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    [2022] ACC Season Preview Presented By the ACC Network

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    It's football season once again in the Best Damn Conference in the Land, but the ACC has a much different vibe after a relatively lackluster 2020 season. The tenth season of ACC football doesn't feature the division rivalries of old that would dictate who would see their way down to Charlotte for a title game appearance. Rather, it's a year of catch-up for teams not named Duke and Clemson, the overwhelming favorites to meet each other in the ACC Championship Game. Some teams, namely those in the Sunshine State, will be looking to take their youth and challenge for the spotlight after a down year or two. Others will look to try to maintain their success from last season in spite of top players taking the next step in their careers. The aforementioned frontrunners head the conference in the initial coaches poll, with the U making their return to the Top 25 for the first time since Brett Fisher's departure. Hang on, because we'll give you a few things that will hopefully get you ready for tonight's kickoff.


    Preseason Projections

    *Projections provided by the Chicago Tribune


    ACC Atlantic Division

    1. :clemson: Clemson (8.7-3.3 overall, 6.1-1.9 ACC)
    2. :bc: Boston College (8.3-3.7 overall, 5.3-2.7 ACC)
    3. :louisville: Louisville (7.5-4.5 overall, 4.1-3.9 ACC)
    4. :fsu: Florida State (6.8-5.2 overall, 3.8-4.2 ACC)
    5. :ncsu: NC State (5.8-6.2 overall, 3.5-4.5 ACC)
    6. :wake: Wake Forest (5.1-6.9 overall, 2.2-5.8 ACC)
    7. :cuse: Syracuse (2.1-9.9 overall, 1.5-6.5 ACC)


    ACC Coastal Division

    1. :duke: Duke (9.7-2.3 overall, 6.3-1.7 ACC)
    2. :uva: Virginia (8.6-3.4 overall, 5.2-2.8 ACC)
    3. :miami: Miami (FL) (8-4 overall, 5-3 ACC)
    4. :vt: Virginia Tech (7.6-4.4 overall, 4.4-3.6 ACC)
    5. :pitt: Pittsburgh (6.3-5.7 overall, 4.2-3.8 ACC)
    6. :gt: Georgia Tech (6.2-5.8 overall, 3.9-4.1 ACC)
    7. :unc: North Carolina (1.1-10.9 overall, 0.3-7.7 ACC)


    ACC Championship Game Projection: :duke: Duke (-4.5) over :clemson: Clemson


    How do we stack up nationally? Here we take a look at our bowl projections (Irish not included).


    Bowl Projections

    Orange Bowl: :duke: Duke (vs. Texas A&M)

    Orlando Bowl: :clemson: Clemson (vs. Texas)

    Charlotte Bowl: :uva: Virginia (vs. Tennessee)

    Sun Bowl: :vt: Virginia Tech (vs. Washington)

    Pinstripe Bowl: :bc: Boston College (vs. Nebraska)

    Gator Bowl: :miami: (vs. Mississippi State)




    Preseason All-ACC Team


    QB: :duke: Bryce Thompson, Duke

    RB: :miami: Ronnie Peterson, Miami (FL)

    RB: :duke: Christian Collins, Duke

    WR: :gt: Anthony Swanson, Georgia Tech

    WR: :bc: Ricky Cameron, Boston College

    TE: :ncsu: Dwayne Lawton, North Carolina State

    OT: :pitt: Jay Campos, Pittsburgh

    OT: :pitt: Izzy Garvey, Pittsburgh

    OG: :vt: Cole Fay, Virginia Tech

    OG: :miami: Josh Pennington, Miami (FL)

    C: :clemson: Bryon Alexander, Clemson

    K: :unc: Jeremy Bouchard, North Carolina


    DE: :bc: Michael Britt, Boston College

    DE: :clemson: Glenn Thorpe, Clemson

    DT: :ncsu: Emmanuel McDermott, North Carolina State

    OLB: :duke: Ahmed Nicholas, Duke

    OLB: :uva: Cameron Faulk, Virginia

    ILB: :uva: Soldier Brooks, Virginia

    ILB: :miami: Patrick Everett, Miami (FL)

    CB: :vt: Trevor McKinney, Virginia Tech

    CB: :louisville: Logan Swain, Louisville

    FS: :clemson: Marquise Holliday, Clemson

    SS: :bc: Jon Mallory, Boston College

    P: :clemson: Matteo Doran, Clemson

    RET: :louisville: Art Vogt, Louisville




    Preseason Heisman Contenders


    We'll be separating these by favorites, dark horses, and long shots, with reasons as to why each has a shot at taking home the most prestigious individual award in college football. 


