ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 29: Safety Lamarcus Joyner #20 of the Florida State Seminoles returns a punt 77 yards against the Notre Dame Fight Irish December 29, 2011 at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. FSU won 18 - 14. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Mark Schlabach is out with his "Too Early Top 25" for ESPN. Let's have a look at the four ACC teams listed, in order.
8. Florida State Seminoles: We're taking the bait on the Seminoles again, even after they failed to live up to very high aspirations with a 9-4 finish in 2011. But FSU's lofty preseason billing might have been a year premature and injuries plagued the Seminoles throughout the season. FSU's defense is as good as advertised and it might be even better in 2012 with nine starters coming back. Defensive end Brandon Jenkins and cornerback Greg Reid both passed up entering the NFL draft to return to school. If FSU is going to become a legitimate BCS contender, though, its offense has to be better and more explosive. The Seminoles had young skill players in 2011 and they started four freshman offensive linemen against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. Another concern will be replacing All-American punter Shawn Powell. FSU plays seven home games, but will travel to Virginia Tech during ACC play.
7 Starters Lost (3.5 Offense, 2.5 Defense, 1 Special teams): T Zebrie Sanders (SR), WR Bert Reid (partial starter) (RS-SR), RB Jermaine Thomas (partial starter) (SR), G David Spurlock (partial starter) (SR), TE Beau Reliford (SR), LB Nigel Bradham (SR), S Terrance Parks (SR), CB Mike Harris (partial starter) (SR), P Shawn Powell (SR).
1 Reserve Lost (Offense): TE Ja'Baris Little
Arguably the ACC's top team this year, the 'Noles didn't win the title thanks to some hellacious injury luck on the offensive side of the ball, inconsistency and multiple egregious blown calls for which FSU received apologies from the ACC. The defense will be picked to be tops in the country, unless LSU gets its juniors to stay in school. The offensive line must gel, and QB E.J. Manuel must get right mentally.
18. Virginia Tech Hokies: If there's one thing you can count on every season it's that Virginia Tech will win at least 10 games and be in contention in the ACC title race. With a new quarterback and revamped defense, the Hokies went 11-3 in 2011. Virginia Tech will have to rebuild its offense to do it again in 2012. Quarterback Logan Thomas will be back for his second season as a starter, but the Hokies won't have record-setting tailback David Wilson, who is leaving for the NFL draft as a junior. They're also losing four starting offensive linemen and top receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. The good news is as many as nine starters might be back on defense
-- if junior cornerback Jayron Hosley comes back.(Note he is gone) The Hokies play nonconference games at Pittsburgh and against Cincinnati at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., and also play ACC road games at Miami, North Carolina and Clemson.
11 Starters lost ( 8 offense, 2 defense, 1 Special Teams): WR Jarrett Boykin (SR), WR/P Danny Coale (SR) TE Chris Drager (RS-SR), LT Andrew Lanier (RS-SR), LG Greg Nosal (RS-SR), RG Jaymes Brooks (RS-SR), RT Blake DeChristopher (RS-SR), RB David Wilson (JR), S Eddie Whitley (SR), CB Jayron Hosley (Jr.).
3 Reserves lost (1 offense, 2 defense):
WR Dyrell Robers (SR) Getting a medical redshirt, RB Josh Oglesby (RS-SR), DB Chris Hill (RS-SR), LB Barquell Rivers (SR)
This was the worst Hokie team since at least 2003, narrowly edging out the 2008 squad for the title. But you wouldn't know it by their record, as the Hokies rode a 4-0 mark against a nonconference slate featuring four non-BCS patsies all the way to the Sugar Bowl. Mind you, they were still one of the 25 best teams in the country, but they weren't typical VT good. The defense will need to carry this team, and it likely will, with nine returning starters. The Hokies are the clear division favorite.
22. Clemson Tigers: Tigers coach Dabo Swinney can only hope his team uses its embarrassing loss in the Orange Bowl as motivation during the offseason. Clemson won an ACC title and started 8-0, but a 2-4 slump down the stretch left some serious concerns. Quarterback Tajh Boyd should be better in his second season running offensive coordinator Chad Morris' high-octane attack. Tailback Andre Ellington is considering jumping to the NFL draft, and junior tight end Dwayne Allen has already decided to turn pro. The Tigers must also replace four starting offensive linemen and there isn't a lot of depth in the trenches. Five starters must be replaced on defense, including top linebacker Andre Branch. The Tigers will open the season against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play ACC foes Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech at home.
10 Starters lost (5 Offense, 4 Defense, 1 ST): LT Phillip Price (RS-SR), RG Antione McClain (SR), RT Landon Walker (RS-SR), TE Dwayne Allen (JR), FB Chad Diehl (RS-SR), DT Brandon Thompson (SR), DT Rennie Moore (SR), DE Andre Branch (RS-SR), CB Coty Sensabaugh (RS-SR), P Dawson Zimmerman.
5 Reserves lost (3 Offense, 2 Defense): G David Smith (RS-SR), C Mason Cloy (RS-SR), WR Marquan Jones (RS-SR), DE Kourtnei Brown (RS-SR), LB Daniel Andrews (SR),
As noted by our good friends at Shakin The Southland, the defending ACC champ loses 60% of its offensive line snaps and 64% of its defensive line snaps. Most look for Clemson to take a step back in 2012, as the offense becomes more finesse with the loss of Allen and Deihl. Still, they have some outstanding offensive playmakers. Should be very good in 2013.
24. NC State Wolfpack: After a 2-3 start, in which Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien was criticized for turning quarterback Russell Wilson loose, NC State rallied to win six of its last eight games, including a 31-24 victory over Louisville in the Belk Bowl. Quarterback Mike Glennon ended up being a more-than-capable replacement for Wilson, throwing for 3,054 yards with 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He'll be without three of his top four receivers in 2012, with wideouts T.J. Graham and Jay Smith and tight end George Bryan each departing. Seven defensive starters are expected back, but the Pack will have to rebuild its defensive line and linebacker corps. The secondary should return intact, including ball-hawking cornerback David Amerson. NC State opens the '12 season against Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and also plays nonconference games against Connecticut (road) and FCS foes South Alabama (home) and The Citadel (home).
10 Starters lost (4.5 Offense, 5.5 Defense): RT Mikel Overgaard (RS-SR), TE George Bryan (RS-SR), FB Taylor Gentry (half due to injury), (SR) WR Jay Smith (RS-SR), WR T.J. Graham (SR), DE Jeff Rieskamp (half due to injury) (SR) DT Markus Kuhn (RS-SR), DT J.R. Sweezy (RS-SR), LB Dwayne Maddox (SR), LB Audie Cole (RS-SR), LB Terrell Manning (JR).
1 Reserve lost (1 Offense, 0 Defense ): WR Steven Howard (RS-SR)
This is a club that could make some noise. They're a lock to be 4-0 or 3-1 in the non-conference. Pair that with a 5-3 type ACC record and you're looking at a shot for ten wins if things break right in the bowl game.
Also of note: West Virginia at #7. Seriously. Can you say overrating based on one game?