2013 Conference Previews: ACC

Kevin C. Cox

Football is almost here. Time to preview the major conferences across the country starting with the ACC.

Clemson had their best record in 2012 but didn't even win the ACC last year. Will the Tigers take the next step this season?

Conference Offense MVP: So, RB Duke Johnson, Miami

Johnson had a superb true freshman season in 2012 rushing for 947 yards with 2,060 all-purpose yards. There's no more versatile athlete in the conference and I expect a huge season in 2013.

Conference Defense MVP: Sr, DB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

One of the top defensive backs in the country and could be switching back to corner after spending his sophomore and junior seasons at safety. The leader of a very talented Seminole secondary who could put up bigger numbers at corner. Could also have an impact on special teams with over 1,150 yards on 41 career kick returns.

Conference Game of the Year: Florida State at Clemson

I know we're not supposed to take the ACC seriously in the national championship discussion but the winner of this game could find themselves ultimately playing for the crystal ball.

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Atlantic Division

CLEMSON

Record: 11-1 (8-0)

Returing Starters: 12

Tajh Boyd is back at QB. Five starters lost on both sides of the ball is a little much to really jump on the bandwagon but 4 offensive linemen return and so do 5 defenders in the front seven. Tajh Boyd is back and so is WR Sammy Watkins. The three toughest games are perfectly dispersed across the schedule. The offense should be able to lean on some good recruiting to fill some holes at skill positions, plus you know, Tajh Boyd is back. I think they lose to Georgia to open the season but rip off 11 straight wins to finish the season while taking care of business against Florida State at home.

FLORIDA STATE

Record: 10-2 (7-1)

Returning Starters: 11

FSU had roughly 37 players drafted this past spring and return just 4 starters on defense. Still, the defense should be very good and that's what happens when you recruit at an elite level and a lot of young players have solid experience. The offense looks strong with a great offensive line and plenty of skilled players returning. If redshirt freshman QB Jameis Winston is crazy bonkers good, and he just might be, I don't think the Seminoles are losing 2 games in 2013. For now I'm projecting 2 losses out of the 3 games against Clemson, Miami, and Florida and remember Clemson doesn't have to face Miami this year.

WAKE FOREST

Record: 7-5 (4-4)

Returning Starters: 15

If you give Jim Grobe enough time he's going to sneak a winning season in there every once in a while. Wake is due for one in 2013 and it would be their first since 2008. Tanner Price is a solid QB and he's got a bunch of experienced skilled guys to work with. In fact, pretty much all their best players are back. They do have to travel to Miami but miss Virginia Tech in league play, and their out of conference schedule (Presbyterian, ULM, Army, Vanderbilt) is quite manageable. The bottom 70 percent of the Atlantic division should be pretty bad but I think Wake can be the best of the bunch.

MARYLAND

Record: 6-6 (4-4)

Returning Starters: 12

Randy Edsall lost his last 8 games at Maryland two years ago and then lost his last six games in 2012. He doubled his wins wins from two to four though. Progress! Seriously, the Terps top three quarterbacks got hurt last year and they had to start a converted true freshman linebacker. With 5 healthy quarterbacks the offense has to be better. There are some holes to fill on defense (6 lost starters) but this division is weak enough for Maryland to improve. Games against UConn, West Virginia, and a season ending trip to NC State are key---win all 3 and a bowl game should be assured. Watch out for sophomore Stefon Diggs (1,896 all-purpose yards in 11 games last year) to blow up on the national scene.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE

Record: 5-7 (3-5)

Returning Starters: 10

The Wolfpack are breaking in a new coach, while losing one of the conference's best quarterbacks and 3 offensive linemen. Doeren tore up the MAC over 2 years at Northern Illinois (15-1 in league play) but I don't see a good first year in Raleigh while replacing 6 defenders. However, the schedule sets up rather nicely for 2 to 3 more wins than I'm projecting here. The out of conference slate is fairly easy and all at home (Louisiana Tech, Richmond, Central Michigan, and East Carolina) and they miss Virginia Tech and Miami from the Coastal division.

BOSTON COLLEGE

Record: 4-8 (1-7)

Returning Starters: 18

The Eagles won only 2 games last year and with a ton of returning starters coming back I see them definitely improving on that number in 2013. I'm not buying stock in new head coach Steve Addazio but it's easy to win 4 or 5 games in today's modern game. Still, they have 6 true road games, and face USC, FSU, Clemson, and Virginia Tech. I don't see them winning a league game until their finale at Syracuse although games against Wake Forest, NC State, and Maryland will be key to a bowl berth.

