Projecting 2016 Win-Loss Records for Every ACC Football Team

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2016

Projecting 2016 Win-Loss Records for Every ACC Football Team

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    Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson will be one of the nation's best players in 2016.
    Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson will be one of the nation's best players in 2016.Associated Press

    It’s hard to believe, but spring football is already entering its final stages around the ACC. Syracuse has already wrapped up its first spring under Dino Babers. On Saturday, Clemson, Duke, Florida State and Wake Forest will put their best faces on for spring football games, with games stretching through April 23 when Georgia Tech, Virginia and Virginia Tech host games of their own.

    In other words, we’ll soon pass another milepost on the road to the 2016 college football season opener. Real, meaningful games are less than five months away, and the ACC is plenty excited. Over the last three seasons, the league has gained plenty of national respect. Florida State won the final BCS National Championship and made the College Football Playoff in the following season, and Clemson followed suit by beginning the 2015 season 14-0 before falling to Alabama in the national title game.

    With new coaches Mark Richt (Miami), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia) and Babers in the league, ACC officials have reason to believe their conference will take another step forward in the near future, with the hopes of another power emerging to join the Seminoles and Tigers. Will it happen this fall?

    Let’s take a look. We’re predicting the win-loss records of every ACC team, considering factors such as returning talent, schedule and recent track record.

Boston College

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    Steve Addazio needs more "dudes" on both sides of the ball for Boston College to compete.
    Steve Addazio needs more "dudes" on both sides of the ball for Boston College to compete.Nick Lisi/Associated Press

    Boston College featured one of the nation’s strangest profiles last season. The Eagles had a stingy defense, allowing 15.3 points per game, No. 4 nationally. But they also had one of the nation’s most impotent offenses, scoring just 17.2 points per game, No. 120 nationally.

    Coach Steve Addazio has new coordinators on both sides of the ball after defensive coordinator Don Brown was poached by Michigan and Todd Fitch was fired as offensive coordinator. Is Scot Loeffler the answer at offensive coordinator? Not likely, if previous stints at Auburn and Virginia Tech are any indication.

    The Eagles return 15 starters but badly need an answer at quarterback, whether it’s Kentucky transfer Patrick Towles or Darius Wade. Even then, it might not matter much against an improved ACC.

    Projected record: 3-9

Clemson

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    Clemson and Dabo Swinney want to take the final step toward a national title in 2016.
    Clemson and Dabo Swinney want to take the final step toward a national title in 2016.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Clemson finally broke through in 2015. The Tigers had developed a tradition of excellence under Dabo Swinney, authoring a four-year streak of 10-win seasons that included bowl wins over LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma. Last fall, Swinney’s program took the next step. Clemson defeated Atlantic Division nemesis Florida State, won its first ACC title since 2011 and was No. 1 nationally from the first College Football Playoff Top 25 poll into the national title game against Alabama.

    The Tigers fell just short against the Crimson Tide, but Swinney and Co. have reason to believe they weren’t a fluke. Can they take the next step this season? Clemson returns 11 starters but only three on defense following six NFL draft departures, led by cornerback Mackensie Alexander and defensive ends Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson.

    Clemson does return a strong Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Deshaun Watson, the first FBS player to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season, and a talented offense including tailback Wayne Gallman, wideout Artavis Scott and tight end Jordan Leggett, the leading candidate to win the John Mackey Trophy as the nation’s top tight end.

    The schedule has tough spots but is manageable. The opener at Auburn is winnable, although going to Florida State on Oct. 29 (where Clemson hasn’t won since 2006) will be a tough task. Worth noting: Clemson hasn’t won at Georgia Tech since 2003. The Tigers travel to the Flats for a Thursday night tilt Sept. 22.

    Projected record: 11-1

Duke

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    Duke and David Cutcliffe could be in for a downturn this fall.
    Duke and David Cutcliffe could be in for a downturn this fall.Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    David Cutcliffe has done an excellent job with Duke. He took over one of the nation’s most consistently moribund programs and has turned the Blue Devils into a consistent winner. Duke has made four consecutive bowls and compiled a 27-13 record over the last three seasons.

