The ACC is a strong and threatening conference during the conference schedule, usually chalk full of top 25 teams, but when the BCS bowl season comes around they usually play dead. What I mean by that is the ACC hoists a dismal 2-13 BCS Bowl record. That is why in 2012 the FSU Seminoles will try to change the minds of college football fans and prove to them that the ACC is worthy of a BCS Championship, and why not? The Seminoles reload with a staggering defense almost unscathed by the NFL Draft; return their starting QB E.J. Manuel, and plenty others on the offense. FSU seems as if they are the most prepared for the upcoming season, as Clemson has holes to fill on defense and V-Tech has NFL departures they must overcome. FSU will once again try to fulfill their preseason expectations this year, as FSU is certainly a top 10 team.
FSU: After the NCAA delivered the July 23rd Penn State Sanctions; Joe Paterno had 112 wins vacated thus making Bobby Bowden the winningest coach in FBS history. And while that title is bittersweet and Bowden no longer coaches FSU, the Seminoles should feel as if they are the best football school in all of the USA. While years and years go by with seasons falling short of expectations, this is without a doubt the year they win the ACC (if not the Atlantic Division). With a reloaded team and a favorable schedule there is almost no reason why FSU can’t win the ACC.
Defense: Mark Stoops has done an excellent job of marginally decreasing the amounts of points given up by the FSU Seminoles ever since his hiring in 2009 (30.8 in 2009, 19.8 in 2010, and 15.2 in 2012. By that rate the defense should get even better in 2012, especially when you return 9 starters on defense including ACC All-Conference DE Brandon Jenkins (41 TOT & 8 Sacks) and ACC All-Conference DB Lamarcus Joyner (54 TOT, 1 Sack). This alone is why FSU should dominate the ACC.
Quarterback: Anytime a team returns a QB with more than 2600 yds., your usually going to look at them as a point of strength on the team. Especially when your team had more than 3300 yards of passing offense. Starting QB E.J Manuel returns for his final season in Tallahassee as intendeds on bringing the glory that FSU has so long desired. E.J threw for 2666 yds. last season and had 18 TDs at the helm of FSU.
Depth at Running Back: While FSU didn’t pay much attention to running the ball last season, and returning top RB Devonta Freeman (579 yds. 8 TDs) shouldn’t raise immediate concern, if he gets sidelined FSU could have trouble replacing his yards.
Exceeding Expectations: Being ranked #6 in last year’s preseason polls and then not even making it the ACC championship game is disappointing to say the least, and this year even being ranked lower, FSU should be cautious and take advantage of home games like Clemson and Wake Forest. The ACC championship isn’t written in stone, and Clemson is certainly capable of taking that title away from the Seminoles.
Clemson: It had been a long 30 years since the Clemson Tigers have received a bowl bid for the Orange Bowl. Aside from winning the ACC Championship game there wasn’t much else for the tigers season as they, to put it lightly, got whooped in the Orange Bowl 70-33 by eventual Big 12 member West Virginia. The Tigers look to rebuild off a quite surprising season with Starting QB Tajh Boyd and an array of WRs, TEs, and RBs coming back as a frontrunner to knock off FSU and reclaim the ACC title for the 2nd straight year, that is if the defense can hold up all season.
Quarterback: The sophomore sensation that was Tajh Boyd returns to Clemson and enters the 2012 season as a probable pre season favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, and with his impressive 3828 yds. and 33 TDs, who’s gonna stop him? With targets like Sammy Watkins & DeAndre Hopkins, look for Clemson to focus all of their offense to be flying through the air as Tajh Boyd looks to follow up an impressive season with more than 4000 yds.
Offensive Units: The Tigers offense may be as juiced as USC this year. RB Andre Ellington (1178 yds. 11 TDs) comes back this year along with WR’s Sammy Watkins (1219 yds. 12 TDs), DeAndre Hopkins (978 yds. 5 TDs) and Jaron Brown (406 yds. 4 TDs) who all accompany QB Tajh Boyd in the ACC’s most powerful offense heading into 2012, that may be only rivaled by likes of BCS powers such as USC or Oklahoma.
Defense: By now the entire College Football world knows of the 2012 Orange bowl and the most points scored by a single opponent in the history of the BCS. Clemson had a infamously bad defense heading into the Orange Bowl and after that 70 point performance by West Virginia, Clemson fired their current Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele and made a huge upgrade by hiring Brent Venables, the former Oklahoma DC. Brent will have his hands full next season as the Tigers return 7 starters on a defense 81st overall (EPSN rank) and gave up an average of 29.3 PPG. If the tigers can cut down their average by at least 10, or even just improve, it would be a surprise to no one if the Tigers reclaimed the Atlantic division for the 2nd year.
