It will be a strange year without Bobby “Dad gum” Bowden roaming the FSU sidelines. I have been an avid Seminole fan ever since high school, when FSU was the only major college team to recruit me. This year, though, it looks like all the power is in the Coastal Division.
It may come down to a battle of attrition in the weaker division. FSU must deal with the not-so-honorable end to Bobby Bowden’s career and Clemson has to replace C.J. Spiller. I think this is BC’s year to rise to the top.
Boston College – Having an older, “back from pro baseball” quarterback proved helpful to FSU. Now BC has their version in Dave Shinskie – bringing needed stability to the team. The o-line appears adequate, and will be blocking for one of the ACC’s best backs – Montel Harris. The Eagles do have big question marks at wide receiver, as only junior Colin Larmond, Jr. has any real game experience. The defense is anchored by a solid linebacking corps featuring 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich in a courageous comeback from cancer. There are questions along the defensive interior and the secondary replaces two starters. The Eagles are strong in the kicking game, and Montel Harris could prove to be a return threat. BC has a favorable conference schedule – facing Va Tech and Clemson at home. My prediction – 9-3 (7-1 conference), first in the Atlantic Division.
Florida State – Scoring should not be a problem for FSU. Senior QB Christian Ponder was on many Heisman lists until a shoulder separation in the 9th game derailed his chances. The line is experienced, with all five starters returning. Jermaine Thomas and Chris Thompson top a deep and talented stable of running backs. The receivers should be steady, but lacking the game breaker the Seminoles ususally boast. The most positive note on a team that ranked 108th in total defense in 2009 may be the hiring of Defensive Coordinator Mark Stoops from Arizona. A new defensive scheme may gloss over the potential problems at defensive end and cornerback, but FSU may again be forced to rely on the offense to outscore the opponent far too often. Special teams are solid and playing in the Atlantic guarantees FSU will meet four of the ACC’s weakest. Early season non-conference games with Oklahoma and BYU could stifle momentum going into the conference schedule. My pick – 7-5 (5-3 conference) second in the Division.
Clemson – The Tigers will seek to replace C.J.Spllers with a tag team of Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper in what may be a more “grind it out” game plan. Kyle Parker has a year of experience under his belt and should show marked improvement. The line has experience and depth, but the receiving corps is a bit thin. The defensive line may be only slightly behind UNC’s vaunted group. Future “play for pay” guys Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson lead a deep group. The secondary is a mix of new corners and experienced safeties. The line and secondary may have to provide cover for the linebacker void. Late season losses to South Carolina and Ga Tech exposed the weakness. The kicking game is shaky, which doesn’t bode well in close contests. Clemson faces Ga Tech and Miami outside the Division which could prove too much for them to finish higher than third. Prediction – 6-6 (5-3 conference).
North Carolina State – Some are picking the Wolfpack as a dark horse in the weaker Atlantic Division. QB Russell Wilson, the 2009 touchdown passing leader, returns at QB. Spring injuries at RB gave James Washington and walk-on Travis Legget some much needed carries, but put a question mark over the backfield’s depth and quality. NC State has big play wideouts in Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer but the future of All-ACC first teamer George Bryan remains in doubt. The off-field problems also robbed the o-line of experience and depth. The Wolfpack should get solid special teams play but a tough conference schedule will make it hard for them to climb the Division ladder. Prediction – 4-8 (2-6 conference) fourth in the Division.
Wake Forest – The Demon Deacons have plenty of speed at receiver. The question is, who will get the ball to the talented trio of Marshall Williams, Devon Brown, and Chris Givens? A three way battle for starter is on – with none having thrown a game day pass. The lack of QB experience is compounded by the fact that whoever wins the starting job will have to play behind a thin o-line. Senior Josh Adams may supply some reprieve in the running game, but Wake Forest won’t be lighting up many scoreboards this year. Speed is also the operative word when it comes to the Wake defense – both ends are quick and fast. Linebackers Joey Ehrmann, Matt Woodlief, and Hunter Haynes will cover plenty of ground from their linebacker slots. With one of the nation’s top secondaries, Jim Grobe will depend on his defense to hold the fort while his offense grows up. Special Teams are a strength and could pull a couple of more W’s out. The schedule is favorable, but not enough. Prediction 4-8 (2-6 conference) fifth in the Division.
Maryland – Head Coach Ralph Friedgen could be out the door before the mid-point of the season. He has been given a “winning season or else” ultimatum from AD Debbie Yow that could be out of reach with an Oct. 2 loss to Duke. The offense features athletic QB Jamarr Robinson and tailback Da’Rel Scott – who missed five games in 2009 with a broken wrist. WR Torrey Smith is another dangerous weapon, but the game is won in the trenches – and the Terrapins offensive line is lacking both depth and talent. That the Maryland defense was only a few notches above FSU last year should be revealing. Don Brown’s attacking style of defense didn’t create the desired results, giving up far too many big plays. The linebacking corps is solid, but the d-line must show improvement, while the cornerbacks will once again man the lonely island of man-to-man necessitated by the scheme. The special teams are adequate and the schedule does offer an early season patsy or two. My prediction 4-8 (2-6 conference) sixth in the Division
Virginia Tech appears to be the team to beat, but reigning champion Georgia Tech and a strong North Carolina defense have different plans. Any one of the top four teams could be in first at season’s end, and any of the four could certainly win the Atlantic Division. Yep, this is where the ACC powerhouses reside.
