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How will this ACC football season go? Here are some preseason predictions.

Get ready for NC State football

With quarterback Ryan Finley, the top three receivers, running back Reggie Gallaspy, defenders Darian Roseboro and Germaine Pratt back, the NC State Wolfpack look to return to the top-25 in 2018.
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With quarterback Ryan Finley, the top three receivers, running back Reggie Gallaspy, defenders Darian Roseboro and Germaine Pratt back, the NC State Wolfpack look to return to the top-25 in 2018.

As much as Clemson is threatening to turn the clock back to the 1990s on ACC football, the league is actually deeper and better than it has ever been.

The Tigers will be the runaway pick to win the conference (again) this week in Charlotte at the league’s media event, but there’s more balance in the league than when Florida State was dominating in the 1990s.

On paper, there isn’t a bad team in the Atlantic Division. You haven’t always been able to say that in August. All seven teams on the Atlantic side could reach the postseason. That’s only happened once before in the ACC (when six Atlantic Division teams made a bowl in 2008). The SEC West, in 2014 and ’15, is the only other Power 5 division to match that feat.

So while the Tigers have won 48 of their past 56 ACC games (and four conference title games since 2011), the rest of the league has done a better job of keeping up than when FSU dominated in the 1990s (the Noles won 54 of their first 56 ACC games from 1992-98).

Miami will be the pick again on the Coastal side, but they’ll get a push from the Techs (Georgia and Virginia).

You’ve got Clemson on one end, and Virginia on the opposite, but you could probably throw the other 12 teams in a hat and pick out names for the order of finish. The recent coaching hires, especially in the Coastal Division, have helped keep the league from being too top heavy. Even if you wouldn’t be able to figure that out based on what will likely be a lopsided vote (for Clemson and Miami) this week in Charlotte.

Here’s one opinion on how the season will shake out:

Atlantic Division

1. Clemson

Projected record: 8-0 ACC, 12-0 overall

Plus: The Tigers have the best defensive line in college football.

Minus: By their own standard, and even judged against the rest of the ACC, the offense was just average last season and has to be rebuilt this season.

Bottom line: The Tigers will win their fourth straight ACC title (and fifth in eight years) and do so without a hiccup in league play. Their defense will be that good.


T2. Boston College

Projected record: 4-4 ACC, 7-5 overall

Plus: The Eagles return all five starters on the offensive line and their top rusher (A.J. Dillon) from the 25th-ranked rushing offense in 2017.

Minus: They have the most difficult schedule in the ACC with crossover games against Miami and Virginia Tech.

Bottom line: Steve Addazio is hoping the ceiling is higher, with such an experienced group, but the schedule — after the first month — is not conducive to much more than eight wins.


T2. Syracuse

Projected record: 4-4 ACC, 7-5 overall

Plus: Eric Dungey, when healthy, is the most dangerous quarterback in the ACC.

Minus: The Orange’s defense (No. 106 in total defense) is not good and their style of play compounds their deficiencies.

Bottom line: This is your “surprise” team. The Orange get a home-cooking special early vs. Florida State and then sweep the Triangle in October to make their first bowl appearance since 2013.


T2. N.C. State

Projected record: 4-4 ACC, 8-4 overall

Plus: The Wolfpack has the best collection of receivers in the ACC and junior Jakobi Meyers is poised for a monster season.

Minus: The defense was a weak point last season and has to replace the league’s player of the year in defensive end Bradley Chubb.

Bottom line: The Wolfpack will look a lot like a Big 12 team this season with a high-scoring offense trying to offset a leaky defense. But the schedule is softer than last year’s, which means it can match last year’s regular-season win total, even while missing Chubb, Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels.

NC State football coach Dave Doeren discusses the start of fall practice, what concerns he has in preseason and the Pack's recruiting success before the Pigskin Preview in Cary on July 16, 2018.



T2. Florida State

Projected record: 4-4 ACC, 7-5 overall

Plus: It’s a “reset button” kind of year for first-year coach Willie Taggart with a still very talented roster left behind by Jimbo Fisher.

Minus: Both lines have fallen off in recent years. It’s hard to be elite, which FSU was from 2012-14, when you’re soft in the middle.

Bottom line: The players are going to be more dialed in for Taggart after Fisher’s message had been scrambled. That doesn’t mean the Noles are going to magically run the table again. They have too many issues up front.


T6. Wake Forest

Projected record: 3-5 ACC, 6-6 overall

Plus: In one of the great rebuilds in league history, the Deacs have the best offensive line in the ACC. This after having the worst three years ago.

Minus: Quarterback John Wolford made a lot of plays last season (39 total touchdowns) and his replacement, Kendall Hinton, has already been suspended for three games.

