10 Questions Facing ACC Football in 2010
Looking at the dozens of predictions made by various college football experts regarding the ACC this year, it's hard to really place a finger on the pulse of the league.
Some say the ACC is better, but what does that mean in terms relative to the rest of the nation? Let's take a look at that and some other pressing questions relevant to ACC football in 2010.
Is This The Year ACC Expansion Finally Pays Off?
When ACC expansion began in 2004, the general feeling across the college football landscape is that the ACC was becoming the equalizer to the dominant SEC. Really, nothing could have been further from the truth.
Since expansion completed in the ACC in 2005, the league has one long BCS bowl win. Meanwhile, the SEC has four BCS championships.
Perhaps it's unfair that the ACC is forced into a constant comparison to the SEC.
The addition of Miami and Virginia Tech has yet to catapult the ACC into the national spotlight like many thought it would. You could even argue the third team brought in, Boston College, has had the most success of the ACC "newbies".
When judging the success or failure of conference expansion, the parameters can be a bit vague. Lack of national championships, multiple BCS bowl appearances, and sell outs of the ACC title game however would be big enough missed targets to cast harsh judgement on the expansion idea.
Who Will Be the Next Offensive Playmaker for Clemson?
In a recent radio interview, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney stated that last year his son kept record of the touches offensive players were getting. He told his son if he looked down at the chart and didn't see a bunch of marks by C.J. Spiller's name, then they weren't doing something right.
The impact C.J. Spiller had on Clemson last year cannot be overstated. He scored 21 touchdowns in four different ways. He personally accounted for 47% of the Tigers' points on the year.
He had over 2,500 all-purpose yards on the year. All that while battling nagging foot injuries and a lackluster offensive line.
Now, who replaces him?
Well, like Swinney says, you really don't "replace" Spiller. But there are certainly some young athletes to be excited about for Clemson this fall.
Andre Ellington appears to have tons of speed and some of the jazzy cuts that Spiller employed on the field the past few years.
He'll team up with Jamie Harper in the backfield similar to how Spiller did with James Davis a few years back. As for receivers, look for Marquan Jones and Bryce McNeal to make some noise, especially with Kyle Parker back at QB.
Speaking of QB, a stud athlete named Tajh Boyd is waiting in the wings for when Parker departs for his inevitable future in baseball.
Is Mike London the Answer for Virginia?
Al Groh was let go this offseason because the terrible down spiral the Virginia program has been in the past few years.
Most agree it was time for a change, and the Cvas finally showed the stones to pull the trigger on Groh;s firing.
The one downside of Groh being let go is that his tweets from @dontfirealgroh won't have as much fun in them as they did last season. (No more gems like this one after the Southern Miss loss: "Some fan just yelled that we're the new Duke. Feels good being compared to Coach K!")
The choice to let go of Al Groh wasn't a difficult one to make for UVa. Neither was the hire of Mike London, a man who was part of Groh's staff at UVa in 2006 and 07.
Most recently the coach of the Richmond Spiders, London brings a strong 24-5 record from his head coaching gig that won him a FCS title in 2008.
London is a defensive minded coach, and he'll have a decent group to work with this year in Charlottesville. Coaching changes always take time, and UVa will be plenty patient with London as he gets all his players in place.
Don't look for immediate results from UVa, but the potential is there for London to turn the Wahoos back into an upper echelon ACC squad again.
Is Boston College the Most Underrated Team In the Nation?
Maybe it's because they're known more for hockey than football. Maybe it's because their pre-game tailgating sucks (or so I've heard). Maybe it's because their coach can be referred to as "Spaz". None the less, the Boston College Eagles are good. No...seriously. Good.
But why should that surprise you? Every year since expansion occurred, BC has made a bowl game and more than once made it to the ACC title game.
This year, the Eagles return from an impressive 8-5 campaign, losing to USC in the Emerald Bowl. They bring back 8 starters on offense, including sophomore QB Dave Shinskie and stud RB Montel Harris who had over 1,500 yards rushing last year.
Defensively, injuries have hit the Eagles, but they still hope to have Mark Herzlich back on the field after being gone last year to take treatment for cancer. If he's back to full force, combine him with Luke Kuechly who had 158 tackles last year, and you may just have to best 1-2 linebacker combo in the nation.
With their schedule, it's not out of the realm of possibility that BC goes 12-0. They have one tough road game against Florida State, but get the rest of their tough opponents at home.
How Long Will Ralph Friedgen Last In Maryland?
Friedgen came in to coach Maryland in 2001, and somehow took a team that had five straight losing seasons and got them an ACC title. Since then, Friedgen's Terps have taken a steady slide downhill, and may have dropped to the bottom last year.
Maryland won only two games last year, one in overtime against James Madison and another against Clemson, one that still has Tiger fans scratching their heads.
Friedgen has the luxury that few other coaches do, and that's coaching football at a basketball school. However, his immunity may not last much longer if the Terps don't do some winning soon. His contract will expire after the 2011 season, and if he fails to make a bowl this year, I won't be surprised to see him bought out after this year.
Which Team Has the Most to Prove?
There are several possible answers to this question. What team does have the most to prove? Is it Florida State, the school that ousted Bobby Bowden because they felt Jimbo Fisher was ready to lead them to the promised land?
Is it NC State, a team that has had quality players the past few years but has never put it all together to win with them? Or maybe it's Miami, a team relegated to its traditions of dominance, seeking to return to glory?
The correct answer is the North Carolina Tarheels. And it's not even close.
