Maryland looks to improve upon Danny O'Brien's stellar freshman season.
6) Wake Forest Demon Deacons
The Demon Deacons’ football program has been on a complete downward spiral ever since their 2006 Orange Bowl appearance. Their number of wins have slowly decreased as the seasons went by, even stooping all the way down to a measly three last season. QB Tanner Price and that 11th ranked conf. offense must show improvement if they want any chance at winning ballgames. The defense didn’t give them any support either, as they gave up 40 plus points on numerous occasions (…Yikes). With a tough schedule, questionable aerial attack, and weak defense, Wake will be lucky just to get four w’s this season.
5) Boston College Golden Eagles
Injuries have already plagued the Eagles as they will be without their stud running-back Montel Harris the first 2-3 games of the season. For those who are unaware of Harris, he’s only about to be the All-Time leading rusher in the ACC. You can only imagine how valuable he is to BC. Although Boston College brings along a stout defense which ranked number one against the rush last season, the fact that this team relies solely on its defense entirely hurts their chances. Offensively, they were awful last season and quarterback Chase Retting will need to show vast improvement. Harris has been carrying the load for the past couple of season and can’t be expected to carry the team every time. Unless the offense turns it around, it’s going to be tough for BC to have success like last season with road trips to Clemson, VT, Maryland, Notre Dame and Miami.
4) NC State Wolf Pack
Everything seems to be looking good for the Wolf Pack as they have a cup-cake schedule and eight returning starters defensively, but the entire success of the season will hinge upon new junior quarterback Mike Glennon. A lot of people are predicting big things for this NC State team, but I think they will disappoint. Losing quarterback Russell Wilson is HUGE, and if they couldn’t get over the hump with him, I have no way of believing they will with a quarterback with no experience. I think he will struggle as he gets accustomed to being a full-time starter. Expect NC State to hit a few roadblocks this season.
3) Maryland Terrapins
This offseason the Terps made a huge (…and questionable) offseason change replacing Ralph Friedgen with Randall Edsall. With quarterback Danny O’Brien returning, I wouldn’t expect too many setbacks offensively. Edsall brings a “run-the-ball” philosophy so I would expect Maryland to establish a balanced one-two punch with a ground-attack and O’brien’s arm. I expect O’brien to make huge strides this season. He had an impressive first year passing for 22 touchdowns and only 8 picks. But…the defense will be the key to their success. They must continue stuffing the rush and forcing turnovers. Last season, they were 4th in the NCAA in turnover margin (-15) and that was a huge part of their success. They open the first two games of the season against the U and West Virginia, which could potentially create a rocky start to the season. With this being said, I wouldn’t bet on the Terps repeating another a 9-4 season.
2) Clemson Tigers
Head coach Dado Swinney finds himself in the hot seat as the Clemson football program continues to underachieve on a consistent basis. I think this year will differ. The hiring of Tulsa’s offensive coordinator Chad Morris will make an immediate impact especially with running back Andre Ellington returning from injury. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has also been given a lot of praise regarding his ability to run the offense so it will be interesting to see how he performs on Saturdays. Defensively, it won’t be easy trying to replace Da’Quan Bowers and DeAndre McDaniel, but d-coordinator Kevin Steele always seems to find a way to make it work. Clemson’s roster is full of talent and if they can FINALLY put it together, they can surprise some teams in the ACC.
1) Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles made vast strides under head coach Jimbo Fisher and will definitely be competing for the ACC title. The defense played great (minus the OU and VT games) and should be just as good, if not better with Marks Stoops getting his feet wet. Offensively they have eight returning starters, but the biggest question will quarterback E.J. Manuel’s transition to being the starter. If E.J. can be efficient and keep turnovers to a minimum, they can very well win the conference. The early game against Oklahoma should show a lot and could very well affect the outcome for the rest of the season.
Bryn Renner and the Tar Heels are moving on from their previous infractions.
6) Duke Blue Devils
The Devils have slowly showed improvement but it’s still a long way until they make some noise in the ACC. The one thing they have going for them is that they can let the ball fly. Duke was second in the conference in passing last season with quarterback Sean Renfree. Even though they can throw the ball, the fact that they have no ground attack and a cookie-cutter defense gives them no chance in the conference.
