Coach Jimbo Fisher is a man who is known to never back down from a fight. In fact, the bigger the challenge, the better for Fisher to prove his worth. In 2010, he succeeded Florida State’s coach Bobby Bowden and everyone went on and on about how he would be a failure in the team. At the end of 2013, Fisher had not only transformed the team to a strong competitive unit and College Football betting favorite, but he managed to lead the Seminoles to a flawless winning season all the way to the national championship game. More impressively, he led the Seminoles to the remarkable 2013 season with a freshman, Jameis Winston, as his quarterback.
We Ask You Fans, Can FSU Maintain ACC’s Supreme NCAA Football Odds Status?
— theScore (@theScore) June 30, 2015
Following the memorable 2013 season, which also saw Winston become the youngest Heisman winner, the pressure was on Fisher and his boys to repeat their success in 2014 and confirm that 2013 was not a fluke. And true to his hard-working nature, the coach led the Seminoles to another extraordinary run, finishing the regular season unbeaten, before they were eventually eliminated from the playoffs by the Ducks. With Winston drafted in the NFL, the doubters are already talking yet again, many of them claiming that Fisher will be crestfallen from the helm of the ACC in 2015, as Clemson, Louisville and Georgia Tech get their chance to shine.
Now, whereas I have respect for the Tigers and all the other teams being loudly touted for a big season in 2015, the honest reality is that winning in the ACC (or any conference for that matter) is not an easy feat. So before jumping to conclusions, I’d be keen to assess my options first, as we’ve done below.
Change of Guard at the Center
The Seminoles have one of the most talented quarterbacks in the conference in Everett Golson, a transfer from Notre Dame. Golson’s presence in the team should encourage ease in transition from Winston’s absence, especially because of his battle-tested vast experience of playing under pressure against quality opponents. As an example, Golson led the Fighting Irish to a BCS National Championship Game appearance in 2012 before he was suspended for the whole of the 2013 season due to academic misconduct. Upon his return in 2014, the Notre Dame graduate threw for nearly 3,500 yards while combining for a total of 37 touchdowns (29 passing and 8 rushing).
Nonetheless, Golson will need to convince Fisher and FSU’s coaching staff that he can overcome his turnover woes that condemned Notre Dame into losing five of its final six regular-season games in 2014. In total, the QB accounted for 22 turnovers last year—14 interceptions and 8 fumbles, with 4 of the picks returned for TDs and 8 of the fumbles recovered by the opposing defense.
Additionally, Golson is an inconsistent passer, where sometimes he underthrows or overthrows his receiver. Being a 6-0, 200-pounds QB, one or two bad throws are excusable. Still, based on the reality that he is player who is gifted with strong arms and great vision, there will be an urgent need for him to capitalize on his strengths, or else the Seminoles will deem him as a liability and bench him.
As a matter of fact, the starting job is not guaranteed for Golson, who will need to prove his worth, as he faces competition from Sean Maguire, a promising 6-3, 224-pound redshirt junior that served as Winston’s backup.
Rebuilding Agenda and its Potential Effect on the Conference Title
Apart from the quarterback issues, it is worth noting that the Florida State lost 11 players to the 2015 draft, meaning the team will be undergoing major changes as they seek to rebuild their depleted squad. This could easily shake up the conference and give other teams in the ACC a chance to sneak their way into contention for the conference title.
Most obvious of the top conference contenders is Clemson, a team coached by the ever-dangerous Dabo Swinney, who has led the Tigers to 10-or-more victories in his last four seasons in a row, including wins over Oklahoma, Ohio State and LSU in bowl games. The Tigers are especially looking good, considering they have an experienced quarterback in Deshaun Watson, who will be returning with ACC’s best receiving corps in Artavis Scott and Mike Williams.
Georgia Tech could have easily been in contention, but with the 14th toughest schedule in the country (going against opponents with a 93-62 record from last season), the NCAA Football odds don’t look to be in their favor to repeat as the Coastal Division champs or even contend for the conference title. With the Yellow Jackets out of the picture momentarily, the Blue Devils look to be favorites to win the Coastal Division, thankfully bragging of a soft schedule that is ranked at No. 103 in toughness (going against opponents with a combined record of 70-81 from last season). The Blue Devils also luckily avoid Florida State, Clemson and Louisville in the ACC conference schedule. For a Duke team coming off a 9-4 (5-3 ACC) season in 2014, the upcoming season should be easy as pie.
Other teams like Louisville and North Carolina also figure to make some noise in the conference, but with unreliable QBs in both teams, and a good number of challenging contests in the upcoming season, it doesn’t look like both teams will offer much juice in the odds to win the 2015 ACC title.
Who Will be the ACC Conference Champion?
All factors considered, Georgia Tech, Louisville and North Carolina will most likely perform well to reach some decent bowl games, but winning the Atlantic and Coastal divisions should be out of their reach. Meanwhile, based on the already-mentioned reasons, the Blue Devils should be the best pick to win the ACC Coastal division title.
Moving on to ACC’s Atlantic Division, there will be a strong competition between FSU and Clemson. Without any shred of doubt in my mind, I am sure the Seminoles will be good for at least 9 wins. However, because of their transition phase (and the many starters they lost to the 2015 NFL draft), I’m inclined to go with Clemson for the Atlantic Division title, as Swinney leads his team to another double-digit win season.
So in short, I expect and predict a Clemson vs. Duke matchup in the ACC title game, with the Tigers cursing to a comfortable win to take the conference title. It however remains to be seen if the Tigers will be good enough to earn a spot in the top-4 national rankings.