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Cigars & Football – A Simple Blend

ACC Atlantic Division

Over on the East Coast, fans are excited and believe their conference is finally getting the respect it deserves. Of course, they do. All football teams are undefeated and all coaches have perfect records – so far. Thanks to Clemson making an undefeated run right up to the national championship game, where they played Alabama tough but came up short, ACC fans think they’re finally showing their mettle. (Thank Goodness Clemson almost pulled it out, not sure I could have handled it if Bama lost). The league has become more than just Florida State and the rest. Along with some great coaches’ hiring moves, it might not be too long before the Coastal Division rivals the Atlantic Division. Former Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt packed his belongings and went to Miami and Virginia Tech brought in Justin Fuente from Memphis, which was a steal. Neither coach walked into a serious vacuum of talent and hopefully it will not take long before those teams are competing for the title. Speaking of improvement, don’t overlook Pittsburgh. Not saying they’ll be in Charlotte for the league championship game, but it wouldn’t be a stunner if they were. Just saying.

Atlantic Division

2021) Florida State- Stop me if you’ve heard this before, Florida State is loaded with talent and just need a few adjustments to make them great. Who hasn’t heard that? It’s been said since the 1990’s! Leading the FSU charge will be RB Dalvin Cook, he’s already being mentioned in the Heisman race, the national title race, best dressed and leading the votes for homecoming king. The offensive line should be solid as they went through several different lineups last year, due to injuries and just trying to find that magic mixture of success. The Seminoles needed senior QB Sean Maguire to step up and take the leading role. He split time with Notre Dame transfer Golson last year, only that little experiment didn’t pay the dividends everyone thought it was going to. But, speaking of steps, there was a bad one, Maguire broke his foot, so the QB situation is anybody’s guess. The defense for the ‘Noles is basically intact, maybe a bit short at linebacker, but otherwise has all the makings of a good solid “D”. Three things can stop Florida State, 1) Clemson 2) Florida State. The second reason has a knack for stopping them. 3) Ole Miss. That’s right FSU is taking on the boys from Mississippi in Orlando to kick start the season. If they don’t get past the Rebels, and provided the Rebels get past the vindictive NCAA investigators, not sure there are enough challenges in the FSU schedule to vault them into the playoffs. But if they win, and if they keep their noses clean, work hard, and produce like they’re supposed to, they’ll win the Atlantic, the ACC and make a return trip to the final four.

2) Clemson- The national second place winners of 2015 are the sexy pick for winning this division and making a return trip to the national title265 game, and they may very well accomplish that very thing. Deshaun Watson led the Tigers to a near undefeated season and played his heart out against Bama. He has the talent, an arm, speed, and the knowledge to make the Orange and Purple, or white, or blue, or whatever Clemson’s second color is, a very hard team to beat. Most of the Tiger offense will be back and all of the receivers, so be prepared to watch Clemson score a lot. The only area of concern is the defense where they lost seven starters from last year. But most people will point out that Clemson had to replace eight starters the year before and look what they did. That’s a legitimate argument, but this isn’t Alabama where they just plant Hydra teeth and an army springs up. They do have talent coming in but not sure its good enough to pick the Tigers first. I’ve been wrong before and it would not be surprising if the paw-prints make another amazing run. They begin against Auburn and that would usually be a cause for concern. Not this year. No reason they won’t be favored in all the rest, except when they play Florida State, and only if FSU can get by Mississippi. Oh, yeah, there is that historical marker that I am not supposed to talk about because Dabo says it doesn’t exist, but it does. Clemsonizing. They didn’t do it in 2015, but there’s no guarantee of it being absent in 2016. Somewhere. Sometime. Against someone.

