2019 ACC College Football Preview

MIKEDROPSPORTS college football coverage

I went through all 838 games of the 2019 college football season, picking winners to project the record of all 130 FBS teams.

Projected Standings

Atlantic DivisionOverallConference
Florida State8-45-3
NC State8-44-4
Wake Forest6-64-4
Boston College6-63-5
Coastal DivisionOverallConference
Virginia Tech9-36-2
Georgia Tech 3-91-7
North Carolina 3-91-7

ACC Championship – Clemson over Virginia

Virginia is the only Coastal team to never play in the ACC Championship Game. This would be Clemson’s 5th consecutive appearance and victory.

Each individual team write up includes a fun schedule tidbit, player(s) to watch, look back at recent successes or failures and how they project to do in 2019 including key wins/losses.

Boston College Eagles

1. Schedule note: Boston College and Rutgers renew an old school rivalry in 2019, playing for the first time since 2004. As members of the Big East, the schools faced each other every year from 1981-2004. BC has won the last 10 vs Rutgers.

2. Player to Watch: RB AJ Dillon ran for 1,108 yards and 10 TD in 10 games in 2019. His production was slowed by injury, even in the games he played. He ran for 1,589 yards and 14 TDs as a freshman in 2017. As long as he is healthy, he can help carry the Eagles to a few wins.

3. Recent Recap: This is Steve Adazzio’s 7th year as head coach of Boston College. In 5 of his 6 years, Boston College won 7 games. If nothing else, he has been consistent.

4. Preview: Boston College will make their 6th bowl game in Adazzio’s 7 years, by finishing 6-6. NC State, Florida State and Virginia Tech at home and Pittsburgh and Louisville are the big games that will determine whether or not the Eagles get to 6 (or more) wins.

Clemson Tigers

1. Schedule note: Only two of Clemson’s wins in 2018 were by single digits and they play those teams back-to-back weeks in weeks 2 and 3 – Texas A&M (won 28-26) and at Syracuse (won 27-23).

2. Players to Watch: QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Travis Etienne, WRs Justyn Ross and Tee Huggins all scored touchdowns in the 2019 National Championship and all return this season. Etienne is a strong candidate for the Doak Walker Award and led the nation with 24 rushing TDs. Trevor Lawrence didn’t start until week 5, but went on to throw 30 TD, 4 INT, while completing 65% of his passes. Higgins and Ross combined for 1,936 yards and 21 TD and with Hunter Renfrow out of the picture, should see those numbers go up even more.

Xavier Thomas is the next star Defensive Lineman to breakout for the Tigers. After losing Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Clellin Ferrell, Thomas will be Clemson’s top defensive play-maker, despite recoring just 3.5 sacks in 2018.

3. Recent Recap: Clemson has won 14 or more games in 3 of the last 4 seasons and have 4 total losses over the time frame. They won the 2017 and 2019 National Championships.

4. Preview: After going 15-0 last season, I think Clemson loses one game in 2019. The loss will come against the last time to beat them in the regular season and the only ACC team to lose by single digits in 2018 – Syracuse. But despite the 1 loss projection, Clemson will make the College Football Playoffs for the 5th consecutive season and run through the rest of their schedule with relative ease.

Duke Blue Devils

1. Schedule notes: Duke opens the season vs Alabama. Duke coach David Cutcliffe is an Alabama graduate. Blue Devils are 1-2 vs Alabama all-time with the lone win coming in the 1945 Sugar Bowl.

2. Player to Watch: RB Deon Jackson is going to be a valuable asset for whoever wins the QB job to replace Daniel Jones (presumably Quintin Harris). Jackson ran for 847 yards and 7 TDs in 2018.

3. Recent Recap: Led by recent #6 NFL Draft pick QB Daniel Jones, Duke went 15-11 the last two seasons, making back-to-back bowl games. David Cutcliffe has guided Duke to 6 bowl games in the last 7 years. Prior to his arrival, Duke had played in just 8 bowls total.

4. Preview: With Daniel Jones gone, Duke will rely more on their run game and a strong defense. Jones’ supporting cast proved unreliable and I don’t have enough confidence in anyone to step up. I think Duke will beat Georgia Tech and North Carolina (though both of those are toss ups) and will miss a bowl in 2019.

