2011 FINAL ACC STANDINGS
Clemson 10-4 (6-2)
FSU 9-4 (6-3)
Wake Forest 6-7 (5-3)
NC State 8-5 (4-4)
Boston College 4-8 (3-5)
Maryland 2-10 (1-7)
Virginia Tech 11-3 (7-1)
Virginia 8-5 (5-3)
Georgia Tech 8-5 (5-3)
UNC 7-6 (3-5)
Miami, FL 6-6 (3-5)
Duke 3-9 (1-7)
2011 Championship Game: Clemson 38 Virginia Tech 10
RETURNING STATISTICAL LEADERS
Returning Leaders: Passing
EJ Manuel, FSU, Sr (203 of 311 for 2,666 yds, 18 TD, 8 INT)
Tajh Boyd, Clemson, Jr (298 or 499 for 3828 yds, 33 TD, 12 INT)
Mike Glennon, NC St, Sr (283 of 453 for 3054 yds, 31 TD, 12 INT)
Logan Thomas, VT, Jr (234 of 391 for 3013 yds, 19 TD, 10 INT)
Tanner Price, WF, Jr (253 of 422 for 3017 yds, 20 TD, 6 INT)
Returning Leaders: Rushing
Giovani Bernard, UNC, Soph (239 carries for 1253 yds, 5.24 ypc, 13 TD)
Andre Ellington, Clemson, Sr (223 carries for 1178 yds, 5.28 ypc, 11 TD)
Tevin Washington, GT, Sr (242 carries for 986 yds, 4.07 ypc, 14 TD)
Perry Jones, UVA, Sr (184 carries for 915 yds, 4.97 ypc, 5 TD)
James Washington, NC St, Sr (226 carries for 897 yds, 3.97 ypc, 7 TD)
Returning Leaders: Receiving
Sammy Watkins, Clemson, Soph (83 rec for 1225 yds, 12 TD)
Michael Campanaro, WF, Jr (73 rec for 833 yds, 2 TD)
DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson, Jr (71 rec for 961 yds, 5 TD)
Conner Vernon, Duke, Sr (70 rec for 956 yds, 6 TD)
Returning Leaders: Tackles
Demetrius Hartsfield, Maryland, Sr, LB (108 total, 12 tackles/game)
Eric Franklin, Maryland, Sr, FS (106 total, 8.83 tackles/game)
Kevin Pierre-Louis, Jr, BC, LB (74 total, 8.22 tackles/game
Earl Wolff, NC St, Sr, SS (105 total, 8.08 tackles/game)
Returning Leaders: Sacks
Brandon Jenkins, FSU, Sr, DE (8.0 sacks)
James Gayle, VT, Jr, DE (7.0)
Bjorn Werner, FSU, Jr, DE (7.0)
Returning Leaders: Interceptions
David Amerson, NC St, Jr, CB (13 interceptions)
Brandan Bishop, NC St, Sr, S (5)
Lamarcus Joyner, FSU, Jr, S (4)
BREAKING DOWN THE ACC WITH THE ZEALOTS AND THE SATURDAY EDGE:
Jay (Atlantic Prediction: #4): Last year, for the first time ever, I accurately projected BC's conference finish: 5th. I only point that out because I'm certain I'm way off on this #4 thing this year. How do I know I'm way off? Because I'm looking at BC on paper, and it's looking like their strength is on offense, not defense. That's can't be right, can it? I'm fairly certain I'm not looking at the 2007 depth chart. I mean, they have decent numbers back on the defensive side of the ball, but I'm not seeing the playmakers you usually find at BC. And for a defense that's designed to filter everything to the Mike, the loss of Luke Kuechly is sure to be felt hard. Kuechly and a cupcake date with UMass were the only things keeping BC from being a 1-win team last year. This year, the burden of winning games is going to fall even more on the offense than ever before, and I just don't see it happening. Another 4-win season looks to be in order.
Jimmy Shivers (Atlantic Prediction: #6): 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 snake bitten 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.
Kevin (Atlantic Prediction: #5): The biggest thing with BC right now comes down to the man calling the shots and I don't think you will find many out there that have a great deal of confidence in Frank Spaziani. This is a make it break it year for him and I think they will have a difficult time getting back to a bowl.
