Click a team’s logo to see their 2013 schedule.
The conference realignment mess of the last few years had to have had ACC fans as nervous for their fate as I was for the future of the Big 12. At different times, it looked like each one could simply disappear. The ACC was smart and went on the offensive, bringing in Pitt and Syracuse, and telling Florida State to STFU by forcing everyone to sign a $50 million buyout clause. If FSU and Clemson had bolted for the Big 12, as was rumored, football in the ACC would essentially cease to exist. Instead, the ACC has at least one national title contender this season, and will add another quality program, Louisville, next year to replace the departing Terrapins of Maryland. Some of the lesser teams are slowly improving, and the top dogs aren’t regressing anytime soon. This conference hasn’t won a championship since Florida State in 1999, the longest draught of the five major conferences. That has to change soon. Right?
The best team in the conference, and the only one with a real shot at making the BCS title game. The defense is questionable, but they do return most of last year’s players, almost all of whom were freshmen and sophomores. Another year of experience will certainly improve this unit that ranked 7th in the conference in yards allowed last year. Of course, all you really need to know about Clemson is they have the best QB/WR combo in the nation. Tajh Boyd, 2012 ACC player of the year, could have been a high draft pick, but he returns for his senior year to shatter more passing records. He’s as much a pick to win the Heisman as any player in the country, and he has the experience that can push Clemson to a title game. He’ll be passing to one of the most dangerous all-around weapons in the game, the dreadlocked one, Sammy Watkins. An All-American kick returner as a freshman, Sammy regressed last season while dealing with a suspension, illnesses, and a first round draft pick (DeAndre Hopkins) on the other sideline. I want to say Clemson could finish the regular season at 13-0, but they have incredibly tough non-con games with Georgia the first weekend of the year (College Gameday will be there), and at South Carolina the Saturday after Thanksgiving. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: the Palmetto State needs to merge the Clemson offense and the USC defense, and that squad would be unbeatable.
The expectations for the 2012 Seminoles were too high, and sure enough, they lost a head-scratcher at NC State, then somehow allowed Florida to dump 37 on them, which should have been impossible considering how offensively-starved the Gators were. Jimbo Fisher has shown he can continue to recruit at an elite level after taking over for the legend Bobby Bowden, and one of his prize recruits will control how successful Florida State can be this year. Redshirt freshman QB Jameis Winston (pronounced Jay-Miss, of course), the top QB in his high school class, literally dropped the mic on the competition for QB and has just been named as the starter. The Seminoles will lose at Clemson, and probably at Florida, but with an otherwise weak schedule, they could squeak out ten wins just by having more talent than anyone else in the conference.
Miami has been building a good base for a while, and this might be the year Al Golden’s tree produces fruit. The Hurricanes return more than a dozen starters, including sophomore running back Duke Johnson. It’s fitting he has the name of a 1980s action hero, because Duke is one of the most explosive players in the country. In 2012, he averaged more than a first down for every touch. This season, he won’t be sharing carries like he did his freshman year. Handing him the rock will be Stephen Morris, who threw for the fifth most yards in Hurricane history last season. The defensive players were quality recruits, but most did not live up to expectations last year. This young group will need to improve if Miami has a shot at 10 wins, a total they haven’t reached since long before Billy Ray sent his daughter Miley Cyrus on a destructive path to this.
Last year was the first since the Hokies joined the ACC that they did not win 10 games. It used to be that you could automatically pencil in Virginia Tech for a shot at the conference title and trip to the Orange Bowl, but with the rise of Clemson and Florida State, there’s now more than one football school in this conference of basketball powerhouses. Logan Thomas, all 6’6” and 260 lbs. of him, regressed in 2012 (16 ints). He has one more year to prove to NFL scouts that he isn’t just another JaMarcus Russell, but that he can actually play QB a little bit. He’ll have a hell of an opportunity to showcase his skills on August 31st when Virginia Tech plays Alabama in the Georgia Dome.
The Tar Heels lose the 37th overall draft pick in RB Giovani Bernard, but they do return Bryn “The Gunner” Renner. He took command of new head coach Larry Fedora’s no-huddle scheme in 2012 and threw UNC to school records in total offense and scoring, somehow outplaying the wildly feeble nickname someone hung on his shoulders. For his senior season, Renner could push UNC to the ACC title game, a game they would have played in last year but for the NCAA mandated post-season ban. Larry Fedora notched an 8-4 record in his first year at Chapel Hill, matching the win total of previous coach Butch Davis’ best campaign. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, this season begins this Thursday in Columbia, SC, where Jadeveon Clowney will claim the name “Carolina” for the Gamecocks.
This team has had a really hard time getting over the .500 hump after seeing an ACC championship in the first couple years of head coach Paul Johnson’s time in Atlanta. His innovative spread option offense will continue to put the Yellow Jackets in the top five rushing attacks, but last season the defense was atrocious, allowing 49 points to traditional powerhouse Middle Tennessee State (Go Blue Raiders!). Defensive Coordinator Al Groh lost his job, and he’s been replaced with a former Tech linebacker. The Ramblin’ Wreck will need to find a replacement for QB Tevin Washington. Sophomore Vad Lee was the backup last year, running for more than 500 yards and throwing for nearly 600 in reserve play. His development will determine whether the Jackets can return to the ACC title game in the next couple years. If Georgia Tech could get this guy to give the pre-game speech each week, maybe they’d be fired up enough to pull some upsets.
