Atlantic (Overall/ACC) Coastal (Overall/ACC)
Florida State (10-2/7-1) Miami (10-2/7-1)
Clemson (8-4/6-2) Virginia Tech (11-1/7-1)
Maryland (8-4/5-3) Georgia Tech (8-4/5-3)
Boston College (6-6/3-5) North Carolina (6-6/3-5)
NC State (4-8/2-6) Duke (3-9/1-7)
Wake Forest (3-9/1-7) Virginia (3-9/1-7)
Offensive POY Jacory Harris (QB-Miami)
Defensive POY DeAndre McDaniel (SS-Clemson)
Rookie of the Year Jeff Luc (LB-Florida State)
Comeback POY Mark Herzlich (LB-Boston College)
I only see three real threats this year in the ACC, with the rest of the league doomed to another season of mediocrity. Yet, this will be a great season if you’re an ACC official because you are finally going to get the ACC Championship game you’ve coveted since the raid of the Big East. Florida State will finally be back in the national discussion, as it seems they have all the pieces in place to make a run at the Top 10. Miami will win the Coastal Division, and is my sleeper pick to crack the AP Top 10. Virginia Tech’s blue-collar toughness will keep them in any game, and get ready for another big year in Blacksburg as I only see them losing once this year. As far as individual talent, the ACC has plenty but there is no “I” in team and the ACC is hurting for a team to be a serious National Championship contender.
In the Atlantic, as I just mentioned, Florida State looks like they could be on their way back to the top of the ACC. There are finally zero distractions surrounding the head coaching position as Jimbo Fisher takes over. QB Christian Ponder is ready to become one of FSU’s All-Time Greats, and he has the uber talented, ready to break out Bert Reed to make plays after the catch. Last year, the offensive line’s main concern was their youth and inexperience, but after dominating opposing defensive lines all season you have to believe they are the strength of this team. FSU playmakers such as Reed and RB Jermaine Thomas are going to have a lot of fun this year.
Clemson will be carried by their defense, with my POY DeAndre McDaniel leading the way. McDaniel had 8 picks last year, and he’s a hard hitter looking to wreck anyone over the middle. The defensive line is lead by Da’Quan Bowers who is a menacing 6’4” 280 pounds and can rush the edge with his 4.5 speed. Offensively this team will struggle. The losses of CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford are glaring and I don’t see anyone stepping up to take the reigns just yet. Yes, Kyle Parker has the tools to be great, but with all that money he got from the Colorado Rockies I don’t see him taking too many chances.
Maryland will be back in the mix in the ACC, and I feel that 5-3 in the ACC isn’t out of the question. Jamarr Robinson is unproven but he has the tools to be a better player then 20-win Maryland QB Scott McBrien. Maryland’s o-line is in much better condition then last year and with playmakers such as 2008 All-ACC RB Da’Rel Scott and 2009 All-ACC WR/KR Torrey Smith the Terps offense will be explosive. I cannot wait to see the defense in year two of Don Brown’s system so look for big years out of LB’s Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten. The defense will put pressure on opposing QB’s this year with their impressive speed. When teams do get throws off they’ll have to worry about safeties Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez. Both are capable of forcing turnovers and taking the ball to the house. 2-10? Not this year.
Boston College has overcome many obstacles over the past few seasons. QB drama, head coaching drama, and even high profile players transferring elsewhere. I like this team on defense and they will rally behind their returning captain Mark Herzlich. Unfortunately there isn’t much to talk about on offense and I just don’t see them beating anyone in a shootout. They have possibly the best offensive line in the ACC so hopefully they commit to the run. Montel Harris is more than capable of carrying the load, but his health will be key as there isn’t much behind him on the depth chart. If this team doesn’t score on defense and special teams then don’t expect them to average more than 12 points a game.
Tom O’Brien was brilliant at Boston College but his days at NC State are numbered. He has a solid QB in Russell Wilson but nobody to support him anywhere on the field. O’Brien also has to find a way to get future star Mike Glennon some snaps. The problem with that of course is that his best player is Wilson, and he will have to come off the field. Wilson is a smart player with wheels and an accurate arm. Watch for him to make plays and keep NC State in games all by himself.
The graduation of Riley Skinner also coincided with the death of Wake Forest’s ACC hopes. There are three players fighting to be Jim Grobe’s signal caller, but none of which are even second string material. This will be a season that will test the character of the entire team, and it will have Grobe wishing he had considered those other head coaching offers he received after the 2007 and 2008 seasons. I like Josh Adams at RB but ACC teams are going to throw as many defenders in the box as possible, and Adams doesn’t have the ability to shake that kind of pressure. If WF can find a way to get the ball to Marshall Williams he’ll be a force the team can rely on.
