The ACC this year is a tale of two stories, the Atlantic Division where we find a battle between two (outside) National Championship contenders and the Coastal Division where we find a battle between two storied programs trying to return to a National Championship mold. The ACC welcomes two additional programs in Pittsburgh and Syracuse in it’s expansion to a 14 team field. The season kicks-off like a Fast and the Furious opening scene, with Clemson playing host to the Georgia Bulldogs, in a game that will have BCS implications. Meanwhile down in Atlanta, Alabama’s Pro-Football Team known as the Crimson Tide roll into town to face-off with Frank Beamer’s Hokies who will be looking to see if they can keep up with the best for four full quarters of football. Is it August 31st yet? Here’s the ACC Rivals Rundown:
1. Clemson University Tigers 11-1 (Atlantic Division Champions)
We have a hard time here at the RR believing in the Clemson Tigers, but with 13 returning starters between defense and offense led by one of our Heisman Trophy contenders in QB Tajh Boyd, this year we are going all in on the Tigers. Standing in the way of Clemson is a schedule that starts right out of the gate with Georgia coming into Memorial Staduim, a game that will determine if we are talking about a National Title run or just an ACC Title run. We like the Tigers in that game and see them coasting until they match-up with Florida State on Oct. 19th, in the game that will determine the Atlantic division. After that If they can survive a trap game against Georgia Tech at home, Clemson could find themselves playing South Carolina in the final game of the season with the national media talking BCS, BCS, BCS.
2. Florida State Seminoles 10-2
The question surrounding FSU this year is: Reload or Rebuild? After a season that could’ve seen the Seminoles playing for a National Championship, Jimbo Fisher is looking to replace his playmakers on both sides of the football. The schedule sets up nicely for a young team looking to develop before they match-up against the heavyweights of Clemson, Miami, and Florida. FSU should be 6-0 before going into the game with Clemson but Clemson has too much experience and gets the Seminoles at home, which is the difference maker. The answer is, they will be reloading this year and if leaders can emerge on offense watch out for the Seminoles to be in the national picture.
3. Virginia Tech Hokies 10-2 (Coastal Division Champions)
Last season the Hokies found themselves struggling to become bowl eligible but after winning their final two regular season and beating Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Hokies finished the 2012 campaign on a high note. Since then, they have revamped the offensive coaching staff and are poised to return to the double digit win total that they have become accustom to in Blacksburg. The Hokies find themselves with the most difficult opening game in all of college football, a neutral site game against the defending Champs, Alabama. If they survive that test and take away the positives, Virginia Tech could go on an eight game winning streak setting the scene for a coastal division match-up against the Hurricanes, even if they lose that head to head, we still like Virginia Tech to meet Clemson for the ACC Championship and the chance for a BCS return. In true Beamer fashion, it will rely on defense and special team, while hoping the offense isn’t too far behind.
4. The University of Miami Hurricanes 9-3
It’s been too long since the “U” dominated college football with it’s on and off the field actions, as we look at our 2013 predictions it’s tempting to say that they have arrived and this is the year…however, it’s not. On the bright side, the program is about to turn the corner and starting being in the conversation once again. The ‘Canes return a what will be one of the most exciting offenses in college football but still have a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the ball. The defense gave up a school record in points last year and have only 4 starters returning (which could be a good thing). They have a tough schedule with Florida and Florida St, but could be playing for a Coastal Division Championship when they meet Virginia Tech. We like Miami to be playing for a National Title in 2015 and a BCS shot in 2014 but this year they will be finishing behind the Hokies.
5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 8-4
Last year Georgia Tech had a bad schedule, why? They faced what turned out to be a bad Virginia Tech before they knew they were bad and lost in OT. Then they lost, again in OT, a couple of weeks later to an slightly above average Miami team. Those two losses deflated their sails and they couldn’t recover until they found themselves at 3-4 and yet somehow Georgia Tech still found themselves beating USC on New Year’s Eve in the Sun Bowl. This year they bring back 16 starters, 11 which are seniors, they start with Elon and Duke then could easily find themselves at 2-3 before they finish the season at 8-4. With the experience The Yellow Jackets are bringing back, they get our “Outsiders” chance to surprise everyone and win the division if they can get through a three game stretch of North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Miami.
6. University of North Carolina Tar Heels & N.C. State Wolfpack
Ok, here’s the deal and we’re not going into a long thing here, honestly, we don’t like either of these teams, N.C. State with it’s new coach and a North Carolina team that hasn’t been able to live up to it’s recruiting. So here they sit, the problem is North Carolina was 9 points away (total) from going 10-1 in a year that they were not bowl eligible and N.C. State has a schedule that has 9 wins if they are on the same page by August 31st. So, with both of them being dangerous, both having some nice upside, here they both sit tied for the final place in our Rivals Rundown of the ACC.