CFB: Predictions for the ACC in 2024

By Rory Daniels

The ACC was rightly aggrieved to see its Conference Champion, Florida State, left out of the playoffs in 2023, given that they finished the season unbeaten. It’s symbolic of the shift in College Football, where the ACC is gradually being left behind by its ‘bigger brothers’, the SEC and the Big 10.

It has led to the major players looking to break their contract with the conference and seek greener pastures elsewhere. For now, they remain, and the expanded playoff means at least one and probably more teams from the ACC will play at the sharp end of the season. We look at who we think will play a key part in 2024.

Conference Winner - Clemson Tigers

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I know what you’re thinking. Surely not Clemson, after another offseason where Dabo Swinney refuses to endorse the transfer portal, and his team continues to rely on recruiting alone. However, the ACC appears to be wide open. Last year’s winner, Florida State, lost a huge amount of talent to the NFL, and while I trust Mike Norvell to figure it out, there may be teething problems. Mario Cristobel’s Miami are many people’s favourites. While they appear to have a stacked roster, a loss to Florida in the season opener could put the ‘Canes under immense pressure.

So, I went with the tried and trusted. Swinney knows what it takes to win the conference and retains his fair share of talent. Cade Klubnik flashed potential, Phil Mafeh is a big, powerful back, and the defense has plenty of experience, starting with linebacker Barrett Carter. That’s enough to think that we may see a Tiger redemption story in 2024.

Most Valuable Player - Cam Ward, QB, Miami

Miami might not have won my trust for the ACC Championship, but I believe they have a game-changer at the quarterback position. Cam Ward’s dual-threat ability makes him a difficult matchup for defenses in the conference. Every time he has stepped up the level of competition, he has succeeded. From Incarnate Ward to Washington State, the results were the same. 

Ward threw for 3,736 yards in 2023 and rushed for 144 yards. His escapability is clear on tape, and the Canes may choose to tap into that more frequently, especially with Damien Martinez as a foil in the backfield. Ward may need to use his powerful arm more frequently to garner a stronger look from NFL teams, but if he does, he could take the ACC by storm.

Offensive Player of the Year - Omarion Hampton, RB, North Carolina

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The North Carolina Tar Heels have a history of producing high-quality running backs. Some examples are Giovani Bernard, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. The next in line is Omarion Hampton who exploded to relevance during his sophomore year. He ran for over 1500 yards at an average of 5.9 yards per carry. At 6’0 and 220lbs, Hampton possesses the size to take a lead role in an NFL backfield and become a workhorse back.

It won’t be an easy season for Hampton in a North Carolina offense that is seemingly on the downslide. After Sam Howell and Drake Maye, the Tar Heels have the experienced but significantly less talented Max Johnson at quarterback. That, coupled with many new faces on the offensive line, means that the Tar Heels will lean heavily on Hampton’s aggressive running style to provide the offense with a platform, particularly early in the year. That could mean he will post similar monster numbers in 2024.

Defensive Player of the Year - Ashton Gillotte, Edge, Louisville

The fact that the ACC’s sack leader returns for his senior season makes this award somewhat easier to hand out. Gillotte led the conference with 11 sacks and will spearhead Louisville’s defense, which ranked 3rd in terms of yards allowed in the ACC. His versatility and explosion off the line of scrimmage make him a standout watch on tape. 

At 6’3, 270lbs, he is a bit of a tweener. The Cardinals make the most of that by using him as a versatile weapon along the defensive line. He’s a strong hand-fighter, but his athleticism may set a ceiling as an outside rusher. An intriguing anomaly for Gillotte is that 10 of his 11 sacks came on home turf. With Notre Dame, Clemson and Kentucky all on the road in 2024 can Gillotte get to the QB against the most testing opponents?

Freshman of the Year - Elijah Brown, QB, Stanford

This isn’t going to be an easy year for Stanford. Already on a downward spiral in the Pac-12, moving to the ACC is unlikely to reverse that trend. With stiffer competition from the likes of FSU, Clemson, and Miami, it’s hard to see the Cardinal in the playoff shakeup. However, there may be green shoots of recovery in the form of an incoming four-star quarterback.

Elijah Brown took over at Mater Dei from Bryce Young. In fact, it’s a proud line of QBs that have come from the Californian high school. USC legends Matt Leinhart and Matt Barkley are alumni who have gone on to NFL success. It will be a more difficult route for Brown, who won’t have the supporting cast to challenge for the conference. However, he arrives with big expectations and should start as a freshman. That alone gives him the opportunity to make waves in his first season.

Breakout Player of the Year - Tyler Brown, WR, Clemson

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There’s been much hand-wringing around the wide receiver position and Clemson for well over a year now. Plenty of high-profile recruits have failed to fill the void left by the likes of Mike Williams, Tee Higgins and Hunter Renfrow. Further exacerbating the problem has been head coach Dabo Swinney’s unwillingness to use the transfer portal. Allowing conference rivals FSU to snap up Keon Coleman was a big mistake in 2023. 

Swinney remains unwavering in his stance, and that’s why Tyler Brown could be the most impactful receiver on the team in 2023. He led the Tigers with 531 receiving yards last season, and it’s easy to see why. Despite his undersized profile, Brown is explosive from the slot and often provides Cade Klubnik with an easy option due to the separation he can create. He will compete with outside receiver Antonio Williams for catches but Brown’s speed gives him the edge as to why I think he can be the main threat in this offense once again.

Surprise Team of the Year - Syracuse Orange

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Syracuse is one of the most difficult jobs in College Football. There isn’t much upside to being head coach of a traditionally basketball-orientated program in New York. However, the Orange’s switch from the steady job Dino Babers did to the fresh-faced enthusiasm of Fran Brown has infused excitement amongst the fans. Brown has learned at the heel of the very best. Kirby Smart crafted a dynasty out of Georgia on the field and in recruiting while Brown was the secondary coach for the Bulldogs. 

Brown clearly has an eye for talent and has already caused a stir by bringing in Ohio State transfer Kyle McCord at quarterback. I don’t expect Syracuse to become a conference challenger, but I do think they will be a tougher out on everybody’s schedule. Brown will thrive in the role of underdog and when you listen to him speak, it’s clear to see how he inspires his guys. This is unlikely to be his final landing spot as a head coach, and an impressive year 1 could see him become touted for the bigger jobs next cycle.

Mock Draft

Rory-Joe Daniels

College Football Lead Writer