2011 ACC Football Preview

Man, if only I had finished this when I first started, back in early August. My how times have changed… the possibility for a solid season at Miami hangs in the balance, which at least alters the landscape of the Coastal Division, and possibly the entire conference. With The U potentially out of the picture, is there anyone that can challenge Florida State for the ACC crown and BCS berth?

CONFERENCE OVERVIEW:
Nope, there sure isn’t. This is FSU’s season to lose, plain and simple. So many of the ACC’s greatest players from last season – Christian Ponder, Tyrod Taylor, Da’Quan Bowers, Steven Friday, T.J. Yates and Leonard Hankerson, just to name a few – are in the NFL now, leaving the teams to pick up the pieces. But there’s a lot of shine here, especially with the aforementioned FSU squad and the perennial favorite, Virginia Tech.

TEAMS TO WATCH:

Maryland: I won’t pick the obvious two, mainly because some other teams deserve love too. Danny O’Brien be hurtin’ ’em in the home of the Terrapins… and he got it dirt-cheap for ’em. With Russell Wilson transferring over to Wisconsin, O’Brien becomes arguably the best quarterback in the conference (a title he’ll probably be fighting FSU’s EJ Manuel for). Maryland lost O’Brien’s favorite target, Torrey Smith, as well as half of their RB committee in Da’Rel Scott, to the bigs. But look for the other half, senior Davin Meggett (son of ex-NFL RB and current inmate Dave Meggett), to pick up the slack just fine. Add to the mix a solid new coach in Randy Edsall, and you have the makings for a potential Cinderella team.

North Carolina: Considering how they started last year, with 13 suspended players, UNC did pretty damn well. 7-5 during the regular season, including close games with North Carolina St. and LSU, and the only big losses being at Miami and at home vs. VT during VT’s hot streak. UNC was also able to eek out a Music City Bowl victory over Tennessee in double-overtime. They couldn’t ask for more with their schedule, with probable romps against FCS darlings James Madison (before you say anything, it was a fluke, just like Appalachian State was… won’t happen again) and Big East bottom-feeders Rutgers before getting into conference play. Other weak out-of-conference teams on the schedule include East Carolina and Louisville. In-conference play is especially kind, as NC gets to play the four worst teams from last year – Duke, Wake Forest, Virginia, Clemson and Georgia Tech, all of which had at-or-below .500 in-conference records and sub-.500 out-of-conference records. Look for touted DT recruits Sylvester Williams, Devonte Brown and Shawn Underwood to make an impact up-front. Like Maryland, UNC will be under the care of a new coach, with Butch Davis getting the ol’ heave-ho due to potential recruiting violations, and Defensive Coordinator Everett Withers taking his place in the interim. But if nothing else, that move will solidify UNC’s defense and make them a stronger team overall. I like their chances of a solid winning season and a good bowl berth (read: NOT the Music Shitty Bowl).

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

EJ Manuel, QB, Junior, Florida State: Christian Ponder may have ran the show in Tallahassee, but Manuel was a well-deserved heir apparent. Even with Ponder under center the majority of the time, Manuel still got some good time in, netting over 65 completions and 800 yards each of the last two seasons. He’s surgical too, completing 65% in 2009 and nearly 70% last year. A returning Willie Haulstead and Bert Reed will only add to Manuel’s stock. A ton of people are calling on Jimbo Fisher’s FSU to be a national title contender, and EJ Manuel is one of the big reasons why.

Jayron Hosley, CB, Junior, Virginia Tech: 9 INTs last year, including 2 against UNC and a staggering 3 against NC State – that was good for tops in the FBS. Tack on 34 solo tackles, with 9 of those coming in a big win at The U. Oh and if that wasn’t enough, he also contributed another 239 yds. and a touchdown from punt returns last season. Look for more of the same from this kid, as he got some great experience all season last year, and will be looked upon this year to anchor a defense that was 14th overall in sacks, 2nd in interceptions and 18th in points scored.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP:

Florida State vs. Virginia Tech: Just because I like Maryland and UNC doesn’t mean I think they’re tops in the conference. Hell, VT’s schedule is just as cakey as UNC’s. FSU has arguably the toughest out-of-conference schedule in all of football (Oklahoma at home and Florida in The Swamp), but that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans for the conference title. Overall I think FSU’s offensive weapons will take it in a high-scoring affair, maybe something like 35-30. Either way, look for both of these schools to have a stellar season, and possibly both end up in a BCS bowl.

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