John Bird writes about the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at From The Rumble Seat.
I was asked to preview the eleven "other guys" in the ACC for SB Nation Atlanta. Being that I live in ACC country along the South Carolina coast, I feel I can offer a fairly level-headed analysis for a majority of the teams in the ACC.
I put the teams in reverse order of importance to Georgia Tech's ACC regular season. Here's my preview of every ACC football team:
- Maryland Terrapins: Is Ralph Friedgen's seat hot or is he just really, really sweaty? A general apathy for football amongst the Terp fan base has left Coach Friedgen in a do or die or almost die season. I have one explanation for why Friedgen hasn't been fired: the Fridge won Maryland its first ACC title since Bobby Ross. He brought Maryland football back into prominence. Friedgen's 38-34 ACC record since 2001 is the fine wine of Maryland's post-Ross Era, in which Maryland coaches went a combined 35-71. Unless the Fridge finishes below a 3-5 conference record, I think he earns at least one more season with Maryland.
- Boston College Eagles: Boston College's storybook return of Mark Herzlich has become the media focal point for the Eagles' 2010 season. Boston College fans are happy about his return but wonder if the return was rushed. What most BC and diehard ACC fans know is that the real storyline behind the Eagles' 2010 campaign will be a likely return to the ACC Championship game.
- Florida State Seminoles: FSU fans are incredibly optimistic about the 2010 season. Maybe not National Championship optimistic but definitely ACC Championship optimistic. Unfortunately, I have bad news for FSU fans. Since 2005's expansion, it has taken an average record of 6-2 to win the ACC Atlantic. This would be a 25% improvement over FSU's 2009 ACC win percentage. Since FSU joined the conference in 1992, only 28 teams out of 167 have improved upon their previous season's conference win percentage by 25% or more. Since the most recent expansion, only 9 times out of 59 have teams improved their ACC record by 25% or more the following season. The 2010 ACC Championship may be just out of reach for the Seminoles in 2010.
- Wake Forest Demon Deacons: There's one story in Winston-Salem. How do the Deacs replace Wake Forest All-Timer Riley Skinner? Despite losing more games each year he started than he did the year before, Skinner racked up a crap ton of ACC wins and statistics. After Philip Rivers, Skinner was the second ACC player to pass for 2,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. He set Wake career records for completions, touchdowns, and wins as a starter. Comparatively, Skinner threw for more Touchdowns from 2006 to 2009 than all of Wake's other quarterbacks combined from 1999 to 2009. As for Jim Grobe, he's won more ACC games than any other Wake coach in history and has the best winning percentage of any three-or-more-season-tenured coach at Wake. The Deacons' goal is to weather the storm of 2010 and make a run at a bowl berth. Otherwise, the primary goal for all Wake fans is to survive until hoops season.
- NC State Wolfpack: According to NC State fans, this is Tom O'Brien's make or break season. He's had three seasons of sub-0.500 ACC football, which translates to the worst ACC winning percentage for an NC State coach since Tom Reed's disastrous run in the 1980's. State fans don't want to admit it, but the Amato fire is looking bad from this outsider's perspective. O'Brien's season hinges on a very shallow depth chart and the legs/arm of Russell Wilson. I don't think the inevitable upset of UNC will save O'Brien's job if he doesn't qualify the Wolfpack for a bowl game.
- Virginia Cavaliers: Virginia is in a bit of a mess in 2010. They fired Al Groh and have lost a few players to transfer. UVA fans are generally excited about the recruiting abilities of Mike London but that's about all they have. The goal for UVA this year is to not lose to any I-AA football teams.
- Duke Blue Devils: Like Wake, Duke is losing a long-time starting quarterback in Thaddeus Lewis. To me, the void is not nearly as apparent as it is with Wake. Duke returns highly heralded sophomore Sean Renfree (a GT recruit that decommitted when CPJ arrived). Renfree and Coach Cutcliffe look to improve on Duke's best season since 1999. A 3-5 conference mark with wins over Maryland, Wake, UVA, Army, and Elon makes the mid-season Navy match super huge. I don't think Duke will beat Navy, but anything's possible. By early November, Duke could be bowling for the first time since 1995.
- North Carolina Tar Heels: Reasons UNC could finally win an ACC Title under Butch Davis: Kendric Burney, Marvin Austin, Deunta Williams, Charles Brown, Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter, and Da'Norris Searcy. Seven returning seniors on one of the most dangerous defensive units in the country. In ACC play, the Heels scored four defensive touchdowns, racked up 20 sacks, and only gave up about 1.3 points every time the defense took the field (second best in conference). Reasons UNC could falter: T.J. Yates, offensive woes, and suspensions of key players in Agentgate. T.J. Yates has the worst 2009 QB rating among all returning starters in the ACC. He also has the lowest yards per attempt, making him a relative liability rather than a weapon. With the likely suspension of Greg Little looming over the UNC offense, Yates will have to trust a very green receiver corps. Don't expect the Tar Heels in the ACC Championship Game. Just expect UNC to compete with every team on their schedule like they did in 2009. [Editor's note: This was written before Butch Davis' Day Care For Busy Five-Stars was publicized.]
- Miami Hurricanes: Irrational fan expectations, ridiculous scheduling, and bad luck will most likely plague the Hurricanes this season. After a tuneup against FAMU, the Canes face off with Pittsburgh (preseason Big East favorite), Ohio State (preseason Big 10 favorite), and then start conference play against Clemson (devil-inspired secondary) and FSU (archrival). If the Canes lose any of these games (high probability), Sun Life Stadium will be half empty by mid-October. The final three-game gauntlet of GT, VT, and USF will most likely end any preseason dreams the Canes had of any sort of title. Expect the Canes to collapse once they see a few experienced defenses. I'll believe the Canes are back when they get with the times and rejuvenate their ailing facilities.
- Clemson Tigers - It's time to be frank with Clemson fans. This season looks to be a letdown. Kyle Parker returns, but that's about it. Players who scored 37 of the team's 54 touchdowns have run out of eligibility. C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford bailed out the Clemson offense continuously as the OC displayed an inability to coordinate quality drives. Their best chance of repeating comes from their vaunted returning defenders, who only allowed an ACC-best 23.98 yards/offensive drive. In fact, only UNC and VT allowed fewer points per ACC drive in 2009. The return of the ACC's most sporadic kicker and an offense that falters under pressure leaves a lot of doubt for the Tigers' chances of repeating as Atlantic champions.
- Virginia Tech Hokies - Virginia Tech finally has all of the pieces together on offense. They have a senior QB (2004 ACC title), a veteran stable of receivers and running backs (2007 ACC title), and Bud Foster (three out last six ACC titles). The Hokies seem primed for another ACC Title. The big question mark for the Hokies is the returning experience on defense. Nine of the Hokies' top 17 tacklers from 2009 graduated, including Hokie folk hero Cody Grimm and psychic safety Kam Chancellor. For perspective, the Hokies have lost ~33% of their senior tackles per year from 2004-2008. The 2009 squad graduated ~44% of the Hokies' tackles.