<
>

ACC mailblog: 2017 QBs, Atlantic sleepers & Clemson's keys vs. Alabama

Mailbag time. Get 'em while they're hot…

What set the ACC apart this year was the quarterback play, and that position will undergo a major shakeup for 2017. That doesn't mean a major step back for the league necessarily, with Clemson (Zerrick Cooper) and Miami (Jack Allison) featuring top-rated young talent and Pitt (Max Browne) and perhaps North Carolina or Virginia Tech bringing in a transfer. But assuming Mitch Trubisky leaves, the top tier of established talent will be thin, with Deondre Francois and Lamar Jackson leading the way.

If we project Eric Dungey's 2016 stats over a full 12-game season, he'd be in the neighborhood of 26 touchdowns and 3,700 yards, which is pretty good. And given it was just his first season in Dino Babers' offense, it's hard to envision Dungey losing his job. Having said that, Tommy DeVito is a special talent, and Babers will certainly open up the competition. The ideal scenario for Syracuse is still likely for Dungey to start in 2017 and DeVito to get a year to learn the playbook.

Van Smith could blossom into a star next season, but replacing Jadar Johnson will be a chore. We could see Marcus Edmond make a move to safety with Mark Fields and Trayvon Mullen in line for more time at corner, while Isaiah Simmons should become a solid player. Tanner Muse has gotten some good reps this year, but it is a position that Clemson needs to hit hard on the recruiting trail.

The offense is always the story for Georgia Tech, but I thought the defense made some very nice strides in 2016, particularly on the back end. Matthew Jordan has a bright future at quarterback, and if Dedrick Mills can stay on the field, the backfield is strong. I'd be concerned about the defensive front and replacing Freddie Burden on the O-line, but Georgia Tech may actually be shaping up as a dark horse for the Coastal in 2017.

Allison is probably the most talented of the bunch, but Mark Richt sounded less than enthusiastic about his progress so far. “Everybody knew there was a battle for the second spot,” Richt said this week, “but in my opinion he wasn't ready for that position. Now he's been here for a full year and knows what's at stake, so I'm expecting him to compete well.” In other words, Malik Rosier is clearly ahead on the depth chart now, but I'd be surprised if it's anything but a wide open competition in spring practice with a couple solid 2017 recruits joining the mix.

The bowl win doesn't likely mean as much as the bowl practices did. It's hard to overstate the value of a few extra weeks of work for a young team, and nearly all of Wake's offense is freshmen and sophomores. With some success under their belts and another offseason in the weight room, Wake could be a legitimate threat in the Atlantic. That may sound a little crazy, but the Deacons already played Florida State, Clemson and Louisville tough in 2016. The future is bright.

On the day the Heisman was awarded, Jackson deserved it, but Deshaun Watson had certainly closed the gap. In bowl season, it's probably fair to say Watson has proven to be the country's top quarterback. So I don't fault voters for going with Jackson. It was the right choice at the time. But it's a shame the award is handed out before the season is over.

There are a lot of pieces in place at NC State, from an established quarterback to the emerging Nyheim Hines to stars like Jaylen Samuel and, of course, Bradley Chubb. I do wonder if Dave Doeren's job situation looms over the team like a black cloud.

Perception has most definitely changed. The biggest problems remain on the offensive line, and even a magician like Jackson can't overcome those obstacles. But he really needs to make some adjustments this offseason, too. He's not sneaking up on anyone, and there's a playbook on how to slow him down now. Given all the talent leaving on defense, I'd definitely have Florida State (a team I think will push for a national title next year) and Clemson ahead, but perhaps NC State or even Wake Forest, too.

Guaranteed to be wrong, but I'm leaning Miami for now. That defensive front is young and talented and could be one of the elite units in college football in 2017. If the offensive line takes a step forward, the ground game can give the quarterback some time to mature on the job.

Watson needs to run the ball. Mobile quarterbacks are still something of an Achilles' heel for Alabama, and giving Clemson the extra blocker could be critical against that fearsome front. On defense, safety play will be critical -- as it was a year ago -- to contain big plays. Make Alabama's offense work for its points. Last year, five of six touchdown drives for Alabama contained a play of 50-plus yards.