Let's begin the breakdown of the conferences by looking at the ACC. Each conference article will include its predicted standings, champion, a breakdown of each team, key players to watch, and big games to mark on your calendar. Each team breakdown will include its projected record, schedule, returning starters, and a small outlook on each team.
This should be an interesting year for ACC football. This will be the year that the ACC reasserts itself in the college football world, overtaking the Big Ten and possibly the Pac-10 in the conference standings.
This will be driven by the two powerhouses of the conference, Clemson and Virginia Tech, the reassertion of power by Florida State and Miami, the continued growth at Wake Forest, and the dark horse for the Coastal title, North Carolina. All six of these teams will be ranked in the top 20 at some point this season, and possibly the top 15.
The ACC will overtake the Big East in the drama category, as several teams will scramble to win the Coastal division crown. The Atlantic champion will be Clemson, followed closely by Wake Forest. The Coastal champion will be North Carolina, followed by Virginia Tech and Miami.
However, each of these teams has holes to fill, and it will be interesting to see how these matchups play out this fall.
1. Clemson: 10-2 (Offense 8, Defense 8, ST 2)
Clemson is returning several explosive starters on offense, including the RB threats of James Davis and C.J. Spiller, and QB Cullen Harper. These three did not return because they would not have been picked in the NFL draft—they returned to bring an ACC Championship to Clemson, and possibly a National Title.
The problem I see with this team is the offensive line, where they have to replace four starters. For this reason I see the Tigers losing their opener against Alabama. It takes a few weeks of play for an offensive line to come together, and with them opening up against an improved Tide team in Atlanta, I don't see them gelling enough to stop Alabama's defense.
However, they have several games to get their act together afterward before what will be a great game in Winston-Salem against Wake Forest on Oct. 9.
Clemson will also have to replace two linebackers and a second-round CB. However, Tommy Bowden's recruits such as Scotty Cooper should be able to fill these holes nicely.
But a Clemson schedule would not be complete without one letdown in the ACC, and that loss will come at the hands of the improved Florida State Seminoles on Nov. 8. I see an ACC Championship and BCS bowl in the future of the Tigers—as long as they don't let Tommy coach too much.
Aug. 30 Alabama L Oct. 18 Georgia Tech W
Sep. 6 Citadel W Nov. 1 @ Boston College W
Sep. 13 NC State W Nov. 8 @ Florida State L
Sep. 20 SC State W Nov. 15 Duke W
Sep. 27 Maryland W Nov. 22 @ Virginia W
Oct. 9 @ Wake Forest W Nov. 29 South Carolina W
2. Wake Forest: 10-2 (Offense 5, Defense 9, ST 2)
Wake Forest will be led by their defense and QB Riley Skinner. The Demon Deacons are returning nine players on defense, including All-ACC CB Alphonso Smith and second team LB Aaron Curry. Look for these two to lead a stout defense as they attempt to return to the ACC Championship game this season.
Their season will hinge on their performance against Clemson at home. This game will determine the winner of the Atlantic division.
Wake Forest will have to get over the loss of All-ACC center Steve Justice and WR Kenneth Moore to avoid going down in Tallahassee early in the season. However, with Skinner returning along with RB Josh Adams, plus the emergence of RB Brandon Pendergrass, I look for Wake Forest to assemble its best team yet.
Wake Forest, like Clemson, will have to deal with the loss of four starters on the offensive line. This could prove costly against FSU in their third game of the season.
This team will be helped by its clutch kicker Sam Swank in what looks to be a tight and exciting race in the ACC this season.
Aug. 30 @ Baylor W Oct. 25 @ Miami (FL) L
Sept. 6 Mississippi W Nov. 1 Duke W
Sept. 20 @ FSU W Nov. 8 Virginia W
Sept. 27 Navy W Nov. 15 NC State W
Oct. 9 Clemson L Nov. 22 Boston College W
Oct. 18 @ Maryland W Nov. 29 Vanderbilt W
3. Florida State: 9-3 (Offense 7, Defense 8, ST 1)
I am not an FSU fan, but I am really pumped up about this year's Seminole squad. They return eight starters on a defense which could be one of the best defenses in the country, if not the best.
Jimbo Fisher will be in his second year as offensive coordinator, and first as head-coach-to-be. Look for the offense to be more explosive this season, as Fisher will be able to concentrate on tooling an offense for only one QB. The team will also become more accustomed to his playcalling and schemes.
