Clemson (13-0, 8-0)
The Tigers had been knocking on the door in recent years and finally kicked the thing to the ground. Now they head into the playoffs as the only undefeated team in the nation and the No. 1 seed. Clemsoning is dead.
It's hard to believe but Clemson's 2016 team, and maybe the 2017 team if Deshaun Watson stays in school, might be more talented and better than this 2015 squad. A National Title this year would certainly change some things but if they win at Auburn to start next year the 2016 season could be another undefeated campaign before the playoffs.
Florida State (10-2, 6-2)
Our friend Everett Golson left for Tallahassee and eventually found himself on the bench in the middle of a rebuilding year for Florida State's standards. So it goes. This Seminoles' season won't go down in the record books yet it's still a solid non-championship season. They've secured 10 wins for the 5th season out of 6 under Jimbo Fisher, and following an interesting NY6 bowl game against Houston, can finish with 2 or fewer losses for the 4th straight year.
FSU's talent on offense is young and all coming back next year, except they'll be led by a game manager senior at quarterback. The defense was very good and should continue to be so. But can they surpass Clemson? And non-league games against Ole Miss, an improving USF team, and Florida offer significant challenges next year.
Louisville (7-5, 5-3)
That opener against Auburn sure was deceiving. What looked like a quality loss turned out not to be so then the Cards promptly lost their first 3 games. The good news is that all of their losses were pretty explainable (3 ranked teams + Auburn, Pitt) and they did finish the season on a 7-2 streak. Louisville needs to win their bowl game to avoid Bobby Petrino's fewest wins in a season for his entire career outside his first at Arkansas.
The offense was a mess this year as freshman Lamar Jackson was repeatedly thrown out there to get experience. He'll improve with an off-season and will be one of the league's best dual-threat quarterbacks. Petrino gets the benefit of the doubt with the offense and the schedule is far easier in 2016 than this year's really tough slate.
NC State (7-5, 3-5)
Not all 7-5 records are created equal as you can see with comparisons between NC State and Louisville. The Wolfpack cruised to 4-0 against one of the nation's easiest schedules then finished the year completely off the radar with 5 losses in their last 8 games. Jacoby Brissette, who was a darkhorse Heisman candidate, put up nice stats but never took off as NC State scored under 20 in three of their losses.
Dave Doern came over from Northern Illinois but his 2-year stint there, however successful, might not have meant he was a sure-fire up and coming coach. Through 3 seasons he's 6-18 in ACC play and has to face East Carolina, Notre Dame, Miami, Clemson, FSU, and North Carolina next year without Brissett. This job might come open this time next year.
Syracuse (4-8, 2-6)
The Orange did just enough to escape the basement of the Atlantic but it wasn't enough to save Scott Shafer's job. Syracuse battled hard while hosting LSU in the Carrier Dome in late September only to fall and lose 8 straight games. Six of those 8 losses came by 10 points or more--only a regular season finale 3-point win over Boston College saved a tie for last place in the division.
Dino Babers comes in as a late bloomer (54-years old with 4 years of head coaching experience) to inject some offensive life into the 'Cuse program. His 2 years at Bowling Green were very good (18-9 overall) and he had the Falcons averaging 561 yards per game this past season. The schedule is tough (USF, UConn, ND all in a row) so it might take a couple years for some real progress and the right pieces on offense.
Wake Forest (3-9, 1-7)
Somewhere Dave Clawson is still yelling about something. Now that Dino Babers is at Syracuse that makes the last 2 Bowling Green coaches in the ACC Atlantic. Things aren't going too well for Clawson as his 2 wins against Power 5 teams have been a 6-3 barn burner against Virginia Tech and a 3-0 fireworks display against Boston College. Both sides of the ball improved from 2014, but it was marginally and not nearly enough to win more games.
This might be a turning point year for Clawson in 2016. Continual improvement, especially on offense, could have the program creep towards .500 especially with 3 very manageable non-league games and missing this past season's top 3 opponents from the Coastal division.
Boston College (3-9, 0-8)
The Eagles joined the Big East in 1991 and then switched to the ACC in 2005. This is the first time in program history that Boston College went win-less in league play. Steve Addazio, everybody! The Eagles finished with one of the worst offenses in college football and lost 8 straight to end the season, including 9 out of their last 10.
I was close to a brighter stock report because going without a win in league play is really hard to pull off two years in a row. But how does this get better? It's impossible with some of the senior leaders to improve upon a great defense and frankly the pieces are there on offense to only get marginally better. The record might be very similar to last year with Addazio squarely on the hot seat or fired altogether.
North Carolina (11-2, 8-0)
North Carolina has tied their school record for most wins already, went undefeated within league play, and I'm not sure how any of will remember this season in the future. That's what happens when you miss both Clemson and Florida State in conference and don't play a ranked team until the league title game, which they lost. Oh well, Larry Fedora went from kind of being on the hot seat to signing a 7-year extension.
Replacing quarterback Marquise Williams who's put up incredible numbers throughout his career is going to be tough for the Heels. Nevertheless, many starters will be back and the combination of Fedora with Chizik as DC (if he sticks around) should work well. Plus, they miss Clemson again and are probably the Coastal favorite again if they can get adequate quarterback play next year.
Pittsburgh (8-4, 6-2)
Pat Narduzzi's first season at Pitt was a success. They lost to 3 ranked teams, plus Miami, and basically took care of business against the teams they should in most years. Unfortunately, the program's minor progress is being overshadowed by running back James Conner who missed the entire season after injuring his knee in the opener and now recently being diagnosed with cancer. Let's pray he's back ASAP.
The Panthers defense is young and should get better under the tutelage of Narduzzi. However, the offense is going to face some big questions if Conner can't play and with superstar wideout Tyler Boyd off to the NFL. The schedule won't be easy with non-league games against Penn State, Oklahoma State, and Marshall. A season that back slides to 5 or 6 losses might be in the cards.
Miami (8-4, 5-3)
After 4.5 seasons and 25 losses the Hurricanes said goodbye to Al Golden this fall following their school-record 58-0 loss at the hands of Clemson. They did win 4 out of their last 5 games but included in there was another brutal loss to North Carolina. All in all, a pretty lackluster and boring Miami team who took on the persona of their now-fired head coach.
Mark Richt fits Miami's offense really well and should immediately upgrade the program in nearly all areas. They do travel to Notre Dame next year but have 3 very winnable non-league games and miss Clemson, as well. It might take a while to change the culture, still the talent is there to push for a division title.
Duke (7-5, 4-4)
The fewest wins since 2012, everybody panic! This would usually be seen as a fantastic year for Duke. Instead, it was pretty blah with an early close loss to Northwestern and finishing the season losing 4 in a row before righting the ship in the finale against Wake Forest.
Who in Durham wouldn't be happy if Duke finished in this spot come next year? They do travel to Northwestern and Notre Dame early in the season, but Clemson and FSU are off the schedule which leaves room to steal a game here or there in ACC play. Quarterback Thomas Sirk is quietly going to be one of the best in the league.
Virginia Tech (6-6, 4-4)
A 28-23 record since 2012 for Virginia Tech was enough for Frank Beamer to retire. The Hokies lost just 24 games from 2004 to 2011, for comparison. This was a really tough year led by a best win over NC State. That's not what Virginia Tech is used to and the time for a change finally hit Blacksburg.
Justin Fuente coming in and matching up with DC Bud Foster is probably about as good of a situation as the Hokies were going to find in a post-Beamer world. It might take a while as Tennessee (at Bristol Motor Speedway!), East Carolina, and Notre Dame are up next year out of conference with tougher league games on the road.
Virginia (4-8, 3-5)
The original Doing Good Things™ coach is now gone. Yes, Mike London has departed after a dreadful final 4 seasons that saw the Hoos lose 27 games in ACC play. Who knows how things play out if Virginia upsets our Irish in week 2 but they ended up with only 3 close wins against Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Duke. They were only blown out once but the losses had piled up far too much by this point.
If anything, luring in Bronco Mendenhall from BYU is going to fascinating to watch. The Cavaliers lose some bodies up front on defense but have a pretty favorable schedule next year with 3 winnable non-league games and tough ACC matchups mostly at home. There may be an opportunity for immediate improvement and a few more wins in 2016, especially with an electric playmaker like Taquan Mizzell doing everything on offense.
Georgia Tech (3-9, 1-7)
The pre-season No. 16 team finished with 9 losses. That's like if the 2007 Notre Dame team was supposed to be good and then did what it did. Unreal.
I mean it can't get worse can it? This team beat Florida State on a hilarious blocked field goal return and couldn't muster another victory over a major conference opponent.