    Making a fifth consecutive postseason appearance, however, could be a challenge. Duke returns 14 starters, but starting quarterback Thomas Sirk suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon earlier this spring, putting his 2016 season in doubt. Sirk was also Duke’s leading rusher with 803 yards and eight touchdowns, so if he can’t play this fall, it’s a serious blow to the offense.

    Duke avoids Clemson and Florida State from the ACC Atlantic schedule rotation but must travel to Northwestern and Notre Dame in September and Pitt and Miami to close the season (getting Virginia Tech and North Carolina at home in Durham before that).

    Unless backup QB Parker Boehme proves himself, this could be a now-rare down season in Durham.

    Projected record: 5-7

Florida State

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    Dalvin Cook will be one of the nation's most explosive tailbacks this fall.
    Dalvin Cook will be one of the nation's most explosive tailbacks this fall.Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    By Florida State and Jimbo Fisher’s high standards, 2015 was a subpar season. A raft of NFL draft departures finally caught up with the Seminoles, who “slipped” to 10-3 and ended the season with a Peach Bowl loss to Houston.

    2016 figures to be different (and better) for FSU. The Seminoles return 17 starters, including all 11 on offense, and have one of the nation’s best tailbacks returning in junior Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns while battling through leg injuries last fall.

    FSU also added a strong recruiting class to an already good core. One big question is at quarterback, where senior Sean Maguire missed spring while recovering from ankle surgery. Freshman Deondre Francois could challenge for the starting role this summer.

    The season opener is a not-quite-neutral site matchup with Ole Miss in Orlando, which could be challenging for a defense that is trying to replace potential top overall NFL pick Jalen Ramsey in the secondary. FSU travels to Louisville for the ACC opener but does host North Carolina and Clemson at home. If you didn’t get your shots in on FSU last fall, you might have already missed your opportunity.

    Projected record: 11-1

Georgia Tech

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    Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech didn't have an enjoyable 2015 season.
    Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech didn't have an enjoyable 2015 season.Brett Davis/Associated Press

    2015 was not a fun season for Paul Johnson. The Yellow Jackets slipped from 11-3 and ACC Coastal Division champs to 3-9 after losing the offensive corps that surrounded quarterback Justin Thomas in the flexbone offense. Thomas slipped, too. In 2014, he threw for 1,719 yards with 18 touchdowns against six interceptions and rushed for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Last fall? He threw for 1,345 yards with 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions, completing just 41.7 percent of his passes. His rushing stats were down sharply as well; Thomas rushed for 488 yards and six scores, averaging just 3.4 yards per attempt.

    Now, Thomas is a senior, and the skill players from 2015 are a year older too. Leading rusher Marcus Marshall (654 yards, four touchdowns) returns, as does top receiver Ricky Jeune (24 receptions, 420 yards, four scores).

    The Jackets must travel to North Carolina and Virginia Tech but get Clemson and Miami at home. A season-ending trip to Georgia could spell the difference between a bowl and another December at home in Atlanta.

    Projected record: 6-6

Louisville

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    Lamar Jackson is an emerging talent in Louisville's offense.
    Lamar Jackson is an emerging talent in Louisville's offense.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    How is Bobby Petrino’s second stint at Louisville going? Not bad. In two seasons in a much tougher conference (the ACC) than Conference USA or the Big East, where he spent his first four years as the Cardinals’ head coach, Petrino is 17-9.

    Should Louisville fans be excited? Yes. Petrino returns 18 starters from a team that overcame a 0-3 start to finish 8-5, with the only losses at Pitt and Florida State. If multitalented quarterback Lamar Jackson (the team’s returning leading rusher with 960 yards) can take another leap forward, this group could throw a scare into Clemson and Florida State in the ACC Atlantic.

    A three-game stretch beginning Sept. 17 will be telling: Louisville hosts Florida State, travels to Marshall and visits Clemson. Any hopes of winning the ACC will likely begin or end by Oct. 1.

    Projected record: 9-3

Miami

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    Mark Richt inherits one of the ACC's best quarterbacks in Brad Kaaya.
    Mark Richt inherits one of the ACC's best quarterbacks in Brad Kaaya.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    2016 is all about second chances and a fresh start in Miami. The Al Golden era is, mercifully, over, and former Miami quarterback and south Florida native Mark Richt is in charge. He was fired after 15 seasons at Georgia, but Miami was an excellent landing spot.

