2013 is a very important year for the ACC. The league has had its share of disappointments over the years, in its quest for respect and relevancy in the national spotlight. The ACC’s record against non-conference teams, in big games has been terrible. Let’s just be frank. Clemson provided some hope that things were on the upswing with their win over LSU, in the Chick Fil-A Bowl. However, that was one of the few bright spots. Last season, Florida St. was looked upon as one of the favorites to win the BCS championship, but the ‘Noles were upset at N.C. State, to all but end those hopes. Then, FSU were handled soundly at home, by an ok Florida team. This season sets up to be one of the best in recent years for the league. Clemson now takes on the pressure of being a BCS championship candidate. Florida St. could also be a title contender again this year. Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech are set up to be much improved this season, and possibly produce the deepest ACC we’ve seen in years. So, is the ACC ready? We won’t have to wait long to find out. This weekend, the ACC has marquee games against SEC foes, South Carolina (UNC), Alabama (Va. Tech), and Georgia (Clemson). Huge weekend to say the least!
1. Florida State Seminoles, lost QB EJ Manuel, to the NFL Draft. Enter Fr. -QB Jameis Winston. The top QB in the recruiting Class of 2013, is officially the man in Tallahassee. If not, for Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Winston would probably be the top QB in the ACC. Right now. Is he ready? I think so. Winston, didn’t play for the highest profile school in the world at Hueytown High in Alabama, but he’s been in the spotlight for most of his high school career. He’ll be as ready as any freshman could be. There’s experience back at wide receiver, in Jr. WR- Rashad Greene, and the running game should be solid. There are only 4 returning starters on D, but this is FSU. They reload with players that look identical or better than the ones that left. Head coach, Jimbo Fisher has this program where he wants it. It’s taken a while, but FSU is ready to contend. It’s very conceivable that FSU runs the table. I think they lose in Death Valley to Clemson, but if they win, the only other obstacle should be at Florida to end the season. A game that may be winnable, even though the Gators handled FSU last season. Upset alert? Miami – 11/2.
2. Clemson Tigers, open the season against the Georgia Bulldogs, in what will be the marquee game of the first weekend. As always, they end the season against South Carolina (this season on the road). Those games are huge for BCS title aspirations. However, the most important game for Clemson looks to be when FSU comes to Death Valley, 10/19. Clemson lost in a shootout in Tallahassee last season. Revenge will be a major factor. So, will the fact that the visitor is 1-10 in this series. That’s enough for me to give the Tigers the edge over the ‘Noles, but I think Clemson drops another game in conference to give FSU the division title. The Tigers coached by Dabo Swinney, have plenty of talent. Sr. QB- Tajh Boyd is a serious Heisman candidate. Boyd, is one of the best QB’s in the country, because of his dual-threat ability (nearly 3900 yards passing, 769 rushing in 2012). The Tigers have a lot of weapons for Boyd to get the ball to, including Jr. WR- Sammy Watkins, who is also a Heisman candidate. Clemson, has never had a problem scoring. Stopping the other team from scoring is another story. The Tigers are good enough to run the table. I think they fall short. Besides hosting FSU, the schedule is just not on their side this season. Upset alerts? at Maryland – 10/26 , Georgia Tech – 11/14.
3. Maryland Terrapins, are in their last season as a member of the ACC. The Terps move on to the Big Ten next season. Can Maryland go out with a bang? Probably not, but there should be much improvement. The injury bug hit Maryland very hard last season, and things should be much better this season. Especially, at QB. Senior, CJ Brown is coming off an ACL injury, which cost him the enire 2012 season. Brown, is a dual-threat that set the Maryland record for rushing yard from a QB, in 2011. Continuity at QB, should help an offense that ranked last in the ACC. Defensively, the Terrapins were solid, finishing 2nd behind FSU in scoring defense. Five starters return, so keeping up those numbers could hard. There aren’t many favors with the schedule. Maryland travels to host Clemson, travel to Florida St., and Va Tech. Terps should be much improved. The record may not show it by the end of seson.