    Favorites: These names have been brought up often in the hype of the Heisman discussion, and you'd be called crazy to say these names won't be in the thick of the race later down the line.


    :duke: Bryce Thompson, QB, Duke - Widely regarded as a frontrunner alongside Marcus Black and Solomon McLaughlin, Thompson gets the pleasure on having a solid running back behind him, a sturdy offensive line in front of him, and some clearly talented receivers around him. Add in the fact that the ACC in general seems weaker, and you can expect Thompson to improve on his 4,000-yard performance last season.


    :clemson: Akiem Williams III, QB, Clemson - Division 1 college football has never seen the skillset of the infamous AW3, a JuCo name highly sought after this past season. Ultimately won by Clemson, Williams III is expected to be a massive hit for a Clemson offense with a rapidly improving running back and some serious talent out wide. It's a very similar position to Thompson, only the weapons are better, though the potential remains untapped at eye level.


    Dark HorsesThese names have seldom come up in the conversation and have a few issues that can keep them out of the race towards the end, but they still have the potential, and possibly luck, to be in New York at the end of the season.


    :gt: Josh Beckett, QB, Georgia Tech- No story has been as romanticized in college football as Beckett's story. Beckett has lit the conference aflame over the past two seasons, leading last season with a remarkable 4,478 yards passing. He returns his close friend, roommate, and stud wideout in Anthony Swanson, and though his top producer is gone in tight end Jahmir Rolle, the introduction of Gabriel Sewell could give Beckett that second reliable target that he had with Rolle.


    :clemson: Josiah Brock, RB, Clemson - Brock found his stride late last season, eventually racking up 1,182 yards and finding the endzone 13 times without losing the football once. That was as a freshman. Brock's only getting better as he grows older, and he looks to be among the best backs in the conference by a long shot. The only thing that should hold him back isn't really in his control, as an explosive season from Williams III would easily overshadow Brock's consistent yet powerful performances. 


    :uva: Soldier Brooks, ILB, Virginia - It's really odd putting a defensive player in a tier of players that have a reasonable shot at taking home the Heisman, but make no mistake: Brooks is far and away the best defensive player in the country. There is no player with the impact or the presence that Brooks gives this Cavalier defense, and if he can be as explosive as he was both in the backfield and in the center of this defense, there's a very real chance that Brooks could be among the finalists at the end of the season.


    Long Shots: These names need a few things to happen for them to even be considered for a spot in New York City, but they shouldn't dare be ruled out before the season has begun.


    :miami: Ronnie Peterson, RB, Miami (FL) - The leading returning rusher for last season, the talent is starting to come to Coral Gables for Peterson's final hurrah. With two experienced and exceptional guards paving the way, Peterson could find himself with more than enough room to build on last season's success. If newcomers B.J. Cornell and Darren Keys live up to their potential at right tackle and center respectively, then Peterson could easily make a name for himself as one of the nation's more dangerous running backs. 


    :bc: Ricky Cameron, WR, Boston College - With Manny Ferguson out of the picture, Cameron is the de facto receiver in this Eagles' offense. If the passing game takes off behind new quarterback J.M. Gill, there will be no questions asked over who the man behind the resurgence will be. There's two many unknowns about Boston College's offense right now in both facets of the game.




    Mini Team Previews


    For a small appetizer, we'll discuss briefly each teams biggest strength and weakness as well as why they will win the ACC title. As you'd expect, that's a lot harder to do for some teams than others, but hey, is anything impossible? (Short answer yes)


    :bc: Boston College Eagles - HC deandean1998

    Player Spotlight: WR Ricky Cameron. We touched on this earlier, but Cameron is the clear best player on this offense. With newcomers at quarterback and running back and leading receiver Manny Ferguson gone from tight end, it's up to Cameron to carry the passing game. We don't know how his service is going to be, but Cameron will provide J.M. Gill with a reliable and explosive target. Cameron is seen as the best receiver in the conference right now; expect him to live up to it. 

    Biggest Strength: Defensive Experience. Many people within the conference will be familiar with the likes of Michael Britt, Finn Little, Darius Butler, William Gary, and Jon Mallory. All of these players make up the core of this Boston College defense. With very little turnover from last season and a few highly-regarded newcomers in Deondray Platt, Joan Espinoza, and Colin Judd, this defense could be fearsome and, to a further extent, elite in this conference. Boston College will likely be in most games they play this season thanks to their defensive playmakers.

