No holding (back) these Tigers

Published 6:33 pm Friday, August 16, 2019

From ‘Dancin’ Dabo’ to ‘Return of the Mack’, Trevor Lawrence’s Heisman acceptance speech to maybe Miami is ready to return to college football glory, NC State’s new quarterback to Syracuse as a (yes!) football power: it’s time for me to step out on a limb and assess the upcoming Atlantic Coast Conference football season, with or without the ACC Network to worry about.

Five. That’s how many more ACC titles Swinney’s Clemson teams need to win to tie Bobby Bowden’s record of nine straight conference championships. The Tigers have four straight and two national titles to go with it, and they’re an overwhelming favorite yet again as they contend for a third national crown in four seasons.

Other than the Syracuse game in Death Valley – where Lawrence left with an injury – Clemson blew everybody else out in the ACC by an average margin of 40.1 points, then beat Pittsburgh 42-10 in the league title game before humbling Notre Dame and vaunted Alabama en route to becoming college football’s first 15-0 team since the 1800s.

Spoiler alert: it’s the Tigers and the Tide again.

“Truly, we don’t carry everything over,” Swinney said, during football Media Days, adding: “It’s always about what’s next. You’ve got to show up every year with something to prove.”

As for Lawrence, he’s my Heisman front-runner. Sorry, Bama’s Tua Tagovailoa, but “Sunshine Barnes” (from ‘Remember the Titans’, remember) just flat-out outplayed you in the game where it counted.

If there’s a runner-up in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, it’s the ‘Cuse. Syracuse won 10 games in coach Dino Babers third year and offer an immediate challenge by hosting the Tigers in the Carrier Dome Sept. 14. You remember, that place where the Orange upset the ‘Orange’ two years ago.

On the other side, the Coastal Division could have its seventh different champ in seven years. The only team not to win it yet is the preseason favorite: Virginia Cavaliers, who return nine defensive starters from an eight-win team. There’s some orange carrot color in their school’s scheme as well; so, look for more Orange-vs-Orange in Charlotte in December at the ACC Championship.

Of the league’s four new coaches, three in the Coastal Division, Scott Satterfield at Louisville, Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech, and Mack Brown at UNC, Manny Diaz at Miami is my early pick for Coach of the Year. I’ll know how close I am early, too, since the Hurricanes open the season at Florida; a Gator blowout, and you’ll find me hiding under my desk the rest of the season. Much as I’m wishing Brown success in Chapel Hill for obvious selfish reasons, he is inheriting a program that lost 21 of 27 games since November 2016.

Justin Fuente came in as a hyped-up savior for Virginia Tech. Instead, the 2018 Hokies finished 6-7 in his third year for their first losing record since former coach Frank Beamer’s fifth season out of a 30-year career in Blacksburg. Despite 16 returning starters, Fuente may not be around after December if things don’t improve.

Florida State went just 5-7 in their first year under Willie Taggart and failed to earn a bowl trip for the first time since 1981. The good news for Seminole fans is the 15 starters returning on offense and defense, and a beefed-up offensive line. But if Taggart can’t meld it all together – to paraphrase 60’s singer Bill Withers, “Ain’t no Sunshine (State) when he’s gone.”

Russell Wilson, Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Finley. What do they all have in common: not keeping NC State coach Dave Doeren up at night wondering who’ll be his starting quarterback. These incumbents over the last seven years allowed him to sleep like a baby except before game nights. Now, it’s between Matt McKay, Devin Leary, and ex-Seminole Bailey Hockman.

Doeren should be sleeping well again soon. That’s because the play of one of those three in pre-season practice will make the decision for him.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.