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2011 CFN ACC Preview

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 26, 2011


Can the ACC finally turn a corner? If nothing else, it should be a thrilling season with good team after good team going into the year with an honest shot at the title. Check out the unit rankings, All-ACC Team and top 30 players, thoughts on the season, predictions, breakdowns, and more in the 2011 CFN ACC Preview.


Preview 2011

ACC Preview



ATLANTIC
- 2011 Boston College Preview | 2011 Clemson Preview
- 2011 Florida State Preview | 2011 Maryland Preview
- 2011 NC State Preview | 2011 Wake Forest Preview 
 
COASTAL
- 2011 Duke Preview | 2011 Georgia Tech Preview
- 2011 Miami Preview | 2011 North Carolina Preview 
- 2011 Virginia Preview | 2011 Virginia Tech Preview 

- 2011 ACC Preview | 2011 ACC Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN Schedules & Picks | 2011 ACC Thoughts
- 2011 CFN All-ACC Team & Top 30 Players
- 2011 ACC Atlantic Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2011 ACC Coastal Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish 
- 2010 ACC Preview

By Richard Cirminiello

After a long wait, the Atlantic Coast Conference just might have a legitimate contender in the national championship race.

Disparaged as a “basketball league”, the ACC has failed to live up to the lofty expectations that surfaced when Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College left the Big East to join nearly a decade ago. At the time, there were whispers that the league was on the verge of becoming a power conference on par with the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Big 12. It hasn’t happened. Just 2-11 all-time in BCS bowl games, the ACC has disappointed on the national landscape, failing to produce a bona fide contender for the sport’s top prize. Until now, that is.

Florida State is back, with an appetite for more than just league supremacy. After only one year with Jimbo Fisher at the controls, the ‘Noles are shaping up as a darkhorse candidate to wind up the season in the Superdome on Jan. 9. The school has momentum, having thrashed rivals Miami and Florida as part of its first 10-win season since 2003. It also has eight starters back from both sides of the ball, and a pipeline of young talent bucking to keep the depth chart from becoming predictable. The single most important player in Tallahassee—if not the conference—will be junior QB E.J. Manuel, the successor to Christian Ponder. If he even approaches his immense physical talent, the sky is the limit for this Florida State team.

It’s doubtful the Seminoles will ever approach their epic run of 14 consecutive 10-win seasons from 1987-2000. Dynasties, such as the one Bobby Bowden shepherded, are virtually non-existent these days. However, Fisher and his staff are in the early stages of carving out their own legacy by guiding Florida State back among the nation’s elite, and giving the ACC a member that can carry the league banner from coast-to-coast.

The ‘Noles will be prohibitive favorites to win a second straight Atlantic Division. Off in the distance are Clemson and Dabo Swinney, who are looking to rebound after going 6-7 with 9-4 talent. Swinney hired Chad Morris to install a no-huddle, up-tempo offensive attack. Maryland kicks off the Randy Edsall era with enough quality holdovers to earn a decent bowl invitation. Leading the way is sophomore Danny O’Brien, arguably the ACC’s best quarterback. If Boston College is going to elevate beyond mediocrity, it’ll need substantially more production from the offense. The Eagles return Player of the Year nominees on both sides of the ball, LB Luke Kuechly and RB Montel Harris, who’s a little more than 1,000 shy of breaking the league’s career rushing record. Tom O’Brien will attempt to keep NC State on track without two of its best players, QB Russell Wilson and LB Nate Irving. Wilson’s successor, Mike Glennon, reminds O’Brien of former pupil Matt Ryan.

Ultra-consistent Virginia Tech is again the favorite in the Coastal Division. Few schools rebuild as well as the Hokies, which have reeled off seven 10-win seasons in-a-row. The defending champs feature an up-and-coming backfield comprised of QB Logan Thomas and RB David Wilson. Miami begins the Al Golden regime looking to get beyond seven straight years of relative averageness. The ‘Canes are loaded with good athletes, but need a quality quarterback to emerge out of Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. North Carolina has the talent to surprise as long as an ongoing NCAA investigation doesn’t derail expectations for a second consecutive year. The D is dotted with next-level playmakers and tremendous speed. Paul Johnson lost some traction in Atlanta after going 6-7 in 2010. Georgia Tech needs QB Tevin Washington to run the option like a veteran for the Jackets to regain their 2009 championship form.

For a third straight year, Florida State and Virginia Tech will not meet in the regular season. For a second consecutive December, though, they plan to tussle in early December for an automatic BCS bowl berth. The hope around ACC circles is that the winner will use Charlotte as a launching pad to a coveted spot in the National Championship Game.

