Football season is upon us. Some college football games were played last weekend and all teams nationwide are now officially in game week for their season opener.
As for the ACC in week one, a few teams begin the season with a bang in the form of a nationally televised matchup between two highly-touted teams while the majority will be warming up their seasons with a home game against an overmatched FCS opponent.
What’s the state of the Atlantic Coast Conference heading into the opening week of the 2017 season?
1. Florida State
The Seminoles, ranked third in the preseason AP and Coaches Polls, are the favorites to represent the Atlantic Coast Conference in the College Football Playoff behind a loaded defense that returns nine starters from last year and a offense that is chock full of talent, but adjusting to life without Dalvin Cook. The only thing standing in FSU’s way may be its ridiculously difficult schedule and that begins this Saturday with a matchup against No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta.
The defending national champion must now adjust to life without two-time Heisman finalist quarterback Deshaun Watson. Luckily for the Tigers, they will have a stacked defense, especially up front, and substantial talent at skill positions to aid in the pursuit of a third consecutive ACC title. Clemson’s season begins innocently enough with a home game against Kent State at noon on Saturday, but the schedule ramps up significantly in week two.
When you return the defending Heisman Trophy winner, you always have a chance. Junior quarterback Lamar Jackson leads a Cardinals team determined to put its whimpering finish to the 2016 season in the rear-view mirror. Is the talent gap across the team at FSU and Clemson too wide? Only time will tell. For now, UL’s season begins with a Saturday night matchup with the visiting Purdue Boilermakers.
There are a lot of strong pieces on this year’s Hurricane team on both sides of the ball and the hype backs this up as UM has become the trendy pick to win the Coastal Division for the first time in its ACC tenure. The only thing potentially standing in the Canes’ way is that they will be replacing longtime quarterback Brad Kaaya. Heading into a week one matchup with Bethune-Cookman, junior Malik Rosier has been tabbed as Kaaya’s successor.
5. NC State
If NC State was in the Coastal Division, it would be the clear favorite. Instead, the Wolfpack finds itself in the Atlantic Division buried beneath the ACC’s current big three. Still, there’s a lot to like about this NCSU team, particularly on a defensive line that may be among the nation’s best. The Wolfpack opens its season with a home game against South Carolina on Saturday afternoon.
6. Virginia Tech
The defending Coastal Division champs are heading into year two under Justin Fuente with buzz in spite of what they have to replace. Losing quarterback Jerod Evans after the 2016 season, VT will now turn to redshirt freshman Josh Jackson. The Coastal is once again wide open and the Hokies will have a definite chance to repeat. An early litmus test of where the team is at will come this Sunday when VT takes on West Virginia in Washington D.C.
7. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets are fresh off a six-win improvement from 2015’s 3-9 campaign to a respectable 9-4 record in 2016. However, they now have to replace three-year starter at QB Justin Thomas and recently dealt with the unexpected dismissal of fullback Dedrick Mills, who led the team in rushing yards last season. Outside of that, there’s some hope for GT to maintain its positive progress and compete for the Coastal Division crown this year. The Jackets will be challenged from the get go with an opening weekend showdown with the Tennessee Volunteers in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday.
8. North Carolina
UNC’s offense was gouged after the 2016 season, losing QB Mitch Trubisky, who became the No. 2 overall draft pick, its top two running backs and four of its top six wide receivers from a season ago. This would likely correlate with a step back in competition this season from last year’s 9-4 mark. That being said, head coach Larry Fedora has recruited extremely well for the Tar Heels and that could pad some of the losses from last year’s team. North Carolina’s 2017 season begins with a Saturday afternoon home matchup against Cal.
After an overachieving 2016 season, Pitt now finds itself in a similar situation to UNC’s as the Panthers lose a lot of talent from last year’s squad. Still, standout wide receivers Quadree Henderson and Jester Weah will help keep Pittsburgh relevant. Week one brings Youngstown State to Heinz Field for Pitt’s season opener.
Year one with Dino Babers brought the Orange a few surprises, including a runaway victory over eventual Coastal Division Champs Virginia Tech. Will the program take another step in year two? Returning Eric Dungey to lead the offense should help. Syracuse’s season kicks off Friday night when FCS foe Central Connecticut travels to take on the Orange.
Last year, another injury to veteran quarterback Thomas Sirk thrust redshirt freshman Daniel Jones into the starting job earlier than expected. Jones, bred through the fire of throwing 430 passes in his first season as starter, is back and expected to take the next step. Expect this team to improve on last year’s 4-8 record and potentially return to the postseason. That quest starts Saturday when the Blue Devils welcome in North Carolina Central in their season opener.
12. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons overachieved in 2016, reaching their first bowl since 2011 before knocking off the Temple Owls in upset fashion. This year, Wake brings back John Wolford, coming into his fourth year as the team’s starter, and a number of major contributors on both sides of the ball. That being said, a tough schedule leaves little room for error if the Deacs want to make it two consecutive bowl appearances. Wake’s season opener is the earliest among all ACC schools as the Demon Deacons play host to Presbyterian on Thursday.
13. Boston College
Boston College is coming off its first bowl victory in nearly a decade and primed to make it four bowl appearances in five years. To make that possibility a reality, though, the Eagles desperately need to develop an offense to go along with their stifling defense. BC starts its season on the road this Friday with a trip to Northern Illinois.
Virginia showed signs of life early in its 2016 season, highlighted by a last-minute loss to a Louisville team that was firmly in the College Football Playoff conversation. However, the Hoos lost their final seven games a season ago, accented by a 52-10 stomping at the hands of rival Virginia Tech in their season finale. This shows exactly how far second-year coach Bronco Mendenhall still has to go to make UVA competitive on a weekly basis once again. The Cavaliers’ season gets underway Saturday when they welcome in William & Mary.