4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons, have the edge over the other 3 Atlantic Division because of Jim Grobe. I have always felt the job that Grobe has done at Wake has been very under the radar. It’s very difficult for the Deacons to draw in top talent, but the talent Grobe does attract are coached up. Wake has 15 starters (8 offense, 7 defense) including, Sr. – QB Tanner Price. Only Maryland, was worse in ACC play offensively. Price, can run and pass. Exactly, the type QB that Jim Grobe likes. I expect to see improvement from Wake, but that may not be enough to get back to a bowl.
5. NC State Wolfpack, unlike Wake, NC State lost their QB. Mike Glennon has moved on to the NFL. So, that leaves Jr. -QB, Pete Thomas to take over the QB position. The Wolfpack returns only 10 starters from last seaon. So, getting back to 7 wins and another bowl game will be hard to achieve. Head coach, Dave Doeren and his squad finished in the middle of the pack, offensively and defensively. Expect the offensive numbers to be down a bit, as they transition between quarterbacks. The schedule isn’t easy, nor is it too hard for the Wolfpack. We’ll keep an eye on NC State.
6. Boston College, could easily be picked to finish a couple of spots ahead of where I have them, but even with 18 starters back, the Eagles only won 2 games last season. There’s almost no doubt BC will improve their record. BC, was another team that was hit hard by the injury bug, and those injuries took away the weapons that Sr. QB- Chase Rettig had to throw to. Things weren’t much better on defense as Boston College, The defense can’t help but be better, with 10 returning starters. Last year, the BC defense gave up nearly 30 points/game. Not good, but hopefully experience will help those numbers,
7. Syracuse Orange, along with Pittsburgh are in their first seasons in the ACC. So, there is no way to break down how the Orange matches up against any ACC team, except for Pittsburgh. I thought that Syracuse was the more natural fit for the Big Ten, but the ACC had other ideas. For this season, Syracuse is coming off an 8 win season, which included a win over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Orange return just 12 starters, including Sr. Drew Allen, who should get the nod at QB. Hard to see the Orange winning 8 games again, but the fact that they’re in a much more stable conference should be a winner for the program, no matter how the season goes.
1. Virginia Tech Hokies, fans hope that the worst stretch they’ve had in years under Frank Beamer has come to an end. There’s good reason think it is over. We’ll find out very early, as Tech goes to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, to take on two-time national champion Alabama. Bama is a heavy favorite, but Va. Tech looks to be improved. Especially, on D. The Hokies have always leaned on their outstanding defense and special teams. This season, the Hokies return 9 starters. Sr. QB- Logan Thomas returns as signal caller. That experience should help out a lot. Especially, with a huge road trip to Miami on the schedule. I think the Coastal division could be a 4 team race (VT, Miami, UNC, and GT). I give the Hokies the slight edge, due to the fact, that they look to have the best defense of the 4. VT travels to Miami, but it’s a week after Miami plays at FSU. VT also travels to Ga. Tech, but the Hokies have been very solid on the road. Even if they drop one of those on the road, they get UNC at home. When the dust settles, I think the Hokies come out on top, or at least share for the top in the Coastal. Upset alert? at Boston College.
2. Miami Hurricanes, should also be vastly improved in 2013. The Canes were near the top in points per game in the conference, but near the bottom in defense. There are 18 returning starters (10 offense, 8 defense) from those units. Miami, was ineligible for a bowl participation last year, and currently awaiting word from the NCAA about the possibility of future sanctions. On the field, there is probably not a more talented team in the Coastal division. Sr. QB- Stephen Morris returns after nearly 3,400 yards passing and 58% completion rate in 2012. Also, the Duke is back! So. RB- Duke Johnson, one of the fastest runners in the nation is back (947 yds/6.8 ypc, 892 kick return yards w/ 2 TD’s). Johnson, is a threat to take it to the house, at anytime. The Canes should have no problem scoring. The challenge will be defensively. Miami, is the only one of these 4 that I think can take down FSU or Clemson on talent alone. What worries me, is Miami playing at FSU, then the next week playing Va. Tech at home. Tough stretch. They also play at UNC. The Canes will be an interesting team to watch in 2013.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels, are in the 2nd season of the Larry Fedora era. The Tar Heels, like just about every other ACC team, lit it up offensively but got lit up defensively. The one game that I can’t help but shake my head at is; the Georgia Tech game. UNC scored 50 points. Good right? Tech scored 68! How do you score 50 points, at home, and lose by 18? Unbelievable. That’s just the way it was, in the 2012 ACC. This season, the Heels return 13 starters (6 offense, 7 defense) including Sr. QB- Bryn Renner. The stats (3356 yards, 65% completion rate) for Renner were very respectable. Almost identical stats to 2011. He has plenty of weapons to get the ball to, and I’ve always been a fan of Fedora’s system since his days at Southern Mississippi. UNC opens up at South Carolina, which will be very challenging. In league, the season comes down to the Tech’s. UNC visits both VT and GT. They get Miami at home. I can easily see the Heels winning the division, I just have serious questions about their D.
4. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, have plenty to be optimistic about, also. The Jackets return 15 starters (7 offense, 8 defense) to a team that ended up in the ACC title game. Miami and North Carolina were ineligible. Included in the returning starters, is So. QB- Vad Lee. He only completed 48% of his passes last season, but was very solid running Paul Johnson’s option offense. Lee rushed for over 600 yards. Tech is also deep at running back, which you have to be to run this type of system. Robert Goodhigh, and David Sims combined for over a 1,000 yards, with Goodhigh gaining over 400 of those yards on 54 carries. Defense is a concern, however. The Yellow Jackets, gave up 40+ points on 6 separate occasions. That being said, Paul Johnson coached teams are always dangerous. It takes a lot of preparation by the opposition, to get ready for Tech’s option attack. If Vad Lee continues to develop, Ga. Tech can win the coastal. If not, look for another 7 win season or so.
5. Pittsburgh Panthers, make the move from the Big East, which is no more, to the ACC. Very good move for the future of Pittsburgh athletics. Much the same, as it is for Syracuse, and will be for Louisville next season. This season, the Panthers have 13 returning starters (5 offense, 8 defense). Unlike the my top 4 in this division, my bottom 3 have new QB’s. The Panthers replace Tino Sunseri, but his replacement could be Tom Savage, who has some experience. If it’s not Savage, it will probably be RsFr. QB- Chad Voytik, who is highly regarded and has had a year to digest the playbook. Sr. WR- Devin Street returns coming off a solid season (754 receiving yards, 14.2 ypc). Pittsburgh gets thrown to the ACC wolves right off the bat, as they host FSU. Besides their non-conference schedule, the rest of the schedule is pretty tough also. I think the Panthers are going to be better than most think. I can’t see bowl eligibility, but I can see 3 wins in conference, which could be enough to put them ahead of UVA and Duke.
6. Duke Blue Devils, come off their first bowl appearance in 18 years. Head coach, David Cutcliffe has done a tremendous job with the Blue Devils. Duke returns 14 starters ( 7 each side), but lose their QB, Sean Renferee. Jr. QB- Anthony Boone has experience, but has only started one game. Boone completed 51% of his passes, and is more mobile than Renferee was. Cutcliffe, knows how to coach quarterbacks, and Boone could blossom into a pretty good one. Like so many ACC teams, Duke’s problem wasn’t offense, it was defense. I don’t see a bowl for Duke this season, but Cutcliffe has something going in Durham, where Duke will at least be respectable. Year in, year out.
7. Virginia Cavaliers, have to replace both QB’s from last years team that won 4 games. Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims transferred out. Sims, due to academic ineligibility. So, now what for UVA? Enter in So. QB- David Watford, who played in 10 games as a true freshman, then redshirted last season. At running back, junior Kevin Parks returns after gaining nearly a 1,000 rushing and receiving. The Wahoo’s weren’t terrible on D last season, but the offense was pretty inept, and with even more uncertainty at QB, things could be worse this year. Looks like a long season in Charlottesville.
Championship Game: Florida St. over Virginia Tech
Player of the Year: Tajh Boyd
Freshman of the Year: Jameis Winston
Game of the Year: Florida St. at Clemson
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ve enjoyed my conference previews. I’m not done yet. Still have the SEC and AAC/Mountain West/BCS Buster combo to go. Visit sportsandswag.com for more on college football and anything sports……