You have questions about the college football season and, lucky for you, we have the answers. Well, at least the answers that make the most sense as things stand now.
With the openers less than a month away – and practices starting this weekend – we rounded up columnist Luke DeCock and our reporters who cover Duke, N.C. State and North Carolina, and asked them the tough questions.
You know – like whether any ACC team can stay within three touchdowns of Florida State. Without further delay, our annual – for at least two years now – preseason roundtable:
The ACC is a larger league now, and the league’s second tier – Clemson, Louisville and even Duke, this season – is stronger now than then. Still, an all-star team from the other 13 ACC teams might not be good enough to beat FSU, which won all but one of its ACC games last season by at least 27 points.
The main issue for FSU is will its defense be as good as last year? The defense, which lost coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to Georgia, caused 35 turnovers and scored eight touchdowns last season. Those numbers will be nearly impossible to duplicate against a tougher schedule and with three All-American defenders lost to the NFL.
That said, to beat every single ACC foe by at least three touchdowns ... I wouldn’t bet on it. Last year, FSU wasn’t as sharp at Boston College and won by “only” 14 points. Someone from the trio of Clemson, Louisville and Notre Dame (do the Irish count?) will finish within 21.
That said, parity reigns in the Coastal. Duke returns the vast majority of players who led the team to the Coastal Division title last year, but North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech have the pieces to compete, too (at least the Hokies’ defense should keep them in games).
Duke was good and fortunate last season. My main concern is the safety net that was quarterback/touchdown machine Brandon Connette is gone. Connette, who scored 27 touchdowns, saved their bacon in several games, even when Anthony Boone was healthy.
I think offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson got it right when he said voters would be too distracted by the Duke tradition (or lack thereof) to objectively evaluate this year’s Blue Devils. But that’s why they play the games, to separate predictions from reality.
Even at 6-2 in the ACC (a loss to FSU and one division loss), I think Miami will still win the division. There just has to be a reason Al Golden turned down the Penn State job.
If the Wolfpack can win highly winnable games against Boston College and Wake Forest, it’d likely just need one more conference victory to finish with six victories overall – assuming N.C. State wins at least three games against what has to be the easiest non-conference schedule of any power conference team.
That’s a big if, though. The Tar Heels lost their two best offensive linemen from last season. It’s the same story on the defensive line, too, where UNC is replacing two key starters.
The Tar Heels’ game on Sept. 20 at ECU should tell us a lot. It’s difficult – if not impossible – to imagine the Tar Heels taking a step forward this season without beating ECU.
Going back to 2008, UNC probably should have averaged 10 wins per season over the past six seasons, instead of the 7.6* (*-the NCAA says some of those wins don’t count but the games really happened).
The issue this season is, while the skill-position talent is there, the defense remains a general weakness and the attrition of talent on both lines is a specific problem.
There’s also the matter of this being the toughest schedule – the ECU-Clemson-Virginia Tech-Notre Dame-Georgia Tech stretch will define the season – UNC has had since opening with LSU in 2010.
Barring the kind of parity that allowed those accomplishments, though, I don’t see an area team having much of a chance. Will it happen in our lifetimes? Yes – but Florida State and Clemson have to be down. Way down.
If, yes, then sure. Give me the under by 2020 – the 40th anniversary of the last outright ACC title among the three schools.