The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 19, 2021

Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

The Atlantic Coast Conference benefitted from Covid by gaining an extra playoff team last year.  With Notre Dame choosing to become a full member for the season, and then with the Irish running the table, topping Clemson, while Clemson won all its remaining games, when the Tigers took the rematch in the ACC Championship Game, it opened the door for two ACC teams to make the playoffs.  

Unfortunately for the league, Clemson was bombed by Ohio State and Notre Dame had no chance against Alabama in the semifinal round, as the two teams lost by a combined 38 points.

2021 should be back to normal for the league, but who knows if this will be the last time the 14 teams are together in one league, as of this writing, rumors are running rampant about a possible alliance between the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12, and other rumors have claimed that Clemson and Florida State would like to become members of the SEC.

At the ACC Preseason Meetings, the media voted their predictions for the 2021-2022 season.

Atlantic Division

(First-place votes in parenthesis)

1. Clemson – 1,028 (146)

2. NC State – 804 (1)

3. Boston College – 638

4. Florida State – 510

5. Wake Forest – 472

6. Louisville – 462

7. Syracuse – 202

Coastal Division

(First-place votes in parenthesis)

1. North Carolina – 979 (109)

2. Miami – 881 (28)

3. Virginia Tech – 582 (3)

4. Pitt – 576 (1)

5. Virginia – 540 (2)

6. Georgia Tech – 340 (4)

7. Duke – 218

Overall Champion

Clemson – 125

North Carolina – 16

Miami – 3

Virginia – 1

Georgia Tech – 1

NC State – 1

Clemson doesn’t rebuild; the Tigers reload with the next round of 4-star and 5-star talent.  Losing once in a generation quarterback Trevor Lawrence is not a reloadable possibility.  D.J. Ulagalelei is a brute force that could play tight end or linebacker.  He just happens to have an accurate arm and the intelligence to know where to throw the ball.  While he won’t put up Lawrence numbers, especially on the ground, he can lead Clemson back to the playoffs again.  Finding capable receivers will be a tougher task, but tight end Braden Galloway gives CU a big target in the middle of the field.

Coach Dabo Swinney has 10 defensive starters coming back this year, and one or two might lose starting status to even better players.  This should be the best defense in all of college football, led by one of the best defensive lines in many years.  Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy could easily make the 1st team All-American team.

Clemson also rates highly in its kicking games, as punter Will Spiers carried a 44 yard average, and placekicker B.T. Potter nailed a couple of 50-yard plus field goals and hit on 18 of 23 overall.

Clemson gets its toughest task in the regular season right off the bat, when they face Georgia in Charlotte on September 4.  If they get past their old rival, there’s no reason to think they cannot go undefeated until the Playoffs.

The race for second place in the Atlantic Division is wide open.  Five of the remaining six teams in the division could finish in second place.

Wake Forest had an outstanding offense and weak defense last year going 4-4 in the regular season before losing to Wisconsin in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.  An offense that scored 36 points per game and racked up 444 yards per game merely returns every starter this year and welcomes some fine new talent.  Coach Dave Clawson has this team flying under the radar.  Due to unfortunate injuries the last two seasons, there is loads of depth on board, and the Demon Deacons need only a slight improvement on the defensive side to contend for nine or ten wins.

North Carolina State didn’t play Clemson last year due to a Covid cancellation, and the Wolfpack didn’t play Notre Dame.  Their 8-4 record was helped by playing Duke, Syracuse, and Florida State.  This year, the Wolfpack have a better roster on both sides of the ball, and another 8-win season is quite possible, even with Clemson returning to the schedule.

Coach Dave Doeren must hope that quarterback Devin Leary can return from a season-ending leg injury and be the pre-injury passer he was in 2020, when he completed 60% of his passes for an average of 13.5 yards per completion.  Leary has three talented receivers coming back that combined for 118 receptions for 1,744 yards and 17 touchdowns.  Leary will have good protection as four offensive linemen starters are back.

The Wolfpack need to be a little stingier against the pass this year if they are to contend for second place in the Atlantic.  After giving up more than 240 passing yards and 415 total yards in 2020, NC State will have new defensive backs in the starting 11.

