NCAA Football Thoughts – 13-14 ACC Conference Season Preview

Welcome back! My name is Dustin James and I’m back once again for another rousing edition of my college football predictions for the 2013-14 season. This time around I’m tackling one of the big conferences in college football that has underachieved in serious manners these last few seasons. It seems like every year we have 2 or 3 teams out of the ACC that people predict will have big seasons and those teams go on to seriously underachieve through the course of the year. This year is no different as once again the ACC fields a competitive squad of teams with a few of them even being mentioned as legitimate National Title contenders. So, what teams in the ACC will go on to have major success this season and which teams will continue to anger their fan bases by losing games they shouldn’t lose? Read on to find out…….

ACC

Atlantic Division:
1. Clemson Tigers- 13-1 (9-0)

Last Year’s Record: 11-2

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against LSU

Toughest Games: Georgia (August 31), Florida State (October 19), @ South Carolina (November 30)

Key Players: Tajh Boyd (QB), Sammy Watkins (WR), Martavis Bryant (WR), Brandon Thomas (OL), Tyler Shatley (OL), Vic Beasley (DL), Grady Jarrett (DL), Corey Crawford (DL), Stephone Anthony (LB), Spencer Shuey (LB), Travis Blanks (S), Chandler Catanzaro (K)

Conference Championship: vs. Virginia Tech (W)

Bowl Prediction: Orange Bowl vs. Louisville (W)

Team Analysis: It seems like every year people are high on the Clemson Tigers and every year the Tigers underachieve and let everyone down. This could finally be the year that Clemson will not only win the ACC, but will also be serious contenders for the National Title. Clemson has a very good coach in Dabo Swinney and he’s going to rely a lot on senior QB Tajh Boyd (one of the best QB’s in the country) and the Tigers offense to keep Clemson in the BCS title picture. The Tigers finished 11-2 last year and capped the year off with a huge win over LSU in the Chick-Fil-A bowl. Clemson will look to make it two in a row against the SEC when they face the Georgia Bulldogs in a massive game on August 31. If the Tigers can get by Georgia in week one, they have a legitimate shot at going undefeated as the rest of the schedule sets up nicely. They have an extremely easy conference schedule as their toughest game is a home game against Florida State. The Seminoles barely edged out the Tigers last season, but I believe the roles will be reversed this year. There is a great chance that Clemson could be undefeated heading into their rivalry match-up against South Carolina on November 30. If that’s the case, that game could likely have huge BCS implications. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m excited to see what Tajh Boyd and the Tigers can do in the ACC this year. It could be a big one in Clemson, South Carolina this year.

2. Florida State Seminoles- 11-2 (7-1)

Last Year’s Record: 12-2

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Orange Bowl over Northern Illinois

Toughest Games: @ Clemson (October 19), Miami (November 2), @ Florida (November 30)

Key Players: Jameis Winston (QB), Devonta Freeman (RB), James Wilder (RB), Rashad Greene (WR/PR), Kelvin Benjamin (WR), Nick O’Leary (TE), Bryan Stork (OL), Tre Jackson (OL), Cameron Erving (OL), Josue Matias (OL), Timmy Jernigan (DL), Mario Edwards (DL), Christian Jones (LB), Telvin Smith (LB), Ronald Darby (CB), Lamarcus Joyner (S), Terrence Brooks (S), Roberto Aguayo (K)

Bowl Prediction: Sugar Bowl vs. Georgia (L)

Team Analysis: The Florida State Seminoles are usually loaded with talent. That was on display during the NFL draft last April when the Seminoles had 5 players drafted in the first two rounds. The amount of talent the Seminoles have automatically makes them a BCS title contender in my eyes. Jimbo Fisher has done a great job in making Florida State a legitimate title contender every year and his team is once again stacked with talent. The Seminoles would likely be my favorites to win the ACC, but their QB situation scares me a little. Florida State lost their starting QB E.J. Manuel to the NFL Draft (he was taken by the Buffalo Bills in the first-round) and now have to look for a replacement. It looks as though the Seminoles will be starting redshirt freshman Jameis Winston and if that’s the case, it’s hard to pick them to win the ACC and feel comfortable about it. Outside of the QB situation though, the rest of the offense should be fine as they return 7 starters which could help make the transition for Winston a little easier. There are big time questions on the defensive side of the ball as the Noles only return 4 starters and look to replace a group of guys who went to the NFL. Even though there are a few questions regarding Florida State’s talent, the schedule isn’t half bad which should keep the Noles in contention for most of the year. Their toughest games are away games against Clemson and Florida and if they can manage to steal just one of those games, we could be seeing Florida State in a BCS bowl come January.

