- Clemson has dominated the ACC in recent years, but there's plenty of intrigue both with the Tigers and elsewhere around the conference entering fall camp.
As the calendar flips to August, it can only mean one thing: college football is here. Fall camps are opening or getting ready to open all across the country, and the first game of the season—the big Florida vs. Miami showdown in Orlando—is less than four weeks away. But there's plenty of work to be done before the first snaps that count are taken. This week, we'll be previewing August practice for each major conference, plus the Group of Five. We've done the SEC; up next, it's the ACC:
It goes without saying that Clemson has owned the ACC in the last half decade, as evidenced by four straight conference titles and two national championships. Don’t expect anything to change this season, because on paper this figures to be the least competitive conference race in the Power 5. While the Atlantic Division has admirable teams like Florida State, Syracuse and NC State to try to slow down the Tigers, barring any significant injuries, Clemson should have another easy march to Charlotte and beyond.
Over in the Coastal, it’s one big tangled mess of mediocrity. No team from this division has won the ACC crown since Virginia Tech in 2010. In more layman’s terms, the Coastal is there for the taking for anyone who wants to step up and play decent football. Miami, North Carolina and Georgia Tech are breaking in new head coaches, while reigning division champion Pittsburgh has to replace two productive running backs and most of its offensive line.
Top August Story: How Successful Will the ACC Network Be?
In terms of national exposure, the ACC Network won’t have the same startup hype as the SEC Network, even though it is also backed by ESPN. When it launches on Aug. 22, it plans on televising about 40 football games and more than 150 basketball games. Of course, the success of the network depends on the success of the member schools. In football, it’s all Clemson until further notice, so it would be wise to focus on that for the time being. The network will get off to a good start by featuring the Tigers against Georgia Tech a week after launch. The good news is there is always Duke, UNC and Virginia in men’s basketball, so there shouldn’t be a shortage of eyes on the network when winter rolls around.
Positional Battle to Watch: Trio of Miami Quarterbacks
Whoever emerges from the quarterback battle between Tate Martell, N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams must realize that his play will determine whether the Hurricanes get back in the national conversation or continue a trend of subpar play under center that has kept Miami from reaching its potential. The 'Canes can no longer rely on the defense to push through and keep them in games. In reality, this battle may go on all season long, and the first test comes early in the season opener against Florida in Orlando. Having an offense that ranked next-to-last in the ACC and turned it over 26 times, as Miami did last year, is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, there is enough talent and a manageable conference slate to think 10 wins isn’t all that unrealistic.
Positional Group Under Pressure: Clemson’s New Defensive Line
Anytime you have four players (Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant) from the same position group drafted into the NFL, like Clemson did in 2019, the tried and true method of reloading with incoming five-star talent isn't always enough. But this is Clemson, and if anyone can do it, defensive coordinator Brent Venables can. That aforementioned defensive line allowed a nation-leading 2.51 yards a carry and only eight scores on the ground. They also led the NCAA in sacks and tackles for loss. Next up to help try to continue the dominance is defensive end Xavier Thomas, with other blue chippers such as Nyles Pinckney, Tyler Davis and Justin Foster expected to be in the D-line rotation.
New Coach Spotlight: Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech
Collins comes to Georgia Tech from Temple, where he had a 15–10 record in two seasons. Collins’s challenge is more unique than the rest of the new coaches in the ACC, as he will be front and center to a complete offensive makeover in terms of philosophy, going from the triple-option offense run for the past decade to more of a spread attack with sprinkles of pro-style tendencies. Those expecting immediate success will be sorely disappointed, as it could get ugly at times due to the radical transition on offense and the youth on defense. At least things are looking up on the recruiting front, with the Ramblin’ Wreck holding steady with a Top 25 class for 2020.
Week 1 Game to Circle: Boise State vs. Florida State in Jacksonville
While Miami vs. Florida is technically a Week 0 matchup, there is another team from the Sunshine State that also has a big opening game. Florida State welcomes Boise State to Jacksonville on Aug. 31, and it’s as big a tone-setter for the Seminoles as it is for Boise. After its 36-year bowl streak came to a screeching halt last fall, it’s imperative that Florida State wins, else the vultures (in this case, the Seminoles fan base) will have their ire directed squarely at coach Willie Taggart. A few things to look for are whether FSU has fixed its dreadful offensive line woes and if new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles can get the most out of the skill position talent he has.