College Football: Is 2010 the Year of the ACC?
We all know the story.
It's been over a decade now since an ACC team claimed the national championship, when Florida State took down a Michael Vick-led Virginia Tech Hokie squad that was a member of the Big East at the time.
When it comes to bragging rights, it is hard to silence the SEC and Big XII critics when your biggest win comes against a team that is now a member of your own under-achieving conference.
However, if you go deeper into the numbers, the tale gets far sadder.
Since the inception of the BCS, the ACC is a woeful 2-10, the lone wins coming over Big East darkhorse Cincinnati in 2009 and the aforementioned Florida State/Virginia Tech duel.
When Boise State and Utah both claim as many victories in the BCS era as all the ACC teams combined, that's rough.
In 12 years, the ACC has never gotten an extra bid. The Big East is the only other power conference to share that shame.
Outside of the 2000 season, the ACC has never reached the championship game and Georgia Tech's crushing loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes only furthered the misery of conference fans.
However, all is not lost football fans. With talented recruiting classes, coaching upgrades that are paying dividends, and a challenging out-of-conference schedule, the stars may finally be aligned for the ACC this upcoming season.
In 2010, many ACC teams are looking forward to great things from their program.
The following is a list of the teams with the best chance of making noise nationally this season. Here is a look at the teams who have a chance not only to win the ACC and reach a BCS game, but a few that might actually be playing for it all in the championship game.
6. North Carolina
Butch Davis and company are certainly gaining attention for the talent on their roster. This year they will be in Atlanta for the annual ACC/SEC clash in the Georgia Dome against LSU.
This would be a huge opportunity for the Tar Heels to turn the heads of the national media. Of course, it's an opportunity that has been blown by better teams the past few seasons in the ACC.
While North Carolina is one of the most talented teams in the ACC, if not the country, it is difficult to be confident in the Tar Heels heading into next season.
Sure, the Tar Heels will have a much healthier offensive line than what they had last season. They also have almost all of their returning play-makers and a quarterback in T.J. Yates who is begging for redemption his senior season.
However, North Carolina is still trying to get out of its own way.
The Tar Heels have some signature victories under Davis, but they also have some inexplicable losses. If Carolina is to reach that magical "next level", they not only have to take down Georgia Tech, Miami, and Virginia Tech, but they also need to avoid the letdown games against Virginia and Duke.
If Yates can improve upon his 14 touchdown, 15 interception performance last season by going to his experienced wide receivers, North Carolina can have a potent passing game. Add the ninth and 10th best rushers in the ACC by yardage, and you have an offense to be reckoned with.
Last year, they had the best rush defense as well. So what's not to like?
We all know that North Carolina can play well, but can they do it under pressure?
Carolina was the second most penalized team in the ACC last year, a majority of them coming at times that either killed drives or gave opponents an opportunity to turn the tide of the game.
They also had the third worst red zone defense for the conference. Being able to keep teams off the scoreboard separates the contenders from the pretenders. Although the Tar Heels forced a fair amount of field goals, no team had fewer lost possessions than North Carolina.
Ultimately, North Carolina will have to survive a rough stretch in early November where they play at Florida State, Virginia Tech, and N.C. State in successive weeks.
While Davis has brought in talent, the pressure is on this season to do something with it. Until he does, it is hard to buy the Tar Heels as a national power.
5. Georgia Tech
Last year's ACC champion will have a long road ahead of them if it wishes to repeat in 2010, let alone reach for a national championship.
Forget the fact that the team now becomes the "measuring stick" game for every ACC program trying to earn a place on its totem pole. Now the Yellow Jackets have to hold their place without future NFL superstars like running back Jonathan Dwyer and defensive end Derrick Morgan.
Obviously the team has talented players to try and fill the void, but it will not be a simple task.
The Yellow Jacket defense cost them a chance at perfection last season, and head coach Paul Johnson was able to fix that problem by hiring former Virginia coach Al Groh to bring his 3-4 scheme to Georgia Tech.
However, this system will take time. Even if the offense of Johnson was worked in seamlessly when he arrived in Atlanta, the defense will not be so lucky.
Besides, let's not forget that Groh's defense had some notably poor games in his nine years at Virginia.
That means the pressure will be on Josh Nesbitt, a great play-maker but a player who may have to rely on the pass far more than he would like.
Georgia Tech will start the season with a good ranking considering how they fared last season. However, they will have trouble moving up in 2010.
First off, the Yellow Jackets do not have a signature out-of-conference game. Unlike some of the other teams on this list, Georgia Tech does not have a game outside of the ACC which would wow the judges.
Kansas is a team in limbo after Mark Magino's exit, and people just don't know what to make of the Georgia Bulldogs next season. Certainly games against South Carolina State are not going to wow the pollsters.
The ACC schedule, though, is rough. Back-to-back road games against Clemson and Virginia Tech highlight a tough end to the season.
The Jackets also open the ACC schedule at North Carolina, a team desperate to reach the top of the standings.
These games are a "lose-lose" situation for the Jackets. If they win, it's what they're expected to do as defending champions. If they lose, they will not get the respect the loss merits because the ACC constantly beats itself up during the season.
The Yellow Jackets will have a hard enough time winning their division, let alone the ACC or a national title.
However, with the talent they have, Georgia Tech is a dangerous team for anyone in the country.
The Hurricanes had some growing pains last season, but they have an opportunity to make amends in 2010.
Miami has a very good quarterback in Jacory Harris, a cadre of running backs and a good recruiting class to bolster a team looking to restore the swagger back to the Coral Gables.
Could they really run the table?
Well that question will be answered early when the Hurricanes play in the biggest non-conference game for the ACC all year when they do battle with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Say what you want about Jim Tressel and these big out-of-conference contests, but a win in the Horseshoe is very impressive to voters. It would be the victory that the ACC longs for in its search for redemption.