3. Wake Forest Demon Deacons- 8-5 (5-3)

Last Year’s Record: 5-7

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: @ Clemson (September 28), Maryland (October 19), @ Miami (October 26), Florida State (November 9), @ Vanderbilt (November 30)

Key Players: Josh Harris (RB), Michael Campanaro (WR), Nikita Whitlock (DL), Justin Jackson (LB), Kevin Johnson (CB), AJ Marshall (S)

Bowl Prediction: Music City Bowl vs. Arkansas (L)

Team Analysis: I’m probably overrating Wake Forest a little, but I could end up looking like a genius if this prediction goes right at the end of the year. The Demon Deacons are an underrated team that return a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. They return 8 starters on defense and 7 starters on offense. Most teams would kill to return that many players on both sides of the ball. The Demon Deacons will be led by senior QB Tanner Price who will look to bring head coach Jim Grobe his first ACC title since 2006. The schedule sets up nicely for Wake Forest to have a good little run as outside of away games against the two ACC power houses (Clemson and Florida State) and an away game against Miami, Wake Forest could be favored in every single other game. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a team that was 5-7 last season to turn it around and make a bowl appearance and even potentially contend for an ACC championship. You heard it here first.

4. Maryland Terrapins – 6-7 (3-5)

Last Year’s Record: 4-8

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: @ Florida State (October 5), @ Wake Forest (October 19), Clemson (October 26), @ Virginia Tech (November 16), @ NC State (November 30)

Key Players: CJ Brown (QB), Stefon Diggs (WR/KR), Deon Long (WR)

Bowl Prediction: Independence Bowl vs. Vanderbilt (L)

Team Analysis: Maryland’s an interesting team in the ACC this year. They haven’t exactly been that good since head coach Randy Edsall took over, but this should be the year they jump back up into bowl contention. They will likely have a high powered offense led by senior QB C.J. Brown and 6 other returning starters. WR Stefon Diggs is a stud and he’ll give Brown a nice target all-year long. The non-conference schedule isn’t that bad for the Terrapins as they play FIU, Old Dominion, UConn, and West Virginia (who isn’t that good this year) and they should be 4-0 heading into their first ACC game against Florida State on October 5. That’s when the schedule gets a little tricky as the turtles have to travel to FSU, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech. They also have a big time home game against Clemson on October 26. If Maryland can somehow find a way to go 4-0, 3-1, or even 2-2 in those games, they could very well be dark horses to sneak up and take the ACC title from Clemson and Florida State. I wouldn’t bet on that happening though.

5. NC State Wolfpack- 7-6 (2-6)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Music City Bowl against Vanderbilt

Toughest Games: Clemson (September 19), @ Wake Forest (October 5), @ Florida State (October 26), North Carolina (November 2)

Key Players: Shadrach Thornton (RB), Rob Crisp (OL), Ty McGill (DL), Thomas Teal (DL), Dontae Johnson (CB)

Bowl Prediction: Military Bowl vs. Louisiana Tech (W)

Team Analysis: I don’t know what to make of NC State this year. The Wolfpack welcome new head coach Dave Doern to the mix and he inherits a young team that will likely have a lot of chinks in the armor to work out. The Wolfpack lost starting QB Mike Glennon (a top NFL draft pick) and replace him with Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas. Hmmm, a new head coach and a new starting QB? This could be a long year in Raleigh, North Carolina. Luckily for coach Doern, he loves to run the ball and he has some pretty capable backs that will love to do that for him. Sophomore RB Shadrach Thornton should be the first NC State running back to have 1,000 rushing yards in a year in over a decade. The schedule isn’t too shabby as outside of an away game against Florida State and a home game against Clemson, the Wolfpack should be capable of sneaking out enough wins to become bowl eligible. If you’re expecting major things out of NC State this year, you will be disappointed. I think an appearance in a bowl like the Military Bowl is likely where this team will fall at the end of the year.

