There were an odd number of teams in the ACC in 2020, as Notre Dame became a temporary member of the conference. They took the conference by storm, winning every regular season game. This included a victory over Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers.
The Fighting Irish stumbled in the postseason, losing comfortably to The Tigers, a team boosted by the return of Trevor Lawrence.
Clemson and Notre Dame progressed to the College Football Playoffs, but would lose in the semi-finals to Alabama and Ohio State.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Season Record: 10-2
L 34-10 v. Clemson (ACC Title)
L 31-14 v. Alabama (Rose Bowl)
10-0 and toppling the Tigers (for a time)
Notre Dame’s decision to be a part of the ACC for 2020 looked to be a master stroke for all involved. For the most part. The Fighting Irish went undefeated in the regular season, even toppling ACC top dogs Clemson Tigers in a 2nd overtime 47-40 victory.
That win was the big highpoint of their ACC season. Even with Trevor Lawrence missing, Clemson was no joke. This game was a back and forth affair. RB Kyren Williams put the ball on his shoulders, rushing for 130 yards and three touchdowns. His ground work took the pressure off Ian Book, who couldn’t really get into his stride against the Clemson defence.
Unsurprisingly, this game of the two conference powerhouses was the most entertaining game for Notre Dame in the regular season. It gave The Irish their first real hope of success in 2020.
How quickly things can turn sour! After going 10-0 in the regular season and finishing top of the ACC, Notre Dame’s confidence was sky high entering the ACC title game.
The Rose Bowl was always going to be a mammoth challenge. The Irish were going up against one of the best college teams in recent history. Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith easily dismantled the Fighting Irish, whose offence was never really allowed to get into the game. Book did not play terribly, but the ‘Bama defence shut down his options and left little for him to work with.
The ACC title game was the real kicker for Notre Dame. After seeing The Tigers off in week seven, the return game for the ACC title was a very different story. Lawrence made Notre Dame pay, ending the game with over 400 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The second quarter is where it was lost for The Irish, giving up 17 points and never being able to recover. In the end, it was a sour conclusion to what was a dominant 2020 season for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame is one and done in the ACC. They will be returning to the independent scene in 2021.
Notre Dame has been ravaged of big names leaving for the 2021 NFL Draft. LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah appears to have pushed himself into the first round after an impressive 2020. Four out of five starting offensive lineman are gone (Eichenberg, Banks, Kramer & Hainsey all declared for the draft). QB Ian Book has also entered the 2021 NFL Draft. TE Tommy Tremble and DE Daelin Hayes are the other names to look out for in April.
10 players have left the Fighting Irish via the transfer portal in 2021. Head Coach Brian Kelly has a task on his hands to restructure this roster.
Season Record: 10-2
Bowl Game: L 49-28 v. Ohio State (Allstate Sugar Bowl)
The best QB in college football
As expected, Trevor Lawrence would enter the NFL Draft after his Junior year. One Covid scare aside, he proved himself once more to be the best Quarterback in college football. ACC defences could not hang with his elite timing, touch and mobility.
Lawrence missed two games due to Covid protocol: the narrow win over Boston College, and their visit to Notre Dame. The Tigers struggled without him, despite the efforts of heir-apparent D.J. Uiagalelei. The regular season loss to The Irish certainly spiced things up in the division, and ensured that there would be two ACC teams in the College Football Playoffs.
Buckeyes get their revenge
Ohio State and Clemson faced off in the College Football Playoffs after winning their respective divisions. Last year, Trevor Lawrence led his side to a 29-23 victory over Justin Fields and friends. Fields seemed to be driving his side down the field for a late turnaround. His pass was intended for Chris Olave, but his receiver ran a post route. Fields threw to the back corner of the end zone, and was intercepted. Game over. Tigers win.
In 2020, Fields would lead his side to a revenge victory. Clemson entered the game as favourites, with many expecting their defence to dominate the Buckeyes. It was not to be their day. OSU had 639 yards of offence, scoring 7 touchdowns. Fields threw 6 TDs, and Trey Sermon ran for 193 yards.
Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Cornell Powell have all entered the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence is of course the #1 overall pick (in-waiting). Etienne could be a Round One consideration, but his stock has fallen in recent weeks. Cornell Powell wowed onlookers with his size at Clemson’s Pro Day. He may sneak into Day Two.
Dabo Swinney can boast the return of Seniors on defence. This unit should carry them to the top of the ACC once more.
Season Record: 8-3
Bowl Game: L 37-34 v. Oklahoma State (Cheez-It Bowl)
All Hail the King
D’Eriq King transferred from The University of Houston in 2020, and immediately stood out as one of the top Quarterbacks in the ACC. King threw for 23 touchdowns and 2,600 yards in 11 games in 2020. A dual threat QB, he also rushed for 500+ yards on the year.
His finest performance came against NC State. King threw for 430 yards and 5 touchdowns in a shootout with The Wolfpack. His final score came with less than three minutes remaining with The Canes down by four. King completed a 54 yard touchdown pass with Mike Harley to secure a 44-41 victory.
King also rushed for 105 yards in this game. It was the only time he would top 100 yards in a single game all season.
Home humbling to UNC
The Hurricanes entered the final game of the 2020 ACC season with just one loss on their record, a 42-17 defeat to Clemson in October. The visit of UNC was a competitive contest to end the year. Or so we thought. Miami entered the game as 3 point favourites, with only home advantage separating the two sides. The Canes lost by 36.
What occured in that loss to The Tar Heels was record breaking, for all the wrong reasons. UNC had 778 total yards of offence. Michael Carter and Javonte Williams made up for 544 of those on the ground. Between them, Carter and Williams had 5 touchdowns.
It was the worst way to end the regular season. No surprise that they would lose once more, this time to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2020 Cheez-It Bowl.
Tight End Brevin Jordan has entered the 2021 NFL Draft. Jordan is a modern pass-catching Tight End that could excel at the next level.
Two QBs are out of the door. Former star of QB1 Tate Martell has transferred to UNLV. Last year’s backup N’Kosi Perry has also entered the portal.
Quarterback D’Eriq King returns, and has had surgery on a torn ACL. His draft stock rocketed after transferring from The University of Houston. He will be hoping to be fully fit for his return in 2021.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Season Record: 8-4
Bowl Game: L 41-27 v. Texas A&M (Orange Bowl)
Party in Miami
Miami came into the final regular season game with an outside chance of the playoffs, but that chance quickly dissipated when UNC raced out to a 34-10 lead at half time. The Tar Heels never looked back.
By the end of the game, UNC had a total of 772 yards of offence to Miami’s 314 and held the ball for 40:19 minutes of the game. The rushing game was a wonder to behold: Javonte Williams and Michael Carter combined for 544 rushing yards and five touchdowns, the most ever by a pair of Running Backs in a single game.
Miami may have finished the season higher in the standings, but UNC had the last laugh.
Falling victims to the banana skin
UNC lost three regular season games in 2020. The loss to Notre Dame shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. UNC should be looking back at a 10-1 season and an ACC title shot if it wasn’t for two single score losses.
The Florida State game comes down to a 2nd quarter capitulation, where they gave up 24 points. UNC kept Florida State scoreless in the whole second half, but will look back at a terrible first half where they failed to score on their first six possessions (five punts, one downs and an interception returned for a TD).
The Virginia game was a back and forth affair for the neutrals to savour. UNC were 14 points down, before a fourth quarter fight back that unfortunately did not go their way. Virginia scored an all-important field goal early in the fourth that took 9 minutes off the clock. The Tar Heels scored a final TD, but Virginia played the final minutes to see out the victory. Not what UNC fans wanted in the South’s oldest rivalry.
Five star DE Keeshawn Silver is the standout recruit joining the program in 2021. A number of four star commits will bolster the roster for their fight against Clemson and Miami for top spot in the ACC. Former Tennessee RB Ty Chandler has also transferred into the program.
19 of the 22 starters from the Orange Bowl will be back for UNC in 2021. They are losing four all-Americans to the 2021 NFL Draft. They include RB duo Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. WR Dazz Newsome, LB Chazz Surratt and WR Dyami Brown will all be pushing for their names to be called on Day Two in April.
