The dominant run of Florida State over the past two seasons has helped the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) appear as a respectable power conference. But in the wake of some big changes on the offensive side of the ball, the Noles’ two-year-long regular season win-streak will likely come to an end this season.
While they still head the favorites to win the ACC, they’re the most susceptible they’ve looked in three years. Can another team rise up from the pack and knock off the Noles?
Or, God forbid, could any of these teams actually challenge for a playoff spot?
Lets examine the field and their odds to win the 2015 ACC crown:
(10) Florida State: 12/5
- Everett Golson will, in fact, have the unenviable task of filling the shoes vacated by Jameis Winston. The transfer from Notre Dame won’t get the benefit of any of Winston’s top weapons, either, as WR Rashad Greene, TE Nick O’Leary, and four-fifths of the offensive line have all moved on. At least running back Dalvin Cook has been reinstated following a suspension. The team will need more out of a defense that was inconsistent, to say the least, last year, allowing 94 points over their final two games. They enter the year ranked no. 10 in the AP Poll.
(12) Clemson: 3/1
- The biggest challenger to the Seminoles crown this year is no. 12 Clemson and sophomore QB Deshaun Watson. The Tigers dropped a 23-17 OT decision to Florida St. last year before injuries derailed much of Watson’s freshman year. Still, he managed to tally 1,466 yards and 14 TDs to just two interceptions, while adding another 200 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. A full season with Watson, a darkhorse Heisman candidate, at the helm should have this offense rolling. The Tiger defense was one of the best in the nation last year and, despite losing Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony, they should still be a quality unit.
(16) Georgia Tech: 11/2
- Favorites to represent the Coastal Division in the title game, the no. 16 Yellow Jackets are up against a tough schedule that includes four teams ranked in the preseason top-15 (at no. 11 Notre Dame; at no. 12 Clemson; vs. no. 10 Florida State; and vs. no. 9 Georgia). Paul Johnson’s team, which had the run-heaviest attack in the nation last year (that saw them average over 56 rushing attempts per game), will once again lean on the ground game. Fleet-footed QB Justin Thomas returns with hopes of making a second straight ACC championship game.
Virginia Tech: 11/2
- If Georgia Tech stumbles, look for the Hokies to capitalize. Dominant defense and boasting one of the nation’s best pass rushes, Frank Beamer’s offense just needs to be average to take advantage of a favorable schedule (following their season opener against Ohio State). Starting QB Michael Brewer had an inconsistent season in 2014 after transferring from Texas Tech, but a full year of learning the offense should help his development, as will having a stable of capable running backs like J.C. Coleman and Marshawn Williams.
- Another year under Bobby Petrino should yield more improvements for this Louisville program, but only if they can find some stability under center. Last season, the Cards used three QBs, and a fourth, Tyler Ferguson, enters the mix this season. To replenish the ten stars they lost to the NFL draft, including star wide receiver DeVante Parker, Louisville got some blue-chip transfers, like former Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Devonte Fields. It will be interesting to see how quickly this new team can gel, especially given an early schedule that has them playing no. 6 Auburn in Week 1 and no. 12 Clemson in Week 3.
- Head coach Al Golden enters this season on the hot seat. Other than producing a ton of NFL talent, the Hurricanes don’t have anything to show over his four-year tenure, going .500 in conference play and losing two bowl games. One of the lone bright spots last season was the play of then-freshman QB Brad Kaaya. Expect the passing game to continue to take strides in his second year. However, Joseph Yearby will need to lead the ground game single-handedly after the Canes lost RB Gus Edwards for the season. Overall, Miami has the potential to be much better this year, but this may not be reflected in their record, thanks to a brutal schedule.
NC State: 16/1
- Tabbed by many as the team that could surprise in the ACC this year, the Wolfpack return ten starters on offense and another seven on defense. Dave Doeren executed a masterful turnaround last season, going from 3-9 to a respectable 8-5. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, coming off a great season (26 TDs to nine picks) will be at the helm again, playing behind a veteran offensive line and handing off to senior back Shadrach Thornton (following his two game suspension). Games at Va-Tech and Florida State and vs. Clemson will dictate whether Doeren’s crew is really an upper echelon ACC team.
- David Cutcliffe has helped a sorry Duke (17/1) program claw back to relevance, but inexperience at quarterback makes it hard to expect great things out of this group. Pittsburgh (25/1) boasts the conference’s best running back, James Conner, and possibly receiver, Tyler Boyd, but little else. Meanwhile, North Carolina (33/1) seems destined to disappoint again.
(Photo Credit: Parker Anderson (Originally posted to Flickr. Photo may appear cropped.)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/].)