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College Football Preview 2020: ACC

Ian Book, Notre Dame
Power Rankings

1. Clemson Tigers Projected Record: 12-0 (Win ACC Championship Game)

Strengths: The offensive skill positions are absolutely loaded. Trevor Lawrence is back at quarterback after throwing for 3,665 yards and 36 touchdowns and will be considered a Heisman favorite. He's joined by backfield mate Travis Etienne, who decided to wait on the NFL despite first-round grades. Etienne ran for 1,614 yards in 2019, averaging nearly eight yards per carry. The receiver position will miss Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross (out for 2020 due to injury), but there is no shortage of talent. Senior Amari Rodgers is the steady veteran, while Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson are notable breakout candidates... Clemson has become a factory for D-Line talent under Dabo Swinney, and they have all four starters back on the unit in 2020. Junior end Xavier Thomas is still looking for his breakout, while senior Justin Foster finished just behind Isaiah Simmons in TFL a year ago, with 10.5... Defensive coordinator Brent Venables remains the best in the game, and he will once again be strolling the sidelines this fall. Venables has consistently rebuilt this defense into one of the country's most consistent, and six starters return for him to work with, along with a lot of depth.

Weaknesses: Offensive line play could be a concern. Four starters are gone from the unit that was good, but not great, in 2019. Junior left tackle Jackson Carman is the lone holdover, and he'll have to become a leader for this group to succeed... Losing Isaiah Simmons is huge, even with Venables once again back. Simmons played just about every defensive role you could ask of him, and he racked up 107 tackles, 16 TFL, and eight sacks. He finished first or second in nearly every defensive category you could think of, but he's now an Arizona Cardinal. No one person will be able to replicate his production, with a committee approach set to take over... Motivation is going to be really important for Clemson. They're considered such a heavy favorite in the ACC again this year, it can sometimes be hard to keep your focus week-in, week-out. It's certainly a problem every coach would love to have, and I give Dabo a lot of credit for keeping the Tigers focused in on their goals every weekend.

Bottom Line: No program in college football has been as consistent since 2015 as Clemson. They've gone to the Playoff every year, won the ACC every year, and have been to the National Championship Game four times. It would be shocking if they aren't once again in the conversation, with Lawrence and Etienne back to lead the way. Sure, there are some important pieces that must be replaced, but Clemson's track record speaks for itself. 

2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Projected Record: 9-3 (Lose ACC Championship Game)

Strengths: Having a veteran quarterback is a massive luxury in college football, and ND returns a multi-year starter in Ian Book. Although Book might not have Heisman-level talent, he's proven to be above-average, notching 38 total touchdowns in 2019. He should acclimate quickly to the new offense put in place by OC Tommy Rees... The Irish defense finished 12th in scoring a year ago, and five starters are back in place, plus Kyle Hamilton, a budding star at safety. The front seven should also be nasty, as veterans like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Daelin Hayes return. Hayes missed 2019 with injury, but he's played in 41 games during his Irish career... The offensive line continues to send players to the NFL, and five starters are back on the unit this fall. That includes the likely next first-rounder, left tackle Liam Eichenberg, as well as senior guard Tommy Kraemer.

Weaknesses: The receiver corps will need a few pieces to step up, as 1,000-yard receiver Chase Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet depart. Sophomores Lawrence Keys III and Kevin Austin have shown flashes, but neither have played a significant amount of snaps. At tight end, sophomore Tommy Tremble caught four touchdown passes last year, but may have to hold off talented newcomer Michael Mayer... Will Notre Dame's turnover luck last into 2020? The Irish were +17 in turnover margin last season, which ranked fourth nationally. With the offense looking to take more shots down the field this year, more turnovers could be a natural side effect... It will also be fascinating to see how ND manages the transition to ACC play this fall. It could mean a lightened schedule, but the short turnaround could leave them unprepared.

Bottom Line: Since a 4-8 2016 season, Notre Dame has gone 33-6 and finished ranked each season. I don't expect that momentum to slow down in 2020, even in such a weird year for Irish football. The return of Book and a superb offensive line should keep the offense humming, and there is more than enough to work with on defense. If ND is able to acclimate to the ACC quickly, it wouldn't be shocking if they remain in the Playoff mix.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels Projected Record: 8-3 

Strengths: Sam Howell arrived in Chapel Hill as a highly touted recruit, and he didn't disappoint in 2019. He came out and won the QB job, then proceeded to throw for 38 touchdowns and 3,641 yards. Now a true sophomore, he could be in store for even bigger things, especially with nearly all his top targets back in the fold... In addition to Howell, UNC should be exceptional at the other skill positions, with their top three receivers back, and their top two rushers. At receiver, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome are thrilling to watch and game-changing talents, while senior back Michael Carter keeps the ground game rolling... The Heels will challenge for the best linebacker corps in the conference. Converted quarterback Chazz Surratt was a revelation in his first season on defense, leading the team in tackles and sacks. With even more time under his belt, he should be one of the best defenders in the league. Joining him is senior Tomon Fox and junior Jeremiah Gemmel, proven veterans who can play important roles. Fox is probably the best pure pass rusher on the team, while Gemmel is crucial in run support.

