As we are on the heels of the ACC Football Media Days, it is our turn to dish out how we think the ACC will pan out. We did a pretty good job last year, predicting the ACC Championship (but having the wrong outcome). This year, we made some bold predictions, but the top looks similar to most. So with the help from our friends over at College Football Zealots, here is our ACC predictions for the year.
Rank the teams in order of finish and give a short paragraph with your thoughts on each team.
1. Florida State
Look for the power shift in the conference to happen this year. Although I think FSU won’t have the best overall record in the league, they will be able to emerge from the Atlantic Division with relative ease. The past few recruiting classes have been stellar, which should turn into an improved record, but with games against Oklahoma and road games against Clemson, BC, and Florida will make it difficult to go unscathed. E.J. Manuel will have to pick up where Ponder left off and will need help from the offensive line to compete with the big boys. If they can shore up the front four and the secondary with the young talent, they should be a team in national discussions if they can get past the Sooners.
2. Virginia Tech
With a very easy schedule, they have the possibility to go 12-0, but with a new QB, who is not as mobile as Taylor was, it will be interesting to see how the O-line holds up. While Tyrod relied on the passing game a lot last year, Tech will need David Wilson to make big plays early to keep up the point production while Logan Thomas learns on the field. The biggest question mark is on defense, where the gaping holes in linebacker will have to limit opponents running game at the second level. But regardless, they should capture the Coastal easily and could make the ACC a 2 bid BCS conference this year.
The Al Golden era has begun in Coral Gables, and he has inherited problems most teams would dream of. The Canes have two capable QBs and a slew of fast receivers and defensive backs. The schedule does not look as daunting now Ohio State is in flux, but they still have to go on the road to VT and FSU. If Al can find slots for all those 5 star players, especially on defense, they can give Tech a run for the Coastal only if they can navigate the rest of the ACC and get some help from the Hokies
Clemson runs a very up tempo offense and is very quick at the skilled positions. Their defense should be solid again, but with a new QB as well and stretch of games early that would baffle most SEC teams (Auburn, FSU, @VT, and BC) it will show if Clemson is legit or if it is time for Dabo to go. The only reason they are not higher is due the fact they will probably go 2-2 in non-conference games.
5. Boston College
I think more of Boston College than most, but it’s only by default. Their defense could be the best in the league and they return most of the offense that was freshmen and sophomores last year. They have to play some tough games this year, including a road schedule that features Clemson, VT, Notre Dame, and Miami. They should end up with a better than record and challenge Clemson for second billing in the division if Rettig can be the leader that this young offense needs.
6. NC State
Now while I thought BC is underrated, I think NC State is overrated. While they have the 2nd easiest schedule in the league, they have a big problem to address. If you give them the benefit of the doubt that Glennon is just as good as Wilson was, which im not that sure, their defense is a massive sieve. Teams like Cincinnati, GT, FSU, Clemson, and even Maryland have the offenses that can move the ball against the Pack, causing them to play catch up all game. Anything less than a stellar offensive performance from Sean will let teams like BC, UNC, and UVa into games. NC State could start the year 5-1, but the stretch could prove their downfall.
Where to put the Heels? With the talent on defense, especially in the front 7, and a non threatening non-conference schedule they should be higher. But if the NCAA slams the door on the program or if they can’t break in a totally revamped offense, it could be a long season, especially with road games at GT, Clemson, NC State, and VT. It could be a log jam in the Coastal with GT and Miami, but if the defense can keep the games low scoring and the off field distractions are minimal, they could be a very decent team.
8. Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech is at a crossroads this year. It will be the 4th year for Paul Johnson in Atlanta and the 2nd year for the 3-4 defense, but most ACC teams now know what to expect from the triple option and the defense is not that revolutionary any more. They will get most of the tough games at home, but it is not the most intimidating place to play. Somehow each year, GT loses games they aren’t supposed to, like Kansas last year, and teams like Maryland, UVa, and Middle Tennessee are looking at this season to pull upsets. Throw in a defense that has lost a ton of talent from last year and an offense that is breaking in new playmakers could lead to a massive turnover disparity. Surviving this year and bringing in the new players slowly should be the focus.
