The ACC will look to return to the College Football Playoff for the third year in a row with contenders like Clemson and Florida State. The Tigers fell short of their first national championship since 1981 after losing to Alabama in the title game. Clemson put it all together in 2015 with Heisman finalist DeShaun Watson at quarterback. Brent Venables put together another top 10 defense at Clemson and the Tigers dominated the regular season. The true question for Clemson will be whether or not they can replace all the players who left for the draft. Nine Tiger players were selected in the 2016 NFL Draft in Chicago. Here is a look at their defensive splits:
Clemson defensive split stats for the 2015 season pic.twitter.com/watzDWdbjO
— Zach Lentz (@ZachLentzTandD) April 20, 2016
A good start is bringing back DeShaun Watson. Watson threw for over 4,000 yards while also rushing for over 1,000 yards in a showing of elite talent. DeShaun also set a national championship game record for total yards in the game, surpassing Vince Young’s record set in the 2005 title game.
Clemson has some help returning for Watson as well this season. Running back Wayne Gallman comes back after a 2015 season where he rushed for 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns. On the outside, Watson will be able to throw it to Artavis Scott and Mike Williams. Williams had 1,030 yards receiving in 2014 before being hurt and missing the 2015 season.
The defense returns Ben Boulware at linebacker. Boulware had 82 tackles during the 2015 season. On the defensive line, Clemson will hope that Carlos Watkins and Christian Wilkins can offset the loss of Shaq Lawson. In the secondary, the Tigers have to be concerned outside of Cordrea Tankersley.
Florida State is standing up right now and yelling at me to go ahead and get started talking about them. The Seminoles are just as much of a contender as the Tigers this season. FSU needs a quarterback to step up and take the reign of the offense to help out Dalvin Cook. Although, to be honest, Cook did not seem to need a whole lot of help last season:
54. 72. 74. 75. 94.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) July 5, 2016
Despite Sean Maguire returning, I think Deondre Francois will earn the starting quarterback job in Tallahassee. Maguire improved last year and could make the throws, however, I think Francois adds an athletic element that would make the Seminole offense hum like a hummingbird. To further his candidacy, Francois had a very good spring and head coach Jimbo Fisher seemed to like his performance. Defensively, the Seminoles could be even better in 2016. Florida State has elite talent on the defensive line with DeMarcus Walker returning and Josh Sweat on the other side. The secondary has a very hyped recruit coming in by the name of Tarvarus McFadden at corner. Marquez White is very established on the other side and fans are hoping McFadden can pick up where Jalen Ramsey left off playing all over the field in the secondary.
However, in the end, I still have to pick Clemson to win the ACC. I am sorry Seminole fans, but I just think DeShaun Watson puts the Tigers over the edge because of what he can do. We will have to wait and see what Francois can do and it could change a lot of things. In addition to that, Clemson has to visit Florida State this season in what will be a very hostile environment. I think the ACC could have two playoff contenders for most of the season with these two teams, but I think Clemson returns to the playoff in 2016.