Note: In preparation for my upcoming season preview column and podcast, I researched and took notes on every power conference team in CFB. I’m sharing my notes here, for anyone who is interested. Please keep in mind that these are just notes. (I’ve tried to clean them up, but there are plenty of abbreviations and some of the grammar may be suspect.)
Last season the Atlantic Coast Conference produced college football’s National Champion. After an offseason full of changes and player turnover, the success of the conference in 2014 may hinge on Florida State’s ability to play like a champion. Here are my preseason notes on the ACC.
Team: Andre Williams is gone. 3-year starting QB Chase Rettig is gone – not that he was amazing, but it’s still a big transition. Former Florida QB Tyler Murphy takes over. He has SEC talent, but what has he done, really? They’re trying to sell this as a “new look BC” but the truth is this is a rebuilding year for a team that wasn’t that good to begin with. A successful season would be if they can hang with the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, NC State.
Schedule: Tough. FSU and VA Tech on the road. Clemson and Louisville at home. OOC games vs. USC and Colorado State (both at home). Tough Coastal draw against VA Tech and Pitt. A 3-win season is entirely possible. It will be a struggle to get back to a bowl game.
Team: I like Cole Stoudt. He looked good in support of Tajh Boyd, but being the starting QB is a whole different ballgame. Supposedly they have a freshmen QB named Dashaun Watson who is an athletic freak. To me that sets them up for a QB controversy somewhere during the season, and that is not a good thing. Clemson suffered big losses on offense with Boyd, Watkins, Martavius Bryant, and RB Roderick McDowell. Now they’ve lost RB Zac Brooks for the year to injury. The defense returns some studs, including DE Vic Beasley, and should be as good or better than last year. To me this team simply lost too much on offense, and will undergo a rebuilding process this season. This is a slight possibility that the loss of Boyd could result in a more pro-style offense which would work better against good teams like FSU. But, if I’m a Clemson fan, I would mentally prepare myself for a frustrating year.
Schedule: 2 of first 3 games are at Georgia (in primetime on national TV) and at FSU (presumably also in primetime on national TV). They end the year with South Carolina at home. In-between the schedule is favorable with UNC/NC State/Cuse/Louisville all coming to Death Valley. Ceiling is 10-2 but something like 7-5 is very possible.
Team: First, repeating as champ is nearly impossible. Secondly, this team lost a lot. People focus on Jameis for obvious reasons but he’s not the only reason they won the championship. They’re losing Freeman, Wilder, and Benjamin (huge losses) on offense, plus a lot of D including Jernigan, Joyner, Brooks, and more. This is NOT the same team as last year, even though they’ll still be extremely good. Regardless, they’re the favorite in the ACC and one of the top-tier teams in America. A likely candidate for the playoff.
Schedule: Manageable, but tougher than last year due to a lack of cupcake games. (Only cupcake is week 2 against Citadel, although Wake Forest might qualify at this point.) They open the season against Oklahoma State, and Notre Dame comes to Tallahassee in October. They host Clemson in September, although that doesn’t hold as much weight after the past two years. Watch out for upsets at NC State, at Louisville, at Miami, and vs. a probably-improved Florida.
Team: Logic says they’ll take a step back after departure of Bridgewater and Strong. But Petrino’s a good coach, he built this team, and Strong left him with good players and recruits. Petrino is putting an emphasis on speed – WR DeVante Parker ran the fastest 40 time in school history. Louisville needs to replace some talent, but they should be competitive if not good.
Schedule: Not bad. Season opens at home vs. Miami. October is toughest month with games at Clemson, vs. NC State, and vs. FSU. They play at Notre Dame in November.
Team: Coach Dan Doren did a good job at N. Illinois, then came to NC State last year and went 3-9. Rebuilding, or just not ready for a power conference? We’ll find out this year. They have the highest team GPA they’ve ever had which means they’ll probably suck on the field. Jacoby Brissett will start at QB, another transfer from Florida. Jeff Driskel is a decent quarterback, but he’s not so good that I would rush to get the guys who backed him up. The Wolfpack lost a lot on D, but their D wasn’t very good, so that might be a positive. One season preview I read on these guys said they have one of the toughest schedules in the country, and I think they have a pretty easy schedule, so maybe I’m not the best to judge them. I don’t expect much out of this team despite a manageable slate of games.
Schedule: As easy as you can get in this conference. 3 cupcakes and South Florida to start the season. Home vs. FSU. Away games at Clemson, Louisville, Cuse, UNC.
Team: There’s no way to tell, since I’m from Syracuse and everything I hear is filtered through a bias. I think a bowl appearance would be reasonable this season.
Schedule: Average. Villanova, Central Michigan, and Maryland before a big game against Notre Dame in September. Louisville, FSU, Duke, NC State at home. Clemson, Pitt on the road.
Team: New coach from the MAC. MAC coaches are always a smart hire when you’re a bad power conference team, and Clawson did a nice job at Bowling Green. I like this hire, but the team has work to do. Their new QB is a converted WR, which never works out well. It’s Wake – until they do something they’re not worth discussing any further.
Schedule: 4 automatic losses (FSU, Clemson, Louisville, VA Tech) and only 1 automatic win (Gardner-Webb). They could be underdogs in 11 of 12 games.
