2016-08-16 10:39

The next conference is the

Atlantic Coast Conference

The conference had a big season last year, when Clemson had a great year on national television and even when they lost to Alabama in the National Championship game, which was close, it was a great season with a nice division title race between the Tigers and FSU, a prominent ACC Title game against North Carolina and the already mentioned game against Alabama.
A bit depressing should be the Bowl record, having won only 4 games out of 10 can't be a good representation.
Only the Big 12 had less, but they also played in less bowls in total (7 bowls, 3 won) and did overall do better than the ACC regarding win percentage.
That makes the ACC the worst of all power5 conferences.
A good sign can be that they had 1 less losing record team than a season before, now at 5 teams.

Overall I think the conference is in good shape to survive the Big12 expansion unscratched and with new coaches and some now at the college for some time it looks like the ACC might become a bit more competitive.

The 14 teams are:

Atlantic Division:
Boston College Eagles
Clemson University Tigers
Florida State University Seminoles
University of Louisville Cardinals
North Carolina State University Wolfpack
Syracuse University Orange
Wake Forest University Demon Deacons

Coastal Division:
Duke University Blue Devils
Georgia Institute of Technology Yellow Jackets
University of Miami Hurricanes
University of North Carolina Tar Heels
University of Pittsburgh Panthers
University of Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Hokies

The Atlantic division looks again a bit better than the Coastal, and the race for the division title in the Atlantic could be a three team competition this season.
But the future of the Coastal might be bright. With new coaches in Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech not only will the division title race become much more interesting, there will be also a much more competitive team in the conference final.
Summed up, the future might become very interesting in the ACC.
This season, we will have to settle with the current status.

So my way to early TIP is:

Atlantic Division:
Clemson Tigers
Florida State Seminoles
Louisville Cardinals
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Boston College Eagles
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Syracuse Orange

Coastal Division:
North Carolina Tar Heels
Miami Hurricanes
Pittsburgh Panthers
Virginia Tech Hokies
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Duke Blue Devils
Virginia Cavaliers

Now let's get a bit into the details:

Atlantic Division

Syracuse Orange
A new coach in Dino Babers was hired for this season and everyone is happy, so far.
Babers was Bowling Greens conference championship winning HC last season.
He is one of the next hot coaches, for now, and his success with Syracuse will determine his fate.
Chances are high the team will lose in his first season a lot of games.
Last season they won only 1 game inside the conference and 3 in total.
With the current schedule it will be tough to exceed that.
They start the season with a FCS opponent, later playing South Florida and UConn (both AAC). As cherry on the non-conference schedule they play Notre Dame.
A lot of stuff can happen with a new coach and they might even end up with 3 wins, but honestly I doubt it.
I think they will lose at least against South Florida and Notre Dame, leaving them with a possible win against the FCS team and UConn.
Games from the Coastal are not that easy, playing Virginia Tech and Pitt, two quite tough teams.
Under given circumstances I don't think they will win a game here.
And inside the division we have out of reach games against the top 3 teams and then Wake Forest and Boston College (road) and NC State.
Not that good.
Looking at that total schedule I think the team will have a hard time to be better than last season with 3 wins. 4 wins are possible.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Oh damn, the Deacons are always hard to pick.
Last season I expected them to finish last, but they won that crucial game against Boston College and finished 6th with a 3-9 record.
This season I will pick them 6th since I think Boston will finish ahead of them and Syracuse will finish behind them.
Dave Clawsons is in his 3rd season and so far he won 3 games in those 2 seasons.
Let's have a look at the schedule to see whether the team might improve.
A weak AAC game will help, as will the game against a FCS team. Playing at Indiana from the Big10 will not help much, but could be close, playing Army might really help.
In best case they will win all 4 games, more likely is 3.
Virginia and Duke will be played from the Coastal and both games could be won, but likely only the Virginia game.
In theory they would be already better than last season by then.
If they aim for the Boston College game and also the Syracuse game, both at home, they could finish 6th or even 5th.
I pick them 6th, since I expect some live in Boston, but you never know.

