With the 2016-2017 season finally ending, it’s never too early to break down what to expect in the ACC going into the 2017-2018 season. The ACC finished the 2016 season with the best bowl record in college football, and the conference should only get deeper as a whole in the coming seasons. Here’s a rundown of what has gone on across the ACC Atlantic this offseason, as well as what to expect from each team in 2017 during this week’s edition of “State of the Conference – ACC Atlantic Division”.

  1. CLEMSON TIGERS
    • 2016 Record: 14-1
    • Bowl Outcome: W vs. Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl); W vs. Alabama (National Championship)
    • Key Departures: Deshaun Watson (QB), Mike Williams (WR), Artavis Scott (WR), Wayne Gallman II (RB), Jay Guillermo (C), Jordan Leggett (TE), Ben Boulware (LB), Cordrea Tankersley (CB), Carlos Watkins (DT), Jadar Johnson (S)
    • Key Returnees: Christian Wilkins (DT/DL), Dexter Lawrence (DT), Clelin Ferrell (DE), Scott Pagano (DT), Kendall Joseph (LB), Marcus Edmond (CB), Trayvon Mullen (CB), Adrian Baker (DB), Mark Fields II (CB), Hunter Renfrow (WR), C.J. Fuller (RB), Tyrone Crowder (OG), Mitch Hyatt (OT), Deon Cain (WR), Ray-Ray McCloud III (WR), Greg Huegel (K)
    • Key Recruits: Hunter Johnson (5 star QB), Tee Higgins (5 star WR), Amari Rodgers (4 star WR), A.J. Terrell (4 star CB), Justin Foster (4 star DE), Jordan Williams (4 star DE), LeAnthony Williams (4 star CB)
    • Analysis: Clemson is coming off their first National Championship since 1981, but unfortunately, the offseason has left many wondering if they can continue on their success. Clemson has faced many key departures this offseason, with Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams, and Artavis Scott all declaring early for the NFL draft. Not only has Clemson dealt with critical losses to the NFL draft, but they’ve lost two players to transfer in RB Tyshon Dye & OT Jake Fruhmorgen, as well as two assistant coaches in DT coach Dan Brooks (retired) & DE coach Marion Hobby (Jacksonville Jaguars). Clemson is still in the process of finding a defensive line coach, and early rumors suggest possibilities of Brentson Buckner (D-Line Coach: Arizona Cardinals), Nick Eason (D-Line Coach: Tennessee Titans), Joe Bob Clements (D-Line Coach: Oklahoma State), and Lemanski Hall (Defensive Quality Assistant: Clemson). Since Hobby’s and Brooks’ departures, Clemson has since hired former Grayson HS Head Coach, Mickey Conn, to assist Mike Reed with coaching the defensive backs. Reed will begin coaching strictly the safeties, while Conn will take over the duties of coaching the cornerbacks. Outside of replacing coach Hobby/Brooks on defensive line, the biggest challenge Clemson will face in 2017 is filling the void at QB left by Deshaun Watson. Kelly Bryant will enter the spring as QB1 on the depth chart due to his experience, but many people close to the program fully expect former 4 star recruit Zerrick Cooper to take over that spot. Kelly Bryant, who is the first cousin of former Clemson WR/current Pittsburgh Steeler Martavis Bryant, has shown incredible flashes of athleticism. Despite Bryant’s athletic prowess, he has had trouble with his accuracy when throwing the ball, leading many to believe Bryant will switch positions in the spring/summer. Clemson has an absurd amount of talent returning on defense, as well as lots of talented (albeit inexperienced) players returning on offense. If any of Clemson’s QBs can prove to be just HALF of the player Deshaun Watson was, the Tigers will be in good shape entering 2017.
    • UPDATE: After this article was written, Clemson hired Jacksonville State’s Todd Bates as the team’s new defensive line coach.
