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ACC Football: Ranking the Atlantic Division

7 Wake Forest

2015 Record: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)

Returning Starters

Offense: 8

Defense: 7

Points Per Game: 17.4

Opponents Points Per Game: 24.6

If Dave Clawson has anything brewing up his sleeve for the Demon Deacons, now’s the time to use it. From top to bottom, there’s room for improvement and nothing is better than experience. Opponents sacked the Demon Deacons 40 times compared to the 20 sacks they produced as a  team. With much of the 2015 roster returning, the Demon Deacons have experience on their side at a good time. Linebacker Marquel Lee and cornerback Brad Watson lead a very seasoned and underrated defense into 2016 looking to upset some teams and hopefully return to their first bowl game since 2011.

Key Game: Their Week 2 match up against the Duke Blue Devils on September 10th sets the tone, if the Demon Deacons can beat Duke, it could give them the confidence they need to make 2016 a special a season. Duke has won the last four meetings in their series.

6 Syracuse

2015 Record: 4-8 (2-6 ACC)

Returning Starters

Offense: 8

Defense: 7

Points Per Game: 27.2

Opponents Points Per Game: 31.0

Three seasons under Scott Shafer and the Syracuse administration was ready for some new blood at football coach. Dino Babers arrives after two seasons at Bowling Green where he compiled a record of 18 -9 (10-3 in 2015) including a bowl victory over South Alabama in 2014. The Orange have some work to keep up in a very tough Atlantic division, replacing some holes on the offensive and defensive line as well as keeping the young and athletic Eric Dungey healthy at the quarterback position. As the new Syracuse coaching staff overhauls the offensive and defensive schemes, expect some hiccups and bumps in the road in 2016.

Key Game: @Wake Forest, October 8. Their midseason matchup with the Demon Deacons will be Dino Baber’s test on growth as the Orange haven’t won a road game since October 18, 2014, ironically, that win was against the Demon Deacons. Fitting!

5 Boston College

2015 Record: 3-9 (0-8 ACC)

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 6

Points Per Game: 17.2

Opponents Points Per Game: 15.2

This season can go one of two ways for Steve Addazio, it could be a season where the Golden Eagles qualify for a bowl game with seven or eight victories or another three victory disappointment puts Steve Addazio’s job in jeopardy. With graduate transfer Patrick Towles as a quarterback option, you’d have to expect the Golden Eagles to get over the proverbial hump eventually with a more established passer, as that’s what they were missing this past season. Boston College was last in the ACC last season with 110.9 passing yards per game and ninth in the ACC in rushing yards per game with 164.7. If the Golden Eagles can find the balance on offense and put together stops again on defense, look out!

Key Game: Sept 17 @ Virginia Tech, The Golden Eagles have won two of the last three meetings between the two teams.

4 NC State

2015 Record: 7-6 (3-5 ACC)

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 8

Points Per Game: 33.2

Opponents Points Per Game: 25.8

It looked like the Wolfpack would turn a corner last season before a few off season issues derailed plans for success. The Wolfpack return much of their defense including defensive end Bradley Chubb, who many have raved about stuffing the run. Coach Dave Doeren has hired former Boise State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz in order to increase the tempo on offense and with three quarterbacks to choose from (Jalen McClendon, Ryan Finley, & Jakobi Meyers), we could see some early struggles from the Wolfpack offense but with running back Matt Dayes and hybrid fullback/tight end Jaylen Samuels on this roster, it shouldn’t be hard to find some sort of tempo that musters at least a bowl game as a result. The Wolfpack averaged 202.5 rushing yards per game last season, fourth best in the ACC.

Key Game: Notre Dame, October 8th. The Notre Dame game starts a stretch that sees two games on the road (@ Clemson, @ Louisville) as well as a Nov. 5 meeting with FSU. The Wolfpack need a victory or even a competitive effort against the Fighting Irish or things could look bleak on the back end of the schedule.

 

3 Louisville

2015 Record: 8-5 (5-3 ACC)

Returning Starters

Offense: 9

Defense: 8

Points Per Game: 28.7

Opponents Points Per Game: 24.1

The Cardinals return 17 starters in 2016, the most of any ACC team, including all four starters in the secondary. If memory serves correctly, it was just two seasons ago Louisville led the NCAA in interceptions with 26(Gerold Holliman had 14), and it could be another one of those seasons as this Louisville defense could be a very good one. Not to mention, Lamar Jackson came into his own towards the finale as well, throwing 12-26 with 227 yards and 2 touchdowns while rushing for 226 yards and two scores in their bowl win over Texas A&M 27-21. The Cardinals have FSU at home and visit Death Valley on October 1, which set the tone for their ACC fate, whether it’s winning the Atlantic or finishing third. The Cardinials have to beat Clemson or FSU, maybe both in order to launch themselves into the ACC Championship game. Even then, that could very well get them into the College Football Playoffs too.

Key Game: @ Houston, Thursday November 17. The Cardinals look to avenge their 34-31 loss in 2015 to Greg Ward Jr. and company.

2 Florida State

2015 Record: 10-3 (6-2 ACC)

Returning Starters

Offense: 10

Defense: 6

Points Per Game: 31.7

Opponents Points Per Game: 17.5

Things fell apart for Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles by the end of 2015, causing the departure of quarterback Everett Golson and an ugly bowl loss to Houston 38-24. Enter 2016 and some of the same issues still exist: Who will start at quarterback for the Seminoles, Deondre Francois or Sean Maguire? When you’ve got Dalvin Cook at running back, does this question even matter? Cook rushed for 140.9 yards per game last season a number that could skyrocket this season as the Seminoles look for the right signal caller behind center. On the bright side, the Seminoles defense is pretty good as defensive end Demarcus Walker and safety Derwin James are expected to have big 2016 seasons.

Key Game: @Louisville, Sept. 17. Yes, the Seminoles open their season against the Ole Miss Rebels, however it should be a cake walk. A bigger game is when they visit Bobby Petrino and the Louisville Cardinals, that game should be a test.

1 Clemson

2015 Record: 14-1 (9-0 ACC)

Returning Starters

Offense: 8

Defense: 4

Points Per Game: 38.5

Opponents Points Per Game: 21.7

 

The Clemson Tigers return a majority of the explosive offense that made them nearly undefeated until the National Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Clemson only returns four players on defense, the least in the ACC. But the defense, led by linebacker Ben Boulware, cornerback Cordrea Tankersley, and defensive lineman Carlos Watkins, should set the tone early for this inexperienced Clemson Tigers defense. It wouldn’t be a wise decision to doubt Dabo Swinney’s prowess as one of the best coaches in college football so this defense should definitely be ready to go in 2016.

 

 

Key Game: @Auburn, September 3. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best and the Clemson Tigers know that. Their season opener on the road against an SEC team should set the tone for what type of season it will be for the Tigers as they face the Auburn Tigers (no relation).