When the media gathers next week in Charlotte, N.C. for the Atlantic Coast Conference’s annual Football Kickoff, one of the tasks at hand will be to pick who we think will be this year’s conference champion.
Spoiler alert, I’m going to tell you who will be picked to win it – Florida State.
Why? First because the Seminoles return nine starters on a defense that got better as the year went on in 2016, and that does not include the return of safety Derwin James, who missed most of last year with a knee injury. Secondly, FSU returns starting quarterback Deondre Francois.
The third and main as to why – Clemson lost Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Jordan Leggett, Artavis Scott and Mike Williams. With all that offensive fire power gone, plus the best dual-threat quarterback the league has seen since Charlie Ward’s days at FSU, some members of the media expect Clemson to slip back a little in the national picture. Maybe they will or maybe they won’t.
That’s the thing about predicting who is going to win a conference title because in reality we really don’t know what is going to happen. All we can go off is the information we know at the present time, but once the season begins most of that information goes out the window.
We can’t predict if a team suffers an injury at a major position. We can’t predict if a player no one saw coming suddenly emerges as one of the best in the league. Those are all variables we don’t include in July when everyone is undefeated and everyone is capable of winning the championship.
What can we look at before we make our predictions? For me, I try to look at everyone’s personnel and compare it to what everyone else in the conference has coming back and rate them all based on what they did last year and of course overall talent.
So as you breakdown each team in the ACC it’s obvious who the better teams are in each division, at least on paper. The names that stick out are Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Miami.
These are the five teams every member of the media who votes will look at. They all have their strengths and they all have their weaknesses.
Athlon, in its ACC Preview Magazine, broke down who it thinks is the best of the best in each area of the roster. No surprise Louisville, with Lamar Jackson coming back, won the quarterback spot, while Florida State, thanks to five-star prospect Cam Akers, was awarded the best group of running backs. When it came to wide receivers, no surprise again, Clemson was voted the top unit. At linebacker Virginia Tech was given the nod, while FSU is said to have the best secondary.
However, what stood out to me is who had the edges in the trenches. Again, no surprise, Clemson owns the best defensive line with Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell all returning, but what caught me off guard was the fact, they have Clemson also down with the best offensive line.
Football is a simple sport. It is not as complicated as people make it out to be. The team who usually wins the battle at the lines of scrimmages, most of the time wins the game. That is a big advantage for Clemson, if indeed it is true, and it is even a bigger deal if the Tigers solve their quarterback issues.
As Alabama proved the last two years on its run to the national championship games, if you can control the lines of scrimmage, it takes pressure off the quarterback and allows him to just manage the game. A team can win a lot of football games like that, and a conference championship as well.
My point is this. Florida State will be the majorities pick at next week’s ACC Football Kickoff, but should it be?
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