The Saturday Edge did a 2012 ACC preview with the guys over at College Football Zealots. Below is my predicted order of finish for each division and my projected winner of the ACC Championship game:
6. Duke Blue Devils
Putting Duke in at 6 isn’t as easy this year as has been in the past. David Cutcliffe has done a great job in upgrading the recruiting and I really think they are no longer the automatic win they were in the past. Last year they had a great shot to make a bowl game but struggled with consistency, going just 2-4 in games decided by 7 points or less. Duke has had issues wearing down late in the season as they are just 1-12 in November under Cutcliffe.
This year 17 starters return and the schedule is conducive to a hot start. If Kenny Anunike and the defensive front gel together then they will be a threat to go bowling, but I only have the Devils favored in a single ACC game and double digit dogs in 4 of their 8 league contests.
5. Miami Hurricanes
I am an Al Golden fan but I’m expecting another rebuilding year for the Canes. Miami has had some very strong recruiting classes in recent years but they have been hurt badly by attrition (6 players left early last year for the NFL draft) and only return 9 starters in 2012. They are replacing nearly all the proven playmakers on offense, though the quarterback position is already potentially upgraded with the loss of Jacory Harris.
The schedule is brutal (9 of 11 BCS opponents went bowling in ‘11) and my season-opening power numbers have them dogs each of those games. Young, talented teams with quality coaching often have to take their lumps early on, but my expectation is that Miami rapidly improves as the year wears on and should find themselves with some decent line value in October and early November. I feel Miami would be very happy to return to bowl play in 2012.
4. Virginia Cavaliers
Mike London has gotten good results in a short time here, but I felt like UVA was ahead of schedule last year. The Wahoos went 5-1 in close games in 2011 and looked to me like they overachieved against what was a relatively easy ACC schedule. This year they get a lot of offensive pieces back for what has the potential to be a dynamic ground game (UVA has 2 of top 7 returning rushers in Perry Jones and Kevin Parks). Alabama transfer Philip Sims is looking to challenge Michael Rocco for the quarterback position and my feeling is that they get more consistency from under center.
Recruiting has been impressive but the defense loses 5 of their top 8 tacklers and is replacing 3 starters in the secondary (with every team in the league returning quarterbacks with at least 5 games of starting experience, secondary competence will be at a premium). UVA’s talent level is at its highest since Al Groh’s early years but the schedule is full of tough battles as my ACC numbers have 7 of their 8 conference games within a touchdown. I expect Virginia to go bowling again and while they may be improved, their record may struggle to show it. I don’t see UVA contending for the ACC Coastal crown.
3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
At this point we know what we’re getting from Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson. GT is looking to add some wrinkles to their option-attack but they are still going to run 90% of the time. They look well-suited to continue their success with the ground-and-pound as PJ has his best offensive line yet (5 of top 6 on the OL returning) and a stable of solid backs. The Jackets have surprisingly produced a couple of really talented WR’s in their system over the past few years but they have zero career receptions among their returning wideouts. I assume Tevin Washington will keep his job through fall camp, but he hasn’t really impressed me as their ringleader. He needs to be more accurate as a passer for their offense to really become dynamic.
Year 3 of Al Groh’s 3-4 defense should see continued progress and I think the back 7 is solid. GT really struggled to generate pressure on the backfield in ‘11 so if they want to improve on a defense that was 8th in the ACC in scoring it starts there. The schedule really flings them into ACC play early with 3 league games in the first 4 weeks (including a crucial opener at VT) and I have them favored in 5 of their 8 league contests.
2. North Carolina Tar Heels
UNC is ineligible for the ACC title this year due to NCAA sanctions, which is a shame as this team is nicely equipped to make a run at the Coastal title. Usually a coaching change leaves the cupboard bare as the previous coach is fired for poor results, but the nature of the UNC sanctions left most of the fruit of several top 25 recruiting classes intact. New Coach Larry Fedora brings a lot of intensity and focus into the program, and with it comes a dynamic spread offense that can rack up points in a hurry. Brynn Rener isn’t the ideal spread QB as he lacks mobility, but he is an accurate, smart QB who played in a fairly similar offense in high school. This offense uses a ton of WR’s which is a rebuilding area for the Heels but they do return the explosive Gio Bernard at tailback and my top-rated offensive line in the league.
Defensively UNC has lost a ton of star power over the last 2 years (7 defensive draft picks over that span) but this remains a solid group. It was a major coup to win the sweepstakes for DC Vic Koenning and their transition into more of a 4-2-5 has the potential to be smooth. The schedule allows for NC to work out many of the kinks in non-conference play and I have them favored in 7 of their 8 league contests (though only once by more than 7).
1. Virginia Tech Hokies
Though questions abound, I have enough faith in their defense and coaching staff to assume they can be answered in time to claim another ACC Coastal title. The amazing thing about Virginia Tech over the years has been their coaching continuity over the years. As always, the defense is in good hands with Bud Foster and with 9 returning starters they check in as my 2nd rated defense in the league.
The offense is talented but a large ? as only 3 starters return. Logan Thomas has drawn a ton of Cam Newton comparisons due to his body type and playing style but this year he has to prove that he can be successful as the main option and focal point of opposing defenses. I think he will be fine as they have a good opportunity to ease in the new talent (potentially favored in 6 of first 7 games and only 1 ACC game in the first 5). My early numbers have VT a double digit favorite in 5 of their ACC games so if this team comes together early they have a great chance for a repeat trip to Charlotte.