The Wolfpack lose their gazelle-necked QB to the NFL, and their old head coach to termination. In comes Dave Doeren, who took a MAC team to the Orange Bowl, but who won’t have enough juice to take this NC State team anywhere special. To date, the Wolfpack coach has not chosen an alpha male to quarterback this team. Not like football starts in just a few days or anything.
Although 2013 is the first year in a new conference for the Panthers, there is still more consistency with this team that in any of the past few years. Finally, Pitt has a coach returning for a second year, although it looked pretty bleak when the Wisconsin job opened up (Paul Chryst was formerly the OC in Madison, and was a linebacker there in the playing days). Pitt doesn’t have a single player I’ve heard of, but seeing as I’d guess there is less than a pledge class’ worth of Pitt students who read this site, I think we can change topics. Can anyone tell me which teams are in the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions of the ACC? Here, I looked it up for you — Atlantic: Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest, Maryland (to be replaced by Louisville in 2014), Boston College, and Syracuse. That leaves Miami, Georgia Tech, Duke, UNC, Virginia, Va. Tech and Pitt in the Coastal. Why do we gotta be cute and make this more difficult than it needs to be? Didn’t we learn anything from the Big Ten’s “Legends” and “Leaders” farce? ACC, let’s just make this North and South and be done with it.
Head coach Jim Grobe had this to say about the offense at ACC media days: “That running back group is probably the biggest disaster we’ve got right now. We don’t have a dependable guy right now. We’ll see how it sorts out.” Might be a long season for the Demon Deacons. They haven’t had a winning season since 2008, but they do have a fourth-year starting QB in Tanner Price. They also have the ACC leader in career receptions, Michael Campanaro. Hey, he’s a white guy! He’s so scrappy. A former coach’s son. You know he stays after practice to run extra routes!? I wish I had ten more of him on my team to fill in the rest of the offense.
Unlike the Deacs, the Cavaliers have a bounty of riches at the running back position. Junior Kevin Parks is back, but more importantly, high school All-American Taquan Mizzell will be in Charlottesville this fall. Nicknamed Smoke, at 5’10” he looks like a younger De’Anthony Thomas. The Wahoos will rely heavily on the running game following the dismissal of QB Phillip Sims. At one point, Sims was battling A.J. McCarron for the Crimson Tide starting spot, but after losing that, he transferred to UVA, then was declared academically ineligible before this season. Now he’ll sit out a year before playing in 2014 at Winston-Salem State. Sims will likely be replaced by redshirt freshman David Watford.
You knew this was coming. Here is a list of Brooklyn area vegan restaurants I would eat at before being forced to watch the Orange play football: Sun in Bloom, ‘Snice, Dao Palate, and my personal favorite, Soulkafa. I demand my lentils and sprouts be served with soul. Former head coach Doug Marrone is now in the same role with the Buffalo Bills, and their longtime QB, Ryan Nassib, is behind Eli Manning in New York. The Orange promoted last year’s defensive coordinator, Scott Shafer, to head coach, and they keep 11 starters from last year. Two returning players are running backs Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, who combined for just less than 2,000 yards last season. Orange fans are hoping the upward trend in wins continues, but even with relatively a lot of carryover from last season, I don’t see how this team betters last year’s 8-5 record. With no answer at QB and a weak group of receivers, they won’t score enough to get to .500.
Dammit, how many teams are in this conference now? This preview is on its way to becoming a thesis. This stat about Duke sports is astounding: in the past five decades, Duke has more basketball championships than it has football bowl appearances. The Blue Devils won six games last year, the most since 1994 — in other words, before many readers of this site were born. They have a long history of suckitude, but coach David Cutcliffe seems to be the right man to change that. This season, the offense moves to a more conventional run-based system, mainly because likely starting QB Anthony Boone doesn’t have the arm to repeat Sean Renfree’s 3,000 yards from 2012. Although Duke has three average backs to carry the load, it might be too much to expect this team to make a bowl for a second year in a row.
I forgot about this until now, but last season Maryland lost all three QBs to injury, and they had to start a linebacker for the last few games. Fortunately for the Terrapins, this roster includes five healthy QBs. This is set to be a lame duck year for the Terps, who are just going through the motions until they move over to the Big Ten Conference in 2014. It was purely a financial move for Maryland, whose athletics department is BROKE. On the flip side, the B1G is purely using Maryland for the Washington DC television market, which brings millions more TV sets to the Big Ten Network. The Big Ten is using Maryland like your buddy who dates a homely rich girl just because her family has a beach house on Hilton Head. Maybe our Maryland friend Rebecca Martinson can write about how her school is getting used for its location.
New coach Steve Adazzio has his work cut out for him. Boston College was one of only eight schools not to average 100 rushing yards last season, and Tom Brady doesn’t live close enough to Chestnut Hill for his magic to rub off on multi-year starting QB Chase Rettig. I really struggled with which team should go last in this ACC preview, but with a completely new regime at BC, I just don’t think the Eagles have many wins in store. They do play non-con games against Villanova and New Mexico State, so an improvement on last year’s two victories is a real possibility.