Last May, when spring ball was over with, it looked as though the ACC Coastal was going to be loaded with 4 teams possibly becoming nationally recognized. Now, as the dust begins to settle on NCAA infractions and sudden transfers I now see just 3 that will battle for top spot in the division.
Miami is ready to jump back onto the national scene, and Randy Shannon will finally get all those critics off of his back. QB Jacory Harris is the truth and he will fry opposing defenses this year. He is silky smooth in the pocket, fearful of nothing, and he can make all the throws. He will have a big year thanks in part to a great supporting cast. The offensive line is solid and led by tackle Orlando Franklin. The Hurricanes have 3 running backs who are all capable of being first string on any team. Look for Graig Cooper to rebound from a torn ACL, but don’t count out Damien Berry and Mike James running the ball quite a bit. Jacory’s wide receiver corps is a bit depleted but I like Travis Benjamin and he is a highlight reel waiting to happen. LB Arthur Brown has left the team, but look for DE Allen Bailey to be a difference maker as he throws around opposing tackles. In the secondary, Brandon Harris is the playmaker the Canes have needed for a few years. He’s going to lock down top receivers, and turn games around.
I wouldn’t worry about Virginia Tech in week one as they take on a hungry Boise State team. Frank Beamer has himself a blue-collar team that will be a force in the ACC, and they will definitely finish in the AP Top 10. The Lunch Pale defense looks strong yet again, and offensively look for them to grind the ball. They have two future NFL running backs in their stable, and both could leave after this year. Darren Evans returns from an ACL tear in 2009, but don’t worry that. He’s just as fast, just as tough, and ready to go. Ryan Williams was incredible last year as he crashed the party with a campaign that included 1,655 yards, and 21 TDs. He was the workhorse Va Tech hadn’t seen in a long time, and now he has Evans to help compliment him. QB Tyrod Taylor has a strong arm and can make plays throwing and running, and strong performances by Williams and Evans will take a lot of pressure off of him. He’s an All-World candidate but with this running attack I don’t see him throwing the ball that much.
Georgia Tech shouldn’t miss a beat after B-Back Jonathan Dwyer left for the NFL because Roddy Jones and Anthony Allen are primed for the opportunity. Allen rushed for 618 yards with a whopping 9.7 ypc but the true leader of Paul Johnson’s offense is QB Joshua Nesbitt. Nesbitt is a low accuracy thrower (below 50% for his career) but no worries because this is a run, run, running offense and he’s the best runner they have. Look for Nesbitt to run crazy this year as he rushes for over 1,000 yards for the second straight year. Defensively, former Virginia Head Coach Al Groh takes over play calling. Groh is known for his defensive mind which should help a group that finished 56th in the nation in scoring against, and has also lost it’s top player, Derrick Morgan, to the NFL.
A countenance more in sorrow than in anger. No we’re not describing the ghost of Horactio’s father, but instead the morale surrounding North Carolina’s football program. In what was supposed to be the most promising season in UNC football history, Butch Davis and his Tarheels were jacked up by a 9-player NCAA investigation this summer. When it’s all said and done Butch will be missing a slew of his top players- many of which are expected to be NFL draftees- and that drastically changes the potential fortunes for this year’s team. Without players such as DL Marvin Austin and WR Greg Little, to name a couple, this team doesn’t stand much chance. Offensively, there is little hope to begin with even before anyone is officially suspended. QB TJ Yates will have a hard time keeping his job due to inconsistent play, and with redshirt Frosh Brynn Renner breathing down his neck it doesn’t look promising for Mr. Yates. Little was supposed to be their playmaker and a guy who was going to be the one bright spot on offense. The loss of Little aside, it’s a very vanilla attack that lacks a solid running game despite the fact that UNC’s offensive line comes with solid grades.
In 2009, Duke snuck up on the entire ACC as Thaddeus Lewis and company put up big-time numbers on offense. With playmaker WR Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon back many are expecting big things once again. This is where I disagree with most analysts as I strongly feel that the loss of Lewis at QB will be a major factor, as I do not believe Sean Renfree is ready to be a star just yet. Renfree comes with a ton of upside and next year should be his breakout year. However it won’t be this year and I look for Duke to take a big step back this year.
The Al Groh era is over but it’s still going to be a year or two before Virginia is relevant in the ACC again. Former Richmond Head Coach Mike London is the right man for the job but he has his work cut out for himself. UVA ranked 105th in Passing Offense, 112th in Rushing Offense, and 105th in Points For. QB Marc Verica had a decent 2008 season but lost the starting job to Jemmel Sewell last year. UVA has question marks on the offensive line, although guards Austin Pasztor and BJ Cabbell are quite skilled. Running back is a major concern as London probably had better candidates back at his former FCS school. Verica’s options at WR are slim so even when he has a chance to throw do not expect big things. It should be another long season in Charlottesville.