Boston College might not be a surprise team this year in the ACC… because some people who follow the conference might think the Eagles are supposed to do well. Excellence is expected from BC, not merely hoped for, in some corners of the program and the ACC.
I get it, and it makes complete sense.
Jeff Hafley shows signs of being a high-quality head coach. Boston College’s ability to test Clemson on the road last year felt like a growth point for the program. Nearly every starter is back. The whole offensive line is back: Zion Johnson, Alec Lindstrom, Christian Mahogany, Ben Petrula, and Tyler Vrabel. The Eagles will have multiple offensive linemen on the ACC’s first and second teams. Phil Jurkovec is back at quarterback.
It could all come together, and in truth, it wouldn’t be an extraordinary surprise. It could simply be a case of a team expecting to thrive, and then doing the job.
Yet, if one was to pick a surprise team in 2021 ACC football, where else would you go? Consider the other options and reflect on whether they would be legitimate surprises.
North Carolina State doing well this year wouldn’t be a surprise. NCSU was last season’s foremost surprise team in the Atlantic. The sharks were circling Dave Doeren, who responded with a great season in which he molded Devin Leary into a promising young quarterback. The defense played a fantastic game against Liberty. That was a surprise.
If State excels this year, it wouldn’t rate as any kind of shock. The table is set for the Wolfpack to do well in 2021.
Is there any really strong surprise candidate in the Coastal? Maybe Virginia Tech could spoil the expected North Carolina-Miami showdown, if the Hokies finally put the pieces together with their passing game. Maybe.
The real intrigue exists in the Atlantic, which has been a hard division to figure out in recent years.
Louisville was viewed as a possible breakthrough candidate last year, but the Cardinal took a sharp and surprisingly bad turn under Scott Satterfield, who — alongside Justin Fuente of Virginia Tech — was one of the ACC’s two most disappointing coaches in 2020. Louisville’s slide coincided with N.C. State’s rise. It was predictable that Syracuse would be terrible, but the Atlantic — from spots 2 through 6 (not Clemson at the top, not Syracuse at the bottom) — is extremely hard to predict, much as it was last year.
Ultimately, the one team other than Boston College which comes across as a strong surprise candidate — a team not likely to excel in 2021, but which could flourish if things break right — is Florida State. The Seminoles’ offensive line is likely to hold them back, but if McKenzie Milton gets a higher level of pass protection than most people are expecting, this offense could take off under Mike Norvell.
Yet, I’m not convinced FSU’s offensive line will round into shape.
I’m not sold on any surprise candidate in 2021 ACC football, but Boston College — which, again, might not be very surprising at all if it manages to deliver a big season — is the best option among the ones available.