2017 ACC Preview
June 11, 2017
By Marc Lawrence
AAC · Big Ten · Big 12 · C-USA · Independents · MAC · MWC · Pac-12 · SEC
2017 ATLANTIC COAST PREVIEW
Two By Fours
The Atlantic Coast Conference is the only conference in the nation to have two football national champions in the past four years. Florida State took the final BCS National Championship after the 2013 season and Clemson claimed the 2016 National College Football Playoff title last year.
In addition, the ACC returns the Heisman Trophy winner for second time in four years with junior QB Lamar Jackson returning to lead Louisville in 2017. Florida State's Jameis Winston did so in 2014 after winning the 2013 Heisman Trophy. Jackson is the youngest athlete (19 years, 337 days) to win the Heisman Trophy, while Winston (19 years, 342 days) is the second youngest.
ACC Powering Up
ACC teams will play more games (22) against Power Five non-conference teams in 2017 than any of its peer conferences. The ACC will also have a higher percentage (.393) of its non-conference games against Power Five opponents than any other league.
In addition, the ACC will play more games against 2016 AP-ranked teams than any other conference. ACC teams will play more games in 2017 against non-conference teams (7) that were ranked in last year’s final Associated Press Top 25 than any other Power Five conference.
Including the 11 ACC teams that went to bowl games, no ACC team will face fewer than seven opponents that went to bowls in 2016, while eight teams will face eight or more opponents that played in the postseason. Through it all, a total of 11 ACC teams ended 2016 with winning records, the most of any FBS league and the most in ACC history. The next highest total by a conference was eight teams.
Orange Bowl Roll
The ACC has won the last five Orange Bowl games, the longest winning streak for a conference in the Orange Bowl in 72 years. The SEC won seven straight from 1938 through 1944.
Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
BOSTON COLLEGE (Offense – 9/3, Defense – 7/2, 47 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: WHERE’S THE BEEF?
Last year, for the second straight season, the Eagles’ overall defense ranked in the nation’s Top 10. In fact, BC's 'D' finished No. 2 in team sacks (ahead of Alabama and Michigan). Unfortunately, as good as Yin was, Yang was simply deplorable. Steve Addazio’s squad averaged less than 300 YPG for the second straight year when it gained just 110 PYPG in conference play, while completing only 46.5% of its passes for a mere 4 TDs. The good news – or is it? - is that nine starters are back on offense, sans QB Patrick Towles. Better news is that star pass rusher Harold Landry (16.5 sacks) decided to forgo the NFL draft and returns in 2017.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Home field disadvantage? The Eagles are 0-6 SUATS as home underdogs since 2014.
CLEMSON (Offense – 5/4, Defense – 7/3, 53 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: A BIG DAB TO FILL
Reigning National Champion Clemson will have a tough row to hoe in 2017, as it will be the only FBS school to replace a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard running back, and a 1,000-yard wide receiver. That’s a LOT of production to supplant, especially while also carrying the biggest bulls-eye of all on its back in 2017. And don’t forget that the Tigers won seven games by a TD or less last season (tops in the nation). On top of it all, 10 Clemson players were either drafted or signed free agent contracts, making the Tigers one of only four programs that have had at least one 1st-round selection for five consecutive years. Good luck, Dabo!
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Tigers have the nation’s third-longest current streak (71 games) without losing back-to-back games.
PLAY AGAINST: at Louisville (9/16)
FLORIDA STATE (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 10/3, 48 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: ROLLING IN IT
Talk about a loaded team: the Seminoles will likely need to take breathalyzers onto the field with them in 2017. FSU is one of only two teams (along with Bama) to have appeared in five straight BCS/New Year’s Six bowl games, while Jimbo Fisher’s 11.14 average wins per season leads all current head coaches. Meanwhile, QB Deondre Francois passed for more yards than any freshman in the nation last year (3,350) while guiding FSU’s top-ranked red zone offense. And the FSU defense has 186 career starts, including 15 players who have started a game! Remember, only 18.4 % of starts by Florida State last year were made by seniors. Yep. They’re rolling in it.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Noles have the longest current streak (76 games) without losing back-to-back games, dating back to the 2011 season.
