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2021 ACC Season Preview


(image credit: Neil Redmond / USA Today Sports)


Written by: Joseph Yun


College football is on its way back to a new “normal” in 2021 with an increased amount of fans in the crowd again! The series that started last season returns with a full season of 12-13 games for the first time since the 2019 season after 2020 interrupted so many facets of life. Who will win the ACC sans Notre Dame being a full-time member (please come back, ND!). Is there a team that can dethrone the playoff-contending Clemson Tigers in the Atlantic division? Who will win the always entertaining wild and wacky Coastal?


The ACC will be playing with heavy hearts this season as legendary former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden passed away Sunday morning after a bout with pancreatic cancer. Coach Bowden was the reason that many fans, players, and coaches know what the ACC has become today. He exuded nothing but class and high spirits until the end. We as a society will miss a man that was great, not only in stature but a humble service as well. Please, spare a thought for the Florida State staff, players, and administration as they grieve the loss of an eternal legend of the game. I dare venture to say that college football as we know it wouldn’t be the same without Coach’s contributions to this beautiful game. RIP Coach.


Atlantic


Boston College


Sept 4 HOME vs Colgate (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ UMASS (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Temple (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Missouri (L)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Clemson (L)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 16 HOME vs. NC State (W)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Louisville (W)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Syracuse (L)

Nov 5 (Fri.) HOME vs. Virginia Tech (W)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Georgia Tech (L)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Florida State (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Wake Forest (W)


Predicted Record: 7-5


- Year two of the Jeff Hafley regime should go a lot better with key elements returning for the 2021 season. The schedule is manageable with only road trips to Clemson and Georgia Tech that should trouble the Golden Eagles. They do host Missouri before the Clemson game so that poses as the most interesting scenario. BC might get an advantage as Mizzou has to face Tennessee the week after. The closing stretch is quite a challenge with VT, GT, and FSU dotting the landscape. They lose two of three big ones but it will be close affairs. BC will be a heavily offensive affair with QB Phil Jurcovec leading the way alongside receiver Zay Flowers while Tyler Vrabel, Alec Lindstrom, and Zion Johnson are upfront in terms of draftable prospects.


Clemson


Sept 4 HOME vs. Georgia (Charlotte) (L)

Sept 11 HOME vs. SC State (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Georgia Tech (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ NC State (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Boston College (W)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 15 (Fri.) AWAY @ Syracuse (W)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Pitt (W)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Florida State (W)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Louisville (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs. UCONN (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Wake Forest (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ South Carolina (W)


Predicted Record: 11-1


- Trevor Lawrence is gone to ply his trade for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In steps emerging five-star stud D.J. Uiagalelei to handle the reins after making a couple of impressive cameos last season. The schedule sets up well for an immensely talented team to make a run for it yet again. Renewing old rivalry ties with Georgia in the season opener will be a stern test in an otherwise mediocre conference slate. The schedule is there for a bookend trip to Charlotte for the ACC championship. DJ U will be helped by elite receivers such as Justyn Ross, Joe Ngata, and a host of others. The key will be who replaces Travis Etienne in the run game. Clemson, as usual, is stacked defensively in the front seven. Their only potential landmines are in October with a pesky Orange (they have had battles over the years), a lively BC team, and the traditional ACC Atlantic decider with Florida State. I wouldn’t sleep on a trip to Pitt, either. Clemson avoids Miami, North Carolina, and Notre Dame this season as well so the schedule is extremely favorable.


Florida State


Sept 5 (Sun) HOME vs Notre Dame (L)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Jacksonville State (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Wake Forest (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Louisville (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Syracuse (W)

Oct 9 AWAY @ North Carolina (L)

Oct 16 BYE

Oct 23 HOME vs. UMASS (W)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Clemson (L)

Nov 6 HOME vs. NC State (L)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Miami (W)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Boston College (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Florida (L)


Predicted Record: 7-5


- No team in all of FBS has been affected more than the Seminoles by the transfer portal with 13 additions, namely former UCF QB McKenzie Milton. The Noles still have a ton of talent to make some noise under HC Mike Norvell such as RBs DJ Williams (Auburn 21) and Jashaun Corbin (A&M 20), WR Andrew Parchment (Kansas 21), EDGE Jermaine Johnson (Georgia 21), and DT Fabian Lovett (Miss State 20). Watch for talented linebacker Amari Gainer as well. Florida State has been like a house on fire in terms of summer recruiting, vaulting up the rankings. The season opener against Notre Dame will set the tone as many top recruits will visit. Norvell’s men face a daunting schedule against the likes of Miami, Florida, ND, and UNC plus a road trip to Clemson but they have a chance to win at least 6 games if things break right. The matchup against eternal blood rival Clemson should be fun with the war of words between them regarding the last-second COVID cancellation last season.