Virginia Tech – The opener may be the key to Va Tech’s fortunes. Last year they made a strong showing against eventual National Champ Alabama. A big win against Boise State could provide the momentum to carry the Hokies through the tough Division schedule. Frank Beamer has what may well be the most dazzling array of offensive weapons in his tenure. QB Tyrod Taylor, RBs Ryan Williams and Daren Evans, and receivers Jarret Boykin, Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts all have experience and MAD skills. If the left side of the Va Tech line is shored up, the offense may be near unstoppable. The Hokies may have to outscore opponents until a fast but vastly inexperience defense matures. The defense will be tested early (Boise State) and often (they close the season with Ga Tech, UNC, and Miami). The late season road games against UNC and Miami are especially crucial. Special teams are….well it is a Frank Beamer team – ‘nuf said. My prediction, if the defense comes around – 10-2 (7-1 conference) first in the Coastal Division.
Georgia Tech – If the Yellow Jackets could avoid facing opponents with more than a week to prepare for their offense, they might never lose a game. Paul Johnson’s team should again prove tough to stop, with Josh Nesbitt – an early candidate for many pre-season awards – returning at QB. Anthony Allen should be an ample replacement for new Pittsburgh Steeler Jonathan Dwyer, and Roddy Jones supplies speed at the slotback. The o-line is solid and experienced and the receiving corps should be adequate. Jaybo Shaw’s departure for Ga Southern does leave the Jackets vulnerable should Nesbitt go down. Al Groh brings the 3-4 scheme to Atlanta, hoping to play to the Jackets’ depth at linebacker. Anthony Egbuniwe and the athletic Anthony Barnes should make plenty of plays. The secondary, though shuffled, returns three starters. If Groh can get the full scheme installed, Tech should be much improved – especially against the run. The Jackets feature strong special teams play. Except for an early season visit to UNC, Tech should cruise until late season visits to Clemson and Va Tech before hosting Miami. My prediction – 9-3 (6-2 conference) second in the Division.
North Carolina – It all starts with defense. The Tar Hills have what may be the top defense in the country. The have experience, speed, and depth – led by senior DT Marvin Austin, S Deunta Williams, CB Kendric Bruney, and LBs Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter. All five will probably be making their living in the play for pay league next year – yet they are overshadowed by a junior – DE Robert Quinn, the sack machine. The plethora of stars makes it impossible for offensive coordinators to scheme away from one or two players. The defense also provided some offense last season – scoring four times on interception returns and twice on fumble returns. It may have to continue that trend until the offensive line and receivers catch up. Redshirt freshman Bryn Renner is shadowing T.J. Yates at QB. If Yates continues to display the yips that have plagued him throughout his career, a change could come quickly. The receiving corps is upgraded, but the o-line has to show a marked improvement over last year’s campaign. The Tar Heels feature an outstanding kicking game, but face one of the toughest schedules in the nation. They open with LSU in Atlanta, then face Ga Tech after a bye week. Prediction 10-2 (6-2 conference) third in the Division.
Miami – The Hurricanes had some big early season wins last year, proving that Randay Shannon has Miami back in the national picture. Jacory Harris is coming off a 3,000 yard + passing season and should be improved. He has added some bulk to his thin frame and should be more durable. Miami features tall, fast, and talented receivers – led by Leonard Hankerson and LaRon Byrd. The ‘Canes are deep at tailback, but thin on the offensive line. The defensive line is impressive, running eight or more deep, with speedy Allen Bailey as the focal point. Depth at LB may be an issue, but the secondary is “Miami fast”. The kicking game is good, but Miami needs to find a consistent return threat. Miami’s non-conference schedule is brutal – they travel to Ohio State and Pittsburgh – and they do face two of the top teams from the Atlantic Division. My pick – 8-4 (5-3 conference) fourth in the Division.
Duke- QB Sean Renfree must replace the man who set most of the current career passing marks. He has some game experience, but there are questions surrounding his return from aseason ending ACL tear. The receiving corps features a skilled trio in Donovan Varner, Austin Kelly, and conner Vernon, but the ground game will be lacking…again (they were last in the nation in rushing in 2009). On defense, the line is again the concern. The top returning starter was dismissed from the team, and there is no significant depth or talent. the Devils may employ a 3-4 scheme to address the shortcomings. The linebackers should be good and the secondary is fast – they’ll need the speed to track down opposing RB’s who will run roughshod over the thin line. The Blue Devils have an experienced kicker, but the punting game is lacking. If it weren’t for the opener against Elon and a likely victory over Virginia, Duke would be looking a the possibility of a winless season. My prediction – 3-9 (2-6 conference) fifth in the Division.
Virginia – “Yes Santa Claus, there is a Virginia” – football team that is. The land of Appletinis and gentile charm welcome new head coach Mike London to a virtual offensive wasteland. The Cavaliers need to find some playmakers if they are to institute coordinator Bill Lazor’s conservative scheme. Marc Vericka is the QB – he has some experience, and has had one solid six game stretch. The fact that the leading returning rusher – Torrey Mack – only gained 73 yards on 23 carries speaks volumes. There is not a lot of depth among the receivers or along the offensive line. That is not good news, as there is no experience behind Vericka. The Cavaliers will switch to a 4-3, and new defensive coordinator Jim Reid will “bring the house” on blitz schemes. An experienced line and secondary sandwich a thin linebacking corps. The special teams are average, and Virginia should win 3 of its 4 non-conference games. My prediction – 3-9 (0-8 conference) sixth in the Division.
That wraps up the ACC…Next up Conference USA.