Jeff Hafley came to Boston College after producing a couple of outstanding defenses at Ohio State.  He took over a BC program that was falling back in the pack and in one year, he made the Eagles a tough out in the ACC.  While BC went 5-5 in the league and 6-5 overall, they lost to North Carolina by four, Clemson by six, Notre Dame by 14, and Virginia by 11.  

Hafley has a lot of talent returning on both sides of the ball, and in year two in Chestnut Hill, we expect the Eagles to earn a bowl bid and be in the hunt for an eight-win season.  By 2022, this team might be ready to compete for a division title.

Mike Norvell’s first season at Florida State would have been unforgettable if he hadn’t made headlines a couple of times.  A 3-6 included just one impressive win.  After losing to a Georgia Tech team still trying to transition to a pro-style offense from the triple option, the Seminoles were embarrassed by in-state rival Miami by six touchdowns.  Additional lopsided losses to Pittsburgh and Louisville showed the fans just how far this program had fallen since Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M.

FSU may have benefitted the most from the Transfer Portal, as Norvell picks up several players that should become starters.  The only thing in the way of a winning season this year may be the schedule, as the Seminoles play Notre Dame and Florida out of conference as well as North Carolina and Miami from the Coastal Division.

Louisville took a step back in Scott Satterfield’s second year after going 8-5 in 2019.  He also antagonized fans and maybe the administration by lobbying for the South Carolina job that he did not get.  This program is one to watch to see if Satterfield still owns the locker room.  If not, UL may be headed for trouble.  The Cardinals have lost some key players to transfer in the past couple of years too, so this may be the do or die season for Satterfield.  If he can work the same magic he worked at Appy State, UL might turn things around, but it’s not a guarantee.

Syracuse went 10-3 in 2018, and Coach Dino Babers appeared to be the second coming of Mike Leach.  Since then, the Orange are 6-17.  Last year, the Air Raid offense never took off.  Scoring just 17.8 points per game and totaling just 265 total yards per game, third weakest in the nation.  The squad is much more experienced this year, but SU doesn’t look like a team capable of coming out of the basement.

The Coastal Division has a clear-cut favorite for the first time in many years, but it isn’t a slam dunk like the Atlantic Division.

North Carolina went 11-1 in 1997 and finished sixth in the polls in Coach Mack Brown’s last season during his first tenure in Chapel Hill.  The Tar Heels have not finished in the top ten since.  However, they made it back to the top ten after starting the 2020 season 3-0.  When a team with a great coach coming off a decent year returns one of the top five quarterbacks in the nation plus the entire offensive line, it is a good bet that this team will light up the scoreboard.  UNC averaged 42 points per game last year.  Is it possible, the Tar Heels could approach 50 points per game this year?  It isn’t impossible, and if they do score 50 points per game, QB Sam Howell will be invited to New York in December.  Only a defense that had some issues with the pass last year could prevent North Carolina from competing for the ACC Championship.  Clemson should be able to outscore them in a potential conference championship game.

Miami of Florida will be there waiting to replace North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game if the Tar Heels’ defense isn’t up to the task.  The Hurricanes’ defense will be strong enough to make Manny Diaz’s third team a big winner in Coral Gables.  With quarterback D’Eriq King returning after proving to be a dual threat in the new spread offense, Miami should score a few more points per game than they did last year.  

The Hurricanes get the optimum test to open the season, as they face defending national champion Alabama in Atlanta.  Nick Saban won’t allow his team to overlook Miami, but even so, Miami might scare the Crimson Tide for a quarter or two.

After the top two in the Coastal, there is a major dropoff to the next tier.  Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Pittsburgh are fairly evenly matched, and they are likely to split the games between them while losing to the two heavyweights.  

Justin Fuente has been at Virginia Tech for five years and owns a 38-26 record in Blacksburg.  He is on a very hot seat after going 5-6 last year.  We will note that legendary coach Frank Beamer was 22-32-1 in his first five years.

Virginia Tech must rebuild on offense, which was the strongpoint of the season last year.  The Hokies lost starting quarterback Hendon Hooker via the Transfer Portal and star running back Khalil Herbert to the NFL.  It looks like 2021 will be the decisive year in Blacksburg for Fuente.  If the Hokies go 6-6 or 7-5, it might not be enough for him to keep this job.

Virginia won the Coastal Division title in a small surprise in 2019, but Covid ruined the Cavaliers’ ability to play consistently last year, and they fell to 4-5 in the league.  Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s Cavs did enjoy a four-game winning streak in late October and November, including wins over North Carolina and Boston College.

