It’s that time of year again!
College Football officially kicks off for another season of “hopes, dreams, and aspirations” as student athletes take to the field for the first full season Post-Covid.
To be honest we haven’t put much time into this initial posting beyond the fact that we are beyond excited to see College Football return in full force with all the conferences taking the field at the same time.
What can we expect from the ACC? Is Clemson still the darling to carry the conference?
Time will tell and there are a lot of fun match-ups to kick things off with a bang so let’s dive right in.
#1 Alabama at #14 Miami
The linebackers. America, welcome to what might be the best position unit in all of college football.
Bama obviously has talent across the board, and over the last few years the wide receivers were the superstars, but the defensive side has the main men in 2021 with four future NFL starters in the linebacking corps.
The Miami offense improved by leaps and bounds in 2020 after a disastrous run in 2019, and most of it was due to QB D’Eriq King. Back from a knee injury suffered at the end of last season, he’s everything to the Hurricane offense, and Bama has the D to keep him in check.
The Canes are going to be good on the offensive line, and there are plenty of weapons, but there won’t be too many problems as long as those Tide linebackers make sure King is a pocket passer and keep him from taking off.
But don’t count out Miami.
King has to be the best player on the field – and he might be.
Of course Miami knows Alabama wants to keep No. 1 from running – there aren’t any limitations on King’s knee – but he’s been around long enough to have seen it all. He’s not going to force anything, and he’s not going to make the big mistakes that could quickly end this with good Tide field position and easy scores.
King is the old veteran in this while his counterpart on the other side – Bryce Young – has all the pressure in the world to be amazing right out of the gate.
The Miami defense might be breaking in a slew of new parts, but the secondary is going to be great thanks to a pass rush that should be among the best in the ACC.
As talented as the Bama offense is, it’s still replacing offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, Mac Jones, Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and three offensive linemen. The Canes have the athleticism and speed to mess up the new guys.
The last time these two met, George Teague came up with one of the greatest defensive plays in national championship history for a Crimson Tide D that dominated Miami 34-13 in the 1993 Sugar Bowl.
You want real dominance? Try Alabama in season openers.
The last loss was to UCLA back in 2001, and ever since beating Kent State in 2011, Nick Saban’s teams have faced Michigan, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wisconsin, USC, Florida State, Louisville, Duke, and Missouri.
9-0, all wins by double-digits, and the combined score of those nine victories … 351-113, or an average of 39-12.5. You have to go back to 2006 – a 25-17 win over Hawaii – for an Alabama season opener to be close.
Miami might be the second-best team in the ACC by the time the season is done – or at least in the top four – but even this rebuilt Alabama team is at a whole other level.
The Tide offense will be terrific, but it’ll be the defense that steals the show in Atlanta.
Date: Saturday, September 4
Game Time: 3:30 ET
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
#3 Clemson vs #5 Georgia
Lost in yet another amazing season by Clemson, and yet another ACC Championship, and yet another trip to the College Football Playoff was a defense that was never 100% right.
It was still No. 1 in the ACC in total and scoring defense, but it never quite had all of the parts working like they were supposed to.
It was hardly a rebuilding year, but it was a young group that suffered through too many bumps and bruises – which turned into a minor positive to create a more seasoned D for 2021. Even so, it was still fantastic, and now …
Look out. This is a seasoned, veteran D full of next-level talents and top tacklers and producers from 2020.
How good is it? Future NFL starting CB Derion Kendrick left for Georgia, and the secondary might still be the best in college football.
Oh yeah, and the offense has that DJ Uiagalelei guy at quarterback – he almost certainly would’ve the No. 2 overall pick behind Trevor Lawrence in the 2021 NFL Draft, if he was eligible – and in a wonderful story, star WR Justyn Ross is expected to be back after missing all of last year and pushing through a frightening neck and spine condition.
It’s Clemson. It has as much talent as anyone, the coaching is as good as any in the country, and it’ll be a stunner if there’s anything less than another ACC Championship and another trip to the College Football Playoff no matter how this game shakes out.
But to nitpick …
Will Clemson be able to run the ball?
Current Jacksonville Jaguar Travis Etienne wasn’t his normal dominant self stat-wise, mostly because he didn’t consistently have a whole lot of room to move.
The Tiger offensive front will be outstanding, but it has to prove it can blast away for a ground attack that only hit the 200-yard mark three times after getting there in ten games in 2019.
And it has to do it against the nation’s best defense against the run in 2020.
