Welcome to our college football conference previews, in which we will tell you what you need to know about various conferences, with an emphasis on watchability. First up were the Pac-12, the SEC, and the Big 12. Now, the ACC.
Some people will tell you that the SEC East is the most miserable division in all of college football. Do no listen to these people. They are liars who know nothing, for they have not spent three seasons covering the ACC Coastal.
Not very, is the short answer. The ACC is the among the worst conferences in college football in terms of quality of football being played. Lest we forget:
The key here is to not mistake terrible with unwatchable. The ACC is actually a good time because even though the end result is usually pre-ordained—Florida State goes undefeated and rolls whatever team the Coastal can offer—any team can win any game leading up to that point, and that’s pretty fun to watch. I mean, even trash teams like Virginia win three games in conference play. Anything is possible, man.
Because of the collective suckage that every team outside of the top three brings to the table, there is an insane amount of parity in this conference. This is the kind of wild shit that happens in the ACC: A team like Virginia Tech, which is garbage, can beat the eventual national champions in Columbus, lose five of its next seven, go into Durham and knock No. 19 Duke out of the ACC title game with a 17-16 win, lose 6-3 in overtime at Wake Forest—by far the worst team in the entire conference—and then crush Cincinnati in the Military Bowl.
Thankfully, it won’t be as nuts to try and predict who will win the Coastal division, as Georgia Tech has established itself as the clear front-runner in the shittiest Power Five football division. Still, more so than the Atlantic, the Coastal is batshit crazy from week-to-week. Yes, it’s ugly, ugly football, but it’s entertaining.
The ACC, at least for the past three years, was Florida State’s to lose. The Seminoles carry a streak of three consecutive conference titles because, top-to-bottom, they are the league’s most talented team. Florida State, even without Dalvin Cook, has the best team, and that’s the best way to go about winning games.
Georgia Tech is the second-best team in the conference—that’s right, fuck off Clemson. The Yellow Jackets have a talented roster, led by speedster quarterback Justin Thomas, and a triple-option system that just about guarantees them at least 7-8 wins every year that opposing defenses continue to allow themselves to be mind-fucked by head coach Paul Johnson’s scheme. This year, you should expect the Yellow Jackets to reach and remain in the top 10. Now that they’ve established themselves as an elite team with a punishing offense spearheaded by the perfect quarterback for the system, Georgia Tech is going to roll some of the sad sacks that belong to the ACC, and it will be wonderful.
Okay, fine, Clemson is actually pretty good. Dabo Swinney seems a little weird, but he runs a solid program and always manages to scoop up a handful of really talented players that can tear through the conference. They’re a top-15 team if they can finish games, and were actually voted to win the Atlantic by the ACC media members, which doesn’t mean a lot, but it’s something. And you can hate all you want, but the Tigers still play in the dopest-named place—Death Valley—and have one of the coolest entrances in college football.
Now we come to the North Carolina teams (that kind of matter): Duke, UNC, and N.C. State. All three are more or less in the same boat. They can all come out this next season and win between 6-8 games, go to a fine bowl, and win said bowl game. Or they could come out, win 4-6 games, trudge through the regular season, and get blown up by Rutgers in Detroit, which is about as sad as it gets. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils both have a shot at winning the Coastal because they’re teams that have some of the best players from the state. The Wolfpack—aka the “This is our year” team everyone constantly just feels bad for—play in the Atlantic, so unless they really pull off some crazy shit and beat FSU or Clemson—a thing they could maybe do if they weren’t so good at consistently shitting the bed—they’ll finish in the middle of the pack. As a lifelong Wolfpack fan, I can assure you that this is indeed not their year. It will never be their year. Life is bleak, but hope keeps us going.
Louisville is lame. The Cardinals come off as an alright team, but don’t buy it—they suck. There’s no reason any ranked team, for any reason, should lose to Virginia, and yet Louisville did just that this past year. If Duke can beat Virginia, then the Cards—who finished with the same record as the Blue Devils, got thrashed in their bowl game, and were still ranked above them in the final poll—should also beat them. Louisville is whatever. Watch them if you have to, I guess.
As far as Pittsburgh goes, feel free to watch, but be warned: the Panthers beat Delaware and lost to Akron last year. It’s about as meh of a program as you’re going to get. You should absolutely tune in for the Oct. 17 Georgia Tech game, though, as you’ll probably see nothing but running games demolishing the opposing defense. The Panthers have a boulder in running back James Conner, who stands at 6-foot-2 and 229 pounds and throws human beings around for a
living free education. Conner won ACC Player of the Year in 2014 after not even being among the top-5 in the preseason voting. He’s college football’s Brandon Jacobs, and if you want to watch a player run through a defense, Conner is your guy:
Miami—which has officially receded to become a middling college football program—does not have James Conner. You should not watch them for this and many other reasons. Boston College is also fine, but I don’t suggest watching them. Like Miami, they don’t have James Conner, and based on their current crop of players, seem to be content with making a bowl game for the upcoming year.
Virginia Tech gets the benefit of having been good back in the day. But we aren’t back in the day, and the Hokies are painful to watch now. They don’t have a competent quarterback, and their biggest strength, the defense, is run by a dumb asshole who makes more than a million dollars a year and wants to fine players. Cool guy, that Bud. Don’t watch Virginia Tech.
The teams that could just go ahead and cease to exist are Wake Forest, Syracuse, and Virginia. All three are terrible, awful excuses for football programs that you should never, under any circumstance, waste three hours of your ever-shortening life watching. These teams exist to make others teams bowl eligible and occasionally win a game they have no business winning just to stir the pot. The league, and football in general, would be better without them. But I guess you have to have sucky teams, so when it comes to balancing out a league, these bad boys are the cream of the crop.
Oct. 24: Florida State at Georgia Tech
I was between this and the Seminoles Nov. 7 matchup with Clemson, but after how close the Yellow Jackets came to knocking off Florida State in the ACC title game last year, I have to give this game the edge. You’re going to see a wonderfully-run Georgia Tech offense go up against the conference’s best defense, and more likely than not, it will be a high-scoring affair. This game, which will serve as the halfway point of the regular season, will give us a much better feel for how good the Seminoles can be without Winston, and it will tell us if the Yellow Jackets are actually a top-10 team. Again, the Florida-Clemson matchup in November will also be worth watching, but this game will determine just how far these two teams have come since 2014.