The ACC has proven they can produce equal talent and defeat top teams from the Big Ten and SEC in recent years.
The conference divisions are very unbalanced leaving the best teams in the Atlantic Division including Florida State and Clemson who have combined to win the last 6 conference championships. The winner of the Atlantic division should be a strong favorite over the Coastal Division representative in the conference championship game played in Charlotte, NC.
Florida State (#3) opens the season with high expectations to take the ACC crown. They kickoff the season with a huge non-conference matchup against Alabama (#1) as both teams start their march toward a playoff berth.
The Seminoles will be without electric running back Dalvin Cook who moved on to the NFL. However, Deondre Francois is coming off an impressive Freshman season in 2016 at quarterback and will take on a leadership role with the team this year. The defense is led by safety Derwin James as he returns from 2016 injury that sidelined him for all but two games. He is joined by cornerback Tarvarus McFadden who led the nation with 8 INTs last year to foster one of the best defensive backfields in the country.
Clemson (#5) is the reigning National Champion and may have earned a higher ranking in respect of that. All the major contributing players from 2016 have moved on to the NFL including Deshaun Watson who may be considered the best quarterback in Clemson history. Head Coach Dabo Swinney has maintained top 10 recruiting classes over the past 3 years, so they should be able to replenish some of the talent lost. Kelly Bryant is poised to step in at quarterback and will look for help from wide receiver Deon Cain and running back CJ Fuller to start a new offensive regime. Early season matchups against Auburn and Louisville will test the Tigers and indicate the strength of the 2017 team.
Louisville (#16) surprised the nation in 2016 when they handed Florida State an embarrassing 63-20 loss in week 3 on their way to a 9-1 start. However, they had a disappointing finish to the 2016 season losing their final three games. The good news is they return Heisman winner Lamar Jackson at quarterback who turned in eye-popping statistics throughout 2016 resulting in combined passing and rushing for 5,114 yards and 51 TDs. If the Cardinals can defeat Atlantic Division foe Clemson in week 3, they have a good chance to be undefeated when they head to Tallahassee to face Florida State on 10/21.
Miami (#18) and Virginia Tech (#21) are the top ranked teams of the ACC Coastal Division. Both teams will have a first-year starter at quarterback and will have a hard time matching the top end talent of FSU, Clemson, and Louisville. Regardless of who wins the Coastal Division, they will likely be a double-digit underdog in the 2017 ACC Championship game that will played in Charlotte, NC.
Prediction: Florida beats Miami in the ACC Championship
2017 ACC Pivotal Matchups:
9/2 – Alabama vs. Florida State (non-conference game of the year)
9/16 – Miami @ Florida State
9/16 – Clemson @ Louisville
10/21 – Louisville @ Florida State
11/4 – Virginia Tech @ Miami
11/11 – Florida State @ Clemson
2017 ACC Players To Watch:
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville*
Deondre Francois, QB, FSU*
Derwin James, DB, FSU
Nyqwan Murray, WR, FSU
Tarvarus McFadden, DB, FSU
Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
Harold Landry, DE, Boston College
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
Tremaine Edmonds, LB, Virgina Tech
Mark Walton, RB, Miami
Quadree Henderson, WR, Pittsburgh
*Heisman Watch List