Schedule: There are only 4 road games on Clemson’s schedule this year and only 1 road game posses and immediate threat to their division title. Too bad that game has to be against the FSU Seminoles. And with that game being the 4th of the year for Clemson, the Tigers will have to prepare fairly quickly if they want to win their division, and with their first game being against the always dangerous Auburn Tigers, and tough tests against South Carolina & Virginia Tech, by the end of the year the Clemson Tigers could be looking at a 3 loss record. That of course being completely hypothetical and completely avoidable if Clemson cleans up on defense.
Virginia Tech: Frank Beamer alone has put the Virginia Tech Hokies in the spotlight of renounced college football programs. For 21st straight year the Hokies have made it to a bowl game and intend on continuing that streak under Beamer. Now if only the Hokies can win their bowl games. The Hokies have been in 8 BCS bowl games in that span of 21 years and have only won 2 with head coach Frank Beamer. Frank is an excellent coach and always puts an exemplary team on field year after year, but when you don’t win your bowl games it can gets to be a let down. And with may departures to the NFL leaving holes on the offense the Hokies may be looking towards a drab season. Thought the Hokies should have no problem winning the Coastal division (maybe North Carolina) and go to the ACC title game, and who knows maybe they will beat whoever wins the Atlantic division. The post-season performance may be something less desired.
Quarterback: Logan Thomas will be the anchor for this year’s Hokies team and maybe even preseason candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Honestly though I can’t what they see in Logan Thomas, he threw for 3013 yds. and had 19 TDs, not to mention 10 INT, so what’s all the hubbub for Logan Thomas? I think that he is barley deserving of that preseason candidacy, though the experts see potential in Logan. 2011 was his first year as a starter for the Hokies and showed his ceiling for his first year. If he can expand those numbers then I could view him as an elite QB, but with so few targets this year, I remain skeptical of Logan Thomas, until he proves me wrong that is.
Defense: The 2012 Hokies posses a striking resemblance to the Seminoles this year, solid QB and a daunting defense. That is what puts Virginia Tech and the Seminoles in position to face each other in Charlotte this fall. Defense wins championships and Virginia Tech has shown that over the years. With a defense almost comparable to the FSU Seminoles, Virginia Tech had the 7th best defense (ESPN) that gave up and average f 17.6 PPG. and returns 9 starters including ACC All Conference CB Kyle Fuller (65 TOT & 4.5 Sacks) and ACC All Conference DE James Gayle (38 TOT & 7 SACKS). Don’t expect too many high scoring affairs in 2012.
Running Back: Virginia Tech’s running game enters the 2012 season as one of the most depleted. Loses of RB David Wilson (1709 yds. 9 TDs) and RB Josh Oglesby (371 yds. 6 TDs) may prove to be to much for Virginia Tech’s running game to overcome. Their top returning back is their QB Logan Thomas, and unless they are going to transform the running game into a KSU-QB like offense, the running back sector may experience a huge setback heading into the 2012 season.
Receiving: Replacing Virginia Tech’s top 2 WRs won’t be an easy task on paper but when you have the next best 3 WRs, Marucs Davis (510 yds. 5 TDs), D.J. Coles (480 yds. 3 TDs), and Chris Drager (201 yds. 2 TDs) there is little concern in WRs.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels are always a favorite in Kansas, and the natives of the Midwest will always be rooting for them and hope they excel each year (said no one ever in the state of Kansas). Despite hating the Tar Heels there is no denying that UNC will put an impressive team on the field this year, and despite popular opinion that Georgia Tech is the sleeper team this year, I believe the title of dark horse goes to UNC. Newly named Head Coach Larry Fedora comes off an impressive stint with Southern Miss and looks to build of his Head Coaching success and make a splash in the Coastal division as UNC returns it’s top RB Giovani Bernard and starting QB Bryn Renner. Watch out Virginia Tech if your not careful, UNC will be waiting to claim the ACC coastal division and shock the College Football World.
Quarterback: Bryn Renner may be the most underrated QB heading into the 2012 season. I would go as far to say that Bryn is going to be a better QB than Logan Thomas this fall. Bryn threw for an impressive 3086 yds. and connected for 26 TDs, not to mention a stellar 68.3% completion rate. The only red flag may be that he had 13 interceptions, but that can be cleaned up in spring/summer training. With many options for Bryn to utilize in the offense this upcoming fall, Bryn will take this dark horse UNC team into an optimistic 2012 year, and maybe even win ACC Coastal.
Receiving: Losing top WR Dwight Jones (1196 yds. 12 TDs) will be a huge loss for the offensive side of the ball, though when you have Erik Highsmith (726 yds. 5 TDs), Giovani Bernard (362 yds. 1 TD), and Jheranie Boyd (292 yds. 5 TDs) those lost yards will be replaced in time and with many other WRs to throw to for QB Bryn Renner the receving game should be as strong, or even better than it was last season.
