The Atlantic Coast Conference has always been a basketball conference — and frankly always will. But one could make a legitimate argument that the conference is becoming of greater relevance in football. Last season the ACC had more wins against Power Five teams than any other conference and Georgia Tech, Florida State, Clemson and Louisville all defeated their SEC in-state rivals for the first time in 14 years.
Moreover, the ACC has had more first-round draft picks (9) in this year’s NFL Draft than the SEC (7), a conference that has reigned as National Champions for eight of the past 11 seasons. As we head into the 2015 season, the conference looks to grow on the progression they have experienced over the past few years. Take a look at a preview of the Atlantic Division predicting one of the teams that will make it to Charlotte, N.C., in this year’s ACC title game.
The Tigers will win the Atlantic side of the ACC as long as quarterback Desean Watson stays healthy and puts up the numbers people around the league expect of him. On the other side of the football Clemson can boast its defense, a unit that ranked first in total defense a year ago, allowing an average of just 260 yards per game.
2. Florida State
The Seminoles will finish second in the Atlantic Division since Clemson will win the head-to-head game on their home turf. Florida State, now two seasons removed from a national title, will look to turn an inexperienced, but talented offense and transfer quarterback Everett Golson into a power to make a run at the rest of the ACC. If the Seminoles can avoid off-the-field issues, coach Jimbo Fisher and Florida State will continue their success in Tallahassee.
3. N.C. State
Success has been building in Raleigh for the last several years and this is the year that it should come to fruition. Quarterback play from Jacoby Brissett and a strong running back corps lead by Shadrach Thorton will solidify the offensive playbook. On the defensive side of the ball the Wolfpack will be anchored by senior Mike Rose and sophomore Kentavius Street while employing a 4-2-5 system. State’s offensive line will be a question mark but if the Pack can stabilize the trenches, big things are brewing.
Adding to a difficult schedule to start the season, the Cardinals open up against the juggernaut Auburn Tigers in Atlanta, Ga. Offensive explosiveness shouldn’t be a problem with the presence of Brandon Radcliffe and James Quick at playmaking positions; however the Cardinals will miss All-ACC receiver Devante Parker out wide. On the other side of the ball the defensive line is anchored by Deangelo Brown who is coming off a career best season with 20 tackles while the linebacking group will be held down by Keith Kelsey who had 87 tackles last season. Louisville can make a run if the Cardinals can figure out its quarterback competition and keep everyone healthy.
5. Boston College
Jonathan Hillman is coming off an electric freshman season highlighted by receiving preseason third-team all-ACC honors. He can only improve this season and is potentially one of the best running backs in the conference. Justin Simmons will anchor the defensive backfield this year for the Eagles. He led the team with 70 tackles and two interceptions last season while being predicted as Boston College’s top defensive playmaker this season. If the Eagles can stay healthy, they could viably win three to four conference games this season.
6. Wake Forest
The Deacs have a multitude of questions coming into this season, most notably their youth. The linebacking corps is no doubt the team’s strength coming into this season, anchored by Brandon Chubb and Marquel Lee. The defensive backfield will be an issue as Wake has to replace first round draft pick Kevin Johnson and NFL free agent signee Merrill Noel. On offense, the Deacs are working to stabilize a young, inexperienced offensive line while balancing a quarterback battle headlined by John Wolford, who is predicted to be the starter week one against Elon. The combination of redshirt wide-receiving playmaker Cortez Lewis and a more experienced offensive line should result in the ability to win more games than last season. However, their strong conference schedule won’t do them any favors.
The Orange’s offensive last season was very weak as they only completed 207 passes last season. A new offensive attack focused around tight end play should improve production during the 2015 season. Syracuse isn’t looking at many bright points on the defensive side of the ball this season as they lost a multitude of starters from last season. There aren’t many playmakers, however. A key for the Orange to be successful this season will be to get defensive lineman Ron Thompson to the quarterback a lot.