FSU returns three offensive linemen, which is always a plus. Hopefully they will be able to open up some holes for senior RB Antone Smith. Last season FSU ranked eighth in the ACC in rushing offense, which is abysmal.
The major question mark for this team has to be the play of unproven senior QB Drew Weatherford. He must be more consistent with his passing, and his TD total must go up for FSU to compete against Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami, and Wake Forest.
This season will be a modest improvement over last season's seven wins, but the possibility is there for this team to win 10 games if Weatherford comes around.
Sept. 6 W. Carolina W Oct. 25 Virginia Tech L
Sept. 13 Chattanooga W Nov. 1 @ Georgia Tech W
Sept. 20 Wake Forest L Nov. 8 Clemson W
Sept. 27 Colorado W Nov. 15 Boston College W
Oct. 4 @ Miami(FL) W Nov. 22 @ Maryland W
Oct. 16 @ NC State W Nov. 29 Florida L
4. Boston College: 6-6 (Offense 6, Defense 4, ST 1)
Boston College lost their QB, RB, top WR, two OLs, DE, S, and a CB. That's the bad news. The good news is that they should be able to scrape together enough wins to break even.
Fifth-year senior Chris Crane has to play well and find some new targets to win on the road against NC State, and at home against Maryland and Georgia Tech. Boston College will not be the team that it was last season, of course. However, look for the same mentality to be there, unlike other schools that are breaking in a new offense (GT), or have coaches on the hot seat if they don't perform to expectations (Maryland).
BC will play conservative this season as they attempt to find new playmakers. Their biggest game will be the Georgia Tech game. This game will be a good indicator of what to expect the rest of the season from Boston College and will be an early test of the team's ability. If they do not win this game, they will only win four all year.
Aug. 30 @ Kent St. W Oct. 25 @ North Carolina L
Sept. 6 Georgia Tech W Nov. 1 Clemson L
Sept. 20 UCF W Nov. 8 Notre Dame L
Sept. 27 Rhode Island W Nov. 15 @ FSU L
Oct. 4 @ NC State W Nov. 22 Wake Forest L
Oct. 18 Virginia Tech L Nov. 29 Maryland W
5. NC State: 4-8 (Offense 6, Defense 4, ST 1)
NC State has chosen a terrible year to only return eleven starters and play North Carolina and Miami from the Coastal division. NC State may be headed in the right direction ,but so is the rest of the conference, and teams like Miami and UNC are headed there a lot faster than the Wolfpack.
Their running game was abysmal last year, ranking 11th in the ACC. Hopefully the offensive line will come together and they will improve that stat this season. However, considering the powerful defenses opposing them in the division, I do not see this happening.
Daniel Evans needs to improve. He is emulating Brett Favre from two seasons ago—any year you throw more INTs than TDs is not a great year. He needs to step it up a notch this season, or the Pack will find themselves sitting at home again come bowl time.
Another question mark for this questionable team is their defense. They are only returning four starters on defense. However, the defense was atrocious last season, ranking 11th in the ACC in total defense, so maybe that's a good thing.
There are way too many question marks on this team. With this ACC schedule, they should consider themselves lucky to finish .500.
Aug. 28 @ S. Carolina L Oct. 16 Florida St. L
Sept. 6 W&M W Oct. 25 @ Maryland W
Sept. 13 @ Clemson L Nov. 8 @ Duke W
Sept. 20 East Carolina W Nov. 15 Wake Forest L
Sept. 27 South Florida L Nov. 22 @ North Carolina L
Oct. 4 Boston College L Nov. 29 Miami (FL) L
6. Maryland: 4-8 (Offense 8, Defense 5, ST 2)
Ralph Friedgen may very well be parting ways with Maryland after this season. Losing records will not cut it for someone who is getting paid so much to put an offensive juggernaut out on the field.
This team will be helped by its new offensive coordinator James Franklin. They will also be helped by the return of four offensive linemen and one of the ACC's most dangerous players, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey.
However, there are holes to fill at RB and all over the defense, including LB, where All-ACC LB Erin Henderson's departure will be felt heavily.
It will be important for this team to win against NC State at home. If not, I fear four losing seasons in five years may be too much for the Terrapins to swallow. Remember, there are two things Maryland is good at: crab cakes and football. We'll see about the latter.
