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Jeff Shain's College Football Previews (Atlantic Coast Conference)

Jeff Shain
08/21/2018 8:27PM ET

ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
 

Defending champion: Clemson (Atlantic/12-2)

>>Coastal winner: Miami (10-3)

Top NFL Draft losses: N.C. State DE Bradley Chubb (No.5/Broncos), Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds (No.16/Bills), Florida St. SS Derwin James (No.17/Chargers), Louisville CB Jaire Alexander (No.17/Packers), Virginia Tech FS Terrell Edmunds (No.28/Steelers), Louisville QB Lamar Jackson (No.32/Ravens).

New coaches: Florida State’s Willie Taggert (repl. Jimbo Fisher).

Team to beat: Clemson rules the roost, greeting the post-Deshaun Watson era with another ACC crown and trip to the College Football Playoff. The Tigers have the best defensive front in football, a deep RB corps and a veteran QB in Kelly Bryant who’s getting pushed by one of the nation’s top freshman. Coastal favorite: Miami.

Rising: Boston College has the ACC’s most experienced roster and found a horse to hitch to in RB A.J. Dillon (1,589 yards). After an injury-ridden 2017, the Eagles get QB Anthony Brown back for an offense almost intact from last year. LBs Connor Strachan and Max Richardson also return from critical injuries.

Sliding: Louisville must replace a Heisman-winning QB (Lamar Jackson) who led the ACC in both passing and rushing and returns only four starters on a defense now under its third coordinator in as many years.

Top senior prospects: Clemson DT Christian Wilkins, N.C. State QB Ryan Finley, Miami SS Jaquan Johnson, Clemson DE Austin Bryant.

Other players to watch: Boston College RB A.J. Dillon, Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence, Miami LB Shaq Quarterman, Louisville WR Jaylen Smith, Miami CB Michael Jackson.

Welcome back: Florida State QB Deondre Francois, Boston College LB Connor Strachan, Syracuse G Aaron Roberts, Georgia Tech OT Andrew Marshall.

Big shoes to fill: Louisville QB Puma Pass (Lamar Jackson), N.C. State DE James Smith-Williams (Bradley Chubb), Virginia Tech OLB Dylan Rivers (Tremaine Edmunds).

Top newcomers: Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, Miami RB Lorenzo Lingard, Virginia Tech LB Dax Hollifield, Florida State LB Jaiden Woodbey.

Game of the Year: Clemson at Boston College, Nov. 10. It’s the final game of a tough four-week stretch for Clemson that also features games against N.C. State and at Florida State. If winter hits early in New England, this could get interesting.

Coaching hot seat: North Carolina’s Larry Fedora. Injuries undercut the Tar Heels last year, including a six-game losing streak and just one win vs. a Power 5 opponent. There’s plenty of experience to choose from now, but the offense still returns only five starters and just two on the OL. Another 3-9 year won’t cut it.

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Jerry Radcliffe’s forecast via the OFN's ACC Football Report

Championship: Clemson over Miami

Sleeper team: Boston College