Last season, Tech won the ACC and received an invite to play in the Orange Bowl. However, Tech and three other ACC teams lost their bowl games doing nothing to supplant the ACC’s reputation as purely a “basketball conference.”
This season, the ACC has five teams ranked in the preseason AP top 25 and is poised to garner national attention with big non-conference games. If the ACC teams can find a way to win those big games, the conference could gain more national attention.
In the Atlantic Division, there are at least four teams with a shot at winning the division.
Defending division champion Clemson returns its starting quarterback from a year ago in redshirt sophomore Kyle Parker, but the Tigers will have to find some way of replacing do-it-all back C. J. Spiller.
The Tigers should be better on defense with six returning starters, including junior defensive end Da’Quan Bowers.
With Bobby Bowden’s retirement from Florida State, most casual observers might think that the Seminoles will take a step backward this season. However, FSU is in experienced hands with former offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher taking over as coach.
Senior quarterback Christian Ponder returns after missing some of last season due to injury. Ponder enters the season as the preseason All-ACC quarterback and a possible Heisman Trophy candidate.
The big news coming out of Chestnut Hill, Mass. this season is the return of senior linebacker Mark Herzlich after his battle with cancer. Herzlich’s return makes Boston College an inspirational story this season, but opponents should not take the Eagles lightly. Boston College came within a game of the ACC Championship in Head Coach Frank Spaziani’s first season. It was then-freshman quarterback Dave Shinskie’s first year as well, and he will return this season to lead the Eagles offense.
North Carolina State will once again be led by junior quarterback Russell Wilson. Last season, Wilson passed for 3,027 yards and 31 touchdowns. However, both lines will have to improve and get stronger if the Wolfpack are to succeed this season.
It looks to be rebuilding years for Maryland and Wake Forest as each team has to replace key players from a year ago.
This season, the Coastal Division may be the conference’s best and most competitive division as four of the ACC’s five ranked teams reside in the Coastal.
At Georgia Tech, the defending ACC-Champions will have to find a way to replace four players who left early for the NFL. The good news is that quarterback Josh Nesbitt returns for his senior season on the Flats. Nesbitt rushed for 18 touchdowns last season and should improve as a runner after this offseason.
The Jackets hired Al Groh as defensive coordinator this season, and he brings his new 3-4 scheme to Tech in hopes of improving a defense that ranked seventh in the ACC in total yards allowed last season.
Virginia Tech looks to be the conference’s most highly touted team, and the Hokies are the highest ranked team in the conference at No. 10.
Virginia Tech won games last season because of its playmaking freshman running back Ryan Williams and a stingy defense that only allowed 15.6 points per game. This season, Williams returns for his sophomore season, but he will be accompanied by another stand-out back in junior Darren Evans, who missed all of last season due to injury. Virginia Tech will have to rely on their running backs and senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor if they want to win games this season because they only return five starters on defense.
Upstart North Carolina returns several key players especially on defense where the Heels return junior defensive end Robert Quinn and senior defensive tackle Marvin Austin.
If UNC gets any quality play from senior quarterback T.J. Yates they will contend for the ACC Championship.
In Miami it is do-or-die for Head Coach Randy Shannon as fans are getting tired of mediocre seasons.
Miami has its eyes on the ACC crown with most of its skill players returning from last season. Junior quarterback Jacory Harris will lead the Canes offense, and he has capable weapons in senior running back Greg Cooper as well as a handful of athletic receivers.
Like any other team, Miami will have to replace key players on defense, but if Harris can cut down on his interceptions, the offense should score enough points to keep their defense rested.
Both Virginia and Duke will face tough seasons with four games against their divisional foes and the fact that both teams will have to find a way to replace their leaders from a year ago.
At Virginia the Mike London era begins as the new head coach takes over. Virginia will be competitive soon, as London had great success at Richmond but expect this season to be a struggle for the Cavaliers.
Duke made strides last season in Head Coach David Cutcliffe’s second season by winning five games. However, this season Duke must replace the best quarterback in its recent history in Thaddeus Lewis.