NC State Wolfpack
Season Record: 8-4
Bowl Game: L 23-21 v. Kentucky (TaxSlayer Gator Bowl)
It is safe to say that new Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck restored the excitement in the Wolfpack offence. They won just one in-conference game in 2019. It was their first losing season since 2013. The improvement in 2020 was marked.
The Wolfpack were masters of edging out close games. Four of their eight wins were within a score. Two of those were one point wins over ranked sides Pitt (30-29) and Liberty (15-14).
For the third time in Dave Doeren’s reign in Raleigh, The Wolfpack were a ranked team during the course of the season.
Losing state bragging rights
A win against Duke in Week 5 was enough to establish bragging rights in the state of North Carolina, but the celebrations lasted just one week.
The Wolfpack were 4-1 going into the game against The Tar Heels. State were the underdogs by 16 points. They wouldn’t cover the spread against their dominant in-state rivals.
The visitors to Chapel Hill turned the ball over four times on their way to a 48-21 defeat. State’s offence spent just 20 minutes with possession of the football. UNC outscored The Wolfpack in every quarter of play.
A victory over UNC would have been the next step forward for a program on the up. They’ll get their chance for revenge in Raleigh this November.
Alim McNeill is the key talent entering the 2021 NFL Draft. He is the premier nose tackle in the draft class. Expect him to land to an NFL franchise with a 3-4 defensive base on Day Two of the 2021 NFL Draft.
The team’s leading receiver, Emeka Emezie, is returning for the 2021 season. He has caught a pass in 32 consecutive games for State.
Three offensive linemen have left the program in the transfer portal. They are Zovon Lindsay, Charles Fletcher and Liam Ryan.
Boston College Eagles
Season Record: 6-5
Bowl Game: N/A
Highlight and Lowlight
Can you call three losses a highpoint of a season? Boston College only lost to Clemson and UNC by a single score, and kept the Notre Dame game interesting despite a disappointing second quarter.
Clemson was without Trevor Lawrence once again due to Covid. Boston almost took full advantage of that, getting out to a 28-13 lead at half time. Unfortunately the Clemson defence tightened and shut out The Eagles in the second half, whilst grabbing enough points on offence to see them off.
The UNC game was a scrappy affair, and one that could have almost gone their way. Unfortunately the final offensive drive took almost five minutes off the clock and resulted in the two points being returned by UNC. It left Boston no time to retrieve the ball. UNC won the onside kick and knelt to victory.
Boston College can look back on 2020 with some fond memories and closely fought losses.
Tight end Hunter Long is the big name entering the 2021 NFL Draft and should be the highest drafted player from this program. LBs Max Richardson, Isiah McDuffie and DL Max Roberts have also all declared for the Draft.
Senior Zion Johnson is returning for one more year, which will be a massive boost to the Eagles offensive line.
Season Record: 6-5
Bowl Game: N/A
Ranked in 2020
In Pat Narduzzi’s six years in charge of the Pitt Panthers, his sides have been ranked in four. In Week 3, Pitt was ranked #21 in the country after a 3-0 start to the season.
Not only was Pitt ranked again this year, but it was the program’s highest in Narduzzi’s reign. It was also their highest ranking since 2010, when they were a Big East program.
Wake me up when October ends
Of the five games that The Panthers lost in 2020, four came in the month of October. Pitt lost by just one point to NC State, and then again a week later in overtime to Boston College.
Defeats to Miami and Notre Dame left the side 3-4 with just 4 games left to be played. Freshman Quarterback Joey Hellen stepped in for the injured Kenny Pickett. They struggled to run the offence in the absence of their starter, and fell to two more losses on their 2020 ACC schedule.
The month of October derailed an excellent start to the year. A 3-1 finish was enough to make this a respectable finish. However, there is a lingering feeling of what might have been for The Panthers.
This year’s draft class is all about the defensive side of the ball. DT Jalen Twyman has entered the 2021 NFL Draft. He had drawn comparisons to Aaron Donald earlier in his career, and even changed his number to #97 to honour the fellow Panther alumni.