    Biggest Weakness: Questions in the Backfield. J.M. Gill takes over the reigns at quarterback, and Jordan Godson enters the fray as a JuCo running back, stealing a job from the underachieving Jorge Tovar. We're aware of how good they are at receiver, but will the young Gill be able to feed them effectively? Will Godson live up to the hype surrounding him, or will he fall flat like Tovar? The defense might keep them in games, but it's up to Gill and Godson to get them over the hump.

    Why They Will Be Champions: Scoring Defense. The fourth-best defense and third-best scoring defense in the conference last year returns many pieces and adds newer and flashier ones. With Louisville and Syracuse receding and Florida State not expected to be up to snuff yet, the big challenge for this defense will be putting a stop to Clemson's projected high-power offense. It's very doable, and a low-scoring affair could very easily swing in the Eagles' favor, especially with big play receiver Cameron on the field.


    :clemson: Clemson Tigers - HC Emperor_of_Orange

    Player Spotlight: QB Akiem Williams III. The biggest unknown in the conference, but make no mistake that AW3 is far and away the player with the most attention nationally. After a gruesome recruiting cycle which saw Clemson nab him over SMU in the dying weeks, coaches from across the country will be looking to see if AW3 was worth the fight. If Williams III truly does light up the conference, an already high-powered offense will take off in style, and there will be no team that will be able to put a stop to it.

    Biggest Strength: No Fly Zone. Once again, the pride of the Emperor's defense will be the secondary. Headlined by Marquise Holliday and featuring five players that will all likely see the pros later on in their careers, it's tough imagining most quarterbacks in this conference making too much of a dent in this defense. They'll get a shot at Josh Beckett late in the season though, if you wanna see the proof for yourself.

    Biggest Weakness: A Youthful Shield. A lot of talk surrounding this Clemson offense has been around the backfield and studded receiving corp, but what of their offensive line? Clearly it has talent, headed by center Bryon Alexander, but is it too young to perform at the level that this offense needs? Matt Maynard looks like a stud at right tackle, but this is his first year in action. This offense in one year's time might be one of the best in the nation easily, but can it get anywhere close to those levels this year? They might need to if they're to vie for anything more than a conference title.

    Why They Will Be Champions: Simply Talented. I highlighted this a bit earlier, but this team will, without a doubt, be unstoppable if Williams III is as good as the hype will tell you. There's pro-level talent at every position bar special teams and fullback. We've seen how good some returning pieces on this offense can be, and we know how unbreakable an Emperor defense can be with the right players, which is believed to be the case here. If everything comes together, this team will run over the Atlantic Division and over a Bryce Thompson-led Duke team and right into the College Football Playoff.


    :duke: Duke Blue Devils - HC Darman

    Player Spotlight: QB Bryce Thompson. Best returning quarterback in the conference? Check. Solid supporting cast? Check. Stable offensive line? Check. Heisman favorite? Check indeed. Indeed, if there are any questions about this Duke team, none will circle around Thompson outside of if he's able to take his play to new levels. Having come off a season in which Duke made the long-awaited trip to Charlotte, captured their first-ever conference crown, and slipped into the playoffs, there's a ton of hype behind the dual-threat quarterback behind the believed best team in the conference. It's no longer a question of if they can do it; rather, how much farther can he take them?

    Biggest Strength: Backfield Synergy. All the talk circles around Thompson, but I'd be hard-pressed to believe that part of his success doesn't come from a tight-knit relationship with running back Christian Collins. The two combined for 1600+ yards rushing last season, making this Duke team unpredictable yet efficient offensively. The Blue Devils took a hit in losing their two leading receivers in Sean Spaczek and Amari Nicholson, but the returning Dean Stinson and the new addition of Jeremy Foley should keep this offense from being one-dimensional.

    Biggest Weakness: Defensive Turnover. A lot of players on both sides of the ball have taken their leave, but this is more notable on the defensive side of the ball. Brandon Brinkley, Jeremy Easter, Sonny Rice, and Vincent Tharp are all no longer in this Duke defense, and the ball falls to the likes of Jordan Reeves, Samuel Gant, Julian Edwards, and Da'Quan Glover to fill these holes. The latter two are a far cry from their predecessors at defensive tackle and free safety respectively, and Reeves hasn't seen the field of play since 2020. This defense can still be good if not better, but a fair bit relies on these four players.

