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Take a look at three of the top four teams in the ACC and tell me the additions from the Big East didn't make a big impact on the ACC. This is one tough conference that doesn't have to look up to any other league in college football.
Virginia Tech, Florida State and Miami are the most serious contenders for the ACC title. Each team is breaking in a new quarterback, and much will depend on which one comes along the fastest. Florida State definitely benefited from the divisional setup with VT and Miami on the other side. Don't be surprised if FSU loses to Miami in the opener and still ends up playing Tech in the championship game.
Boston College, North Carolina State, Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Maryland and North Carolina all fall into the middle of the conference. All have the ability to end up with winning records and bowl trips, but the conference title is a little bit out of their reach.
Wake Forest and Duke are still fighting to get out of the cellar. With Wake knocking off Boston College last year and Duke bumping off Clemson right after the Tigers beat Miami, it makes you think these programs just might be able to move up the food chain.
Ranked 12th in Terry's Preseason Sweet 16
It's a shame there isn't more stability at the quarterback position this year because this team is full of talent and the defense is good enough to get them to the national championship. However, FSU will be breaking in a redshirt freshman quarterback. That is not the way to win an ACC title, much less a national one. The running back tandem of Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker should take some pressure off the young QBs early in the season.
Defensively, the summertime losses of defensive tackle Clifton Dickson to academics and all-world cornerback Antonio Cromartie to an ACL injury will be hard to replace. The strength of the defense, however, remains in the linebacking crew of Ernie Sims, A.J. Nicholson and Buster Davis.
If the 'Noles can find a way to beat Miami in the season opener, they will be favored in every game going into their regular-season finale with Florida. But even if they lose to the Hurricanes, they easily still could get to the ACC championship game.
A lot of the people in the ACC don't realize just how good this Boston College program is. BC has the longest active bowl winning streak, with postseason wins in each of the past five seasons. Quinton Porter returns as the starting quarterback after redshirting last season, the Eagles' final year in the Big East. Porter also was the starter in 2003. All five offensive linemen return, and I would be willing to bet (well, if I were a betting man) that there will be a thousand-yard rusher this year after the Eagles failed to have one last year for the first time in seven seasons.
Seven starters return from the nation's 12th-best scoring defense. The front seven will be especially good with the return of all three linebackers and All-America candidate Mathias Kiwanuka at defensive end.
Just to be ranked ahead of N.C. State, Clemson and Maryland in the Atlantic Division in their very first year is quite an accomplishment. Expect the Eagles to go bowling for a seventh straight season.
How do you have the No. 1 defense in the country and have a losing record? Just go out and have a minus-17 turnover margin (114th of 117 Division I-A teams) and I guarantee that you'll find a way to lose. Last year was head coach Chuck Amato's first without QB Philip Rivers as the starter, and the offense fell apart. QB Jay Davis has a long year of lessons under his belt, and if N.C. State does nothing more than just stop turning the ball over, it will be a better team. The running game has a chance to be pretty good this year, too.
All four defensive linemen return along with two linebackers to give the Wolfpack one of the best defensive fronts in the country. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring is gone, and Steve Dunlap has the job of just keeping things exactly the way they were. That is, don't change a thing.
Tommy Bowden has been able to consistently win more than he loses at Clemson, and with most programs in the ACC that would make the fans pretty dadgum happy. But not at Clemson. These Tiger fans expect their team to start competing for the conference championship, not just go to a bowl every year.
In order to get his team to that next level, Bowden fired both his coordinators at the end of last season to get some new blood and some new ideas into his program. New offensive coordinator Rob Spence should be exactly what quarterback Charlie Whitehurst needs to get his game back on track. The defense doesn't have nearly as far to go under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. If Clemson can get through the early part of its schedule, the Tigers should, at the least, go bowling again this year.
Head coach Ralph Friedgen has been known throughout his career as an offensive genius. However, he found himself without a quarterback last year, and all the genius in the world was not going to solve that problem. Add that Maryland had one of the worst turnover margins in the country, and the Terps were destined to have a bad season. Look for whoever plays quarterback this year to be a vast improvement over last.