The Bulldog D reloaded with more next-level talents, the rotation on the line is a killer, and overall there could be as many as six top two-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
But the spotlight will be on JT Daniels – the best starting quarterback yet in the Kirby Smart era, considering Justin Fields played more of a complementary role when he was there.
He give the Bulldog offense a downfield passing attack it hasn’t had in a long, long time, and it’s all going to work behind a tremendous offensive front that has too much talent to not be among the nation’s best.
Be shocked if this is a shootout – these defenses are too good.
Both offenses will hang 40+ on the board on a regular basis, but in Atlanta it’s going to be tough getting the respective ground attacks moving, and both quarterbacks will be under pressure all game long.
In the big picture, this game is about the loser. If it’s a close battle that comes down to the very end, both teams are still deep in the College Football Playoff chase no matter what. If it’s a total wipeout, though, that’s a problem.
It’s not going to be a total wipeout.
Expect a brutal, hard-hitting game with national championship intensity throughout.
Georgia will have a little more success on the ground, Clemson will have a little more success through the air, and in the end, Uiagalelei will throw one more pick than Daniels – that will be the difference.
Welcome to the 2021 college football season. This is is what we’ve all been waiting for, and it won’t disappoint. (Fingers crossed.)
Date: Saturday, September 4
Game Time: 7:30 ET
Venue: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
#9 Notre Dame at Florida State
Can Florida State move the offense?
There might be some interesting quarterback parts, and the running game should be okay, but the Seminoles still have to prove the offensive front can work on a consistent basis. It should be a good enough O to be okay, but that won’t be good enough if the defense isn’t a whole lot better.
Dead last in the ACC in sacks and near the bottom in total defense, Florida State has to prove it can keep the Irish from controlling the game.
This might be a wee bit of a reloading year for Notre Dame, but the plan should still work against this D. Control the clock, don’t take any unnecessary chances, and rely on the offensive line to do its job as the game goes on.
Do that, and the Irish defense should take care of the rest.
Again, there’s some reworking to do on the Irish.
It’s another strong team, but just enough star parts are done to be annoying, and it starts at quarterback. Ian Book was a terrific college quarterback, and new starter Jack Coan doesn’t have the same mobility and has to prove he can show a little of the same third down magic.
FSU might have had a bad defensive season in 2020, but it gets back a good enough starting 11 to be better. It’s a fast group, the secondary should be a plus, and the linebackers will be strong.
At some point the offense will start to explode under Mike Norvell. He knows how to get an attack going, and he’s got just enough flash in the backfield to start being more dangerous.
And then there’s this …
It’s going to be among the most emotional games of the season.
Florida State will honor the late legendary head coach Bobby Bowden. That will be the overlying tone around the game, and then – at some point – in will come QB McKenzie Milton as he makes his first appearance from a horrific leg injury suffered a few years ago.
The Noles will start to play better. They had major problems last year, and they won’t be close to as good as they should be for a national title-level program, but there will be a few flashes when the offense works.
It’ll be slow-and-steady for the Irish early on, but the running game will take over in the second half. It’ll be a good, workmanlike road opener that shows Notre Dame will once again be a factor with a little more time.
Date: Sunday, September 5
Game Time: 7:30 ET
Venue: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, FL
Thursday, September 2nd
|NC State vs South Florida||NCST 31, USF 21|
Friday, September 3rd
|VaTech vs #10 North Caolina||UNC 35, VaTech 27|
|Charlotte vs Duke||Duke, 31, Char 27|
|Wake Forest vs Old Dominion||WF 42, OD 17|
Saturday, September 4th
|Boston College vs Colgate||BC 38, COL 19|
|#14 Miami vs #1 Alabama||ALA 38, MIA 21|
|Pittsburgh vs UMass||PITT 41, UMASS 14|
|Ohio vs Syracuse||SYR 38, OH 35|
|#3 Clemson vs #5 Georgia||CLEM 31, UGA 29|
|Georgia Tech vs Northern Illinois||GT 27, NI 10|
|Virginia vs William & Mary||UVA 41, WM 19|
Sunday, September 5th
|Florida State vs #9 Notre Dame||ND 31, FSU 27|
Monday, September 6th
|Ole Miss vs Louisville||MISS 41, LOU 31|
We’re keeping our fingers crossed for a great slate of games and we’ll check back in next week and hopefully not cringe at the results.
And if you missed it, check out our latest episode of the “Laces Out” series here.
If you’ve signed up for our weekly ESPN College Pick ‘Em challenge then don’t forget to get your picks locked in. Top entry at the end of the season will get a nominal cash prize!
Information for this post was obtained from College Football News.