6. Syracuse Orange- 4-8 (2-6)

Last Year’s Record: 8-5

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Pinstripe Bowl against West Virginia

Toughest Games: Penn State (August 31), Clemson (October 5), @ NC State (October 12), @ Georgia Tech (October 19), @ Maryland (November 9), @ Florida State (November 16)

Key Players: Jerome Smith (RB), Jay Bromley (DL), Dyshawn Davis (LB), Marquis Spruill (LB), Jeremi Wilks (S)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: Welcome to the ACC Syracuse. Now, sit down and buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride for the Orange this year. Syracuse lost their head coach Doug Marrone to the NFL and bring in first-time head coach Scott Shafer to be the brains of the operation. To say that makes me a little nervous would be an understatement. A brand new head coach leading a team in a brand new conference just sounds like the recipe for a disaster and that’s likely what will happen this year in Syracuse. The Orange had a good year last year as they went 8-5 and made it to the Pinstripe Bowl where they whopped West Virginia. Unfortunately for Orange fans, this team should take a huge step back this year and it honestly wouldn’t shock me to see them get less than 4 wins. But hey, at least they are in a respectable conference now….right?

7. Boston College Eagles- 4-8 (1-7)

Last Year’s Record: 2-10

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: @ USC (September 14), Florida State (September 28), @ Clemson (October 12), @ North Carolina (October 26), Virginia Tech (November 2), @ Maryland (November 23)

Key Players: Chase Rettig (QB), Andre Williams (RB), Alex Amidon (WR), Matt Patchan (OL), Kevin Pierre-Louis (LB), Steele Divitto (LB), Nate Freese (K), Spiffy Evans (PR)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: Boston College sucks. I predict 4 wins for the Golden Eagles this year, but it wouldn’t shock me to see them only get 2-3 wins. That’s what happens when you have a brand new head coach who has to come in and coach a team depleted of talent. Even though Boston College returns 10 starters on defense, it was a defense that allowed almost 30 points per game. I don’t know if I mentioned this already or not, but Boston College freaking sucks. Good luck guys.

Coastal Division:
1. Virginia Tech Hokies- 10-4 (7-2)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Russell Athletic Bowl against Rutgers

Toughest Games: Alabama (August 31), North Carolina (October 5), @ Miami (November 9)

Key Players: Logan Thomas (QB), Andrew Miller (C), James Gayle (DL), Derrick Hopkins (DL), JR Collins (DL), Jack Tyler (LB), Antone Exum (CB), Kyle Fuller (CB), Kyshoen Jarrett (S/PR), Demitri Knowles (KR)

Conference Championship: vs. Clemson (L)

Bowl Prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl vs. Texas A&M (L)

Team Analysis: Last year was a piss poor year for Frank Beamer and the Hokies. The team was supposed to be ACC title contenders, but ended up disappointing the world once again en route to a 7-6 overall record. I don’t know why I continuously fall in love with Virginia Tech (it happens every year), but I’m high on them once again this year, regardless of what happened last season. The Hokies should be much improved on defense and have a senior QB who is capable of bringing them to the promised land. The schedule is extremely difficult though. The Hokies open up the year by taking on last year’s BCS champs Alabama in a huge game in Atlanta. If Virginia Tech can somehow manage to pull off an upset over the Crimson Tide, the college football world would go nuts and the Hokies would catapult themselves into National Title contention. Outside of the week one game against Alabama, the schedule is rather easy. Virginia Tech doesn’t have to play either Clemson or Florida State and outside of having to travel to Miami and Georgia Tech, they could end up as double digit favorites in every other game. But like I said earlier, it seems like every year I pick the Hokies to do really good and they continuously disappoint the world. This year could be another one of those years. However, if anyone can get this thing turned around and turn Virginia Tech into a powerhouse in college football again, it could QB Logan Thomas and Frank Beamer. 10-4 sounds good to me, but 9-5 may be a little more realistic.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels- 10-3 (6-2)