In fact, the Heels may have even been the answer before the NCAA probe and South Beach pary allegations.
UNC enters the fall with one of the most experienced teams in the nation. They'll return 19 starters total (ten on offense, nine on defense) pending any suspensions. The defense is loaded with NFL prospects, and the offense should put up enough points to keep every game in contention.
There are certainly some roadblocks on the schedule, including road trips to Miami and Florida State, and a season opener against LSU in the Georgia Dome.
Whether the spotlight is positive or negative, UNC football has the chance to win the ACC, and possibly contend for a national title. Regardless, it's safe to say that for the first time in a long time, the UNC football team will have more success than the basketball team.
Which QB Will Make the Best NFL Prospect?
There may not be another conference boasting as much quality in the signal caller department as the ACC this year. Eight out of the 12 teams have QBs returning from starting last year. The question is, will any of them succeed at the next level?
Of the starters, you can discount TJ Yates of North Carolina and Josh Nesbitt from Georgia Tech. Yates has never been consistent, and Nesbitt is in a system that rarely throws and is obsolete in the NFL.
Tyrod Taylor is an interesting case. He's fairly accurate and doesn't turn the ball over a ton, but is also a guy who likes to make plays with his feet, similar to his predecessors in the Vick brothers. More than likely his experience in the NFL will be as a wide receiver.
Jacory Harris has taken over in Miami and did well in his first full year as a starter. He threw for over 3,000 yards, completing nearly 60% of his passes. His 17 interceptions are a cause for concern.
Christian Ponder has an excellent skill set, and while the defense was often floundering last year and the backfield was inconsistent, one shining star for the Noles was Ponder.
With 14 TDs and seven picks thrown, Ponder finished completing nearly 69% of his passes. He should be drafted and given a shot to start in the NFL.
But perhaps there's one QB that gets overlooked. Most people outside of the ACC don't know the name Russell Wilson.
As the QB for NC State last year, Wilson set the NCAA mark for consecutive passes thrown without an INT (379). He threw for over 3,000 yards, tossing 31 TDs to just eleven INTs.
With the majority of his receivers returning, look for Wilson to turn more heads this season, and possibly become the most highly touted NFL prospect if he can get passed his small size (5-11, 201).
What 5 Non-Conference Games Must the ACC Win?
5. (tie) Virginia vs. Richmond, Duke vs. Elon
It should go without saying that you're supposed to beat any FCS school on your schedule. These two teams failed to do so last year, causing severe embarrassment conference wide. It doesn't matter what big name team you can beat if you still lose to schools people have never heard of.
4. Boise State vs. Virginia Tech
I don't put as high a priority on this game, simply because I actually do think Boise is the better team, and a Hokie win in this game will only cause a "Boise is overrated" reaction. Still, first game of the year on national TV is always a great time to win.
3. Florida St. at Oklahoma
These two schools had two common opponents last year: BYUand Miami. Both lost to the Hurricanes. BYU managed to beat the Sooners by one point. Florida State beat BYU by 26. What's my point? That perhaps Oklahoma is vastly overrated every year. And also, Florida State is better this year than they were in 2009.
2. Miami at Ohio St.
The lords of the Big Ten face off with Miami for the first time since their national title game some 7 years ago. Ohio State has long been the whipping boy for the SEC, so if the ACC wants respect, beating Ohio State can help put them in line with the SEC.
1. UNC vs. LSU
Two years ago, Clemson entered this Georgia Dome clash against Alabama and got run from the building. Last year, Virginia Tech got blasted by the Crimson Tide.
This year's sexy ACC pick matches up with a solid LSU team. History says UNC gets bombed in this one, but it's important now more than ever for an old ACC stalwart who hasn't been in the top of the league in several years come out with guns blazing. The ACC needs this one.
What Will Be the Most Important In-Conference Games?
Georgia Tech @ Clemson, Oct. 23
This game is becoming a bigger and bigger rivalry every year. Could be a key game for Clemson in trying to get bowl eligible with their tough schedule.
Virginia Tech @ Boston College, Sep. 25
We'll know right away if BC is for real or not. Their first ACC game is a matchup with the Hokies who have a two-headed monster in the backfield with Darren Evans and Ryan Williams.
Florida State @ Miami, Oct. 9
Thankfully this game isn't at the beginning of the schedule this year. We'll get to see just how good these teams really are before they face off against each other. This may be the renewing of a classic rivalry.
Georgia Tech @ UNC, Sep. 18
UNC's loss to Tech last year started them on a downward spiral they never could recover from. This year the Ramblin' Wreck comes to Chapel Hill to face the toughest D they'll play all year.
Virginia Tech @ Miami, Nov.11
Could very well be Coastal Division title game. The Hokies crushed Miami last year, rushing for 272 yards. The Hokies will be coming off games against Georgia Tech and @ North Carolina two weeks before Miami.
Can Any Team Truly Be a National Title Contender?
Saying an ACC team has a shot at a national title these days will get nothing more than a cheap laugh or a roll of the eyes. The irrelevance of the conference has existed for so long now that no team is considered a true national threat.
This year, there are enough high quality out-of-conference matchups for the ACC to prove their worth, be it good or bad.
While many ACC teams basically cannibalize each other in conference, losing those marquee non-conference matchups is waht separates them from other conferences like the SEC.
Miami, Florida State, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina all have a reasonable shot at the title. Boston College and Georgia Tech would be considered the darkest of darkhorses to win it all.