2019 ACC Preview

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A Dozen And Counting

The 2019 ACC football season marks the 67th season for the conference. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Duke’s David Cutcliffe are the loop’s longest-tenured coaches with 12 seasons each at their respective schools. Swinney’s 116-30 career record at Clemson stands out as the best mark.


Speaking of head coaches, 4 new mentors will be on the sidelines in the ACC this season: Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins, Louisville’s Scott Saterfield, Miami Florida’s Manny Diaz, and North Carolina’s Mack Brown. Only Diaz has never been an FBS head coach.

Like last year, Florida State’s Willie Taggart remained in a class by himself. Taggart’s 52-57 overall career mark is the only one in the league with a losing record.

Easy Peasy

According to ESPN, Virginia Tech will take on the easiest schedule of all FBS Power 5 teams in 2019 (Wisconsin held the same honor last year). The Hokies will miss Clemson, Florida State, and Syracuse. Virginia and NC State follow Tech as far as soft slates go.

On the flip side, Boston College and Duke take on the most difficult degree of schedules among ACC teams this season.

The numbers following each team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. The RPR represents each team’s overall, offensive and defensive rankings in overall returning production experience.


BOSTON COLLEGE (Offense - *6/2, Defense - 4/1, RPR: 110/50/128)


Hmm. After owning a Top 10 ranked defense in both 2015 and 2016, the Eagles’ numbers fell off the map the past two seasons as they allowed 100 yards per game more than in their stalwart days. Instead, the offense ignited the last two seasons when it became the fifth-highest scoring unit in 120 years of school history in 2018 as QB Anthony Brown’s 20 TDs were the second-most by any sophomore in BC history. However, the Eagles ranked 7th in the nation in the highest percentage of starts by seniors (56.3) last season – which means a new rebuild is in order, starting with an overhaul of both lines. Stay tuned.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Eagles started a total of 30 players last season, 2nd in the nation to Alabama (29).

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Virginia Tech (8/31)

CLEMSON (Offense - *8/3, Defense - 4/0, RPR: 53/26/100)


Trevor Lawrence authored the finest season by a true freshman quarterback in FBS history when he led the Tigers to a smashing National Championship over defending champion Alabama. As a result, Lawrence is the preseason favorite in the 2019 Heisman Trophy race. And we didn’t even mention star RB Travis Etienne. Clemson’s magnificent season last year was even more impressive when you consider the fact that they downed 10 opponents that sported winning records. A 19-1 SU away mark since 2015 bodes well for a team with no back-to-back away games for the 4th consecutive season. Still, after going 15-0 and winning a national championship last season, the Tigers should be a targeted team in 2019.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Tigers have the nation’s longest current streak (100 games) without losing back-to-back games.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Texas A&M (9/7)

FLORIDA STATE (Offense - *8/3, Defense - 8/2, RPR: 13/33/17)


After Florida State suffered its first losing season in 42 years in 2018, head coach Willie Taggart is sweating more than a pedophile in a Santa suit. FSU dismissed troubled quarterback Deondre Francios in February and now find themselves hitting the transfer trail. QB Alex Hornibrook arrives as a graduate transfer from Wisconsin where he was 26-6 as a starter and completed 60.5% of his passes for 5,438 yards and 47 touchdowns but had 33 interceptions. He figures to start ahead of veteran junior James Blackman. According to PhilSteele.com, the Seminoles faced 10 ranked foes, including 10 opponents with winning records last season. However, what good is a highly experienced team with little discipline?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Taggart’s last two teams (FSU in 2018 and Oregon in 2017) have finished No. 129 and No. 126 in penalties per game.

PLAY ON: vs. N.C. State (9/28)

LOUISVILLE (Offense - *7/1, Defense - 10/4, RPR: 24/49/18)


On the heels of the Cardinals’ first losing season since 2009, the Bobby Petrino epitaph is finally cast in stone as far as Louisville is concerned. Scott Satterfield arrives from Appalachian State where his teams won 51 games while going 34-6 in league play in six seasons – including three consecutive Sun Belt Conference championships. Satterfield is known as an innovative offensive mind. He is the only coach to lead a school from the FCS to FBS and immediately earn three consecutive bowl victories. They will take on 10 foes in 2019 that were in bowl games last season – just as they did last season. With a boatload of experience back this year, they’ll be playing with house money.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Louisville is 1-10 ATS in Last Home Games.

