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1. Florida State
Why: Florida State is my lock for the college football playoff, coming off of the best four-year stretch in the history of the program under Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. Fisher, who once again was nearly the replacement of his much maligned (very unfairly) former boss LSU Coach Les Miles this offseason, returns his most talented defense and experienced lines of his already storied tenure.
It doesn’t take much testicular fortitude to make this pick, with the Seminoles and Clemson Tigers the obvious “big two” of the ACC, but Florida State is some semblance of a decent quarterback.
The Noles dominate an overmatched and inexperienced Mississippi team to start the season, rolling towards a showdown with increasingly hated rival Clemson. For one weekend, the mighty SEC will be forgotten, as both top five ranked giants take the field in the de facto ACC title game. Home field crowns the Seminoles.
Why: Dabo’s production finally matched his enthusiasm in 2015, with a magical run to an ACC title and inches from slaying the mighty Crimson Tide in the first ever playoff appearance for the Tigers. Following the death of Coach Swinney’s father prior to the beginning of Clemson’s 2015 slate, the season unfolded like a Disney movie before falling heartbreakingly short.
Clemson loses a lot; let’s not kid ourselves. But Swinney has recruited at a truly elite level, unlike anything the Clemson program has experienced. Extremely young up front, however, Clemson will rely on the dynamic playmaking ability of Heisman hopeful QB Deshaun Watson early in the season as the three new starters up front gel in the new look offense.
Clemson is a damn good team and, had they gotten the Seminoles at home, a probable repeat ACC Champion. But Doak Campbell is a massive home field advantage, Florida State has never had a more talented defense, and the Tigers have won just twice in Tallahassee since my birth. I’m a gambler, but I hate those odds.
Clemson rolls through a supposed early “test” in an overmatched Auburn team breaking in a new quarterback in Gus Malzahn’s high-octane attack. Clemson will easily roll towards FSU week, with their biggest competition their own apathy while sleepwalking through a historically weak ACC Atlantic Division.
Clemson fans, keep your fingers crossed, knock on wood, and pray to whomever you believe in that Watson stays healthy. A running QB, who has not only suffered a season-ending injury in the recent past but still struggles to slide and get out of bounds, is a ticking time bomb for disaster.
I’m betting he stays healthy, but the Tigers still fall short on the road.
Why: Bobby Petrino, in his second tour of duty as Louisville Head Coach (hopefully avoiding motorcycles and coeds) has something brewing for the Cardinals, but the terrible luck of being stranded firmly behind the powers of the otherwise pathetic conference.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson, basically a Denard Robinson clone with flashes of elite passing ability giving way to head scratchingly poor decisions and late career Manning ducks, is perhaps the best pure athlete playing QB in the nation. The best news? He’s a sophomore, with only seven total starts to his name.
Louisville must, however, step up their recruiting with not a single ESPN 300 commit in either the 2016 or 2017 classes. I realize this is barely a Power 5 level conference outside of Clemson and FSU, but with both reeling in more bluechips than they know what to do with, the gap is widening.
Louisville loses to the two best teams in their conference: Clemson and Florida State, in what cannot be considered a shock. However, what Louisville didn’t see coming when scheduling the Houston Cougars years ago for Week 11 of 2016 was the meteoric rise of the program under Coach Tom Hermann.
The Cougars stun Louisville, relegating them to a mid-tier bowl.
Why: Count me in as a believer in first-year Coach Dino Babers as he trades the orange of Bowling Green for that of Syracuse. Babers needs time but has assembled a dynamic and personable young staff, perhaps highlighted by offensive assistant Mike Hart, that will recruit at levels Syracuse has not seen since Donovan McNabb was under center.
This year, however, the Orange will be rough around the edges, replacing eleven starters from an already shaky roster, and the complete staff turnover. Fortunately, the out of conference schedule will allow for a quick start, with a pathetic ACC letting the Orange limp to a bowl game.
Syracuse is one of the worst teams in the nation to make a bowl by the absolute skin of their teeth. But things are getting better, Babers keeps the team together through a gauntlet (by ACC standards) middle weeks of their schedule, and heads into January with momentum on the recruiting trail.
5. NC State
Why: After the loss of QB Jacoby Brissett, who inexplicably was drafted by the Patriots a full round before Connor Cook, the Wolfpack are back at square one in what may be the fourth and final season of Coach Dave Doreen.
The Wolfpack have simply never gotten the sort of momentum, both on the field and recruiting trail, they’d hoped for when they hired the “rising star” coming off of back to back MAC Championships at Northern Illinois.
A struggle of a season leaves Doreen teetering on the brink of “four and out.” The Wolfpack miss a bowl game narrowly, as the pressure mounts.
6/7. Boston College/Wake Forest
Why: I include these dumpster fires as the season’s final week will present us the gift of their much-anticipated matchup to determine last place in the horrid ACC. BC, behind Steve “the dazzler” Addazio, who at one time was an offensive assistant to Urban Meyer (I’m serious), has put together one of the worst offenses in the history of college football this year in Newton. BC will struggle to score, every game, vs. every defense. Recruiting, too, is a total mess.
Wake, on the other hand, is on the way “back” to at least some semblance of respectability. Just kidding. After back to back 3-9 seasons to start the Dave Clawson era, the Deacons go for a three-peat, and perhaps the necessary euthanasia of their third-year coach’s tenure.
Both teams will struggle to beat non-power five out of conference opponents such as Army and Tulane, with their best chance at conference wins coming against one another. Luckily, BC does get to play “Wagner,” presumedly a win..
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