Continuing with my 2013 College Football Preview, today I will look at the Atlantic Coast Conference!
The often disappointing ACC may be the best conference in basketball this year, but the conference’s gridiron game is still struggling. The ACC Coastal, which was represented by a Georgia Tech team that lost seven games in the ACC Championship Game last season, still looks very mediocre. The Atlantic meanwhile, is suspect outside of Clemson and Florida State. The conference isn’t nearly as sexy as, say, the SEC or the Pac-12, but it might take a step forward this year if Coastal teams such as Miami and V-Tech are improved and weaker Atlantic teams like BC and Maryland recuperate after nightmare 2012 seasons.
Here is a ranking and team-by-team look at the ACC, starting with the Atlantic. As always, I’d love to hear where I’m right and where I’m wrong in the comments!
1. Clemson (No. 6 in the country)
The Tigers, who finished off last season by rolling up 445 yards on a superb LSU defense in a narrow Chick-fil-A Bowl victory, should again have a uniquely formidable offense this season. Add in a defense that is on the rise and you have your team to beat in the ACC. If the Tigers, who will be led by a potential Heisman contender at QB in Tajh Boyd, open up the season with a win over Georgia, watch out!
2. Florida State (No. 18 in the country)
FSU is losing a bunch of guys from last season’s team, including quarterback EJ Manuel, but I somehow don’t see a big drop off. Their defense still has a lot of NFL level talent and they probably should have won even more games than they did last year. Will they be great? Probably not, the Noles always seem to stub their toe against weaker competition once or twice a season and their offense should continue to come and go, but I think FSU should be good enough to get to double-digit wins, even if they don’t get there in impressive fashion.
The fact that I’ve got the Terps, a team with six wins the past two seasons, here does kinda show that the ACC Atlantic is quite weak after FSU. That said, I do think Maryland has the stuff to flip their 4-8 record last season (a deceptive record–they floundered down the stretch when all their quarterbacks got injured) into something like 8-4. They play good, gritty football, and their defense should be the best Coach Randy Edsall has had at Maryland. And, hey, the Turtle is due for some good luck.
4. NC State
A lot of people expected big things from the Wolfpack last fall, although NCSU fell short of expectations. NC State did beat (then third ranked) Florida State in October but later lost to a bad Virginia team by 27 during a stretch that included three losses in four games. After a 7-5 regular season, NC State decided to part ways with coach Tom O’Brien, who won 40 games in six seasons in Raleigh. The new head man for the Pack is Dave Doeren, who led Northern Illinois to 23 wins the past two seasons. Doeren is a heck of a coach, and should have good times on the way for the Wolfpack faithful, but first-year magic seems unlikely due to questions both defensively and on the offensive line. NC State is also replacing QB Mike Glennon.
5. Wake Forest
Last season, Wake Forest was not very good on either side of the ball. They were even worse in the final three games, when they got crushed back-to-back-to-back by NC State, Notre Dame, and Vanderbilt. They could be poised for an improvement going into this fall, with so many of their starters returning, but plenty of questions remain on both lines and throughout the offense. To make a bowl, Wake Forest will probably need to improve considerably offensively.
6. Boston College
BC is my favorite team and watching them flounder through a 2-10 season last year was less than fun. The good news on The Heights is that the Eagles have replaced coach Frank Spaziani with Steve Addazio (who has been killing it on the recruiting trail) and QB Chase Rettig is back for his senior season. Beyond that, there are a lot of questions. BC was atrocious in almost every area last season. There is plenty of room for improvement, and the Eagles could score a fair amount, but I can’t see Addazio turning BC into contenders in one season.
QB Ryan Nassib is off to the NFL and so is coach Doug Marrone, so ‘Cuse probably won’t win eight games, like they did in 2012, especially as they transition to a better conference. On the bright side, the Orange still should be strong at the linebacker position and they should continue to run the ball well. But this is a Syracuse team that is going to be rebuilding.
The super-green ‘Canes were still good last season, using an explosive offense to rack up seven wins in a season that did not include a bowl visit thanks to a self-imposed post-season ban. Al Golden’s Hurricanes should be even better this season, thanks to tremendous speed on both sides of the ball and the return of QB Stephen Morris. If defensive problems can be solved, they could be double-digit win-good. Their week two game against Florida will be one to watch.
2. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech was supposed to win 10 games every season without fail. And then they fell apart last season, at one point losing six of eight games, before rebounding to win their last three games and finish with a middling 7-6 record. It feels like they should be better this season, with so many returning to an already good defense and QB Logan Thomas (who had a nightmare 2012 season) also back. This might not be a 10 win team, but they’ll be better than they were last year.
3. Georgia Tech
G-Tech had a really weird 2012 season. Despite a ridiculously thin defense, the Yellow Jackets won six regular season games, found themselves in the ACC Championship Game thanks Miami’s self-imposed post-season ban, gave FSU a good game in Charlotte, and then proceeded to drill pre-season no. 1 USC in the Sun Bowl. Now they bring back most of the guys from last season’s team. I think the fact that they won 7 games last fall was fluky, but they should be very good this year, and should have their eyes set on the ACC Championship Game again.
4. North Carolina
Oh, Larry. In Larry Fedora’s first season at UNC, he transformed the Heels from a defensive minded team to one of the most offensively explosive teams in the nation. While they played a fairly easy schedule, UNC’s 8-4 2012 season was impressive. They should score a lot this year again, even without running back Giovani Bernard, but they might take a small step back on that side of the ball due to losses on the O-line. The defense, which surrendered 68 points to Georgia Tech last year, is still a major concern.
After losing to Youngstown State (yeah…) in their season opener last year, Pitt showed major improvement. In his first season at Pitt, coach Paul Chryst led the Panthers to a six win season that included victories over V-Tech and Rutgers and a narrow 3 point, 3-OT loss to Notre Dame (one of the best games I’ve ever seen). This year, they enter the ACC, and, like ‘Cuse, they’re also making a QB change. They should be strong defensively, but getting to six wins again will be tough.
Despite a revamped coaching staff, the Cavaliers could be in for another long season. Their defense, which is supposed to be their strength, is losing a lot up front, and questions are still lingering at QB and RB. The Cavs will also face a brutal non-conference schedule. Even if they improve from last season, the improvement may not manifest itself in the win column.
Despite the fact they lost their final five games, 2012 was a landmark season for the Blue Devils as they made their first bowl game since 1995. But don’t expect them to make another this season–they’ll miss quarterback Sean Renfree, his favorite receiver Conner Vernon, and need to replace basically their entire defensive secondary. The chances aren’t bad that they will lose more games than the basketball team.