Photo Courtesy of SportsFormulator
Written by: John Stocco
The ACC conference is in a state of transition. Florida State, Wake Forest, and Louisville are in a total rebuild mode with their football team and their culture; Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Miami are walking into the 2019 season with new head coaches, and Duke, North Carolina State, and Boston College lost some of their best players to the NFL. The kings of the ACC are the Clemson Tigers. The ACC in 2019 is the same old story as the ACC in 2018: It’s Clemson’s conference and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Let’s take a look into the future and let’s see what we can look forward to as the rest of the ACC builds their way back up.
There isn’t a team in college football riding more momentum than the Clemson Tigers. They’re walking into the 2019 season losing all of their playmakers on defense and they’re still one of the favorites to win the National Championship once again. All of the talk in 2018 was about their defense; 2019 will be all about their offense. If Lawrence was draft eligible, “tank for Tua” wouldn’t be a thing. Lawrence is the best quarterback in college football and he has elite weapons with NFL talent to work with. Clemson is the cream of the crop not only in the ACC but in all of college football.
Key losses: Clellin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Trayvon Mullen, Mitch Hyatt, Hunter Renfrow.
Players to watch: Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Isaiah Simmons, Tee Higgins, Jackson Carman, AJ Terrell.
If you asked 100 people five years ago what would happen first — Syracuse winning another National Championship in basketball or Syracuse winning 10 games in football, I guarantee 99 of them would bet all their money on another National Championship for the Orange. Syracuse football is an interesting story. Head coach Dino Babers has really turned that program around. Last year they went 10-3, and now they’re looking to build up. Almost everyone is back on the offensive side of the ball. They have two exciting running backs that will split time, and receivers like Trishton Jackson and Taj Harris will be overlooked because of the stacked talent in the 2020 class. The offense will put up points and bunches and they will be a highlight reel favorite, but their defense is what could hold them back from another 10 game winner this season
Key losses: Eric Dungey, Jamal Custis, Chris Slayton, Dontae Strickland.
Players to watch: Tommy DeVito, Taj Harris, Trill Williams, Mikel Jones, Abdul Adams, Moe Neal.
3. Wake Forest
Head coach Dave Clawson has something special brewing at Wake Forest. I’m predicting the Demon Deacons will be college football’s biggest breakout team in 2019. Except for lineman Phil Haynes and Ryan Anderson, Wake Forest has most of their players coming back for the 2019 season. A wild card that the Deacons will throw at teams this year will be the use of two starting quarterbacks: Jamie Newman and Sam Hartman. The two-quarterback system is something teams have been trying to make this work for a few years. Tua and Hurts, Fromm and Fields, Book and Wimbush. Usually, it doesn’t work and the team looks to one guy to take the team to the promised land.
Key losses: Phil Haynes, Ryan Anderson, Greg Dortch, Alex Bachman, Matt Colburn, Cam Glenn.
Players to watch: Cade Carney, Scotty Washington, Sage Surratt, Boogie Basham, Shamar McCollum.
4. North Carolina State
There might not be a team in college football who’s lost more talent than North Carolina State. Last year the Wolfpack relied heavily on the passing game, and you can’t blame them. According to Todd McShay, Finley was the most NFL ready quarterback in college football last year. NC State is going to be just fine on the defensive side of the ball as leaders like safety Jarius Morehead and edge rusher James Smith-Williams will make the Wolfpack have one of the best defenses in the conference. It’ll be tough to score points, but if there are slivers of hope it’s true freshman Zonovan Knight and wide receiver Emeka Emezie.
Key losses: Ryan Finley, Kelvin Harmon, Jakobi Meyers, Garrett Bradbury, Germaine Pratt.
Players to watch: Emeka Emezie, Zonovan Knight, James Smith-Williams, Isaiah Moore, Jarius Morehead.
5. Florida State
It was ugly for Florida State last season, and 2019 doesn’t look any prettier. Willie Taggart is entering his second year as the Seminoles are continuing the rebuild of the team and the culture. One thing Florida State must do is address the offensive line problem because no matter who’s the quarterback, or who’s the running back, Florida State will have very little success if their offensive line continues to be a disaster.
Key losses: Brian Burns, Deondre Francois, Nyqwan Murray.
Players to watch: James Blackman, Tamorrion Terry, Levonta Taylor, Janarius Robinson, Joshua Kaindoh.
6. Boston College
Boston College just lost too much NFL talent, and that’s something only a few programs can replace every season. That’s not Boston College. Looking at their schedule, the Golden Eagles will suffer from losing too much without much talent to step up to fill those holes. On the bright side, AJ Dillon is one of the best running backs in the country. An absolute tank with an endless motor, another All American season could make him the first running back taken if he enters the NFL Draft.
