The Atlantic Coast Conference lacks depth across the board once again, and frankly it comes as no surprise: after reaching the pinnacle of college football a few decades ago, the conference has sharply declined as of late, relying on its “automatic bid” to send schools to BCS bowls.
Yet a few teams appear destined for success, starting with the Clemson Tigers who start in the AP Top 25 and highlight what the ACC has to offer.
Clemson’s dynamic quarterback Tajh Boyd returns for his senior year, and will vie for a Heisman trophy. Yet as one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the country, and destined as a high pick in next year’s draft (thought his play is more tuned for Saturday’s), Boyd will not stand alone in the Tiger offense. Standout wide receiver Sammy Watkins looks to bounce back from an suspension-filled and injury-riddled 12′ campaign, as he tries to return to the football heights experienced in his freshman year. This quarterback-receiver combination will undoubtedly make for a prolific offensive unit, along with two other junior wideouts who will chip in.
Another key facet of the Clemson offense is their experience on the offensive line. Four of five starters return from last year up front, all upperclassmen, which not only comforts their starting quarterback, but also aids an unproven running game in a transitional year. After losing senior Andre Ellington to the NFL, the Tigers won’t be able to rely on their rushing attack as much as last year. The deep offensive line will make the transition slightly easier for the new running back group, but a shortcoming in this area of the offensive will come to the forefront if Clemson does in fact struggle this year.
The defense has improved under new coaching leadership, and while still susceptible–particularly in the secondary and in the aspect of pass defense–should perform will enough to not hinder Clemson’s drive to the ACC title.
Atlantic Division Challenger- Florida State
The Seminoles, while uncertain at quarterback, seem like the most formidable threat to Clemson’s hopes of winning the ACC Atlantic. As a former 5-star recruit and redshirt freshman, starter Jameis Winston may not make up FSU’s strong suit in the offense, but nearly all other points are consistent and veteran-led. The rushing game features a two-headed attack, the wideouts have turned heads this spring, and above all, the offensive line only loses one starting member from last year.
The Seminole defense is chock-full of talent on a yearly basis, which should aid the rebuilding of the front seven. And with an experienced secondary that is at the center of one of the best overall defensive units in the country, Florida State will make a run at their Clemson counterparts.
In the much less competitive ACC Coastal division, Miami sees almost no threats to their preseason expectations of cruising to the conference title game. One of the most unheralded offenses in the country leads the way for the Canes. Stephen Morris, now a senior year, has come a long way since his first year, and appears as the best quarterback in the ACC outside of Tajh Boyd. Freshman All-American Duke Johnson will provide a balanced attack out of the backfield, as well as serving as a passing option for Morris. Across the entire offense, there will be no lack of experience, as Miami returns starters at every position but tight end.
The Canes will hope for an offensive shootout every game, as a porous defense remains surrounded by questions. The inability of the defense line to force pressure on opposing quarterbacks severely reduced chances for turnovers last year. Now all upperclassmen, the projected starters up front must increase their impact on the football game.
The rest of the Coastal Division has little to offer, but the puzzle of deciphering Virginia Tech does raise an eyebrow. Just don’t get duped. Again.
After years of prominence under head coach Frank Beamer, living up to expectations is just not in the Hokies’ DNA. Seasons that included debacles during bowl games are somewhat acceptable, as it would be foolish to discount the path take to BCS appearances. But starting in the Top 15, with one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Logan Thomas, only to barely make it to the lowly Russell Athletic Bowl? To put it nicely, that just doesn’t cut it.
So although the offense introduces new changes this year, the schedule seems softer, Thomas has supposedly improved his mechanics, and the defense retains its elite status, Virginia Tech has proved a letdown too often to warrant any praise.
- Florida State at Clemson, October 19th
- Miami at Florida State, November 2nd