2017 ACC Atlantic Preview

1. Florida State Seminoles– There’s a strong possibility that we could see ACC teams in the national championship game three years in a row. With the talent that Jimbo Fisher has in place, the Florida State Seminoles will enter the 2017 season with high expectations and it will all start with Quarterback, Deondre Francois who will enter the year looking to build off a learning experience in 2016. Dalvin Cook is gone, but they found his replacement in five-star freshman, Cam Akers and he’ll be counted on to keep the running game afloat. The defense improved in the second half of the season and this year, they’ll get a boost with the return of safety Derwin James who will be a huge addition to a secondary that will be returning star Tavarus McFadden at corner. The front seven lost Defensive end DeMarcus Walker, but keep your eye out for Josh Sweat to come in and have a standout 2017 campaign. The Seminoles path to the playoffs won’t be an easy one. They face the defending champs at Clemson and have battles with Louisville who destroyed them last season in week three along with an interstate battle with Miami. Let’s not also forget they also open things up with Alabama in Atlanta come week one.

2. Clemson Tigers– As the title game approached this past January, I stated that they had a really good shot to beat Alabama and they did just that. Coach Swinney’s team has the staying power to be competitive in 2017, but their path to repeat as champions will not be easy. Clemson lost the core of their offense. Replacing Deshaun Watson will be a task of itself, and then you also lose running back Wayne Gallman, tight end Jordan Leggett and star receivers Artavis Scott and Mike Williams. The defense also lost some key pieces in Ben Boulware, safeties Cordea Tankersley and Jadar Johnson. Brent Venables is one of the best defensive minds in the nation and he will have the Clemson defense ready to play. Defensive end Christian Wilkins and tackle Dexter Lawerence are both returning which should give them a boost. The defending champs just won’t go away. I still expect them to play hard.

3. Louisville Cardinals– They were in the hunt to make the playoffs last year. Bobby Petrino had them in great shape, until they lost their last three games. This is a team that I see in the hunt for the ACC Atlantic division title. Lamar Jackson is back and I’m anxious to see how he will elevate his game, especially as a passer from the pocket. If Deshaun Watson could do it last season, I know Lamar can. I see him progressing as a passer and still rushing for 1,000 yards. The biggest priority for Louisville this year will be an improved offensive line. I’ve often said you play as well as those five guys up front and the last thing you want to see is your quarterback running for his life which can lead to frustration passes and ultimately, turnovers. The coaching staff also lost some guys on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left to become the coordinator at Mississippi State and Peter Sirmon will call the plays for the defense now. Louisville wasn’t bad last season. Let’s see what happens with them in 2017.

4. North Carolina Wolf Pack– Dave Doern has this program headed in the right direction. They finished the regular season out by claiming victories in three of their final four games. Is this a team that can challenge Clemson, Florida State and Louisville in the division? They have home match ups against two of those teams (Clemson and Louisville), and rival North Carolina will also make a visit to Raleigh. An improvement in the win column is certainly within reach. Johnny Frasier will be the starting running back will replace Matt Dayes. The defense last season allowed a total of 5.1 yards per play and I think they can be even better this fall.

5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons– They had a breakthrough year in 2016. After posting 3-9 records in back to back seasons, they finished 7-6 last season and defeated Temple in the Military Bowl. Another winning season is definitely obtainable in 2017 as they return nearly everyone on offense and they’ll have a solid core on defense. Quarterbacks John Wolford and Kendall Hinton will compete for the starting job in spring ball, but the supporting cast has improved with the emergence of running back Cade Carney and the continued play of tight end Cam Serigne. Their defense finished third in the ACC in fewest points allowed (22.3).

6. Syracuse Oragemen– Entering his second year at Syracuse, Dino Babers has this program trending in the right direction. The Orange finished 4-8 in Babers’ debut last season and scored an upset win over Virginia Tech in mid-October. Another step forward is within reach next year, especially if quarterback Eric Dungey stays healthy. Dungey threw for 2,679 yards and 15 scores in nine games in 2016 but missed time at the end of the last two seasons due to injury. Dungey will miss top target Amba Etta-Tawo (94 catches). However, Ervin Phillips (90) and Steve Ishmael (48) are a talented duo on the outside. The offensive line surrendered 38 sacks last year but should improve with better luck in the health department. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for Syracuse next fall. For this team to earn a bowl bid, the defense needs to show marked improvement. The Orange gave up 38.6 points per game and 6.9 yards per play in 2016 and numbers like that are the reason they lost games.

7. Boston College Eagles– This was another team that improved in 2016. Under Coach Steve Addazio, Boston College has recorded seven wins in three of its last four seasons. I don’t see why they can’t make another trip to a bowl game, but they will have to fix a few things on offense. Who will be the starting quarterback? Patrick Towles is gone and the two top options are Darius Wade and Anthony Brown. The running game will be in great shape with the return of Jon Hillman and Davon Jones. With that being said, the offense will be leaning heavily on the running game to take pressure off the new quarterback. The defense has been a tremendous strength for them over the years and the unit should remain strong once again.

Prediction: The Florida State Seminoles will win this division. I have the utmost confidence in Jimbo Fisher and saw what he was able to do in a rebuilding year two seasons ago when they won ten games after losing Jameis Winston. I look for Deondre Francois to take control of this team and develop not just as a football player, but a leader whether that’s on the field and leading by example, or being a vocal leader in the locker room. Barring any setbacks or injuries, this is a playoff team.