Weaknesses: Lofty preseason expectations are in place for UNC, which can be awfully tough to live up to. There's no question this team has talent, but they did go 7-6 a year ago (granted, with a lot of close losses). To think they can go from that to a dark horse National Title contender is unrealistic so soon... The secondary has some concerns. This pass defense allowed roughly 230 per game last fall, and now three starters are gone. Sophomore corner Storm Duck is a rising star and there is still some experience, but it could still be the Achilles heel of this team... The defensive line must also replace all three starters, with Jason Strowbridge being the most notable loss. Names like Jahlil Taylor and Tomari Fox (Tomon's younger brother) will be interesting to watch, but don't be surprised if a few true freshman see action. Desmond Evans and Myles Murphy were big-time gets for Mack Brown and this staff, and they could play right away.

Bottom Line: Mack Brown has injected an energy into this program, and 2019 was a pretty smashing return for the head coach. Even bigger things could be in store for 2020, assuming Howell takes the expected leaps forward one would think he will, and the defense is able to replace some of their missing pieces. In the usual ACC divisional format, UNC would likely be the team to beat in the Coastal but in this new one, they'll have to unseat either Clemson or Notre Dame to have a chance at taking the conference.

4. Louisville Cardinals Projected Record: 8-3
Strengths: Louisville is loaded at the offensive skill positions, returning their top QB, running back, and top two receivers. That's a very good sign for an offense that saw significant improvement in 2019, ranking Top 30 in scoring, rush offense, and total offense. Expect even bigger things from quarterback Micale Cunningham (formerly Malik), underrated back Javian Hawkins, and speedy dynamo Tutu Atwell... The Cardinals return all four starters to their linebacker corps, namely Rodjay Burns, C.J. Avery, and Dorian Etheridge. Burns, a former Ohio State transfer who made the switch from defensive back to linebacker, is among the most versatile defenders in the ACC, while Avery has played a hefty amount of snaps in his UL career... The momentum of the program since Scott Satterfield's hire bodes well for Year Two. The Cardinals were able to get half of their spring practices in before the cancellation of spring football across the nation, which will be huge going forward for a young team. Don't expect the program to make another six-game improvement this year like they did from 2018 into 2019, but expect a more disciplined, well-rounded football team this fall.

Weaknesses: The defense made some major strides in Year One of Satterfield and DC Bryan Brown, but there's still a long way to go if this team wants to be considered an ACC Title contender. Louisville still surrendered over 33 points per game last season, and their rush defense was among the worst in the league. With seven starters back and more depth, there's hope that Brown can continue to turn this group around... Offensive line play was a concern all 2019, and now the Cardinals will be without their best blocker in first-rounder Mekhi Becton. The good news is that three starters do remain intact, but that trio will have to make some improvements if the offense is to reach its potential. Neither tackle spot have a locked-in starter into fall camp, which could make for some serious growing pains... Outside of Monty Montgomery's five sacks, the Cardinals did not have a single player record over three. The pass rush has to be better, and there is certainly potential on this defensive line. Redshirt freshman Ja'Darien Boykin was one of the big names from Louisville's 2019 recruiting class, but he was ineligible a year ago. He could be a possible breakout star, while guys like Tabarius Peterson, Jared Goldwire, and Dayna Kinnard have to be better.

Bottom Line: The success under Satterfield in Year One has Louisville thinking big for an encore, even with all the chaos swirling around the 2020 season. The offense may be one of the best in the league and one of the most fun to watch, but the weaknesses are still significant. It's hard to imagine the Cardinals having any shot at taking down Clemson/Notre Dame/UNC if their defense and offensive line doesn't improve.

