New seasons bring new question marks for every single team. ACC football will have no shortage of question marks this fall.
Clemson and Florida State remain the premier teams in the conference, but even they are not free from concerns heading into 2016. Everyone knows about the questions surrounding the Florida State quarterback situation and the four programs with new head coaches. For this piece, we dig a little deeper.
Below are five questions heading into the 2016 ACC football season.
1. How does Clemson replace seven defensive starters?
The Tigers return everybody and their mother on offense, including quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite Deshaun Watson along with five other preseason first-team All-ACC players, but the defense has major holes to fill.
The top two pass rushers for Clemson and in the conference in terms of sacks, Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, both left for the NFL. Overall, Clemson must replace seven defensive starters from last season’s No. 7 nationally-ranked unit.
Given that the Tigers replaced eight starters from their No. 1-ranked defense in 2014 and still went undefeated up until the national championship game, it’s certainly doable. It just became a lot more difficult, though, with sophomore defensive end Austin Bryant suffering a foot injury that could keep him out the first month of the season.
Clemson will have to beat Auburn and Georgia Tech in September with very little depth at defensive end, and inexperience at lots of other positions.
2. What does North Carolina do with tougher schedule?
Schedules can be a funny thing. Everyone thought the Tar Heels had a difficult game versus South Carolina in the first week of the season, especially when they lost, but then North Carolina rolled over its ACC schedule and the Gamecocks finished 3-9. On that ACC slate, North Carolina avoided Clemson, Florida State and Louisville.
This season, UNC faces No. 18 Georgia in Week 1 and then visits Florida State on Oct. 1. North Carolina will also make a road trip to Miami two weeks later.
The Tar Heels could have a better roster, but 11 victories will be tough to repeat.
3. Is Paul Johnson on the hot seat at Georgia Tech?
Did you know there are websites dedicated only to ranking how hot each college football coach’s seat may be? Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is on most of those lists.
After going 11-3 and beating Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl during the 2014 season, the Yellow Jackets won only three games last season. Senior quarterback Justin Thomas took a huge step back in his second full year of starting, but that was mostly due to the ineffectiveness at the offensive positions around him.
Johnson led Georgia Tech to a bowl each of his first seven seasons as head coach, so he has bought himself some leeway. However, that will only last so long. He must get Johnson some more help on offense in order to keep his job.
4. What does Brad Kaaya have to do in order to be remembered as a great Miami quarterback?
The short answer is beat Florida State. The Hurricanes haven’t knocked off the Seminoles since 2009, so the significance of such a victory over a conference rival would be extraordinary, especially if it helped Miami reach the ACC Championship Game.
In order to do that, Kaaya will probably have to lead Miami to victories over North Carolina and Pittsburgh. To be in the national championship discussion, the Hurricanes will have to beat Notre Dame.
Many expect Kaaya to be a dark horse for the Heisman, but putting Miami back into the national spotlight is what would seal his legacy.
5. Whom will Boston College knock off in conference first?
The Eagles kick off the season versus Georgia Tech in Dublin, Ireland, so Boston College might not have to wait too long if the Yellow Jackets’ offense doesn’t improve immediately. Boston College’s next two conference games are against Virginia Tech and Clemson, so the next best opportunity might be at home versus Syracuse on Oct. 22. The last time the Orange visited Boston College two years ago, the Eagles won 28-7. That’s also the last time Boston College won a conference game.
As bad as the Eagles were last year, one would think they have to end their awful conference losing streak at some point this year.