Boston College Eagles
I'm not sure whether the administration is happy they gave Steve Addazio a contract extension in 2014 until 2020.
Last season they fell to 3-9 and 0-8 in ACC games from 7-6 both season before that.
So what will happen if this decline in performance can't be reversed?
I'm sure he is on a hot seat, being in his 4th season, but normally, with so many season left on the contract, I think they will not fire him during or after the season if not something really bad happens.
He did react after the bad season of 2015 and changed his coordinator team. To be fair, both former coordinators did get new jobs, again as coordinators and not with "bad" teams, the former OC is now OC of Louisiana Tech, the DC is now DC of Michigan.
So, BC will look a bit different this season, and we will see, whether they can turn it around that way.
The good news is, the non-conference schedule is a winner, or should be.
Playing against a former MAC team, a FCS team, a mid level MAC team and a low level AAC team should all be considered as winnable games, the closer ones are at home.
Chances are good the team can win this.
A big question mark will be on the conference games.
They play Virginia Tech (road) and Georgia Tech (neutral site in Ireland!) from the Coastal division, which I predict as a max with 1 win, likely 2 losses.
Inside the division they have possible win chances against Syracuse and an interesting road game against Wake Forest at season final.
If they get their things together they might end up bowling this season.
Given the possible win amount I think they can finish at 5th this season.

North Carolina State Wolfpack
For me it's Boston College or NC State at 4th and the reason for selecting the Wolfpack at 4th is, they have slightly edge at schedule.
Dave Doeren is now in his 4th season and it looks like the Wolfpack has to live a live as mid-level ACC team.
Last season they went 7-6, the season before 8-5.
This season I don't see much room of improvement on that, unless the first 3 teams will lose games they are not expected to lose or NC State got better than expected.
Both possible.
The non-conference games are against a FCS team, a mid level AAC team, a CUSA team and Notre Dame.
Let's say 3-1 and move on.
Coastal teams? Miami and North Carolina (rival game on the road). I pick 1-1 here, max.
The rest? I assume losses against the 3 big teams, but then it gets interesting.
Wake Forest at home, Boston College at home and Syracuse on the road.
That means they play the probably weakest team on the road, the others as direct contenders for the 4th place inside the division at home.
Hence I see them winning that competition, finishing 4th.

Louisville Cardinals
Bobby Petrino is in his 3rd season of his 2nd stint with the team and his win amount went down from 9 to 8 last season.
This season the Cardinals are a bit of a dark horse in the divisional race and by that also on the national rankings.
Imagine what would happen, if they would win against FSU and Clemson and would win the division, even the conference.
Well, I think they can't afford a single loss during the season, since their schedule is not that strong.
Non-conference games are against a weak and a better CUSA teams, the front runner for the AAC championship (in Houston) and the rival game against almost every season only med level Kentucky from the SEC, at home.
If you aim for a playoff spot, losing is not an option in this one and they will have their closest game probably against Houston.
Could become a 3-1 campaign, could be 4-0.
The coastal games are against Duke and Virginia.
In a perfect world, those games should be easy. Duke might be the tougher team, but that's played at home.
Which leaves the division games and most notable Clemson (road) and FSU (home).
Winning both is unlikely, but winning one is possible.
If they lose both, the team has to position itself against the next team in line, probably NC State, and that's played at home also.
I think the Cardinals are still at least a season away from challenging the Tigers and the Seminoles and will have to settle with 3rd place.