5. Virginia Tech Hokies Projected Record: 7-4
Strengths: One of the conference's better defenses returns nine starters, which bodes well for first-year defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton. The front seven is deep and talented, with Rayshard Asby and Dax Hollifield leading the charge as All-ACC talents. Ashby led the league last fall with 120 tackles, while Hollifield added 67 stops... Virginia Tech's 2019 completely changed when they inserted Hendon Hooker into the starting lineup, and the junior QB is back for 2020. He finished with 1,555 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season and is the main man, but this QB room is surprisingly deep. Former Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister could push Hooker for the starting job after sitting out a year ago. Burmeister isn't quite the athlete that Hooker is, but he still arrived at Blacksburg with some notable fanfare... The Hokies could battle others for the honor of the ACC's top offensive line, as all five starters return. This isn't a group full of star power, but it has loads of proven experience. This group should be particularly strong on the left side, with tackle Christian Darrisaw and guard Lecitus Smith back.

Weaknesses: Longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster finally moved on over the off-season and while Hamilton has plenty to work with, it will be an adjustment. Foster is a Virginia Tech legend, serving on this coaching staff since the 1980's, and as DC since 1995. It's never easy to replace a legend, especially in such a wacky time for college football... The big concern on offense is at receiver, where VT lacks much proven targets beyond junior Tre Turner. Turner is a budding star, but that doesn't mean the Hokies won't miss Damon Hazelton, who transferred to Missouri. Fellow contributors Phil Patterson and Hezekiah Grimsley also transferred, leaving this unit searching for answers... Cornerback Caleb Farley became the first notable college player to announce he was opting out of the 2020 season. Farley is a big loss, as he was Virginia Tech's top cover corner in 2019, picking off four passes and deflecting 12 more. Junior Jermaine Waller will be expected to take over Farley's role as the No. 1 corner.

Bottom Line: After a brutal start to 2019, VT went on a run and came extremely close to an ACC Coastal Title. They'll hope to be more consistent this fall, and having a proven QB like Hooker, as well as a strong defense should make that easier. They'll still have to figure out something at receiver and corner, but it wouldn't be shocking at all if the Hokies push the top of the league. Assuming there is some type of postseason football in 2020, expect Virginia Tech to be there for the 28th consecutive year.

6. Pittsburgh Panthers Projected Record: 7-4 
Paris Ford, Pittsburgh

Strengths: Even with Jalen Tywman's decision to opt out, Pittsburgh boasts one of the most underrated defenses in the country. They're still strong up front even without Twyman, as senior defensive ends Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver can create plenty of chaos. In back, Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin form perhaps the best safety combo in the entire country. Ford is the top returning tackler on this roster, picking up 97 total last fall... Returning a veteran QB is quite the luxury always in college football, but is particularly important in such uncertain times. Pittsburgh has a proven veteran in Kenny Pickett, who enters his third full season as starter. He made strides under OC Mark Whipple last season, notching 3,098 total yards, but the Panthers are hoping he can continue to strengthen his consistency and downfield passing... Pitt's offensive line struggled throughout much of 2019, but the group now returns four starters. They're anchored by senior center Jimmy Morrissey up the middle, and they're hopeful Hampton transfer Keldrick Wilson can lock down the right tackle spot.

Weaknesses: The offense has to open things up more in 2020 if Pittsburgh wants any shot at the top of the league. Despite decent passing numbers, the Panthers averaged just 21.2 PPG, and they were never able to get their rushing attack going. Whipple, formerly the UMass head coach, should be more creative in his second year on the job... Pittsburgh has produced some impressive receivers over the past decade-plus, but they're still in the process of finding a new playmaker on this current roster. Speedster Taysir Mack has shown flashes, but can he really be the go-to guy in this offense? Junior Shocky Jacques-Louis is also back, but the depth behind them is questionable... Pittsburgh's change from their normal schedule to the conference-only schedule might really hurt them. With their previous schedule, Pitt had a breezy September and had a number of big games at Heinz Field. The new schedule added a road trip to Clemson and includes treks to Miami and Florida State.

Bottom Line: Prior to the schedule and conference shakeup, Pittsburgh was my ACC dark horse and I liked them to challenge for the Coastal Title. Losing Twyman, who led them with 10.5 sacks last fall, might knock them down just a peg, but they still have a lot of pieces to like. With veteran leadership at the most important spots and a very underrated defense, the Panthers still appear poised to surprise some folks.