SYRACUSE

Record: 2-10 (0-8)

Returning Starters: 12

I'm probably overly pessimistic with the Orange as they lose both head coach Doug Marone to the Buffalo Bills and quarterback Ryan Nassib to the New York Giants. As you can see I don't have them winning any games in conference. Yeah, that's pessimistic for sure. Their top two rushers are back but they lost their top two receivers. That sounds like throwing the ball is going to be tough. Opening with Penn State and Northwestern won't be easy either. I see wins against Wagner and Tulane and that's about it.

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Coastal Division

MIAMI

Record: 10-2 (7-1)

Returning Starters: 18

The media recently voted the Hurricanes as the favorite in the Coastal Division and I'll second that notion. They've been quite poor on both lines for a while but with 8 starters back this should be the best they've been in the trenches in 3 years or more. Stephen Morris is an emerging star at QB with a ton of options to work with and the defense will be the best of the Golden era. I don't think Miami is a real national contender though and I have them losing to Florida and Florida State. If they can beat Virginia Tech (they get the Hokies at home) they should reach the conference title game.

VIRGINIA TECH

Record: 9-3 (6-2)

Returning Starters: 15

We may never know what the heck happened to Logan Thomas last year (51% accuracy, 16 INT), but he has to be better in 2013. He just has to be. I'm not calling for double digit wins again (7 wins last year broke a 9 year streak of 10+ wins) but once again the Hokie schedule sets up perfectly for them to do so. Assuming losses to Alabama and Miami the rest of the schedule is without Florida State or Clemson and the other OOC opponents are Western Carolina, East Carolina, and Marshall. With 9 starters back on defense there should be improvement over last year but I feel like they'll drop an extra game along the way (somewhere in the stretch of Marshall-Georgia Tech-North Carolina).

NORTH CAROLINA

Record: 8-4 (5-3)

Returning Starters: 13

Larry Fedora very quietly went 8-4 last year in his first year in Chapel Hill (Butch Davis' season high for wins was 8) and I think they might do better than that this season. However, the loss of running back Gio Bernard and replacing 3 offensive linemen could really hurt the Tar Heel offense. Bryn Renner is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country so UNC has that going for them. They do open the season on a Thursday at South Carolina---win that game and it could bring a lot momentum. Like Virginia Tech they don't face Clemson or Florida State either.

GEORGIA TECH

Record: 7-5 (5-3)

Returning Starters: 15

The Yellow Jackets have basically been a .500 team over the past few years and that's where I have them again for 2013. They're bringing back enough starters on both sides of the ball but breaking in a new quarterback in the triple option offense usually makes thing more difficult. With a different schedule I could see them moving up in the division but I don't think they're as talented as the teams above them anyway. Despite having Elon and Alabama A&M on the schedule Tech also faced BYU on the road, Clemson on the road, and of course the season ending game against Georgia where they've won only once over the past 12 meetings.

PITTSBURGH

Record: 5-7 (3-5)

Returning Starters: 13

OFD Summer Opponent Preview HERE. I've seen some predictions with Pitt at the bottom of the Coastal Division but I think their defense will be too good for that to happen.

VIRGINIA

Record: 4-8 (2-6)

Returning Starters: 16

Mike London was Doing Good Things™ in 2011 when the Cavs went 8-4 punctuated by a win over Florida State in late November. Since that game Virginia has gone 4-10 and just 2-7 in the ACC. With their uptick in recruiting they really should be getting better but the schedule and loss of quarterback Phillip Sims (academically ineligible and transferred) won't do them any favors. Virginia opens against BYU and Oregon and ends their season with a brutal 4-game stretch of Clemson, at North Carolina, at Miami, and Virginia Tech. Honestly, if they get over .500 that will be very impressive.

DUKE

Record: 5-7 (1-7)

Returning Starters: 14

Duke won 6 games last season, their most since 1994, but they'll need some help to climb out of the Coastal Division basement. All things considered 5 wins for Duke is pretty good and they have nice balance coming back on the both sides of the ball. An out of conference schedule of North Carolina Central, Memphis, Troy, and Navy should help things too. It's just too bad they don't play in the weaker Atlantic Division.

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