The Atlantic Coast Conference has become one of the top four conferences in major college football with the addition of Miami and Virginia in 2004 and Boston College last year. However, with the added schools, it’s doubtful an ACC representative will play in the BCS national championship game this season.
Inaugural season of the 12 team ACC set numerous records for the conference, including a record eight bowl teams. 7-4 Florida State upset 10-1 Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game, thus the Seminoles earned an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl. If the current BCS formula had been in place last year, TCU would have been given the ACC’s automatic bid to the BCS, based on FSU’s low BCS ranking.
The ACC shouldn’t encounter that same problem again in 2006. The conference is loaded with great teams, but there is no clear cut favorite. Miami and Florida State are always going to be the talk of the ACC and the nation for that matter. Virginia Tech still is fighting for respect in the college football despite going to a bowl game every year since 1992. Clemson has its best team in the Tommy Bowden era. Boston College has a solid team again. As many five other ACC teams could be bowl eligible, this would give the ACC an unprecedented 10 bowl teams. Duke is the only school with really no shot at becoming bowl eligible.
Florida State 10-2 (6-2) - The Seminoles lose a boatload of starters especially on defense. However, this year’s team will be more experienced than last year’s conference championship squad. The offense is loaded with weapons, but it remains to be seen if Bowden junior can kick it into high gear. Quarterback Drew Weatherford is poised to have a great year and tailback Lorenzo Booker is a dangerous threat running or receiving. The offensive line will be better as long as it can stay healthy. Add in the abundance of depth at wide receiver and you can see why the offense might just be obliterating teams, while the defense comes around early in the season. The defensive front seven, despite the loss of starters, shouldn’t be a major concern. Weakside linebacker Buster Davis will have a great year. The secondary is in great shape compared to last year, and will be one of the nation’s best.
Schedule: FSU has a very favorable schedule, but their toughest game is right off the bat at Miami in the season opener. A win in the Orange Bowl would put the Seminoles on track for an unbeaten season; a loss may not damage their chances if they can run the table the rest of the way.
Final Words: Florida State will be underrated in 2006, which can be either good or bad for the psyche of the team. The defense will be strong once again, but if the offense struggles, FSU could be in for a tough year. Booker needs to gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground in order for the Seminoles to be considered a serious national title contender.
Bowl: I smell Oranges.
Boston College 9-3 (5-3) – The Eagles are my pick to surprise team in the ACC this year. Quarterback Matt Ryan is underrated, but in my opinion will be the best quarterback in the ACC at the end of the season. LV Whitworth and Andre Callender are a great one-two punch at running back. Combined they should exceed the 2,000 yard mark this season. The offensive line and receivers have holes to fill, but there is enough talent to make a seamless transition. Linebacker Brian Toal is one of the best in the nation and will lead the defense. The front seven looks to be down a notch overall, but the secondary should improve from a year ago.
Schedule: BC hosts Clemson and Virginia Tech but must travel to Miami and Florida State. The other eight games are winnable; therefore, the Eagles have a good shot at their best season since 1984
Final Words: If the Eagles can take care of business at home, a double-digit win season is likely. If the Florida State stumbles along the way, it is not a stretch to say that BC could be playing for the ACC title in early December.
Bowl: Music City
Clemson 9-3 (5-3) – How far can the Tigers go? Atlantic Division winners, ACC Champs, BCS Bowl, National title, they will go as far as quarterback Will Proctor will take them. All the pieces are in place for Tommy Bowden to finally get the Tigers over the hump. Procter is a better fit for Bowden’s spread offense than departing four-year starter Charlie Whitehurst. The receivers are deep and the running backs are arguably the best in the conference. The offensive line returns all five starters and will be among the nation’s best. The defense is the strongest it has been in the Bowden era. The defensive line has to fill some holes, but defensive end Gaines Adams returns and is one of the best in the nation. The linebackers are deep, talented and experienced. The secondary shouldn’t miss a beat despite having to replace cornerback Tye Hill.