ACC Atlantic thoughts:
Well clearly it is FSU’s to win, but the Seminoles’ path will be at least a little more challenging than last year’s cakewalk. Clemson and Louisville are both major question marks due to a plethora of new faces. How those teams fare will determine the competitiveness of this conference and whether FSU walks or fights through to the title game. Wake Forest finishes last. Everything in-between is up for grabs.
Team: Connette transferred so Duke is down to one QB now, Boone. That’s probably better as rotating QBs doesn’t work (even though it sorta worked for them last year). One of their RBs is gone but another, Josh Sneed, returns. WR Jameson Crowder returns. They key pieces are there. With their favorable schedule, they have a chance to repeat as division champs. They’ve had a couple big injuries but this is similar to the same team that impressed me last year. The only negative I can offer is that they’re Duke. They haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to sustained success.
Schedule: Open season against Elon, then Troy. Are those teams or guys? They should be 4-0 going into Miami on 9/27. Toughest games are at Miami, at Pitt, at Cuse, vs. UNC, vs. VA Tech.
Team: If they remain a one-dimensional team, as they’ve been, the schedule is going to wear them down (see below). I will say, for a team that can’t pass at all, they fare pretty well. They lost a bunch of guys because of transfer, health, and discipline reasons, on top of the ones who graduated. They lost their top two rushers (and again, all they do is run the ball). QB Vad Lee returns and he’s ready for his three pass attempts per game. I think they’re in trouble. Paul Johnson better get his resume ready.
Schedule: Open with 3 winnable games. From that point on it’s solid ACC teams week after week. They don’t play FSU, but they do end the year at Georgia, so they’ve still got that really tough game. It’s not that this is a tough schedule by national standards, but it will be challenging for a team like Georgia Tech that doesn’t have great talent and will need to play to their top potential every week to win. They’re questionable to make a bowl game.
Team: QB up in the air – Jake Heaps? He struggled at Kansas. Good luck at Miami. Duke Johnson is back. They were an average team last year whose ranking was inflated up until the FSU game. USA Today ranks them as preseason #49. I think they can do a little better than that, but not much. With the strength (a.k.a. weakness) of the Coastal division there’s no reason they can’t compete for the division crown.
Schedule: Challenging. Open vs. Louisville. At Nebraska week 4. Home vs. Cincinnati in October. Conference includes home games vs. FSU, Duke, UNC, Pitt, and at VA Tech.
Team: Some people are bullish on this team. They have talent as always. Ranked #23 in preseason Coaches’ Poll. Young roster without many seniors. QB Marquis Williams was decent but not great after taking over for Bryn Renner in the second half of last season. They’ll be competitive, but I need to see something more from this team before I give them a shot at the conference, even the division.
Schedule: Decent. San Diego State and East Carolina out of conference could be spoilers. Clemson, Notre Dame, Miami, Duke on the road. VA Tech, Pitt, NC State at home.
Team: Various sources rank them between #35-60 to start the season. One person picked them to make the CFB playoff. New QB Chad Voytik supposedly a dual threat a la Russell Wilson (let’s calm down with that talk). RB James Connor was decent last year, a traditional Pitt tough running back. They could compete for the Coastal, but any praise higher than that would be a shot in the dark, not an evidence-based analysis.
Schedule: Winnable games early, although Iowa on 9/20 should present a challenge. Conference schedule is favorable with toughest games vs. VA Tech, vs. Duke, at UNC, at Miami. No top tier opponents on this schedule.
Team: I’d put them second- or third-last in the ACC and last in the Coastal. Not going to waste time with in-depth analysis, sorry Cavs fans.
Schedule: OOC schedule includes UCLA, BYU, and Kent State. Good luck with that. At FSU, at VA Tech, at Duke. Home vs. Pitt, UNC, Miami. Not their year.
Team: New year, same VA Tech. I never liked Logan Thomas and think whoever they replace him with will be better for the team. I like them to bounce back from their recent mediocrity and have a strong year, even compete for the Coastal crown.
Schedule: Tough OOC. Week 2 at Ohio State, then East Carolina at home. Their conference schedule is very manageable with no FSU and Miami at home. They’re set up nicely for a division title run.
ACC Coastal thoughts:
It’s a complete toss-up with Duke, Miami, VA Tech, even UNC and Pitt all having a shot. I don’t like Georgia Tech because they’re too one-dimensional and I think their running game will take a step back due to lost players and teams loading up the box. Virginia is the only team I think has no shot. At gunpoint I’ll predict a division win for Virginia Tech in a classic 8-4 season chock-full of ugly, slow, turnover-laden Beamerball.
ACC overall thoughts:
The conference is Florida State’s to lose.
I’ll take VA Tech to win a tightly-contested Coastal division, just edging out Duke and Miami.
Overall, I think this season presents a step backward for this conference’s top teams. FSU has nowhere to go but down, while Clemson, Louisville, and Miami will have trouble matching solid 2013 seasons. When all is said and done, I think the ACC will be the 4th or 5th best power conference in 2014. This of course will be erased by the success of FSU. I predict the Seminoles will lose one game but end the regular season ranked in the top 3. I’ve got them in the playoff. No other team in the conference has a legitimate chance at the playoff, in fact, I wouldn’t put anyone besides FSU in the top 10.