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ACC Football 2015 Predictions

Dalvin Cook

Dalvin Cook

The ACC enters 2015 as a league in transition. No team from this conference was projected to make the college football playoff in Athlon Sports’ rankings for the upcoming season, and there’s a loss of star power with the departure of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley and Miami running back Duke Johnson.

In 2014, 13 out of the ACC’s 14 programs lost at least two games in league play. Florida State was the only exception, finishing with a perfect 8-0 mark. The Seminoles are the favorites to win the ACC for the fourth consecutive year. But the gap between Florida State and the rest of the league has decreased in 2015.

While the ACC is in transition, there’s no shortage of intrigue in the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions. Here’s a look at five things to watch in the ACC for 2015, followed by Athlon’s predictions. 

5 Key Questions That Will Shape the ACC in 2015

1. Jimbo Fisher Rebuilds (Reloads?) at Florida State

Florida State is coming off one of the best two-year runs by a program in recent memory. The Seminoles went 27-1 during that span and claimed the 2013 national championship. Fisher has returned this program back to the nation’s elite and enters 2015 with a rebuilding effort on his hands. Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson and Sean Maguire will compete to replace Jameis Winston, but the bigger question mark on this team is on defense after giving up 5.5 yards per play last year. With the departures of end Mario Edwards Jr. and tackle Eddie Goldman, along with a thin linebacking corps, the Seminoles are searching for answers on this side of the ball. Talent certainly isn’t an issue. How quickly does Florida State reload in 2015? If all of the young talent emerges, another playoff run is within reach. 

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2. Offense and Defense Question Marks at Clemson

Clemson’s defense was arguably the best in the nation last season, limiting opponents to 16.7 points per game and just four yards per play. Coordinator Brent Venables has a lot of work to do this offseason, as the Tigers return just two starters and suffered big losses at each level. The good news for Venables? There’s plenty of talent ready to emerge. But until the defense is stabilized, the offense may have to carry this team. Just like the defense, there’s question marks, but also a lot of promising talent. Sophomore Deshaun Watson is the ACC’s top quarterback, and the Tigers are loaded at the skill positions. The offense should remain one of the best in the conference, but how much will this unit miss coordinator Chad Morris? He left to be the head coach at SMU, and coach Dabo Swinney promoted Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott to the co-coordinator level.

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3. Coastal Division Uncertainty

It seems to be an annual storyline in recent years, but the Coastal Division is a wide open race once again. Georgia Tech should be the favorite with the return of quarterback Justin Thomas and an improving defense. However, coach Paul Johnson’s team loses seven of the top 10 rushers from last year, along with receiver DeAndre Smelter. Additionally, Georgia Tech plays crossover games against Clemson and Florida State. But if the Yellow Jackets stumble, which team will emerge? Virginia Tech has the top defense in the ACC. However, question marks remain on offense. Is Miami ready to contend in Al Golden’s fifth year? Will North Carolina’s defense improve? Or is this the year where a surprise team like Pittsburgh or Duke wins the division? Questions abound in the Coastal in 2015. 

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4. Louisville, Pittsburgh and NC State – Sleepers to Watch?

With the three projected top 25 teams for 2015 all suffering key losses from last season, there’s plenty of room for a sleeper to emerge. The gap between the top and the middle of the ACC has closed a bit with the losses at the top three programs, but which team will take advantage? Is it Louisville? The Cardinals need to settle on a quarterback and rebuild the offensive line, but the defense should be stout once again. Pittsburgh has a favorable crossover by missing three of the top four teams in the Atlantic and returns two of the ACC’s top players in running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd. How much will the defense improve in Pat Narduzzi’s first year? NC State closed 2014 by winning four out of its last five. The Wolfpack return 14 starters, including quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Another step forward in the win column wouldn’t be a surprise.

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5. Pressure Building at Miami and Virginia

2015 could be a make-or-break year for Virginia’s Mike London and Miami’s Al Golden. London is 23-38 in five years with the Cavaliers and has not played in a bowl since 2011. After showing progress last season with five victories, London needs to get Virginia back into the postseason in 2015. For Miami, the Hurricanes are still looking for the first appearance in the ACC Championship. Miami showed signs of progress with a 9-4 record in 2013 but has just one season of more than seven wins under Golden. After going 6-7 last year, the pressure is building at Miami. Adding to Golden’s challenge in 2015 will be a rebuilt offensive line, the loss of running back Duke Johnson and the departure of standout linebacker Denzel Perryman. 