    He’ll inherit 16 starters, led by junior quarterback Brad Kaaya, one of the ACC’s top returning passers with a very good arm. Kaaya should only improve under Richt’s guidance. Miami has an oddly placed trip to Appalachian State Sept. 17, followed by an off week and a trip to Georgia Tech, a home date with Florida State, a visit from North Carolina and trips to Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.

    That’s a heck of a six-game stretch, and if Miami emerges successful, Richt will have an ACC Coastal title contender on his hands. But more likely, his first year will be one of adjustment and building Miami’s talent level.

    Projected record: 8-4

N.C. State

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    Can Dave Doeren move N.C. State forward in his fourth season in Raleigh?
    Can Dave Doeren move N.C. State forward in his fourth season in Raleigh?Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    2015 was a solid but not spectacular year for N.C. State and Dave Doeren. The Wolfpack made a second consecutive bowl game but slipped from 8-5 to 7-6 and lost the Belk Bowl to Mississippi State. Making progress in the Atlantic Division with Clemson, Florida State and Louisville also in the mix is tough, too, even with 15 starters returning.

    The Wolfpack must find a replacement for talented mobile quarterback Jacoby Brissett, and that won’t be easy. Other than a home game against Notre Dame, the nonconference schedule is soft and should guarantee at least three wins.

    Florida State visits Raleigh, although State must travel to Clemson, Louisville and North Carolina, with Miami also rotating onto the schedule. A third consecutive bowl trip looks likely, but it won’t be a high-level bowl.

    Projected record: 6-6

North Carolina

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    Can Mitch Trubisky keep North Carolina's potent offense humming?
    Can Mitch Trubisky keep North Carolina's potent offense humming?Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    2015 was a special year for North Carolina. Larry Fedora entered the season feeling some heat following a 6-7 2014 season, but a potent offense and a much-improved defense fueled an 11-game win streak, an ACC Coastal Division title and an 11-3 overall record. Tar Heel fans would love to see the next step toward a College Football Playoff berth, and 14 starters do return.

    An offense that averaged 40.7 points per game, No. 9 nationally, must adjust to the graduation of quarterback Marquise Williams, although likely new starter Mitch Trubisky has some potent weapons in receiver/returner Ryan Switzer and running back Elijah Hood.

    The Tar Heels must travel to Florida State and Miami, and a Georgia Dome opener against Georgia will also be tough, especially if tailback Nick Chubb has returned from knee surgery that prematurely ended his 2015 season. Virginia Tech and Pitt come to Chapel Hill as well.

    Projected record: 9-3

Pittsburgh

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    James Conner's return to Pitt's roster this fall would be an inspirational story.
    James Conner's return to Pitt's roster this fall would be an inspirational story.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    All things considered, Pat Narduzzi’s first season at Pitt went pretty well. The Panthers lost powerful tailback and reigning ACC Player of the Year James Conner to torn knee ligaments in the opener, and he was later diagnosed with lymphoma. Conner is undergoing chemotherapy but is also participating in spring drills and hopes to return this fall, per Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    If Conner is able to return, he’ll join a solid core that returns 14 starters, including tailback Qadree Ollison, who rushed for 1,421 yards and 11 touchdowns. Pitt must find a replacement for top receiver Tyler Boyd, who had 91 receptions for 926 yards, but quarterback Nathan Peterman is a solid starter.

    An early-season stretch that features a much-anticipated rivalry visit from Penn State, followed by back-to-back trips to Oklahoma State and North Carolina, will be challenging. So will November roadies to Miami and Clemson. But this is a team that has the potential to win the ACC Coastal with a little luck.

    Projected record: 8-4

Syracuse

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    Dino Babers will have Syracuse moving fast this fall.
    Dino Babers will have Syracuse moving fast this fall.Nick Lisi/Associated Press

    Three seasons of Scott Shafer was more than enough for Syracuse officials. The Orange failed to progress following Shafer’s seven-win debut, and seven wins in the next two seasons led to his ouster.

    Syracuse hopes the uptempo style of Dino Babers can spark a turnaround in a difficult division. The Orange does return 18 starters from a year ago, and the fast pace is a big departure from Shafer’s stodgy system.