5) Virginia Cavaliers
Who will be the Cavaliers quarterback? That’s the biggest question heading into the upcoming season, as head coach Mike London still hasn’t announced a starter. Regardless who it is, both sophomores Ross Metheny and Michael Rocco will endure uphill battles. The defense isn’t all that great either. Even though the pass defense ranked 25th nationally, the run defense was BAD. Teams were able to average over five yards per carry against this soft defense. The Cavs ended up ranking 106th in the nation against the rush, which is why teams didn’t even need to throw the ball. Defensively, they return stud corner back Chase Minnifield, but one player cannot make miracles. Unless Virginia can improve defensively and have consistency at the quarterback position, then expect them to miss out on bowl season (….again).
4) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The Yellow Jackets will have to replace quarterback Josh Nesbitt who excelled in the triple-option offense. Georgia Tech only led the nation in rushing last season. It’s going to be tough to replace a playmaker like that. Not only that, they will have to replace running back Anthony Allen, who was a large contribution to that rushing attack. Defensively, the Jackets should show some improvement with Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme going in year two but will have to replace the entire secondary. I don’t think the Yellow Jackets will be as bad as last season, since most of their troubles were caused by their 27 turnovers (20 fumbles).
3) North Carolina Tar Heels
Offseason scandals really hurt Carolina’s chances last season and are looking to put those darks days behind them. There was a big change this offseason with the sudden firing of head coach Butch Davis which made a path for defensive coordinator Everett Winters to take over. On the defensive side of the ball, the Tar Heels are full of NFL prospects (….once again). They are lead by potential All-American defensive end Quinton Coples and Donte-Paige Moss. Carolina’s d-line has enough talent to be the best d-line in the country. The key to the Tar Heels’ success will rely on their new backfield. Carolina must replace former quarterback T.J. Yates and its previous three leading rushers. Newly appointed starter Bryn Renner will have a dangerous weapon Dwight Jones to throw to, and could possibly emerge into a solid quarterback right away. If the offense can avoid hiccups, they have a solid chance with their defense behind them.
2) Miami Hurricanes
Pending suspensions from the ongoing scandal, the Canes still have a load of talent on their roster. They bring back one of the top defenses in the conference from last season, led by linebacker Sean Spence. The defensive line is one of their strongest suites as it led the nation in tackles of loss and should see similar numbers this season with the players returning. Offensively, Miami led the conference in yards but turned the ball over WAY too much. As a team, Miami threw 27 interceptions. There is no way you are going to survive playing like that. Senior Jacory Harris will need to regain form if the Canes want success. There were times when he looked like a top five qb in the nation, and then there were times in which he made typical “high-school” like errors. With a talented defense, if Miami can protect the ball then they could possibly be in contention.
1) Virginia Tech Hokies
Somehow someway, Frank Beamer always seems in scratch up 10 wins a season and I don’t expect that to change yet. Even though the Hokies will have to replace their QB Tyrod Taylor and RBs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, I believe the replacements can get the job done right away and could possibly have better careers. QB Logan Thomas has plenty of upside (6’6 245) as was recruited as a TE. This guy is obviously going to be tough to bring down. With all five for their leading receivers coming back, Logan should have plenty of targets to throw to. He will also benefit from having “soon to be superstar” David Wilson in the back field. I think Wilson has the abilities to win conference player of the year. He has the speed to bounce outside and can effectively run in between the tackles. Even though Wilson was shadowed behind Williams and Evans, he still managed 619 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, and 5 touchdowns. I have a feeling this guy is going to turn out to be better than Ryan Williams. Defensively, you can always count on a Frank Beamer coached defense to be stingy and make players. It helps with shutdown corner Jayron Hosley. Even though Florida State are the preseason favorites, I still think Virginia Tech comes out winning the ACC. The Hokes have a cupcake schedule with their hardest road game at Georgia Tech.
ACC Champion: Virginia Tech Hokies
Offensive Player: David Wilson, VT
Defensive Player: Quinton Coples, NC
Newcomer: Tajh Boyd, Clemson