Florida State Seminoles
Last season was rebuilding mode, where they lost 3 games.
The most surprising one was the loss against Georgia Tech mid-season.
This season will Jimbo Fisher (his 7th as HC) have a much more experienced team, except on QB.
They might have to work with a redshirt freshman, which is not bad in general, but shows that the older guys are not the front runners for the job and without any transfers to them, the hopes for a title run will likely lay on the should of a kid not playing a game since 1+ season.
On non-conference games the start will be brutal, playing Ole Miss in Orlando.
This can be a close win, a close loss or a big loss, depended on the QB.
I prefer a close game, but pick a loss here.
After that they play a FCS team and play South Florida after a first division road game against Louisville.
They will finish the season against rival Florida, this season at home.
Chance are high they will win 3 games out of 4 of those non-conference games.
If they win against Ole Miss at season open, they are on track to get into the playoffs (at least for another week ...).
The Coastal games are against North Carolina (home) and Miami (away).
Playing last season conference title finalist UNC will boost the reputation, while Miami is a sleeper, but I think at that time the Seminoles should be able to beat the "U".
Biggest division games are against mentioned Louisville (road) and of cause against Clemson, at home.
It's quite likely that these games will become shootouts and FSU might suffer from the redshirt QB situation.
I think they can handle Louisville, but Clemson I think will prevail, at least this season.
Overall I think they have the chance to win the division, but will lose at least 1 division game to fall behind Clemson and finish 2nd.

Clemson Tigers
Back after they ran into an (red) Elephant (loss to Alabama last season) and the Tigers territory does hope they will stay on their feet this season.
That loss against Alabama was fine from my point of view, honestly I'm still surprised they won in the half finals against Oklahoma, but they did.
This season will Dabo Swinney have the chance to return to the final and he might win this time, in his 8th full season with the team.
Biggest plus is his QB, Deshaun Watson, who will likely say goodbye to Clemson after this season.
Biggest question mark will be their defense, with a lot of former starter left for the draft.
If they want to get back into the playoff they will have to win all the crucial games for the division, the conference and then it's an open game for everyone.
Playing Auburn at season start will likely set the tone of the season.
A loss could mean already at little bigger bump in the quest for a playoff spot, a win will magnify the expectations.
It's a road game, so it will be a tough test, followed by a SBC team and a FCS team. As last non-conference game they play traditional rival South Carolina at season final, this season at home.
Honestly, I'm not sure whether they will win that Auburn game, but this time I will give them credit to have all the tools to win a shootout.
So, likely a 4-0 campaign on those schedule.
From the Coastal they face Georgia Tech (road) and Pitt (home).
I don't think one of them will stand a big chance winning those games, likely not even close.
Which leave the division games.
Biggest questions marks are regarding Louisville and Florida State.
I have a good feeling regarding Louisville at home (at least at the moment), but FSU on the road will be tough test.
The Seminoles have a big question mark on QB, but if Clemson can lean on that end of October?
I think it will come down on the duel FSU Offense vs Clemson Defense.
If Clemson does find great replacements for their last season defense starts, this likely shoot out will be won by Clemson, since they will be able to stop FSU.
Do I believe in that?
Can come different, but I think the Tigers have all the tools to make it to the conference final again and if they win the season opener, they will be in the front row for a playoff seat.
There are discussions regarding 2 ACC teams in the playoffs, since FSU or Clemson might just have 1 loss at the end of the regular season, but I think this will be only possible if the other conference will have champs with at least 2 losses, maybe more.
THAT's possible of cause, but unlikely in that dimension.

Coastal Division

Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia got the maybe most interesting hire of all new ACC coaches.
Bronco Mendenhall was the BYU Cougars HC from 2005 to 2015 and made it to a bowl in each season.
After 2015 season he announced his departure from BYU (who knows what happened in the back ground with Virginia and BYU) and was allowed to coach in the Bowl for BYU, even when his new team was known.
That's not a usual thing in College Sports, so it was a nice gesture of BYU.
Mendenhall will now coach the Cavaliers, a team which finished 4-8 last season, which did not had a winning season since 2011 and which last bowl win was 2005.
Historically this team has won more games than losing, so it's no wonder the expectations are higher than losing every season.
The job is for sure a tough one and this team will not become a winner over night.
The recruiting has to be build up, the public opinion has to be boosted and of cause the team has to be shaped into a winner.
The first steps this season won't be easy, playing after a FCS season opener Oregon, UConn and Central Michigan.
If that team would be a contender I would say they had a chance for 3 wins, but with the current status, they might win 1 or 2 of those.
That UConn game is on the road, which makes it tougher than otherwise.
The Atlantic games are Louisville at home and Wake Forest on the road, which is a bad combination.
Wake Forest might be not the best football team, playing them on the road can still be a sure loss for a team like Virginia.
I have no confidence in a win out of those games.
Inside the division I would assume they will aim for GT and Duke, maybe because of the new coaches also Miami and VT.
Well, Duke is a road game, Miami at home and GT and VT? Also on the road.
The Cavaliers might pull an upset here or there, but overall I doubt many wins this season.
I have them last in the Coastal.

