COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 15 Florida State Garnet & Gold Spring Showcase
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The latest round of conference realignment has not directly touched the ACC, at least not yet, but major changes are still coming to the league. No longer will the conference be operating under its old divisional structure; beginning in 2023, the two teams with the top conference records will square off in the ACC Championship Game at season's end.

It's a huge change for a league which had seen its league title game decided by an average of 31.5 points over the past six seasons as Clemson made a habit of dominating Coastal Division foes in the game. Though the Tigers hoisted the trophy against last season, there are some questions about the staying power of the program's dynasty under two-time national title-winning coach Dabo Swinney.

With Florida State on the rise, North Carolina sporting a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback -- Drake Maye -- and steady programs like NC State, Pitt and Wake Forest always lurking, the ACC race could get interesting in 2023. The league has been excluded from the College Football Playoff for the past two seasons, and will be looking to reassert itself on the national stage.

There's only so much that can be learned from spring practice, but with some imagination, those morsels of insight can interpreted in more meaningful fashion. Here are the biggest overreactions we can take away as ACC spring practices have come to a close. 

Boston College

Donovan Ezeiruaku will get drafted in 2024: BC's defense beat its offense 69-42 in the spring game. Amid the losses of quarterback Phil Jurkovec and first-round NFL Draft selection Zay Flowers at receiver, questions abound with the offense. But let's be positive here and highlight the defense, led by Donovan Ezeiruaku. After earning second-team All-ACC honors in in 2022 with 8.5 sacks, the EDGE rusher is back for his third season and ready to explode. He's muscled up to 250 pounds and is ready to wreck some opposing offenses. Look for Ezeiruaku to complete the transformation from three-star prospect to professional prospect in just three years and be selected in the 2024 NFL Draft.


Garrett Riley's hire will pay quick dividends: Clemson hasn't produced so much as a third-team All-ACC honoree at receiver in the past two seasons. In 2021, Justyn Ross ended the season as Clemson's leading receiver with 46 catches for 514 yards and three touchdowns. Last season, it was Antonio Williams with 56 catches for 604 yards and four touchdowns. Back when Trevor Lawrence was the quarterback, those were the types of numbers posted by the Tigers' No. 3 receiver. With Riley stepping in and working with new starting quarterback Cade Klubnik, look for someone to emerge in the receiving corps and become an all-conference performer. Riley schemed TCU receiver Quentin Johnston into becoming a superstar and first-round draft pick last season for the Horned Frogs. Look for him to work some of that magic on someone like Antonio Williams, Beaux Collins or Adam Randall in 2023.

The Tigers will face one early hiccup, however ... 


The Blue Devils will upset Clemson in opener: Clemson has won 10 of the last 11 in the series and five in a row by an average of 31 points dating back to 2005. But when the Blue Devils and Tigers square off in Durham, North Carolina, on Monday, Sept. 4, don't be surprised if Duke sends Clemson home with a shocking loss in the season-opener. Duke finished 9-4 in 2022 during a sensational debut campaign for coach Mike Elko. With quarterback Riley Leonard, oodles of skill talent and anchors on both lines returning, the Blue Devils have all the pieces needed to maintain that trajectory. Plus, it will be Clemson's first game with a new offensive scheme under first-year offensive coordinator Garrett Riley. A defensive coach like Elko should be licking his chops at the prospect of wreaking havoc on a fledgling unit.

Florida State

Florida State will win the ACC Championship Game: A Sept. 23 trip to Clemson looms large, but even if the Seminoles lose that game, they can still find their way to the ACC Championship Game for a potential shot at revenge against the Tigers. Now that FSU is freed from the old divisional structure, Clemson is less of a barrier to the program's aspirations, especially in a season like this when it appears like the 'Noles have everything they need to challenge for a league title with potential Heisman candidate, quarterback Jordan Travis, leading the charge. FSU also somehow got a projected top-15 draft pick, EDGE rusher Jared Verse, to spurn the NFL and return to college football for another season. He was in the backfield wreaking havoc during the spring scrimmage in just the latest reminder of how all signs are pointing to this being a potential breakthrough season for coach Mike Norvell.

Georgia Tech

Haynes King will shine: King completed 13 of 22 attempts for 276 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Georgia Tech's spring game. Yes, that's the same Haynes King who was formerly anointed as Texas A&M's next great quarterback before injuries derailed his trajectory the past two seasons. He hasn't officially won the job yet, which is why this qualifies as an overreaction. But there's a reason he was considered a four-star prospect in the Class of 2020 and the heir-apparent to Kellen Mond at A&M. King is talented, and if he can stay healthy will help mask some of the deficiencies this program will be working through in coach Brent Key's first full season as coach.


The Cardinals will match or exceed Scott Satterfield's best win total: Louisville's defense won the spring game 51-30, and that should be encouraging since you know first-year coach Jeff Brohm is going to produce a solid offensive product. Satterfield moved on to Cincinnati after four seasons, and Brohm, a beloved native son, has entered. Louisville maxed out at eight wins (twice) under Satterfield, but it looks like the Cardinals should be able to match or exceed that total in Year 1 under Brohm. One of the most obvious reasons is the addition of former Purdue and Cal quarterback Jack Plummer, who threw for 3,095 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions with the Bears last season after spending four years in Brohm's system at Purdue. If he could post those types of numbers in Cal's woeful scheme, he should rack up monster stats at Louisville in a system he already knows.