Keep an eye out for Defensive End Patrick Jones II. Jones is an athletic pass rusher with impressive straight end speed. In a deep edge rusher class, he may fall into the back end of Day Two. Safety Paris Ford has seen his draft stock fall in 2020. Expect him to hear his name called on Day Three.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Season Record: 5-6
Bowl Game: N/A
Rivalry dominance once again
On the back of a four game losing streak, Hokies fans can be forgiven for being anxious coming into the Virginia rivalry game. As it turned out, they need not have been worried. They dominated the game in the first half. Tech ended the half 27-7 up and saw out the victory in the second half.
This contest was never really close. VT out-shot Virginia in the second and fourth quarters, and only allowed two TDs. They finished the season with a massive win to end 2020 and have now won 19 of the 21 meetings between the two programs since the turn of the century.
Tale of two halves
Virginia Tech started the ACC season well with a 2-0 start. By the halfway point of the season, they stood at 4-2. From here, it was all downhill with four losses on the bounce. The season was only saved by the rivalry victory of Virginia.
The first two losses over Miami and Liberty will hurt. They lost by a last second field goal to Liberty, and by a single point to Miami in what was a poor offensive showing from both teams. Those losses were followed up by blowout losses to Clemson and Pitt.
In the end, it was a losing season for Virginia Tech, and a November to forget in particular.
Virginia Tech could have two names called in the top 15 in April. Opt out CB Caleb Farley and OT Christian Darrisaw have both declared for the 2021 NFL Draft. S Divine Deablo, RB Khalil Herbert, LB Rayshard Ashby and P Oscar Bradburn will also be hoping to hear their names called.
Former Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker has transferred to the Hokies for the 2021 season.
Head Coach Justin Fuente will remain in charge for the 2021 season. There were rumours of his exit in December, but he is staying on in Blacksburg.
Season Record: 5-5
Bowl Game: N/A
The Cavaliers were standing at 1-4 when November arrived. When UNC arrived in Charlottesville, UVA were eight point underdogs. It was a back and forth first half. The Tar Heels were up 7-0 and 10-6 in the first quarter, but both times The Cavaliers hit back. In the second quarter, UNC led 20-13. Again, Virginia responded.
The second half was a different story. UVA were up by seven at the half, and made it 14 when Wayne Taulapapa crossed for a two yard touchdown run. Tight End Tony Poljan put his side up by 21 with a 17 yard touchdown reception. North Carolina mounted a comeback when receiver Dyami Brown caught two Sam Howell touchdown passes.
In the end, a Brian Delaney field goal was enough to separate the two sides. The Cavaliers would be spurred on to another three straight victories. If it wasn’t for the cancellation against Florida State, UVA might have had a winning record in the ACC in 2020.
Rivalry loss to The Hokies
Tech were on a four game slide entering the final game of the ACC season in 2020. Virginia visited Blacksburg on a four game winning streak. Although the hosts were three point favourites, Cavaliers fans were hopeful of victory.
The run defence, so mean in previous games in 2020, was decimated by Khalil Herbert. The Hokies had 252 rushing yards, led by Herbert (20 carries, 162 yards and a touchdown).
Like most programs, The Cavaliers have been busy in the transfer portal. Leading that group is former three star QB RJ Harvey Jnr, who has left for UCF.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Season Record: 4-5
Bowl Game: L 42-28 v. Wisconsin (Duke’s Mayo Bowl)
It’s difficult to pinpoint a highlight for Wake Forest in 2020 after losing both rivalry games. That was followed by multiple cancellations and a Bowl Game loss.
Wake Forest fans did however enjoy a mid season four game win streak that allowed them to avoid a disastrous campaign. It started with the out of conference 66-14 victory over Campbell. The rushing game put up 299 yards and six touchdowns. They followed that up with victories over Virginia, 19th ranked Virginia Tech and finally Syracuse in what turned out to be their last win of the season.
No rivalry wins
Wake Forest were the big losers in North Carolina in 2020. They lost the early season games to NC State and UNC before the gimme game against Duke was cancelled due to a covid outbreak at Wake Forest. This is the first season that The Demon Deacons and Blue Devils have not played each other since 1967.
