ACC mailblog: Pitt's RBs, Clemson's secondary, Kaaya vs. Watson

Cracking open the mailbag with just six weeks left to go before camps open...

Cracking open the mailbag with just six weeks left to go before camps open...

There's legitimate optimism that Wake Forest could return to a bowl this year, and with a manageable nonconference slate and winnable matchups against Boston College and Syracuse, that seems a pretty reasonable aspiration. The offensive line remains below ACC level, but it is improved, and the Deacons have more talent at the skill spots than they've had in years.

The bigger question is the long-term future. Is six or seven wins - with the occasional jump to eight or nine - a cap for this program? Dave Clawson thinks it can be more, but as the big boys at the top of the Atlantic keep getting bigger, competing with Florida State, Clemson and Louisville annually will never be an easy task.

Yikes, I thought the offseason was a time for optimism. Looking at this year's schedule, it's hard to envision a big upset. Miami is certainly a game FSU could lose, but there's also a good chance the Hurricanes will be ranked at the time. USF should be competitive, but a road game in Tampa will likely feature as many FSU fans as Bulls fans. So if I've got to pick one, the obvious choice seems to be NC State, as Carter-Finley has been a house of horrors for the Seminoles in the past. But if I were betting, I'd say Jimbo Fisher navigates the unranked portion of his slate pretty easily this time around.

Elijah Hood can most certainly rush for 1,600 yards - he wasn't far from that total last year (1,463) - but the Heisman seems a lofty goal. It's not that he won't be one of the elite backs in the country, but for a tailback to get into the Heisman mix, he usually has to be the focal point of his team's offense (see: Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey), whereas North Carolina has so many diverse weapons that Hood's role will always be part of a balanced attack.

The obvious answer here would be Dalvin Cook, but Florida State has enough talent on its roster that the Seminoles could probably afford to lose Cook early and still have a solid (though probably not a playoff-caliber) season. There's a reasonable argument Justin Thomas is the most irreplaceable player in the league, but Georgia Tech only won three games with him on the field last year. So my vote would probably go to Brad Kaaya. Miami's aspirations are high, and if Kaaya were to go down early, it would be a tremendous blow to a program desperately in need of a big year.

This is a question that CFB Film Room investigated in some detail earlier this month, arguing that if Kaaya isn't already ahead of Deshaun Watson in terms of NFL potential, he's certainly close. But there's a difference between NFL potential and college production, and while Miami has some nice pieces around Kaaya, Clemson is probably the better team at virtually every offensive position. Given that Watson also happens to be an enormously talented quarterback (and a far, far better runner than Kaaya) it's hard to see the ACC quarterback pecking order shifting. Still, it could easily be a 1 and 1A situation by year's end.

Last year was an anomaly, with a mix of a brutal schedule and a ton of injuries submarining Georgia Tech's season. The Yellow Jackets have a good chance for a significant rebound, and I wouldn't be particularly surprised if they were in the mix for the Coastal by year's end. As our Andrea Adelson pointed out, the range for Georgia Tech could be anywhere from another missed bowl game to a New Year's Six bid. Right now, I'd take the over on 6.5, but probably say seven or eight wins is the most likely outcome.

New offensive coordinator Matt Canada did a nice job of incorporating a deep well of backs into his offense at NC State, utilizing Matt Dayes and Jaylen Samuels in the passing game, too. The Wolfpack were definitely a run-first offense, and Pitt will be, too, but the personnel actually might make it a bit easier to diversify the playbook. What Canada lacked at NC State, however, was a true deep threat as a receiver, and if Pitt can find that (Dontez Ford and Jester Weah both averaged more than 15 air yards per target last year), the play-action could be a monster weapon. I'm excited to see what Canada can do with so much backfield talent.

Cordrea Tankersley was arguably the most underrated defensive back in the ACC last year, and he'll be the foundation of this year's group. There's talent surrounding him, from an experienced veteran such as Jadar Johnson to elite youngsters such as Mark Fields and Trayvon Mullen. Still, I look at safety as the biggest question mark on the Tigers' defense, and the one area that could be a big problem. Still, Clemson allowed far too many big plays last year, and there were plenty of people around the program who believed Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green were looking ahead to the NFL more than they were focused on the task at hand last season, so even if the talent isn't as great in 2016, the results could be better. It's not an elite secondary yet - Florida State is probably tops in the ACC - but there's potential to grow as the season progresses.