The college football season has technically started, but the ACC schedule officially kicks off this weekend with a handful of the top teams in the conference playing marquee games against SEC foes.
For the morning people, there’s Boston College-Georgia Tech in Ireland at 7:30 a.m. Eastern.
Week 1, like the whole season, is a golden opportunity for the ACC to prove it is the second-best football conference behind the SEC, and perhaps even join that big, bad Southeastern Conference atop the college football world.
It will be an exciting season in the ACC, and with excitement comes unpredictability. Let’s take a guess at some of the improbable things that could happen in the conference this year:
Pittsburgh’s James Conner will run for 1,500 yards
A few months ago, we weren’t certain we would ever see Conner on the field again. First, a torn MCL knocked him out after Week 1, but then during his rehab in November, doctors diagnosed the former ACC Player of the Year with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Fortunately, just six months later, he was declared cancer free.
Just to be back on the field after overcoming both hurdles is such an incredible story that it’s hard to see Conner return to where he was, especially after a short offseason. Pittsburgh also established sophomore Quadree Ollison as a go-to back last season, so there’s no guarantee Conner will regain his No. 1 role.
However, this isn’t an average runner. Two years ago, Conner was one of the best backs in the country, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns as a sophomore. Given what this kid has dealt with in the last year, playing well probably isn’t even that big a deal, and he certainly has the talent to reach 1,500 yards.
Virginia Tech will win the Coastal Division
The Coastal has placed three different teams in the ACC Championship Game the last three years, and there’s nothing to suggest there is a heavy favorite this season. In other words, it’s wide open. Virginia Tech, behind a new coach, could sneak up on some teams.
Hokies junior wide receiver Isaiah Ford will need to record another big season to carry his team to a division title. He was the only ACC receiver with over 1,000 yards or double-digit touchdowns last year, posting 75 catches for 1,164 yards and 11 scores. Sophomore running back Travon McMillian will need to be huge too. In 2015, he became the first Virginia Tech runner with 1,000 yards rushing in a season since David Wilson in 2011.
Expect the offense to run more smoothly under new head coach Justin Fuente, and the defense to take a step forward with coordinator Bud Foster sticking around.
The schedule is favorable too. Virginia Tech does have to face North Carolina and Pittsburgh on the road, but Miami is at home, and the Hokies draw both Boston College and Syracuse from the Atlantic division. Half of Virginia Tech’s ACC opponents combined to go 10-30 in the conference last year.
Syracuse will earn a bowl bid
For the last one, why not go really bold? The Atlantic Division is as loaded as ever, and Syracuse can pretty much consider games against Clemson, Florida State and Louisville as losses. Syracuse must also face Notre Dame, which is another long shot.
Can the Orange win six of their other eight games? Maybe.
Colgate, Wake Forest, Boston College, and Connecticut are winnable contests. Syracuse must win all of them, upset South Florida at home and then beat one other conference opponent, either N.C. State, Virginia Tech or Pittsburgh, to earn a bowl.
The odds are stacked against that happening. After just seven wins over the last two years, the Syracuse faithful should be pleased with just five victories, but stranger things have happened. New head coach Dino Babers appears to have the program back on track.