PLAY ON: at Florida State (9/21)

N.C. STATE (Offense - 4/2, Defense - 7/3, RPR: 109/129/31)


The Pack has taken some big hits the past few seasons, losing a good portion of its defensive line, including ACC Defensive Player of the Year Bradley Chubb, to the draft last season. And now QB Ryan Finley to the NFL this year – making it five Wolfpack quarterbacks in the pros this season – along with State’s two leading WRs and top RB (Reggie Gallaspy Jr., 1,091 yards and a school-record 18 TDs). Worse, the offense for 2019 returns the 2nd fewest amount of Returning Player Production per the RPR rankings outlined above. In addition, in David Bowie fashion, NC State enters 2019 with four new assistant coaches, two new quality control coaches, and three new graduate assistant coaches. Turn and face the change.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wolfpack are 39-6 SU and 27-12-1 ATS in games in which they outgain their opponents under head coach Dave Doeren.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. North Carolina (11/30)

SYRACUSE (Offense - 6/2, Defense - 7/3, RPR: 64/93/40)


The gains Syracuse has made in the strength and speed departments over the last three seasons have been critical to the recent rise of the program. Last year marked the first time the program was ranked in the Top 25 at season’s end since 2001 – its last 10-win season. Unfortunately, QB Eric Dungey has graduated after tossing for 9,340 yards and 58 touchdowns in four years. Tommy DeVito takes over for Dungey, whose talents were immense. Much to Dino Babers’ liking, he brings a bigger arm. Also aboard is RB Abdul Adams, an Oklahoma transfer, and WR Trishton Jackson, a transfer from Michigan State.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Hall of Famers Floyd Little, Larry Csonka, and Super Bowl champion coach Tom Coughlin all shared the same Syracuse backfield in 1966.

PLAY ON: vs. Pittsburgh (10/18)

WAKE FOREST (Offense - *7/3, Defense - 5/1, RPR: 61/92/37)


As Dave Clawson enters his sixth season in Winston-Salem, an undeniable chasm has grown between Wake Forest’s offenses and defenses the past three years. In fact, things got so bad last season that DC Jay Sawyer was fired on the spot after the Notre Dame game in September. Hoping to spur Clawson toward balancing the scales, the Demon Deacons recently signed him to an 8-year contract extension. But the truth is there’s a huge amount of work ahead if they hope to land a 4th straight bowl bid this season. For openers, in a scheduling oddity, the Demons game against North Carolina this year will be a non-conference game for both teams. A marquee win certainly won’t hurt, but the last time Wake beat a Top 10 ranked team, Harry S. Truman was in the White House (1946).

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Wake Forest was the 2nd team in 15 years to overcome a double-digit halftime deficit in a bowl game in consecutive seasons last year.

PLAY ON: at Syracuse (11/30)


DUKE (Offense - 4/3, Defense - 8/4, RPR: 106/123/45)


SR QB Quentin Harris (played in 12 games last season making two starts) takes over for Daniel Jones, the surprising 6th choice in this year’s NFL draft. It should be noted that head coach David Cutcliffe has coached 11 QBs who earned either all-conference honors or won a bowl game. In addition, Duke ranked 10th in the nation in the highest percentage of starts by underclassmen 47.4 made by 21 players) last season. And it’s worth noting that Cutcliffe is a native of Birmingham and graduated from the University of Alabama. His Blue Devils dropped a 63-12 decision at home to the Tide in their only meeting back in 2010 – the worst non-conference loss in his career. Just sayin’.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Duke will face 11 foes in 2019 that appeared in a bowl game last season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia Tech (10/12)

GEORGIA TECH (Offense - 5/3, Defense - 4/1, RPR: 119/115/97)


First-year coach Geoff Collins is a lock to kick up the Jackets’ energy level. But he’ll have to do it with a heavy heart as 21-year old defensive tackle Brandon Adams died just prior to spring camp from a fall in a garage. Forging on, the Yellow Jackets switch from Paul Johnson’s option attack to new OC David Patenaude’s spread system. There will be a “getting to know one another” phase with a new quarterback and a dearth of wide receivers on hand. Making matters more difficult, the Ramblin’ Wreck ranked 4th in the nation in the highest percentage of starts by seniors (59.8.) in 2018. The rebuild begins.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Collins is the only coach to be a Broyles award nominee – the nation’s best assistant coach – at three schools.

