Leading up to the start of the 2021/22 College Football Season, I’ll be previewing conferences in an ice cold, six pack style. What does that mean exactly? Just six easy sipping topics per conference, cause lets be honest, none of us have the time to read a 300 page magazine.
#1 – Clemson: The Barreling Freight Train
The question that opens pretty much every ACC preview is obvious: Can anybody defeat Clemson in conference play? The Tigers face Georgia early on in Charlotte, a game with potentially huge Playoff implications, but within the ACC, the schedule looks pretty light. Clemson doesn’t face off against either other Preseason Top 25 school of North Carolina or Miami, but if you’re looking for a potential heart stopper (which Clemson has proven to be susceptible to over the years), the clear choice is a road trip to NC State.
If the Wolfpack have a healthy Devin Leary to go along with returning weapons Zonovan Knight, Emeka Emezie, and Thayer Thomas, the Pack could give Tiger fans a bit of a rising heart rate on September 25th. Unfortunately, beyond NC State, I don’t see much of a shot for the ACC Others to take down Clemson in the regular season (Other ACC opponents: GA Tech, BC, @ Syracuse, @ Pitt, FSU, @ Louisville, Wake Forest)
#2 – ACC Coastal: Two Team Race?
Hands down the
best most entertaining division in CFB over the past decade, with all seven teams winning the division at some point in that span, it appears as though we’ve reached a point of true power between North Carolina and Miami amongst the players. Both teams bring back Heisman contending QB’s in Sam Howell and D’Eriq King, respectfully, along with talent rich rosters.
The biggest question for each team?
- Even with Howell returning, can UNC properly replace the production of Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dazz Newsome, and Dyami Brown?
- How will D’Eriq King play coming back from a late December torn ACL?
- What will Miami look like with Manny Diaz taking over Defensive Coordinator duties?
Miami takes the road trip to Chapel Hill on October 16th for a matchup with the Tar Heels in a game that may decide Clemson’s opponent in the ACC Championship
#3 – McKenzie Milton: Story of the Year
As of this writing, Florida State is still in a QB competition between McKenzie Milton and Jordan Travis to decide who opens the season against Notre Dame. That being said, my gut says Milton will be the starter, and that makes him the potential storyline of the season. After quite a successful run as the starting QB for a *fight me* National Champion UCF team, Milton had to have multiple surgeries in late 2018 after a devastating injury. Even after that, Milton suffered setbacks in the injured knee. There were questions of whether he’d ever walk again due to potential artery and nerve issues.
Fast forward to 2021. It has almost been three whole years since the injury, and Milton has now transferred in-state to the Seminoles. He’s almost exactly what a young, rebuilding Florida State team needs: a veteran leader at the QB position. Florida State doesn’t exactly have a walk in the park schedule wise, with battles against Notre Dame, Clemson, UNC, Miami, and Florida all on the 2021 slate, but Milton will sure get some TV time from the most diehard fans looking to watch a great comeback story.
#4 – Breakout Contenders
Every year, several teams, players, coaches, etc may become breakout stars. Here are a few breakout contenders to keep an eye on in 2021:
Boston College – I was a big fan of the Jeff Hafley hiring an off-season ago, and while the Eagles 6-5 record in the COVID-19 impacted season doesn’t scream for attention, the team obviously is trending upwards. Three of the Eagles losses in 2020 were to Clemson, North Carolina, and Notre Dame, but only by a combined 24 points. Led by Fighting Irish transfer Phil Jurkovec and with a bevy of pass catchers and returning lineman, I expect an exciting offense from Boston College.
BC’s schedule sets up pretty favorably as well, with home matchups against Missouri, NC State, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Wake Forest, and only tough road games seeming to be Clemson, Louisville, and maybe Georgia Tech.
Charleston Rambo/Tyrique Stevenson (Miami) – Miami has been at the forefront of the Transfer Portal era thus far, finding stud players across the country to improve huge holes on the roster (D. King, J. Phillips, Q. Roche, etc.) and I don’t believe it’ll be much different this year.
Manny Diaz dipped into the Portal to bring in Oklahoma WR Charleston Rambo, a talented speed demon who got lost in the shuffle with the Sooners. Miami has recruited talented receivers in past years, but a lack of consistency from the groups play, notably drops, has been concerning. Rambo will likely step in as a starter and provide D’Eriq King with a reliable speed option in the passing game.
Meanwhile, Cornerback has been a questionable position for Miami in recent years. Now, they bring in Stevenson, a former high profile corner prospect who initially attended Georgia. I expect Stevenson will start, and was a solid young player for the Bulldogs, most notably on a diving pass breakup late to save Georgia in the Peach Bowl. As he continues to grow into that talent, I think we’ll see a major impact from Tyrique on the Miami pass defense.
Dave Clawson – Wake Forest will always have a special place in my heart having found college basketball in the Chris Paul era, and its amazed me a bit how little buzz Dave Clawson gets when it comes to the coaching carousel (not that I want him to leave, but still). Wake will never be able to compete with the likes of Clemson due to academic standards and general school size, but Clawson consistently has Wake Forest as a Bowl performer (3-2) while outperforming plenty of more talented rosters in the ACC. It just feels as though he doesn’t get enough love for his coaching ability, so I’m leaving this here. Get your flowers, Coach Clawson.
#5 – Games to Watch
North Carolina @ Virginia Tech (September 3rd) – An opening night contest sees Sam Howell open his Heisman campaign on the road in Blacksburg, a game sure to set the slate for the ACC Coastal.
Clemson vs. Georgia (September 4th, Charlotte) – Two potential Top 5 teams, Playoff contenders, and Heisman candidate QB’s will clash in Charlotte on opening weekend.
Miami vs. Alabama (September 4th, Atlanta) – D’Eriq King, fresh off an ACL tear and rehab, will face defending Champion and elite power Alabama deep in the heart of college football. What will Alabama look like with a nearly rebuilt offense? Can Miami pull off the upset (lol, no.) I. am. scared.
Clemson @ NC State (September 25th) – Mark your calendars, if Clemson is taking an L in conference play, this is where I am calling it. I’ve likely now jinxed this, and Clemson will win by 40, but we can hope.
Miami @ North Carolina (October 16th) – D’Eriq King vs. Sam Howell in a matchup that very well may decide the ACC Coastal winner. Will Miami bring the right energy to get payback after the humiliation in 2020 or will North Carolina keep control of the division?
Miami @ Florida State (November 13th) – Two good friends and NIL partners, D’Eriq King and McKenzie Milton, may face off against each other in this major ACC rivalry. How improved will Florida State be in 2021 after a rough outing in the 2020 matchup?
#6 – Final Predictions
- Clemson Tigers
- NC State
- Boston College
- Wake Forest
- Florida State
- North Carolina
- Virginia Tech
- Georgia Tech
Offensive Player of the Year
Sam Howell, QB North Carolina
Defensive Player of the Year
Bryan Bresee, DL Clemson
Coach of the Year
Mack Brown, North Carolina