7. Florida State Seminoles Projected Record: 7-4
Strengths: Decisions from wide out Tamorrion Terry and Marvin Wilson to skip the NFL this past off-season was a huge win for Mike Norvell and this new coaching staff. Terry is one of the best the ACC has to offer, and defensive tackle Wilson likely would've been a first-round NFL Draft selection. It's not too often two primetime talents like these two opt to return for another season... Once again, the defense is loaded with talent, but now it's time for the production to come with it. Along with Wilson, FSU features potential All-ACC talents such as safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, junior end Joshua Kaindoh and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. In addition to that trio, the Seminoles get Jaiden Lars-Woodbey back from injury, and they added Florida Atlantic transfer Meiko Dotson. Dotson tied for the FBS lead in interceptions last season, picking off nine in total. There is no reason this defense should rank in the bottom half of the league once again... Former Texas A&M transfer Jashaun Corbin earned immediate eligibility for 2020, another off-season win for the new staff. Corbin wasn't healthy in 2019 but in 2018 he rushed for 346 yards while in College Station despite playing in a backup role. He could immediately add some playmaking to a backfield that will miss Cam Akers.

Weaknesses: The quarterback position is a notable question mark. Junior James Blackman has the experience, but he's underwhelmed in his Florida State career. There are a host of youngsters looking to take over the starting job, namely Jordan Travis and freshman Chubba Purdy. Purdy in particular is a really special talent, but can he really take over the job without a full spring and fall camp to learn the offense?... The offensive line has been terrible these last few seasons, and the outlook doesn't look great for 2020. Sophomore guard Dontae Lucas is slated as the only returning starter, and the left tackle spot is completely open for grabs. Florida International transfer Devontay Love-Taylor was a nice get, but this unit still needs a lot more help... Breaking in a new coaching staff is never easy in Power Five football, and it gets infinitely more difficult when a worldwide pandemic restricts practices. Mike Norvell did a great job when he inherited the Memphis situation, but FSU is a place with significantly higher expectations, and they're coming off two frustrating campaigns under Willie Taggart. It wouldn't be shocking to see Norvell struggle a little bit in Year One as he tries to get his culture and system in place.

Bottom Line: Talent is once again not an issue in Tallahassee, but there are still enough concerns that ACC Title contention seems out of the picture. They absolutely need better play from their quarterback and offensive line, and defensive coordinator Adam Fuller has a bit of a rebuild. The Seminoles should be more competitive against the top of the league but even if things gel quickly for Mike Norvell, it will take some time before they're back near the top.

8. Miami Hurricanes Projected Record: 6-5
Strengths: The Hurricanes had a few major wins on the transfer market, bringing in Houston QB D'Eriq King and Temple defensive end Quincy Roche. The two AAC imports come at need positions, and should make an immediate impact. King has recorded over 6,300 total yards of offense during his collegiate career, while Roche is coming off a 13-sack 2019... Head coach Manny Diaz decided to move on from Dan Enos at offensive coordinator, starting anew with Rhett Lashlee, previously at SMU. Lashlee will look to open things up a little bit more and he does seem to be a good fit with King's skillset. Lashlee's SMU offense averaged 41.8 PPG in 2019, which was seventh nationally... Tight end Brevin Jordan has been a bright spot for Miami the last two seasons, and he could be the best at his position in 2020. Jordan is built more like a receiver than end, and it will be interesting to see how Lashlee chooses to use him. Jordan is looking to become more of a red zone threat after managing just two touchdowns last fall.

Weaknesses: The rush offense was one of the worst in FBS football a year ago, averaging just 118 yards per game. DeeJay Dallas decided to go pro, leaving junior Cam'Ron Harris as the favorite to take feature back duties. Harris did run for 576 yards a season ago, but he has to make a larger impact in 2020 if this offense is to achieve their desired balance... Gregory Rousseau decided to opt out of this season, leaving the Hurricanes without their dominant defensive end. He was the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 after racking up 15.5 sacks. Miami should be just fine with Roche and UCLA transfer Jaelen Phillips providing pressure, but they'd still love to have Rousseau out there. He would have been a favorite for a number of preseason awards... Manny Diaz is still trying to prove himself after a frustrating debut, and the jury's still out on whether he's the right fit. Juggling the staff may prove to be a success in Coral Gables, but things could also go poorly considering the circumstances surrounding them.

Bottom Line: Some consider Miami a winner of the off-season, bringing in a number of big-name transfers to fill their holes. But, I think it's fair to still be wary about a team that has disappointed the last two years, going 13-13 in that span. King was dominant at Houston, but can he make the jump to Power Five effectively? His supporting cast is not extremely proven at this point, with the exception being Jordan. If that's going to be tough to compete in the ACC if he can't, and that's assuming the defense can remain stingy, a tall order after losing eight starters, and Rousseau.