Ross (Atlantic Prediction: #5): The good news is that they return 17 starters, including 10 on offense. The bad news is they were really, really bad last year, so it's unclear how much another year's worth of experience will help. My guess is that they'll edge closer to respectability, but still struggle to hit .500.
Jay (Atlantic Prediction: #2): Last preseason, I predicted that former high school coach Chad Morris would revolutionize the Tigers offense and post big numbers in his first year as offensive coordinator, and that's exactly what happened. Under his guidance, Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins shredded the Clemson record book until late season offensive line struggles derailed them in three consecutive road games. Should we expect to see the offense take another leap forward in year two of Morris's system? I'm not so sure. The offensive line's whopping 48 returning starts don't inspire much confidence in it's ability to bounce back from that November meltdown. And I can't help but wonder where Sammy Watkins's head is at right now. Will he get his act together, or will he go the way of Isaiah Crowell and Michael Dyer? On the plus side, whatever drop-off the offense might suffer should be offset by the arrival of Brent Venables on the defensive side of the things. Venables represents a huge step up from Kevin Steele. I think Clemson will see a significant improvement over last season's average of nearly 30 points and 400 yards allowed per game. As a result, the Tigers will again be FSU's chief competition in the division.
Jimmy Shivers (Atlantic Prediction: #2): 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 off-season 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.
Kevin (Atlantic Prediction: #1; Conference Runner-Up): Clemson only has one true road game that should give them problems this season (at FSU). Other than that they get their top opponents at home (GT, VT, NC St, South Carolina) and one at a netural site (Auburn). The schedule is built for success but the Tigers will need to get out of the gates quickly against Auburn as they need to wipe the taste of the Orange Bowl out of their mouth. Clemson has the talent to once again win the ACC and possibly go further but the defense has to take a big step forward.
Ross (Atlantic Prediction: #2): Clemson is the defending ACC champions and they return a fair amount of talent themselves (including the electric QB-WR combo of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins). They're not going to be able to take any time getting up to speed, though -- they open the season with a neutral-site game with Auburn and open ACC play three weeks later at Florida State. They could be .500 before September even ends, which would put them in a bad spot. On the other hand, after that road game at Florida State, their schedule opens up quite a bit -- the toughest road game over the last two months of the season is... at Wake Forest? Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and South Carolina will all pose stiff tests at home, but the bigger threat for Clemson will probably be to avoid Clemson-ing themselves against the likes of Duke or NC State.
Jay (Coastal Prediction: #5): From a personnel perspective, this looks like the best Duke team in a long time. They're as talented as they've ever been, and they're loaded with experience (17 starters return). They've got a senior quarterback. They've got 90 starts worth of experience back on the offensive line. They return 15 of their top 20 tacklers from a season ago. If they're ever going to get to another bowl game, this is the Blue Devil team to do it. But the schedule makers didn't get the memo. Duke draws the two best teams out of the Atlantic and must hit the road to take on two of the top 3 teams in the Coastal, as well as their rival Wake Forest. They're going to have to scrape and claw for 6 wins, and I don't think they can do it. Sean Renfree hasn't shown any sign of fulfilling the promise he once held at QB. Even if Duke's veteran-laden defense manages to hold opponents to less than 28 points per game (which they've done only once during David Cutcliffe's tenure), I don't see the offense exploding out of the 20-25ppg range that they've consistently settled into under Cutcliffe.
Jimmy Shivers (Coastal Prediction: #): 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 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.
Kevin (Coastal Prediction: #6): David Cutcliffe has been at Duke for four years but has yet to take them to a bowl game. According to Phil Steele, Duke is the seventh most experienced team in the FBS and the most experienced in the ACC. If there is a year where Duke can step up and surprise some people, this might be the year. That being said, I think you have to take a wait and see approach with Duke after their last two years. Another thing playing against Duke is their schedule and the fact that it doesn't include Boston College and Maryland.
