking at a trip to New York and at the very least a Heisman finalist. The first game of the season will tell us more about Auburn than Clemson I feel, after that the only date to circle is Saturday, October 29 when Clemson takes a trip to Tallahassee to take on Florida State. This is the game likely to decide who gets in the College Football Playoff. Best case: College Football Playoff. Worst case: New Year’s 6.

Duke

Last season: 8-5 (Defeated Indiana in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl)

Vegas over/under: 5.5

Coming off a bowl victory is usually a good spring board into a season. Vegas seems to think otherwise about Duke. The good news is Duke avoids both Clemson and Florida State in the regular season, the bad news is there are 6 road games. The ugly news: Those road games are 3 back to back situations. First-at Northwestern then Notre Dame; Second-at Louisville then Georgia Tech; Third-at Pittsburgh then Miami. I am inclined to agree with Vegas at this point, it will be tough to reach a bowl game. Best case: Birmingham Bowl. Worst case: struggling to 4 wins.

Florida State

Last season: 10-3 (Defeated by Houston in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl)

Vegas over/under: 9.5

Compared to the previous few seasons it was an off year for Florida State. We projected a best case scenario of the Russell Athletic Bowl and they exceeded expectation. However, 3 losses in the same season happened for the first time since 2011. That is playing at an elite level. The Seminoles are primed for another run again this season. Running back Dalvin Cook should be on all the award lists that come out. Opening the season against Ole Miss gives them an opportunity to make a statement right out of the gate. There are two tricky road games that could give them fits. September 24 at South Florida and November 5 at NC State. NC State always plays them tough. Oh and there is that October 29 home date with Clemson to keep an eye on. Best case: College Football Playoff. Worst Case: Russell Athletic Bowl.

Georgia Tech

Last season: 3-9

Vegas over/under: 6.5

I was wrong last season, after an Orange Bowl victory the year prior I had high hopes for the Jackets. I thought they could be a team on the rise and compete for the ACC title with Florida State and Clemson. They ended up losing 9 of 10 with the lone victory a surprise to say the least against Florida State. Let us just say I imagine the Seminoles want revenge. The good news is that would have to be in an ACC Championship game for it to happen this season. There are only 4 road games on the schedule. More good news is they get Clemson at home on a Thursday night (September 22) and haven’t lost a home game to Clemson since 2003. Best case: New Year’s 6. Worst case: Second tier bowl game.

Louisville

Last season: 8-5 (Defeated Texas A&M in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl)

Vegas over/under: 9

After stumbling to an 0-3 start the Cardinals reeled off 8 wins in their last 10 games and capped it off with a bowl victory. Vegas really likes Louisville and you know that they will score with Bobby Petrino on the sidelines. We will find out really early how good they can be with Florida State coming to town September 17, good thing is they get an extra day to prepare for that game because of a Friday night affair at Syracuse the week before. Afterwards two consecutive road games at Marshall and Clemson. 9 wins seems bullish to say the least. Best case: First tier bowl. Worst case scenario: Birmingham Bowl.

Miami

Last season: 8-5 (Defeated by Washington State in the Hyundai Sun Bowl)

Vegas over/under: 6.5

They were who we thought they were last season, to steal Coach Green’s line. I think things may finally be looking up in Coral Gables. A wild game with Duke was probably the highlight of the season. If you are Miami that is not what you want to hear. After opening the season with 2 Florida school home games, keep an eye on September 17. Miami travels to Appalachian State for a noon kickoff. Even though it is not a cross country flight this is a trap game. Georgia Tech and Florida State are the weeks that follow so they had better be on their game against the Sun Belt champs. Best case: First tier bowl. Worst case: missing the bowl season.

North Carolina

Last season: 11-3 (Defeated by Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl)

Vegas over/under: 8.5

We thought the best case last season would be a First tier bowl, the Tar Heels surpassed expectations a season ago. It had to be a bittersweet feeling though. They should have beaten a bad South Carolina team, but they did run 11 straight wins after that. Finishing the season with 2 consecutive losses has to sting though. I like how they start the season by challenging themselves with a neutral site game against Georgia and a road trip to Illinois. Even though Illinois is in turmoil, going on the road is never easy. Best case: New Year’s 6. Worst case: Second tier bowl.