Team That'll Surprise
North Carolina – Setting aside for a moment the potential distractions and ramifications of the ongoing NCAA investigation, the Tar Heels harbor enough talent to rise up and win the Coastal Division. Carolina boasts one of the league’s best combinations of offensive and defensive lines, a precursor to success at any level. The defensive front seven will be particularly dominant, engulfing opponents with linemen Quinton Coples, Tydreke Powell, and Donte Paige-Moss, and mercurial linebackers Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick. If the backfield combination of quarterback prodigy Bryn Renner and bruising RB Ryan Houston delivers, the Heels will be able to compete with anyone in the ACC.

Team That'll Disappoint
Miami – Al Golden is going to get the Hurricanes back on track, but just not this quickly. Turning around Miami is going to be a process that involves reshaping how the players approach the game. The new staff demands more physicality, which won’t come to fruition overnight. Plus, the mess under center involving competitors Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris isn’t likely to get resolved this fall. On defense, despite having a fair amount of talent, the ‘Canes still must break in a pair of new starting cornerbacks. While the administration traded up by replacing Randy Shannon with Golden, the real dividends won’t come until 2012.

Game of the Year … Oklahoma at Florida State, Sept. 17. The ACC can’t win meaningful non-conference and postseason games. The ACC has warning track power when it comes to the national title chase. The league has heard all of the jabs over the past decade. Oklahoma’s Week 3 trip into Doak Campbell Stadium will be cataclysmic for reasons that extend beyond just the host Seminoles. Sure, this could be a national championship elimination game for both schools, but it’s an even bigger measuring stick for the reputation-starved Atlantic Coast Conference. A win over the Sooners, who could be top-ranked at the time, would give a jolt to not just Florida State, but the entire conference.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight...
1. RB David Wilson, Jr. Virginia Tech
2. DT Tydreke Powell, Sr. North Carolina
3. DE Cam Johnson, Sr. Virginia
4. LB Audie Cole, Sr. NC State
5. WR DeAndre Hopkins, Soph. Clemson

Coach on the Hot Seat
Dabo Swinney, Clemson – Being a crackerjack recruiter has one drawback for a head coach—it comes with elevated expectations. Swinney has compiled as many elite players in recent years as any ACC program, save for maybe Florida State. However, he’s just 19-15 since replacing Tommy Bowden midway through the 2008 season, including a deflating 6-7 mark a year ago. An average Xs and Os guy, he wisely hired Chad Morris away from Tulsa to pilot his offense, surrounding him with two terrific coordinators. The probability is high that no conference coach is fired in 2011. That said, if Swinney’s kids underachieve again, AD Terry Don Phillips might have no choice but to pull the plug and seek out a more seasoned caretaker of all that Tiger talent.

5 Non-Conference Games the ACC had better take very, very seriously
1. Boston College at UCF, Sept. 10
2. Louisville at North Carolina, Oct. 8
3. Troy at Clemson, Sept. 3
4. Virginia Tech at East Carolina, Sept. 10
5. Kansas State at Miami, Sept. 24

Bold Prediction
No conference in America will harbor a better collection of young quarterbacks than the ACC. Not typically known as a haven for next-level hurlers, league coaches have recruited the position exceedingly well in recent years. And a number of blue-chippers are about to get starring roles behind center. If Jacory Harris can’t beat out sophomore Stephen Morris in Miami, the conference won’t have a single senior starting quarterback in 2011. The list of former four and five-star gems about to enter the spotlight includes Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, North Carolina’s Bryn Renner, and NC State’s Mike Glennon. Plus, Maryland’s Danny O’Brien was the 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Boston College’s Chase Rettig and Wake’s Tanner Price started as true freshmen, and Duke junior Sean Renfree could lead the league in passing. It’s going to be a blast watching the budding quarterbacks take off the training wheels at the same time.

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. DE Quinton Coples, Sr. North Carolina
2. DE Brandon Jenkins, Jr. Florida State
3. LB Luke Kuechly, Jr. Boston College
4. LB Kenny Tate, Sr. Maryland
5. LB Zach Brown, Sr. North Carolina

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. QB Logan Thomas for Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech
2. OG David Spurlock or Bryan Stork for Rodney Hudson, Florida State
3. QB Mike Glennon for Russell Wilson, NC State
4. DE Malliciah Goodman for Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson
5. WR LaRon Byrd for Leonard Hankerson, Miami

ATLANTIC
- 2011 Boston College Preview | 2011 Clemson Preview
- 2011 Florida State Preview | 2011 Maryland Preview
- 2011 NC State Preview | 2011 Wake Forest Preview 
 
COASTAL
- 2011 Duke Preview | 2011 Georgia Tech Preview
- 2011 Miami Preview | 2011 North Carolina Preview 
- 2011 Virginia Preview | 2011 Virginia Tech Preview 

- 2011 ACC Preview | 2011 ACC Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN Schedules & Picks | 2011 ACC Thoughts
- 2011 CFN All-ACC Team & Top 30 Players
- 2011 ACC Atlantic Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2011 ACC Coastal Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish 
- 2010 ACC Preview