Don't trust Mario Cristobal to truly open up the offense: Miami aired it out some during its spring game, and that was an encouraging sign in regards to second-year head coach Mario Cristobal's willingness to field an offense that actually works in today's game. First-year offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was in the same role last season for a Houston team that attempted 38.5 passes per game. Is Cristobal truly ready to hand over the reins of the unit to someone so aerially inclined? We'll see. Oregon ran significantly more than it passed in Cristobal's four seasons there, and it's going to take a hardcore mentality shift for Cristobal to embrace that style. Ultimately, he must. If the 'Canes are going to make the most of quarterback Tyler Van Dyke's presence on their roster and be a factor in the ACC, Cristobal has no choice but to let Dawson move his offense out of the Stone Age.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels are too dependent on Drake Maye: North Carolina ranked 101st nationally in sacks allowed with 2.86 per game during the 2022 season, which isn't ideal when you've got a game-changing quarterback like the Tar Heels do in Drake Maye. If, heaven forbid, Maye were to miss time due to injury, things could turn ugly for the Tar Heels in 2023. Redshirt freshman Conner Harrell, a former three-star prospect, is the backup and has never played. That would be less concerning if North Carolina had a proven defense and a trusty offensive line. But it has neither, and that means UNC fans will again be holding their breath every time Maye takes a hit in 2023.

NC State

Anae and Armstrong will keep the Wolfpack thriving: NC State is losing a pair of first-team all-ACC performers from its offensive line in Grant Gibson and Chandler Zavala, which is less than ideal with the Wolfpack breaking in a new quarterback and implementing a fresh system. But it's not as bad as it sounds because the scheme is one that new coordinator Robert Anae has successfully implemented at Virginia and Syracuse. The quarterback coming in to run it is sixth-year senior Brennan Armstrong, who threw for 4,449 yards while playing for Anae at UVa in 2021. The Anae-Armstrong reunion will help keep the Wolfpack on the eight-to-nine win trajectory it has routinely enjoyed under 11th-year coach Dave Doeren despite significant losses on both sides of the ball.


The Panthers are facing a rebuilding season: Pitt tied with Clemson for the most NFL Draft picks of any ACC school with six, and has now seen 14 players selected over the last three years. That's a remarkable run for the Panthers and coach Pat Narduzzi, and it speaks to the program's developmental chops. But the collective exodus of the past few years is going to take a toll in 2023 as the Panthers face a regular-season slate featuring 11 Power Five opponents. This should still be a bowl team, but a third consecutive top 25 finish seems like a big ask.


Oronde Gadsden II is the ACC's best receiving threat: Oronde Gadsden II is technically a tight end for Syracuse, but he's only 216 pounds and lines up everywhere. If you didn't know his name before, get used to hearing it because Gadsden is the ACC's best pass catcher heading into the season. He's the league's leading returner in yards receiving after racking up 969 as a sophomore last season and is living up to the family name quite well. His father made 227 catches over six seasons with the Dolphins, but his son may turn out to be even better. At 6-5, Gadsden has elite size and is outplaying the three-star rating he received as a prospect.


Virginia fans will need patience: With 11 games against Power Five foes, just six home games and a revamped group of offensive personnel, it's going to be another foundation-laying season for second-year coach Tony Elliot. The saving grace for the Cavaliers is that they dodge Clemson and Florida State. But even the spring presented an unusual challenge for Elliot as potential starting quarterback Jay Woolfolk was tied up with the baseball team. On the bright side, Woolfolk's arm appears to be doing well as he owns a solid 2.38 ERA in 19 relief appearances.

Virginia Tech

Kyron Drones will get his chance: Don't be deceived by the box score from the spring game. Incumbent starter Grant Wells may have statistically outshined Baylor transfer quarterback Kyron Drones in that setting, but there was an offensive line mismatch between the teams that made drawing conclusions an ill-fated endeavor. So how about this for a conclusion instead? Drones will get his shot. Whether it's as the Day 1 starter remains to be seen, but the former four-star prospect from the Class of 2021 is stepping into a Virginia Tech program that struggled mightily on offense last season. Drones is a viable challenger for Wells and will, at some point, get meaningful playing time as the Hokies try and find their footing under second-year coach Brent Pry.

Wake Forest

Sam Hartman is more replaceable than you think: Reports out of Wake Forest's spring practice session suggest that Mitch Griffis was excellent as the first-team quarterback, and his 19-of-29 performance for 300 yards passing in the spring game backed that up. Hartman transferred to Notre Dame after five seasons with the Demon Deacons that included an ACC record 110 touchdown passes. But Griffis is equipped to replace him as a fourth-year sophomore who has waited his turn and thrived when called upon. He knows the system and is more mobile than Hartman, which should come in handy considering that Wake Forest ranked 104th nationally with 2.92 sacks allowed per game last season.