The ACC remains a curious case. The overall talent level within the conference is on par with the Big 12 and Pac 10 but the ACC has continued to struggle on the national stage.
Since Boston College joined as the 12th team in 2005 the six ACC Champions have yet to make an appearance in the BCS Championship game and only one of them (2008 Virginia Tech) went on to win their BCS Bowl game. Are the prospects for an ACC title shot any better in 2010? I don’t think so, but the conference does have a half dozen quality teams that will provide us with some good college football to watch this fall.
The ACC Coastal will have four very good football teams this fall. Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami could all be good enough to win the Coastal Division title. While this can sometimes be a nice problem to have, in the case of the Coastal division it will most likely result in a self elimination scenario for the conference in the national title race. If you are an ACC Coastal fan you should probably get familiar with the ACC division tie breaker rules now. Take a look.
Virginia Tech- I think the Hokies have the inside track on both the division and the conference and it has nothing to do with the extensive amount of time that I spent with my Hokie fanatic brother-in-law The Deer Hunter last fall. It is simply due to scheduling. The Hokies open the season with a huge game against Boise State at FedEx Field in a Monday night showdown chock full of national title implications. If you don’t want to see the Smurf turf crew crashing the BCS Championship game you should probably be sporting a Fighting Gobbler tee on September 6th. A Hokie victory will derail the Broncos title shot and provide the Beamer Ball crew with some great momentum heading into the season.
I expect the Hokies to beat Boise State and cruise to an 8-0 record as they plow through 3 non-conference patsies and a favorable draw from the Atlantic that includes BC, Wake Forest and NC State. Then in November trouble comes into paradise as the Hokies stare down a slate of Georgia Tech, @ North Carolina and @ Miami before finishing up with another beat down of UVA. I think a reasonable expectation would be for the Hokies to drop one during that brutal 3 game stretch.
The Hokies return 8 starters on an offense that averaged 31.8 pts/ game but only 4 on defense. Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and the rest of the offense will carry the load early while Bud Foster’s defense gets it sea legs. I suspect the Hokie defense will be born again hard by the time they head into that rough November slate. Beamer ball will continue on special teams and the Deer Hunter’s boys should have a great shot at picking up their 4th ACC title.
Georgia Tech- I always give Paul Johnson and his offense the benefit of the doubt. He always seems to fare better than anyone thinks he will year in and year out. The Jackets won the conference last season and return 6 starters from a unit that averaged 33.8 pts/gm. Josh Nesbitt remains under center and will continue to thrive running Johnson’s option offense. The Jackets also return 8 starters on a pseudo respectable defense that should improve upon the 24.8 pts/gm they allowed last season.
The Jackets have two interesting non-conference games against Kansas and what should be a very tough Georgia squad. They also draw NC State, Wake Forest and Clemson from the Atlantic division. While I don’t expect GT to run the table they will be in the thick of the division race heading into November and could very well repeat as division and conference champs.
North Carolina- Butch Davis has quietly assembled a solid group of football players in Chapel Hill and I expect that the Heels will also be in the thick of the Coastal Division race this fall. North Carolina doesn’t do anything flashy on offense but they play solid fundamental football, focus on a strong rushing attack and boast a great defense that should be even better in 2010. The Davis formula resembles that of Saban very closely.
The Heels return 10 starters on offense to include QB T.J. Yates, RB Shaun Draughn and WR Greg Little. They will definitely improve upon the 23.9 pts/gm they produced in 2009. On defense 9 starters return to a unit that only allowed 17.1 pts/gm in 2009 and expects to be even better in 2010. I anticipate the Heels to have a great season playing some of the least exciting football you will ever watch. It may not be flashy but Davis knows what he is doing and he is about to reap the fruits of his labor.
The Heels open with an interesting matchup against LSU then have a 2nd week bye before facing Georgia Tech. They are capable of winning both of those big games and if they do they will carry a lot of momentum into later matchups with Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech. I think UNC will improve on the 8 wins they posted last season and be right there with VT and GT in the chase for the Coastal crown.
Miami- The Canes are a sexy pick to win the ACC and possibly more heading into 2010 but I’m not quite buying into it for two reasons. For starters the Canes play a very difficult schedule that includes non conference tilts against Florida A&M, @ Ohio State, @ Pittsburgh and USF. They also draw Florida State from the Atlantic on top of VT, UNC and GT from within the division.
I am also not convinced that Randy Shannon has found the formula for the secret sauce. On more than one occasion last season the Canes just didn’t show up. Virginia Tech and the bowl game against Wisconsin come to mind.
No matter how much talent Shannon has amassed on the roster without a serious attitude adjustment from somewhere within the program the Canes will likely self destruct more than once again this season. I know they are making a concerted effort to bring back "The U" of old but I expect them to have a hard time matching the 9 wins they picked up last season.
Virginia- UVA capped off the Al Groh era with a 3-9 mark in 2009 and starts from scratch this year with Mike London at the helm. London led Richmond to an FCS title in 2008 and now has a chance to really make a name for himself in a much bigger ACC pond.
The Cavs have a talent base similar to BC, Georgia Tech and NC State so four years of recruiting won’t necessarily be required to improve quickly. I don’t expect any miracles but I won’t be surprised if the Cavs double their 3 win total from last season and sneak into a lower tier bowl game.
Duke- David Cutcliffe is a great coach but it will take nothing short of a miracle to make the Blue Devils competitive. Duke does return 9 starters on an offense that averaged 25.2 pts/gm in 2009 but may not improve as they have to replace QB Thaddeus Lewis. The Blue Devil defense has six returning starters on a unit that gave up 28.3 pts/gm last season and will continue to be the linchpin in the win column. With non-conference games against Bama, and Navy improving on the 5 wins they posted last season will be difficult.
Florida State- Jimbo Fisher takes over for living legend Bobby Bowden this season and has the ACC’s most talented roster to work with. The Noles are a sleeping giant as they have completely underachieved the last four seasons. In many ways they resemble Miami but with the staff change I am more optimistic that they will be able to right the ship. The Noles return 9 starters on offense to include QB Christian Ponder and should be at least as productive as the 30.1 pts/gm they produced last season.
On defense the Noles struggled last year allowing 30.0 pts/gm and Fisher brought in Mark Stoops as DC during the off season to fix it. I expect that Stoops will quickly whip the defense into shape and take some pressure off the offense. The Noles travel to Oklahoma in week 2 which will be a great early season litmus test. They also draw Miami and North Carolina from the Coastal Division and close out the season hosting Florida at Doak Campbell. The schedule is too gruesome to run the table but I expect to see a 9-10 win Seminole team in the ACC Championship game.
Boston College- BC is the jinx, and at this point I find that predicting anything but success for them is is futile. The Eagles are a blue collar football team that doesn’t exactly jump off the page but at the end of the day you don’t really want to play them either. OC Gary Tranquill returns 8 starters on offense to include junior RB Montel Harris and 26 year old soph QB David Shinskie. I expect that BC will improve on the 24.8 pts/gm they put up in 2009.
The Eagles have 6 starters returning to a solid defense that only gave up 19.8 pts/gm in 2009 and gets the added bonus of Sam Linebacker Mark Herzlich returning to the lineup. The Herzlich story is great and will no doubt be featured on the new three hour College Game Day every single week. The Eagles have a non-conference slate of three patsies and Notre Dame and draws VT, Duke and UVA from the Coastal Division. After a bye in week 3 the Eagles host VT and ND in back to back weeks and have FSU at the end of October. Those are the only three games they may not be favored in. As a result I expect BC to put up at least 9 wins and push FSU to win the Atlantic Division.
Clemson- Dabo Swinney enters his third full year at the helm of a program that is in a strange spot. The Tigers entered 2008 with high expectations then instantly flamed out leading to the resignation of Tommy Bowden mid season. Swinney took over and last season the Tigers made it to the ACC title game in the most unspectacular fashion possible. Now what?
Clemson returns seven starters to an offense that produced 31.1 pts/gm in 2009 but QB Kyle Parker is still trying to decide whether or not he will jump to MLB. Without Parker and departed all world HB/ return man C.J. Spiller the Tigers offensive production will most likely drop off. The defense returns six starters and was solid in 2009 only giving up 20.4 pts/gm. With non-conference games against Auburn and South Carolina and a Coastal draw of North Carolina and Georgia Tech I see the Tigers having a 8-9 win ceiling.
NC State- NC State is a tough nut to crack. In 2009 there was no telling what you were going to get from the Wolfpack on any given week. They beat a couple of good teams, lost to a couple of bad ones and found themselves on both ends of a blowout. NC State was actually pretty good on offense 30.3 pts/gm and equally bad on defense giving up 31.2 pts/gm. Tom O’Brien picked up Jon Tenuta in the off season to help shore up the defense as an LB Coach. That will be interesting to keep an eye on. Despite having only 5 returning starters I suspect their defense will improve enough for the pack to get back to 6-7 wins and a lower tier bowl.
Wake Forest- Jim Grobe consistently does more with less and he is going to have to do it one more time to get bowl eligible. After opening with Presbyterian and Duke the Deacons hit a rough patch @ Stanford, @ Florida State, Georgia Tech, Navy and @ Virginia Tech. That looks like a likely 2-5 start to me. The Deacons might be able to pull it out of the fire and win 4 of 5 to close out the season and get bowl eligible but another 5-7 finish is more likely.
Maryland- The Terps return only 12 starters from a team that went 2-10 in 2009. Ralph Friedgen is marking time and that is always a bad scenario for any team to try and play though. Expect the struggles to continue in 2010 starting with a beat down from Navy on opening weekend.