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Breaking down our ACC preseason football ballots

Wide receiver Jason Calhoun pushes away a defender during Duke's 2022 victory against Temple.
Wide receiver Jason Calhoun pushes away a defender during Duke's 2022 victory against Temple.

With football season just a few weeks away, the ACC released its All-ACC Preseason Team and Preseason Poll last week, featuring three Duke players and a joint-sixth place finish with Pittsburgh. Two of The Chronicle’s beat writers, Ranjan Jindal and Caleb Dudley, were present in Charlotte for July’s ACC Kickoff and voted on both the team and poll, and are here to break down their ballots. 

Preseason All-ACC First Team offense

Poll results: (Voting by 176 media members)

QB: Drake Maye, North Carolina (107)

RB: Will Shipley, Clemson (169)

RB: Trey Benson, Florida State (125)

WR: Johnny Wilson, Florida State (117)

WR: Tez Walker, North Carolina (51)

WR: Jalon Calhoun, Duke (49)

TE: Oronde Gadsden II, Syracuse (89)

AP: Will Shipley, Clemson (105)

OT: Graham Barton, Duke (110)

OT: Matt Goncalves, Pitt (58)

OG: Christian Mahogany, Boston College (101)

OG: Javion Cohen, Miami (69)

C: Bryan Hudson, Louisville (56)

Ranjan’s ballot:

QB: Jordan Travis, Florida State

RB: Will Shipley, Clemson 

RB: Trey Benson, Florida State 

WR: Johnny Wilson, Florida State 

WR: Jamari Thrash, Louisville

WR: Jalon Calhoun, Duke 

TE: Oronde Gadsden, Syracuse 

AP: Will Shipley, Clemson

OT: Graham Barton, Duke 

OT: Anthony Belton, N.C. State 

OG: Christian Mahogany, Boston College 

OG: Javion Cohen, Miami 

C: Will Putnam, Clemson

At the top of the list, Maye definitely is deserving of this spot, but I put Travis for a couple of reasons. One is the performance of both quarterbacks in the second half of last season, as Travis was a big part of Florida State’s six-game win streak and Maye faltered, especially in the ACC title game against Clemson. The addition of transfers Jaheim Bell and Keon Coleman will give Travis a multitude of weapons to go along with All-ACC wide receiver Johnny Wilson, while Maye lost his top target in Josh Downs and will have a new offensive coordinator, Chip Lindsey. I still think the Tar Heels will put up incredible numbers and lead North Carolina to a successful season, but my nod went to Travis for this year. 

Shipley has emerged as the best rusher in the ACC in my opinion, as evidenced by his top running back and all-purpose selections. Seminole running back Benson has serious big-play capabilities, averaging 6.4 yards per carry last season. Syracuse’s Gadsden is a big name to watch after leading all tight ends in receiving yards last season with First Team All-ACC honors. 

My ballot included the two Blue Devils selected in Calhoun and Barton. Calhoun’s route-running skills are incredible and he has been underrated amongst ACC wide receivers. Barton was a consensus pick for this spot as an excellent run blocker who created a dangerous rushing attack for Duke in a resurgent 2022 season. Belton and Putnam are two other offensive linemen that I believe will have a big impact on their team’s success. Belton, at 6-foot-6 and 336 pounds is a force to be reckoned with and will play a big role in protecting N.C. State’s new quarterback Brennan Armstrong. Putnam provided stability to a struggling Clemson offensive line, and with a year under his belt at center, he, along with the entire Tiger line, should be much improved. 

Caleb’s ballot:

QB: Jordan Travis, Florida State

RB: Will Shipley, Clemson 

RB: Trey Benson, Florida State 

WR: Johnny Wilson, Florida State 

WR: Ali Jennings, Virginia Tech

WR: Jalon Calhoun, Duke 

TE: Jaheim Bell, Florida State 

AP: Jawhar Jordan, Louisville

OT: Graham Barton, Duke 

OT: Matt Goncalves, Pittsburgh

OG: Christian Mahogany, Boston College 

OG: Javion Cohen, Miami 

C: Bryan Hudson, Louisville

At the signal caller position, Travis over Maye was a decision that I wrestled with. At the end of the day, I went with who I believe to be the quarterback on the best team in the ACC, and who also looks due for a highly productive season in his final go round in Tallahassee. Florida State simply seemed to get better this offseason through the transfer portal, adding tight end Bell while North Carolina lost its top two receivers from last season, spelling a possible decrease in production for Maye and giving Travis the edge.

The running back decisions were probably the easiest choices to make on the entire ballot. Shipley is a proven stud, earning an All-ACC nod at three spots as he is primed for another big year in the Clemson offense. Benson is another standout who will play for a top offense in the ACC, giving a big boost to his all-conference case. 

Both of the Duke players who were selected to the All-ACC offense were on my ballot as well. Barton was an easy choice, as he has proven himself to be one of the premier offensive lineman in the country. Another year in the same system should lead to an even more dominant season, making him a shoo-in for an All-ACC selection. Calhoun was a tougher decision for me, as the immense amount of returning production on the Blue Devil offense could make it tough for him to separate himself, but I’m betting on the graduate student to show out in a big way this season as he gets to expand his route tree in his second year in offensive coordinator Kevin Johns’ system. 

