Mon Jul 20 04:39pm EDT
Questionable certainties advanced by the summer pundits. Part of the Doc's ACC Week.
The Proposition. After a three-year hiatus from the conference championship game, Florida State will win the ACC's Atlantic Division.
The Chorus. Most of the big magazines break for the 'Noles: Lindy's, Athlon and the Sporting News all pick FSU No. 1 in the Atlantic and as a top-20 team nationally, and FSU was the only Atlantic team in Mark Schlabach's top-25 at ESPN; ditto the Rivals countdown, wherever the 'Noles finally land.
The Dissent. Noted contrarian Phil Steele, often the oddball this time of year, holds Florida State at No. 34 in his national top-40 (behind Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina and N.C. State) and gives the nod to Clemson in the division race, with FSU a narrow runner-up.
For the Believers. The main selling point is a stable quarterback situation that involves neither Chris Rix nor Drew Weatherford -- Christian Ponder gets pretty good reviews as an athletic type on schedule to mature into a more consistent starter after mixing solid passing games against N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Maryland and Wisconsin in the bowl game with horrendous efforts in the losses to Wake Forest, Boston College and Florida. More encouragingly, the starting offensive line -- consisting last year of three freshmen and two sophomores -- returns completely intact and is now shaving regularly, a good sign for what figures to be a far more run-oriented offense than FSU fans are accustomed to. Not that it's saying much in such a defensive conference, but the 'Noles already led the ACC in scoring last year by almost a touchdown per game over No. 2 North Carolina.
For the Skeptics. This is the same team that's lost three straight to Wake Forest, three out of four to Clemson and two out of three to Boston College, right? That kind of record against half the division is dubious enough, without getting into the attrition from a relatively mediocre defense (six starters gone, including first round pick Everette Brown) and the unkind draw from the Coastal Division (FSU gets contenders Miami, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, while every other team in the Atlantic gets one of the two easier outs from across the aisle, Duke and Virginia, the only ACC teams that didn't play in a bowl game last year). The team hasn't played up to its talent level in almost a decade, and that gap is much smaller now than it's been since the 'Noles joined the league.
And there is no guarantee that the QB position will remain stable, given that Ponder himself was all over the place in his first full year at the helm. If he finds "consistency," based on early returns, it's about as likely to be consistently bad.
If Not Florida State, Who? This is the $10 million question for FSU skeptics, since everyone save Steele is justifiably squeamish about Clemson's persistent schizophrenia, wary of Boston College's miserable offseason and skeptical that N.C. State, Wake Forest or Maryland has the overall talent to make a serious run. Given the major attrition from Wake's defense (the Deacons cannot possibly account for the loss of four draft picks from one defense), the only other contender on paper is Clemson, which is still uncertain about who it's new quarterback will be. If you're looking for any solid reason to think "Advantage: Tigers," there's probably not a better one than home field against Florida State on Nov. 7.
Sages or Suckers? Given a halfway competent line, a respectable quarterback and the overall talent level -- still the best in the division by a diminishing but healthy margin -- there are no convincing arguments against Florida State given the competition except the lingering malaise of the last five years. But at no point in that period have the 'Noles hit rock bottom (i.e. a losing record), and last year's team technically tied Boston College for the Atlantic crown. The Eagles cannot conceivably be better, but FSU almost has to be, at least on offense, because of Ponder and the front line. Unless Clemson takes a substantial step forward or N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson establishes himself as one of the very few true offensive stars in the conference, even the status quo might be good enough to put the 'Noles over the top.