This year the ACC has lots of potential and lots of talent, especially in the Coastal division where the ACC has 4 ranked teams. Those teams are Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina. The other side of the conference has only one ranked team in Florida State, but 2 other teams in Boston College and Clemson with potential to not only be ranked before year’s end but win the conference as well, giving the ACC 7 teams that could potentially win the conference. With those kinds of numbers the ACC has a chance to place itself alongside a conference like the SEC with a strong year this year, and could be the deepest conference in all of college football. I’ll be reviewing each team in the conference in alphabetical order.
This year Boston College returns 8 starters on offense and 6 starters on defense. On the offensive side they bring back leading rusher Montel Harris who finished second in the ACC in rushing only behind Virgina Tech’s Ryan Willams. Harris had a stellar season last year for Boston College and will be key to their success this year. Up front Boston College should have a great unit bringing back 4 out of 5 starters including All ACC tackle Anthony Castonzo. At the QB position they bring back starting QB Dave Shinskie who had his struggles last year, but should improve with a year under his belt. At receiver BC brings back 2 of their top 4 pass catchers. On defense BC will only be returning 6 starters, but will be bringing back first team freshman All American Luke Kuechely who looks to lead the BC defense in tackles again this year. On the Dline, BC returns leading sack man Damik Scafe and defensive end Alex Albright. Brad Newman will be starting at the other end for them this year, but is a senior and had plenty of playing time last year. BC has some holes in the secondary to fill, but they will be filling those holes with experienced players. Boston College is one of those sneaky teams that people underrate every year. When people think about football no one ever thinks about the Eagles unless you’re thinking about Doug Flutie or Matt Ryan. If I told the common fan that FSU has been beaten by BC 3 out of the 5 years since they’ve joined the conference they most likely wouldn’t believe me. BC is a good team and in a division like the Atlantic where outside of Clemson and FSU the rest of the teams are very bad they have a great shot at winning this side of the conference. They’re always very consistent. Last year they didn’t have very many returning players and still managed to win 8 games in conference while most people are picking FSU or Clemson to win the Atlantic this year I have the Eagles coming out of the Atlantic.
Clemson will be going into the season without CJ Spiller this year which is a huge loss for them, but they will be returning 7 starters on offense including quarterback Kyle Parker who as a true freshman last year showed a lot of promise for their future. Clemson also brings back 4 starters on the O-line including 2nd team All ACC player Chris Hairston. This year’s unit has the potential to be one of the best in the ACC, and will be key to helping Kyle Parker further develop as a passer. With Spiller gone the running back position is going to be filled by Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper. Ellington was very impressive last year averaging 7 yards per carry in 68 attempts. Harper has also had his moments as a runner last year at Clemson. Both have some very large shoes to fill with CJ Spiller gone, but both players are extremely capable backs who can do some damage when given some room to run. The receiver position returns only Xavier Dye as a starter. The position outside of him is very young and Dye was the 4th leading receiver last year with only 14 receptions. This is an unproven unit that is going to need to step up to help second year starter Kyle Parker. Clemson has the potential to have one of the best defenses in the nation. They return 6 starters including safety DeAndre McDaniel, one of the top defensive players in the country. The secondary brings back 2 very good players in corner Marcus Gilchrist and safety McDaniel. They are only replacing one spot in the secondary with inexperience. On the Dline they lose leading sack man Ricky Sapp, but bring back 3 out of 4 lineman including DaQuan Bowers who will need to step up his play to the level many expect from him to help replace Sapp. The linebacker unit is very inexperienced and is the big questions mark as they will be replacing two positions, but they return one of the team’s top tacklers in outside linebacker Brandon Maye.
I feel like this year will be a good year for Clemson, but I also feel like they could possibly take a step back from where they were last year. I have them finishing 3rd in the Atlantic because I think their schedule is tough, and while I think the Clemson defense is good and will be their strength, it’s not the stonewall, hit you in the mouth defense that isn’t going to let you score. They’re very good at forcing turnovers, but if they aren’t forcing those turnover’s they tend to give up a lot of points, and against a team like FSU with a high powered offense or a team like Boston College that does their best to limit their mistakes that can haunt you. With that said Clemson is a very talented team that has a good chance to win the Atlantic and maybe the ACC as well. I just don’t see that happening and have them finishing 3rd in the Atlantic.
Duke use to be the joke team of the ACC, but since hiring coach Cutcliffe has already won more games in the past 2 years than they did the previous 4 combined years. This year though they will take a step back, though, because the schedule just looks too hard. They are returning 9 starters on offense including 1st team All ACC receiver Conner Vernon and will be returning their entire Oline. They do lose Thaddus Lewis though who is their all time career passing leader. New starter Sean Renfree will try and replace Lewis this year. On defense they only bring back 2 of their top 5 tacklers, but will be replacing almost every position except two on defense with experience including 2 linebacker spots with seniors. I see Duke battling Virginia for the coastal cellar this year. I personally think Duke is a better team than Virginia, but I think they have one of the hardest schedules in the nation. If they played in the Atlantic I’d think they had a great shot of going bowling this year, but I only see 5 winnable games on the schedule. I would like to know how Duke convinced Alabama to come play in their tiny Texas High school sized stadium though.