Schedule: This is where the Tigers get screwed. Their second and third games of the season are at Boston College and Florida State, respectively. For the Tigers to have any shot at the ACC title they have to sweep or at least split those games.
Final Words: Bowden has had some talented teams in his tenure, but his Tigers always seem to lose a game or two they shouldn’t. Clemson arguably can be considered the most talented and experienced team in the ACC, but could lose as many as four games this season.
Bowl: Just Peachy
Maryland 7-5 (4-4) – Ralph Friedgen won 10 games in each of his first three seasons at the helm. However, the Terps have struggled to win just 10 games total his last two years. This year’s team should break the losing skid and get Friedgen back to a bowl. Running back Lance Ball is the key to the offense, and should top the 1,500 yard mark as a full time starter. Sam Hollenbach returns as the starting quarterback, but loses his top four receivers from 2005. The veteran offensive line will pave the way for a ground oriented attack why the young receivers get their feet wet. The defensive line looks to be the strong point of the defense. The linebackers are a concern with the loss of D’Qwell Jackson. The secondary is far more experienced than 2005 and can only improve.
Schedule: This is not an easy schedule. The Terps must travel to West Virginia. Miami and Florida State will sell out Byrd Stadium but it would be tough for Maryland to win both. Road games at Clemson and Boston College surround the Miami game in November.
Final Words: Despite having one of the tougher schedules in the ACC, Maryland should have its best season since 2003. If the receivers develop into quality targets the offense should average over 400 yards per game for the first time since 2003.
NC State 5-7 (2-6) – The Wolfpack simply underachieved last season. The all-star stellar defense from a year ago must be rebuilt up front; however, the secondary should be one of the best in the country. Defensive tackle DeMario Pressley is a nice rock to build the defense on. Offensively, NC State has weapons, but simply can’t score points. Receiver/return specialist Darrell Blackmon is threat to score every time he touches the ball. Marcus Stone was an average quarterback at best last year, but should have a decent year as the sole starter. Center Leroy Harris is an all-American candidate at center, but the offensive line must replace three starters.
Schedule: The Wolfpack have a tricky road game at Southern Miss before ACC play begins. Florida State and Boston College must come to Raleigh. Road games at Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina will be the difference from a winning season or a losing one.
Final Words: NC State should have won more than six games last year. This year’s team despite not being as talented could match or exceed last year’s win total.
Wake Forest 5-7 (2-6) – Jim Grobe’s program is now full of his recruits. The Demon Deacons are loaded on both sides of the ball with and are capable of earning a bowl bid. Quarterback Ben Mauk has to have good season if Wake Forest is to finish in the upper half of the ACC. Replacing record breaking tailback Chris Barclay is not going to be easy. The receiving corps is an underrated group that could surprise. The offensive and defensive lines are the strong points of the team heading into fall. Defensive end Matt Robinson is a candidate for all-ACC honors. The linebackers and secondary return all its starters and both units should rank among the top in the conference.
Schedule: Wake Forest has a chance to start the season 5-0, but could conceivably lose its last seven games. The Demon Deacons will more than likely have to win two ACC road games to become bowl eligible.
Final Words: A lot of people are going to expect Wake Forest to challenge for a bowl game. It’s quite possible for the Demon Deacons to win eight games, but five or six is more reasonable.
Miami 10-2 (7-1) – Miami was clearly the best team in the ACC last year and was in the national title race until an upset loss to Georgia Tech late in the year. Larry Coker fearing for his job overhauled his coaching staff. He hired former Hurricane offensive coordinator Rich Olsen to rejuvenate the once mighty ‘Cane offense. Kyle Wright is supposed to be the next great Hurricane quarterback, and 2006 could be his breakout year. Miami has an extremely talented receiving corps, led by Ryan Moore, but unfortunately they have yet to live up to their billing. Tight end Greg Olsen is one of the best in the nation catching the ball. Tyrone Moss has to find a way to stay healthy to boost the ‘Canes running game. The offensive line is a weak point of the offense for the first time in a long time. The defense will be among the nation’s best. Baraka Atkins makes the move from defensive tackle to defensive end, and will be an all-American candidate. Miami has to replace two starting linebackers but Tavares Gooden returns from injury to bolster a very strong unit. The secondary is loaded at safety, but cornerback is a bit suspect.
