For the next several weeks, myself and Russell Clay will be priming you for the college football season. We’re moving from conference to conference, giving you offseason recaps, fall camp observations, season previews, and our own prognostications for 2019.
We move on to the ACC today. Once again, we’ll start with the offseason, and look back at some of the more notable news from the spring.
New O.C. For Taggert’s Gulf Coast Offense
When Florida State head coach Willie Taggert was developing his patented “Gulf Coast Offense” back in the spring of 2015, he made a few visits to pick the brains of some of the offensive gurus he had come to respect around the country. One of those stops was to Baylor, where he learned all about the fast-paced spread offense that Art Briles and his son Kendal used to win back-to-back Big 12 titles in 2013-14. Many of the principles Taggert learned in Waco made their way into his new creation, and just four years later, the younger Briles is coming to town to perfect it. Kendal will be the Seminoles new offensive coordinator, and he’ll try to turn things around for a program that failed to reach bowl eligibility for the first time in 36 years. James Blackman – a pro-style passer – is the QB1 front-runner, so don’t expect this offense to resemble the one Briles had in Houston last fall which revolved around quarterback D’Eriq King’s athleticism. It will be fast-paced, yes, but NFL-ready RB Cam Akers will be doing most of the rushing for this team.
Jackets Wave Goodbye to Triple-Option
Georgia Tech fans should have low expectations heading into 2019. Wholesale changes were made to this program – most notably, the dismantling of the triple-option offense. Geoff Collins takes over as head coach, coming over from Temple, where he served in the same capacity. He has brought both of his former coordinators with him and will be re-tooling the offense into what he calls an “NFL-style spread-based” system. The major issue Collins faces is the fact that all of his returning players were recruited to play in the triple-option. He doesn’t really have a quarterback that can handle the passing side of an NFL-style offense – expect the Yellow Jackets to hit some serious roadblocks in Collins’ first season. Jordan Mason returns as the team’s RB1 and may be in store for a big statistical season, working in the Ryquell Armstead role of Collins’ offense – Armstead rushed for 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns at Temple a season ago.
Martell Moves to Miami
Dual-threat quarterback Tate Martell was a high-profile 4-star recruit at Ohio State in 2017. He spent his first two seasons working behind J.T. Barrett (2017) and Dwayne Haskins (2018) and was initially on tap to take over the starting gig in 2019. Well, along comes Justin Fields – an even higher-profile 5-star who transferred to OSU from Georgia. Martell apparently saw the writing on the wall and chose to enter the transfer portal. He immediately settled on the Miami Hurricanes as his future alma mater, and will likely get the nod as starter for week one. Martell reportedly had a rough spring camp, and N’Kosi Perry has more game experience, but Martell undoubtedly brings a swagger to “The U” that was badly missed in 2018. With a solid duo of pass-catchers – Buffalo-transfer K.J. Osborn and junior Jeff Thomas (the team’s leading receiver last season) – a cake schedule (No. 8 Florida the only preseason top-25 opponent), and one of the top defenses in the country – Martell has everything he needs to help lead the rejuvenation of a
Here are some of the top questions still needing to be answered as fall camps are now in full swing.
Much Production Will Clemson Lose on the D-Line?
Clemson is going to be good, there is no debating that. They have one of – if not the best quarterback and running back in college football, a wide receiver group jam-packed with absolute studs, most of their 2019 national championship-winning O-line still in place and a fairly simple schedule to boot. But the main question for the Tigers in 2019: how much production will they lose on the defensive line? They had the best line in the country a season ago, but all four starters are now in the NFL – Christian Wilkins (round 1 to Miami), Clelin Ferrell (round 1 to Oakland), Dexter Lawrence (round 1 to NY Giants), and Austin Bryant (round 4 to Detroit) are gone. Individually, these are big losses. As a package deal? This is potentially a major issue for the No. 1 team in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll. Like any school that’s made four consecutive playoff appearances would have, there are plenty of highly-touted recruits waiting in the wings. Nobody knows for sure how much of a downgrade the new line will be, but
Can Mack Brown Turn Around the Tar Heels…Again?