    Why They Will Be Champions: They've Been There. There's turnover, yes, but there's also a ton of studs that played in this game one season ago. While Miami and Virginia lurk as challengers to the throne, none of them can claim that they have the best player in the conference, nor can they claim that they're used to the week-to-week pressure that comes with challenging for a spot in Charlotte. A duel with Clemson in the Hornet's Nest seems incredibly likely, and while we don't know what Clemson will bring to the table offensively, you know what you're going to get out of Duke, and that's a safe as bet as any.


    :fsu: Florida State Seminoles - HC DStack11

    Player Spotlight: DE Anthony Walton. This Florida State squad suffered on both sides of the ball last season, but one player in particular who had himself a year was now-sophomore end Anthony Walton. With 10 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and a forced fumble to his name, Walton appears to be the spark on this improving defense. This incredibly young but talented defense is going to need proven playmakers, and Walton will be expected to step up time and again when needed. He was big last year; expect him to be so much bigger now.

    Biggest Strength: Offense is Coming Home. Last season saw the 'Noles look abysmal offensively behind Red Mosher. Enter Brett England who, while not particularly great in his own right, was more than good enough to stop the ship from sinking completely. Injuries also put the offense into a misshapen mess, but with Mateo Gates and Wyatt Cornett both healthy, and with Noah Wooten a more reliable piece in the backfield, the offense should fall back into place and being looking more like the glory days with Schuler and Cobb. Okay, not that far, but it won't be last year's dumpster fire.

    Biggest Weakness: Can We See Your ID? This Florida State team as a whole is young. There is youth and inexperience scattered everywhere across this team, from the secondary to the linebackers to the offensive line to the receiving corp. Yes, there are a few playmakers that return from last year, but for the most part, this team is almost entirely unproven. Expect lots of growing pains, but the potential of this team should know no bounds.

    Why They Will Be Champions: Age Isn't Everything. It's hard to gauge just how good, or bad, the 'Noles can be. One imagines that they comfortably make a bowl game this season, but there are questions over if this team is one, or even two, years away from being a true contender. Florida State is going to have to grow up fast, but if they do, they undeniably have the talent to not only challenge this well-built Clemson machine, but to take it to Duke in Charlotte and overachieve their way to a conference title. Is the conference crown finally coming home?


    :gt: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets - HC statsheetstuffer

    Player Spotlight: QB Josh Beckett. The Yellow Jackets have been living by a "fly or die" offensive play style for ages. Last season showed lots of promise, and this season expects to bring more or less the same with leading passer Josh Beckett ready to give his swansong. The nation's most notable volume passer has generated a lot of buzz for quite a few reasons, but all of the focus will be on his arm as the Jackets vie to send him out as more than just a few passing titles to his name.

    Biggest Strength: Basketball on the Grass. Everyone and their mother has heard about the infamous Beckett-to-Swanson connection, whether it be related to their actual play on the field or their stories off the field. While Jahmir Rolle no longer serves as the nation's most reliable safety blanket, his replacement in Alexander Bundy is no slouch, and the emergence of Gabriel Sewell out wide gives Beckett more than just Swanson to throw to out wide. The Jackets already had a devastating passing game, but with new weapons comes so many new possibilities.

    Biggest Weakness: As Strong as a Wet Paper Towel. Mayer Ludwig aside, this offensive line is everything short of special. Leonard Tharp seems to have a fair bit of potential, but he joins an offensive line that seems incredibly weak on the left side, and that's a critical weakness in a conference that includes strong right defensive ends, notably Glenn Thorpe, Samuelu Lealofi, and Jabari Jean. The Yellow Jackets gave up 38 sacks last year, and this appears to be more than just a one-season thing. Beckett needs to get the ball out fast.

    Why They Will Be Champions: Outscore Literally Everyone. Yes, the defense has taken strides. The secondary remains less than stellar but has a tad more promise, the linebackers had a proven leader in Tanner Madison, and Julian Mondragon looks like a promising player that can add to a pretty shallow pass rush. But if Georgia Tech is gonna challenge, they're gonna have to do what they do best: score points. Georgia Tech averaged a conference-best 31.62 points per game last year, and with the offense only getting better, expect Atlanta to be a hive of excitement with potentially shootouts following each other week after week. You can never score too many points after all.