Aug. 30 Delaware W Oct. 18 Wake Forest L
Sept. 6 @ M. Tenn W Oct. 25 NC State L
Sept. 13 California L Nov. 6 @ Virginia Tech L
Sept. 20 E. Michigan W Nov. 15 North Carolina L
Sept. 27 @ Clemson L Nov. 22 Florida St. L
Oct. 4 @ Virginia W Nov. 29 @ Boston College L
1. North Carolina: 10-2 (Offense 10, Defense 8, ST 1)
This is my dark horse pick in the ACC, and I am going to ride them until they give out on me. That may come very soon, because they play Virginia Tech and Miami back to back, on Sep. 20 and 27 respectively. If they don't break even, they can kiss their title hopes goodbye.
However, I do not believe that will happen for a couple of reasons. There is this coach named Butch Davis. I don't know if you've heard of him, but he's a decent college coach and a decent recruiter (sarcasm).
This team will be the most improved team in the nation aside from Notre Dame. They have incredible talent at their skill positions. Look for QB T.J. Yates to break his own school passing records this season. UNC will reap the fortunes of other teams in their division having down years and having to fill voids on their rosters (VT).
One key area where Carolina lacks athletic ability is on defense. While they have eight returning starters, it will be imperative for them to step up this season. Quan Sturdivant will need to step up and become the leader on the defense for this team to win the Coastal.
Look for them to benefit from a weak second-half schedule if they can get through Virginia Tech and Miami.
Aug. 30 McNeese State W Oct. 18 @ Virginia W
Sept. 11 @ Rutgers W Oct. 25 Boston College W
Sept. 20 Virginia Tech W Nov. 8 Georgia Tech W
Sept. 27 @ Miami (FL) L Nov. 15 @ Maryland W
Oct. 4 UConn W Nov. 22 NC State W
Oct. 11 Notre Dame L Nov. 29 Duke W
2. Virginia Tech: 10-2 (Offense 6, Defense 4, ST 1)
A lot of key players are gone from last year, including leading rusher Brandon Ore, whose presence will be deeply missed. Two redshirt freshmen will attempt to fill his shoes this season.
The Hokies' top four WRs are also gone, and Sean Glennon will need to find some new targets if he is to stop defenses from keying on the running game and putting eight to nine guys in the box. Their offense will be a work in progress.
Another downer for the Hokies this season is their road schedule. They travel to ECU, UNC, Nebraska, BC, FSU, and Miami. They should win two of those contests handily. However, they will be doing good to break even in the other four, especially the back to back road games at UNC and Nebraska.
The one shining light for the Hokies will be their defensive backs, and as always, their special teams. They return two All-ACC candidates at CB and S. These two have the ability and leadership skills to hold the line on the defense while the defensive front comes together. They will be in a difficult position against the triple option threat of Georgia Tech early in the season.
Aug. 30 @ E. Carolina W Oct. 18 @ Boston College W
Sept. 6 Furman W Oct. 25 @ Florida St. W
Sept. 13 Georgia Tech W Nov. 6 Maryland W
Sept. 20 @ N. Carolina L Nov. 13 @ Miami (FL) W
Sept. 27 @ Nebraska L Nov. 22 Duke W
Oct. 4 W. Kentucky W Nov. 29 Virginia W
3. Miami: 9-3 (Offense 5, Defense 6, ST 1)
Miami had a dismal season last year. I hope the ACC got their licks in while they could, because the U is on its way back. Miami will benefit from a weak division, just as the aforementioned teams will.
Look for the tandem of Gary Cooper and Javarris James to carry the offense while Miami attempts to find the right fit at QB between two freshmen, as well as targets for them. They have two tackles which should anchor their offensive line, including All-American candidate Jason Fox, which will help the running game and hopefully give the QBs some confidence.
The Hurricanes' LBs will be their strength on defense, as two outstanding freshman look to pitch in on an already outstanding LB corps. This program will not be 5-7 again this season—they will have the chance to prove that to everyone early on in the Swamp on Sep. 6.
Aug. 28 Charleston So. W Oct. 18 @ Duke W
Sept. 6 @ Florida L Oct. 25 Wake Forest W
Sept. 20 @ Texas A&M W Nov. 1 @ Virginia W
Sept. 27 North Carolina W Nov. 13 Virginia Tech L
Oct. 4 Florida St. L Nov. 20 @ Georgia Tech W
Oct. 11 UCF W Nov. 29 @ NC State W
4. Virginia: 5-7 (Offense 6, Defense 5, ST 0)
Gone from last year's 9-4 team are two first-rounders (DE Chris Long and G Branden Albert) and two more for academic reasons (DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald and QB Jameel Sewell).