Mack Brown is back on campus in Chapel Hill, getting ready to begin his second era as North Carolina’s head football coach. In his first go-round, Brown took over a team that won two games in two seasons and wound up taking them to five consecutive bowl games – winning 21 total games in his final two seasons before bolting for the Texas job. Fast forward to the present day, and Brown is inheriting a team that’s only won five games since Mitch Trubisky left for the NFL two years ago. He’s brought in former Ole Miss OC Phil Longo to run the offense. Longo employs the air-raid, and his Rebels offense finished No. 9 in the nation in total yards per game a season ago – No. 5 in passing yards. True freshman Sam Howell is the future at the quarterback position for this team. Howell, a 4-star pro-style recruit, originally committed to Florida State, but flipped to UNC later on in the recruiting process. Whether or not he starts on opening day is still a mystery, but when his time comes – and it probably will at some point this season – he’ll have an
Will Duke Be OK Without Daniel Jones?
Duke had a solid 8-win season in 2018, led by QB Daniel Jones. Jones went sixth overall to the New York Giants in the 2019 NFL Draft, leaving what many would assume is a big hole in the offense for the Blue Devils. Here’s the thing though – Jones wasn’t really that good. The Giants saw a highly-intelligent and poised leader, who came packaged with solid passing mechanics and decent arm strength. At Duke though, Jones was a wildly inconsistent passer at times, one that often didn’t make quick enough decisions, and had a tendency to take off running at times when it wasn’t necessary. Quentin Harris will take over under center in 2019 – a fifth-year senior with legit scrambling ability. Personally, I think Harris may be better suited for this team’s playbook than Jones ever was. The team will certainly be running the ball more, but with what looks to be another underwhelming group on defense (ranked No. 77 in total defense a season ago, and lost 3 of their top 4 tacklers), things could get ugly fast for this Duke team – don’t expect to see them in a bowl game this winter.
Looking ahead now, here are three teams seemingly on the rise, and a few I feel are likely to decline this season.
Teams On the Rise
Syracuse – The Orangemen enter the season ranked No. 22 on the preseason Amway Coaches Poll, so there is a reason for optimism despite losing 4-year starter Eric Dungey at quarterback. Tommy DeVito will take over as the full-time starter, but this team will be focused on the run game, which will feature returning senior Moe Neal and former transfer Abdul Adams, who averaged 9.2 yards per
Virginia – One of college football’s best-kept secrets is quarterback Bryce Perkins – arguably the most underrated quarterback in the nation. Perkins completed nearly 65% of his passes a season ago, throwing 25 touchdowns in 13 games, to just 9 interceptions. He had an underwhelming cast of pass-catchers in 2018, although Joe Reed began to shine towards the end of the season. Reed – also the team’s primary kick returner – caught 8 balls for 217 yards and 5 touchdowns in the team’s final three regular-season games, and could be in store for a senior-season breakout. The team’s defense is their strength and includes one of the top shutdown corners in the nation – senior Bryce Hall. Virginia has what is probably the easiest schedule in the conference. They’ll face No. 9 Notre Dame in late September, but that’s the only preseason top-25 team on their calendar, as they will avoid playing both Clemson and Syracuse from the Atlantic Division. I’d consider the Cavaliers as the front-runner for the Coastal this season.