    Per Stephen Bailey of Syracuse.com, the Orange ran 155 plays in a one-hour, 40-minute spring game, and that was just the beginning. "I thought the tempo of the offense was OK," Babers said. "We'll never be that slow again."

    The learning curve will have to be, in a word, quick for the Orange to make any noise in the ACC Atlantic. Nonconference games against returning bowl teams UConn and Notre Dame will be challenging. Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech visit the Carrier Dome, and a trip to Clemson looks daunting. A bowl doesn’t appear to be in the cards. Maybe matching 2015’s win total would be a good goal.

    Projected record: 4-8

Wake Forest

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    Dave Clawson is still rebuilding in Year 3 at Wake Forest.
    Dave Clawson is still rebuilding in Year 3 at Wake Forest.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Let’s be honest. Jim Grobe didn’t leave Dave Clawson a lot to work with at Wake Forest. Grobe won the 2006 ACC title with the Demon Deacons, but by the time he left two years ago, Wake’s roster was less than competitive. Wake officials have been patient with Clawson, and they should be, even though the Deacons are 6-18 in his first two seasons.

    How much progress should we expect in Year 3 of the Clawson Era? Well, Wake does return 17 starters, but that might not be such a good thing, given that the offense was one of the nation’s worst in 2015, averaging 17.4 points per game, No. 119 nationally. Quarterback John Wolford threw nine touchdowns against 11 interceptions last fall and is being pushed for his job by Kendall Hinton.

    Wake hosts Clemson and must travel to Florida State and Louisville. A nonconference schedule that includes Army, Delaware and Tulane will build confidence, although it’s hard to pick out too many more ACC wins. Let’s hope the matchup with Boston College is better than 2015’ 3-0 snoozefest.

    Projected record: 4-8

Virginia Tech

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    Will Brenden Motley be able to grab Virginia Tech's quarterback role this fall?
    Will Brenden Motley be able to grab Virginia Tech's quarterback role this fall?Joe Skipper/Associated Press

    All good things must come to an end, and it was time for the Frank Beamer era to end at Virginia Tech. He is an iconic figure in Blacksburg and turned the Hokies into a national force, but after eight consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins were followed by four seasons with either seven or eight wins, it was the appropriate time for Beamer to step aside.

    His replacement, Justin Fuente, should be an excellent fit. He will bring an uptempo offense to Lane Stadium, and he’ll pick between JUCO transfer Jerod Evans, sophomore Dwayne Lawson and senior Brenden Motley, the most experienced of the trio, at quarterback.

    Wide receiver Isaiah Ford rolled up 1,164 yards last fall, and tailback Travon McMillian rushed for 1,042 as a freshman. Bucky Hodges and Cam Phillips are also attractive options for the new starting quarterback, whoever he is.  The defense must replace five starters, but Bud Foster is one of the nation’s top coordinators on either side of the ball.

    Virginia Tech has a potentially epic nonconference game against Tennessee Sept. 10 at Bristol Motor Speedway before what is expected to be the biggest crowd in college football history. Trips to North Carolina and Notre Dame will also be tough. But if a quarterback emerges and picks up Fuente’s offense, this team could surprise.

    Projected record: 7-5

Virginia

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    Bronco Mendenhall was an impressive hire for Virginia.
    Bronco Mendenhall was an impressive hire for Virginia.Steve Helber/Associated Press

    It was time for a change at Virginia. Following an 8-5 season in 2011, Mike London never got it going at Virginia, with four consecutive losing seasons. The Cavaliers and London parted ways following 2015, and he left with a 27-46 record. That said, prying Bronco Mendenhall away from BYU was a real coup.

    Mendenhall was a consistent winner with the Cougars, and he can be one in Charlottesville, too; it just might take a little time. The Cavaliers will return 12 starters, and their offense will need to be more efficient, particularly quarterback Matt Johns (who threw 20 touchdowns against 17 interceptions in 2015). Middle linebacker Micah Kiser and safety Quin Blanding are two of the ACC’s best defenders, but they can’t do it all.

    September features road trips to Oregon (yikes!) and UConn, and the season closes with trips to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Improvement will come with this group, but it might not happen quickly.

    Projected record: 3-9

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