Preseason All-ACC defense and special teams

Poll results:

DE: Jared Verse, Florida State (136)

DE: Donovan Ezeiruaku, Boston College (58)

DT: Tyler Davis, Clemson (124)

DT: DeWayne Carter, Duke (97)

LB: Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson (132)

LB: Cedric Gray, North Carolina (109)

LB: Barrett Carter, Clemson (87)

CB: Fentrell Cypress II, Florida State (88)

CB: Aydan White, NC State (85)

S: Kam Kinchens, Miami (117)

S: Andrew Mukuba, Clemson (46)

PK: Andres Borregales, Miami (70)

P: Daniel Sparks, Virginia (54)

SP: Will Shipley, Clemson (68)

Ranjan’s ballot: 

DE: Jared Verse, Florida State 

DE: Donovan Ezeiruaku, Boston College 

DT: Tyler Davis, Clemson 

DT: DeWayne Carter, Duke 

LB: Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson 

LB: Cedric Gray, North Carolina 

LB: Barrett Carter, Clemson 

CB: Fentrell Cypress II, Florida State 

CB: Aydan White, NC State 

S: Kam Kinchens, Miami 

S: Andrew Mukuba, Clemson 

PK: Ben Sauls, Pittsburgh 

P: Porter Wilson, Duke 

SP: Trey Benson, Florida State 

Coincidentally, my defensive ballot is the exact same as the poll results. One thing that stands out is the presence of Clemson, with four defensive selections. I think the Tigers will be a top-five defense in the country with few weaknesses. Arguably the best linebacker duo in the country, Trotter and Carter, is back, and Davis will anchor a dangerous defensive line after deciding to come back for a fifth season. The secondary has been vulnerable at times for the Tigers but with the entire group returning and loaded with talent, especially Mukuba at safety, that should not be a problem.

Elsewhere on the defensive line, Ezeiruaku from Boston College tied the league lead in solo sacks as a sophomore and is part of my larger respect for the Eagles on this ballot. Gray had a remarkable 145 tackles in 2022 and is hoping to improve the North Carolina defense, which was the worst in the league. In the back end, Kinchens and White led the league in interceptions last year, and Cypress is coming to Florida State after an excellent year with Virginia. 

As similar as my defense was with the consensus, none of the special teams players lined up. I watched Wilson punt in the spring scrimmages where he looked fantastic, and I expect him to build upon a great year in 2023. As much as I respect Shipley — as I will go into later — Benson’s potency as a kick returner earned him this spot for me. 

Caleb’s ballot: 

DE: Jared Verse, Florida State 

DE: Donovan Ezeiruaku, Boston College 

DT: DeWayne Carter, Duke 

DT: Tyler Davis, Clemson 

LB: Barrett Carter, Clemson 

LB: Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson 

LB: Payton Wilson, NC State

CB: Fentrell Cypress II, Florida State 

CB: Nate Wiggins, Clemson 

S: Brandon Johnson, Duke

S: R.J. Mickens, Clemson 

PK: Andres Borregales, Miami

P: Porter Wilson, Duke 

SP: Trebor Pena, Syracuse

For the most part, my defensive ballot slotted in with the consensus. I am a huge believer in Clemson’s defense this season, leading me to place five of its defenders on my ballot. Up front, Davis should be a problem for opposing offensive lines. If they are able to get past him, they will be met by who I consider two of the best linebackers in the country in Carter and Trotter. 

The rest of the defensive line was pretty simple to decide on as well. Verse is probably the best defensive player in the nation and Ezeiruaku should feast for Boston College. Carter seemed like an obvious choice for All-ACC, as he has continuously proven his worth for Duke and should continue to produce in his final season in Durham.

On the back end, Cypress was an easy choice, and I strayed slightly from the consensus by omitting Aydan White, a tough decision that further illustrates my belief in Clemson’s defensive talent. I also selected Brandon Johnson, who I think could thrive this year in a big role under new defensive coordinator Tyler Santucci. 

Preseason Player of the Year:

Poll results: Drake Maye, North Carolina

  1. Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina (88)
  2. Jordan Travis, QB, Florida State (66)
  3. Will Shipley, RB, Clemson (17)
  4. Jeremiah Trotter Jr., LB, Clemson (3)
  5. Riley Leonard, QB, Duke (1)
  6. Tyler Davis, DT, Clemson (1)

Ranjan’s ballot: Will Shipley, Clemson

Yes, a quarterback has won this award the past three years, but I am very bullish about Shipley’s ability to break the streak. First of all, Shipley averaged 15 rushes per game last year, and while he put up an impressive 1,182 rushing yards, many Clemson fans believe he was underutilized. In addition, he did this in a largely one-dimensional offense, as the Tigers struggled to throw the ball downfield and defenses loaded the box, overwhelming a largely inexperienced offensive line. 