The Cavaliers will go into the fall without a clear number one QB, which always is a cause for concern. However, they will be helped by the returns of T Eugene Monroe, RB Cedric Peerman, and WR Kevin Ogletree as they come back from injury.
Their LBs will attempt to fill the leadership void left by Long, but that is a tough job to fill.
With the exception of USC, this season opens very well for the Cavs. I wish the same could be said for their last six games.
An important gauge for this team's season will be the UConn game on Sep. 13. If they are able to defeat UConn, they could possibly get to six wins. If not, it will be a long season to be a Virginia fan.
Aug. 30 USC L Oct. 18 North Carolina L
Sept. 6 Richmond W Oct. 25 @ Georgia Tech L
Sept. 13 @ UConn W Nov. 1 Miami (FL) L
Sept. 20 @ Duke W Nov. 8 @ Wake Forest L
Oct. 4 Maryland W Nov. 22 Clemson L
Oct. 11 E. Carolina W Nov. 29 @ Virginia Tech L
5. Georgia Tech: 4-8 (Offense 5, Defense 4, ST 0)
Oh, the team I love to hate, with the coach I completely adore. Coach Paul Johnson will lead Tech to an ACC title and a BCS bowl. However, it will not come for at least the next three years.
Georgia Tech has too many things going against it this season. They return only nine starters and are implementing a completely new offense with players who were not recruited to play in this type of offense.
Everyone wants to know if Tech is still going to throw the ball, and Johnson impressively showed off how Josh Nesbitt can gun it 60 yards in spring practice. However, he has no targets. Also, his defense is returning starters on the front line, but only two at LB and in the secondary.
Remember that Jacksonville St. is where former LSU QB Ryan Perrilloux found a home. It could be a long day for the Jackets if they can't find some players on defense. Also, their schedule is atrocious with all the improvements in the conference.
Aug. 28 Jacksonville St. W Oct. 18 @ Clemson L
Sept. 6 @ Boston Col. L Oct. 25 Virginia W
Sept. 13 @ VA Tech L Nov. 1 Florida St. L
Sept. 20 Miss. St. L Nov. 8 @ North Carolina L
Oct. 4 Duke W Nov. 20 Miami (FL) L
Oct. 11 Gardner-Webb W Nov. 29 @ Georgia L
6. Duke: 2-10 (Offense 7, Defense 10, ST 2)
Duke will remain a bottom feeder for at least the next two years, but these other teams need to take notice that David Cutcliffe's team will not remain there. They are beginning to get the athletes in place, and the current players in shape, to play an SEC brand of football in the ACC.
If a team does not prepare for this Blue Devil team, they will stumble and maybe even fall once or twice. However, I don't see that occurring until Cutcliffe gets more of his type of players at Duke. They do return nineteen starters off a team that finished 1-10 last season.
Look for the Blue Devils to make some noise against Virginia, Vanderbilt, and NC State. Cutcliffe may only win two games in his first year at Duke, but it could be three or four depending on how this team responds.
Aug. 30 James Madison W Oct. 25 @ Vanderbilt W
Sept. 6 Northwestern L Nov. 1 @ Wake Forest L
Sept. 13 Navy L Nov. 8 NC State L
Sept. 20 Virginia L Nov. 15 @ Clemson L
Oct. 4 @ Georgia Tech L Nov. 22 @ Virginia Tech L
Oct. 18 Miami (FL) L Nov. 29 North Carolina L
1. James Davis, RB, Clemson
2. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson
3. Riley Skinner, QB, Wake Forest
4. Jason Fox, T, Miami
5. Preston Parker, WR, FSU
1. Victor Harris, CB, Virginia Tech
2. Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech
3. Myron Rolle, SS, FSU
4. Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
5. Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest
Games to Watch
Sep. 20 Wake Forest @ Florida St.
Sep. 20 Virginia Tech @ North Carolina
Oct. 9 Clemson @ Wake Forest
Nov. 8 Clemson @ Florida St.
Nov. 13 Virginia Tech @ Miami
These five games will determine the winners of each division. They will also show whether Miami and FSU have made it back to the top of the league, and if North Carolina truly is a contender in the conference race.