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When analyzing football in the ACC all discussion must start with the Clemson Tigers who have reached the consistency in Coach Dabo Swinney’s 13 years that very few programs can equal. And, though, they deserve to be chosen to win the conference again in 2021, they do have some mighty big holes to fill especially on offense where only 4 starters return.
Anytime you are looking for vulnerability in a team, you start at the QB position and the Tigers have to replace the #1 overall pick in the NFL in superstar Trevor Lawrence. The heir apparent D.J. Uiagalelei started 2 games last year when Lawrence was out with Covid and was very impressive but he is unproven over the course of a season. They also lost their best running back, 40% of the offensive line, and a couple of productive receivers so there are legit question marks in Death Valley on the offensive side of the ball. Fortunately, 9 starters return on defense and Clemson had it’s usual Top-10 recruiting class. So, there aren’t many tears being shed in the rest of the conference.
Led by venerable and proven Head Coach Mack Brown, the North Carolina Tar Heels might have a chance to make a run for the top spot. Unlike, Clemson, they have a proven QB returning in Sam Howell. Last year he threw for 3,586 yards, which was 4th in the nation, and threw for 30 touchdowns. He is an early Heisman Trophy contender. They have to find some capable running backs but offense hasn’t been the problem in Chapel Hill. If they are going to rise all the way up the ladder the defense has to take major strides in 2021. They gave up over 31 points in 6 of their 12 games last season while finishing 8-4. Championships aren’t won with those kind of numbers. Plus the Heels lost a lot of talent to the NFL.
Perhaps, the Miami Hurricanes might finally be ready to match the hype that seems to crop up every year regarding this former powerhouse program. They are coming off an 8-3 season but it ended in a 2-game losing skid. They were blown out by North Carolina in Miami in the regular season finale and then were defeated by Oklahoma State in the Cheez-It Bowl. They also weren’t competitive in a 42-17 drubbing at Clemson. Their #1 question mark centers around QB D’Eriq King, who when healthy, is a dynamic playmaker. But, he tore his ACL and no one knows at this point how well he will recover. They have a lot of firepower on offense if he can play but what if he can’t? We will know soon about the Canes as they open the season with Alabama.
When looking at the rest of the conference there seems to be too many unanswered questions to consider anyone else with the capability to knock off the Kings in Clemson. Former powers, Va Tech and Florida State have too many issues that have to be solved. Coach Justin Fuente is feeling the heat in Blacksburg and this might be the end for him if the Hokies don’t show significant improvement . Florida State will be exciting with UCF transfer McKenzie Milton taking over the reins at QB. If he is healthy, he’s worth a couple of wins, but the schedule is daunting and they aren’t back yet.
The rest of the conference is made up of a lot of traditionally average programs and all but a couple probably will take turns knocking each other off and getting whacked around by the better teams. Sure, there will be an upset or two, but when the dust settles the best of the rest will be 8-4 or 7-5.
So, has anything changed in the ACC? Not enough for me. It will be Clemson and their usual talent, a couple of Top-25 squads who have their moments in the sun before fading away, and the also-rans. Have you seen this scenario before?
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