The Atlantic Coast Conference welcomes two new additions for the 2013 college football season. The conference expanded to 14 teams in effort to keep up with the changing look of the national landscape. Syracuse and Pittsburgh join the league this season, with the Orange going in the Atlantic Division while the Panthers will compete in the Coastal Division.
The Florida State Seminoles are the defending ACC champions, defeating Georgia Tech in the conference title game last season. It had been since 2005 that Florida State last won the ACC, which seems like a lifetime ago compared to how they used to dominate. The Seminoles are picked to be right at the top competing once again this season, though it’s the Clemson Tigers who appear to be the favorites in most eyes.
Clemson is loaded on the offensive side of the ball, obviously led by quarterback and Heisman hopeful Tajh Boyd. The senior quarterback has transformed his body into being a mobile quarterback to go along with his great arm. The Tigers should be one of the top offenses in the country this season, with receiver Sammy Watkins on the outside creating mismatches. Clemson gets Florida State at home, which could be a difference. The defense is the only question, and they will be tested early at home in a non-conference game against Georgia.
The Seminoles lost first round quarterback E.J. Manuel, but many in the fan-base think that they’ve traded up in a redshirt freshman. That would be Jameis Winston, who was the No.1 quarterback in the 2012 freshman class. Winston is a dual-sport athlete, throwing 95 mph pitches on the mound for FSU. The Seminoles lost some guys on both sides of the ball, but there are no shortage of playmakers for this team. Florida State has to go on the road to play Clemson, which could be where the Atlantic Division is decided.
It wasn’t often that the Miami Hurricanes were under the radar in years past, but they have been that way for a few seasons now. The Hurricanes made strides forward last season, but self-imposed bans that kept them out of the ACC title game. They won the Coastal Division and would have played FSU. Quarterback Jacory Harris is predicted to have a monster season and lead the Hurricanes to a Coastal title and a spot in Charlotte for the ACC. It’s a tough non-conference schedule as well, with Florida and Florida State.
It doesn’t get much tougher to start a season than playing Alabama on a neutral field, but that is exactly what is at stake for the Virginia Tech Hokies. Then after that they have to worry about trying to get back atop the Coastal Division. If they are to do this, quarterback Logan Thomas will have to get more consistent. He had the frame and the tools, it’s about putting it on the field. He had 18 touchdowns to 16 interceptions a year ago.
Some are pretty high on North Carolina this season. Tar Heels have 13 returning starters, led by quarterback Bryn Renner. The Tar Heels ranked No.8 in the country in points scored, with more than 40 a game. The Tar Heels should be able to put up points again this season, but will they be able to stop anyone? They open against South Carolina which will be a good test, but the key stretch will probably come in October with back-to-back games against Virginia Tech and Miami.
We all know what Georgia Tech likes to do on offense; run the football. They ranked 4th in the country last season with more than 300 yards per game. The Yellow Jackets bring back 16 starters, so they only are replacing five new positions. In a wide open Coastal Division, Georgia Tech should certainly be right in the mix. They get Virginia Tech and North Carolina at home, but travel to Miami. All three of these games are in consecutive weeks beginning late September. It doesn’t help that Clemson is one of two Atlantic Division opponents though.
Pittsburgh will be welcomed to the ACC by Florida State in a Labor Day Night contest at the home of the Panthers. This should be a fun one to watch, and could set the tone for Pittsburgh through the season. It’s hard to put much stock into last season because it will be a whole new conference to compete in. Outside of the new ACC slate, the Panthers also play Notre Dame at home in November. Pittsburgh returns 13 total starters, eight of which are on defense.
Virginia probably has one of the tougher schedules to navigate through this season. Their biggest conference challenges will come at the end of the season, with games against Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech to close out the year. In Week 2, it’s a non-conference showdown with No.3 Oregon. The Cavaliers had problems scoring the ball last season, ranking 95th in the country. That 22.8 points per game average will have to go up if they are to contend in the Coastal.
North Carolina State has the fewest returning starters of any team in the ACC. They have just eight coming back, with four on each side of the ball. This includes replacing quarterback Mike Glennon. The Wolfpack can go with Brandon Mitchell or Pete Thomas. Mitchell is a fifth-year senior who transferred from Arkansas and is probably going to be the choice. The first ACC game of the season is at home against Clemson on Sept. 19.
Maryland was close to last in points scored last season, with just 20.1 points per game. That was good enough to rank 109th in the country. There are only nine total starters returning this season so there will be plenty of new faces. Florida State is the opening ACC game for the Terps, going on the road. It’s four-straight non conference opponents to open the season, followed by eight-straight conference games.
Not too much is expected out of Syracuse in their first season in the ACC, as they are picked near the bottom of the Atlantic Division. Prior to the ACC competition though, the Orange open up against two Big Ten opponents in Penn State and Northwestern. The first ACC game is on Oct. 5 against Clemson. Four of the first six ACC games are on the road for Syracuse.
In a theme of some bad ACC teams being unable to score, Boston College ranked 111th in the nation last season. They didn’t even manage 20 points per games on average. The Eagles have an interesting schedule this season, opening the ACC at home against Wake Forest before then going on the road to take on the USC Trojans. That is followed by a home game against Florida State. Boston College returns 15 starters, with eight on defense.
Duke took a huge step in the right direction last season, making their first postseason bowl game in nearly 20 years. That was big for the program. Now it’s about trying to follow that up with another successful season. There is a new QB in town in Anthony Boone. And despite making a bowl, the Blue Devils did lose six of seven coming in.
Wake Forest rounds out the 14 teams in this ACC preview. They have plenty of experience this season, and certainly can build off of a 5-7 record last season. There wasn’t a team worse in the ACC in scoring than the demon Deacons though, as they ranked 116th in the country with just 18.5 points per game. Wake Forest gets the pleasure of Florida State, Clemson, and Miami on the schedule.