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2018 ACC Spoilers

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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If you want to be wholly surprised in 2018, don't read this.

One of the most fun things about college football is its unpredictability. I wouldn’t recommend trusting the consistency of 18-22 year olds in pretty much any facet of life, and this is no different. Every season, a handful of things happen that, if it took place in a movie, we would needle the writing for being too unrealistic. I say this as a warning, if you want to be wholly surprised in 2018, stop reading. If you’re still here, proceed with caution, as you have now entered the spoiler zone. Here are five things I am absolutely, positively, uncategorically certain will happen this year.

(SPOILER ALERT)

1. Duke linebacker Joe Giles-Harris will win the Butkus Award. Given annually to the best linebacker in college football, this is his for the taking. In 2017, Giles-Harris earned second team All-American honors from the Walter Camp Foundation, and was a third teamer according to both CBS and Phil Steele. He was a first team All-ACC selection. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ best linebacker in all of the FBS, their seventh highest defensive player, and their 13th highest player overall. He’s still, somehow, underrated. Since the turn of the century, only 13 other players have had as many tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and passes defensed in a single season as Joe Giles-Harris had in 2017. Look no further than Durham for the “next” Roquan Smith. David Cutcliffe coached Patrick Willis years ago, and now he’s got version 2.0.

2. Clemson will become the first team to ever go 15-0 (if Kelly Bryant keeps the starting job the whole year). Granted, only since the inception of the College Football Playoff has this even been possible, but still, this would be a remarkable feat. As mentioned above, one of the things that makes college football so special is the utter madness that occurs, without fail, almost every single week. There was no good reason for Clemson to lose to Syracuse last year, or Miami to lose to Pitt, or any number of objectively stupid happenings -- but they did. 15-0 would be unprecedented, and, as such, I feel that this is still fairly bold, even with the Bryant hedge. Trevor Lawrence may be an incredible talent, but the thing is, freshman quarterbacks play like freshman quarterbacks from time to time. In the pursuit of perfection, that’s enough to derail what is otherwise the best team in the country. However, if Bryant is at the helm, and especially if he plays like he did in those last three games of the season, prior to the playoff, in 2017, it is not only possible, but within grasp.

3. Virginia Tech safety Divine Deablo will be the breakout player of the year. Deablo, a converted receiver, at 6’3 220 lbs. Is an absolute athletic specimen. Albeit in limited action, he flashed elite potential as a defensive back for the Hokies in 2017. Had he not suffered a season ending injury against Old Dominion, Deablo might already be talked about with guys like Jaquan Johnson and Lukas Denis. However, he did receive a medical redshirt, and, unfortunately for the rest of the league, returns with three years of eligibility remaining. For him to have been as good as he was, even on a small sample size, last season is truly incredible given his relative lack of experience at the position. That is exactly what makes him such an enticing breakout candidate -- his inexperience. As he grows and develops an understanding of the nuances of the position, and begins to channel that athleticism, his star will only rise. Bud Foster always has dudes in the defensive backfield, we just don't know who they are yet, because of the personnel attrition they’ve experienced, but you can bet that Deablo will be one of them.

4. Even after losing the best college football player of all time, Louisville’s offense will not regress. That’s not to say it will improve -- it was one of the ten best in the country last year -- but another top ten caliber unit is absolutely possible, even likely. Only losing Geron Christian along the offensive line, the interior blocking group started every game, a season ago, while Mekhi Becton, who despite being 6’7 and like one million pounds moves like a ballerina, reprises his role at right tackle after one of the best freshman campaigns in college football. The receiver group is as good as any in the conference, perhaps with the exception of NC State, led by Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Seth Dawkins. Plus, this group is more than just a collection of talent, but a complimentary unit, with each one filling distinctly unique roles, capable of exploiting any defensive look. Dae Williams is a rare size-speed combination that is a nightmare to try to bring down when he reaches the second level. If he can utilize his physicality a little more between the tackles, he will be a force to be reckoned with. And, most importantly, Jawon Pass will not even have to try to fill Lamar Jackson’s shoes. The offense should see a return to what Petrino had so much success with his first time around. Pass doesn’t have to carry this team, just get the ball into the hands of Smith and Fitzpatrick and Dawkins, and get out of the way. An immensely talented group, with Petrino back in his wheelhouse, equals a squad capable of dropping a 40-piece on just about anyone in the country.

5. Clemson running back Travis Etienne will win the Heisman. It seems like this could be market correction year for the old award across multiple fronts. Only two running backs have won the award in the last 12 years, and just one West Coast player has struck the pose since Reggie Bush’s vacated trophy, in 2005. With no clear or compelling favorites, this is as good a year as any to bet on at least one of those two things changing. Jake Browning is a solid bet for the Pac-12 crowd. Bryce Love covers both, if you want to get wild. For the East Coast-biased running back fans, however, the play is clearly to look down the board a little bit, as, obviously, you run the risk of encountering the perception of regression phenomenon that annually plagues many of the favorites. The best odds I could find for Etienne were 50/1, which is perfect -- he’s starting off with enough of a base level respect to get mentioned, without having to deal with the expectations, fair or not, that come with being at the top of the list. This guy is electric with sprinter speed -- it’s like if Dash from The Incredibles parents had let him play football --  posting the second highest yard per carry average in the conference as a freshman (7.16 ypc) and rushing for 10+ yards on just about 15% of his rushes. His having a “Heisman moment” is a foregone conclusion -- probably coming on some kind of nonsensical 80-yard rush in which he switches fields like seven times and jukes all eleven opposing players’, plus at least two refs’, souls out of their respective bodies. If he gets the requisite touches, the raw numbers will undoubtedly be there. Plus, with Clemson headed for the first ever 15-0 season, the national attention around the program will be unsurpassed. Chalk it up. Don’t even play the games. Just give it to him.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP