Predicting ACC win totals: Clemson should cruise again in 2020 college football season


The 2020 college football season remains scheduled to begin in a few months, but before diving into win totals, it’s important to focus singularly on what the schedule looks like for each team. Below, we’ve broken down every game for every team in the ACC this upcoming season, using our predictions to determine what each team’s record will look like at the end of the season. 

Unlike win total picks, these predictions require choosing a winner and holding the result across team breakdowns. We’ve not only predicted how many games each team will win, but also where those wins are going to come and what games on the schedule could end up changing the fortunes of the entire conference. 

Winners were selected based on a power rating of the entire conference, for the most part, with consideration for location as a tiebreaker. There a few spots where series or program history played a role in an unexpected outcome, but if that’s the case, it will be noted in the analysis. 

Check out the breakdown of the likely wins, losses and final record below for each team in the ACC in the 2020 season: 

Clemson (12-0, 8-0 ACC)

  • Wins: at Georgia Tech, Louisville, Akron, Virginia, at Boston College, at Florida State, NC State, Syracuse, at Notre Dame, The Citadel, at Wake Forest, South Carolina 
  • Losses: None 
  • Analysis: There’s no doubt that the Tigers’ late-season date at Notre Dame is tough, but even in that setting, Clemson would enter the game as a betting favorite of nearly a touchdown. Predicting a loss at any other spot on the schedule would be trying to force unique imagined circumstances into the activity, and that’s not the goal here. Clemson is one of the top-three programs in all of college football, is led by one of the two best quarterbacks in the sport and will likely be a double-digit favorite in every conference game. The Tigers have shown they’re not capable of covering every one of those huge spreads, but the only loss in their last 30 games came at the hands of an LSU team that, with its 14 players selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, has an argument as one of the greatest teams in college football history. 

Virginia Tech (10-2, 7-1)

  • Wins: Liberty, at Middle Tennessee, North Alabama, Georgia Tech, Boston College, at Louisville, at Pitt, Miami, at Duke, Virginia
  • Losses: Penn State, at North Carolina 
  • Analysis: Winning can cure a lot of uneasiness around a football program, and what better response to the Justin Fuente-Baylor flirtations than to see the coach lead the Hokies to a 10-win regular season in 2020. There are 18 starters back for Virginia Tech including quarterback Hendon Hooker, who guided the team to ACC Coastal contention before falling one win short against rival Virginia. There’s not a game on the schedule that the Hokies can’t win — even that Penn State game in Blacksburg is certainly a possibility — but road games against North Carolina and Louisville set up for at least one loss in conference play. 

North Carolina (9-3, 7-1)

  • Wins: James Madison, Georgia Tech, at Virginia, Virginia Tech, at Duke, at Miami, UConn, at Boston College, NC State 
  • Losses: at UCF, Auburn, Pitt 
  • Analysis: North Carolina might be a seven-point or even 10-point favorite against Pitt at home, but the likelihood of the Panthers disrupting the ACC Coastal Division race exceeds the odds that the Tar Heels will go undefeated in conference play. UNC has the best ACC quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence in Sam Howell and an offense that can power a top-25 season for Mack Brown in Chapel Hill. But the margins between UNC and the rest of the ACC are too thin to expect a goose egg in the loss column. Maybe that defeat comes at Miami on Oct. 24, but I’m guessing Pat Narduzzi and the Panthers will be the ministers of Coastal chaos in a year where there appear to be two front-running teams in the division. 

Miami (9-3, 5-3)

  • Wins: Temple, Wagner, UAB, at Michigan State, Pitt, at Wake Forest, at Virginia, at Georgia Tech, Duke 
  • Losses: North Carolina, Florida State, at Virginia Tech
  • Analysis: The hype around former Houston starting quarterback D’Eriq King makes Miami one of the most fun teams in the country to discuss and follow, but there are still plenty of questions and concerns even a few layers beneath the surface. King is an electric playmaker, but the skill positions lack consistency and experience while the offensive line brings back experience but from a group that underperformed in 2019. Defensively, they’ll have one of the best pass rush tandems in the nation but the back-end of the defense needs to step up its play so Gregory Rousseau and Jaelen Phillips can have time to get to the quarterback. I’ve got the hype peaking after a 6-0 start to the season, with division rivals and Florida State getting the best of the Canes late in the year.  

Louisville (8-4, 6-2)

  • Wins: NC State, Murray State, WKU, at Syracuse, at Boston College, Florida State, at Virginia, Wake Forest  
  • Losses: at Clemson, Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame, Kentucky
  • Analysis: What we’re predicting here is basically no bad losses, which is perhaps a little too optimistic. This is a very good team with one of the best QB-RB-WR trios in the ACC (Micale Cunningham, Javian Hawkins, Tutu Atwell), but one bad loss drops the step-forward eight-win season to another seven-win regular season. Two bad losses suddenly have the Cards on edge in November regarding their postseason status. 

Florida State (8-4, 6-2)

  • Wins: West Virginia, Samford, at NC State, Wake Forest, Pitt, at Miami, Boston College, at Syracuse
  • Losses: at Boise State, Clemson, at Louisville, Florida 
  • Analysis: Now this is an 8-4 that feels like it could creep up to 10-2 if Mike Norvell’s got a locker room full of road warriors capable of going to get it done on the Smurf Turf to start the season. While the distance between the Seminoles and ACC title contention could be plainly obvious in defeats to Clemson and Florida, the rest of the schedule should see Florida State start to re-assert itself as a top tier team in the league, including a rivalry win against the Hurricanes. 

NC State (8-4, 4-4)

  • Wins: Mississippi State, at Troy, Delaware, Duke, Wake Forest, Boston College, at Syracuse, Liberty
  • Losses: Louisville, Florida State, at Clemson, at North Carolina 
  • Analysis: Dave Doeren needs a bounce-back season after going 1-7 in conference play a year ago, but I think the biggest games of the season are going to come right at the beginning in non-conference play. Mississippi State and NC State are somewhat evenly-matched programs and carry comparable power ratings at this point in the offseason, so I’m giving the Wolfpack the edge with the home field where I might hand it to the Bulldogs if the game was in Starkville. But the next game, at Troy, could end up being equally challenging. Going 4-0 in non-conference play is the key to hitting this eight-win mark, and I think the Wolfpack can do it. 

Pitt (7-5, 4-4)

  • Wins: Miami (Ohio), at Marshall, Richmond, Duke, Georgia Tech, at North Carolina, Syracuse 
  • Losses: at Miami, Notre Dame, at Florida State, Virginia Tech, at Virginia  
  • Analysis: Outside of the chaos win against North Carolina, I think this is closer to the floor than the ceiling for Pitt in 2020. Games against Miami, Virginia Tech and certainly at Virginia carry opportunities for wins that could see this total increase, though winning all three and the game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill is very unlikely. There’s a rugged regularity to what Pitt has become, where it’s far too sturdy of a program to expect anything less than a bowl game but it requires all the right breaks to take down its toughest division foes en route to a second ACC Championship Game appearance in three seasons. 

Virginia (5-7, 2-6)

  • Wins: VMI, UConn, at ODU, at Duke, Pitt 
  • Losses: vs. Georgia, at Clemson, North Carolina, at Georgia Tech, Miami, Louisville, at Virginia Tech
  • Analysis: Injuries on the defensive side of the ball forced a lot of younger players into action earlier than expected in a way that actually promotes confidence in Virginia maintaining competitiveness after its Orange Bowl season in 2019. Losing about 78 percent of the offensive production with Bryce Perkins‘ exit still hurts enough to flip some of those toss-up conference games the other way, though. A non-conference date with Georgia makes the battle for bowl eligibility the topic of conversation when the Wahoos arrive in Blacksburg to face a Virginia Tech team that saw its 15-year run of winning snapped the year prior. 

Georgia Tech (4-8, 3-5)

  • Wins: Gardner-Webb, Virginia, at Syracuse, Duke 
  • Losses: Clemson, UCF, at North Carolina, at Virginia Tech, at Pitt, Notre Dame, Miami, at Georgia
  • Analysis: The small steps that Georgia Tech must take in reshaping its football program will be seen locally before breaking out nationally thanks to rigorous schedules that include playing Georgia and Clemson every single season. It’s also got UCF and Notre Dame, meaning the Yellow Jackets would need to go 6-2 against the rest of the schedule just to make a bowl game. I think they get half of that, with three confidence-building conference wins that Geoff Collins takes back to the recruiting trail as Georgia Tech builds up for its potential breakthrough in 2021.  

Wake Forest (4-8, 2-6) 

  • Wins: at ODU, Villanova, Syracuse, Boston College
  • Losses: Appalachian State, Notre Dame, at Duke, Miami, at Florida State,  at NC State, at Louisville, Clemson
  • Analysis: Sam Hartman was an effective starter for Wake Forest before and should be solid again, especially with Sage Surratt back at wide receiver. The Demon Deacons have exceeded expectations frequently, so I’m wary of how the numbers aren’t doing them any favors, noting that 4-8 is probably the floor in 2020. Wins in toss-up games against Appalachian State, Duke and NC State turn 4-8 into 7-5, and paint a very different picture at season’s end. Right now, I’ve got those three key in-state battles breaking the other way.  

Duke (4-8, 1-7)

  • Wins: Middle Tennessee, Elon, Charlotte, Wake Forest 
  • Losses: at Pitt, at NC State, North Carolina, at Notre Dame, at Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, at Miami 
  • Analysis: The Virginia game in Durham and the Georgia Tech game in Atlanta are where you look first to see how this 4-8 can flip into 6-6 and bowl eligibility. That said, Duke has proven to be among the most unpredictable programs in the ACC Coastal Chaos, and maybe the wins come against North Carolina and Notre Dame instead. After all, last year’s 5-7 team beat division runner-up Virginia Tech 45-10 in Blacksburg and finished the year with a 27-17 win against Miami. 

Boston College (4-8, 1-7)

  • Wins: Syracuse, Ohio, Kansas, Holy Cross 
  • Losses: Purdue, Clemson, Louisville, Virginia Tech, NC State, Florida State, UNC, Wake Forest
  • Analysis: Jeff Hafley inherits a strong defense and solid offensive line, but there’s too many questions elsewhere and no spring practice to answer them heading into a tough schedule for a first-year coach. The Eagles draw the top two teams out of the Coastal Division, and the non-conference schedule includes both Kansas and Purdue in addition to an Ohio program that is annually in the mix for a MAC championship.  

Syracuse (4-8, 0-8)

  • Wins: Colgate, at Rutgers, Western Michigan, Liberty, 
  • Losses: at Boston College, Louisville, at Clemson, Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest, NC State, Florida State, at Pitt 
  • Analysis: It’s a bummer for Syracuse that I spent a lot of time considering the outcome of games against Rutgers and Western Michigan. Ideally, the Orange are in a position where those games are automatic wins, and the debates surround games against Florida State and Louisville. From a power ratings perspective, I’ve got Syracuse ranked 14th among ACC teams, and in 2020 its most winnable ACC games are on the road against Wake Forest and Boston College. 





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