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ACC College Football PreviewPosted on August 15, 2012 at 12:57 PM.
For a conference that just wants to matter again, the ACC sure looks like a group ready to break out -- at least on paper.
But it's very difficult for the nation to take the ACC seriously when they tout a 2-13 record all-time in BCS bowl games. 2011 wasn't much kinder to the conference as Notre Dame took down all three challengers from the conference and the SEC took three out of four in regular season matchups. Needless to say, the numbers aren't pleasant when comparing the success of ACC teams against the rest of the nation.
While the entire collection of teams that comprise the ACC may not make legitimate noise this year, fans of the conference hope a top-heavy performance will finally earn some respect for its members. The ACC definitely can't brag about depth, but they may not have to. The conference's top teams could be good enough to carry the rest -- something we haven't been able to say for the ACC in several yeras.
1. Florida State Seminoles 11-1 (7-1)
Seventeen starters return to a squad that was the victim of premature expectations in 2011. E.J. Manuel will be the face of the team at quarterback and should be supported by an improved running game and a deep collection of talented receivers. Defensive end Brandon Jenkins (1st team All-ACC) leads the best defensive line in the nation that is loaded with talent and experience (9 returning starters). The 'Noles biggest challenge will be a trip to Virginia Tech, but the Hokies are weak up front and will likely fold to the tough pressure of the FSU defense.
2. Clemson Tigers 11-1 (7-1)
Home to my pick for the most talented offense in the nation, Clemson is a must-watch team every single week this year. As long as Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, and Sammy Watkins are playing -- your t.v. should be tuned or your DVR set. As much fun as watching high flying offense will be, the linebackers and secondary of the Tigers may be the difference maker in 2012. Clemson only loses a backup linebacker from last year and return seven in the secondary with starting experience.
3. North Carolina State Wolfpack 8-4 (5-3)
If you had to guess how many wins NC State had in 2011, chances are you would miss on the low side. A sneaky eight wins last year should be a real possibility this season thanks to the return of quarterback Mike Glennon and a solid collection of talented players littered throughout the offense.
Improvement is the theme defensively for the Wolfpack as health looks to be the only thing that can hold the team back. Both the defensive line and linebackers are filled with skillful athletes but experience and depth is a question. The secondary, however, is led by David Amerson at cornerback (1st team All-American) and should be one of the best units in the nation.
4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons 5-7 (2-6)
Tanner Price isn't a name you'll hear a lot, but the junior quarterback is one of the top at his position in the ACC. With the help of wideout Michael Campanaro (2nd team All-ACC) the Deacons hope to overcome a serious lack of experience (only four returning starters). The front seven defensively is led by a solid group of upperclassmen and should be stronger throughout. Don't expect a big jump in performance but a friendly schedule could mix well for a shot at bowl eligibility.
5. Boston College Eagles 5-7 (2-6)
If there was any team that wishes they could reconfigure their schedule in the ACC, this might be the team. BC could easily start the year at 3-0, but the rest of the season is filled with home games against much better teams and games away from home against teams good enough to trip up the Eagles. Offensively, ten returning starters are the selling point for the contrary to my prediction -- led by quarterback Chase Rettig. The defensive side of the ball carries a little more talent than that of the offense, but will it be enough to pull off an upset to get BC bowl eligible?
6. Maryland Terrapins 3-9 (1-7)
Many felt that Randy Edsall's success at Connecticut was more luck than skill and used his horrible first year at Maryland as proof. Perhaps fans should give the new coach a year or two more before deciding if he was the right decision, but 2012 doesn't look like it's going to be a feather in the cap for Edsall's career either. Offensively, the fightin' turtles have some talent but lack experience. Defensively it's the opposite story - plenty of experience but a lack of skill. Either way you mix it, the Terrapins are in for another long year where three wins is a realistic improvement over their 2011 performance.
1. North Carolina Tarheels 11-1 (8-0)
The team with the best record in the division is the fourth best in the conference but won't even play for the ACC championship. Huh? Thanks to egregious amounts of academic fraud uncovered during the Butch Davis era, UNC is looking a lot like Ohio State this year -- potential to win the conference but won't get a chance. Sanctions also limit the Tarheels from bowl game eligibility but maybe it's poetic justice for the Hokies who play a much tougher schedule. While it's hard to say if UNC's players are ever following NCAA guidelines, there is never a doubt that the program attracts enormous amounts of NFL talent.