Florida State Seminoles

1. Schedule note: Florida State opens the season against Boise State in a first-time matchup.

2. Player to watch: RB Cam Akers really struggled in 2018, but chalk it up to a historically awful Offensive Line and poor coaching. Florida State finished 129th (out of 130) in yards per carry. Akers is extremely talented, as evidence by his #3 national ranking in the 2017 recruiting class. He ran for just 706 yards and 7 TDs after going for 1,024 yards and 7 TD as a freshman in 2017.

3. Recent Recap: 2018 saw the end of Florida State’s record-setting 36 year bowl streak end, as they finished 5-7. It was the 3rd time in 4 jobs that a Willie Taggart team finished under .500 in his first year as Head Coach.

4. Preview: Seminoles will break out 4 new starters on the Offensive Line and Kendal Briles steps in as the new Offensive Coordinator. Those two plus Cam Akers should help the Seminoles get back to their winning ways. I see Seminoles beating Boise State in the opener to make a statement not to overlook them. And their signature win of the season is beating Syracuse at home. They have a lot of 50/50 games and could win anywhere between 5-10 games depending on how the OL holds up. I am putting blind trust in Taggart and projecting the higher end of that scale.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

1. Schedule note: In week 4, Georgia Tech host Temple, the former team of first year Head Coach Geoff Collins. Collins compiled a 15-10 record from 2017-2018 with Temple.

2. Player to Watch: Malachi Carter and Jalen Camp are presently the top 2 WR on the depth chart. Not since Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas has a WR really been relevant at Georgia Tech. With a new offense, that is very likely to change moving forward.

3. Recent Recap: Paul Johnson retired at the end of the 2018 season after 11 seasons in Atlanta. They went to bowl games in 9 of those seasons and 3 ACC Championship game appearances (1-2 record) and two Orange Bowl appearances (2010 and 2014).

4. Preview: It’s a new era for the Jackets. Gone are the days of 8-tight end formations and a 20:1 run:pass ratio. The triple option offense left with the old coaching staff. New coach Geoff Collins was very successful at Temple and will be successful at Georgia Tech too. It just might take a year or so to get there, due to the deficiencies in personnel leftover from Paul Johnson to this new regime. It’s hard to plug in Offensive Lineman built for constant run blocking and suddenly ask them to pass protect 25-30 times a game.

Louisville Cardinals

1. Schedule note: Louisville is 0-5 vs Clemson, since joining the ACC in 2014. They lost last year’s game 77-16. Louisville opens the season vs Notre Dame, who they beat in South Bend in 2014.

2. Player to Watch: Jawon Pass had a rough year at QB, replacing Lamar Jackson. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns (8 TD, 12 INT). A lot of his struggles can be blamed on poor pass protection and lack of playmakers around him.

3. Recent Recap: Bobby Petrino was fired before the end of last season when Louisville finished 2-10. He was replaced with Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield.

4. Preview: Louiville recruiting has not been a strength the last few years and it will take some time to get back to even mediocre football. 3-9 is nothing to brag about, but they will get one ACC win (Boston College at home) and play much more competitive football.

Miami Hurricanes

1. Schedule notes: Miami opens the season vs Florida in their first meeting since 2013.

2. Player to Watch: Tate Martell was the #2 QB in the 2017 class. After sitting out 2017, he threw 28 passes and ran the ball 22 times in 2018 at Ohio State. He announced his decision to transfer and is immediately eligible to play at Miami in 2019. That’s good, because the QB position was a disaster in 2018. After a breakout performance in 2017, Malik Rosier took major steps backwards, with 6 TD and 8 INT on 156 pass attempts. N’Kosi Perry saw more playing time, though he wasn’t much better completing just 50% of his passes.

Whoever wins the QB battle, will have two good WRs at their disposal – KJ Obsorn transfers in from Buffalo, after scoring 7 TDs and 892 yards in 2018 with the Bulls. Jeff Thomas also returns (after leaving, then returning). Thomas was the #5 WR in the 2017 class.

LB Shaq Quarterman recorded 14 tackles for a loss and 5 sacks in 2018 and has improved throughout his career and will be the centerpiece of Manny Diaz’s defense.