PLAY ON: vs. Louisville (10/21) - *KEY
LOUISVILLE (Offense – *5/2, Defense – 7/1, 45 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: TURNING THE PAGE
2016 Heisman Trophy winning QB Lamar Jackson returns after becoming the first player in FBS history to pass for more than 3,500 yards and rush for over 1,500 yards in a season. As powerful as the offense once again promises to be in 2017, it’s the defense that will be the linchpin of the team. The stop-unit returns 12 players who recorded 20 or more tackles last season, including star LB Stacy Thomas with 85. In addition, Trevon Young, a senior LB who missed the entire season last year with a hip injury, is back. He was an all ACC performer in 2015. A major concern – only three teams tallied more giveaways (32) than the Cardinals last season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Bobby the Louse is 0-15 SU away versus AP Top 15 ranked opponents.
PLAY ON: at Kentucky (11/25)
N.C. STATE (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 8/4, 47 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: THE PACK IS BACK
With 22 seniors on the roster – 11 of who are returning starters, including the entire DL – NCSU will field their most experienced team in school history. In addition, two seniors who sat out last season, but have started multiple games in their careers, join the fray. The defense, which owned the second best 1st-down defense and the 8th best rush unit, returns the entire starting front six. On the flip side, the veteran offense is keyed by H-back Jaylen Samuels, who has averaged 6.25 YPR and a TD every 5.9 carries the last two seasons, and Boise State graduate transfer QB Ryan Finley, who tossed for 3,059 yards and 18 TDS for the Pack in 2016.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wolfpack is 23-3 SU and 18-5 ATS in games where they outgain their opponent under head coach Dave Doeren.
PLAY ON: at Florida State (9/23)
SYRACUSE (Offense – *9/5, Defense – 10/4, 42 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: GETTING THERE, FAST
This from our crack fact-finding research department: Syracuse seniors started the 2nd fewest amount of games in the nation last season. As a result, head coach Dino Babers welcomes back a bevy of experienced, young talent in 2017 as 53.4 % of all Syracuse starts made last season were by underclassmen. As you know by now, we’ve come to expect good things from teams fitting this M.O. The hurdle this year, though, is that no less than 11 foes on the schedule appeared in a bowl game last season. Despite the salty slate, and last year’s season-ending crash, Dino is aching to lead this team to a bowl game. Don’t bet against him.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Syracuse amassed 5,290 yards under Dino Babers in 2016, the 2nd-highest total in the 127-year history of the program.
PLAY ON: vs. Pittsburgh (10/7)
WAKE FOREST (Offense – *9/3, Defense – 6/3, 42 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: WAKE UP CALL
If patience is a virtue, then Wake Forest should be a very advantaged team in 2017. Freshmen made a total of 71 starts in 2015, the 3rd most in the land. Then last year underclassmen accounted for 45.8 % of the team’s starts (10th most in the nation). A pronounced increase in the ground game finally emerged in 2016 when the Deacs gained 40 YPG more on the ground than in 2015, but that was largely attributable to the fact that Wake Forest was the only FBS school in the nation in 2015 whose top three rushers were all true freshmen. It's time for this suddenly experienced team to step up in 2017.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Demon Deacons have ranked 12th or worse in the ACC in scoring the last five consecutive seasons.
PLAY AGAINST: at Boston College (9/9)
DUKE (Offense – *7/3, Defense – 5/1, 43 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: THE NUTCRACKER
Talk about a tough nut to crack. Not only will the Blue Devils face only ONE foe this year that owned a losing record last year, but also 11 of whom that were in a postseason game! Fortunately, QB Daniel Jones finished with the 5th-most passing yards of all freshmen in 2016. He was named the team’s MVP after matching or establishing 23 school records, including most offensive yards by a freshman (3,322). Head coach David Cutcliffe is widely recognized as a quarterback whisperer, having coached nine QBs who either earned all-conference honors or led their school to a bowl victory. In a ‘mission year’ this season, expect Cutcliffe to crack the code.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Duke is 4-5 SU versus ranked opponents under HC Cutcliffe. They were 0-47 SU versus the same prior to his arrival.
PLAY ON: at Virginia (10/7)
GEORGIA TECH (Offense – 8/3, Defense – 8/2, 43 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: TALL PAUL
As we alluded to on this page last year, Paul Johnson stands tall within the NCAA coaching ranks. He averages 8.85 wins per season, which ranks No. 9 among all current head coaches, and in his previous 19 years as a head coach, Johnson led his teams to either FCS playoffs or FBS bowl games 18 times. That’s impressive, to say the least. The key to his success is simple – run the ball down your opponent’s throat until they succumb. Four of the top five running backs return in 2017, but a new quarterback will be at the helm. Its Achilles' heel is a defense that allowed a .492 conversion rate on third down (3rd worst in the land) last season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: In his 15 years as a FBS head coach, Paul Johnson’s teams have each averaged at least 5 Yards Per Rush per season.
