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Hold that Tiger, if you can

Time to dust off the ol’ Crystal Ball for the annual predictions of the 2018 Atlantic Coast Conference college football season.

Avid readers of this space will note that I picked the Florida State Seminoles to not only de-throne – or was that ‘de-fang’ the Clemson Tigers in 2017. Well, not only did Dabo Swinney’s bunch repeat as league champs, they made it back to the NCAA Final Four, where a ‘revenge-in-his-eye’ Nick Saban awaited. Needless to say, for the ‘Noles, that same Saban-coached Alabama team ended their season in the first game of the year with that second-half trouncing of the Indian uprising down in Atlanta (what a way to open the Mercedes Dome – getting scalped!). All the while the Tide ended their season where it began, with a Crimson elephant stampede to the national title.

Jimbo Fisher, the Bobby Bowden heir-apparent, has now taken leave of Tallahassee for the plains of east Texas and the A&M Aggies, but FSU remains formidable thanks to the arrival of a new coach with Sunshine State connections in Willie Taggart; fresh off one full year at Washington.

But enough reflections – and excuses – of a loser, it’s on now to the prognosticating:

I’m going to go with just the Atlantic Division this week, though things will be more competitive, if not more interesting, in the Coastal.

Hard to go against two years of hard-core tradition, not to mention preparation, so Clemson is the pick to win the whole ACC kaboodle for me this year.

Clemson could make a case for being picked No. 1 or No. 2 nationally by most sports wags this preseason; primarily because they hold such a significant edge over the rest of the Atlantic. No more needs to be said about them with what ‘Dancin’ Dabo has – they’re good … scary good.

I know they lost a lot – star running back, the nation’s top linebacker, and a few more-than-solid big boys across the O-and-D lines, but I think the big threat in the Atlantic this year will come from NC State. While some rank the Pack just outside of the top 25 due to re-building, I have them picked as a top-15 team. Ryan Finley may be the best QB in the division, and I can think of six or seven other teams in the league mix who wish they had him.

New coach Taggart should have Florida State in the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl and is the second-best threat to the Tigers in the Atlantic. Tough as it was losing Deondre Francois in the Alabama opener, I thought the loss the ‘Noles felt the most in ’17 was also in the backfield, but not the hands under center. Instead it was at running back, but this year should bring an upgrade there in swifty, shifty Cam Akers, second-best back in the conference.

Behind the ‘Noles it’s a bunched-up close call as I see Boston College as the next-best team to make a surge in the division behind State. In addition to this year’s ‘sleeper’ quarterback in E.J. Perry, the Eagles boast the top running back and pre-season ACC Player of the Year in A.J. Dillon (what’s with all these BC guys, and initials!). All Dillon did was run for 1,589 yards last season, the second-most by any freshman in ACC history.

Former Hertford County High receiver Jaquarii Roberson has finished his red-shirt year for the Deacons of Wake Forest and should see some significant playing time. However, who’ll be throwing to him is another question. Kendall Hinton’s suspended for the first three games, so Tayvon Bowers needs to grow up quickly.

This year, Louisville doesn’t have former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. They so still have one of the worst defenses in the ACC. Nonetheless, between the previous three – any of them could finish four-thru-six.

Seventh in the Coastal? Syracuse; and looky there, you 2017 Clemson-upsetter, I’m all out of time. Their position in the standings is my only lock of the season.

 

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.