The newly expanded Atlantic Coast Conference welcomes Boston College this year to complete its transformation into a twelve team super conference, and the further depletion of the Big East Conference. The old eight team Big East was dominated by national powers Miami and Virginia Tech, but was considered the weakest of the six BCS conferences. The old ACC was controlled by Florida State, as the Seminoles won ten of eleven titles prior to the expansion. Move forward to 2004 and Big East defect Virginia Tech wins the ACC. This year former Big East teams Miami and Virginia Tech look to be the best of the new ACC. The Atlantic Division looks like a Florida State punching bag of years past: Maryland, Boston College, Wake Forest, Clemson, and N.C. State. FSU does not have to contend with Virginia Tech or Miami in division play. The Coastal Division looks a little more formidable up top with Miami, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Georgia Tech, but contains ACC doormat Duke and up and down North Carolina at the bottom.
The Atlantic Division is a crapshoot. Florida State would be hands down favorite in almost any year. The Seminoles are clearly capable of running the table this year, but with very few starters returning Boston College or NC State might just sneak in. NC State has a good chance to give Coach Amato a birth into the inaugural ACC championship game. A Boston College upset over FSU in the ACC opener could lead to a magical season. Maryland should get back to its winning ways and a bowl game. Clemson could surprise many with a big upset over Texas A&M in the opener. Wake Forest was always competitive in the old ACC, we'll have to wait to see how they do in the expanded version. The Coastal Division is a two team race. Miami and Virginia Tech are national title contenders. Virginia could join that group, but have yet to get over the hump. Georgia Tech is a loaded team, but Reggie Ball needs to step up if the 'Wreck is going to contend. North Carolina must replace all-everything quarterback Darian Durant. Duke would be lucky to win ACC game.
Order of Finish
Championship Game- Virginia Tech over Florida State
t1. Florida State 8-3(5-3)- It is too hard to against tradition. In twelve years of conference play FSU has only lost eight conference games. Florida State will not be the juggernaut of years past, but will have enough to win the first Atlantic Division of the ACC and a trip to Jacksonville. The loss of quarterback Wyatt Sexton will not be as big down the stretch, but early on inexperience at quarterback will hurt any chance the Seminoles have at a national championship run. There is not a better pair of running backs in the ACC than Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker. The offensive line is not as good as in years past, but will open up enough holes for Washington to be in the running for the Doak Walker and Heisman trophies. Defensively, the loss of cornerback Antonio Cromartie hurts, but linebacker Ernie Sims will lead the defense. Chalk up a home loss to Miami in the opener, but after that the Seminoles are capable of running the table up to the finale at Florida. Inexperience will catch up to the 'Noles, but I would not be surprised if they won the ACC.
t1. North Carolina State 8-3(5-3)- If the Wolfpack had any sort of offense, they would be a top ten team. The offense needs to find an identity. In 03 the Pack was a great passing team with quarterback Phillip Rivers, but last year was neither a great running team or passing team. Running back TA McLendon was never really healthy, so Darrell Blackmon will be more than adequate as the feature back. The receivers are some of the best in the ACC, yet the quarterback play needs major improvement. There is not much to say about the defense except that it is good. ACC championship good. The back seven is the weak leak, but not enough to derail the Wolfpack from contending for the Atlantic Division.
t3. Maryland 7-4(4-4)- The Terps missed out on a bowl and winning record for the first time in the Ralph Friedgen era. In his first three years, the Terps had double digit wins and finished ranked in the plls each season. I don't see the Terps returning to that type of season, but should be able to finish above .500 and get back to a bowl game. Only 11 starters return, and the offense needs to score points. Defensively, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is one the best in the country and will lead a respectable defense.
t3. Boston College 7-4(4-4)- Boston College is a better team than Maryland and NC State, but the schedule is stacked against them. Will Blackmon is one of the better all around players in the country. He does not get the media coverage as Ted Ginn or Reggie Bush, but is just as electrifying. The offensive line is one of the best in the ACC, and should give Quinton Porter enough time to throw the ball. On defense, Boston College should hold its own against a very good ACC. Although, I think BC would run through the Big East this year unblemished, I find very hard to think they will do better than eight wins. The first two games in ACC play will be tough, hosting Florida State and at Death Valley against Clemson. BC has the talent to win those two, and start a remarkable first season in the ACC.
t3. Clemson 5-6(4-4)- Is there a better quarterback in the ACC than Charlie Whitehurst? No. Will he be enough to carry Clemson to an Atlantic Division crown? No. Coach Tommy Bowden is on the hot seat. The Tigers have to produce another winning record and upper tier bowl game to probably keep him from losing his job. The offense will be one the ACC's best, the defense needs work. I give Clemson a fair shot at knocking off a good Texas A&M team in the opener, and the Tigers get Miami and Florida State at home, too.