  2. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (Breakdown by FSU writer Joshua Mixon)
    • 2016 Record: 10-3
    • Bowl Outcome: W vs. Michigan (Orange Bowl)
    • Key Departures: Dalvin Cook (RB), Rod Johnson (OL), Travis Rudolph (WR), Bobo Wilson (WR), Kermit Whitfield (WR), DeMarcus Walker (DE)
    • Key Returnees: Deondre Francois (QB), Jacques Patrick (RB), Auden Tate (WR), George Campbell (WR), Nyqwan Murray (WR), Derwin James (S), Nate Andrews (DB), Josh Sweat (DE), Demarcus Christmas (DT), Tarvarus McFadden (DB)
    • Key Recruits: Cam Akers (5 star RB), Joshua Kaindoh (5 star DE), Khalan Laborn (5 star RB), D.J. Matthews (WR), Stanford Samuels (4 star CB), Cyrus Fagan (4 star FS), Bailey Hockman (4 star QB)
    • Analysis: So far, this offseason has gone just about as expected for Florida State. Everyone, despite not wanting to admit it, will tell you that we knew Dalvin Cook was a goner after his performance against Clemson. You can’t blame him either, as he’s easily the best RB in FSU history and arguably the best in the 2017 draft class. Don’t be surprised if Dalvin Cook is the first RB off the board in the NFL Draft. OT Rod Johnson departing doesn’t surprise anyone, if only because this draft class is relatively weak in regards to offensive lineman. This makes his decision to leave easier to understand, as he’ll likely be selected much earlier than he would be had he stayed another year. The real issues FSU will face is replacing three of its main receiving targets this offseason: Bobo Wilson, Travis Rudolph, and Kermit Whitfield. Wilson, Rudolph, and Whitfield have all played their final snap at FSU, and the ‘Noles now have just 5 scholarship receivers on roster. Having Auden Tate and Nyqwan Murray helps, but this is an alarming statistic when considering that Alabama will be FSU’s first opponent in 2017. Fortunately for FSU, their recruiting class is peaking at the right time. The ‘Noles signed their best RB recruit since Dalvin Cook in December, landing 5* RB Cam Akers. This is a huge signing for FSU, as Akers is already enrolled in classes, will participate in Spring practice, and could have an immediate impact on the team. FSU landed 5* DE Joshua Kaindoh, the #2 DE recruit in the nation, in December as well. Tre Lawson, a 3* DE from North Augusta, also committed to the Seminoles several weeks ago. Despite the many positives surrounding Florida State in 2017, i’m not picking the Seminoles to make the playoff in 2017. FSU’s offensive line hasn’t been consistent since 2013, and now lose their most experienced player. Couple that with the departures of Cook, along with 3 experienced receivers, and the ‘Noles could be in for a serious regression, at least on offense. An early loss to Alabama paired with a random inexplicable loss in September will be what makes 2017 another missed opportunity for FSU.
  3. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
    • 2016 Record: 9-4
    • Bowl Outcome: L vs. LSU (Citrus Bowl)
    • Key Departures: James Quick (WR), Jamari Staples (WR), Cole Hikutini (TE), Brandon Radcliff (RB), Josh Harvey-Clemons (S), Keith Kelsey (ILB), Devonte Fields (LB), DeAngelo Brown (DT)
    • Key Returnees: Lamar Jackson (QB), L.J. Scott (RB), Reggie Bonnafon (WR/QB), Jaylen Smith (WR), Drew Bailey (DL), Kyle Shortridge (DL), Shaq Wiggins (CB), Khane Pass (S)
    • Key Recruits: C.J. Avery (4 star SS), Colin Wilson (4 star RB), Russ Yeast (4 star CB), Caleb Chandler (3 star OT)
    • Analysis: Louisville began to falter at the end of the 2016, including losing 3 straight games to end the season. Fortunately for the Cardinals, they return Heisman-winner Lamar Jackson at QB next season. Jackson took the college football world by storm last season, throwing for 3500+ yards and 30 TDs, while also rushing for 1500+ yards and 21 TDs. One key issue for Louisville next season will be progression of their offensive line, a unit which allowed a whopping 12 sacks against the Houston Cougars in 2016. Another key aspect that will determine Louisville’s success in 2017, will be replacing their losses on defense. Keith Kelsey, Josh Harvey-Clemons, and DeAngelo Brown anchored down the Cardinals defense, meaning the 2017 defensive unit will have big shoes to fill. On top of replacing three of their best players on defense, the Cardinals must also fill the void left by former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who left Louisville for the same position at Mississippi State. Louisville has not been particularly impressive on the recruiting front this offseason, so head coach Bobby Petrino will have to develop his players if he hopes to compete with Clemson and FSU in the ACC Atlantic next season.