This offseason, head coach Dabo Swinney nabbed Garrett Riley from TCU to be the next offensive coordinator, a big step that I think will contribute to Shipley’s dominance this year. Riley is known for running a “Dirt Raid” scheme — a more run-focused version of an air raid offense by using the passing game to open up running lanes. In Riley’s lone year in Fort Worth, Texas, the Horned Frogs increased their total rushing by 569 yards. This, plus Shipley’s improved pass-catching ability out of the backfield will cement him as the centerpiece of Clemson’s offense and primed for a massive year. The last running back to win ACC Player of the Year was fellow Tiger Travis Etienne in both 2018 and 2019, and I think Shipley will join him at the conclusion of this year. 

Caleb’s ballot: Jordan Travis, Florida State

It is absolutely a quarterback award, and I predict it to stay that way this upcoming season. Travis will be the quarterback for the best team in the conference, and very well could be the best quarterback in the ACC even if the Seminoles underperform. While I think Maye will put up lofty numbers once again, Travis and Florida State's dominance will allow him to take home the conference’s ultimate honor.

Coming off a season where he threw for 3214 yards and 24 touchdowns, Travis’ numbers only figure to improve as he further develops his game in his final season in Tallahassee. Travis finished the season by torching Oklahoma in the Cheez-it Bowl, throwing for 418 yards in a thriller victory. With the return of Wilson and the addition of Bell, I expect a similar stat line to prevail in a number of games this upcoming season. Travis’ last hurrah in the conference will be as the best player in the ACC, right after he leads the Seminoles to the conference title. 

Preseason order of finish

Our picks are in bold, poll results are italicized.

Ranjan’s ballot:

  1. Clemson/Clemson 
  2. Florida State/Florida State 
  3. North CarolinaNorth Carolina 
  4. Duke/N.C. State 
  5. NC State/Miami
  6. Pitt/Duke
  7. Miami/Pitt
  8. Louisville/Louisville
  9. Boston College/Wake Forest
  10. Wake Forest/Syracuse
  11. Syracuse/Virginia Tech
  12. Georgia Tech/Georgia Tech
  13. Virginia Tech/Boston College
  14. Virginia/Virginia

My top three picks are the same as the consensus, and I think Clemson and Florida State could be interchangeable. I put the Tigers ahead because they have dominated this conference for the past decade. To quote professional wrestler Ric Flair, “to be the man, you've got to beat the man,” which the Seminoles have not done since 2014. In an off season by Clemson standards, the Tigers went 8-0 in the league and beat North Carolina by 29 points in the conference championship game. There are question marks, particularly the consistency of their wide receivers and quarterback Cade Klubnik’s experience, but if these two improve under Riley’s guidance, Clemson will be dangerous. Florida State is going to be incredible as well, and I think North Carolina, led by great play from Maye, will bounce back from a dismal finish last year. 

In the second tier, while Duke has an incredibly difficult schedule, many tough opponents will travel to Durham and I think the experience and quarterback play for the Blue Devils gives them the edge in close contests. I am high on transfer signal callers Brennan Armstrong and Phil Jurkovec for N.C. State and Pittsburgh, respectively, and these teams are both very well coached and have won consistently in this league. While Miami’s offensive line will be much improved in head coach Mario Cristobal’s second year, the Hurricanes have a tough schedule and have yet to string together a consistent season as of late. 

One team that I strayed from the consensus on is Boston College. Duke fans will remember last year’s 38-31 victory against the Eagles, where quarterback Emmett Morehead threw for 330 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in his first career start. He performed well at the end of the season, and with a healthy offensive line this year, he should excel. Most importantly, the schedule appears to be extremely favorable, avoiding Clemson, North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State. 

Caleb’s ballot:

  1. Florida State/Clemson
  2. Clemson/Florida State
  3. North Carolina/North Carolina
  4. Duke/N.C. State
  5. N.C. State/Miami
  6. Louisville/Duke
  7. Miami/Pitt
  8. Pittsburgh/Louisville
  9. Syracuse/Wake Forest
  10.  Wake Forest/Syracuse
  11. Georgia Tech/Virginia Tech
  12. Virginia Tech/Georgia Tech
  13. Boston College/Boston College
  14. Virginia/Virginia

Florida State and Clemson are the clear cream of the crop this year in the ACC, and I wrestled with who to crown as my champion. I ended up rolling with the Seminoles, as I think their returning talent featuring Travis and Verse, among others, will outweigh the Tigers, especially since Clemson has somewhat of an unknown with Klubnik’s limited experience as a starter. 

The next tier in my eyes is the tier that contains the rest of the top flight quarterbacks in the ACC: North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State. With Maye under center, the Tar Heels should be able to overpower a majority of their opponents, and even a slight improvement on defense will be enough to place them in the top three places. I believe the Blue Devils have the third-best signal caller in the league with Leonard, and a full offseason as the starter coupled with every skill position starter returning should mean a big year for Leonard and Duke. 

A team I am higher on than most is Louisville. In head coach Jeff Brohm’s first season on the job, I believe the Cardinals could have a surprise season similar to Duke’s last year. Just like the Blue Devils the season prior, Louisville’s schedule is very favorable, as they avoid the projected best three teams in the conference and draw Duke at home. If Brohm can hit the ground running, the Cardinals should be the sleeper team this year in the ACC. 

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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