6. Wake Forest 3-8(1-7)- Wake Forest fell flat last year. The Deacons won only one conference game last year, and this year does not look any different. Running back Chris Barclay is a good equalizer, and that gives Wake a good shot to pull a few upsets. It still remains to be seen if the Demon Deacons will be a player in the new ACC.
t1. Virginia Tech 9-2(6-2)- The Hokies are the best team in the ACC, as they were last year. Marcus Vick has all the pressure in the world to lead the Hokies to back to back ACC titles and BCS bowls. Besides Vick's talent at quarterback, VT has great depth at tailback and fullback. The receivers are better than last year, and the line should develop into one of the better in the ACC. The Hokies success will lean on the defense once again. Cornerback Jimmy Williams has few peers and the return of linebacker Xavier Adibi from injury makes the front seven even stronger than last year. Even with a possible loss in the opener at N.C. State, Virginia Tech is a serious Rose Bowl contender.
t1. Miami 9-2(6-2)- Talent wise this year's Hurricanes are just as talented as the 2002 team that lost to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Quarterback play has been weak since the graduation of All-American Ken Dorsey. Kyle Wright is an improvement and he will have the ACC's best receivers to throw to. Miami lacks a real threat at running back. Tyrone Moss has yet to prove he can be an every down back. Defensively, Miami has few peers. The team speed and great secondary will make it difficult for any team to pass. Road dates at Florida State and Virginia Tech will be tough, but the 'Canes have FSU's number. If Miami gets by the Hokies in November, they could find themselves in Pasadena in January.
3. Georgia Tech 8-3(6-2)- This is a bold prediction for the Jackets to share the Coastal Division crown with heavyweights Miami and Virginia Tech. Georgia Tech has two of the better offensive players in the country in receiver Calvin Johnson and running back P.J. Daniels. Along, with a great defense, Tech has it's best team since the 1990 national champions. Holes on the offensive line are a concern, and quarterback Reggie Ball needs to improve his decision makeing. Ball is in his third year as the starter, and I expect a fantastic year from him. The schedule gods have no mercy for Tech, as they must travel to the best of the Coastal Division: Virginia Tech, Miami, and Virginia, as well, face Auburn and Georgia out of conference. It is , easily, one of the toughest schedules in the country. As talented as the Jackets are, I would not be shocked if they fell short of .500 with this schedule.
4. Virginia 8-3(5-3)- The Cavaliers are the nation's most underachieving team the last two years . In 2002, the young Cavs broke through for a 8-5 season. Since, the more experienced and talented teams of 2003 and 2004 have finished 8-5 and 8-4, respectively. Virginia is not the darkhorse national title contender of the past two years, but a good team that contend for a bowl game other than one in Charlotte or Boise. Marques Hagans is a good duel threat quarterback, along with the powerful tailback Wali Lundy, Virginia's offense will lead with the run. D'Brickashaw Ferguson is the best tackle in the ACC, and Conner Hughes is one of the best kickers in the country. The defense does not look as strong as the last couple of years, but linebacker Ahmad Brooks is a monster in the middle. Anything more than eight wins would be a huge surprise for the Cavs, as they had more talent last year, but only finished 8-4.
5. North Carolina 2-9(1-7)- The Tar Heels had a great year in 2004 when little was expected of them. Darian Durant was magnificent, but the do all quarterback has moved on, as well, as any shot at another bowl. The schedule is not friendly, either. Opening up at Georgia Tech and drawing Wisconsin, Utah and Louisville away from conference is not the best way for a inexperienced team to start out. No upset over Miami this year for the Tarheels, and anything more three wins will be tough.
6. Duke 1-10(0-8)- Will the Blue Devils ever be able to return to a bowl game? Duke is by far the least talented team in the ACC. Unless they pull an upset, like against Clemson last year, it will be a winless year in the ACC for the Devils. Yet, as long as Steve Spurrier is coaching in college football, Duke will get at least one vote in the Coaches preseason top 25 every year.