Ross (Coastal Prediction: #6): Given the expected struggles for Miami, if ever there was a year for Duke to climb out of the ACC cellar, this is it. They return 17 starters and should have a lot of experience along the lines and at quarterback. Unfortunately, they get both Florida State and Clemson and the last six games of their schedule look nasty: @Virginia Tech, North Carolina, @Florida State, Clemson, @Georgia Tech, Miami. It would be nice to pick Duke to finish higher than last but between that schedule and their innate Duke-ness, I just can't do it this year.
Jay (Atlantic Prediction: #1; Conference Champion): For the second year in a row, I'm in love with the Seminoles. Well, mostly their defense. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops followed up an impressive turnaround in his debut season in Tallahassee with a 2011 season that proved it was no fluke. Mostly. The back-to-back losses to Clemson and Wake Forest that effectively deflated all of their preseason expectations had as much to do with the defense inexplicably giving up 35 points in both games as it did anything else. But the rest of the season, they were as advertised. Nearly all of those guys are back (notably sans the recently dismissed Greg Reid), and I highly doubt we see a replay of those early season stumbles. As for the offense, well, it depends on the offensive line. Last year, all the indicators pointed toward them being a dominant unit, and they were terrible. This year, the numbers aren't good, but they were so bad last year, it's difficult to imagine them not being at least a little better in 2011. And if they do manage to be just a little better, with a talented senior quarterback and that defense, I think they'll walk off with the ACC. They'll likely only need to score 20 points to win most games, anyway.
Jimmy Shivers (Atlantic Prediction: #1; Conference Champion): 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.
Kevin (Atlantic Prediction: #2): Every year it seems to be Florida State's year. That is no different in 2012. The Seminoles are clearly the most talented team in the league but once again I will take a wait and see approach. I will probably look foolish at the end of the year but this is a "prove it to me" year for Florida State so I've got them as the runner-up in the Atlantic.
Ross (Atlantic Prediction: #1; Conference Champion): At some point, FSU has to really be "back," right? Maybe? They return a ton of starters on both sides of the ball and appear particularly loaded on defense (their defensive line should be really, really good). They don't have the easiest schedule -- USF, Miami, and Virginia Tech all look like potentially tricky away games and Clemson will pose a strong early-season test at home -- but they have more talent than anyone else in the ACC; that seems like enough to make the difference.
Jay (Coastal Prediction: #3): Kevin is going to hate this, but I think the Yellow Jackets are a real contender for the ACC this year. With a veteran offensive line and a senior triggerman for the option, they're going to be as dangerous on the ground as they've ever been. Sure, Tevin Washington can't throw worth a lick, and there's no obvious replacement for Stephen Hill on deck, so they're not likely to win many shootouts (especially with a defense that just gets worse and worse), but in a year when every team in the division is facing some serious question marks, GT is a threat to everyone. I mostly picked them third because they'll have to go on the road to VT and North Carolina in the division, plus travel to Clemson. But I could just as easily see the Jackets in the ACC title game as I could Virginia Tech. And in a one game with one week to prepare scenario, never bet against the flexbone.
Jimmy Shivers (Coastal Prediction: #3): 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 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 0 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 and I have them favored in 5 of their 8 league contests.
Kevin (Coastal Prediction: #2): If Georgia Tech improves this year, it will likely be on the strength of their defense which has shown little to no improvement under Al Groh since Tech switch to the 3-4. I don't think they will be worse, but I don't see a big jump happening for Tech on defense. Tech will compete in the ACC this year, just like they do every year under PJ. They have an excellent chance of finishing second in the Coastal division behind Virginia Tech.
Ross (Coastal Prediction: #3): Georgia Tech misses Florida State, but their ACC fate should still be pretty well-settled by the time they take their bye week on October 13. That's because they play four ACC games before that week, including road dates at Virginia Tech and Clemson. They return 13 starters, including much of their offense, so they'll have a shot to make some noise this year, but only if they get off to a fast start.