Louisville


Sept 6 Neutral vs. Ole Miss (Atlanta) (L)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Eastern Kentucky (W)

Sept 17 (Fri.) HOME vs. UCF (L)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Florida State (L)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Wake Forest (W)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Virginia (W)

Oct 16 BYE

Oct 23 HOME vs. Boston College (L)

Oct 30 AWAY @ NC State (W)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Clemson (L)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Syracuse (W)

Nov 18 (Thurs.) AWAY @ Duke (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Kentucky (L)


Predicted Record: 5-7


- The Cardinals open the 2021 season against the Lane Train in Atlanta on Labor Day night. They have a rather difficult OOS slate with the aforementioned Kiffin, UCF, and the traditional instate Governor’s Cup rivalry with Kentucky. The game against UCF, in particular, is a daunting task on either side as UCF gets Bethune-Cookman the week prior and a bye week after while the Cardinals have to face an FSU team bent on revenge for last season on the road afterward. November brings a brutal closing stretch with maybe one winnable game against Syracuse. All the while having to replace star receivers, Dez Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell. QB Micale Cunningham returns so there’s some hope.


NC State


Sept 2 (Thurs) HOME vs USF (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ Mississippi State (L)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Furman (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Clemson (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Louisiana Tech (W)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 16 AWAY @ Boston College (L)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Miami (L)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Louisville (L)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Florida State (W)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Wake Forest (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Syracuse (L)

Nov 26 (Fri.) HOME vs. North Carolina (L)


Predicted Record: 5-7


- A home date against USF in the opener is eminently winnable. After that, a mixed bag of interesting September. October is going to be a bear for the Pack with three consecutive losses to finish things off. November is more manageable so it’s probable that they go bowling if things break right for them. The Cory Durden Bowl is in Tallahassee so that will be fun for him to return to his old stomping grounds. NC State has had FSU’s number over the years. A winning season can be had if they manage October right.


Syracuse


Sept 4 AWAY @ Ohio (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Rutgers (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Albany (W)

Sept 24 (Fri.) HOME vs. Liberty (L)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Florida State (L)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Wake Forest (W)

Oct 15 (Fri.) HOME vs. Clemson (L)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Virginia Tech (L)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Boston College (W)

Nov 6 BYE

Nov 13 AWAY @ Louisville (L)

Nov 20 AWAY @ NC State (W)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Pitt (W)


Predicted Record: 7-5


- A great opening month for the Orange will provide them with a bulk of their likeliest wins in a schedule full of tough games relative to their talent level. If September can be full of optimism, October has the potential to undo that rather quickly with four difficult games out of five. After that brutal stretch, a relatively soft finish in November awaits so they can go bowling.


Wake Forest


Sept 3 (Fri.) HOME vs Old Dominion (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Norfolk State (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Florida State (L)

Sept 24 (Fri.) AWAY @ Virginia (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Louisville (L)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Syracuse (L)

Oct 16 BYE

Oct 23 AWAY @ Army (W)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Duke (W)

Nov 6 AWAY @ North Carolina (L)

Nov 13 HOME vs. NC State (L)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Clemson (L)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Boston College (L)


Predicted Record: 4-8


- It’s going to be a long year for Dave Clawson’s charges with a competitive schedule on their hands. The triumvirate of Research Triangle games will probably determine the course of their season between fighting for bowl eligibility or some coaching changes being made. Syracuse may also be a potential swing game. Clawson is an underrated coach so he might be able to coax bowl eligibility from this bunch led by QB Sam Hartman. The closing kick of November will be brutal for the Demon Deacons.