9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons Projected Record: 5-6
Strengths: Although he didn't start the majority of the action in 2019, Wake Forest does still have an experienced QB in Sam Hartman. He threw for 1,984 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2018 when splitting time with Jamie Newman, before Newman really took hold of the job last year. Now that Newman is off to Georgia, it's all Hartman running the show, and he should be ready... The front seven returns nearly every significant piece, including senior Carlos Basham Jr. Basham enters his senior campaign high on the WF record list with 31 TFL and 15.5 sacks in his career. He'll be joined by top tackler Ryan Smenda and senior Ja'Cquez Williams, who will keep the rush defense rolling... Wake Forest is in good hands on special teams, particularly with kicker Nick Sciba, who enters his junior year. Sciba set an NCAA record for nailing 34 straight field goal attempts, and he hasn't missed an extra point in his career. That type of consistency will be huge for a Wake Forest team that once again may be playing in some close games.

Weaknesses: The Demon Deacon offense take a big step back late in 2019 after wide receiver Sage Surratt was lost for the year. Surratt was supposed to be back healthy for this fall, but he recently just opted out of the season, leaving a huge hole on this offense. Surratt is a huge loss; through nine games, he had over 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. His absence means the receiver corps will be significantly younger and less proven, with names like Donavon Greene forced to step up... Wake Forest had one of the worst pass defenses in the ACC a year ago, and now they'll be without both starting corners from last year's group. Returning both saefties, namely junior Nasir Greer, may help, but there's still reason to be very concerned about how this team handles the pass once again... Long-time tailback Cade Carney moves on after rushing for 620 yards and five touchdowns. That will force someone in the backfield to step up and take over feature back roles, with the favorite being sophomore Kenneth Walker III. Wake Forest ran the ball pretty well in 2019, but they didn't create a lot of big plays with their ground game, something they'll hope to change with a little bit more explosiveness at the position.

Bottom Line: Give Dave Clawson all the credit in the world for the building job he's done at Wake Forest, fresh off their fourth straight bowl appearance. They should be good enough to return to the postseason again in 2020, assuming Hartman can make the adjustment to being the full-time starter, and somebody else steps up on the outside. The Demon Deacons certainly won't be in the ACC Title mix, but they look like a middle-of-the-pack team entering the fall.

10. Virginia Cavaliers Projected Record: 5-6
Strengths: Virginia's defense was one of the major reasons why they won the Coastal last fall, particularly their linebacker corps. Seniors Charles Snowden and Zane Zandier are back as the established veterans in this linebacker group, while junior Noah Taylor is a serious breakout candidate. This group helped UVA achieve a Top 40 rush defense in 2019, while constantly putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks... After the rushing attack suffered all of 2019, the outlook for this unit looks good in 2020. Junior Wayne Taulapapa is back in a feature role, operating behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. Taulapapa had 12 touchdowns last season but will have to play an even larger role now that Bryce Perkins is gone... The Cavaliers got good news at the sport's most important position when Mississippi State transfer Keytaon Thompson announced he was coming to Charlottesville. Thompson played in 20 games during his Miss. State career, and as a dual threat, he brings a little bit more to this offense than projected starter Brennan Armstrong. This position battle will still be fascinating to watch into fall.

Weaknesses: Bryce Perkins was such a huge part of this offense, and he is now in the NFL. In 2019, Perkins broke the UVA record for total offense, and he also broke the single-season passing record. The Cavaliers are certainly hopeful somebody can fill his role at quarterback, but it's nearly impossible to replicate that type of production right away... In addition to losing Perkins, Virginia's aerial attack could suffer as a result of the losses of Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois. Both of them provided explosive plays for this offense, and Dubois was the type of Swiss Army knife that every offense loves to have. This receiver group will have to rely more on senior Terrell Jana in 2020, while also hoping other pieces step up behind him... UVA is in slightly uncharted territory as the reigning Coastal Division champion, an accolade they had never earned since the ACC moved to divisional play. They also beat arch-rival Virginia Tech for the first time in over a decade, giving fans their most successful season in a long, long time. That puts a target on the back of this Cavaliers team, a very strange feeling for a program that has long dawdled in mediocrity this century. How they respond to this new pressure will be interesting to watch.

Bottom Line: A step back from Virginia should be expected when you consider the offensive weapons they lose, but this program could still be in store for some surprises. Their defense should still keep them in every game and while there will be growing pains on offense, the unit is very talented. I don't expect Virginia to contend for an ACC Title this year, but a return to the postseason, which would be their fourth straight trip, should be in the cards.