Jay (Atlantic Prediction: #5): I could not have been more wrong about Randy Edsall's first year with the Terrapins. I did NOT see 2-10 coming. As a result, I'm about 75% less of a fan of Edsall than I was at this time last year. He handled nearly everything about his debut season wrong, and, even though the housecleaning he did on his staff indicates he recognizes there was a problem, I don't know if all the damage he did is really correctable in one season. This almost looks like a full-on rebuilding season on offense. If not for the defense returning impressive numbers, I might have them as the underdog in every game on the schedule (even William & Mary). Playing in the toughest division in the conference definitely doesn't help their quest to regain respectability (nor do their uniforms! *rimshot*). The Terps will be home for the holidays again (Editor Note: this prediction was made prior to the CJ Brown injury).
Jimmy Shivers (Atlantic Prediction: #5): 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 may struggle at times 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.
Kevin (Atlantic Prediction: #6): Maryland doesn't have a particularly difficult schedule but if they play like they did last year it's going to seem like it. The key to the season will be the early back-to-back ACC games to open the conference slate against Wake Forest and at Virginia. Despite losing a lot of talent due to Edsall's "my way or the highway" approach, this team still has talent but they will have to get off to a good start because the tough part of the schedule is at the end of the year. Another thing against Maryland is their loss of QB CJ Brown. It's going to be a tough year for Maryland as they try to win with a true freshman QB.
Ross (Atlantic Prediction: #6): The only thing uglier than Maryland's uniforms last year was their record -- 2-10. The hope is that Randy Edsall's scorched earth approach to roster management last year ultimately pays off with a more stable, committed roster... but that may not be the case yet this year. Maryland also has a fairly brutal schedule -- Temple and Connecticut won't be pushovers in non-conference play and road games at West Virginia, Clemson, and North Carolina look tough. Ditto home games against Florida State and Georgia Tech. It's tough to find many wins on their schedule.
Jay (Coastal Prediction: #4): All in all, I'd say Al Golden's first year was a success. There were definitely games where the Hurricanes looked every bit the disaster that most thought they'd be (that season opening loss to Maryland, that 6-3 win over a bad USF team, the season-closing loss to BC). But there were also several games where Golden seemingly had them playing way over their heads, hanging close with Kansas State and Virginia Tech, throttling Georgia Tech. So I'm on board with Golden being The Guy here for the long haul, providing he sticks around for it. And his ability is basically the only reason I'm picking them over Virginia, because otherwise, this year's Hurricane squad looks like a mess, a rebuilding team in the purest sense of the term.
Jimmy Shivers (Coastal Prediction: #5): 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 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.
Kevin (Coastal Prediction: #4): The Hurricanes have quite a bit of re-tooling to do on offense and overall, according to Phil Steele, Miami is the 123rd most experienced team in the FBS. When you look around the depth chart there is a lot of youth. The Canes have talent but it's young and it will take a while to develop. Defense is the key to this season for Miami. They need to be lights out for Miami to be a contender in the ACC this year.
Ross (Coastal Prediction: #5): Miami is scarier for their name than their personnel at this point and they may be even more depleted and distracted if NCAA sanctions hit soon -- and hit as hard as they're expected to hit the Canes. The schedule doesn't offer Miami any favors, either -- three of their first four games are on the road (@ Boston College, @ Kansas State, @ Georgia Tech), they have to play Notre Dame, North Carolina, Florida State, and Virginia Tech back-to-back-to-back-to-back (albeit with a bye week squeezed in-between the FSU and VT games), and they have tricky non-conference games with Notre Dame and South Florida (who's always game to claim a scalp from one of the state of Florida's "big three" programs). They would have to be a very talented and focused team to overcome that schedule... and, frankly, it doesn't seem like they'll have either the talent or the focus this year.
Jay (Coastal Prediction: #1): I confess: this season I'm just hoping for as many teams with postseason bans as possible to win their divisions. No, but, really, I think Larry Fedora is walking into a great situation here, in terms of the amount of talent on hand. Giovani Bernard and Bryn Renner are ready to break out as stars, and they'll be playing behind one of the most experienced o-lines in the conference. I don't know if the Tar Heels have a go-to guy at wideout, but Fedora never needed one of those to be productive at Southern Miss. He and Blake Anderson excel at tailoring their scheme to the talent on hand, and I doubt this offense misses a beat, despite what you would normally expect to be a difficult transition from a pro-set to a spread offense. The defense is clearly down a notch in talent from the all-time high of the past two or three years, but they're still more than capable of finishing in the top half of the league. All that said, the main reason I'm picking North Carolina to win the UNC/GT/VT derby in the Coastal is because of their schedule. They get both Georgia and Virginia's tech schools at home, as well as two weak opponents from the Atlantic (Wake and Maryland). They've got a head start already. Too bad they won't be allowed to finish the race.
