This side of the 2021 ACC Season Preview is much more of a who comes second kind of thing as Clemson has topped the Atlantic for the last six years following the three years of dominance from Florida state. If you didn’t catch the ACC Coast review then click here first. Even though The Tigers have lost so much talent on Offence to the 2021 NFL Draft it would take a bold person to bet against them standing atop of the pile in 2021. Who’s top of my list? You guessed it, The men in Orange from Death Valley. Who else? Before we get there though as with the Coastal preview lets go worst to first based on last year’s win record.
2021 ACC Season Preview: Syracuse Orange
Cuse went 1-10 in a miserable 2020 campaign. If you’re looking for a bright light to start with, forget it. The Offence couldn’t score and when given the chance to look downfield the Offensive Line gave up 3.5 sacks a game or a whopping 7.5 tackles for loss per game which was worst in the country. The Orange also have 80% of their returning talent which normally is a good thing but for Syracuse can we be so sure that it actually will be?
The battle for starting Quarterback will go right down to the wire with perennial starter Tommy DeVito still in the mix after years of being beaten up behind a terrible line. Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader is the other half of the battle and he brings big size, six foot four and 221lbs and some mobility to the dog fight. As stalwart as DeVito is, maybe it’s time for a change under centre. Part of the returning production comes in the form of leading rusher Sean Tucker and leading pass catcher Taj Harris who should both thrive this year with more solid production if Shrader is the new QB. Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard return after opting out last year which should also give some depth to the Running Back room.
Youth and upside is what the 2021 Defence brings The Orange. The Defence was worse than the Offence last year and that is saying something. Saying that the Defensive front three is made up of super Seniors who should bring some veterancy to the rest of the young bucks in the Defence. Ifeatu Melifonwu, Trill Williams, and Andre Cisco all left early before heading to the NFL and The Orange will need to replace them fast. Saying that 11 of the top 12 tacklers return so some consistency is there. Everything will flow through Linebacker Mikel Jones who will be a star for Cuse this year and could end up on the All ACC team if things fall right.
A win in week one against Ohio is a must for The Orange to get underway. They can win five games this year if they get ticking and perhaps even a win against Louiville who are somewhat in a rebuild isn’t a huge task for Cuse. However there is a chance that they capitulate once more and prop up the table again in 2021.
2021 ACC Season Preview: Florida State Seminoles
The Seminols were fairly poor in 2020 and finished 3-6. This is another team whose Starting Quarterback isn’t cemented in and whomever it is come week one needs to know that the Offensive Line will be better. The Noles haven’t had a great O-Line in years and will need one in order to help keep the QB upright.
Starting Quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a sickening leg injury and his health status is up in the air. Jordan Travis has flashed brilliance at times yet is inconsistent at best as a passer. He did lead the team however in rushing yards and scores so provides Florida State with a level of danger that is needed in the RPO game. Milton is superb but will we see him return healthy? Only a few days to find out I guess.
Ontaria Wilson is back as the leading pass catcher and should provide the starting QB with a safe pair of hands on the outside. The Running Back stable also returns with the loss of only La’Damian Webb transferred to Troy. However, seed demon Auburn transfer DJ Williams should provide that zip needed as long as the O-Line can open holes and keep Defenders out from behind the line of scrimmage.
The worst record in the ACC for sacks and giving up 36 points per game just isn’t good enough when a young Offence needs all the help it can get. The secondary has been shredded of talent and it isn’t only NFL draftees that have left gaping holes in the Defence. The transfer portal hasn’t been kind either. Most noticeably star Cornerback Asante Samuel left for the NFL and Safety Jaiden Lars-Woodbey transferred to Boston College. One bright spark for the Noles heading into 2021 is Linebacker Stephen Dix. Dix profiles as a fast yet huge hitting Middle Linebacker and can lead Florida State from the middle to be more tenacious.
Mike Norvell had a shocker in 2020 for a number of reasons. Florida State is a team we are used to seeing get 10 wins. They won’t get there this year but the thing about Norvell is his teams are fun. They break off huge plays and they rack up a hell of a lot of points. If the Noles can get firing under Norvell and start to pulse the way we normally see then six wins isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The Defence needs to step up and help, but if the Offence can score points then it should be a fun time once again down south.
2021 ACC Season Preview: Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals weren’t awful in 2020 and they ended up going 4-7. Where The Cards may struggle is with returning production. They only have 61% of returning production and a measly 50% on Defence. One more thing that needs to stop in returning production is Quarterback Malik Cunningham needs to stop turning the ball over.
444 yards and 30 points per game was good. Good enough even, for fourth in the ACC in these categories. Malik Cunningham will be the starter after last year having to win the job from within a rotation. This year he is the locked-in starter with CMC’s brother Luke McCaffrey leaving for RIce after transferring in from The Corn Huskers. Cunningham will be without pass catching duo Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick after both were drafted into the NFL.