Key losses: Chris Lindstrom, Will Harris, Tommy Sweeney, Zach Allen, Wyatt Ray, Lukas Dennis.
Players to watch: AJ Dillon, Jeff Smith.
Louisville football has hit rock bottom. There isn’t much to look forward to if you’re a Louisville football fan. In 2019 the story will be raw talent getting the opportunity to set a new standard in Louisville. While Scott Satterfield was the head coach at Appalachian State, he always had a running back that rushed for over 1,000 yards, and the Cardinals have 2 exciting players running out of the backfield. Hassan Hall and Javian Hawkins are the few players that will make Louisville football worth watching.
Key losses: Jaylen Smith.
Players to watch: Hassan Hall, Javian Hawkins, Boosie Whitlow, Amonte Caban.
The Miami Hurricanes were undoubtedly the most disappointing team in 2018, and after that failed season Mark Richt retired. Manny Diaz is now calling the shots, and he’s already made an impact. The Hurricanes didn’t have a defensive problem, as that’s one of the main reasons why Manny Diaz took over as the head coach. Miami had a quarterback problem and to fix that problem they received Tate Martell from Ohio State via the transfer portal. With the dual threat that is Martell and the athleticism and explosiveness you see from Miami’s playmakers, it’s why the Canes can be back on top of the ACC in 2019.
Key losses: Sheldrick Redwine, Michael Jackson, Joe Jackson, Jaquan Johnson, Travis Homer, Gerald Willis.
Players to watch: Jeff Thomas, KJ Osborn, Shaquille Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, Trajan Bandy.
The Panthers relied on their running game a lot in 2018, and now they walk into 2019 without their two top running backs. AJ Davis is now the man in the backfield and he doesn’t have much experience as his career totals equal out to 48 rushing attempts, 174 yards, and just one touchdown. Pitt will need to use is passing attack with quarterback Kenny Pickett and senior receiver Maurice French, but Pickett doesn’t light up the stat sheet either, only averaging 140 passing yards a game. If the Panthers aren’t producing enough points, look for redshirt freshman Nick Patti to be the new man on campus.
Key losses: Qadree Ollison, Darrin Hall, Dewayne Hendrix.
Players to watch: Nick Patti, Maurice Ffrench, AJ Davis, Rashad Weaver, Dane Jackson, Damar Hamilton.
3. Virginia Tech
Injuries and a terrible season of defense are what happened to Virginia Tech last year. This year they lost their starting quarterback to Maryland, but they have an unlimited amount of targets for the new quarterback. That said, the position is an open competition heading into camp between four-star recruit transfer from Oregon Braxton Burmeister, Quincy Patterson, and Ryan Willis. If one of these guys pans out, the Hokies could have quite the turnaround.
Key losses: Josh Jackson.
Players to watch: DeShawn McClease, Tre Turner, Damon Hazelton, Bryce Watts.
Even though Virginia lost their three biggest playmakers on offense, the success of the Cavaliers solely depends on the development of Bryce Perkins. On the defensive side, there are still positives after losing Juan Thornhill. In some people’s eyes, Virginia has the best cornerback in college football with the return of Bryce Hall. I don’t expect Virginia to be one of those teams that shock the world, but in a weak conference, they should be able to pull out 7 wins.
Key losses: Juan Thornhill, Tim Harris, Olamide Zaccheaus, Chris Peace, Jordan Ellis.
Players to watch: Bryce Hall.
5. North Carolina
The return of the Mack will be on repeat all throughout the summer and fall. NCAA violations and the lack of talent has hurt the Heels, and they haven’t found much success at all. Coach Mack Brown was an excellent hire. The talent and the results won’t come immediately, but Brown will surround himself with great coordinators and he can sit in any living room and win a family over. The most important thing for North Carolina football is getting talent in the door.
Key losses: Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Malik Carney, Cole Holcomb.
Players to watch: Michael Carter, Carl Tucker, Tomon Fox, Jason Strowbridge.
When a small (football) school loses a quarterback taken in the first round you tend to think they’re going to fall off the map, but for Duke, they never really were on the map and Daniel Jones wasn’t someone who tore up the college football scene. Believe it or not, even with an offensive minded coach, the defense will be the leading force of the Blue Devils. On the offensive side of the ball, Duke now turns to senior quarterback Quentin Harris. The problem with Duke is the lack of speed and explosiveness coming out of the backfield.
Key losses: Daniel Jones, Joe Giles-Harris, TJ Rahming, Davis Koppenhaver.
Players to watch: Marquis Waters.
7. Georgia Tech
A new coach bringing in an entirely new system with the same old players. It’s not going to be pretty, but the higher-ups for the Yellow Jackets expected that this season would be full of growing pains.
Key losses: Taquan Marshall, Anree Saint-Amour, and Desmond Branch.
Players to watch: Ahmarean Brown.