Duke University Blue Devils
Oh man, it looks like Duke will become Duke again.
They went from 6-7 (including a bowl loss, first bowl participation since 1994) in 2012 to 10-4 in 2013 with winning the division, losing the conference championship game and another bowl.
In 2014 they made a step back, finished 9-4, with another bowl loss and in season 2015 they won only 8-5 games, but this time at least including a bowl win, the first since season 1960 (the bowl was 2nd January 1961).
This season?
Another win less than a season before?
Chances are high this might happen, because the other teams are coming back strong with new coaches or did find their strength over the last few seasons.
David Cutcliffe is in his 9th season with Duke and has to work with a new OC this season.
Whether this will mean a change of pace on offense has to be seen.
On top of that is the home field under renovation.
Not the best circumstances.
A FCS team, a mid level Big10 team, Notre Dame and Army are the non-conference games and I think 2 wins are possible, the Notre Dame game is on the road, as is the game against Northwestern.
The Atlantic teams they have to play are Wake Forest at home and Louisville on the road.
I would pick one win here as likely result.
Inside the division they play almost every team in the last 5 weeks, 3 of those game are away games.
I have a hard time picking their possible wins here, with VT and Miami under new management and GT a bit fuzzy.
They will have to win against 2 to 3 of those teams to get back into a bowl game, and honestly I don't see them winning that many games on that schedule stretch.
The Blue Devils are my 6th place team in the division this season.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Last season was a disaster for the Jackets.
They were meant to play for the division, but lost early crucial games and did finish with a 4 game losing streak, overall 3-9 and with only 1 win inside the conference.
Paul Johnson did for sure feels at least a bit heat after this season, his 9th with the team.
Playing a FCS team, a low level SEC team and a SBC team and the rival game against Georgia will likely bring them near the win mark of last season.
I don't think they can win against the Bulldogs, but all other teams are at least in reach or sure wins.
BC and Clemson from the Atlantic are not the best case scenario for a comeback season.
The Eagles are unluckily played on the road, hence they might come up short here.
That leaves the division games for the search for wins and they have the chance to win some games, depended on the progress they made.
Virginia is a must at home, Miami beginning of October eventually still vulnerable and Duke is also at home.
Summed up, they might get bowling and they might finish ahead of Duke as 5th placed team.
A lot of potential to rise higher, the only reason I see them that deep is, I expect bigger progresses at Miami and VT.

Virginia Tech Hokies
The next team under new management.
Last season felt like a farewell tour of a rock star or a rock band.
Frank Beamer did call it quit after 29 seasons with VT and the team played like hell to give their legendary coach a great final season.
They made it to a bowl and won that one, finishing 7-6 overall.
The university had to look for a replacement and found it in Justin Fuente, the former HC of Memphis.
In 4 seasons he did shape Memphis into an AAC contender, winning the conference (shared) in 2014.
He is around 40 years old, so if things work out right, he might stay at VT as long as Frank Beamer did.
The goal is clear, making the Hokies relevant again.
It's a tough division the Hokies do play in, with a lot of teams aiming for improvements and a division title.
Only time will tell, how good Fuente can make the Hokies.
This season they will have to play a FCS team, a contending SEC team, a mid level AAC team and Notre Dame on the road.
I think the can call themselves lucky, winning 2 out of those.
A 3rd win would mean an upset against Tennessee or Notre Dame.
The Atlantic opponents are very weak as combination, Boston College and Syracuse.
If pieces fall into the right place, they can win both.
Of all the division games, the Georgia Tech game does look like the most important one, played at home and against one of the probably closest opponents.
The Hokies better win this to secure a good spot in the Coastal division at 4th.

