Pack Pride's Preseason ACC Ballot: Atlantic

Here is an in-depth look at our preseason ACC ballot for the Atlantic Division and the reasons behind our picks. We have submitted our ballot to the ACC office.

Here is an in-depth look at our preseason ACC ballot for the Atlantic Division and the reasons behind our picks. We have submitted our ballot to the ACC office.



1. Florida State

Florida State adding Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson has locked them in as the favorites in the Atlantic, despite the massive roster losses. Jimbo Fisher and his staff continue to stockpile star-studded recruiting classes, and they've now won three straight ACC titles.

With that being said, there is some concern.

First of all, will Golson be able to adjust to the new system and program after leaving the Irish? Last year he was a turnover machine, and it ultimately led to him losing the starting job. Will that continue?

Star tailback Dalvin Cook is facing a serious legal issue that could sideline him for a lengthy period of time (he could eventually be off the team), and the Noles must also replace four offensive line starters, stud tight end Nick O'Leary, and star wideout Rashad Greene.

Defensively, they must find a pass rush. Florida State ranked last in the ACC—and 108th nationally—with 17 sacks, despite playing more games than most FBS teams, and that was with star linemen Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards. They are gone. However, they are loaded in the back seven with linebackers Terrance Smith and Reggie Northrup and defensive backs Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews leading the way.

Simply put, Florida State has the talent in place to be the preseason pick to win the division.

Scheduling Note: The Noles play at Clemson and at Georgia Tech, and they also host Miami and NC State.

2. Clemson

If there was more faith in quarterback Deshaun Watson staying healthy, Clemson would be picked to win the division, but there's not.

He's had three major injuries in just over a year since enrolling at Clemson... including an ACL tear he suffered late in the 2014 season. Watson was terrific last year, but the sample size was small. He played just five full games under center for the Tigers, and back-up Cole Stoudt is no longer there if Waston goes down.

Also, the program must replace offensive coordinator Chad Morris, and the offensive line is a concern. But, wideouts Mike Williams and Artavis Scott might be the best pair in the ACC.

Defensively, the losses are evident. Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, and Stephone Anthony are in the NFL, and eight starters have left, including the entire defensive line. Clemson's recruited well, but early on that lack of experience could be an issue.

Regardless, the Tigers have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, and Watson is a potential star.

Scheduling Note: The Tigers play at Miami and host Georgia Tech while hosting Florida State and traveling to NC State. It's not an easy slate for Clemson.

The early test is three weeks into the season... a road game at Louisville.

3. NC State

If NC State's going to make a run in the Atlantic Division, this is the setup that favors the Wolfpack. Florida State and Clemson are dealing with roster losses, and the Wolfpack returns plenty of experience with a manageable schedule.

Senior quarterback Jacoby Brissett is the catalyst. He is one of the ACC’s premier all-around quarterbacks and has plenty of tools, from his size and his athleticism to his approach to the game.

NC State's one-two punch at tailback in Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes is as good as any in the conference, and tight ends David Grinnage and Jaylen Samuels are matchup problems for defenses. The major question offensively will be if a go-to guy can emerge at wide receiver. That's going to be the key for NC State's season. If a couple of wideouts breakout... look out.

Defensively, the Wolfpack should be solid. The interior trio of Monty Nelson, B.J. Hill, and Kentavius Street is stout, and defensive ends Mike Rose and Pharaoh McKever are playmakers. Sophomore linebackers Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore flashed as freshmen, and the secondary returns all four starters.

It's worth noting the Wolfpack must replace the starting punter, kicker, and snapper from last season. That's always a concern.

Scheduling Note: NC State has a nasty Friday night matchup with Virginia Tech, but overall the schedule is manageable. Road games with Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, BC, and Florida State... home matchups against North Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse, and Clemson.

4. Louisville

A lot like with Florida State and Clemson, there's been turnover in Louisville.

The Cardinals had 10 players drafted this season, but they still have plenty of talent, mainly due to the additions they've made via transfers. Devonte Fields, Shaq Wiggins, and Josh Harvey-Clemons have had success elsewhere and are projected to be major contributors.

Offensively they return three quarterbacks who started games last season, but who will be the guy? There is no established starter at this point, and that's a problem. They also must replace star wideout Devante Parker, and truth be told they didn't get going on that side of the ball last season until he returned from a foot injury midway through the year.

Louisville has a lot of positives but some negatives heading into the season. Why are they below NC State? The uncertainty at quarterback.

Scheduling Note: They open the season with Auburn, Houston, and Clemson, and that's not going to be easy. The Cards also have road games at NC State and Florida State.

5. Boston College

The quarterback is expected to be sophomore Darius Wade, and the offensive line must replace five starters. The wideouts are unknowns, but sophomore tailback Jon Hilliman is back to lead the ground game. Look for BC to run, run, and run some more in 2015 even with the OL changes. They've established that identity.

Defensively, there has been some turnover, but All-ACC nose tackle Connor Wujciak returns to lead a rush defense that was one of the best in the country. Teams can attack their secondary, but defensive coordinator Don Brown makes it tough for opposing quarterbacks to settle in, providing some relief.

Boston College could be picked lower, but Steve Addazio has proven he and his staff can produce in two seasons at the school.

Scheduling Note: There is a nasty stretch in the middle with Boston College going on the road three times in four weeks at Duke, Clemson and Louisville.

6. Syracuse

Last year the Orange battled injury after injury, slumping to a 3-9 record in Scott Schafer's second season.

They get back starting quarterback Terrel Hunt, who missed the final seven games with a broken leg, and even though he's not a proven commodity he's certainly Syracuse's best option at the position. The problem is there are few established playmakers at wideout or tailback, and multiple starters graduated up front.

Defensively Syracuse had some success last year, but they must replace eight starters, and that's never easy.

It's rebuilding time in Syracuse, New York.

Scheduling Note: Going to Florida State, Louisville and NC State in a four-week span won’t be easy, especially considering the home game is against Clemson.

7. Wake Forest

Wake Forest won three games last year, and that's probably a couple more than was expected entering Dave Clawson's first season at the helm. Now the rebuilding continues, and it won't be easy.

The Deacons were home to one of the nation’s weakest offenses a year ago, due in large part to inexperience and an inability to keep opposing defenders out of the backfield. And while youth will continue to be served, QB John Wolford is no longer a rookie, and line play should be slightly improved.

Defensively seven starters return and that's a major positive because it was clearly the strength of the team in 2014.

Don't be shocked to see the Deacons climb past Syracuse and/or Boston College if the offense can surprise because the defense will be be solid.

Scheduling Note: Wake Forest heads to Syracuse in September and travel to Boston College and North Carolina before home dates with NC State and Louisville.

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