Playing college football in the ACC, you become accustomed (for the most part) to being an afterthought when it comes to the big picture of the national landscape. The SEC is dominant year in and year out, the Big 12 has some flashy offensive teams that provide an exciting on the field product for fans, the Big 10 has a number of historically great programs, and the PAC 12 has some excellent teams as well. That makes the ACC the weakest of the power conferences (even though they won the national title only two seasons ago).
Despite the moniker of being an inferior conference, the ACC does own some very talented teams this season that deserve to be in the College Football Playoff conversation. Many have said that the ACC will be the “odd man out” when it comes to getting a team into the 4-team playoff, but with a weaker schedule than any other big conference, the likelihood is that one of these school’s records will be good enough to get them in.
So, seeing as the league will end up being nationally relevant, let’s take a look at the contenders in the ACC, broken down into each division. This will allow us to see who will make it to the conference title game and ultimately own a shot at the playoff:
In the Coastal division, two teams stand out as true competitors in the early stages of the season. Only one of those teams is currently ranked; the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who come into the second week of the campaign ranked number 15 in the nation.
Georgia Tech is all about one thing on offense, and that is running the football. For several seasons, the Yellow Jackets have been among the leaders in the country in rushing offense and in 2015, it appears that will be the case once again. In their week one game, they rushed for 476 yards in a huge win. In that same contest, they only threw for 77 yards. Their a bit one dimensional, but they are superb at that one dimension. If they can stop teams on defense, this Yellow Jacket’s team has a serious chance to reach double digit victories.
The other competitor in the coastal is a traditional, but not recent, powerhouse; the Miami Hurricanes. “The U” has looked superb in its first two contests, winning by a total of nearly 70 points. That was against inferior competition, of course, but you have to be impressed with the way the Hurricanes have played. QB Brad Kaaya has been efficient and they have several guys running the ball very well so far. It’s been a while since Miami has been nationally relevant, but maybe this is the year. Their schedule is mostly soft and if they can keep the early season momentum going, they can make the game against Georgia Tech late in the season very critical for both teams.
As for the Atlantic division in the ACC, three teams stand out. The first of those schools lost in week one, but showed a lot of fight against one of the best teams in the nation. The Louisville Cardinals proved that they can develop into a winner in that game against the Auburn Tigers. The team learned that freshman QB Lamar Jackson can play and play dynamically. It will take him some time to develop as a more consistent passer, but his play making ability on the ground has to make Louisville fans giddy with the potential. Only losing by a touchdown to Auburn and hanging tough in that contest, you have to take this team seriously and list them as a contender in this division.
Next up is a school that is accustomed to being on this list; that being the Florida State Seminoles. A year after making it to the playoff and just two seasons removed from a national title, people seemed to be writing this team off before the season began. They lost a lot of talent in the NFL Draft, so it made sense. Still, you have to respect what Florida State’s dominance in this conference. Also, they gained a huge transfer in QB Everett Golson, who can be a consistent replacement for Jameis Winston. Their defense is always great, so this Seminoles’ team is definitely one of the top contenders in the entire conference.
The favorite in this division has the be the Clemson Tigers. They have a Heisman capable QB in Deshaun Watson who bleeds efficient play and dynamic ability. They have a receiving duo in Mike Williams and Artavis Scott that could be the best in the nation. Oh, and their defense is led by guys that have been at Clemson for multiple seasons. With all the talent, the Tigers appear as ready as ever to make a run at the ACC title game and the playoff. Of course, they have a huge test later in the season against Florida State, but 2015 could be Clemson’s year at last.
Without much competition overall, predicting the contestants in the ACC Championship game may not appear to be all that difficult. However, things always happen in college sports that make you scratch head and feel like an idiot for the wrong prediction you made. So things are never as predictable as they seem.
Even with that being the case, the two favorites in each division have to be the predicted schools for this game. Georgia Tech has a near open road to the championship and if it can avoid a let down against an underdog team, they will be there. That offense is explosive and the defense should be good enough to propel the Yellow Jackets to at least 10 wins, which should be more than enough,
The road for Clemson isn’t as easy, but it is still very manageable. This is the most balanced team in terms of talent across the board that the ACC has. They can beat you in many different ways and that will prove to be too much for most teams to handle. It won’t be a perfect season for the Tigers, but expecting 11 wins is far from crazy. As for the winner of the ACC championship, again, the Tigers appear to have what it takes to go all the way. With a conference championship, they will have to be considered for a spot in the playoff.