Running back Giovani Bernard is a returning All-American that hopes for a big year. The defense for North Carolina looks to be down a little by typical standards, however, and the weak secondary could be it's undoing. A lack of focus could also sink in considering the team has little to play for other than pride. The schedule screams a huge year, but will the young men on the field execute?
2. Virginia Tech Hokies 9-3 (6-2)
How far can quarterback Logan Thomas carry the Hokies' offense? The answer to that question may be the answer to how successful the entire season becomes for VA Tech. Along with Thomas, the offense returns only three starters but is stacked with highly touted recruits that will likely reload the squad and emerge as the year presses on. A solid secondary has always been a staple of the Bud Foster defensive scheme and 2012 will be no different thanks to one of the top defensive line units in the entire country.
3. Georgia Tech Yellowjackets 7-5 (5-3)
Paul Johnson's option attack returns for another round as the ACC continues to adapt and improve against his methods. Unfortunately for the rest of the conference this may be the best offensive line group that Johnson has fielded during his tenure with the Yellowjackets. Senior quarterback Tevin Washington will ride fakes and pitch to a deep and experienced group of A-Backs and B-Backs helping to make this team very one-dimensional but dangerous nonetheless.
4. Virginia Cavaliers 6-6 (4-4)
We're not used to the success of 2011 for Virginia, so we're excused considering most of us forgot the Cavaliers won eight games last year. An early contest at home against Penn State will tell us a lot about the state of each program after two games, but it's the rest of the schedule that doesn't give up on the Cavaliers. Besides their contest with the Nittany Lions, UVA heads to TCU for a non-conference matchup and will host Louisiana Tech -- one of the more dangerous non-BCS teams for 2012.
If Virginia makes it back to a bowl game it will largely be due to a strong collection of talent on offense led by quarterback Michael Rocco, tailback Perry Jones, and an experienced offensive line. The defense has potential but has a lot to prove before the Cavs can consider a repeat performance this year.
5. Duke Blue Devils 4-8 (1-7)
Steve Spurrier, head coach of South Carolina, has been documented as casting a vote for the Blue Devils each time he fills out his Coach's poll on Sundays during the season. While Duke may not be on the verge of top-25 status, who would have thought they would see the day when "The U" could potentially finish lower than Duke in college football?
Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I'm marking November 24th on my calendar -- not just because it's my wife's birthday and I try to avoid sleeping on the couch -- but because it looks to be the battle for the bottom step. Duke hosts the Miami Hurricanes for the regular season finale. The winner won't likely have bragging rights, but the potential to see the 'Canes play out of fear of getting out-Duked might be a fun twist to end the year.
6. Miami Hurricanes 2-10 (0-8)
For a team that has struggled to mean much nationally, Miami (FL) isn't helping their own cause with their 2012 schedule. A trip to Kansas State and a contest against Notre Dame, capped by a late-year game against USF; the Hurricanes are setting themselves up for a stormy year. The 'Canes do have talent on both sides of the ball but not enough to stand out considering their placement in the hotbed of skillful recruits that is the state of Florida.
Experience won't be their strong suit either as only four starters return on offense and six on defense. Florida State and Florida are climbing and UCF looks to have big-time potential this year. Throw in the growing success of USF and the Hurricanes may quickly become the fifth best team in their own state.
ACC Championship Game
Florida State 24 - Virginia Tech 16
Florida State Seminoles
Offensive Player of the Year
Sammy Watkins, WR - Clemson Tigers
Defensive Player of the Year
Brandon Jenkins, DE - Florida State
Coach of the Year
Jimbo Fisher -Florida State Seminoles
Coach on the Hot Seat
Randy Edsall - Maryland Terrapins
Team on the Rise
North Carolina Tarheels
Team on the Decline
North Carolina Tarheels
Teams Going Bowling
Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Virginia
Sound Off: What are your predictions for the ACC college football season?
Justin Mikels is a staff writer for Operation Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @long_snapper.
JOINED: Jan 26, 2008 (5 years, 121 days ago)
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JOINED: Jan 26, 2008 (5 years, 121 days ago)
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