  4. NC STATE WOLFPACK
    • 2016 Record: 7-6
    • Bowl Outcome: W vs. Vanderbilt (Independence Bowl)
    • Key Departures: Josh Jones (S), Dravious Wright (DB), Jack Tocho (CB), Monty Nelson (DT), Bra’Lon Cherry (WR), Matt Dayes (RB), Joe Scelfo (OL)
    • Key Returnees: Jaylen Samuels (TE/FB), Ryan Finley (QB), Nyheim Hines (RB/WR), Stephen Louis (WR), B.J. Hill (DT), Eurndraus Bryant (DT), Bradley Chubb (DE), Darian Roseboro (DE), Kentavius Street (DE), Jerod Fernandez (LB)
    • Key Recruits: Antoine Thompson (3 star WR), Grant Gibson (3 star DT)
    • Analysis: Head coach Dave Doeren‘s N.C. State team made a bowl game for the 3rd straight season, however, the Wolfpack finished the season at a mediocre 7-6. Doeren has done a marginal job as head coach of the Wolfpack, but he has yet to take the program to the next level. N.C. State has not been able to seriously contend in the ACC since the Philip Rivers era, but with the amount of talent the Pack have returning next season, it’s not unfathomable to think that N.C. State could having the makings of a dark-horse in the ACC Atlantic division. Doeren needs to capitalize on players like Bradley Chubb and Ryan Finley returning to school, if he plans on getting himself off the hot seat. Hopefully, hiring former Rutgers assistant defensive backs coach Aaron Henry to become the new safeties coach at NC State, will create a spark on defense and bring some new life into the program.
  5. SYRACUSE ORANGE
    • 2016 Record: 4-8
    • Bowl Outcome: N/A
    • Key Departures: Amba Etta-Tawo (WR), Josh Parris (TE), Michael Lasker (OT), Jason Emerich (C), Omari Palmer (OT), De’Jon Wilson (DL)
    • Key Returnees: Ervin Phillips (WR), Eric Dungey (QB), Dontae Strickland (RB), Zaire Franklin (LB), Parris Bennett (LB), Rodney Williams (DB),
    • Key Recruits: Tommy Devito (3 star QB), Ravian Pierce (3 star TE)
    • Analysis: Despite not making it into a bowl game in 2016, there is plenty to be optimistic about when analyzing Dino Babers‘ first season as head coach of the Syracuse Orange. Babers coached-up wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo to have one of the best seasons of any WR in all of college football, recording 94 catches, 1482 yards, and 14 touchdowns through the air in 2016. Babers was also a large reason behind the development of QB Eric Dungey, who threw for 2600+ yards and 15 TDs, while also running for nearly 300 yards and 6 TDs. The Orange also were able to get a very impressive win over #17 Virginia Tech, a team which went on to win the ACC Coastal division. There is no reason why Syracuse should expect not to be a bowl-eligible team in 2017.
  6. WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS
  7. BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES
    • 2016 Record: 7-6
    • Bowl Outcome: W vs. Maryland (Quick Lane Bowl)
    • Key Departures: John Johnson (S), Patrick Towles (QB), Truman Gutapfel (DT), Kevin Kavalec (DE), Matt Milano (LB)
    • Key Returnees: Harold Landry (DE), Zach Allen (DE), Connor Strachan (LB), William Harris (DB), Jon Hilliman (RB), Tommy Sweeney (TE), Michael Walker (WR), Jeff Smith (WR)
    • Key Recruits: A.J. Dillon (3 star ATH)
    • Analysis: Head coach Steve Addazio will enter 2017 on the hot seat once again, despite improving the Eagles’ win total from 3 wins in 2015, to 7 wins in 2016. Addazio has done a terrific job developing BC’s defensive unit, however his offenses have typically been lackluster at best. Patrick Towles, the transfer QB from Kentucky, did not have the same kind of success that former transfer-QB Tyler Murphy had at BC during the previous season. Nevertheless, Boston College should expect to be a very scrappy team in 2017, with major emphasis on running the football by committee. Addazio’s defenses are always impressive, which leaves the Eagles in a position to serve upsets to many of their opponents in 2017. But if Addazio wants to keep his job, he absolutely must win his 2nd consecutive bowl game next season.

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Clemson University B.A. ’17 Charlie Whitehurst for President. #BoltUp #RIPJoseFernandez
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Clemson University B.A. ’17 Charlie Whitehurst for President. #BoltUp #RIPJoseFernandez

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