Often poked fun at as the SEC's (S.E.C!!!) little brother, the conference is loudly coming of age with the return of Florida State and the ascension of Clemson to top tier status. Yes, the underbelly of this conference is pudding soft, but the same can be said of most major conferences.
So, without further ado....
|Florida State over North Carolina|
|Bowl Teams:||9||(Not including 5-7 team bids)|
|Most Underrated:||North Carolina|
|Most Overrated:||Boston College|
|Coaches on Hot Seat:||
Team by team:
1. Florida State: I see the Seminoles having another good, possibly great year. Making the College football playoffs before ultimately losing in the Semi-final game. The Seminoles should be loaded for bear on defense, and they have some of the better skill players on offense in the Nation. All in all I think it's a return to the Top 4 for the Seminoles, and a return visit to the ACC Championship game and an ultimate title.
2. Clemson: Call the Tigers "1B" if you like. I think that in terms of player talent they stand toe-to-toe with Florida State, and possibly have even more to offer. In fact, the only reason I place Florida State over them is because their match-up this year is played in Tallahassee. Granted, I've questioned head coach Dabo Swinney in the past, but his "rah rah" cheerleader style seems to be working, and he has quality assistants who come up with great game plans to take advantage of their strengths.
3. North Carolina: I give the Tarheels my "most underrated tag for the ACC because I think they are clearly the 3rd best team in the conference. Head coach Larry Fedora has the offense rolling and there's a suspicion (by me) that their defense is going to be much improved. It's going to be weird for UNC fans to still be paying attention to football in late-November/early December, but I think that's where this team is heading.
4. Louisville: I will admit my bias here. I think Louisville has almost as much talent as anyone, but they are perpetually hamstrung by all-around bad guy Bobby Petrino at Head Coach. I also question whether or not they have a quarterback that can get their great receivers the ball consistently. They also have a very, very suspect defense. People are basing their high rankings on the last 5 games of last season. I still think that had more to do with who they played (Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas aTm) than how good they were. We'll see.
5. Miami: What can new HC Mark Richt do with the Hurricanes? I think he'll do OK in year one for two reasons: 1. There is still a ton of talent on the Miami roster 2. He's a good coach and a definite upgrade over Golden. That said, they have questions. QB Kaaya has been hit/miss and they have athletic ability at the WR and RB positions, but are they PLAYERS? On defense they have two Sophomores on the D-line and 2 true freshmen at LB. I still don't think they have enough to beat the big guys in a league this stacked.
6. Pittsburgh: Pitt fans believe, in their hearts, that this is their year. The Panthers are probably the most Sr laden team in the ACC and hopes are high. The problem that I have is that the talent that is returning really wasn't all that good to begin with last year. I don't see room for much upside this year. Head Coach Pat Narduzzi is a defensive-minded guy by nature, and I expect them to be pretty good there. Where I see Pitt struggling is against the much-faster defenses that their offense is going to face in conference play.
7. NC State: North Carolina State was supposed to be a contender in the ACC, last year. Instead they went 7-6 and 3-5 in the conference. Granted, they are recruiting well (for them) and head coach Doeren appears to be moving the team in the right direction but I think there's too much headwind blowing against them in teh fairly stacked ACC Atlantic. On offense I expect them to try to run too much but on defense they might have one of the better LB corps in the Conference. Still, I have them with the same record prediction as I (correctly) had last year. They'll need to outplay their talent if they want to do better.
8. Duke: For a couple of glorious years, Duke was a force in the ACC Coastal division. I don't see this happening this year as HC David Cutcliffe's team reverts back to the mean due to talent attrition and recruiting reality. Granted, the Blue Devils will be tough outs for anyone, and I think they keep it close in most. But the Duke Blue Devil football players are similar to Wooderson's high school girls. To paraphrase: "The rest of the conference keeps getting better, and they stay just the same."
9. Wake Forest: This is a rebuilding campaign for the Demon Deacons, and I think their record is gong to show it. That said, I think they have just enough talent, and the rest of the conference is weak enough, that they should skid in right at the 6-6 mark to (lose in) make another bowl. Wake Forest is well coached, and offensively inept. They are seemingly becoming old hat at no-touchdowns-scored games. They're going to need more than they have to contend in a division with Florida State, Clemson and Louisville looking at them.
10. Georgia Tech: That Paul Johnson is still coaching the Yellowjackets this year is, admittedly, a surprise to me. On offense the best thing they have going for them is returning starter Justin Thomas. Where they're going to struggle is with three Sophomore RB's. The fact is the team wasn't very good (3-9) last year and I only see marginal improvement this year. They start off the season light, against Alcorn State and Tulane, so they should be a *yawn* 2-0 before facing off against Notre Dame and getting their hats handed to them. I think Johnson will be hard pressed to have this job next season.
11. Virginia Tech: Frank Beamer, gone. And while new head coach Justin Fuente is inheriting some talent he's also coming in as the "man who is replacing the man" which is never a good thing. I don't think Virginia Tech will be awful, but I don't think they will be that good either. To me their best hope is to sneak in a win they shouldn't and make it to a bowl game so that they can get extra practices. On plus: Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster is still around, so the defense should be a strong suit.
12. Boston College: Another year, another overrated Boston College team. Look, I get it. The East Coast media DESPERATELY wants them to be good. And head coach Steve Addazio is the type of coach you want to succeed. The problem, as I see it, is that BC just doesn't have the talent to compete with many ACC teams. They're going to be OK on defense because of coaching but they're going to struggle because of lack of speed. For the life of me I cannot figure out how they're going to score any points. It's going to be a rough year and I have Addazio on my list of "coaches on the hot seat".
13. Syracuse: Former Bowling Green HC Dino Babers is taking over a program that is listing, underfunded and bereft of talent. Other than that Mrs. Lincoln how was the play? Fully half of the starters are underclassmen, and the experience much of it is "meh". They should have a pretty decent right side of the O-line which could mean a strongly right-handed (read: predictable) offense. On defense I just think they're going to struggle to stop opposing teams. I think Babers is the kind of coach that can turn it around, just not this year.
14. Virginia: The Cavaliers are the football dumpster fire of the ACC. The team on the schedule that the other teams view as a win. They are your ideal homecoming opponent. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall doesn't have much in the way of talent, speed or anything approaching the level of competing in the ACC. I only have them beating FCS Richmond, and a Horrible CMU team. Maybe Mendenhall can turn it around? But he's got a LONG, long way to go. Looks to be a tough first year.