There are always hundreds of potential storylines as we start every college football season. As the games are played, those storylines will shift and change. That doesn’t stop us from trying to identify what those major stories and questions will be before the season starts.
So leading up to the 2017 season, we at The Comebck are taking a look at each conference and identifying five major questions that each conference will have to look forward to as the season commences. Here are the five questions facing the ACC.
1. How will Clemson respond after winning the National Championship Game?
This is the biggest question in all of college football, not just the ACC. Clemson is losing a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, including Deshaun Watson. Dabo Swinney has proven that he has built a program that can overcome turnover and remain competitive every year, but no one knows how much the drop-off can be limited after losing 10 starters from a National Championship-winning team. Swinney has been underrated before, but it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from this team, which is why Bovada currently has the Tigers listed as 10th-most likely to win the National Championship this year.
2. Will Florida State be as good as advertised?
Florida State is on many people’s lists as a preseason Playoff favorite. There’s no surprise why, as the Seminoles return almost the entire defense from a Top 10 team last year, as well as dual-threat quarterback Deondre Francois. Florida State’s season will start off with a bang, as the Seminoles will face Alabama on opening weekend in a matchup that could very well be between the top two teams in the country in the preseason rankings. We’ll know whether or not Florida State is for real right from the beginning, so this question won’t bother us for long.
3. Is Miami finally going to take its big step forward?
It seems like this question is asked every single year. Will this finally be the year that “The U” is back? I honestly wouldn’t count on it, but Mark Richt definitely has the Hurricanes heading forward in the right direction. The Hurricanes were actually very successful last season, though they stayed well under the radar doing so. A four-game losing streak in October soured the season, but that month included close losses to good teams (except the Notre Dame loss, that one was bad). A Week 3 trip to Florida State will tell us all we need to know about Miami this year.
4. Is Duke running out of time to turn around?
David Cutcliffe has shocked the college football world with the success he has had in turning the Blue Devils program around. No one expected real success, and yet Duke won the ACC in 2013. The Blue Devils won nine games the following year, though they took a step back in 2015 — and even so, they won eight games (including a bowl game). Last year was not good for Duke, though, as the Blue Devils went 4-8, and they weren’t really competitive in some of their worst losses. With the top teams in the Coastal — like Virginia Tech and Miami — seeming to make major strides forward, are the years of Duke being able to compete for a division title over?
5. Can Syracuse be competitive this year?
Look, I know that expecting something big from Atlantic Division teams not named Clemson, Florida State, or Louisville is a big ask, but it already feels like a now-or-never situation for second-year coach Dino Babers. Syracuse returns a nation-leading 20 starters, including the entire defense. Breaking through the top teams in this top-heavy division might be an unfair ask, but if Syracuse can’t be competitive against any of those teams this year, it’s hard to see Babers doing any better with a younger and less-experienced team in the year or two following.