3. Recent Recap: One year after playing in the ACC Championship game, with CFB Playoffs aspirations, Miami regressed to 7-6. Including three straight losses to end 2017, Miami has lost 9 of their last 16. That 10 win season in 2017, was their first since 2003.

4. Preview: Former Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz takes over as Head Coach of the U, following the surprising retirement of Mark Richt. Diaz accepted the Head Coach job at Temple, but left two weeks later to return to Miami. Miami gets to play Virginia at home, and despite my projection that Cavs win the Coastal, I like the U to win that game. I have Miami losing at Pitt and at home to Virginia Tech. Those are two big swing games that could impact their place in the Coastal Division race. I also have Florida winning the opener, going with the more experience Head Coach and QB.

NC State Wolfpack

1. Schedule note: NC State’s biggest OOC game will be at West Virginia. This was supposed to be the second of a home-and-home series but last year’s game was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. Their last meeting was the Champs Sports Bowl in 2010, which Wolfpack won.

2. Players to Watch: WR Emeka Emezie and RB Ricky Person Jr are poised for breakout seasons in 2019 after serving in secondary roles last year.

Person played behind Reggie Gallapsy, who ran for over 1000 yards and had 18 TDs. However, Gallapsy only had 228 carries to Person’s 112.

Emezie was the team’s third leading receiver, behind a pair of 1000 yard guys in Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers. With Harmon, Meyers and Gallapsy all moving on, the NC State offense is now in the hands of Emezie and Person.

3. Recent Recap: Since Dave Dorean’s second season (2014), the Wolfpack have won 8-9 games in four out of five years, with the outlier being a 7-win season.

4. Preview: Not only did NC State lose their two 1,000 yard receivers and their 1,000 yard running back, but they also lost QB Ryan Finley, who threw for nearly 4,000 yards (3928) and the Offensive Coordinator behind it all (Eli Dinkowitz became Appalachian State head coach). I have Wolfpack losing at Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson and their big win comes at home against Syracuse, who I believe will be due for a let down at some point after riding high from the Clemson win. NC State has too much uncertainty on offense for me to project higher at this point.

North Carolina Tar Heels

1. Schedule note: UNC opens up against South Carolina. These teams haven’t played often the last 30 years, but since 1988, Tar Heels are just 1-6 vs Gamecocks.

2. Player to watch: QB Sam Howell was originally supposed to go to Florida State, but a late coaching change caused him to flip to UNC. Howell is the #2 QB in the 2019 class and is in the mix to start week 1.

3. Recent Recap: Larry Fedora was fired at the end of 2018, after going 5-18 the last two seasons. Carolina has not won a bowl game since 2013.

4. Preview: Mack Brown takes over as Head Coach. He coached Tar Heels from 1988-1997. He left UNC for Texas and won the National Championship in 2005 and has been out of coaching since 2013. Brown inherits a bad team, but one that should be improved and competitive under his tuteledge. Brown made strong coordinator hires, including luring Jay Bateman from Army to run UNC’s defense. Brown’s last few recruiting classes at Texas were poor, but he needs to recruit well and restock the talent level at Chapel Hill to get things back on track.

Pittsburgh Panthers

1. Schedule note: Pittsburgh has won just 2 of their last 11 meetings against in-state rival Penn State, including a 51-6 loss last season.

2. Player to Watch: WR Maurice Ffrench was named to the Pre-season All-ACC team and Paul Hornung Award watch list (award given to most versatile player). French certainly defines versaitly as a guy who can play WR, play out of the backfield and return kicks. Ffrench averaged 14.7 yards per catch, 8.6 yards per rush, and 27.5 yards per kick return and totaled 10 touchdowns (6 rec, 2 rush, 2 return)

3. Recent Recap: Pittsburgh won the ACC Coastal, appearing in their first ever conference championship game. They haven’t won 10 games since 2009 and have failed to finish over .500 in 5 of the last 9 seasons, since that last 10 win season.

4. Preview: Pitt won the ACC Coastal on the strength of their run game with two 1000 yard rushers – Quadre Ollison (1,279, 12 TD) and Darrin Hall (1,210, 11 TD). Both RBs are now gone putting more pressure on erratic QB Kenny Picket. In the ACC title game, Pickett completed just 4 passes on 18 attempts for 8 yards. Every game Pitt plays in 2019 feels like it could be a 50/50 game. They don’t have much homefield advantage at Heinz Field, but they play Duke and Georgia Tech on the road, two teams that I don’t project well. Their win total could range anywhere from 5-9 realistically.

