A couple weeks ago, Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel turned some heads by saying that he believed Louisville might be a darkhorse candidate to finish above both Clemson and Florida State in the ACC's Atlantic Division. Today, he doubled down on that belief and made the prediction official.
And I've got a surprise champ coming out of the Atlantic as well.
While Florida State is still the most talented team in the country, three years of NFL churn will finally catch up with the Seminoles this fall (at least a little). And I'm puzzled by the hype surrounding Clemson. Yes, sophomore QB Deshaun Watson is a game-changer, but last year's stacked defensive front will be going through near-total rebuilding (save for stud DE Shaq Lawson).
That opens the door for Louisville to rise up in Bobby Petrino's second year back and win the division. QBReggie Bonnafon showed promise last year, the front seven is still stacked, and a bevy of high-profile transfers should help ease the loss of 10 NFL draft picks. There's still plenty of Charlie Strong-recruited talent on hand.
TEAM RECORD (LEAGUE) Louisville 10-2 (7-1) Florida State 10-2 (6-2) Clemson 8-4 (5-3) NC State 8-4 (4-4) Boston College 4-8 (2-6) Wake Forest 3-9 (2-6) Syracuse 2-10 (0-8)
TEAM RECORD (LEAGUE) Virginia Tech 10-2 (7-1) Georgia Tech 9-3 (7-1) Pitt 8-4 (4-4) North Carolina 8-4 (4-4) Duke 8-4 (4-4) Miami 5-7 (2-6) Virginia 2-10 (2-6)
Championship: Virginia Tech over Louisville
Bruce Feldman, Fox's other major college football writer, picked the Cards to finish 7-5 (5-3) this season, and has Clemson winning the ACC.