Schedule: An early game at Louisville could make or break the season. The Hurricanes are still considered the big dog, even against the likely favored Cardinals. Florida State, Virginia Tech and Boston College all must play Miami in the Orange Bowl.
Final Words: With this much talent and a favorable schedule, anything less than an ACC title would be a disappointment.
Bowl: Gator Country
Virginia Tech 9-3 (5-3) – What was up with Marcus Vick last year? He was a better passer than his brother, Michael, but couldn’t handle his problems off or on the field. The Hokies will be better without him per se. Sean Glennon will take over for Vick at quarterback, but is not quite the same athlete. Brandon Ore is the mold of the great Hokie running backs of the past, and should break the 1,000 yard barrier this year. The receivers are probably the best in Virginia Tech history. The big question mark on offense is not the quarterback, but the offensive line. The Hokies must replace three all-ACC players. The defensive line shouldn’t miss a beat even with the loss of numerous starters that were drafted by the NFL. Passing rushing specialist Chris Ellis will lead the ACC in sacks. Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi are the best inside linebacker duo in the nation, but Virginia Tech can not afford any injuries at linebacker. The secondary loses Jimmy Williams, but actually looks like it could improve in 2006.
Schedule: It’s not too daunting. Trips to Miami and Boston College are the toughest tests. Tough games against Southern Miss and Clemson fall in between those two tough road trips.
Final Words: If Glennon can develop a rhythm with his receivers, then look out. The defense will carry this team until October. After that, the offense will have to put of some points, if the Hokies want to contend for a conference or even national title.
Bowl: Champs Sports
Georgia Tech 7-5 (4-4) – The Wrambling Wreck could wreck Notre Dame’s national title hopes to start the season. The Yellow Jackets have the nation’s best receiver in Calvin Johnson, and return four starters on the offensive line. Senior quarterback Reggie Ball has 36 career starts under his belt but is still in a battle for his job heading into fall. Ball is an undersized thrower, but is capable of making plays. Tashard Choice will take over PJ Daniels at tailback, and he led the team in rushing touchdowns last year. The defensive front seven will be very good. Kenny Scott is the best cornerback in the ACC, but overall the secondary is weak.
Schedule: Aside from the home opener against the Irish, trips to Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia stand out. Miami has to come to Atlanta.
Final Words: An upset win over Notre Dame will say a lot for Georgia Tech and the ACC. A 10-2 season and ACC Coastal Division title is not too far fetched of an idea.
Bowl: Could be hometown Peaches but I say Meineke.
North Carolina 7-5 (4-4) - The Tarheels finished 5-6 last year despite having one of the worst offenses in the nation. They brought in former Fresno State offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti to change things around. Quarterback is the hot issue in 2006. Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey and redshirt freshman Cam Sexton are in a heated battle heading into fall. At least each will have talented trio of running backs, led by Ronnie McGill, to hand the ball to. However, the receiving corps needs some players to step up. The offensive line is young but should improve. The defense was the savior last season, and again will be the strongest part of the team. The front seven has decent talent and great depth. Linebacker Larry Edwards is force on the strong side. The underrated secondary will be vastly improved.
Schedule: A trip to South Bend will be tough, as will games at Miami and Clemson. A home contest against Virginia Tech, in the second week of the season, is an excellent opportunity for the Tarheels to pull the upset.
Final Words: Cignetti is often considered the mastermind behind a supposedly high scoring Fresno State offense. His offense, however, was complex and lacked imagination, but it moved the ball with a punishing ground attack and precise passing scheme. It will be interesting to see how it fares in the much stronger ACC.