Jimmy Shivers (Coastal Prediction: #2): 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 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.
Kevin (Coastal Prediction: #3): Last year, UNC started out 5-1 before they dropped four of their last six to close out the regular season. This season, their schedule looks to play out the same at the start as they should start out 4-1 (or at worst 3-2). The two early road games at Wake Forest and Louisville and then the back-to-back dates with Virginia Tech and Miami (FL) will make or break the season for the Heels. UNC gets a big break not facing two of the top three teams in the league (Clemson and FSU) but I'm not sure if they can take advantage of it in year one under Fedora.
Ross (Coastal Prediction: #2): This pick really comes down to how quickly Larry Feodra can hit the ground running and how well he can motivate this team with no bowl game and no ACC championship to play for this year. They return a solid amount of talent (especially on offense, with starters back at QB, RB, and at 4/5 of the OL) and have an incredibly favorable schedule -- no FSU or Clemson and they get Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home. If they get things clicking, they could put together a very nice season.
Jay (Atlantic Prediction: #3): Last year I took some heat for my opinions on the Wolfpack, but ultimately, I think I was proven right. It indeed turned out that NC State needed Russell Wilson more than he needed them, and they did indeed struggle to reach a bowl game. That said, I think they showed notable improvement over the last half of the season and now stand in good position to be a darkhorse contender in the ACC. They still lack impressive skill position players, but with Mike Glennon, perhaps the most polished pro prospect in the conference, now thoroughly seasoned, playing behind the most veteran offensive line in the conference, I think the offense has a good chance to consistently put up enough points to stay competitive with most anyone in the conference. The question is, can the defense make enough stops? I don't think so. The linebacking corps, in particular, looks like a gaping wound. You can't be that defective on an entire level of your defense and be any good. The whole thing will just collapse in on itself. And that's why I can't get behind the idea of them breaking out of the middle of the pack.
Jimmy Shivers (Atlantic Prediction: #3): 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 perennially 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.
Kevin: (Atlantic Prediction: #3): NC State has some definite question marks going into the season. They also have the ability to be a sort of wildcard. They proved last year they can hang with Clemson but they also proved that they were anything but consistent (losses to Wake and BC). If there is a team that can win the Atlantic over Clemson and FSU, it's NC State. It's a longshot but if they play to their full potential and other teams don't, it's possible. That being said, I think we are looking at a bowl-eligible team that will be a very tough team to beat this season.
Ross (Atlantic Prediction: #3): Honestly, after those top two teams, this division kind of falls off a cliff. NC State seems like the most stable team of the remaining four. Tom O'Brien may not be terribly exciting, but he's reliable and NC State seems to have a better pool of talent than the other teams in this division.
Jay (Coastal Prediction: #6): I was bullish on the Cavaliers last season, and they exceeded my expectations by a wide margin, winning 8 regular season games. Mike London clearly has them on the right track. But let's be real here: They got way ahead of schedule last year. And while recruiting has picked up, UVA's talent level is still not high enough to sustain even last year's modest success. They are significantly less experienced on defense, and the offense doesn't look improved enough to pick up the slack. Help could be on the way in form of Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, but it's unrealistic to assume that he'll be able to walk in, learn the playbook, and be their savior at QB immediately. Don't be surprised if the Cavs miss a bowl game for the fourth time in 5 years.
Jimmy Shivers (Coastal Prediction: #4): 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 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. 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.
Kevin (Coastal Prediction: #5): I think Virginia will have a good team this year. I think they will be scrappy and competitive but ultimately I think they take a step back in terms of their win-loss record this season.