Bottom line: It’s going to get bumpy in October but Dave Clawson can really coach. The Deacs’ offense will be very good again and they’ll have a chance to make some hay late.


T6. Louisville

Projected record: 3-5 ACC, 6-6 overall

Plus: Bobby Petrino is one of the best X-and-O coaches in college football.

Minus: The main cog that made Petrino’s play-calling work, quarterback Lamar Jackson, is now in the NFL.

Bottom line: The Cards are in a transition year. Their defense, which wasn’t good last year, has to be rebuilt. Their offensive line, which wasn’t good last year (No. 104 in sacks allowed), returns nearly intact but needs to make dramatic strides to find a running game to ease the pressure on new quarterback Jawon Pass.

Coastal Division

1. Miami

Projected record: 6-2 ACC, 9-3 overall

Plus: The power of the “turnover chain” was real and so is Miami’s defense. The back seven, led by linebacker Shaq Quarterman, is the best in the ACC.

Minus: The Canes got a nosebleed when they got too high in the rankings last season. They have to figure out a better way to handle the pressure of success.

Bottom line: The Canes need more consistency at quarterback but their defense, and schedule, set up perfectly for another division title.


T2. Georgia Tech

Projected record: 5-3 ACC, 8-4 overall

Plus: The Jackets have alternated winning and losing seasons the past four years. They had a losing season (5-6) last year.

Minus: The defense needs to find a way to create more turnovers. They forced only 10 in 11 games last season (No. 125 nationally).

Bottom line: QB TaQuon Marshall (1,146 rushing yards) and RB KirVonte Benson (1,053) are a great one-two punch in Paul Johnson’s option offense. With the rest of the division (save for Miami) treading water, Johnson’s team will bounce back.


T2. Virginia Tech

Projected record: 5-3 ACC, 8-4 overall

Plus: Quarterback Josh Jackson (20 TD passes) is indeed eligible after there were reports to the contrary in the spring.

Minus: Two important defensive backs, Mook Reynolds and Adonis Alexander, were dismissed from the program in the summer.

Bottom line: Justin Fuente has been excellent in his first two seasons (19-8) but the real work begins for the Hokies’ coach. The schedule is soft enough that it will only be a half-step back.


4. Duke

Projected record: 4-4 ACC, 7-5 overall

Plus: The Blue Devils figured some things out at the end of 2017 and have 14 returning starters.

Minus: There’s not one road game where they will be the favorite and they play six of them.

Bottom line: The version of the team that finished with wins over Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Northern Illinois found a groove on offense. With quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Brittain Brown, there’s a good chance the Devils can get back in a winning groove.


5. Pittsburgh

Projected record: 3-5 ACC, 4-8 overall

Plus: It took some time, but the Panthers figured out that senior running back Darrin Hall is very good.

Minus: That’s the kind of nonconference schedule (Penn State, at Central Florida, at Notre Dame) that gets a coach fired. Ask Mike London.

Bottom line: Pat Narduzzi is an excellent defensive coach but he’s playing a style that he doesn’t have the personnel to make work. On the flip side, the offensive line, which has been a strength, has to be rebuilt. Learning on the fly against that schedule is a bad formula.



With receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams, tailback Michael Carter and defensive tackle Aaron Crawford back, the North Carolina Tar Heels football team look to bounce back in 2018.

6. UNC

Projected record: 2-6 ACC, 4-8 overall

Plus: The disastrous, injury-filled 2017 season is over.

Minus: There’s still a major concern at quarterback. Chazz Surratt is supposed to be the guy but the players respond more positively to Nathan Elliott.

Bottom line: Larry Fedora wants to win with offense but that’s difficult without stability at quarterback. The Tar Heels have some good talent across the depth chart but Fedora needs to find a solution at quarterback. His future ultimately depends on it.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora talks about the quarterback competition between Nathan Elliott and Chazz Surratt during a media availability in the 2018 ACC Kickoff in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, July 18, 2018.



7. Virginia

Projected record: 1-7 ACC, 4-8 overall

Plus: Quarterback Bryce Perkins fits what Bronco Mendenhall wants to do on offense and will be better than people think.

Minus: According to Mendenhall, the team’s own coach, the Cavaliers have 27 “ACC-caliber players” on the roster. The scholarship limit is 85.

Bottom line: No one said it was going to be easy. After a second-year surge under Mendenhall (6-7 and Military Bowl appearance), the Wahoos take a large step back.


Awards

ACC offensive player of the year: A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College

ACC defensive player of the year: Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson

ACC player of the year: Wilkins

ACC coach of the year: Dino Babers, Syracuse

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