Florida State last year was the ultimate “if our offense doesn’t put up at least 30 we will lose the game” team. Florida’s State defense was a sieve. Everyone was putting up points against them and if their new coordinator can’t get that defense in order they may be looking at another disappointing season. With that said Florida State returns 9 starters including Heisman candidate Christian Ponder on offense. Florida State will have one of the best Olines in the country led by All American Rodney Hudson. They bring back all their running backs, but none of them have been that good. They will need more explosiveness from their run game in order to take pressure off of Florida State’s defense and that passing attack led by Ponder. Their receiving core only brings back 2 out of their top 5 receivers led by Burt Reed. Jarmon Fortson was supposed to be returning but then he remembered he played for FSU and did something stupid to get kicked off the team. On defense FSU brings back only 2 of their top 5 tacklers. This unit has questions everywhere. They lost two of their best players in Patrick Robinson and Dekoda Watson, and are mostly a unit of talented but unproven players. This secondary is very young with 3 true sophomores. The Dline is going have the most experience, and will need to be much better than last year if FSU wants to win the Atlantic. The thing about FSU is they have talent that is on par with teams like Miami, Virginia Tech and North Carolina(on UNC’s defense not UNC’s offense), but will the new coaches be able to get the talent to play up their level on defense to put FSU back on the map nationally. The biggest test will be how they perform in Norman against an Oklahoma team that looks like it can win the national title this year. That’s going to be the test that answers questions about this defense. You know what you’re going to get from Jimbo Fisher’s offense at FSU, but you have no idea what’s going to happen on the other side of the ball for FSU, and that’s why I have them second behind BC there are just too many questions on a defense that was God awful last year.
Georgia Tech is a team that relies heavily on its home run hitting option offense to beat its opponents. That trend most likely won’t change this year with them installing a new defensive system. On offense they only return 6 players but with them bringing back QB Josh Nesbitt as well as running backs Anthony Allen and Roddy Jones the Yellow Jackets looked poised to make another run at the ACC title. At Oline Tech only brings back 2 starters, but this is an offense that has been able to just plug people in since Paul Johnson’s arrival 2 years ago. I look for their offense to be strong again this year. On defense it will most likely be more of the same while they bring back 8 and plenty of experience behind those players they will be breaking in a new system and will be trying to replace two great players in Morgan Burnett and ACC DPOY Derrick Morgan. I feel like Georgia Tech will take a step back due to the improvements of the other 3 teams on their side of the conference and look for them to finish 3rd this year in the Coastal division.
Maryland wasn’t a very good football team last year. I look for improvement from them this year as they have a good shot of going bowling with 5 winnable home games. They bring back 7 on offense including Da’Rel Scott who looks to avoid the injury problems that held him back last year after having such a great freshman year. He’s going be running behind a fairly new offensive line though having to replace 3 out of 5 starters. They will also have a new starting QB, but a breath of fresh air may be good for the Terps, because Chris Turner wasn’t very good for them last year. On defense the Terps bring back only 5 players, but they have plenty of experience replacing every position but two with players who played last year. They also return 2nd All ACC player LB Alex Wujciak. I look for the Terps to improve from last year and possibly make a bowl game having at least 7 winnable games on the schedule. I have them finishing 4th in the Atlantic this year.
The Miami Hurricanes are the most talented team in the ACC, and one of the most talented teams in the country. They bring back plenty of experience on both sides of the ball the only real questions marks being on the Oline and at linebacker. The Hurricane’s problems are their lack of focus. They come out one week and look like world beaters(Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, USF) then come out the next week and look like imposters in Miami jerseys (Virginia Tech, Clemson, UNC, and Wisconsin). This team has to show it can keep its focus for an entire year and stop having these lapses in big games. On offense they bring back their top 4 receiving threats as well as their starting QB Jacory Harris who must cut down on the interceptions if Miami hopes to win the ACC title. They only return 2 starters on the Oline, but all 3 of the players they will be returning started and received serious playing time at the end of last year. On defense they’re returning 7, but Miami didn’t lose any key starters and looks to field one of the best units in the ACC this year. The defensive unit will be led by the man-child Allen Bailey. The secondary looks to be strong this year led by the All American Brandon Harris. Linebacker is a questionable spot. Colin McCarthy should have a strong year after being moved to the middle during spring. Ramon Buchannan is a highly touted player who many are looking to have a breakout year. The biggest question mark involves whether Sean Spence can return to his freshman year form after having an injury plagued sophomore slump last year. If the Oline can hold and linebackers play up to potential Miami could find themselves contending for more than just an ACC title at year’s end. You have to go back all the way to 2005 to find a team as talented as this one for the Canes. If everything falls into place this could be the year Miami reminds teams why people should fear the Hurricanes. With that said they have an insanely tough schedule this year, and because I need to see this team hold focus for an entire year and not just a couple of games at a time I have them finishing second in the Atlantic behind Virginia Tech. One big thing Miami has going for them though and a reason they could very easily win the ACC is that they get all their tough ACC games at home this year including both their rivals FSU and Virginia Tech. They only tough road game is Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
NC State will be going into their 4th year under old Boston College coach Tom O’Brien. They are led by Russell Wilson who was one of the best QB’s in the country last year, but doesn’t have the talent around him and isn’t really talked about as such due to that. He’s going to have plenty of chances to get his name out on a national scale with them playing 5 ranked teams this year. The schedule is going to be tough for NCState, but they will have a good offense returning their top 4 pass catchers led by WR Owen Spencer. On the Oline they will only be replacing one position with a non experienced starter and bring back 2 starters from last year. On defense they only bring back 5 and only return 1 of their top 5 tacklers from last year. They will be getting back Nate Irving though who was supposed to be a starter last year, but was seriously injured in a car crash. I look for a strong year from Irving at the linebacker position. They will also be replacing their Dlineman with 3 seniors and one sophomore who saw playing time last year as a true freshman. The secondary is very young with 3 true sophomores and a redshirt sophomore, but all played last year and two started as true freshman. NcState has potential, but I think this isn’t their year I have them finishing 5th in the Atlantic, but can see them coming on strong next year.