Ross (Coastal Prediction: #4): Virginia snuck up on teams a little bit last year on their way to 8 wins... and they might get to do it again, with Virginia pegged as a mid-tier team in the ACC again this year. Virginia doesn't have any great-looking units... but they don't have any terrible-looking units, either. They do miss Florida State and Clemson, which is advantageous, although they get Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech on the road, which is not. If they want to have a good season, they better do damage before their October 27th bye week -- they close with road games at NC State and Virginia Tech sandwiched around home games with Miami and North Carolina.
Jay (Coastal Prediction: #2; Championship Game Runner-Up): Defensively, this looks like one of the best Hokie units in a long time. Their numbers are off the charts (9 starters back, 16 of their top 20 tacklers). That alone should have them in contention. It's a championship caliber defense. Unfortunately, they draw a hellacious schedule, facing both Clemson and FSU from the Atlantic, as well as a road trip to North Carolina. And one wonders if it's a good thing they get Georgia Tech in the first game of the season (plenty of time to prepare for the flexbone) or a bad thing (the Hokies are notorious slow starters). Ultimately, I just don't think they can make enough plays on offense to top the better teams on their schedule. Logan Thomas was extremely productive last season, but he never looked like a world-beater out there. And that was with a 1st round draft pick at RB and two very good receivers helping him out. They're all gone now, and no comparable replacements are readily apparent. It'll all be on Thomas this year. And he'll have to do it behind a line that returns only 17 career starts. Cam Newton could probably pull it off. But he's no Cam Newton. Fortunately for them, they get a mulligan of sorts on UNC this season, meaning GT is their only real competition for a spot in the championship game. The division very well could be decided on September 3rd.
Jimmy Shivers (Atlantic Prediction: #1; Championship Game Runner-Up): 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.
Kevin (Coastal Prediction: #1; Conference Champion): Defense will be the strength for this Hokies squad. Virginia Tech routinely has one of the best defenses in the ACC (and the Nation) and that will be no different this season. Last year they lost Bruce Taylor, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Antoine Hopkins to injury half-way through the season (or earlier). If those guys are back at full health, watch out. The Hokies return eight of their top ten tacklers and out of their 41 sacks none of them came from seniors. Virginia Tech will easily have the best defense in the Coastal Division. Now they just need to figure out how to get over that Clemson hurdle, unless of course FSU finally fulfills their promise.
Ross (Coastal Prediction: #1; Conference Runner-Up): Tech returns only three starters on offense (although one of them is bull-like QB Logan Thomas) and needs to find new running backs and receivers and four new offensive line starters. On the other hand, they return nine starters on defense, including the entire front seven. Then again, is there any other team in the ACC you'd want to rely on with a strong defense, an athletic QB, and good special teams? Roll on, Beamerball. The problem looks to be the schedule, which is pretty unforgiving -- the three-game stretch (@ Clemson, @ Miami, Florida State) in late October/early November could make or break their season.
Jay (Atlantic Prediction: #6): For Wake Forest to go to a bowl, one of two things typically has to happen: they either have to return 9 starters on defense and be so good that they hold opponents under 20 points per game on average, or return 8 starters on offense and score over 26 points per game on average. This year, they have neither of those things in their favor, and a challenging schedule to boot. So just go ahead and scratch them out of contention for everything.
Jimmy Shivers (Atlantic Prediction: #4): 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 to go along with 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.
Kevin (Atlantic Prediction: #4): A big key last year was the improvement of the defense which went from allowing 35.8 ppg in 2010 to 27.4 in 2011. Wake did a much better job getting off the field on third down (47.19% opponent completion rate in 2010 vs 39.38% in 2011). Wake also did a better job in the red zone allowing less red zone conversions and less TDs in the red zone. Wake returns a lot of starters on defense (including 9 of their top 12 tacklers) so they should be able to maintain their improvement.
Ross (Atlantic Prediction: #4): Wake returns only four starters on offense (including only one offensive lineman -- gulp), so why have them ahead of Maryland and B.C.? I trust Jim Grobe and his ability to do more with less.
CFBZ PREDICTED 2012 ACC FINISH
3 NC State
3. Georgia Tech
4. Miami, FL
ACC Championship Game: FSU over Virginia Tech