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Spring games are over, recruiting is wrapping up, and it’s time to start seeing how teams will square off against each other next season. Here are the JR Report’s thoughts on how the ACC will shape up, going from best to worst for both ACC divisions.
1. Florida State
The Seminoles ended last season on a high note by finishing 10-3, including an Orange Bowl win, with two of their losses coming by less than 3 points.
Although they lost running back Dalvin Cook to the NFL, FSU isn’t losing any sleep. They will replace Cook with freshmen running back Cam Akers, who is the No. 1 ranked running back in his class.
In his senior year of high school, Akers rushed for 2,105 yards and 34 touchdowns in addition to passing for 3,128 yards and 31 touchdowns.
The Noles are also bringing in the No. 4 ranked freshman running back, Khalan Laborn, and the No. 15 ranked RB Zaquandre White.
As for returning running backs, the Seminoles have junior RB Jacques Patrick, Cook’s former backup.
Most importantly, Florida State has quarterback Deondre Francois coming into his sophomore year after a 3,350-yard freshmen season. He is a dynamic dual-threat and presumably will get better each game he plays.
With a strong veteran defense and a promising recruiting class, the Seminole’s don’t lack anything on the other side of the football. They are no doubt the top of the ACC and a favorite to play in the conference championship.
The biggest question mark for the Tigers is who will replace future Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson.
The Tigers have two main contenders: junior Kelley Bryant and redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper. While Bryant hasn’t seen much of the field, he has completed 13 of his 16 passes and has one touchdown. Cooper passed for 1,132 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior year of high school.
If Clemson can’t find the right QB fit for the team, they won’t stand a chance against Florida State.
That being said, Clemson still has a strong defense that stops both the run and the pass. Clemson has three players who had more than 50 solo tackles in the 2016 season: Van Smith (65), Kendall Joseph (59), and Ben Boulware (58). Smith and Joseph will both return.
In fact, the Tigers might have the best defense in the country next season, although it’s a bit too early to tell.
The Louisville Cardinals have been in and out of national attention for the last couple of years for various upset wins and surprise losses.
They might not be starting next season in the top 10, but they have the potential to climb their way back up.
Louisville is coming back with Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. If he gets the O-line support he needs to succeed, the Cardinals will be a powerful force. Jackson was sacked a whopping 46 times, including being sacked 11 times in a loss to Houston.
Receiver Dez Fitzpatrick was signed in 2016 and showed promise during the spring game. Jackson needs adequate protection and needs to get the ball into the hands of his receivers if the Cardinals have title aspirations, but, in my opinion, they won’t be able to do enough to win the division this year.
4. NC State
NC State has a great team coming into next season but might struggle because of the stiff competition in the Atlantic division.
The Wolfpack have several players returning from injury that could make a difference on the field this fall and have bolstered their recruiting department to help in future seasons.
Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels seek to replace running back Matt Dayes. Hines had 782 yards at RB last year, while Samuels had 565.
NC State’s defense is one of the top in the country—the NCAA had them at No. 24 in total defense after the 2016 season. The Pack had 37 sacks as a team last year, and their entire D-line will be seniors. The O-line will have four returners, and NC State will return a total of 16 starters from last year.
5. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons ended their season on a high note with a Military Bowl win against Temple. They went 7-6 on the season and had a close game against the Seminoles.
The Deacons leave a lot to be desired on offense. They need to find someone to carry the ball, as the team averaged only 4 yards per carry last season, while the O-line allowed 39 sacks. Without a doubt, there is a lot of work need to be done.
6. Boston College
The Eagles also ended their season at 7-6, with notable wins against Wake Forest and NC State.
They struggle to throw the football, only completing 46.5% of their passes last season. There also isn’t any apparent heir at quarterback, making it improbable they improve much from 2016.
Many of their receivers are returning, however, so we’ll see if any quarterbacks can take up the mantle and make plays.
Syracuse had a rough year, finishing 4-8. The Orange have a pretty difficult schedule for a team of their caliber—they had games against USF, Notre Dame, Clemson, FSU, and NC State to keep them busy—and they couldn’t pull through last year.
They gave up over 38 points per game and weren’t able to generate much noise on offense either.
They are in a rebuilding process and are unlikely to make any noise next season.
Nicholai Babis is a sophomore International Studies major at Vassar College. He specializes in College Football. He is a lifelong Seminoles fan, as well as a Rays fan and a Tampa Bay Bucs fan. He grew up in Tampa, Florida. He is a co-owner of the JR report and works for Athletics at Vassar College. He is the college football contributor at the JR Report. Follow Nicholai on twitter @nibabis . Hit him up if you want to discuss CFB, NFL, golf, tennis, and more.