Bowl: Boise or bust
Virginia 6-6 (3-5) - Head coach Al Groh has stated 2006 will be a rebuilding year. Only 12 starters return and Virginia must replace both its starting quarterback and running back. On the other hand, the Wahoos top five receivers return. Christian Olsen took command of the quarterback position in the spring, and is more of a traditional drop back passer than former signal caller Marques Hagans. Michael Johnson is a speedy tailback that must prove he can be an every down back. The offensive line needs some rebuilding but there is plenty talent to fill the gaps. The defensive line is also a bit down this year, but has enough talent to be a productive unit. Defensive end Chris Long is an all-ACC candidate. The linebackers were considered the best in the nation just two years ago, now are just average. The secondary is very deep and talented.
Schedule: Starting the season at Pitt will be tough, but closing the season at Florida State, vs. Miami and at Virginia Tech is just plain brutal. Luckily in between Virginia has a good shot to win seven games.
Final Words: If the Olsen can get the ball to his receivers and Johnson has a 1,000 yard season, the Wahoos will win eight games. Groh always seems to have a better season when least expected.
Bowl: Boise or bust
Duke 1-11 (0-8) – Duke has not had a winning season since 1994, and the hiatus will continue again in 2006. The offense only returns four starters and the offense line will be young and inexperienced. At least quarterback Zack Asack and running back Justin Boyle return. In fact, Duke returns its top three rushers. The receivers need help. The defensive line will be decent, and should improve its numbers from a year ago. The linebackers are in trouble, health could be an issue again this year. The secondary returns three starters, including superb corner John Talley.
Schedule: The added 12th game must benefit a team like Duke. With the added game, the Blue Devils should schedule four easy non-conference games against IAA, MAC or Sun Belt doormats. But, Duke has games against Navy and at Alabama to go along with their tough ACC schedule.
Final Words: Will Duke ever be a contender in the much stronger 12 team ACC? Probably not in the near future, or maybe never.
Bowl: No way
ACC Championship Game: Florida State over Miami
WR- Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
WR- Greg Carr, Florida State
TE- Greg Olsen, Miami
T- Barry Richardson, Clemson
T- Stephon Heyer, Maryland
C- Leroy Harris, NC State
G- Josh Beekman, Boston College
G- Charleston Gray, North Carolina
QB- Matt Ryan, Boston College
RB- Lorenzo Booker, Florida State
RB- Brandon Ore, Virginia Tech
FB- Keon Lattimore, Maryland
AP- Eddie Royal, Virginia Tech
DE- Gaines Adams, Clemson
DT- DeMario Pressley, NC State
DL- Baraka Atkins, Miami
DE- Chris Ellis, Virginia Tech
LB- Brian Toal, Boston College
LB- Vince Hall, Virginia Tech
LB- Anthony Waters, Clemson
CB- Kenny Scott, Georgia Tech
CB- Tony Carter, Florida State
SS- Brandon Meriweather, Miami
FS- Josh Gattis, Wake Forest
PR- Brandon Tate, North Carolina
K- Jad Dean, Clemson
P- Nic Schmitt, Virginia Tech
KR- Darrell Blackmon, NC State
Offensive POY- Lorenzo Booker, Florida State
Defensive POY- Chris Ellis, Virginia Tech
Freshman of the Year- Myron Rolle, Florida State
Coach of the Year- Tom O’ Brien, Boston College
Game of the Year- Boston College at Miami
Upset of the Year- North Carolina over Virginia Tech
Most Overrated- Tyrone Moss, Miami
Most Underrated- Matt Ryan, Boston College
Best Quarterbacks-Florida State
Best Running Backs- Clemson
Best Wide Receivers- Miami
Best Offensive Line- Clemson
Best Defensive Line- Miami
Best Linebackers- Clemson
Best Defensive Backs- Virginia Tech
Best Special Teams- Virginia Tech
Best Coaching- Virginia Tech
Best Intangibles- Florida State