Syracuse Orange

1. Schedule note: Syracuse hosts Clemson week 3 for what is likely to be a College Gameday appearance (would be first time in school history). Clemson’s last regular season loss came at the Carrier Dome in 2017 (10/13).

2. Players to Watch: Kicker Andre Smyzt is special. He was second in the nation with points in 2018, with 151, second only to Clemson’s Travis Etienne. He hit 88% of his field goals and 100% of his extra points, with a 54 yard FG being his long.

Safety Andre Cisco was tied for the most interceptions in the country with 7, as a freshman in 2018.

3. Recent Recap: The Orange won 10 games in 2018, for the first time since 1992 and ended the season winning the Camping World Bowl against West Virginia.

4. Preview: The Orange return 7 starters on defense and Tommy DeVito steps in at QB. As noted above, I have the Orange winning on 9/14 in a home game against Clemson. They follow the Clemson game with Western Michigan and Holy Cross, but I think they will lose at NC State on 10/10, in a post-Clemson let down.

Virginia Cavaliers

1. Schedule note: Virginia has lost 15 games in a row to Virginia Tech.

2. Players to Watch: QB Bryce Perkins threw for 2,680 yards, 25 TD, 9 INT and ran for 932 yards and another 9 TD. He is without question the second best QB in the ACC (behind Lawrence).

CB Bryce Hall had 2 interceptions, 2 sacks, 39 solo tackles, 2 forced fumbles and is widely considered among the top CB prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft.

3. Recent Recap: Since 2009, the Cavs have had a losing record 9 times. Entering November last season, Virginia was 6-2 and in position to win the ACC Coastal for the first time. What followed was a series of three devastating losses – 10 point loss at home vs Pitt, 3 point OT loss at Georgia Tech, and a 3 point OT loss to Virginia Tech, in a crazy ending that saw the Wahoos lose to the Hokies for a 15th conseuctive year.

4. Preview: They are the only team in the division to never appear in the ACC Championship Game. That changes in 2019. On the final day of the regular season, Virginia will beat Virginia Tech for the first time since 2003.

Virginia Tech Hokies

1. Schedule note: Hokies have one of the weakest OOC schedules in the country, hosting two FCS opponents (Furman, Rhode Island) and host Old Dominion (who actually beat them last season). They also play at Notre Dame.

2. Player to Watch: WR Damon Hazelton caught 51 passes, for 802 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2018. He is the guy to watch on the Hokies offense.

3. Recent Recap: Virginia Tech finished 9-3 in each of Justin Fuente’s first two seasons in Blacksburg. However, due to injuries and transfers, the team regressed in 2018 finishing the regular season 6-6. They got there due to their miracle finish against Virginia and a rescheduled game against Marshall. They lost their bowl to finish 6-7, ending a season under .500 for the first time since 1992.

4. Preview: I project Hokies to finish somewhere inbetwen those strong 10 and 9 win seasons in 2016-2017 and the 6 win flop in 2018.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

1. Schedule note: Wake Forest has an all-time losing record against every ACC Atlantic division school – Clemson (17-66), Syracuse (3-5), Florida State (6-30), NC State (40-66), Boston College (10-14), Louisville (2-4)

2. Player to Watch: As a freshman in 2018, WR Sage Surratt caught 41 passes for 581 yards and 4 TDs (second most catches and yards on the team). True freshman QB Sam Hartman started 9 games, before getting injured and split time with Jamie Newman. Both men return in 2019 to compete for playing time. Either way, they have a legit budding star in Surratt to throw to.

3. Recent Recap: Wake Forest has made a bowl game three consecutive seasons (2016-2018) for the second time in school history (2006-2008). They have never made four consecutive bowls though, which is the goal in 2019.

4. Preview: Wake Forest will make a 4th straight bowl and win 4 ACC games for just the third time since 2009. They are a better team than Louisville, UNC, and Duke and I like them to beat Florida State at home too.

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Mike is a member of the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) and an alum of the University of Cincinnati.

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