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ACC 2015 Team Previews

Visit the Athlon Sports Online Store to order a copy of the 2015 ACC Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 14 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 

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ACC Predictions for 2015

ACC 2015 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven
Lassan

Mitch
Light

Mark
Ross

David
Fox

Braden
Gall

 

@AthlonSteven

@AthlonMitch

@AthlonMarkR

@DavidFox615

@BradenGall

Offensive POY

James
Conner, RB
Pittsburgh

Dalvin
Cook, RB
FSU

Deshaun
Watson, QB
Clemson

Dalvin
Cook, RB
FSU

Deshaun
Watson, QB
Clemson

Defensive POY

Jalen Ramsey
DB, FSU

Jalen Ramsey
DB, FSU

Kendall Fuller
CB, Va. Tech

Jalen Ramsey
DB, FSU

Jalen Ramsey
DB, FSU

Coach of the Year

Jimbo Fisher
Florida State

Jimbo Fisher
Florida State

Dave Doeren
NC State

Pat Narduzzi
Pittsburgh

Bobby Petrino
Louisville

Coach on Hot Seat

Mike London
Virginia

Mike London
Virginia

Mike London
Virginia

Al Golden
Miami

Larry Fedora
UNC

Top Freshman

Derwin James
S, FSU

Deon Cain
WR, Clemson

C.J. Stalker
LB, Virginia

Chris Taylor
WR, Duke

George Campbell, WR, FSU

Top Newcomer

Everett Golson
QB, FSU

Devonte Fields
DL/LB, Louisville

Josh
Harvey-Clemons
S, UL

Devonte Fields
DL/LB, Louisville

Josh
Harvey-Clemons
S, UL

Sleeper Team

NC State

NC State

NC State

Duke

Miami

Top Coordinator Hire

Gene Chizik
DC, UNC

Josh Conklin
DC, Pittsburgh

Gene Chizik
DC, UNC

Jim Chaney
OC, Pittsburgh

Gene Chizik
DC, UNC

Key Position to Watch

Florida State DL

Virginia Tech OL

Florida State OL

Clemson
LB

Florida State OL

Hardest to Evaluate

Miami

Miami

Miami

North Carolina

Miami

Coach on the Rise

Josh Conklin
DC, Pittsburgh

Scottie Montgomery
OC, Duke

Dave Doeren
NC State

Charles Kelly
DC, FSU

Dave Doeren
NC State

Must-See Game

FSU at Clemson

FSU at
Clemson

FSU at Clemson

FSU at Clemson

FSU at Clemson

Breakout Player

Shaq Lawson
DE, Clemson

Joe Yearby
RB, Miami

Joe Yearby
RB, Miami

Joe Yearby
RB, Miami

Artavis Scott
WR, Clemson

Comeback Player

Luther Maddy
DT, Va. Tech

Trey Edmunds
RB, Va. Tech

Kelby Brown
LB, Duke

Everett Golson
QB, FSU

Jabari Hunt-Days
DL, GT

Ranking the ACC's Coaches for 2015

1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

2. Bobby Petrino, Louisville

3. David Cutcliffe, Duke

4. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

5. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

Click here to view the full ACC Coach Rankings for 2015

Ranking the ACC's Quarterbacks for 2015

1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson

2. Brad Kaaya, Miami
3. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
4. Marquise Williams, North Carolina
5. Jacoby Brissett, NC State

Click here to view the full ACC Quarterback Rankings for 2015

Recommended Articles

Ranking the ACC's Running Backs for 2015

1. James Conner, Pittsburgh

2. Dalvin Cook, Florida State

3. Jon Hilliman, Boston College

4. Joseph Yearby, Miami

5. Shadrach Thornton,NC State

Click here to view the full ACC Running Back Rankings for 2015

The ACC's Top 5 Players on the Rise for 2015

1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

3. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

4. Rod Johnson, OT, Florida State

5. Wyatt Teller, OG, Virginia Tech

Related: College Football's Top 25 Players on the Rise for 2015

Top 5 Non-Conference Games for 2015

1. Notre Dame at Clemson (Oct. 3)

2. Florida State at Florida (Nov. 28)

3. Georgia Tech at Notre Dame (Sept. 19)

4. Louisville vs. Auburn (Atlanta (Sept. 5)

5. Georgia at Georgia Tech (Nov. 28)

Related: Complete ACC Schedule Analysis for 2015

Key Coordinator Hires for 2015

1. Gene Chizik, Defensive Coordinator, North Carolina

2. Josh Conklin, Defensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh

3. Jim Chaney, Offensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh

4. Tony Elliott/Jeff Scott, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Clemson

5. Todd Fitch, Offensive Coordinator, Boston College

Top Incoming Freshmen (from 247Sports)

1. Derwin James, S, Florida State

2. Josh Sweat, DL, Florida State

3. Tarvarus McFadden, DB, Florida State

4. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson

5. George Campbell, WR, Florida State

6. Mitch Hyatt, OL, Clemson

7. Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson

8. Jacques Patrick, RB, Florida State

9. Jalen Dalton, DL, North Carolina

10. Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State