Louisville – Well, there’s really nowhere to go but up for the Cardinals – who had an all-time poor season in 2018. Louisville went 2-10, giving up 50+ points in each of their last five games. There are 130 teams in the FBS – Louisville’s defense finished No. 128 in points allowed, No. 127 in rushing yards allowed, and No. 122 in total yards allowed. To make matters worse, the Lamar Jackson-less offense finished No. 123 in scoring. Needless to say, Bobby Petrino is out the door, replaced by former Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield. He inherits a solid offensive line, featuring early-round NFL Draft prospects C T.J. McCoy and OT Mekhi Becton. Expect more from the run game, which should be led by RB Hassan Hall and dual-threat QB Malik Cunningham. With a schedule that includes Clemson, Notre Dame, and Syracuse, this team isn’t going to be bowl eligible, but it’s reasonable to expect marginal improvement in 2019.
Teams On the Decline
N.C. State – The Wolfpack has gotten a complete makeover from last year’s team – whose core won 9 games in two straight seasons. 2019 brings about a new offensive coordinator, a new starting quarterback, a new starting running back, a new WR1, a new WR2, and three new starters along the offensive line. Gone are Ryan Finley, Kelvin Harmon, Jakobi Meyers, and Garrett Bradbury. In total, N.C.
Pittsburgh – Pitt’s run game led them to an ACC Championship appearance in 2018 – where they were unceremoniously crushed by the Clemson Tigers. Both Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall hit the 1,000-yard mark on the ground last season…and both are now gone. The team will likely throw the ball more under new OC Mark Whipple (former UMass HC), but how far can QB Kenny Pickett take this team that finished No. 121 in passing last season? Three of the team’s top five tacklers from last year’s defense are gone, and their star pass-rusher Rashad Weaver is likely done for the season after tearing his ACL over the summer…yikes. They won’t have to face Clemson again, but do have dates with Penn State, UCF and Syracuse scheduled. It’s going to be a long and rocky road for this team in 2019.
Wake Forest – Greg Dortch may have gone undrafted in the NFL, but in college ball, he was one of the most dominant receivers in the conference over the past two seasons. Although Sage Surratt, Scotty Washington, Kendall Hinton and 4-star freshman Nolan Groulx form one of the top receiver groups in the conference, it’s not likely that any of them individually produce in the same way that Dortch did for this team – 142 receptions for 1,800 yards and 19 total touchdowns in 2017-18. The bigger concern is at quarterback, where a full-blown battle is underway for the QB1 gig. Sam Hartman started 9 games for the Demon Deacons in 2018 but was completely underwhelming. He completed just 55.3% of his throws and managed only 16 passing touchdowns. Hartman was injured in the latter half of the season, and Jamie Newman came in and went 3-1 as a starter, completed over 60% of his passes, and scored 12 total touchdowns. Hartman is the incumbent, and probably the front-runner for the starting job come week one – I think it would be an awful mistake for the team to make. In a division with Clemson and Syracuse, and what looks like another poor defensive group, this team’s streak of three straight years with bowl wins is in jeopardy.
Predictions For 2019
3. Florida State
4. Boston College
5. Wake Forest
7. N.C. State
4. Virginia Tech
5. North Carolina
7. Georgia Tech
Players of the Year
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Tracy Lawrence, Clemson
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
Offensive Freshman of the Year: RB Zonovan “Bam” Knight, N.C. State
Defensive Freshman of the Year: DB Akeem Dent, Florida State
Coach of the Year: Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Best Quarterback: Tracy Lawrence, Clemson
Best Running Back: Travis Etienne, Clemson
Best Wide Receiver: Justyn Ross, Clemson
Best Offensive Lineman: Mekhi Becton, Louisville
Best Defensive Lineman: Marvin Wilson, Florida State
Best Linebacker: Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
Best Defensive Back: Bryce Hall, Virginia
Most Important Games
Atlantic: Sat. September 14, Clemson @ Syracuse
Coastal: Fri. October 11, Virginia @ Miami
Favorite Futures Bets
Travis Lawrence to win Heisman, +280
Travis Etienne to win Heisman, +1600
Clemson to win ACC, -430
Syracuse to win ACC, +2000
Clemson under 11.5 wins, -110
N.C. State under 7.5 wins, -145
Pittsburgh under 6 wins, -110