2017 College Football: Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

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Clemson from the Atlantic Coast Conference beat Alabama 35 to 31 in the 2017 College Football National Championship Game as a +6.5 favorite. The Tigers are a much bigger dog this year to win the National Championship.

2017 ACC Preview

But, how will Clemson fair in the ACC? Could Clemson once again beat Florida State in the ACC, and possibly stamp their ticket to the College Football Playoffs? Many college football fans believe the ACC to be one of the deepest conferences in NCAAF this season.

Below, contenders, upset possibilities, and under the radar teams that could win in our 2017 ACC Preview. All odds listed are opening odds.

Which teams look like contenders in our 2017 ACC Preview?

Florida State Seminoles +135

The Seminoles are huge favorites to win the ACC Championship Game, and get a spot in the College Football Playoffs. On the plus side, FSU returns almost all their starters on defense.

The defense gelled towards the end of last season. In FSU’s final 3 regular season games, they held BC to 7 points, Syracuse to 14, and Florida to 13. Michigan scored 32 versus FSU in the Seminoles’ bowl game. That doesn’t matter. FSU scored 33.

But, as great as the defense should be in Tallahassee, the offense might be just as bad. There’s no doubt that QB Deondre Francois is talented. He threw for 3,350 yards and tossed 20 TD passes as a freshman. The problem is that Francois enters this season without RB Dalvin Cook. Not only that, but left tackle Rod Johnson is also gone.

Francois spent too much time playing on his back last season. If FSU’s offensive line can’t protect Francois, it could be a long season for the Seminoles.

Clemson Tigers +400

The Tigers are poised to repeat at least their ACC Championship win in 2017. They aren’t the type of team that can make it to the College Football Playoff unless a quarterback emerges to replace Deshaun Watson. But, the Tigers have a couple of luxuries that few other teams have.

First, 4 players return along Clemson’s offensive line. That’s good news to whichever QB gets the starting nod in Week 1. Second, the defensive line is stacked. When you’re great across both the offensive and defensive lines, you’re pretty much assured of being a tough team to deal with.

The 4 to 1 odds might make Clemson an overlay.

Louisville +350

While Clemson is counting on their offensive line and defensive line, there’s no question who Louisville is counting on this year. That’s quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson won the Heisman Trophy after throwing for 30 TDs, rushing for 21 TDs, and accounting for over 5,100 yards of offense.

But, last season Jackson only completed 56.2% of his passes. Defensive coordinators are too smart. If they know all they must do is put the Cardinals into passing situations because Jackson won’t complete more than 56% of his passes, Lamar could be in some trouble. He must be sharper this season.

The defense returns all 4 starters in the secondary. That’s the good news. The bad news is that all 4 starters gave up 29 TD passes in the conference. That’s the most allowed of any team in the ACC.

Which teams could pull off the ACC Championship upset?

Miami Hurricanes +800

In Mark Richt’s first season at Miami, the Hurricanes improved by leaps and bounds. Sure, the Canes lost 4 games in a row in the middle of last season. But, they bookended the 4 losses with 4 wins to start the season, and 5 wins, including a 31 to 14 win over West Virginia in their bowl game, to end the season.

The bad news for the Canes is that they lost starting QB Brad Kaaya. Kaaya decided to head to the NFL after his junior season. The good news for the canes is that Mark Walton, 1,117 yards and 14 TDs, returns. So does WR Ahmmon Richards, who had 934 receiving yards as a freshman last season.

The defense is stout. All three freshman starting linebackers in 2016: Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, and Zach McCloud, are now sophomores. The trio of LBs played so well last season that Miami went from 115th rushing yards allowed per game to 17th. That’s a major jump.

Virginia Tech Hokies +800

Virginia Tech, like Clemson, lost its starting quarterback. No worries. Josh Jackson, who’s a sophomore this season, appears set to lead the VA Tech offense. Not only that, but this is Justin Fuente’s second season as head coach. In his first season, Fuente went 10 and 4. I see Fuente’s offensive game-planning taking a step forward in 2017.