Last Year’s Record: 8-4

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game due to NCAA sanctions

Toughest Games: @ South Carolina (August 29), @ Georgia Tech (September 21), @ Virginia Tech (October 5), Miami (October 17)

Key Players: Bryn Renner (QB), Quinshad Davis (RB), Eric Ebron (TE), Russell Bodine (C), James Hurst (OL), Kareem Martin (DL), Travis Hughes (LB), Tim Scott (CB), Tre Boston (S), Tommy Hibbard (K)

Bowl Prediction: Russell Athletic Bowl vs. Cincinnati (W)

Team Analysis: UNC is a tough team to predict every year. It seems like when people predict big things coming in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels will disappoint. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. This year though, could be different. UNC returns a decent amount of players from a team that went 8-4 last season but didn’t make a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions. However, now the team is bowl eligible and ready to make some big-time noise in the ACC. The schedule is the one thing that really stands out for me when trying to predict UNC’s success this season. Outside of away games against South Carolina and Virginia Tech, there is a very real possibility that the Tar Heels will be favored in each one of their games. Senior QB Bryn Renner leads an offense that will be able to score points on anyone (the team averaged over 40 points per game last season) and the defense should even be improved over last year’s squad. The only thing that truly scares me about this team is the thing I mentioned earlier about expectations. Historically the Tar Heels aren’t a good team when high expectations are placed upon them. However, this could be the year that UNC solves that problem and they outright win the ACC and make an appearance in a BCS bowl. The ACC is wide open enough that I wouldn’t exactly count that option out. It’s going to be a fun season in Chapel Hill.

3. Miami Hurricanes – 10-3 (6-2)

Last Year’s Record: 7-5

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game due to NCAA sanctions

Toughest Games: Florida (September 7), @ North Carolina (October 17), @ Florida State (November 2), Virginia Tech (November 9)

Key Players: Duke Johnson (RB/KR), Stephen Morris (QB), Phillip Dorsett (WR), Clive Walford (TE), Brandon Linder (OL), Malcolm Bunche (OL), Seantrel Henderson (OL), Anthony Chickillo (DL), Denzel Perryman (LB), Pat O’Donnell (P)

Bowl Prediction: Belk Bowl vs. UCF (W)

Team Analysis: It’s hard to predict what the Miami Hurricanes will do this year as they still have those potential NCAA sanctions surrounding the team. Now, disregard the potential sanctions and the Hurricanes actually field a nice little team. Head coach Al Golden will arguably field his best Miami team yet led by senior QB Stephen Morris and 9 other returning starters on offense. This team is going to score some major points and that’s good considering the Hurricanes return 8 starters on a defense that allowed over 30 points per game last season. The schedule itself isn’t that bad. Outside of away games against UNC and Florida State, the Hurricanes will be favored in every other conference game. Their non-conference schedule isn’t bad either as they welcome to the Florida Gators to Sun Life Stadium on September 7 and you bet your ass that the Hurricanes have the talent to give the Gators a real good fight in that game. I have the Hurricanes finishing 10-3 and they are legitimate contenders to the ACC title. It’s been a long time since the Hurricanes were on top of the college football world (their last National Title came over a decade ago) but if they can somehow avoid any kind of serious sanctions from the NCAA, this team’s arrow is pointed up. I honestly wouldn’t be shocked to see Miami win the ACC and play for a BCS bowl at the end of the season. Stranger things have happened, especially in the ACC.

4. Duke Blue Devils- 6-7 (2-6)

Last Year’s Record: 6-7

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati

Toughest Games: @ Virginia Tech (October 26), Miami (November 16), @ Wake Forest (November 23), @ North Carolina (November 30)

Key Players: Jamison Crowder (WR), Laken Tomlinson (OL), Perry Simmons (OL), Ross Cockrell (CB), Ross Martin (K), Will Monday (P)

Bowl Prediction: Sun Bowl vs. USC (L)