11. Duke Blue Devils Projected Record: 4-7
Strengths: Starting QB Quentin Harris departs after tossing for 2,078 yards and 16 scores, but Duke might actually have upgraded the position over the off-season. Clemson transfer Chase Brice announced he was staying in the league, and now Trevor Lawrence's backup will get an opportunity to show what he can do. Head coach David Cutcliffe has a proven track record with quarterbacks, and Brice has loads of upside... The Blue Devil defense was solid last fall, and now eight starters are back in the fold. They're particularly strong on the back-end, where they finished with the 24th-ranked pass defense in the nation a season ago, and now return three starters. It will be interesting to see whether corner Mark Gilbert can also return to form. He was an All-ACC player back in 2017, but health has been a problem for a few years now... Senior tight end Noah Gray is the type of steady playmaker that every offense needs, particularly a Duke offense breaking in some new faces. Gray caught 51 passes for 392 yards last year, and he could challenge Brevin Jordan as the top TE in the league in 2020.

Weaknesses: The Duke offense lacked big-play capability a year ago and even with the addition of Brice, the jury's still out on whether they'll be able to open things up effectively. Beyond Gray, the receiver corps is pretty thin, and they caught just seven total touchdown passes in 2019. Offensive coordinator Zac Roper, who's been with the program since 2016, has to be willing to take more chances... The Blue Devils have used special teams to control field position throughout the Cutcliffe era, but they're breaking in a new punter and placekicker in 2020. Kicker A.J. Reed was solid in 2019, going 15 for 18 on field goals, but he decided to transfer. It's completely unclear who will take over the starting role... Duke was -11 in turnover margin last fall, a really surprising number for a Cutcliffe team, usually known for taking good care of the ball. Brice will have to make smarter decisions on offense, but the defense also has to step up. They didn't create much turnovers last year despite pretty good numbers across the board, which has to change if this team wants to survive a full ACC slate.

Bottom Line: The Blue Devils barely missed a bowl at 5-7 last year, and they have a lot of promising returning pieces. Brice, Gray, and running back Deon Jackson should be able to lead a competent offense, and the defense has the chance to be really, really good if it stays healthy. Unfortunately, Duke is another team that is going to be hurt by the move to the conference-only schedule. Instead of a non-conference slate that included Middle Tennessee, Elon, and Charlotte, Duke now has to stay inside a league that could be improved in 2020.

12. Syracuse Orange Projected Record: 4-7
Strengths: There is a lot to like about Syracuse's skill positions, even as they lose top rusher Moe Neal and wide out Trishton Jackson. QB Tommy DeVito has plenty of experience but is looking to bounce back from a down 2019. He is joined in the backfield by former Oklahoma transfer Abdul Adams and talented redshirt freshman Jawhar Jordan. On the outside, junior Taj Harris is still awaiting his breakout, but Orange coaches are hoping this will be the year... The defense was shockingly bad a season ago, but new coordinator Tony White was hired to turn things around. He does still have some talent to work with, namely a secondary that includes interception machine Andre Cisco, and sturdy corner Trill Williams. White will run a 3-3-5 look that he learned under his mentor, former San Diego State head coach Rocky Long... Contrary to the other teams that have special teams concerns entering 2020, Syracuse has one of the best kickers in the game in Andre Szymt. Szymt won the Lou Groza Award in 2018 for nation's best kicker, and he knocked 17 of 20 on field goals in '19. Syracuse does need to find a new punter, but having Szymt back in an Orange uniform is quite a luxury.

Weaknesses: DeVito may be the X-factor for 'Cuse in 2020, unsurprising considering the role his position plays in a Dino Babers system. He certainly wasn't bad last fall, but he was far away in terms of production from former Syracuse starter Eric Dungey. If he doesn't take steps forward under new OC Sterlin Gilbert, it's hard to imagine the Orange contending at all this season... Will the Syracuse defensive front be good enough to keep pace with the best the league has to offer? Only one starter is back on the D-Line, and the linebacker corps will have to be completely rebuilt. A healthy McKinley Williams, a physical nose tackle whose played a lot of games, will help but this group is still a major question mark going into the season. That's a worrying sign for a defense that allowed over 200 yards per game in 2019... Contrary to Duke, Syracuse had turnover luck last season, going +9 in the turnover margin, which was 13th nationally. Their defense is known for it's ball-hawking play, but the Orange also had a lot of lucky bounces last year. If they don't get that type of luck again, it's hard to see this team's record improving in '20.