Pittsburgh Panthers
Pat Narduzzi is now in his 2nd season and he might make Pitt a contender or it will fall back a bit.
Last season they had an 8-5 record, including a bowl loss.
It was his 1st season with the team and naturally the team should become better.
If not for the other teams around Pitt would improve also.
Their non-conference schedule is a bit brutal, beside a FCS team they play Penn State, Oklahoma State and Marshall.
I think they can win a few, if not all of the games, but it would be a surprise if they would do it.
Especially Oklahoma State on the road will be a long reach.
Playing Clemson and Syracuse won't help much, since that Tigers game will be a sure loss.
Otherwise, if they win, the Panthers will be very hot, very fast.
So why do I see them only at 3rd place in the division?
They play Virginia Tech at home, which should give them the chance to separate to the likely 4th placed team, but will play also Miami and UNC on the road, which makes those games the toughest to take over the division.
Pitt might win some games, even the hard ones, but all of them likely not.
I think at the end will they be a bit under Miami, at 3rd.

Miami Hurricanes
Al Golden was fired last season and the team did finish 8-5, including a bowl loss, under an interims coach.
Shortly after that they got maybe handed the best ticket possible.
In a kneejerk reaction had Georgia fired one of their best coaches ever and Miami was able to get that coach off the market in less than a week.
Mark Richt is a former player of the "U" in the early 80s and he later had a lot of success during his time as HC of the Georgia Bulldogs.
I don't think a 145–51 record in the SEC is too shabby.
The only thing he was never able to win was a national championship for Georgia.
Well, now it's Miami he has to turn around and bring back to top level.
It's hard to tell, how good that team will be in his 1st season.
The team itself should be good regarding players strength and quality, it's only a question regarding the motivation and maybe teambuilding.
Richt did step into a similar situation at Georgia and he might make Miami a contender in the next 3 seasons, probably less.
This season?
I can only guess.
The Canes do play a FCS team, a SBC team, a CUSA team and Notre Dame on the road end of October.
If nothing really strange happens, a 3-1 record will be given out of this, that game against Notre Dame can also be a close win, or a loss in any variation.
I think they will lose that one.
With Florida State and NC State as Atlantic teams they have a quite hard team selection and they might win 1 game out of this, FSU might be too much, depended on FSUs QB situation.
My biggest concerns regarding direct competition is North Carolina and Pitt, both are played at home.
While Pitt might fall, I doubt UNC to lose this game, which would make the Hurricanes a likely 2nd place team in the division.
Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be surprise to see the whole division beating teams they are not expected to beat and the final standing could be quite strange (compared to the last few years, more or less), but I have the feeling Miami will float on top or almost on top in almost every scenario.

North Carolina Tar Heels
Last season began as a shock for UNC fans and ended with the feeling the team had quite success.
They lost to a weak South Carolina team and did win then 11 straight, won the division, but lost to Clemson in the conference final and later lost in a bowl.
Still, Larry Fedora did probably save his butt with that season, since it looked more downhill the seasons before.
Now in his 5th season, the expectations are for sure high.
Again they have 2 FCS teams on the schedule which might cost them a playoff ticket in some worst case scenarios.
The 2 other non-conference games are against Illinois and Georgia at season opener.
If they want to play this season a bigger role in the playoff picture they better win that game against Georgia under new management and better win the 3 other non-conference games.
A loss to Georgia wouldn't hurt for the ACC standings, but nationally this could become a problem.
Atlantic teams on the schedule are Florida State and NC State (yes, the same combination as Miami), and they are expected to win the NC State game at least.
Inside the division they will have a hard time to win it all with away games against Miami and rival Duke, but if the expectations are justified, they should win all division games and finish 1st.
I some doubts that they will get through the season unscratched, but overall I see them still finishing on top of all other teams in the division,

That's it. Many experts do see different teams performing different and a few will likely have the right combination predicted.
Overall the divisions will be very interesting and if we are lucky, the teams will give us an exciting season with no clear favorite.
My gut feeling is there will be Clemson and FSU and then the rest.
My hope is, the rest does at least challenge Clemson and FSU good enough to make every game worth it.

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