    :louisville: Louisville Cardinals HC Broletariat

    Player Spotlight: CB Logan Swain. With the offense taking huge steps back for obvious reasons (more on that later), look for the defense to be the main focus of this Louisville team. Logan Swain comes off a season in which he lead the country in interceptions as a sophomore, and the clear captain of this defense will look to replicate this performance and turn Louisville's defense into an unbreakable force. He'll have his fair share of help of course in Zack Temple and Beckett Ring.

    Biggest Strength: How Are You Gonna Score? The conference's top scoring defense loses Prince Matos, but he ends up being replaced by the highly-touted Zack Temple. A linebacker group of Miles Rinehart, Beckett Ring, and Temple is easily the scariest group of linebackers in the conference. Swain and Donte Whitfield head a relatively strong secondary, and sack machine Damien Holley lurks ever-so scarily on the defensive line. Louisville's defense is loaded with studs in key positions, making moving the ball much tougher despite a few soft spots in the defense. 

    Biggest Weakness: How are YOU Gonna Score? Between the loss of first-rounder DeSean Dockery, a new and inexperienced QB, a rather rough receiving corp, and a line that's decidedly average outside of Brady Holmes, the offense appears to be in a state of turmoil. Unlike the situation of the aforementioned J.M. Gill, new quarterback Nick Carr doesn't have the firepower around him to bail him out, nor does he have the reliable running back that Harrison Pratt was able to lean on last season. Perhaps wideouts Hikialani Feu'u and Artavius Dutton, a pair with a single reception between them last season, can step up, but that's a big ask at the moment.

    Why They Will Be Champions: Stalemates Aren't Losses. Dockery took the Cardinals to new heights, but his departure appears to bring Louisville back to the years where they relied on defense to keep them in games, only this looks like a defense that could straight up win them games. This team forced 15 turnovers last season, and that number will likely have to increase given the presence of a certain newcomer in the division. This team needs to be able to grind out results and make enough plays on offense, assuming they can find a playmaker that can consistently step up. It's not the biggest ask, but it's an important one for a team that could still challenge for a divisional title.


    :miami: Miami (FL) Hurricanes - HC ajyoungmark

    Player Spotlight: RB Ronnie Peterson. A big talking point in the conference was the loss of top runners Dockery and Reginald Saunders. Enter Peterson, third in the conference in rushing yards behind these two players. Whereas Jason Ledford hasn't been anything more than a game manager for the 'Canes, Peterson is the heart and soul of this offense, as has been the case since the days following Brett Fisher's drafting. With the team improving rapidly around him, it's up to Peterson to keep pounding the rock as effectively as he's been doing since he's been in Coral Gables.

    Biggest Strength: Raw Talent. When examining this roster, prepare to be taken aback. This team is chock full of highly-touted recruits. The biggest talking point about Miami is that they're a year away from being a true competitor, and it's easy to see when their team is absolutely loaded with 4.5-star and 5-star recruits. That alone should be enough to not count Miami out of any game this year. The potential of this team is through the roof, and you can bet that they're going to be able to tap into that this season on more than one occasion.

    Biggest Weakness: Raw Talent. When examining this roster, prepare to be taken aback. This tea is chock full of highly-touted recruits, but they're just that right now: highly-touted recruits. The biggest talking point about Miami is that they're a year away from being a true competitor, and it's easy to see when their team is absolutely loaded with 4.5-star and 5-star recruits that, for the most part, haven't seen the field of play yet. The potential of this team is through the roof, but the floor for this team is still rather low, and you can bet that they'r going to hit that floor this season on more than one occasion.

    Why They Will Be Champions: Refined Talent. Miami's recent records won't show this, but they're led by a coach that has won an ACC title. ajyoungmark has had talent on this squad before and has been able to refine it into a title-winning team, and the possibilities with this squad are so much more plentiful than they were back in 2018. If he can find out how to get the best out of his players, then the Hurricanes are going to be a serious challenger for not only the conference crown, but for a spot in the playoffs as well. Yes, they're a year away, but who's to say that they can't speed up the process?


    :unc: North Carolina Tar Heels - HC ObliviousLax

    Player Spotlight: ILB Noel Stinson. Most of the defense has fallen off, but UNC's leading tackler and playmaker from a year ago remains at the heart of this defense. From ball-hawking to jarring hits to know the ball free, and from sitting back to keep the run contained to getting in the backfield to harass the ball carrier, Stinson has proved that he can do it all. In a defense needing leaders now more than ever, expect Stinson to carry the torch for the Heels.