Bottom Line: Ranked No. 16 in my 2019 CFB Preview, Syracuse might have been the most disappointing team in the nation last year. The offense naturally took a step back without Dungey leading the way, but the defense was absolutely putrid and Tony White doesn't get much of an off-season to turn things around. There still might be enough on this roster for 'Cuse to surprise a few teams, but the coaching staff overhaul couldn't have come at a worse time. The pressure is certainly on for Dino Babers, and the outlook doesn't look super promising for next season.

13. Boston College Eagles Projected Record: 3-8
Strengths: Junior David Bailey appears to be the next in a long line of great Boston College running backs. Bailey rushed for 844 yards and seven touchdowns in a backup role to A.J. Dillon, who is now with the Green Bay Packers. Now that he's the unquestioned top dog in this backfield, expect some big numbers from him, even if this Eagle offense looks to open things up through the air a little bit more than under Steve Addazio... Clearing the way for Bailey will be an offensive line that returns four starters, making it among the league's best. Left tackle Tyler Vrabel is already one of the best blockers on the team as a sophomore, and he certainly has the bloodlines, being the son of current Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel. Junior center Alec Lindstrom and senior tackle Ben Petrula are also important returnees... One of the major bright spots of the off-season for Boston College was the arrival of Phil Jurkovec from Notre Dame. Jurkovec didn't play much with the Irish, but he's got the size and arm strength to really make an impact. Even better, he was granted immediate eligibility for the 2020 campaign, likely placing him as the favorite to take over the offense this fall.

Weaknesses: Steve Addazio was known for his great defenses with BC, but that side of the ball really fell off in 2019. They allowed over 32 points per game and were particularly bad against the pass, ranking 122th in the nation in pass defense. There is a lot back for DC Tem Lukabu, but not having much of an off-season certainly hurts... The Eagles need to identify some pass rushers, and the defensive line looks underwhelming entering 2020. Junior Marcus Valdez and sophomore Shittah Silah are the presumed starters at the end and while they have talent, the production has to come at some point. Buffalo grad transfer Chibueze Onwuka will also help on the inside... The arrival of Jeff Hafley as head coach should be considered a major win for Boston College. Hafley is a great recruiter and an elite defensive mind who engineered the turnaround for Ohio State this past fall. However, it will likely take him some time to acclimate to his first FBS head coaching gig, and playing an extended conference schedule doesn't make it easier.

Bottom Line: BC finally decided it was time to move on from Addazio, who never was able to do much more than .500 seasons on Chestnut Hill. He does leave behind some talent, and bringing in Jurkovec could help the offense take some leaps. With that being said, it is the defensive side of the ball that needs the most work and while eight starters are back, this rebuild will take some time. It wouldn't be surprising if the Eagles slip a little bit in 2020, but the outlook for the future is promising.

14. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Projected Record: 2-9
Strengths: Head coach Geoff Collins and his staff brought in a recruiting class that can immediately contribute in Atlanta. Tailback Jahmyr Gibbs is the type of playmaker that would never have committed to GT in the past, and he could see snaps right away. Dual-threat QB Jeff Sims might not be able to take over the starting job right away, but he might be the future at the position for the Yellow Jackets... While Gibbs does arrive, Georgia Tech still has a lot of talent returning in this backfield, namely junior Jordan Mason. Mason rushed for 899 yards while battling injuries all year long. He enters the 2020 season as one of the most underrated players in the entire conference... The defense didn't post great numbers in Collins' first year, but the pass defense was really strong and nearly every important piece is back. Corners Tre Swilling and Zamari Walton have proven themselves as shutdowns on the outside, and there is a lot of depth throughout the unit. Converted QB Tobias Oliver had a strong spring after making the move to the defensive backfield, and he could be a player to watch.

Weaknesses: The move away from the triple-option offense is undeniably difficult, and it wasn't surprising GT's offense struggled in 2019. It will still be a major work in progress entering 2020 as these offensive transitions often are, but at least there are some bright spots to look forward to... It's unclear who will take the reigns at quarterback, with sophomore James Graham the favorite. Graham started the final eight games of 2019 after taking over in the Temple game and he was solid, but still left a little bit to be desired. He'll be pushed by Sims, as well as redshirt freshman Tucker Yates... Will the offensive line be able to hold out through ACC play? It was a significant problem for this team a season ago, and now three starters depart. GT did manage to add a few impact transfers, with Vanderbilt transfer Devin Cochran the odds-on favorite to take over at left tackle. If this group doesn't improve, the offense is going to continue to sputter under coordinator Dave Patenaude.