Coastal


Duke


Sept 3 (Fri.) AWAY @ Charlotte (W)

Sept 10 (Fri.) HOME vs. North Carolina A&T (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Northwestern (L)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Kansas (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ North Carolina (L)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Georgia Tech (L)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Virginia (W)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 AWAY @ Wake Forest (L)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Pittsburgh (L)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Virginia Tech (L)

Nov 18 (Thurs.) HOME vs. Louisville (W)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Miami (L)


Predicted Record: 5-7


- The Blue Devils open 2021 with back-to-back Friday night games against two “quality” lower-tier opponents that they should handle. This is good because they need to replace several key starters such as Chase Brice, Chris Rumph II, Victor Dijumeke, Mark Gilbert, and Michael Carter II. Fortunately, their leading rusher and receiver return to offset some of the key losses and the schedule is favorable in September to get to bowl eligibility. The key swing games are Georgia Tech away and Pitt at home. Win those two games, they go bowling. November is a good chance to solidify a solid showing in the Coastal division with three of four games at home. Key prospects to watch LB Shaka Heyward and RB Mateo Durant.


Georgia Tech


Sept 4 HOME vs. NIU (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Kennesaw State (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Clemson (L)

Sept 25 HOME vs. North Carolina (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Pittsburgh (W)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Duke (W)

Oct 16 BYE

Oct 23 AWAY @ Virginia (L)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Virginia Tech (W)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Miami (L)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Boston College (W)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Notre Dame (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Georgia (L)


Predicted Record: 6-6


- Geoff Collins has the Ramblin Wreck raring to go after a somewhat muted 2020 campaign, breaking in several new pieces, namely rising sophomore star QB Jeff Sims. I foresee a 2-0 start to open 2021 before closing out September against the two toughest teams in the ACC this season. The closing stretch of November will be brutal with away dates at Miami and Notre Dame while hosting a tough BC team and of course, the return of Clean Ol’ Fashioned Hate. If the men of the 404 can manage a winning October, a November swoon may be forgotten as they race to bowl eligibility. Watch out for running back Jahmyr Gibbs to replicate his first-year success in 2021. He’s a legit top-five back in the ACC this year.


Miami


Sept 4 Neutral vs. Alabama (L)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Appalachian State (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Michigan State (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Central Connecticut State (W)

Sept 30 (Thurs.) HOME vs. Virginia (W)

Oct 9 OFF

Oct 16 AWAY @ North Carolina (L)

Oct 23 HOME vs. North Carolina State (W)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Pittsburgh (W)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Georgia Tech (W)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Florida State (L)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Virginia Tech (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Duke (W)


Predicted Record: 9-3


- The Hurricanes face off against the reigning national champion Crimson Tide in Atlanta to open things. September might not be as easy as it appears for the rest of the month as App State and Sparty loom. Fortunately, they are home games for the Canes so teams might not be prepared for the immense South Florida heat and humidity. The key swing game that will likely determine the ACC Coastal representative will be in Chapel Hill as they do a Research Triangle double. November should be relatively easy with the annual blood feud with the Seminoles the only question for the month. Miami has had a penchant for blowing winnable games under Manny Diaz, however, so you just never know. The Canes are loaded with talent across the roster with QB D’Eriq King, Oklahoma transfer WR Charleston Rambo, OLs Jarrid Williams, and Navaughn Donaldson, LB Bradley Jennings, EDGE Deandre Johnson (Tennessee), DBs Al Blades, Tyrique Stevenson, and Bubba Bolden. They should compete for the Coastal crown throughout the year with an easy schedule and home slate.


North Carolina


Sept 3 (Fri.) AWAY @ Virginia Tech (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Georgia State (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Virginia (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Georgia Tech (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Duke (W)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Florida State (W)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Miami (W)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 AWAY @ Notre Dame (L)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Wake Forest (W)

Nov 11 (Thurs.) AWAY @ Pittsburgh L)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Wofford (W)

Nov 26 (Fri.) AWAY @ NC State (W)


Predicted Record: 10-2


- Mack Brown’s Carolina blue men are the preeminent favorites to win the Coastal crown in 2021 with a still-loaded roster. A roster that’s headlined by future first-round selection Sam Howell and a host of offensive talent such as WR Khafre Brown (Dyami’s brother), Antoine Green, and RB Ty Chandler (Tennessee). Defensively, they feature the Fox brothers (DL Tomari and Tomon), LBs Jeremiah Gemmel and Eugene Asante, DBs Storm Duck and Tony Grimes (who enrolled right before last fall and played well for a wide-eyed freshman). So the talent is there. The schedule is difficult with FSU, Miami, and Notre Dame consecutively. It eases up in December, so the Coastal division battle might not be decided until late. Which is typical of MB’s second go-around since they have a habit of inducing panic late every game.