    Biggest Strength: A Pumping Heart. There really is not a lot to like about this North Carolina team, but one group that shows a fair bit of promise are the linebackers. Stinson aside, Charles Wilkins is growing into his own next to the senior linebacker, and the introduction of the young Terrence Keyes on the outside could provide a bit of a boost to the defense as a whole. Prince Gilmore has been a steady playmaker on the other side of the linebacker group for a few years now and gives the defense a fair bit of experience. The linebackers are clearly the strongest group on this defense, and it's up to them to step up and make the plays that will appear to be so badly needed this year.

    Biggest Weakness: An Offense in Need of a Heart. I'll put this bluntly because I don't know how else to put it: this offense is really bad. Luka Beckman is the best receiver on this team and he's shown to be nothing special by any means. There's a true freshman in Stephen Barbour starting at tight end. Kristian Noel was among the cycle of running backs last season, and his inability to pull off big runs or find the endzone or really produce at all should be a big red flag, especially considering he only lasted two games before being replaced. Mitchell Denton takes over at quarterback and could maybe provide a spark to an offense that gave the ball over a conference-worst 21 times and averaged a conference-worst 13.67 points per game.

    Why They Will Be Champions: One Can Dream? There are three teams that I truly cannot make a case for this year, and the Tar Heels are admittedly the worst of that bunch right now. They'll need a lot more than a few things to swing their way, but there's a chance this team could provide more of a challenge this year. If the offense finds a rhythm on the ground and Denton looks to be solid with what he has at receiver, then there's a small belief that the Tar Heels could at least contend for a bowl game.


    :ncsu: North Carolina State Wolfpack HC ImposterCauster

    Player Spotlight: DT Emmanuel McDermott. A unanimous selection for the Preseason All-ACC team, it's now time for Manny McDermott to take the conference by storm. The defense fell apart towards the end last season, but McDermott quietly showed what he was capable of, picking up four sacks and three tackles for loss on the season. While the team behind him as improved for the most part, it's up to McDermott to live up to the hype and become a game-changer for this team. A big year for him could see the Pack dream of bowling, and maybe even more, once more.

    Biggest Strength: Offensive Security. A big part of the disastrous runs after the 2016 season stemmed to an imbalance in the offense. Quarterbacks would be swapped out regularly, and the offense never really found a rhythm to stick by, rather relying too much on the legs of one Marshawn Matthison. Gone are those days, as Jacob Eubanks is the firm starter at quarterback, and he takes a fair share of the load with senior running back Keith Harley, a consistent if not explosive runner. With weapons such as Felix Browning and Dwayne Lawton, the offense seems to be as stable as ever, even if it is lacking in general firepower. 

    Biggest Weakness: Cutting Corners. Kamari Cheatham, while never spectacular, leaves a massive hole at cornerback. Whereas the safeties are stronger and reliable, the corner position both lacks depth and ball-hawking talent. Julian Revis takes over as CB1, and though he led the team in interceptions with five last season, he was mostly unreliable against faster or taller receivers. Damien Chatman is mostly unproven at CB2, but it's hard to imagine this group being anywhere close to consistent in helping out against the pass.

    Why They Will Be Champions: Defensive Playmakers. This defense really only loses Cheatham, Stuart Patterson, and Brian Tolliver, and their linebacker group is quickly becoming a reliable bunch of playmakers. Jamari Lloyd and Kameron Blackman have only gotten better at applying pressure, and a resurgence from McDermott could easily up State's sack production from last season. The offense should be consistent enough to average move than their middling average of 23.91 points per game from last season. If State can remain in games, which they should as a decidedly average team, then there's always a chance to pull off upsets and remain in the hunt.


    :pitt: Pittsburgh Panthers - HC TheLiberator

    Player Spotlight: RB Brayden Pepper. I don't want to choose freshman, but Pepper brings an air around this Pittsburgh team that hasn't really been felt for a long time. Last season was a fair bit disappointing with Raymond Smiley taking snaps, but with Smiley transferring out and Pepper looking to be a stud signing early through practices, his production on the field could go a long way towards deciding the fate of this Panthers' team.

    Biggest Strength: This Cat Has Bite. Messiah Winston got off to a slow start in his Pittsburgh career, but the scrambler has evolved not just with his legs, but with his surprisingly accurate arm. Receiver Franklin Pineda and tight end Dovid Dobson were big targets for Winston and are back in the fray, and the emergence of Pepper and freshman receiver Kareem Jackson could be monumental to this offense. Behind a line with the two best tackles in the conference, the Panthers should emerge as one of the more explosive offenses in the conference.