The defense lost a ton of players to graduation, but as long as they have middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson they won't be too bad. This guy is a hitting machine. Most importantly, in the offseason, Maryland was able to work on regaining the confidence that is a Friedgen trademark. Don't expect miracles this year, but expect to see a much better Terp football team.
The key for Wake Forest this year, like all years, is to win close games. If the Deacs do this, they will go bowling. If they don't, they will have a losing season. Coach Jim Grobe does a great job with his misdirection running attack, putting his team in a position to have a chance to win. Last year Wake lost to Clemson and N.C. State in overtime, Virginia Tech by seven, Florida State by three, North Carolina by seven, and Maryland by six. If they win just two of those games, they have a winning season and go bowling.
On offense, all-time leading rusher Chris Barclay will rush for 1,000 yards for the third straight year, and there is enough depth on defense for the Demon Deacons to hold on for a few more close wins instead of losses.
Ranked seventh in Terry's Preseason Sweet 16
With the top two running backs, four wide receivers, the league-best tight end and a majority of the offensive linemen back, the decision-making of new QB Marcus Vick is the only question mark on what easily could be the most exciting offense in Blacksburg since older brother Michael was around. I spoke with Frank Beamer earlier this summer, and when we talked about his young QB it was clear that he believes Marcus Vick is the real deal.
Defensively, Tech returns five of its front seven from a defense that ended up last season No. 2 nationally in scoring defense. With three new starters in the secondary, opponents will try to attack VT through the air. They had better get rid of the ball quickly because DE Darryl Tapp leads a vicious pass rush.
If the Hokies can get past N.C. State in the season opener, they could be undefeated heading into their Nov. 5 showdown with Miami.
Ranked ninth in Terry's Preseason Sweet 16
Miami may have the best defense in the nation, with 10 returning starters including six seniors. They are deep on the front and fast at linebacker, and the secondary is the best in the nation. Strategically, to be a dominant defense the Hurricanes must get back to the philosophy of stuffing the running game. They have gotten away from this the last few years.
Offensively, new quarterback Kyle Wright has thrown only nine collegiate passes, but he did have an impressive spring. To keep the pressure off Wright early in the season, Miami needs to develop a strong running game. I'm still not sure running back Tyrone Moss is the answer. The receiving corps has a lot of big-play capability, and versatile Devin Hester is a huge special teams threat.
Like Virginia Tech, if Miami can win its opener (against Florida State), the Hurricanes should be undefeated heading into the Tech game.
Virginia again will field a good offensive team with senior quarterback Marques Hagans, running back Wali Lundy and a great offensive line. However, Virginia must find some wide receivers to throw to and a replacement for All-America tight end Heath Miller.
Defensively, linebacker Ahmad Brooks is a big-time player but the unit as a whole must take its game to another level if the Cavaliers ever are going to compete for an ACC title. Virginia just doesn't bring the same defensive intensity as the league's elite teams.
With eight starters back, this may be head coach Chan Gailey's best defensive group. Led by defensive end Eric Henderson and strong safety Chris Reis, they are good enough to give GT a chance in every ballgame.
On offense, P.J. Daniels is talented at running back, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson is as good as it gets. But the offensive line is inexperienced, and quarterback Reggie Ball still makes way too many mistakes. Worst of all, the Yellow Jackets have a murderous schedule and will be thankful come December if they can just get back to another bowl game.
I still can't get the picture out of my mind from North Carolina upsetting Miami last year. It was just another reminder of how good this North Carolina program can be. However, giving up 31.8 points and almost 450 yards per game makes it almost impossible to get there.
Fifth-year senior Matt Baker finally will get his chance at quarterback, but he will need to play almost flawlessly for the Tar Heels to have a winning season. It doesn't help that North Carolina has a road schedule that includes N.C. State, Louisville, Miami and Virginia Tech.
It's going to take more than talent to ever get Duke out of the cellar in the ACC. Just like Texas Tech, Wake Forest, Navy and Northwestern, to name a few, the Blue Devils must develop an offensive scheme that utilizes the intelligence of their players to give them a chance to outscore people on offense. Last year Duke averaged 16.6 points per game, and that's just not going to get it done. The Blue Devils return just one starter on the offensive line and will be hard-pressed to improve much on last year's 2-9 record.