North Carolina is a tricky team due to an ongoing NCAA investigation into players on their defense. As for right now I have North Carolina finishing 4th in the ACC coastal, but until I know the fate of their defensive unit can’t really evaluate their team as a whole. Their offense returns 10 starters including star player Greg Little. The problem is the offense wasn’t very good last year and they had to rely heavily on their NFL caliber defensive unit to win them games. If they lose many defensive players, North Carolina could be in for a long season. As of right now though, until some punishment is handed down I will keep them below Georgia Tech in my predictions.
This is going to be a tough year for first year head coach Mike London and Virginia. Offensively they lost quite a bit: losing their top 4 rushers, starting quarterback, and only returning 1 of their top 4 pass catchers. They do return 3 out of 5 offensive linemen though which should help the transition for many of the new players. New starting QB Marc Verica has had his ups and downs while in Virginia. Cavs fans are hoping Verica’s senior year proves to be the one where he plays at a high level and helps them win games. On defense Virginia returns 3 of their top 5 tacklers. They will be led by linebacker and freshman All American linebacker Steve Greer as well as 2nd team All ACC player cornerbck Ras-I Dowling. This unit will be the team’s strength. I see Virginia having a losing season this year. I only see 4 winnable games on the schedule which is the lowest out of all of the ACC teams this year. I believe they will finish last in the Coastal again this season.
The Hokies have won at least 10 games 8 times in the past 10 years, but in that time span while they have won 99 games they have no National Title hardware to show for it. This year the Hokies will be fielding an extremely talented team on the offensive side of the ball. Their offense will be led by Heisman candidate and Freshman All American Ryan Williams who as a freshman led the ACC in rushing with 1655 yards and 21 touchdowns. They also will get back former freshman All American from the year before Darren Evans giving them a menacing two headed monster at the position. At QB Virginia Tech will have back it’s all time wins leader Tyrod Taylor who as a starter has yet to have a season without double digit wins. On the Oline Virginia Tech brings back 3 starters from last year, but both new starters played last year as well. At the receiver position Virginia Tech brings back 6 of their top 6 receivers. This could be a very big year for the Hokie offense. On defense the Hokies got hit hard by graduation and the draft, but Bud Foster has always shown a great ability to field a good defense no matter how many starters they get back. They only return 2 of their top 5 tacklers from last year, but will be filling every position on defense with players of experience. The question is can those players adjust in time to the starting position to help the Hokies live up to their pre season hype. I personally think so, and believe the Hokies will show that on Monday against Boise State. This year I’m calling for the Hokies to win the entire ACC and move on to a BCS bowl. After the Boise State game the Hokies will most likely be favored to win every game except 1 from there. This could be a big season for the Hokies and might even be the season that Frank Beamer gets national title hardware.
Wake Forest is a team that over the course of Jim Grobe’s career has relied on having a bunch of seniors and a down ACC to win because they rarely recruit top flight talent. This year’s ACC isn’t going to be weak enough for Wake to make a run. They have some solid returning talent in running backs Josh Adams and Brandon Pendergrass, but they loss starting QB and all time leading passer Riley Skinner to graduation. They only return 3 starters with experience this year on the Oline but bring back their top 4 pass catchers. On defense they bring back 7 and will be filling every position except 1 with experience. This unit wasn’t very strong last year but will need to be much improved to give Wake a chance at making a bowl this year. I have Wake finishing last in the Atlantic, but I also believe they can finish as high as 4th with at 5 winnable games on the schedule this year.
3. Georgia Tech
4. North Carolina
1. Boston College
2. Florida State
5. NC State
6. Wake Forest