1. Florida State Seminoles: Redshirt sophomore Deondre Francois led all freshman in passing yards a year ago, surpassing the 3,000 yard mark. The talented junior tight end Ryan Izzo returns with three veteran o-line members returning to add protection for Francois. Dalvin Cook’s departure to the NFL the Noles will need to find a replacement to fill the role of starting running back. Junior Jacques Patrick and freshman Cam Akers will both see playing time, but Patrick will probably be number one on the depth chart given that he has most experienced between the two. The defense had their ups and downs last season, but still managed to hold teams to 23.5 points per game. Most of the returning starters for the Florida State defense is in the front seven. Sophomore Brian Burns had an outstanding freshman year totaling 9.5 sacks. Joining Burns on the line will be senior tackle Derrick Nnada (49 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss) and junior end Josh Sweat. Linebackers Matthew Thomas (77 tackles, 11 tackles for loss) and Ro’Derrick Hoskins will return to the front seven. Junior cornerback Tarvarus McFadden tied for the nations lead in interceptions (eight) last year and will most likely be the anchor for the Seminole secondary. Florida State starts the season with a week one showdown against Alabama, Sept. 2, then open up ACC play two weeks later against Miami. Jimbo Fisher’s team has all the hype and living up to will be a challenge that Florida State is ready for.
2. Louisville Cardinals: Louisville returns the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson at quarterback in 2017. Jackson put up video game like numbers last year, totaling 51 touchdowns (30 passing, 21 rushing) and passing for 3,543 yards and tact on another 1,571 yards rushing. The Cardinals lose their top tailback, its two leading receivers and a very talented Cole Hikutini at tight end. Three offensive line members also depart a unit that gave up 47 sacks last year, which includes a staggering 22 sacks given up in the last three games. The defense looks to remain one of the best in the ACC, with nine returning starters. Louisville returns all four members of its secondary, which is considered one of the best in the nation. Junior cornerback made a name for himself a year ago picking off opponents five times. Six-foot-five inch senior, Drew Bailey returns to the line after making 58 tackles last year. Louisville needs to give up fewer sacks in 2017 if they want to win 10 or more games this year, which is a feat they have yet to accomplish since joining the the ACC.
3. Clemson Tigers: Defense will be the strong point for the Tigers this year, returning seven out of 11 starters from last years National Championship team. Sophomore tackle Dexter Lawrence racked up 76 tackles and seven sacks in a very impressive freshman campaign. End Clelin Ferrell and tackle Christian Wilkins will team up with Lawrence on the d-line to cause some mayhem for opposing offensive linemen. Third year offensive coordinators Tony Elliot and Jeff Scott will need to find a replacement for one of the best quarterbacks in Clemson history; Deshaun Watson, 1,000 yard rusher Wayne Gallman, 1,000 yard receiver Mike Williams, and slot receiver Artavias Scott and tight end Jordan Leggett. The good news is that four of the five starting offensive lineman from last years unit return to give protection for Kelly Bryant, who will likely be the replacement for Watson. With uncertainty at the quarterback position and replacements needed in other skill positions on offense, Clemson sits at number three in the Atlantic for now, but a top two finish wouldn’t be surprising or unexpected.
4. N.C. State Wolfpack: NCSU returns 11 senior starters this year. Eight are returning to a Wolfpack defense that ranked eighth nationally in defending the run and 24th in total yards allowed. With 22 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks (both team highs) defensive end Bradley Chubb, linebackers Jerod Fernandez (88 tackles) and Airius Moore (88 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss) all return with intentions on making an impact for the Wolfpack. N.C. State played close games against Florida State ( 24-20 loss) and Clemson (overtime loss) which shows that the Wolfpack can hang close against the tougher teams, but the offense will still need to make small adjustments if they want to beat Clemson, Florida State, and Louisville, which they have not done (0-11) since Dave Doeren took over as the head coach. NCSU has four returning starters on the line this year for, Ryan Finley who threw for 3,059 yards and 18 touchdowns. Fullback/tight end Jaylen Samuels looks to be a duel threat player the Wolfpack after he caught seven touchdown passes and six rushing touchdowns. Fourth place is a good spot for N.C. State, but they could be a sleeper to make it in the top three, but is unlikely due to the high level of play of Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville.
5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Dave Clawson is heading into his fourth year as the head man at Wake Forest and is hoping to build upon a year where the Demon Deacons made a bowl game appearance for the first time since 2011. Wake Forest needs major improvements on the offense as they ranked 118th in scoring and 124th in total offense. Junior Kendell Hinton was the week one starter last year before a knee injury sidelined him for the last 10 games of the season. Hinton looks to be the starting quarterback again this year, but senior John Wolford might get a look or two as well. Much of the receiving corps returns as well as tailbacks Matt Colburn and Cade Carney. Wake Forest has a very capable defense with Jessie Bates returning to the secondary. Bates had a monster freshman year in which he compiled 100 tackles and five interceptions. Senior defensive end Duke Ejiofor had 17 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks a year ago and will anchor the Demon Deacon front seven. If Wake Forest wants to return to a bowl game, the offense needs to find more ways to put points on the board.
6. Boston College Eagles: Boston College is a team that relies heavily on its defense. The Eagles defense ranked sixth nationally against the run and beside the blow out loses to Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Louisville, BC held the other nine opponents to just 13.7 points per game. Defensive end Harold Landry returns for his senior season after having 22 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks. Linebacker Connor Strachan also returns for his senior season after leading the Eagles with 80 tackles a year ago. The Eagle offense never put more than 21 points on the scoreboard against ACC opponents and ranked 127th nationally in total offense. Junior Darius Wade comes back to lead Boston College’s offense in his second full season as the starting quarterback. Wade will have the top two running backs from last years squad along side him and four experienced receivers returning. Boston College is now where near being one of the top teams in ACC, but returning to another bowl game this season is likely.
7. Syracuse Orange: Syracuse returns 19 starters from last years team. Syracuse had an exciting offense to watch a year ago, including a 76-61 shootout loss to Pitt. Eric Dungey returns as the starting quarterback after averaging 300 yards passing per game. With eight other returning starters on offense, the Orange doesn’t look like they will show any signs of slowing down and will surely pick up its scoring ways in week one against Central Connecticut State. The defense however, is different story. Ranking 108th agains the run, 118th against the pass, 120th in points allowed, and 122nd in total yards given up. The upside for the defense is that 10 starters return which will give much needed experience. Syracuse does not have the talent on their roster to win against top ACC teams, but the teams like Boston College, Wake Forest, and N.C. State could be the only conference wins this year for the Orange which could help them make a bowl game for the first time since 2013.