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong also led the team in rushing last year; he played behind an inexperienced line and didn’t have a go-to running back last year.  Armstrong will have to wait until November for his best target to be available.  Wideout Lavel Davis Jr. is rehabbing from an ACL injury suffered in Spring practice.  Davis averaged 25.8 yards per catch last year after scoring two touchdowns on four receptions in his college debut against Duke.  A healthy Davis could be the difference in the final two games of the season against the other two teams in this tier in the Coastal Division.

Every year, the PiRate Ratings don’t seem to give Pat Narduzzi’s Pittsburgh Panthers a lot of respect.  While the ratings are based on certain data, there must be something Narduzzi and his coaching staff do to produce a product that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Once again, the Panthers’ are looking at a mediocre start to their season, but this year the first four games are all winnable, and three of the four are basically sure things.  Playing Syracuse from the Atlantic, as well as the expected bottom tier teams in the Coastal gives Pitt a chance to win three or four conference games and make a small bowl.

Pitt plays an old style of football.  Their defense leads the way, while their offense is pedestrian but makes fewer mistakes than a wide open offense.  Last year, Pitt led the ACC in rushing yards allowed and finished second in total yards allowed, but offensively the Panthers finished near the bottom.

Things might be a bit different in 2021 as quarterback Kenny Pickett is a fifth year senior and has gotten better every year.  Having star receiver Jordan Addison return with him means the Panthers should see improved numbers in the passing game.  Unfortunately, Pitt lost their starting defensive ends from last year, two players that combined for 16 ½ sacks and 27 ½ tackles for loss.  The Panthers still have a talented trio of starting linebackers, including Cam Bright, who had 8 ½ sacks last year.

Duke suffered through a miserable 2020 season that saw the Blue Devils go 1-9 in league play and 2-9 overall.  2021 doesn’t look to be very promising, as the Blue Devils lost more experience than any team in the league.  The offense led the nation in turnovers, and even though the former quarterback responsible for 21 of those 39 has transferred out of the program, Duke might commit fewer turnovers this year but gain many fewer yards with a junior who threw 25 passes last year, mostly of the three and four yard variety.  Additionally, the offensive line must be rebuilt, and rather than suffer through fumbles and interceptions, sacks might be the new liability this year.

Coach David Cutcliffe must also rebuild his defense, but there’s nowhere to go but up, after Duke finished last in the league in scoring defense.  The only reason why the Blue Devils didn’t give up the most total yards is that opponents found it easy to run the ball against them.  Duke finished dead last in rushing defense, so opponents didn’t throw the ball as often as they did against other teams.

Here are the preseason PiRate Ratings for the ACC:

Atlantic Coast Conference

Atlantic Division
TeamPiRateMeanBiasAverage
Clemson120.9121.5124.0122.2
Wake Forest108.0106.7108.3107.7
NC State106.5105.8105.9106.1
Boston College104.7105.3105.7105.2
Florida St.103.4103.6103.5103.5
Louisville101.7101.4103.2102.1
Syracuse93.793.192.192.9

Coastal Division
TeamPiRateMeanBiasAverage
North Carolina116.4116.7119.9117.7
Miami (Fla.)117.1116.1117.7116.9
Virginia Tech106.4104.9104.7105.3
Virginia102.1104.1101.8102.7
Pittsburgh99.8100.9100.1100.2
Georgia Tech98.098.398.398.2
Duke89.791.288.589.8

ACC Averages104.9105.0105.3105.0

The PiRate Ratings are designed to be effective for the next week’s slate of games and not to be used to look forward.  Nevertheless, we predict the won-loss records just for fun.

Atlantic Coast AtlanticConf.Overall
Clemson8-012-1*
Boston College5-39-3
Wake Forest5-38-4
North Carolina St.4-47-5
Louisville4-46-6
Florida St.3-55-7
Syracuse0-82-10

Atlantic Coast CoastalConf.Overall
North Carolina7-111-2
Miami (Fla.)7-110-2
Virginia Tech4-46-6
Pittsburgh3-56-6
Virginia3-55-7
Georgia Tech2-64-8
Duke1-74-8

* Clemson picked to win ACC Championship Game

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