Although we may have tried several times throughout the year - remember when we insisted Wake Forest was actually really good - there is no defending the 2019 edition of the ACC. Clemson was the only great team and Virginia was the only other even good one. While the ACC is rarely the best conference in America, seldom is it anywhere close to as bad as it was this past season.
In 2016, it was the best conference and had Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Mitch Trubisky, Brad Kaaya, Daniel Jones, Ryan Finley, Eric Dungey, Jerod Evans, and Nate Peterman at QB. Since then, it has declined precipitously, most notably due to the rapid decline of Florida State and Louisville.
This year, Virginia Tech and Miami were expected to compete with Virginia for the Coastal crown while Syracuse was supposed to give Clemson a little resistance in the Atlantic division.
Virginia Tech managed to stay in the Coastal race, but more so due to Virginia slip ups than their own success. The Hokies started terribly with a loss to Boston College, seemed to get at least decent by season’s end, but then lost to Virginia and flopped against Kentucky in the Belk Bowl, erasing any notion of their being decent. Miami lost to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl to end with a losing record. Following the pitiful offensive performance, they dismissed OC Dan Enos and replaced him with Rhett Lashlee. Syracuse lost to Maryland by 43 en route to the most disappointing season in the ACC in which they missed a bowl game just a season after winning 10 games.
Across the rest of the ACC there were several more disappointments. Wake Forest, a team we loved to claim was actually good, looked solid early in the season, but collapsed at the end of the year, losing four of their final five games to finish 8-5. They lost to Michigan State in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Boston College got blown out by Cincinnati in the Birmingham Bowl after firing their head coach. Pitt and FSU were mediocre at best. NC State fell apart after back-to-back nine-win seasons and didn’t make a bowl. Georgia Tech was mostly hapless as they transitioned away from the triple-option offense. Duke missed a bowl game in a boring season of mediocrity.
North Carolina and Louisville, though, provided the ACC some much needed bright spots. It’s them, along with Florida State and with a more long-term perspective Georgia Tech, that provide optimism that the ACC can get back to being a quality Power Five conference.
North Carolina gave Clemson a scare, losing by just one-point when the two faced off. They reached a bowl in their first season under Mack Brown and crushed Temple in the Military Bowl. The Tar Heels had the ACC Rookie of the Year, QB Sam Howell. Coming off a 2-9 season, reaching 7-wins with a freshman QB was far from expected. They should continue to improve and break from the pack of mediocrity in the Coastal Division.
Louisville was the worst Power Five team in 2018 as the team completely quit on Coach Petrino. In 2019 under first-year Coach, Scott Satterfield, they bounced back to win eight games including a quality win over Virginia and an upset of Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl. It was only a few years ago that they were ranked in the top five. They may not return to that status without another generational talent like Lamar Jackson, but they have the type of program that should be consistently in the top 25.
Florida State remains a bit of a question mark, but the Mike Norvell hire is promising. They have talent in spots, but big holes on the lines. It won’t be an immediate turn around, but it shouldn’t be a four year rebuilding project either.
Georgia Tech wasn’t great on the field, though they managed two ACC wins, but they hauled in the #26 recruiting class and seem to have turned the ship. They should begin rapidly improving, even if next year is just from bad to mediocre. Longer-term, they should be one of the top programs in the Coastal Division.
The ACC is not going to consistently be better than the SEC or B1G. Given the much smaller enrollment at member schools in the ACC, it should generally be a bit behind those conferences, but it shouldn’t be as bad as it was in 2019. Fortunately, with North Carolina and Louisville on the rise, Florida State on the mend, and Georgia Tech slowly but surely rebuilding the ACC should return to respectability beyond just the Clemson Tigers soon enough.