Team Analysis: DUKE! I’ll admit that part of me became a Blue Devils fan last season. I tend to favor underdogs in sports (I’m a fan of the Portland Trailblazers and Kansas City Chiefs for crying out loud…) and I have to say that I have a soft spot in my heart for the Blue Devils football team. In case you missed out, Duke made it to a bowl game last year for the first time SINCE 1994!!! They went 6-7 and even though they put up a valiant fight against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, they lost 34-48. Can Duke regain some of last year’s magic and make it two straight bowl appearances for the first time in team history? I’m saying “YES”! Even though Duke’s conference schedule is brutal, their non-conference schedule is easy enough that Duke could potentially sneak into another bowl game. I have them starting out 5-1 and then finishing off the year 1-5. This team is talented enough to make another bowl appearance and David Cutcliffe became a hero last year in Durham for making the Blue Devils relevant again. Can he recapture some of that magic again this year? I don’t know, but I’ll be watching and cheering along with them.

5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets- 5-7 (4-4)

Last Year’s Record: 7-7

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Sun Bowl against USC

Toughest Games: North Carolina (September 21), Virginia Tech (September 26), @ Miami (October 5), @ BYU (October 12), @ Clemson (November 14), Georgia (November 30)

Key Players: David Sims (RB), Will Jackson (OL), Jay Finch (OL), Jeremiah Attaochu (DL), Brandon Watts (LB), Quayshawn Nealy (LB), Jemea Thomas (CB), Isaiah Johnson (S), Jamal Golden (KR/PR),

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: Georgia Tech could be a team that I’m criminally underrating. Head coach Paul Johnson is a solid coach and he returns 7 starters on offense and 8 guys on defense to help lead the Yellow Jackets back to a bowl game. Georgia Tech is coming off a huge win against USC in the Sun Bowl (although to USC’s credit, they didn’t really show up for that game) and the team is looking to carry that momentum into 2013. It’s going to be tough for the Yellow Jackets to get back to a bowl game though as the schedule is pretty brutal. Not only does Georgia Tech have to play UNC, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Clemson in conference play, but they also have to travel to BYU and they welcome Georgia into Bobby Dodd Stadium on November 30. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for Georgia Tech to potentially sneak into a bowl game this season, but I’m setting my standards low for these guys as I honestly don’t see more than 5 winnable games on their schedule.

6. Virginia Cavaliers- 4-8 (2-6)

Last Year’s Record: 4-8

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: BYU (August 31), Oregon (September 7), @ Maryland (October 12), Clemson (November 2), @ North Carolina (November 9), @ Miami (November 23), Virginia Tech (November 30)

Key Players: Kevin Parks (RB), Morgan Moses (OL), Demetrious Nicholson (CB), Alec Vozenilek (K)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: The Virginia Cavaliers have only made one bowl game over the last 5 seasons. That’s not good for a team with the historical significance that Virginia has. This year likely won’t be any different for the Cavs as the schedule is just too difficult for these guys to expect a turn around to come this year. They open things up by welcoming BYU into Charlottesville on August 31 and follow up that game with a game against National Title contenders Oregon. Things don’t get any easier once the conference schedule opens up as the Cavs have to travel to Maryland, UNC, and Miami and also welcome Clemson and Virginia Tech into Scott Stadium as well. I think if you’re a Cavs fan and you’re expecting anything more than 4 wins this season, you are going to be upset with yourself at the end of the year. Set your goals low this year and you won’t be disappointed come December. Trust me.

7. Pittsburgh Panthers- 4-8 (1-7)

Last Year’s Record: 6-7

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Compass Bowl to Ole Miss

Toughest Games: Florida State (September 2), @ Virginia Tech (October 12), Notre Dame (November 9), North Carolina (November 16), Miami (November 29)

Key Players: Devin Street (WR), Matt Rotheram (OL), Aaron Donald (DL), Todd Thomas (LB), Jason Hendricks (S), Lafayette Pitts (CB)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: Much like Syracuse, Pittsburgh comes over from the Big East conference to the ACC, but they don’t bring much talent with them. The team went 6-7 last year under first-time head coach Paul Chryst, but the schedule was a little easier then and this team will definitely hit some bumps in the road in their inaugural season in the ACC. Have some patience with these guys though as I don’t think it will take Pitt very long to become players in the ACC. It’s just not going to happen this year.

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