Leading rusher and now Atlanta Falcon, Javian Hawkins is no longer a Card so Jalen Mitchell and Hassan Hall will vai for leading roles after both stepped late last season after Hawkins opted out. Shai Werts has transferred in from Georgia Southern and as mercurial option Quarterback he will now line up as a Wide Receiver and we know how that went for former Cardinal Tutu, very well indeed.
The Defence was good last year but with only 50% of production returning, there may well be more points and yardage given up that the 3rd best team in these stats gave up last year. Star Cornerback Kei’Trel Clark can literally lead this team from the back as his big play ability and pass breakup skills will show the rest of The Cards Defence how they should be playing. The Linebacker room has taken a huge hit with the loss of two major pieces in Rodjay Burns and Dorian Etheridge. However stepping into their shoes are leading tack returner CJ Avery and the brilliantly named Monty Montgomery should step in well as a hard hitter up the middle. The Defensive Coordinators have a huge amount of work to do so expect many package looks and huge rotation of players until something clicks and the starters start to emerge.
Whilst the Defence has lost major pieces they do have some studs to be able to get things heading in the right direction and back up the hugley loaded arsenal of Offensive weapons. The one thing that Scott Satterfield needs to get right is Cunninhgams turnovers. If he can harness the ball security and good decision making he sometimes shows and make it a consistent thing then the team can push any other team for second in the ACC.
Last season Cunningham didnt turn it over against possibly the best team in Notre Dame and whilst they weret as good as The Irish they ran them close. He did though have three turnovers against Georgia Tech in a game they should have won. In the most scary declaration I’ll make towards the ACC this season, If Cunningham can have a career year and keep the ball safe The Cards can ball out, I’m hoping he does as he’s again my QB1 in the College Fantasy Showdown.
2021 ACC Season Preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
In a what could have been kind of year, The Demon Deacons sure learnt how to play good ball. The only trouble was it was only occasionally and whilst Sam Hartman shone bright he also had some turnover issues and wasn’t helped at all by the O-Line. They do have all the starters back on the Offensive line and a predicted 11 of their Mayo Bowl lineup also return making up some of the 81% of the returning production based on the ESPN rankings.
As mentioned Sam Hartman has proven himself to be the true leader of this team. He has flashed at times yet needs to protect the ball better and if the O-Line can provide him with more time and keep him upright he can slice any team apart at will. Jaquarri Roberson returns as the team’s leading pass catcher and is expected to make a big leap in 2021. The hulking Donavon Greene is also back and after averaging 20 yards per catch offers some big play ability. Running back Kenneth Walker has departed leaving 13 touchdowns behind but fellow Running Back Christian Beal-Smith who led the team in rushing yards last year can lead the stable of backs into a better year.
Losing star Edge Rusher Boogie Basham will be an issue for The Deacons in 2021 but there is talent that could emerge now Boogie has left for the NFL. Miles Fox is a backfield wrecker and led the team in tackles for loss. There also has to be more emphasis on containing the opposition and not giving up as many points per game. They gave up 33 points on average and a whopping 436 yards per game. The Secondary is mostly returning its starters and lead man of that group is Safety Nick Anderson.
The Demon Deacons are in a superb place right now. For a school who’s never going to be able to recruit like Clemson or the Carolinas are, Wake does a great job with the guys they have. It will all come down to the trenches on both sides of the ball that will determine how Wake does in 2021. If Hartman can be given the time to dissect the opposition and the pass rush can keep the opposition at bay then The Deacs can get to the projected win total of seven. They need to start hot though as after November they face a stiff test of North Carolina, NC State, at Clemson, at Boston College in a brutal end of season run.
2021 ACC Season Preview: Boston College Eagles
From run to flight. That’s what new HC Jeff Hafley changed about The Eagles in 2020. They went from running the ball 659 times in 2019 to just 351 times in two fewer games in 2020. That’s a remarkable turnaround and with 84% of the Offence returning things are looking good for Boston College in 2021.
The Eagles have one of the best Quarterbacks in the country in Phil Jurkovec and after he proved himself competent in the fast paced Hafley Offence then things got spicy. They also have one of the best Wide Receivers in the country in Zay Flowers who popped off last year and is expected to make a huge jump once again this year. Star Tight End Hunter Long has departed for the NFL but Jaelen Gill and CJ Lewis bring both size and production to the Wideout room. With David Bailey transferring out the Running Back room has an ok rotation of guys but the Offensive Line is monstrous with some of the best players in the country at Centre and Guard things should go well again on Offence for big Phil and Co.