The defense, like it is almost every year, is strong. Bud Foster, the Hokies’ long time defensive coordinator, knows what he’s doing. The linebackers are set with returning starters Andrew Motuapuaka, and Tremaine Edwards. The Hokies start 3 cornerbacks. All 3, Brandon Facyson, Adonis Alexander, and Greg Stroman, also return.

Which under the radar teams can win the ACC this season?

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets +2500

Coach Paul Johnson runs the triple-option. A lot depends on the quarterback. In that respect, Johnson and the Yellow Jackets could be in trouble. There’s no telling who might end up starting under center for G-Tech this season. Without a quarterback to effectively run Johnson’s offense, the Jackets could be in some trouble.

Then again, Georgia Tech returns its young offensive line. The Yellow Jackets’ O-line might be good enough for any QB that Johnson decides to start to have success. Not only that, but G-Tech also returns its best running backs. I think the offense comes close to averaging 300 rushing yards per game.

On defense, the line must improve. In 2016, it didn’t do enough to help Georgia Tech’s experienced secondary. The secondary should be the best part of the Yellow Jacket’s defense. That’s not always a good thing.

Pittsburgh Panthers +3300

Pittsburgh had a solid 2016-2017 College Football Season. The Panthers finished at 8-5. They beat both Penn State, who won the Big Ten, and eventual National Champion Clemson, during the regular season.

There are two keys for Pitt going into 2017. First, the Panthers must find a suitable replacement at quarterback. Max Browne, who was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school, transfers over from USC. The Trojans benched Browne after 3 games last season. There were moments during the 3 games that he started where Brown looked like a stud. He made one of the best passes I ever seen in a game versus Alabama in Week 1.

But, then, Browne imploded. Maybe, without the pressure of being a starter at USC, Browne can excel. He’ll play behind an inexperienced offensive line.

Pitt’s front 7 must be replaced as well. This is Pat Narduzzi’s third season as coach at Pittsburgh. If the inexperienced players gel, Narduzzi’s squad could surprise. If the inexperienced players don’t gel, Pittsburgh might not make it to a bowl game.

Which Team Wins the ACC in 2017-2018?

I don’t think Florida State wins the ACC. I know they’re one of the best teams on the planet on paper. But, the offensive line lost its best player, Rod Johnson, and the O-Line had trouble protecting Francois last season. Not only that, but Florida State opens with Alabama, and plays both Clemson, and Florida on the road in 2017. That’s 3 potential losses.

Clemson has a good shot to repeat as ACC Champs. I like the odds on the Tigers at 4 to 1. With the taste of success on their tongues, the Tigers figure to play as hard as they can for one of the best coaches in college football, Dabo Sweeney.

But, I’m not picking Clemson to win the ACC. I don’t think Miami’s ready. Richt always puts together a strong defense. The defense always flounders. Louisville returns 4 starters on offense. I believe Jackson takes a step back because it’s going to be much more difficult to protect him this season than it was last season. I can’t go with either longshot. Pittsburgh has too many question marks while Georgia Tech must find a signal-caller to run Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense.

That leaves Virginia Tech. I’m going with the Hokies at 8 to 1 upset Clemson in the ACC Championship. I think Virginia Tech is set up for a possible run to the College Football Playoff. We know the Hokies D is going to be one of the best, if not the best, in the ACC. On offense Josh Jackson might be the best QB VA Tech’s had in a long time.

But, the real reason I like Virginia Tech? Last season was Justin Fuente’s first. I have a ton of faith in Fuente. I believe he’s one of the better college football coaches in the ACC. I think Fuente’s players truly respond to his program this season.

Virginia Tech wins the Atlantic Coast Conference in the 2017-2018 College Football Season.

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Written by D.S. Williamson

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