6. Boston College Eagles
I actually plan on backing the Eagles early on in the season as I think the September schedule is pretty manageable relative to their expectations, but overall things don’t bode well for Frank Spaziani and BC. Every year under Spaz their win total has dwindled and recruiting has failed to replenish the depth chart.
This year BC brings in their 4th offensive coordinator in 2 years (though I will say the new OC, Doug Martin, is the best of the bunch) and are looking to repair an abysmal 2011 offense. BC was really snakebitten last year on the injury front so they do have a bunch of experience returning but they have lost a lot of their on-field leadership. My numbers have them as underdogs in 9 of their last 10 games and if they struggle I could see this squad quitting on the lame-duck Spaziani.
5. Maryland Terrapins
Even a dead cat will bounce back if you drop it from high enough, right? Maryland was absolutely dreadful in ‘11 as Randy Edsall’s goal of a culture change was met with vehement rejection and this team quit on him. An offseason of player attrition has thinned the ranks, and Edsall switched both coordinators. The good news is that the only guys remaining are committed to the Edsall system and are less likely to quit if the team struggles.
The offense will be young again and just got younger this past week with the season ending knee injury to starting QB C.J. Brown, so I expect then to struggle at times offensively, but the team is hopefully being led by the defense. They were very young last year and it showed, but they have several nice pieces here. My placement of Maryland at 5 instead of 6 is based on my faith in Edsall, there is too much talent on the field and the sidelines for an encore of last season’s disaster.
4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
I expected a bounceback year in ‘11 for Wake after a 3-9 2010 campaign and we got it, with Jim Grobe’s Demon Deacons returning to bowl play. Wake has the potential to be really dynamic offensively with Tanner Price at QB to go along with a proven group of running backs, but they are replacing a lot of pieces on the offensive line (15 career starts returning). Wake is usually at their best when they have an experienced and deep offensive line that can support their misdirection ground game so I am eager to see how the new group gels early on.
Defensive lineman Nikita Whitlock had a ridiculously amazing season last year and Wake needs him to occupy a lot of space in the middle to free up the new defensive ends to exert pressure and give a solid back 7 the edge to make plays and create turnovers.
3. North Carolina State Wolfpack
It took a little longer than expected, but it appears that Tom O’Brien has replicated his consistent success from Boston College. TOB has recruited solid-if-unspectacular classes that buys into his team first system. This year they have a couple of very strong areas but enough questions to keep them from competing for the Atlantic title. Mike Glennon has 1st round NFL draft talent as a passer but they are replacing 3 of their top 4 wide receivers. The OL has 112 career starts which is tops in the league but the running game has perennial underachieved and may be without their top option (Mustafa Greene).
Defensively, they have been a really opportunistic team (double-digit positive turnover margin each of the last two years) but have to completely replace a linebacking corp that has been a bedrock. The secondary is very talented but if the linebackers don’t contribute they will struggle to maintain coverage. I think they can overcome these issues in time for the start of ACC play in week 5 and I have them favored in 5 of their ACC games. State is a couple notches below the next two teams but they are easily the best of the rest in the Atlantic.
2. Clemson Tigers
Dabo Swinney hasn’t proven himself as a gameday coach to me, but his recruiting has been strong enough to overcome many of those doubts. Clemson brought in another top 15 class this offseason and absolutely has a good chance to defend their ACC title. The 70 point defensive meltdown in the Orange Bowl spurned a change to a new DC (Brent Venables, formerly of Oklahoma) and a new defensive scheme (predominately 4-2-5) that will get even more speed on the field.
Offensively Clemson is my top offense in the league, and are absolutely loaded at the skill positions (though thin at RB). Sammy Watkins will return from suspension in time for ACC play and DeAndre Hopkins has break-out potential. Clemson plays at a very high tempo that takes advantage of their superior depth and gives them a chance to cover any spread. I have Clemson favored in 7 of their 8 ACC games and DD favorites in 5. The schedule isn’t easy but if they come together they can win the ACC and are a darkhorse national title contender.
1. Florida State Seminoles
It’s August, so once again Florida State is the darling of the ACC and all that’s missing is their 3 month coronation through the schedule. I’ve yet to agree with the media acclaim in the past but I am coming around this year. The roster is absolutely loaded all over the field, and while EJ Manuel hasn’t proven himself to be a clutch quarterback they have enough weapons and a soft enough schedule early on if his development is prolonged. They underachieved last year offensively as the ground game really struggled and they had discipline issues, but they have taken a more hardline approach with some of the troublemakers and I expect a more polished approach.
The defense is my highest rated unit (ACC only) in 5 years and even with the loss of Greg Reid it’s full of dynamic playmakers. Even if the offense really struggles to gel or has injury issues this defense is deep and stout enough to keep them in most games. I have them favored in every ACC game and a DD favorite in 6! There is a reason Phil Steele picked them to win the National Title.
Conference Championship Prediction
FSU over Virginia Tech
Please check out the entire article and a lot more information on each team here.
Please leave me your thoughts and questions on the 2012 ACC preview below. Thanks.