Surprise, surprise! Clemson is entering the 2019 season as heavy favorites to win its fifth consecutive ACC title. The Tigers are on an unmatched run that includes four straight College Football Playoff appearances and two national titles in four years. And guess what? Head coach Dabo Swinney has more than enough talent on hand to do it again.
Yes, Clemson will likely emerge from the Atlantic Division again. As always, who knows what will happen in the Coastal Division. Six different teams have emerged out of the Coastal in the past six years. Only Virginia, and the Cavaliers should be vastly improved in 2019, has not won the ACC Coastal over the past six seasons.
Clemson is loaded again at the skill positions. Preseason All-American quarterback Trevor Lawrence will only get better and he has one of the best receiver duos in the nation in Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins. Look for the Tigers to put up 50+ points at least a half dozen times.
Clemson might have to put 50 points on the board on September 14 at Syracuse. The Tigers have received multiple scares of late against the Orange. Syracuse went 6-0 at home last year while averaging 48 points a game at home. If the Orange can pull off an upset in this primetime televised game, the ACC could become wide open.
Virginia will have to get by defending Coastal Division champ Pitt if they want to advance to the ACC Championship Game. The Cavaliers have an excellent quarterback in Bryce Perkins and an improving defense. Miami has the talent to make a run but needs a quarterback. Put the before-mentioned Perkins or Lawrence on the Miami roster, and you could have a playoff team.
My sleeper pick within the Coastal Division is North Carolina. The Heels brought Mack Brown back and if he can get UNC through a tough early schedule with freshman quarterback Sam Howell, the Heels could contend late when Pitt and Virginia appear on the schedule in November.
Games to watch, along with the Sept. 14 Clemson/Syracuse game I spoke of earlier, include Pitt hosting Virginia this weekend. These are the top four teams in the ACC according to the preseason rankings.
About all Clemson has not done in recent years is produce a Heisman Trophy winner. That could change in 2019 as Lawrence is a front-runner. Tigers RB Travis Etienne is a candidate after finishing seventh in the voting last year. All he did last season was rush for 1,659 yards and 24 touchdowns. Ross could also emerge as he averaged close to 22 yards a catch in 2018.
It is hard to even think about anyone but Clemson moving on to the Playoffs in 2019. The Tigers are 34-2 in ACC play the last four seasons (including conference championship games) and beat conference opponents by a margin of 35.2 points per game in 2018. There just is not enough depth in the ACC for the Tigers to meet quality on a weekly basis.