Bottom Line: It will not be a speedy rebuild for Collins and this staff, as last season's debut showed. The transition away from the triple-option run by Paul Johnson is particularly tricky, and the Yellow Jackets still have a lot to figure out offensively. The good news is that the defense could actually be pretty good, and the talent level on this roster continues to elevate. They'll still likely find themselves near the bottom of the league in 2020, but the future does look bright.

15. NC State Wolfpack Projected Record: 1-10
Strengths: Tailback Zonovan "Bam" Knight is already among the best the ACC has to offer, rushing for 745 yards as a true freshman. He was one of the few playmakers this offense had to offer in 2019, a group that averaged just 22.1 points per game. With a lot of experience back in front of him on this offensive line, Knight could eclipse 1,000, even in a shortened season... Beyond just Knight, new offensive coordinator Tim Beck does have a few interesting pieces to work with. Receivers Emeka Emezie and Thayer Thomas can provide some excitement, while tight end Cary Angeline is among the best in the league. Can whoever starts at quarterback get them the ball?... Special teams is a strength, as NC State returns both their kicker and punter. Christopher Dunn knocked down 21 of 24 field goal attempts last year, while punter Trenton Gill led the league in average punt yardage.

Weaknesses: QB play is a massive concern as the Wolfpack embark on the 2020 campaign. Sophomore Devin Leary took over the job last fall and played okay, but left a little to be desired. He completed just 48 percent of his throws, and an 8-5 TD-INT ratio wasn't overwhelming. Newcomer Ben Finley, the younger brother of former NCSU QB Ryan, could overtake him for the starting job... The secondary was one of the worst in the ACC in 2019, constantly letting up big plays and struggling to create turnovers. This group will be aided by the healthy return of corner Chris Ingram, but it wouldn't be surprising if it continues to struggle. NC State was -13 in the turnover department last fall, tying for 126th nationally... NC State enters this wacky season coming off a six-game losing streak to end 2019, and with a pair of new coordinators (Beck on offense, Tony Gibson on defense). That's a worrying formula for a program that slipped suddenly down the ACC totem pole a year ago, finishing last in the weakest ACC Atlantic in years.

Bottom Line: The pressure is on head coach Dave Doeren after last season's dismal 4-8 record. Doeren has had success in Raleigh in his seven seasons so far, but the program is at a crossroads entering 2020. That isn't to say there's not talent on both sides of the ball and 17 starters are back, but there is so much youth and significant questions at QB. That's not a good formula for a program entering this fall with zero momentum.

All-ACC Teams
First Team
QB: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
RB: Travis Etienne, Clemson
RB: Javian Hawkins, Louisville
WR: Tamorrion Terry, Florida State
WR: Tutu Atwell, Louisville
TE: Brevin Jordan, Miami
OL: Jackson Carman, Clemson
OL: Jimmy Morissey, Pittsburgh
OL: Tommy Kraemer, Notre Dame
OL: Lecitus Smith, Virginia Tech
OL: Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame
DL: Quincy Roche, Miami
DL: Marvin Wilson, Florida State
DL: Carlos Basham, Wake Forest
DL: Patrick Jones, Pittsburgh
LB: Chazz Surratt, UNC
LB: Rayshard Ashby, Virginia Tech
LB: James Skalski, Clemson
CB: Derion Kendrick, Clemson
CB: Tre Swilling, Georgia Tech
S: Paris Ford, Pittsburgh
S: Andre Cisco, Syracuse
Kicker: Andre Szmyt, Syracuse
Punter: Trenton Gill, NC State

Second Team
QB: Sam Howell, UNC
RB: David Bailey, Boston College
RB: Zonovan Knight, NC State
WR: Dazz Newsome, UNC
WR: Amari Rodgers, Clemson
TE: Noah Gray, Duke
OL: Ben Petrula, Boston College
OL: Jordan Tucker, UNC
OL: Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
OL: Tyler Vrabel, Boston College
OL: Bryce Hargrove, Pittsburgh
DL: Xavier Thomas, Clemson
DL: Victor Dimukeje, Duke
DL: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Notre Dame
DL: Justin Foster, Clemson
LB: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
LB: Max Richardson, Boston College
LB: David Curry, Georgia Tech
CB: Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State
CB: Storm Duck, UNC
S: Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
S: Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State
Kicker: Nick Sciba, Wake Forest
Punter: Lou Hedley, Miami

Honors & Awards
ACC Championship Game: Clemson over Notre Dame
Offensive Player of the Year: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Defensive Player of the Year: Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
Newcomer of the Year: Quincy Roche, DE, Miami
Coach of the Year: Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh

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