Virginia is probably a year away from making serious noise in the ACC, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a productive year. Growth in the offensive efficiency and another year in the 4-3 should become evident as the season progresses, if, and only if, they can cut down on the penalties. It seemed every game they were in, they just gave away by committing bad personal fouls and drive killing mistakes. Also with 4 quarterbacks on the roster that could be called into service, finding one quickly and sticking with him should be a priority if they want to pull off some wins. If there is slight improvements to these three points, this could be a .500 team
In comes Randy Edsall to coach a team that overachieved last year. But they are missing all of their playmakers in the skilled positions and boasts a very small defensive front seven. They will have to sport a makeshift offensive line and rely on sophomore QB Danny O’Brien to keep a level head with all the changes this season. Outside of Towson, no game is a gimmie on their schedule and with a stretch of GT, Clemson, FSU, and BC, they will have to find something that works early, or they will be playing Wake the next to last week of the season to avoid the bottom of the Atlantic.
Every season, the blog writer for ESPN says this will be Duke’s year. And every year it doesn’t pan out. Outside of probably the most experienced QB in the league, there is not a lot to look forward to this year. They will have to break in some new receivers in the spread offense and the defense has given up a ton of 40 and 50 point games the past 3 years. The schedule is not in their favor this year either, with Alabama being replaced by Stanford and recent ACC whipping boys Virginia improving and that game on the road. Even the home opener against Richmond is not going to be easy, as well as other non conference games against Tulane and FIU. They could get a win against Wake Forest, but don’t look for many more.
12. Wake Forest
The good news is they played a ton freshmen last year. The bad news is they lost 9 in a row after starting 2-0 with those players. Now comes all new coordinators and a 3-4 defense they installed in the middle of last year. There are just to many things that have to go right with this team to keep up with most of the league. Outside of Gardner-Webb and maybe Vandy at home, it will be tough to keep the players and the fans happy this year in Winston-Salem, and the coordinator changes Jim Grobe has made hark on the same moves Al Groh did in his last year at UVa to try to salvage his job.
Give your Player of the Year predictions (with some thoughts)
Offensive Player of the Year: Montel Harris, RB, Boston College
While he might not be as flashy as most running backs at Clemson or Virginia Tech, he will make the BC offense move down the field, even when you put 8 in the box to stop him. He should get more touches this year to improve on his stellar performance from last year. And with a defense that can force turnovers, he should be working with short fields, which for allow for more TDs in the redzone.
Defensive Player of the Year: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
How can you have 2 players be POY from the same team and only be the #5 team in the conference? Well it take more than two to, well, you know. Plus he extremely disruptive, not only in the run, but in pass coverage as well. He is the only player in our opinion that can completely take out the intermediate passing game and the QB draw play from a teams arsenal, and that should count for something.
Conference MVP: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
The MVP should be the best player on the best team, and if FSU is going to compete not only in conference but nationally, he needs to show that he can lead this team of exciting players. Forced into action in two big games, including the ACC Championship game last year will give him the benchmark he will need to perform at all year, and he has the skills to do just that.
Give your breakout Player of the Year predictions (looking for somebody who wasn’t a starter last year or was a part-time starter)
Breakout Player of the Year: Tim Smith, WR, Virginia
I’m going to use my one homer card on this one, mainly because I don’t know that many people on other teams that were part-time starters last year. Tim Smith is a very dynamic player that was injured all of last year but was slotted as a true sophomore to be the #1 wide receiver. Not only has he flashed speed to get behind defenses, including a TD reception against TCU, but he can be a very effective kick and punt returner as well. It was the philosophy of London to get the man as many touches as possible last year, and nothing has changed this year.