This is a tricky situation to call because DC Tem Lukabu was a little shackled in 2020. Now he gets to have some fun with his team and can get creative with his plays called. He hasn’t got stars really anywhere and whilst the pass rush isn’t strong they did ok at creating sacks last year. They will probably follow on from having five Defensive Backs on the field on most plays like they did last year and will be relying on Linebacker Nick DiLucci to lead the whole new team of Linebackers to be productive once again.
So what do The Eagles need to do to progress in 2021? Well it’s fairly simple in my eyes. They have the firepower and Offensive prowess to be able to hang with most teams they play. It’s the Defence that maybe cannot play with the big boys. We saw this last year when they hung in there with Notre Dame and North Carolina. Notre Dame was a bigger loss than The Tar Heels game but it’s the slip ups that cost Boston College the better record. A blowout loss to Virginia Tech. A Defenceless loss against Virginia meant The Eagles should have had a better record. If they can win the games they are meant to and maybe get a win or two in the closer games then BC can perhaps challenge the rest for a shot at Clemson.
2021 ACC Season Preview: North Carolina State Wolfpack
The Wolfpack have 76% of production returning which is a good place to start on continuing the rebuild from 2019. The Quarterback battle is pretty much sewn up all barring an injury and NC State could well be the upset team of 2021 in the ACC.
Devin Leary is set to return as the starting Quarterback after suffering a broken leg after just two games last year. In those two games he lit it up throwing eight touchdowns and just two picks. With his backup in 2020 now transferring out he is set to return to being NC States’ starter. All three of the productive Wide Receiver crew return too. Emeka Emezie profiles as a size speed nightmare for opposing Corners and Safeties alike. Four of the starters return from last year. Whilst it appears there may be some shuffling of the Line to see who fits best where, it looks like consistency will be there. Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person will both be back to provide a decent one two punch from the backfield as both guys bring size and strength to the party.
The Wolfpack teetered on the edge of danger every week as they gave up some big yardage and points (415 yards and 29 points per game). However they did cause enough chaos when it came to tackles and sacks that they didn’t always give up the scores.
They have a massive nine starters returning this year and the obvious strength is in the Linebacker corp. 6’4”, 240lbs Payton Wilson, 242lbs Isaiah Moore and 236lbs Drake Thomas all bring strength and speed to the table. They all are more than capable of also getting into the backfield. Bringing down the Running Back or pressuring the QB. These monsters allow the Edge Rushers to be able to cause some trouble from upfront. Finally there is a battle for starting Cornerback roles. All the guys in the rotation are good they just need to stake a claim to start.
Dave Doeren may not be the most exciting Head Coach but man, he sure knows how to create a winning culture. His teams are always the right side of .500 and without being exciting they are always a 8/9 win team. They have 16 starters returning and have added some exciting players through the transfer portal. Doeren may have one of his best teams yet and to couple with this their schedule isn’t one of the harder ones in the ACC this year. Yes they have to play Clemson but it’s at home in Raleigh. The win number is set at 7.5 and I expect 9 at a minimum for The Wolfpack this year.
2021 ACC Season Preview: Clemson Tigers
This really is a tale of two halves for The Tigers. They have 69% of production returning. But on Defence they have 92% of production. So that shows just how much they lost on Offence, but hey, we all know that right?
So how do you replace a generational talent in Trevor Lawrence and the ACC’S leading rusher Travis Ettiene? You bring in a stable of Running Backs and DJ Uiagalelei at Quarterback. DJ (i’m not typing his name out again) may not have been ranked as highly as Sunshine but he proved he has the stuff when called upon last year. Lyn-J Dixon waited his turn to be Clemson’s lead Running Back and may have to make hay whilst the sun shines as five star recruit Will Shipley is expected to hit the ground running (excuse the pun) sooner rather than later.
Clemson also lost to the NFL Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell but Super star Justyn Ross is returning from his spinal surgery. He could once again make his claim to be a top 10 NFL Draft pick in 2022. EJ Williams, Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata are all quality playmakers at the Wide Receiver position and can all provide DJ with the weapons he needs to succeed and become the number one overall pick in 2023.
This is hyper lazy of me but it’s true and easy for me to do so I’m going to point you in the direction of my fantastic cohort Tom Scott’s article on the Clemson Defence for this segment which you can find here. All eleven starters return and I expect the Defence to dominate the ACC once again.
This is simple. If DJ can stay fit and healthy then Clemson should once again be challenging for the Natty again this year. Heed caution though. If the unthinkable was to happen and DJ was to miss some time, the next man up is walk on Hunter Hemes and who knows how that goes. As plucky as he might be he isn’t the star we expect to follow the starter in Death Valley. I think if Clemson can beat Georgia in week one which I think they do, sorry Tom. Then they can go unbeaten all the way and once more lift the College Championship.