The ACC has long been the Clemson Tigers and then the 13 remaining members as they have owned the conference over the last six seasons. But, could the gap be closing with the emergence of North Carolina and Miami? Can NC State or Boston College give the Tigers any fits? We’ll give our predictions to those answers and more. Now, let’s unveil our 2021 ACC standings predictions.
2020 was a tough year in Durham as the Blue Devils only won two games. Duke only returns 12 starters which could be a good thing but still make for the least experienced team in the league. The major point of progression must be with the defense that gave up 38 points per game. A dramatic improvement there along with cutting down on the 18 interceptions thrown will be pivotal.
6. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets are in year three of the transformation between Paul Johnson and Geoff Collins. They should be much improved on the offensive side of the ball being led by Jeff Sims and Jahmyr Gibbs. Most importantly they return 10 starters on a defense that allowed 37 points per game. The schedule is rough but they should be able to avoid the basement.
A nightmare start ended in a huge turnaround for the Cavaliers in 2020. Virginia won four of their final five games to finish 5-5 on the year. Brennan Armstrong should be solid on offense and plenty good enough to improve on the five wins of a year ago. Seven wins aren’t out of the realm of possibilities for the 2021 season in Charlottesville.
4. Virginia Tech
Last year, the Hokies broke a 27-year streak of consecutive bowl appearances. They should be an improved team, but the schedule is not easy. They travel to West Virginia and host Notre Dame in the non-conference. The league schedule is not much easier in hosting North Carolina to start the season while going on the road in four of their last five games of the year.
Pittsburgh returns to the top half of the league in 2021. Partly due to the schedule that could allow the Panthers to start 5-0. Additionally, their toughest games are at home and backloaded as Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia all come to Heinz Field. Retooling the defense that loses five starters will be important, but the schedule allows them to learn early.
The offense should be good enough to win the conference as the Canes are loaded at the skill positions and add a deep threat with Charleston Rambo coming over from Oklahoma. The defense returns nine starters but must improve. The 62 points and over 550 yards given up against North Carolina is hard to get out of your mind. The game in Chapel Hill on October 16th will likely decide the Coastal division of the ACC.
1. North Carolina
Mack Brown has things rolling in Chapel Hill once again. They are spearheaded by Heisman Trophy candidate Sam Howell at quarterback who will likely be a top-five pick in the draft. They return 10 starters on defense along with the entire offensive line. Ty Chandler comes over from Tennessee to help fill the gap at running back. If the Tar Heels can find some playmakers at receiver they have the pieces to end Clemson’s reign.
The Rex Culpepper experiment never took off for the Orangemen as they went down to 1-10 last season. In comes Garrett Shrader from Mississippi State that fits Dino Babers style much more than the passing attack with Mike Leach. Syracuse should be improved with 19 starters back and even could triple last year’s win total.
6. Florida State
Florida State limped to a 3-6 finish in Mike Norvell’s first season as head coach in Tallahassee last year. The improvement could hinge on how healthy UCF transfer McKenzie Milton is for the Seminoles. The schedule is manageable early after Notre Dame but is backloaded with trips to Clemson, Boston College, and Florida sandwiched around home games against NC State and Miami.
Louisville came into 2020 as a team on the rise but fell to 4-7. Although they were 15 points away from a 7-4 season. Malik Cunningham returns as one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC this season. The non-conference has tough matchups against UCF and Mississippi so they should improve but it might not be enough to get them into bowl eligibility.
4. Wake Forest
The offense is loaded with 11 starters coming back from a team that averaged 36 points per game in 2020. They should light up the scoreboard early and often with Sam Hartman running the show. The Demon Deacons could win 7-8 games this season three very winnable non-conference games against Old Dominion, Norfolk State, and Army.
3. Boston College
The Eagles took Clemson to the brink and were 10 points away from a 7-3 season. The early schedule allows for a possible 4-0 start before going to Death Valley. If the offense improves under second-year starter Phil Jurkovec, seven or eight wins is very possible. Consistency for a defense that gave up 40 points on three occasions will also be important for the Eagles’ success.
2. North Carolina State
The Wolfpack is the second most talented team in this division across the board. Devin Leary is now entrenched as the starter at quarterback and returns everyone at the skill position. They have a decent shot to upset Clemson at home on September 25th. But, they will have to be road warriors with games against Mississippi State, Boston College, Miami, and Wake Forest all away from home.
The Tigers will once again be the cream of the crop of the ACC. They have a monster game against Georgia to start the season. But, they do not face a team that had a winning record in the ACC last season. Having said that, the offensive line and secondary were exposed in losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State. This team will take a small step back but still good enough to get back to the title game.
ACC Championship Game
North Carolina vs Clemson
Nobody has dominated a conference the way that Clemson has with the ACC. The Tigers have won the last four ACC Championship Games by a combined 34 points. The talent difference between Clemson and North Carolina is not as wide as it has been. However, Clemson continues their streak with a close win over the Tar Heels.