Depth at Running Back: RB Giovanni Bernard headlines the returning RBs as he brings his 1253 yards of offense and 13 TDs to table. Though he is pretty much the only one who will be returning that is of any significance, A.J. Blue (138 yds. 1 TD) being the only returning RB with more than 100 yards, and, like a broken record repeating this phrase, if Giovanni gets sidelined then A.J. will have to step up and take over that roles as top rusher. If he is ready for that is anybody’s guess.
Defense: UNC’s defense wasn’t great last year as they gave up close to 25 PPG, but it wasn’t bad. It was "enough" and in the ACC "enough " sometimes doesn’t cut it. Returning only 6 starters doesn’t make the situation any better add in a dash of uncertainty with new head coach Fedora and you have a recipe for a potential disaster on the defense. UNC did make a great hire by hiring Ex-Illinois Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning who helped Illinois post a defense that only surrendered close to 20 PPG.
Other Teams to Watch Out For:
Georgia Tech: The other team in the ACC that enters the 2012 season equally as unpredictable as the UNC Tar Heels are the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. ESPN has them ranked as preseason #25 in their "Way-Too-Early Top 25" and with good reason. Georgia Tech’s top 3 Rushers Tevin Washington (987 yds. 14 TDs), David Sims (698 yds. 7 TDs), and Orwin Smith (615 yds. 11 TDs) all return to Atlanta along with starting QB Tevin Washington who also led the team in rushing. Unfortunately his arm was scarcely used as he only threw for a dismal 1652 yds. and with top WR Stephen Hill (820 yds. 5 TDs) departure for the NFL, you can expect the passing production to go down in 2012. While their Running game should again be top notch, running the ball remains obsolete in the ACC. The defense should stay at a mediocre state (returning 7 starters on defense that gave up close to 26 PPG) the Yellow Jackets’ tough schedule (visits to Virginia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, and Georgia) should be enough to down the chances for the yellow Jackets’ to win the ACC Coastal division
North Carolina State: NCSU is slowly gaining back football relevance with their 2nd straight bowl appearance in 2011/12. NC State looks to make it 3 straight as they return RB James Washington (897 yds. 7 TDs), QB Mike Glennon (3054 yds. 31 TDs) and WR Tobias Palmer (496 yds. 5 TDs) add 8 returning starters including AP All American CB (59 TOT 13 interceptions) to a defense ranked 54th overall and you have a team ready to take on the ACC. Unfortunately the rest of the ACC will be more than happy to silence them and keep them at bay in 2012.
Wake Forest: QB Tanner Price returns to Wake Forest for his senior year and plans to make noise in the ACC during his final year. Tanner looks to build of a stellar year as he threw for 3017 yds. and 20 TDs. The only bad part is that almost no one is back to accompany him. RB Brandon Pendergrass (823 yds. 9 TDs), and WR Chris Givens (1330 yds. 9 TDs) both are gone for the 2012 season, which means RB Josh Harris (432 yds. 3 TDs) and WR Michael Campanaro (833 yds. 2 TDs) will have to step up next year if Wake Forest want to go to the post season once again.
Virginia: The Cavaliers look to taste the sweet flavor of post season play in 2012 and look equipped enough to do it again. QB Michael Rocco (2671 yds. 13 TDs) comes back to Charlottesville for his final year along with RB Perry Jones (915 yds. 5 TDs) and WR Tim Smith (565 yds. 3 TDs). Losses on the defensive side may ultimately be too much for the Cavaliers to overcome and may extend the stay of the Cavaliers in the basement of the ACC.
Miami (FL): The Hurricanes look to improve off of an disappointing season and should have a better year than last year. While new faces on the offense (QB Stephen Morris 283 yds., RB Mike James 275 yds. 7 TDs and WR Allen Hurns 415 yds. 4 TDs) may raise questions about how the offense will function but the defense should be as good as it usually is as Miami (FL) returns 7 starters on defense that gave up close to 18 PPG. Don’t expect too much from Miami (FL) this season though.
Players to Watch Out For:
WR: Conner Vernon, Duke
QB: Bryn Renner, UNC
RB: Giovani Bernard, UNC
DE: Art Noram, NCSU
LB: Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
DT: Thomas Teal, NCSU
DB: Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech
CB: David Armerson, NCSU
TE: Matt Furstenburg, Maryland
S: Brandon Braxton, Duke
Most Important Games of The Season:
1. Clemson @ FSU
2. FSU @ Virginia Tech
3. Virginia Tech @ Clemson
4. Virginia Tech @ UNC
5. Georgia Tech @ Virginia Tech
Final Standings and Bowl Destinations:
1. FSU (Orange Bowl)
2. Clemson (Chick-Fil-A Bowl)
3. Virginia Tech (Champs Sports Bowl)
5. Georgia Tech (Sun Bowl)
6. NCSU (Belk Bowl)
7. Wake Forest (Music City Bowl)
8. Virginia (Independence Bowl)
9. Miami (FL) (Fight Hunger Bowl)
11. Boston College