PLAY ON: vs. USF (9/7)

MIAMI, FL (Offense - *6/2, Defense - 6/2, RPR: 86/67/83)


In a huge surprise, UM head coach Mark Richt called it quits after his squad was embarrassed by Wisconsin in last year’s Pinstripe Bowl. The team was coming apart at the seams and Richt knew it. It was the Hurricanes’ 2nd worst bowl beat ever. The truth of the matter is Miami’s offense had become archaic under Richt who had only one team ranked in the Top 20 in total offense in his 18 seasons as a head coach. Former DC Manny Diaz spurned Temple to circle back and take the reins in Miami. To which we wonder: where will the points come from? Hopefully, an influx of transfers, including QB Tate Martell (Ohio State), will help.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Mark Richt’s 171 career wins were 3rd in the nation behind Nick Saban and Urban Meyer (186).

PLAY ON: vs. Virginia (10/11)

NORTH CAROLINA (Offense - *9/4, Defense - 7/2, RPR: 35/15/76)


After a five-year coaching absence, Mack Brown is roaming the sidelines again. Ironically, Brown coached his last game with the Tar Heels 20 years ago after posting a 70-46-1 SU mark with UNC. Remember this, though: in games in which he is slightly expected win, Brown is just 2-8 SU and 1-9 ATS in his career as a favorite of fewer than 8 points. So where does that leave him this year? A deeply experienced squad helps for openers, but a brutal schedule finds all 11 FBS foes in bowl games last season. Our guess is the addition of DC Jay Bateman from Army will find old Macky spearheading this program back to respectability sooner than later.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Brown is 23-3 SU in season openers in his career, including 14-0 the last fourteen.

PLAY ON: at Virginia Tech (10/19)

PITTSBURGH (Offense - *5/1, Defense - 6/2, RPR: 54/62/62)


Entering 2019 as the defending Coastal Division champions, the Panthers did so despite an anemic output from QB Kenny Pickett, who averaged 6.4 Yards Per Pass attempt and 142.6 Passing Yards Per Game. And with 1,000-yard RBs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall no longer around, it won’t be as easy this season. It should be noted, though, since Pat Narduzzi took over the reins at Pitt, the Panthers have compiled the 3rd-best record (20-12) in league play among all ACC teams. Pitt ranked 10th in the nation in the highest percentage of starts by seniors (54.7) last season but the benefit from playing 15 redshirt freshmen in 2017 should help salve the wounds of a salty schedule.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: 27 of Pitt’s 31 losses under Narduzzi have occurred against teams that went on to a bowl game.

PLAY AGAINST: at Georgia Tech (11/2)

VIRGINIA (Offense - *6/3, Defense - 8/3, RPR: 55/90/38)


Celebrating their first winning season since 2011 last year, and coming off a 28-0 shocker over South Carolina in the Belk Bowl, the Cavs saw 20 underclassmen make starts in 2018. That bodes well for continued success this year. The better news is that projected first-round NFL pick Bryce Hall will be returning to anchor down the CB position in 2019. Through it all, Bronco Mendenhall strung together his best recruiting class in Charlottesville this year. After a 2-10 debut with the Cavs in 2016, Mendenhall clearly has Virginia climbing the ladder of success. With only 4 foes on this year’s slate sporting winning records last year, the ride up the rungs continues.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Virginia is 3-19 SU in its final two games of the regular season since 2008.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia Tech (11/9)

VIRGINIA TECH (Offense - *6/2, Defense - 10/3, RPR: 11/77/1)


For a Hokies team rich in defensive tradition, last season was an absolute nightmare. Despite returning six starters for long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster, Tech’s usually stalwart “Lunch Pail D” suffered arguably its poorest effort ever in the Foster era. Fortunately for HC Justin Fuente, he welcomes back what is now the most experienced defense in college football. Aiding the cause this season is the fact that the Hokies led the nation last year in the percentage of most underclassmen starts (59.9% made by 23 players). With nary a single back-to-back road trip, remember this: last season’s loss to Boston College was the only game in which the Hokies blew a halftime lead under Fuente (see more on this below).

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hokies are 22-1 when leading at the half under Fuente.