Pittsburgh


Sept 4 HOME vs UMASS (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ Tennessee (L)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Western Michigan (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. New Hampshire (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Georgia Tech (L)

Oct 9 OFF

Oct 16 AWAY @ Virginia Tech (W)

Oct 23 HOME vs. Clemson (L)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Miami (L)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Duke (W)

Nov 11 (Thurs.) HOME vs. North Carolina (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Virginia (L)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Syracuse (L)


Predicted Record: 6-6


- Pitt has a ton of defensive talent to replace such as Patrick Jones II, Rashad Weaver, Damar Hamlin, and Paris Ford. They have to replace 37% of their sacks with Jones II and Weaver off to the pros. Not to mention the loss of Jalen Twyman, who they played without all of 2020 due to COVID opt-out. The good news for the Panthers is that they still have one of the better talented defensive lines and Pat Narduzzi is a defensive master. Offensively, they weren’t hit as hard with QB Kenny Pickett returning for another year alongside leading receiver Jordan Addison and Shocky Jacques-Louis. The schedule isn’t too unbearable as the only question in September is the road contest against perpetual rebuilders Tennessee. They will need to get off to a fast start as October will be a bear to go through. A run at bowl eligibility might be in the cards for the denizens of the Ketchup Palace if things break right for a game or two.


Virginia


Sept 4 HOME vs William & Mary (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Illinois (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ North Carolina (L)

Sept 24 (Fri.) HOME vs. Wake Forest (W)

Sept 30 (Thurs.) AWAY @ Miami (L)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Louisville (L)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Duke (L)

Oct 23 HOME vs. Georgia Tech (W)

Oct 30 AWAY @ BYU (L)

Nov 6 BYE

Nov 13 HOME vs. Notre Dame (L)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Pittsburgh (W)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Virginia Tech (L)


Predicted Record: 5-7


- The Wahoos have a tough road to hoe with their bye coming all the way in November after nine straight games. Bronco Mendenhall’s charges are nothing but tough as nails but the games that bookend the bye are brutal. Granted, BYU will be rebuilding a bit in 2021 but still potent and UVA gave ND a tough half before ultimately bowing out. An interesting bit of their schedule is that they play a uniquely placed Friday and Thursday night game back to back. Their OOC schedule is tough but manageable if they handle it right. It will be a fight for bowl eligibility until basketball season comes around. Notable returnees that should boost their chances: QB Brennan Armstrong, DB Joey Blount, TE Jelani Woods, RB Mike Hollins, and DL Mandy Alonso. They will have to replace all-everything linebacker Charles Snowden and tight end Tony Poljan, however.


Virginia Tech


Sept 3 (Fri.) HOME vs North Carolina (L)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Middle Tennessee (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ West Virginia (L)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Richmond (W)

Oct 2 BYE

Oct 9 HOME vs. Notre Dame (L)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Pittsburgh (W)

Oct 23 HOME vs. Syracuse (W)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Georgia Tech (L)

Nov 5 (Fri.) AWAY @ Boston College (L)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Duke (W)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Miami (L)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Virginia (W)


Predicted Record: 7-5


- The Hokies have some retooling to do after several troubling reports emerged from the past couple of years about the culture of the program. They open on a Friday night in what should be an electric atmosphere against the ACC Coastal favorite Tar Heels. They have two winnable home games against MTSU and Richmond to offset the likely loss in Morgantown. October will be a mixed bag of two tough games and two relatively easy games. The battle between the Techs will be the one to watch. Virginia Tech has enough talent to get to .500 if not a couple of games over with a manageable schedule. They will probably extend their win streak over hated Commonwealth Cup rivals Virginia to close it out but two road games will be an adventure. The QB battle between returning incumbent Braxton Burmeister and transfer Connor Blumrick will be one to watch. They will have to replace RB Khalil Herbert along with a host of NFL-caliber rookies like Caleb Farley, Justus Reed, and Divine Deablo. QB Hendon Hooker transferred to Tennessee. Justin Fuente will need to win a ton to overcome his first couple of years in Blacksburg.


ACC Atlantic winner: CLEMSON

ACC Coastal winner: NORTH CAROLINA


ACC Champion: CLEMSON

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