The ACC hasn’t presented much of a challenge for Clemson in recent years. The last time they even lost a conference game was back in 2017, and even then they were missing their starting quarterback. Over the past four seasons, the Tigers have dropped just two conference games combined.
It is thought that the ACC could be much improved this season from what it was in 2019. Fact is, outside of Clemson, it can’t be much worse. With North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and Miami all being legitimate threats to be Top-25 teams, it is conceivable that the league takes a big step forward.
The ACC Coastal has been a convoluted mess more often than not over the years, and is where the league needs to see some improvement. Over the past seven seasons, seven different teams have won that side of the conference, so at least there is some parity.
It is expected that the Coastal will be improved in 2020, but how that plays out is yet to bee seen. College football guru Phil Steele appeared on The Packer and Durham Show on the ACC Network on Tuesday and agreed that side of the division should be better this season.
“The ACC is a much improved conference this year and you’ve got four legitimate teams (in the Coastal),” Steele said. “I feel a little unsure leaving Virginia out of it, but the four teams I think are the top contenders are North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech and Pitt. I could make a case for any of them. Pitt’s got a plethora of guys who played coming back, turning down the NFL. Virginia Tech is a much more experienced team than last year. I love their special teams. I was concerned about Bud Foster leaving, but Justin Hamilton has 10 starters back.”
“Miami, I love what they brought in. D’Eriq King from Houston. That was the one problem last season. Quarterback. Defensively, they have the American Conference’s defensive player of the year to go along with (Gregory) Rousseau on a team that underachieved last year. And then there’s North Carolina, No. 30 on my experience list. Mack Brown is doing a tremendous job. I went with North Carolina winning it with Sam Howell and great running backs.”
While Steele envisions an improved ACC, he maintains that the gap between Clemson and the rest of the league is wide. There may be a few teams that have closed the gap a little, but none are quite ready to take on the Tigers for ACC supremacy.
In the Atlantic, there is Louisville and Florida State. However, neither are realistically ready to dethrone the Tigers.
“Clemson clearly to me is the best team in the ACC,” Steele said. “I don’t think the gap is as big as it was last year. Last year, it was Clemson and everybody else. This year, you’ve got some good teams in the ACC. Some Top-20 teams and I think it might be a little bit more difficult of a path than last year. It is a loaded team and they deserve to be the clear-cut favorite to get back to the playoff.”
“Once you get Dabo in the playoffs, I mean they rarely lose a playoff game,” Steele said. “So it’s one of those things where getting there is a big part of the battle. With Clemson last year, I said in the preseason I felt Clemson would be at least a two-touchdown favorite in every (regular-season) game last year and they were. The closest game last year was 16.5-point favorite. This year, they will have one game where it isn’t a double-digit favorite, and that’s at Notre Dame on November the 7th. That one’s a little on the tricky side.