PLAY AGAINST: at Virginia (11/4)
MIAMI, FL (Offense – 8/4, Defense – 8/4, 40 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: A HURRICANE WARNING IN EFFECT
For the first time since 2009, the Hurricanes finished the 2016 season ranked in the Top 25. With it, the return of head coach Mark Richt to his alma mater was met with cheers and applause in Miami. Richt is 90-43 in conference games in his career, while averaging 9.63 wins per season, which ranks No. 7 among all current head coaches. Sixteen starters are back from last year, including WR Ahmmon Richards, a 4.3 sprinter who pulled in 46 receptions for 866 yards to smash Michael Irvin’s single-season yards mark for a freshman last year. Yes, it’s safe to say the Canes are back on a winning path.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Miami tied with Old Dominion for the 2nd best team in the nation in fewest turnovers lost last season (10).
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia Tech (10/12)
NORTH CAROLINA (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 7/2, 35 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: BACK TO SQUARE ONE
As UNC head coach Larry Fedora likely reminds himself each night, it was nice while it lasted. It started after losing a star quarterback (after one year) to the NFL when Mitchell Trubisky was selected as the second player in this year’s NFL Draft. Also gone are workhorse RBs Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan, along with three key WRs. But the biggest loss of all is not a player. It’s DC Gene Chizik, who decided to retire after two highly productive seasons in which the Tar Heels' defense improved 90 YPG after his arrival. Here’s hoping LSU transfer QB Brandon Harris lasts longer than Trubisky. Otherwise, it will be back to square one again for Fedora.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Larry Fedora is 12-0 SU and 11-1 ATS in regular season games vs. foes who were upset as a favorite in their previous game.
PITTSBURGH (Offense – 6/3, Defense – 4/1, 36 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: A DOOZEY SURPRISE
It’s hard to imagine that Pat Narduzzi’s defense was the No. 119 team in the nation in red zone defense in 2016. To top it off, the architect and former DC from Michigan State’s most recent glory days, was also hit hard in the NFL Draft when he lost five starters, including QB Nathan Peterman (Bills), and RB James Conner (Steelers) among others. In all, over 50 % of the starts made for the Panthers last season were by seniors. Despite it all, Pitt was the only team to defeat two opponents ranked in the Top 5 of the final College Football Playoff rankings. With no back-to-back road games, expect that to be enough to build on.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: All of Pitt’s 10 losses under Narduzzi have occurred versus bowl teams that went 98-37 combined on the season.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Virginia (10/28)
VIRGINIA (Offense – *5/2, Defense – 8/2, 37 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: HOG-TIED
As we outlined here last year, new Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s hands were tied when he inherited a team that had recorded the largest decline in recruiting talent the previous five years of all Power 5 teams. And it showed up as expected last year like Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day. A super soft defense (6th worst team in the nation in red zone defense) and an anemic rush offense (8th weakest in the land) left the Cavs little or no chance of succeeding. UVA did, however, manage to snap a 17-game road-losing skid, while Mendenhall improved to 4-0 ATS in his career as a dog of 20 or more points… numbers worth remembering.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cavaliers are 2-18 SU in their final two games of the season the last ten years.
PLAY ON: vs. Connecticut (9/16)
VIRGINIA TECH (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 8/1, 37 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: BIG FOOT
Justin Fuente knew coming in that he had some mighty big shoes to fill as Virginia Tech’s new head coach last season. Replacing a legend like Frank Beamer is never easy. But to his credit Fuente delivered, leading the Hokies to their first double-digit win season in five years. Along the way, Virginia Tech not only improved all of its numbers convincingly on both sides of the ball, they took the College Football Playoff champion Clemson Tigers right down to the wire in the ACC title game as well. Thus, the question begs: What can Fuente do for an encore? Having defensive guru Bud Foster on his sideline makes it a moot point.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hokies' current 24-game bowl streak is the longest in the nation.
PLAY ON: at Georgia Tech (11/11)
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