The week two game against NC State was lost by a single field goal. Wake Forest punted the ball four times and gave up the ball on downs twice late in the game. The high scoring game against UNC will hurt the most. They gave up 28 points in the fourth quarter and played into Sam Howell’s hands on defence.
Who knows if former QB Jamie Newman will be a Wake Forest player or Georgia Bulldogs when his name is called in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Opt out WR Sage Surratt has declared for the NFL, along with pass rusher Carlos Basham. They will be the two names to look out for in April.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Season Record: 3-7
Bowl Game: N/A
Big win over Louisville
Of Georgia Tech’s three victories in the ACC in 2020, the most impressive was the 46-27 win over Louisville. It was one of only two occasions where The Yellow Jackets scored 28 points or more that season.
Freshman QB Jeff Sims threw for 249 yards, his second highest total of 2020. He led the team in rushing too, an achievement he managed five times in the season.
Tech was down by two scores when Malik Cunningham found Tutu Atwell for a 26 yard touchdown. The Yellow Jackets responded with three touchdown drives, but wasted three extra points. Cunningham ran home to restore Louisville’s lead.
In the fourth, Georgia Tech scored three consecutive touchdowns for the second time of the game. That secured a comfortable victory at The Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Cardinals turned the ball over four times (three fumbles, once on downs) to hand victory to the home side.
Losing to The Clemson Tigers is not cause for shame. But to lose by 66 points?
Clemson were understandably heavy favourites going into the game. Vegas had The Yellow Jackets as 27 point underdogs. The high point of the first half was forcing Running Back Travis Etienne into a fumble, and intercepting Trevor Lawrence.
The down side? Tech conceded 52 points by half time. Defensive Tackle Nyles Pinckney lined up on offence to cross for a one yard score.
In the second half, Clemson poured salt in the wounds. Hunter Helms and Taisun Phommachanh, QBs way down the depth chart, came on to get some time on the field. The ultimate embarrassment was when Dabo Swinney let Punter Will Spiers throw three passes.
Quarterback Tucker Gleason has transferred after losing the starting job to Jeff Sims. He will play at Toledo next year.
Season Record: 4-7
Bowl Game: N/A
A shutout (no matter the opposition)
In 2020, Louisville won the games they should have and lost the game people expected them to. This season will be classed as a failure for fans after a 8-5 campaign in 2019. The all-ACC schedule did not appear to do them any favours in 2020.
The standout victory was the shutout over Syracuse in November. Malik Cunningham and Co put up 30 points and forced Syracuse into a goose egg in a game that wasn’t ever really a contest. The Louisville defence allowed just 7 first downs to Syracuse and 137 yards of total offence all game. Even though Syracuse were not a formidable foe in 2020, a shutout is an impressive achievement in any conference game.
All a bit meh
It is difficult to pinpoint any real highlights and lowlights for Louisville in 2020. Their season was a bit “meh” in the grade scheme of things. They had expected losses to ranked teams such as Pitt, Notre Dame & Miami in 2020.
What the Cardinal fans may not have seen coming is the losses to Georgia Tech and the two Virginia teams. The way they lost the Georgia Tech game will be the one fans will remember for all the wrong reasons. Louisville led the game by a single point heading into the fourth quarter, before a breakdown saw them give up 20 points, which handed the game to The Yellow Jackets. Louisville started the fourth with a fumble, and then followed that up with a punt and loss of downs on their final two drives.
In the end, it was a lost season for Scott Satterfield in his second year in charge. He will be looking to make amends and get back to winning ways in 2021.
HC Scott Satterfield is staying in Louisville. He was in consideration for the South Carolina Gamecocks job, before withdrawing his interest the day before Shane Beamer was announced.
The top name entering the 2021 NFL Draft will be WR Tutu Atwell, who is projected to be a mid-round pick. RB Javian Hawkins has also declared and may well be a late pick in April.
Florida State Seminoles
Season Record: 3-6
Bowl Game: N/A
End on a high note
2020 was a miserable year for Mike Norvell’s Seminoles. The win against UNC aside, Florida State were underwhelming.
Their leaders on offence, QB James Blackman and WR Tamorrion Terry, struggled. Both left the program in November. Terry left with over 2,000 career yards at FSU after his season was disrupted by injury. Blackman was replaced by freshman Jordan Travis after two starts. He left as a graduate transfer.
