ACC Atlantic Division Football Predictions

The ACC Atlantic is still a two-team race up top. The most intriguing aspect to me is the third through fifth place race. Boston College, Louisville, and North Carolina State have their sights set on building on bowl berths last season.

With Florida State and Clemson expected to contend up top, and Wake Forest and Syracuse looking up at everyone, the middle of the pack could play a big role in determining the division’s winner.

If any of my middle three can pull an upset versus FSU or Clemson, then that’s a big wrench in the plans of a repeat for the Seminoles or a breakthrough for the Tigers.

Below is my ranking of how I see the Atlantic shaking out, ACC wins-wise.

ACC Atlantic Division Football Predictions

Last month Las Vegas released their Over/Under odds for win totals for 67 teams. Those numbers are referenced below, with my guess included.

1. Clemson Tigers

Can Clemson put it together this year? Can they stop “pulling a Clemson?” Even “Clemsoning” is unfortunately a term listed on Urban Dictionary. The Tigers have the talent, and need to get over these hurdles and make a run at Florida State.

They have a consistent quarterback in Deshaun Watson, if he can stay healthy. However, they only bring back three starters from the stellar defense in 2014, which was anchored by Atlanta Falcons first round draft pick Vic Beasley (outside linebacker).

If the offense can lead the way, and the Tigers can find new leadership on defense, they have a chance to dethrone the Seminoles. Even though they had this same scenario in mind two years ago, Clemson is trying to avoid the FSU land mine again.

I don’t see a repeat of the 2013 game-of-the-week-turned-public-flogging. Clemson never had a chance at home two years ago, but this year’s defense must turn in an effort more like last year in Tallahassee.

If they ride the wave of their Russell Athletic Bowl win over Oklahoma, and stay focused on one game at a time, then I give the Tigers a good shot to get double-digit wins.

Starting in Louisville, seven games in a row will test the Tigers and I see a loss in here somewhere. If they’re not careful, it will be two. They get Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Boston College in consecutive weeks at home in this stretch.

Wins O/U – 9: Over

2. Florida State Seminoles

I feel out on a limb here with Clemson up top considering this division has been Florida State’s for the taking for years now.

FSU lost a big weapon on offense with Jameis Winston gone to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While his career contained its share of outstanding play, it also came with the burden of his off-the-field issues. The former will be missed, while the latter has already been forgotten.

Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson comes into Winston’s role as quarterback, and is battle-tested, but time will tell how he adjusts to a new system.

From the very first game last year when Oklahoma State hung in for 60 minutes, critics questioned FSU. Oregon exposed any shortcomings Florida State had in the second half of the College Football Playoff semifinal in Pasadena.

If the pressure of going undefeated two years in a row being released can be turned into a positive, the Noles can come out this year and simply play football. They will still get everyone in the ACC’s best shot, especially Clemson.

If it comes down to them and the Tigers again, going into Death Valley this year may be the difference.

If FSU can jump on easy prey early in the schedule, when Miami (FL), Louisville, and at Georgia Tech come along, they should be ready. Double digit wins for the fourth year in a row should be a safe bet.

Wins O/U: 9.5 – Over

3. North Carolina State Wolfpack

The Wolfpack returns seven starters on offense and eight on defense. After finishing the season in 2014 winning four of five, including a St. Petersburg Bowl victory over Central Florida, NC State will look to move up and compete in the Atlantic.

They will have to avoid a mid-season slide that has plagued them the past two seasons if they are going to be taken serious in conference. Their non-conference slate should get them to 4-0 before they get Louisville on October 3.

Three of their conference road games: at VA Tech, Boston College, and FSU will determine where the Pack winds up in the pecking order. Simply getting to a bowl won’t be enough this year, so if they can sneak in a victory in one of these games, they can move up.

Wins O/U: 7 – Over

T-4. Louisville Cardinals

The Cardinals and Wolfpack are tough to work out in regards to who can slide in behind Clemson and FSU atop the division. You may as well just flip a coin since these two have similar obstacles ahead of them. Both get Clemson at home, but go to FSU. The difference in Louisville and NC State is that Louisville starts out of the gate with Auburn in Atlanta. Louisville’s third game is a Thursday night showdown with Clemson. There is little wiggle room for error in the early slate, with a road game at NC State coming October 3.

DeVante Parker (first round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins) is big loss at wide receiver, but Bobby Petrino hasn’t skipped a beat since returning to Louisville a year ago. Depending on how they handle Clemson, at NC State, and at FSU, the Cardinals could be the one to contend up top for the Atlantic. The Cardinals should finish strong with their final five games looking very winnable, though three are on the road.

Wins O/U: 7.5 – Under

T4. Boston College Eagles

The Eagles went out and stunned a good Southern California team last season. The Men of Troy were riding high after beating rival Stanford and had the very definition of a let down game, but they weren’t let down gently. The win is a prime example of the biggest loss Boston College faces this year: quarterback Tyler Murphy. The win over USC was a national television breakout in which he ran wild in Chestnut Hill.

If BC can maintain its momentum and get into the top three of the division, they’ll need to find this season’s workhorse like Murphy or running back Andre Williams. In 2014, the Eagles were competitive in every game, and could’ve easily been a 9-10 win team. They lack the offensive firepower this year, so the six returning defensive starters will have to step up and lead.

Wins O/U: 5.5 – Over

6. Syracuse Orange

The Orange hasn’t taken to the ACC as well as fellow newcomer Louisville. After a bowl win in 2013, Syracuse finished 3-9 in 2014, including dropping their final five games. They return seven starters on offense, so they should be able to put up more points in conference. The defense welcomes back only three starters from a squad that gave up 24.3 points per game. After three winnable non-conference games, the LSU Tigers come into town to begin the onslaught of tough to seemingly impossible matchups. At Virginia and vs. Pitt might be the easiest of the ACC schedule.

Wins O/U: 4.5 – Under

7. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Wake has been on a nosedive since playing in the 2011 Music City Bowl vs. Mississippi State. They lost that game and finished the year 6-7. The Demon Deacons have had six losing seasons in a row, and it doesn’t look like that will change this year. Three wins looks like a realistic expectation, and that’s including an upset at home vs. Indiana (Homecoming) or Duke. If Wake Forest football wants to stop being the punch line for commencement speakers, they will have to use returning talent and experience and turn it into wins.

Wins O/U: 3.5 – Under

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