It’s only been a few days since we officially put the 2015 season to bed with Alabama’s win against Clemson in the national championship game, but it’s never too soon to make some bold (sure to be wrong) predictions for 2016.
1. The ACC has multiple playoff contenders
Clemson is the popular pick to repeat, and with good reason, but with North Carolina on the uptick, high-profile coaches added at Miami and Virginia Tech, and big seasons expected at Louisville and Florida State, don’t be surprised if at some point, the talking heads start wondering whether two teams might make the playoff.
2. The ACC's most prolific quarterback will be Mitch Trubisky
All due respect to Deshaun Watson and Brad Kaaya -- both will have big seasons in 2016 -- but plenty of North Carolina fans thought Trubisky should have been the starter the past two seasons, and he will step into an up-tempo offense loaded with weapons at the skill positions.
3. Dalvin Cook rushes for 2,000 yards
He missed nearly two full games in 2015. He played half the season on a gimpy hamstring. His quarterbacks struggled and his offensive line was learning on the job. Still, Cook rushed for an ACC-best 1,691 yards in 2015. He could add another 309 in 2016 just by staying healthy.
4. The best defense in the ACC belongs to Louisville
That so many potential NFL prospects chose to return for 2016 is big news for the Cardinals, who had one of the more underrated units in the country in 2015. Louisville was 14th in the nation in defensive efficiency last season, and that group should be even more dangerous in 2016.
5. Mark Richt wins more games at Miami this season than Kirby Smart does at Georgia
Both coaches have bright futures in their new homes, but we're betting the guy with 15 years' experience and the established star at quarterback will find more immediate success.
6. Four quarterbacks will rush for at least 1,000 yards
Watson showed how dangerous an offense can be with a mobile quarterback, and Lamar Jackson upended two straight SEC opponents by doing the same at the end of 2015. Add in Thomas Sirk at Duke, Justin Thomas at Georgia Tech, Kendall Hinton at Wake Forest and Trubisky at North Carolina, and there are ample options for others to join the 1,000-yard club this season.
7. Dave Doeren and Paul Johnson will struggle to quiet the critics
NC State fans are expecting progress, and it could be a rough road for the Wolfpack this season. They will need to break in a new quarterback with a tougher nonconference schedule (Notre Dame, at ECU) and road games against Clemson, Louisville and North Carolina. And Georgia Tech fans will have a hard time remembering that Orange Bowl win two seasons ago if Johnson can’t make major progress after a three-win campaign in 2015.
8. Virginia finally goes bowling
The Cavaliers lost five games by a touchdown or less last season, and that, combined with a brutal nonconference schedule, doomed their season. But with Bronco Mendenhall taking over as coach, expect the performance on the field to be much improved and the nonconference schedule to be much more manageable (Connecticut, Richmond and Central Michigan to go with a home game against Oregon). Eight wins isn’t too lofty a goal.
9. Syracuse struggles again, but wins a big one
Dino Babers' rebuilding job is going to take some time -- especially in the loaded ACC Atlantic. But Babers' high-flying offense should be fun to watch immediately, and it will create a nightmare scenario for at least one big-name ACC contender along the way.
10. James Conner is the ACC's best story in 2016
Let’s not even call it a bold prediction. The Pitt running back is too much of a fighter to fall short of his goals as he battles Hodgkin's lymphoma, so here’s betting he returns to the field in 2016 and looks like a star once again.