2019 ACC expert picks: Most overrated and underrated teams, predicted order of finish
Taking a close, detailed and opinionated look at the ACC as the college football season approaches
The ACC only has one team in the top 20 of the 2019 Preseason AP Top 25, and it's the team at the top: defending national champion Clemson. If the Tigers -- led by quarterback Trevor Lawrence and a talent-loaded roster that looks ready to return to the College Football Playoff for the fifth straight season -- are indeed in the mix for one of the top four spots at the end of the year, the perceived strength or weakness of the ACC is going to be one of the hottest talking points in playoff debates.
If the AP voters share sentiments with the CFP Selection Committee, then the ACC has some work to do on the perception front. Since 1998, there has only been one other time that a Power Five conference has had just one team ranked in the top 20 of the Preseason AP Top 25. The ACC did it in 2002 when Florida State started the year at No. 3.
Now, there are a handful of teams that believe themselves to be worthy of top 25 consideration, starting with Syracuse, which checked in at No. 22 in Monday's poll release. Both Miami and Virginia are going to be in the mix as well while they compete for an ACC Coastal title and the right to potentially play spoiler to the Tigers in Charlotte this December. Getting those teams, plus Virginia Tech and others, up in the rankings would go a long way to change the perception of an ACC that, as we start the year, appears to be the most top-heavy of all the Power Five conferences.
Most overrated team
Syracuse: I had difficulty coming up with an overrated team in the ACC seeing as the conference has two teams in the preseason top 25 and Clemson's the only one in the top 20. I went with Syracuse not because I don't expect the Orange to be good in 2019, but because this is a team that has to replace a lot of production from a 10-win team, and I'm not sure Dino Babers has this program in a "reload" phase just yet. Because of this, I wouldn't be surprised if this team has trouble living up to preseason expectations many have for it. -- Tom Fornelli (also Dennis Dodd)
Florida State: The Seminoles will be improved in Willie Taggart's second season. Rebuilding does not happen overnight, but recruiting is going well with a top 20 class this year and a good start to next year. However, Florida State is not ready to compete for a conference title. Even if the Seminoles finish second in the division, they are still a couple of years away from getting back to being what they were. -- Jerry Palm
Virginia: I was all in on Virginia until we found out everyone is all in on Virginia at the ACC Football Kickoff as the Wahoos were named the media's preseason favorite. The work Bronco Mendenhall has done is worth praise, but the distance between this team and the other Coastal contenders is not as far as the preseason polls might suggest. -- Chip Patterson (also Barrett Sallee)
Miami: The Hurricanes will be a good team this year. They have a great defense, some special playmakers on offense and a new energy around the program. I just want to push back on the division favorite talk. I'm not convinced you can just throw a new quarterback under center and "Dan Enos" this offense back to life. We need to give Jarren Williams time to grow into the quarterback role, let a young offensive line find its footing and acknowledge that some really critical defensive players are gone (Jaquan Johnson, Joe Jackson, Michael Jackson, Gerald Willis, etc.). This program strikes me as being in a really healthy place, but I'm calling 9-3 a great accomplishment and 8-4 a win. Throw the division title expectations at this program next year. -- Barton Simmons (also Ben Kercheval)
Most underrated team
Virginia: After six different ACC Coastal winners in the last six years, why not a seventh to complete the division run? It's the Cavs' turn with sneaky-good coach Bronco Mendenhall coming off his best season at Virginia (8-5). Virginia has posted consecutive bowl seasons for the first time in a decade. Bryce Perkins was the perfect JUCO plug-in at quarterback, throwing for 2,700 yards and accounting for 34 touchdowns. It helps to have all All-American corner Bryce Hall, who broke up 22 passes last season. Don't be surprised if Virginia is 4-0 headed to Notre Dame at the end of September. -- Dennis Dodd
Pitt: Something clicked for this Pitt team in the middle of last season, and the rhythm they hit as a team in conference play propelled the Panthers to their first ACC Championship Game appearance. The offense lost two 1,000-yard rushers but returns Kenny Pickett at quarterback and plenty of key contributors from last year's team. Maintaining that success will be a test of Pat Narduzzi's player development, but I think that has already been the impetus for this recent surge of success. -- Chip Patterson (also Jerry Palm)
Virginia Tech: All eyes seem to be on Virginia in the Atlantic, but Virginia Tech is the team that should emerge as a primary contender. The defensive dysfunction from last year stemmed from attitude and inexperience. With 10 starters back and coordinator Bud Foster in his final year, expect the Hokies to improve upon last season's 31.0 points allowed per game to below 20. That alone will be enough to keep them in contention. If quarterback Ryan Willis can just match his performance last season, the Hokies will be one of the most dangerous teams in the conference. -- Barrett Sallee (also Tom Fornelli)
Florida State: When the mighty fall, they fall hard. And Florida State's first season under Willie Taggart was an unmitigated disaster, no doubt about it. This program is still way behind Clemson, as evidenced by last year's blowout loss, but I feel we're letting that carry over into this year. There's still a ways to go before FSU is ready to even be in the same field as Clemson, but it's not like they're completely devoid of talent. This could be a down year for the ACC, which gives the Noles some wiggle room to rebound. I still question whether the long-term buy-in to Taggart will happen, but Year 2 should be good enough to get things going in the right direction. -- Ben Kercheval (also Barton Simmons)
- Dennis Dodd: Florida State will be a borderline bowl team and Willie Taggart will be fired after two seasons.
- Jerry Palm: Clemson won't just win the ACC, they will not be challenged in any game in the regular season. Think Florida State in 2013.
- Tom Fornelli: Clemson will be the only team in the ACC with fewer than two conference losses.
- Chip Patterson: Clemson loses a game. I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. What if a young team has a single game where a few mistakes end up costing them a win? The Tigers have bodies everywhere and freaks on offense, but it's a roster that is significantly younger than last year's title team.
- Barton Simmons: AJ Dillon finally gets a full season's worth of a workload, stays healthy and leads the nation in rushing yards.
- Barrett Sallee: If Miami can squeak by Florida in Week 0, the Hurricanes will play on Championship Week (likely against Clemson) with a College Football Playoff berth on the line. The defense will provide some insurance as first-year coach Manny Diaz breaks in new quarterback Jarren Williams. After the Gators, the schedule gets really soft until midseason.
- Ben Kercheval: The Seminoles get a much-needed rebound year, beating Boise State, Miami and Florida.
ACC predicted order of finish
Clemson: Best team. Best player. Best coach. That about do it? A budding dynasty took root in January, winning a national championship for the second time in three years. The Tigers are such overwhelming favorites it's just a question of their playoff credentials if they don't go undefeated. Trevor Lawrence has started only nine regular season games (and, oh yeah, guided Clemson to a national championship). Get ready for a 40-touchdown, 4,000-yard season out of that magic right arm. The defensive line has to "rebuild" after losing the entire front to the NFL. Something tells me everything will be OK. -- Dennis Dodd (Unanimous)
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