    Biggest Weakness: This Cat Can't Leap. The most notable weakness in this defense last season was in the passing game, as teams generally passed at will on the Panthers. Only two teams in the ACC gave up more passing yards last season than Pittsburgh, and while Dominique Baptiste is slowly becoming a shutdown corner, the rest of the secondary, specifically the other corners, have a long ways to go before they can really feel safe against the likes of Beckett and Thompson. 

    Why They Will Be Champions: Less Salt, Extra Pepper. If Pepper is the real deal, and if Kareem Jackson turns out to be as good as the tape shows, then this offense will be dangerous, scoring early and often. The Panthers won't quite be in the situation as their division rivals down in Atlanta thanks to a sturdier run defense and hope of playmakers in the secondary, but we'll likely see the Panthers aiming to win through offensive domination.


    :cuse: Syracuse Orange - HC CoachAnson

    Player Spotlight: FS Logan Harley. It looks to be a down year for the Orange, but one of the game's dominant safeties looks to continue his reign for one more season. Harley was as reliable as reliable could get last season, picking the ball off six times while swatting away six more passes. With the middle of the defense particularly lacking, he and his backfield partner in Javari McGhee-Key will be forced into damage control situations at the worst, and turnover-inducing situations at the best. Expect Harley to cap off his career with a big season.

    Biggest Strength: A Pickett Fence. Whereas Harley is the lynchpin of a fading secondary, Boyd Pickett is the lone sturdy wall of a crumbling castle. The line outside of Pickett is rather poor, but Pickett for over half of the Orange's sack numbers last season. The pass rush has never really been called into question thanks to Pickett and outside linebacker Gavin Benner, who picked up another fourth of the sacks on his own.  If there's one thing that you can expect the Orange to do, it's to make opposing quarterbacks as uncomfortable as possible, and they do that so very well.

    Biggest Weakness: The Floodgates Are Open. Save for Donovan Caballero, I don't see how this offensive line is gonna hold up. The Orange reside in the same division as Clemson's dominant defensive line, Anthony Walton, Jamari Lloyd, Damien Holley, and many many other pass rushers. Caballero on his own is not going to stop them all. New quarterback Connor McLean is going to have to hold on to his helmet, because he's gonna go for a very rough ride this season.

    Why They Will Be Champions: Maybe Next Year? This is another team I see with no real shot at contending for the division title. Other teams would have to melt down, but even then, there's too many questions around this offense in particular, with only two returning weapons, to really leave an impression. Perhaps CoachAnson finds out how to utilize his new toys. He's still got a defense that's as soft as a cloud in the middle of the field. It looks bleak in Syracuse to say the least.


    :uva: Virginia Cavaliers - HC beeznik

    Player Spotlight: ILB Soldier Brooks. Hands down the best defender in college football. An undeniable leader, an insane playmaker, and a player with a very bright future in football. There's not a lot than can be said about Brooks that hasn't already been said, but this defense is a hell of a lot better with Brooks on the field. No words need to be said about that.

    Biggest Strength: Award-Winning Linebackers. Soldier Brooks is all the talk nowadays, but let's not forget that Cameron Faulk was a massive hit in his freshman season and hasn't really lost the pace. Faulk sat back more in coverage last year, picking up five pass deflections while still maintaining some presence in the pass rush when called upon. They bring newcomers to the middle four, but Aden Willett and Amadou Trotter are not rookies by any stretch of the imagination. This is a special group already, but the emergence of these two would be huge for this defense.

    Biggest Weakness: Ol' Reliable No More? Reginald Saunders is in the pros now. In his place is Isaiah Clinton, an unproven yet talented running back. Clinton could very well turn out to be good, but it's hard to imagine that he will have the same impact this year as Saunders had in his final two years as a Cavalier. Saunders could shoulder the load for a young Mike Lucas. Lucas doesn't quite need that crutch now, but if things go south in the passing game, is Clinton going to be able to carry the offense? It seems unlikely right now, but that's just a baseless opinion.

    Why They Will Be Champions: A Smothering Defense. Samuel Lealofi had 14 sacks last season. He returns to the field. Steven Proctor had 12 sacks last season. He returns to the field. Soldier Brooks had 41 tackles and 8 tackles for loss last season. He returns to the field. Jaylin Fulton had 3 interceptions last season. He returns to the field. Ashton Evans had 6 interceptions last season. He returns to the field. For all the inconsistencies about their passing game that may or may not be solved, and with new questions arising in the running game, this defense can and will keep Virginia in the fight against the best of them. They'll be Duke's prime challenger in the Coastal division, and a strong defensive performance against them could take them down from Charlottesville to Charlotte.