North Carolina State

Last season: 7-6 (Defeated by Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl)

Vegas over/under: 6

Well we thought a second tier was the best case, the Wolfpack snuck into the Belk Bowl and were destroyed in Dak Prescott’s final game. This season they decide to go on the road at East Carolina on September 10. At least they will get 9 days to prepare because they open the season on a Thursday. East Carolina has been a thorn in the side of middle tier ACC teams for a while now so this could very easily become a loss. Back to back roadies with Clemson and Louisville October 15 and 22 will be very tough as well. Vegas may have them pegged correctly with 6 wins. Best base: First tier bowl. Worst case: missing bowl season.

Pittsburgh

Last season: 8-5 (Defeated by Navy in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Gumman)

Vegas over/under: 7

They exceeded ours and Vegas’ expectation by getting to 8 victories last season. Can they do that again this season? They could win all their home games and match, it is a rough road schedule this season. 2 back to back roadies. First-September 17 at Oklahoma State then the 24th at North Carolina. Second-November 5 at Miami then the 12th at Clemson. For Pittsburgh to get back to where they were they will have their work cut out for them. Best case: Second tier bowl. Worst case: not making a bowl.

Syracuse

Last season: 4-8

Vegas over/under: 4

They made improvement. Exceeding our expectations by wining 1 more game than we thought. Instead of week to week improvement, we are looking for year to year improvement for the Orange. Alas, this could be a very bad year after the Colgate game week 1. That is the only thing that looks like it could be considered a lock win. To be honest Donovan McNabb isn’t coming back and without him this is a doormat program. Best case: 4 wins. Worst case: Bottom 10 program in nation.

Virginia

Last season: 4-8

Vegas over/under: 4.5

As we thought when we stated the worst case would be bottoming out as a 3-4 win team. Virginia managed only 4 wins. I am forecasting doom and gloom for the Cavaliers this season. Beating Richmond in the first game may be the only thing they can muster this season. There is always room for a surprise. Virginia has not had a winning season since 2011 and I do not foresee anything changing. Best case: matching last season’s win total. Worst case: Finishing the season on a 13 game losing streak (Lost to Virginia Tech in the last game of the season last season).

Virginia Tech

Last season: 7-6 (Defeated Tulsa in the Camping World Independence Bowl)

Vegas over/under: 6.5

We mentioned in our worst case forecast they could make the same bowl as last season. I will settle on them finishing with an identical record. Justin Fuentes will breathe some life in this program that has slowly eroded since Michael Vick was at QB. A neutral with Tennessee will be a tough matchup, as well as back to back road games on 2 separate occasions: first-October 8 & 15 at North Carolina and Syracuse. Second-October 27 and November 5 at Pittsburgh and Duke. If you are keeping track that is 4 road games in 5 weeks and that is not a recipe for success. Best case: matching last season again. Worst case: having a bad first year and not making a bowl.

Wake Forest

Last season: 3-9

Vegas over/under: 5.5

The matched our best case scenario by upsetting 3 teams on their schedule last season and Vegas has decided that needs to be rewarded by raising expectations. Well maybe they know something and maybe they don’t. Back to back 3-9 campaigns leaves little to be optimistic about but who knows. The reason for optimism is all of their homes games minus the Clemson game are winnable. Tulane, Delaware, Syracuse, Army, Virginia, and Boston College are the other home games and if they can get those they will find themselves in a bowl for the first time since 2011. Best case: Making a bowl. Worst case: having another 3-9 season.

Notre Dame

Last season: 10-3 (Defeated by Ohio State in the Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl)

Vegas over/under: 9.5

Just missed our best case scenario of being in the Playoff, but exceeding Vegas’ over/under from a year ago. I like Notre Dame again this year to exceed expectations. With only 3 true road games on the schedule and hopefully having health on their side I expect big things from the Fighting Irish. They open at Texas and the only other road games are at NC State October 8 and at USC November 26 to close the season. The game with USC could be huge to determining whether or not Notre Dame or USC makes a high level bowl game. Best case: College Football Playoff. Worst case: New Year’s 6.

Conclusion: Last season we identified Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Notre Dame as teams to watch for the Playoff. I can’t find a reason to change that line of thinking this season. North Carolina will be in the conversation but beyond that that is the cream of the ACC crop.

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