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ACC mailbag: 2017 predictions, coaches in Christmas classics

Before we kick off on the bowls, let’s get to another ACC mailbag.

I'd peg Virginia Tech and Miami as the early favorites. The Hokies will return a lot of talent on defense, and Jerod Evans could be one of the country's top QBs next year. The big question for me is if Justin Fuente can get the run game going. It has been an Achilles heel all year, and with some big departures at receiver, it'll be hard to mask that deficiency again. If Brad Kaaya returns for 2017, it certainly helps Miami's cause, and I'd expect the Hurricanes to have the best defense in the ACC in 2017. Should be a fun race, with Pitt, North Carolina and Georgia Tech certainly in the mix, too.

Yeah, I'm going Florida State. Getting Derwin James back should have a huge impact on the defense, and Deondre Francois could blossom into a top-tier QB in Year 2, too. The big questions for me are on the perimeter, where FSU really needs to find a dominant receiver, and up front, where the O-line has failed to meet expectations for the past few years. The Atlantic race isn't going to be easy next year regardless. Clemson and Louisville still will be good, and I'd expect Syracuse and Wake to take another step forward, too.

Speaking of the Orange ... the problem for 2017 is the schedule, which includes a trip to LSU, the gauntlet of the Atlantic and some Group of Five games that aren't exactly slam dunks (MTSU and Central Michigan). The defense still has a long way to go, but I think 6-6 isn't an unreasonable expectation. Syracuse played eight of the top 30 defenses (by S&P+) this year and still turned in a strong offensive season. Dino Babers' system works.

I made the case. No one listened. This is not unusual though.

Our Matt Fortuna put together a list of the year's best games in the ACC, and I got to cover three of them: Pitt-Clemson, Pitt-UNC and Louisville-Clemson, which was every bit as fun as advertised, despite not getting home until 5:30 am.

You have pierogies and an Andy Warhol museum and sandwiches with french fries on them. You don't need to apologize for anything. The rest of the ACC should be trying to be more like you.

Couple things: Miami has struggled in short-yardage and red-zone opportunities, but so has West Virginia's defense. That could be an advantage for the Hurricanes. West Virginia also has given up serious rushing yardage to each of the three power rushers they faced, which should translate to some solid opportunities for Mark Walton. And the Mountaineers led the Big 12 in rush defense, but no Big 12 teams finished in the top 50 there. The Miami defense will be a shock to West Virginia's system, and it'll be on Mark Richt and the Canes' offense to capitalize.

Duke would definitely be in that mix. I loved the growth I saw in Daniel Jones, and there's a ton of young talent on that defense with Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris. I think Virginia will be improved, too, and it wouldn't be insane to think FSU could go from a three-loss ACC team to an undefeated one.

Jim Harbaugh: Loves khakis and ponies. Hates refs and the 49ers' brass. I think we can all agree with these concepts.

Obviously Lamar Jackson will go into the season as the favorite, but as we all know, repeating as the Heisman winner may be the toughest task in sports. But the ACC will have some other candidates. Virginia Tech's Jerod Evans would top my list. The Hokies have a chance to be very good, and he's an excellent runner and passer who could put up big numbers. Deondre Francois would make my list, too. If Kaaya returns, he'd be in the mix, along with Eric Dungey at Syracuse. As for a couple of wild cards: Pitt's Quadree Henderson, FSU's Derwin James, Clemson's Tavien Feaster.

This is just a terrific question to end our mailbag season on.

My thoughts, and feel free to include your own in the comments:

  • Jimbo Fisher - John McClane (which, we guess, means Al Golden is Hans Gruber)

  • Dave Clawson - Santa from Family Guy’s “Road to the North Pole" (he’s trying to get the factory working, but the elves had really deteriorated)

  • Dave Doeren - Charlie Brown (someday, the rest of us will appreciate the beauty of the tree he has put together)

  • Dabo Swinney - Clark W Griswold (and the new football complex is getting a pool if his bonus comes through)

  • Dino Babers - Billy Ray Valentine from “Trading Places” (using tempo to upend the old school and find success ... which may somehow involve Jim Boeheim stuffing a salmon down his Santa suit)

  • Steve Addazio - Buddy the Elf (“You did it! World’s Best Cup of Coffee! You’re all Dudes!”)

  • Bobby Petrino - Bad Santa (Deep down, he means well)

  • David Cutcliffe - Old Man Marley from “Home Alone” (he just needs the beard)

  • Bronco Mendenhall - Fred Claus (went to Virginia, inherits a mess from the last guy who was there)

  • Larry Fedora - Santa in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (only he chooses to have Mitch Trubisky throw 33 times in the storm instead of letting Rudolph’s nose guide them)

  • Justin Fuente - Ernest P. Worrell from “Ernest Saves Christmas” (took over for beloved icon at a crucial moment, saved the day)

  • Pat Narduzzi - The Grinch (ruined Clemson’s perfection and Penn State’s playoff hopes, but all the little Who’s in Death Valley keep singing ...)

  • Mark Richt - Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (from now on, every time Georgia loses to Georgia Tech, an angel gets its wings)

  • Paul Johnson — the dad from “A Christmas Story” (all three of his ACC coach of the year awards are leg lamps)

OK, now that half the league’s coaches are mad at me ... have a great holiday season!