2009 CFN ACC Preview

Posted Aug 5, 2009

It was an unpredictable, dead-even ride throughout last year, and the ACC race should be even better this season helped by exciting young playmakers like NC State's Russell Wilson, North Carolina's Shaun Draughn, and Virginia Tech's Darren Evans. Check out the 2009 CFN ACC Preview, All-ACC team, and more.

2009 CFN ACC Preview

Team Previews & Predictions

- Boston College | Clemson | Florida State | Maryland | NC State | Wake Forest

- Duke | Georgia Tech | Miami | North Carolina | Virginia | Virginia Tech

- 2009 CFN ACC Preview
- 2009 CFN All-ACC Team & Top 30 Players
- 2009 CFN ACC Team Capsules
- 2009 ACC Schedules & CFN Picks 
- 2009 ACC Unit Rankings
- 2008 CFN ACC Preview

By Richard Cirminiello

Now that Virginia Tech has conquered the Atlantic Coast Conference in back-to-back years, it’s setting its sights on a loftier goal in 2009—wire-to-wire contention for a national title.

The Hokies are the class of the ACC for now, a fact that most expect to continue this fall. Heck, they wore the league crown last year, which was supposed to be a quasi-rebuilding period. However, like the local bully looking for new challenges, they’re pining for more respect outside of the neighborhood. Tech needs that kind of season that keeps them in the BCS championship right through November. And so does the ACC.

Like it not, the ACC is still trying to shake the label of being a basketball conference. It hasn’t been easy. None of the 12 members have been serious contenders for national supremacy in years, and the offenses are a collective mess. Sure, there’s next-level talent within the borders, but not one at quarterback, which has been a public relations disaster. Tech’s Orange Bowl win over Cincinnati in January was the league’s first BCS bowl victory in a decade, which is Exhibit A why the league suffers from an identity crisis and a lack of national respect.

While Virginia Tech will be holding the league banner in 2009, it is far from alone. Most of the conference is heading north, which should keep both divisions tight until the final weekend of the regular season. In the Coastal, the competitors are lining up. Georgia Tech will be better now that Paul Johnson and the triple-option have had a full season to marinate in Atlanta. North Carolina and Butch Davis have recruited well enough in recent years to overcome losses at wide receiver, while leaning on a defense that could be the league’s best. Miami continues to build with young talent, and is going to be very dangerous. Only Virginia and Duke won’t be in the hunt, but the Blue Devils will push closer to their first bowl game since 1994.

The Atlantic Division will be even more up for grabs. Florida State rates a slight edge if QB Christian Ponder turns the corner, but not by much. Peering over the Seminoles’ shoulder are Clemson, NC State, and Wake Forest. The Tigers return Heisman-contending RB C.J. Spiller, looking to show that last year’s strong finish under Dabo Swinney was no fluke. The Pack is ready to take flight now that third-year coach Tom O’Brien has found a quarterback, sophomore Russell Wilson. The Deacons will again be competitive, even after the graduations of LB Aaron Curry and CB Alphonso Smith. Although Maryland and Boston College should never be overlooked, both have a lot of holes to fill before the opener.

Virginia Tech is the front-runner to three-peat, but as long as the rest of the league keeps getting better, the Hokies will have to scratch and claw for all 12 games in order to defend their title.        

Team That'll Surprise

Miami – The ‘Canes are probably a year away from being really good again. Or maybe not, depending on how quickly sophomore Jacory Harris develops at quarterback. As you’d expect, there are gobs of talented young players everywhere, much of whom were forced into action in 2008. That experience should start to pay dividends for a Miami program that isn’t that far from contending in the ACC. There’s no shortage of skill position talent, like backs Graig Cooper and Javarris James, and receivers Aldarius Johnson, Travis Benjamin, and LaRon Byrd, for Harris to employ. If he and new coordinator Mark Whipple can get this offense moving, look out. Miami is liable to get hot and start channeling its former self.

Team That'll Disappoint

Wake Forest – Have we reached a point where the Deacons are expected to compete for an ACC title? Probably, which is a testament to the job being done by Jim Grobe and his staff. For a program that’s typically short on star power, you have to figure there’ll be some regression the first year after stars Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith have graduated. Wake relied so heavily on a defense that created havoc, but with so many starters gone, it’ll struggle to create pressure and turnovers. Bowl eligibility will be harder than normal, especially with a schedule that starts with tougher-than-it-looks Baylor and Stanford.

Game of the Year … Virginia Tech vs. Alabama (Atlanta), Sept. 5. This opener isn’t just about the Hokies. The reputation of an entire conference will hang on the outcome. If Virginia Tech wins in the Georgia Dome, the ACC can boast a genuine top 5 team and national championship contender until proven otherwise. If, however, it gets exposed the way Clemson and Georgia Tech did in this building last year, the other 11 members will suffer from guilt by association. The ACC, even more than the Hokies, desperately needs a high-profile win over a quality SEC opponent.    

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight ...

1. DE Jason Worilds, Jr. Virginia Tech
2. OG Rodney Hudson, Jr. Florida State
3. NG Boo Robinson, Sr. Wake Forest
4. LB Quan Sturdivant, Jr. North Carolina
5. OT Anthony Castonzo, Jr. Boston College

Coach on the Hot Seat

Al Groh, Virginia – Groh can coach, which the administration realizes, but how much longer will it tolerate mediocrity? As the rest of the conference moves forward and the in-state Hokies win back-to-back championships, the Cavaliers remain stuck in neutral. Since Groh arrived in 2001, Virginia has never lost fewer than four games in a season, and two of the last three ended below .500. The cranky coach got a reprieve with a 9-4 mark in 2007, and it could take another surprise year to ward off the turk.

5 Non-Conference Games the ACC had better take very, very seriously
1. South Florida at Miami, Sept. 28
2. TCU at Clemson, Sept. 26
3. Virginia Tech at East Carolina, Nov. 5
4. Florida State at BYU, Sept. 19
5. Baylor at Wake Forest, Sept. 5

Bold Prediction … Provided he has enough attempts to qualify, Georgia Tech’s Josh Nesbitt will lead the ACC in passing efficiency. Yup, that’s the same Nesbitt, who pilots the Jackets’ triple-option attack. Admittedly, there’s not much competition in a league that failed to produce a quarterback ranking higher than 41st nationally in 2008. Still, Paul Johnson believes there are opportunities to exploit defenses that stack the box, and Nesbitt has made progress as a passer. Don’t be shocked to see stat lines that read 7-of-9 for 147 yards and two long scores to Demaryius Thomas.

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. RB C.J. Spiller, Sr. Clemson
2. RB Jonathan Dwyer, Jr. Georgia Tech
3. DB Morgan Burnett, Jr. Georgia Tech
4. CB Patrick Robinson, Sr. Florida State
5. DT Vince Oghobaase, Sr. Duke

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. LB Dominick LeGrande for Mark Herzlich, Boston College
2. LB Jonathan Jones for Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
3. DE Markus White for Everette Brown, Florida State
4. WR Dwight Jones for Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
5. PK Dustin Hopkins for Graham Gano, Florida State

- 2009 CFN ACC Preview
- 2009 CFN All-ACC Team & Top 30 Players
- 2009 CFN ACC Team Capsules
- 2009 ACC Schedules & CFN Picks 
- 2009 ACC Unit Rankings
- 2008 CFN ACC Preview