3) Louisville– Last year Louisville had high expectations but could not overcome a young offense and a schedule that had them face their toughest games in the first half. The Cardinals were looking at a bad year when they suddenly ripped off a 6-1 run against teams that were not going to make the post season to save Louisville’s season. They beat Texas A&M ( the Daughter was most unhappy about that) who had lost both their QB’s to transfer before the bowl game. Tough to say if the ‘Ville actually improved. But some questions were answered, like Lamar Jackson winning the QB position;- when he’s healthy, that is. The rest of the offense has to replace very little, and after the bite the injury bug took from this team last year, just about everyone got playing time. No excuses for the offense not finding its identity. Believe it or not, this Bobby Petrino coached team has been led by the defense and was one of the best defenses in the ACC. They do have to replace some starters but it shouldn’t be difficult for them to return to form. The defense will have to keep the team in their games until their offense comes around, but the schedule appears to be manageable, the usual Clemson and Florida State bumps notwithstanding. There’s that Houston game, in Houston, at the end of the season, and that could be a booger-bear. A third place finish should be just about right.

th4) North Carolina State– The Wolfpack is one of those teams that everyone would like to see do well, but seldom does. They win, and they go to bowl games, but they’re stuck in eternal mediocrity. They can and will beat teams like William & Mary and Old Dominion, and even Boston College and Syracuse, but they fall when they go against Florida State, Miami , Clemson and the like. It wasn’t always this way. Clemson and Florida State both hated to face the Pack because of their upset predilection. Where have all the flowers gone? Ok, every once in a blue moon they still beat a top team but they can’t do it two weeks in a row. This season doesn’t seem to be much different. They’re breaking in a new QB, replacing three people on the O-Line and their best RB is coming off a season ending injury. So a lot of question marks for the offensive. Defensively they are young, and basically inexperienced. They’ll have a tougher schedule this year, but they should still earn a bowl bid. And, somewhere, someday, against someone the old We-Can-Beat-Anyone at Carter-Findley Stadium attitude might resurface. I said all teams were undefeated and all coaches perfect at this point, didn’t I?

5) Boston College– Remember that time on Chestnut Hill when the mighty USC Trojans came to town for a Thursday night game and the Eagles ran the ball all over them and pulled off a stunning upset? Everyone in Chestnut Hill remembers, and they had high hopes that Coach Addazio’s system was taking root and BC was returning to the glory days! Then 2015 unraveled like a cartoon character pulling the thread of a sweater, everything just fell apart. Now its 2016, and, unlike ’15, the Eagles have returning offensive linemen and they now know what not to do. The running backs, which Boston College relies upon heavily, are back from injuries and appear to be mended up and ready to play. The defense will under-go a new defensive coordinator in the form of Jim Reid. He’s got his work cut out for him. The two ends that were the bedrocks of this defense have graduated and used all their eligibility. As for the schedule, they will most likely be the underdog except for when the play Wagner. Wagner, that’s right. Tell me, who is Wagner favored over? So upsets need to be on the menu.

6) Wake Forest– When Dave Clawson took this job he had to have known it was going to be a long time before he could have this program built up.IMG_7871 Should he make them into a winning machine, he’ll be considered one of the greatest coaches in history, right up there with Bill Synder. After going 3-9 the past two years, there is hope that the Deacons will improve and possibly make it to six victories. They have returning QB’s and the O-line, who were basically freshman last year, have earned valuable playing time. They have got to protect the QB this year, as last year they gave up 88 sacks! No wonder they were 3-9. The Defense, believe it or not, is where they have improved the most, going from dead, bottom of the barrel, last to middle of the pack in the ACC. Should the defense continue its upward climb and the offense start to improve, the schedule has enough winnable games for them. Except that game with Army, they’ll fall to the Black Knights of the Hudson, as all will feel their WRATH! (did I mention that my Dad, my editor, was a graduate of the US Military Academy? We may be slightly biased. Then again, we may be raving maniacs! Yeah!)

7) Syracuse– Dino Babers inherited a good team at Bowling Green when he took over there, and he did pretty well with them. Now he’s in upstate New York, (Beautiful country, lots of history) and the team he inherited is NOTHING like the winning one in Ohio. He is a believer in the no-huddle offense that relies on speed. He doesn’t have that. Will this new offense work in the ACC? We’ll just say it should. The Defense last year took a step back as they lost a lot to graduation, this squad has gotten that valuable lesson in what not to do, so it’s a wait and see game with the Orange.

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