If the Hurricanes pull off the upset, they have games against Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech that could all help boost their profile.
A late season clash with the Hokies would provide a big national audience considering the beat down they received last season and that the rematch could decide the ACC Coastal.
Still, despite a preseason ranking, quality opponents, and a talented team, Miami's hopes ultimately lie in the hands of Harris. Despite 24 touchdowns, the young man led the ACC with 17 interceptions.
If the junior can continue to progress and avoid a slip-up game like his four interception game against North Carolina, then the Hurricanes will be a fixture in the rankings.
A regression or, worse yet, an injury would spell doom for Miami with back-up Robert Marve's departure to Purdue.
3. Florida State
The buzz is back in Tallahassee.
The preseason darling has a new coach, a new recruiting class, and a future All-ACC quarterback in Christian Ponder.
The question is, do they still have that atrocious defense which cost them so many games last season?
Florida State is the last ACC team to hold the national championship, and they certainly have their goals set high for 2010.
The Seminoles have a rather fortuitous start to the season. After dispatching Samford, Florida State has two games against BYU and Oklahoma. Here you have two teams with strong programs and respectability that will both be rebuilding after losing key players.
Heck, even their rival Florida is entering an era without Tim Tebow and possibly an Urban Meyer free zone.
In other words, the Seminoles smell blood in the water in September. The time is right to pick up the win and earn the respect early before those teams start playing better as the season continues.
Think of Oregon/Boise State as an example from last year.
After vanquishing the pesky Wake Forest Demon Deacons and their quarterback-less team, they can start October against a hapless Virginia team that they could throttle for a few style points.
Florida State probably has the best offense overall in the ACC. They also avoid Virginia Tech and play Clemson at home.
However, their defense is going to keep them out of an national glory in 2010. There is simply too much talent on the schedule to outscore each and every team they face next season.
Still, even if they do not have the best chance to run the table, they still have a wonderful chance to win the ACC for the first time since the upset in 2005.
The rise of Dabo Swinney has Clemson fans in full uproar for 2010.
The defending Atlantic Division champions may have lost C.J. Spiller but are still loaded with talent and have a strong season to springboard off from towards even higher goals this season.
The Tigers and their top 25 recruiting class have many reasons to think big in 2010.
First, Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker has emerged as a prolific passer. Last season he threw for 20 touchdowns as a freshman, fourth best in the conference.
He also has four of out five linemen returning along with most of his receivers outside of Jacoby Ford.
Second, even though Clemson loses some big names on defense like all-star lineman Ricky Sapp, the Tigers will still have a strong unit that can stop the ACC offenses.
Last year, the boys of Death Valley had the best pass defense in the conference and was third in total defense. While those numbers may dip in 2010 you can be sure that these new faces will be able to step in and step up.
Clemson may not win every game next season, but they certainly can win every game. While Miami will have a tall task at Ohio State and North Carolina has to tackle LSU, the Tigers have far more than a puncher's chance each and every game this season.
The key non-conference game for the Tigers will be at Auburn. The battle of the Tigers should be fun. Auburn showed promise last season starting 5-0 under new coach Gene Chizik before an 8-5 finish.
An ACC victory over any SEC team will help, but it could easily help springboard Clemson into a bye week before a pivotal home game against the Miami Hurricanes.
Indeed, Clemson's biggest game will be against the Florida State Seminoles. While it may be the hardest game on the schedule, the Tigers have won five out of the last seven over the Seminoles and should feel confident heading into this season.
The Tigers have an opportunity to run the table, but their biggest problem is the opposite of the previous contenders. If Clemson does stumble somewhere, people will point to the strength of schedule.
ACC wins are just hard for the national media to respect, right or wrong. That means Clemson would have to hang its hat on mediocre SEC teams Auburn and South Carolina while trying to ignore games against North Texas and Presbyterian.
Clemson is riding high at the moment, but the pressure is on to keep things rolling in 2010.
1. Virginia Tech
Well, here's a fact for you:
The Virginia Tech Hokies have never won a national championship in anything. Whether it be football, basketball, or dominoes, the Hokies have been on the outside looking in for a long time.
Well, if anyone is going to break the drought for the ACC next season, the prohibitive favorite would have to be the Hokies.
In truth, there is little not to like with Virginia Tech next season.
They have an amazing play-maker in quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is coming off his best passing season for his career.
They not only have the best running back corps in the ACC but perhaps the entire nation with last year's freshman sensation Ryan Williams being complemented by Darren Evans.
We all know that the Hokie defense led by defensive coordinator Bud Foster causes nightmares for the ACC and can bring pressure to shut down prolific quarterbacks like the Wolfpack's Jacory Harris and Miami's Russell Wilson.
Let's face it, Virginia Tech never loses at home, and they rarely lose in the ACC period.
Usually what has derailed past Hokie teams is a non-conference loss. The LSU loss in 2007, the East Carolina loss in 2008, and the Alabama loss last season all derailed early hype.
This year, Virginia Tech is going to have the opposite situation occur when they take down the media darling Boise State.
We all love the Cinderella Broncos, but they simply do not match up well against the Hokies. This giant killer is about to hit a buzz saw, and their lofty preseason ranking will vault Virginia Tech towards the top of the national standings.
If the Hokies lose, it would be a road game. However, can we really expect Virginia Tech to lose to a Miami team they beat 31-7 last season?
Will North Carolina be consistent enough to knock Virginia Tech off for a second straight season?
Can Russell Wilson find a way to score enough points to lead his Wolfpack to victory?
For years, the answer to those question has been yes. However, this may finally be the year where no one can deny the ACC or Virginia Tech.
Just six more months to go!