    :vt: Virginia Tech Hokies - HC vtgorilla

    Player Spotlight: CB Lucas Freeman. A lot of eyes will be on Trevor McKinney as he looks to grow into the product that saw him fought over between the two Virginia schools a few years ago, but Lucas Freeman has consistently provided for this defense and will be expected to do just the same while McKinney finds his way. With seven interceptions and two pass deflections to his name last season, the standout corner looks to lead the Hokie defense against the massive offensive threats that lie in the Coastal division.

    Biggest Strength: Quarterback Harrassment. The Hokies return players that accounted for 23 of the team's 29 sacks from a season ago, with 21 of those sacks being from the production of defensive ends Mahamadou Chavis (11 sacks) and Jabari Jean (10 sacks). Only division rivals Pittsburgh and Virginia could top the Hokies' 29 sacks, but the introduction of defensive tackle Kevin Best and outside linebacker Mike Owens Jr., replacements of another 4 sacks from last season, should not only maintain the Hokies' pass rush, but improve it drastically, especially if Owens Jr. can play up to his potential.

    Biggest Weakness: Who's Open? The Hokies lost their trio of leading receivers in Darnell Pierre, Isiah Rainey, and Aaden Kemp, leaving Mario Watkins and his 313 yards as the leading returning receiver. He's joined be Leolani Pita and Brandon McGowan, but none of the three look to be that go-to receiver that Becket Morrison can rely on in times of need. Granted, he didn't necessarily have that last season where he threw for 3,000 yards, and Pita looks more like he can be that guy out wide, but the receiving corp in general just looks weaker overall, and that could be an issue for an offense that doesn't have that powerful downhill runner.

    Why They Will Be Champions: No Passing Allowed. Between a hefty pass rush and potentially two shutdown corners, it's hard to imagine teams throwing the ball often against the Hokies. If McKinney finally becomes the ball-hawking corner coaches have longed for him to be, this defense will make quarterbacks endure nightmares on the regular, which is huge in a division with Bryce Thompson, Josh Beckett, and Messiah Winston. Assuming the Hokies can find their rhythm in the passing game, this team will always be dangerous, as is to be expected from a team with divisional title aspirations.


    :wake: Wake Forest Demon Deacons - HC K3ndr!ck_L@mar

    Player Spotlight: WR Deshaun Pickens. The plan to hold on to as much talent as possible for a successful season worked out, but the backfire is that the current state of this team is the result. Deshaun Pickens and Abdoulaye Hawkins were both reliable for James Betts last season, but Pickens gets the nod here as he enters his final season as the second receiver and the man to watch on special teams. Pickens is a receiver that's bound to create mismatches in the passing game, so look for Betts to exploit any and all situations that Pickens works out.

    Biggest Strength: Wideouts Oversee All. There isn't much to see with this team in general, but the aforementioned Hawkins-Pickens group out wide accounted for 1500+ yards combined in the passing game. Betts has not one but two targets that he can find normally, and though the two don't necessarily have the surest hands, dropping the ball a combined 5 times, they're going to find ways to be open, and they're going to make plays. Throw in slot receiver Owen Condon, making his first career start next weekend, to the mix, and this has the potential to be one of the more dangerous receiving groups in the conference, surprisingly.

    Biggest Weakness: No Anti-Aircraft. De'Marius Mims and Devon Newton might be returning to their respective safety positions, but the entirety of the corner group is new and, with the exception of true freshman Vernon Fair, not looking too great. The defense will miss Alexander Glenn's six interceptions, namely because he was the only player on this defense that was able to pick the ball off. Not much is expected of these corners, and anything they do manage to do will surely exceed expectations, especially if Fair plays up to his potential.

    Why They Will Be Champions: Taking the Demon out of Demon Deacons. The Demon Deacons aren't expected to do much at all this year, especially after losing Kyle Palmer and Julio Cass to the draft, and you'd imagine the team itself is quite a bit stretched after the redshirting and subsequent transferring of struggling receiver Jacob Benson. That's the big news with this team, and that will likely remain the headline over the season as there doesn't appear to be much promise to this season. However, there might be enough firepower in the offense and maybe, just maybe, a few playmakers on this defense to grind out a few wins and maybe contend for a bowl game again? We've seen crazier happen. 

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