The following is my ballot projecting the Atlantic Division standings and ACC Player of the Year as submitted at the ACC Football Kickoff event earlier this week. As is usually the case at this point in the summer, I haven't had a chance to win-share everything yet, so this was a bit of a preliminary exercise for me; I may tweak these a bit before the season.
1. Florida State (last year’s preseason projection: 1)
2. Clemson (2)
3. Louisville (3)
4. NC State (6)
5. Boston College (4)
6. Syracuse (5)
7. Wake Forest (7)
Preseason ACC POY: Deshaun Watson
There’s nothing especially noteworthy about my Atlantic division projections other than that I still have Florida State winning the division over the more trendy pick of Clemson for this season. I do think this is the year to get FSU if anyone is going to do it, but as in 2013, I think the Seminoles have the edge over the Tigers on the lines, which is always the first place to start when projecting a season.
Clemson has to replace a staggering six of their top seven defensive linemen, their top two linebackers, and a starting safety and cornerback from what was arguably the nation’s best defense in 2014, and I just think those losses are too substantial to expect the Tigers not to take a significant step back on that side of the ball in 2015. (The fact that FSU somehow managed to beat Clemson with all those players and without Jameis Winston on the field in 2014 is another factor in my decision.)
That said, I still would have projected Clemson over FSU had the Seminoles not gotten Everett Golson as a transfer from Notre Dame. But with Golson (who I like quite a lot) in Tallahassee, I think FSU’s quarterback play will be good enough to win the conference once again.
Louisville is a very intriguing team in 2015. Bobby Petrino’s presence will keep the offense competitive, and the Cards will have one of the nation’s best defensive fronts, particularly with the pass rushing help provided by former Big 12 Defensive POY Devonte Fields at outside linebacker. I still think UL finishes third, but they will have a say in who wins the division, and it wouldn’t be a surprise for them to wind up second.
NC State is another interesting team that should be significantly better than last season. The Wolfpack should be solid on both lines and will have one of the conference’s best running games to aid QB Jacoby Brissett. Again, it wouldn’t surprise me to see NC State get a win against one of the three teams projected above them; FSU is fortunate to draw the Pack in Tallahassee this season.
Boston College will be a tough out for everyone as long as Steve Addazio is there, and FSU has the bad fortune of playing the Eagles in Boston on a Friday night in BC’s first game against a Power 5 opponent, meaning Addazio will have lots of new wrinkles in place, forcing the Seminoles’ coaching staff to scramble to catch up in the first half. But the Eagles are one of the nation’s youngest teams and will have to fight and claw for bowl eligibility this season. One thing to watch: quarterback Darius Wade is the best passer they’ve had under Addazio, so the Eagles will challenge teams more downfield than they have in years. This year will be a battle for BC, but they’re going to be a pretty good group in 2016 and especially 2017.
Syracuse and Wake Forest will likely be winless against the rest of the conference, with the result of their game to determine who finishes last in the Atlantic.
I think a strong argument can be made that Deshaun Watson is the best offensive player in the country. If he stays healthy, he should put up eye-popping, Heisman-worthy numbers in 2015. He’s my projected ACC Player of the Year, taking that honor over FSU’s Jalen Ramsey, the conference’s best defensive player.