FSU’s games against Clemson, Virginia and Wake Forest were all cancelled. Rumours abound that Norvell and the FSU hierarchy were particularly keen to avoid The Tigers. The program naturally denied these claims.
Which is why the late season victory over Duke was a high note to end the year. JaSahun Corbin ran in three touchdowns, whilst freshman Lawrance Toafili enjoyed 117 yards and a score on just 7 carries. Travis also had 90 yards and a touchdown on a great day on the ground for The Seminoles.
Florida State were up 28-0 in the First Quarter. Duke could only reply with one touchdown of their own. The Blue Devils brought it within a score at half time. Norvell’s halftime adjustments worked. The Seminoles re-established their dominance with three touchdowns in the Third Quarter. FSU fans will hope that this performance was a sign of things to come under Mike Norvell in 2021.
Slow start for Mike Norvell
There was a lot of excitement surrounding the hiring of Nike Norvell. It wasn’t the start he had anticipated. He had 16 players leave the program in his first year as Head Coach. Norvell will be hoping to oversee an overhaul of personnel in 2021.
As mentioned above, Blackman and Terry have led the exodus from Tallahassee. Blackman has transferred to Arkansas State. Terry has entered the 2021 NFL Draft.
Incoming is former UCF Quarterback McKenzie Milton. Running Back D.J. Williams has also moved to Tallahassee from Auburn. Kansas’s leading Wide Receiver Andrew Parchment completes an offensive overhaul in preparation for the 2021 ACC season.
Duke Blue Devils
Season Record: 2-9
Bowl Game: N/A
Not quite the worst team in the ACC
Duke avoided being named the worst team in the ACC for the 2020 season, thanks to the game six victory over Syracuse and an out of conference victory over Charlotte.
The game against Syracuse was controlled by Duke throughout. The Blue Devils won the contest 38-24 and held the ball for almost two thirds of the afternoon. Duke had 645 yards of offence, with the run game proving particularly effective. Deon Jackson ran for 169 yards, whilst Mataeo Durant ran for 163 and two scores on the ground.
Duke may have finished above Syracuse in the standings, but this was certainly not a season to remember for the Blue Devil fan base. This is the worst season Duke in the 13 seasons in charge for David Cutcliffe.
They kept it close in some of the contests, but were trodden on in others. The worst performance was the home game shutout against Miami. The Blue Devils lost 48-0, putting up only 177 yards of offence and turning the ball over five times. With Miami coming off three weeks without a game due to Covid, it left a bitter taste in the mouth for Duke. The program is currently a far cry from the 10 win team of 2013.
Edge’s Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje are later round prospects who should be drafted, and will be a loss to the already struggling defence.
Head Coach David Cutcliffe enters his 14th season in charge at Duke. He will be looking to make up for his worst finish with the Blue Devils. Expect Duke to struggle again in 2021.
Season Record: 1-10
Bowl Game: N/A
Rex Culpepper’s Return
It is usually difficult to find a highlight for a program that only managed one win in 2020. However, some things are more important than sport.
The return of Rex Culpepper was a moment that stood out in 2020. Culpepper fought and won a battle with testicular cancer in 2018. This season, he returned to the field to throw his first touchdown since beating the disease. The 69 yard touchdown throw to Taj Harris sparked a mass celebration on The Orange sideline.
Andre Cisco’s injury
A freak injury kept key player Andre Cisco off the field for the remainder of the season. He pulled up in the pregame warm-up against Georgia Tech, and did not see the field again in 2020.
Cisco was likely to be the first Orange alumni to hear his name called in the 2021 NFL Draft. At the time of his injury, he had more college football interceptions than any other active player in the FBS. His lower leg injury changes things. Ifeatu Melifonwu is now widely considered to be the first Syracuse player to be selected in the Draft.
Defensive Backs Cisco and Melifonwu are both expected to be Day Two selections (with fellow DB Trill Williams to follow on Day Three).
13 players have transferred out of the program. Incoming is Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader, who will hope to win the starting job under centre in 2021.