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Who will win the ACC title in 2011: Florida State or the field? We debate.
Debate: Who would you pick to win the ACC Championship: Florida State Seminoles or The Field?
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): I’ll take Florida State over the field in the ACC, and you can spike my prediction into the 50-yard line like Chief Osceola during pregame at Doak Campbell Stadium. Jimbo Fisher and staff have signed stellar recruiting classes since he took over for Bobby Bowden, and I think the Seminoles could be set for a dominant run over the next few years. In 2011, Virginia Tech would be the only club I can see competing with FSU for ACC supremacy. You have to respect the Hokies because of their tradition of winning and coaching, and their soft early schedule will allow time for the development of sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas and a young defensive line. However I see the Florida State roster as the strongest across the board in the conference, and Mark Stoops’ defense may remind the fans in Tallahassee of some of their better groups from the early '90s.
EJ Manuel will take over for Christian Ponder at quarterback, and the talented junior has gone 4–2 as a starter over the last two seasons. Manuel was the MVP of FSU’s Gator Bowl win over West Virginia to end the 2009 season, and he tossed the game-clinching touchdown pass in last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over South Carolina. The offensive line will be solid with three senior starters, and the Seminoles return all of their top running backs and receivers.
Florida State has nine returning starters on what could be a very special defense, with All-America end Brandon Jenkins leading the way. The Noles have depth and talent on all three levels, and they have one of the best cornerback duos in the country with Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. That will allow Stoops, in his second year as coordinator, to put immense pressure on opposing signal callers. This unit took some lumps last season, but this year’s group will be a pain for ACC offenses. In addition to a loaded roster, FSU boasts two solid specialists in kicker Dustin Hopkins and punter Shawn Powell and an elite punt returner in Reid.
I don’t know that we’ll ever see a run like Florida State had in league play in the '90s, but the program is as healthy as it’s been in years. Jimbo Fisher’s crew looks primed for multiple league titles over the next three or four seasons. While I have a ton of respect for Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech, 2011 looks like the year that the Seminoles take back control of the ACC.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): Let's be clear, the Florida State Seminoles are the favorite to win the ACC in 2011. But before we crown the Noles champions, let’s chew on a few numbers first. Florida State has not won a conference title in five seasons and over that span has lost 26 games — the same number of losses it experienced in the 13 seasons prior to its last ACC title in 2005.
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, has won three of the last four (and four of the last seven) conference championships. Three different teams have claimed ACC titles since FSU claimed the ’05 title, two of which lost three games inside the league. Additionally, four different teams have represented the Atlantic Division since the inaugural title game, including Florida State a year ago.
What do these numbers have to do with the 2011 football team in Tallahassee? Not all that much. It does, however, indicate that the ACC is a completely wide-open conference each and every year – and that the modern ACC championship train runs directly through Blacksburg. This isn’t your diddy's ACC. So if had to place a bet today, I would take the field.
Within the Atlantic, Boston College and NC State are quality football teams that consistently overachieve, are incredibly well-coached and play physical brands of football. Maryland, under new head coach Randy Edsall, returns the first-team All-ACC quarterback and will also be a very physical squad. Clemson is Clemson. It has loads of talent with uber-upside and can beat anyone on any given Saturday. (But will also make fans and experts shake their collective heads at least twice a year.) The Atlantic is the stronger division and Florida State has to play at Clemson and at BC. Are the Noles the favorite to win the divison? Of course, but an FSU division title is not a forgone conclusion.
Having said that, the real threat likely comes from the Coastal Division in the form of the defending champs. The Hokies return the best offensive line in the league and the most stable coaching staff in the nation. Tech also plays the weakest possible crossover schedule, facing the bottom three teams from the Atlantic. With the upheaval in Chapel Hill, major losses in Atlanta and the Canes coming to town in early October, Virginia Tech is the heavy favorite to win the Atlantic.
Florida State, on the other hand, has to face rival Miami late in the year in what could be the biggest ACC game of the season. And, oh yeah, it also has to face that little team from Norman in Week Three. A crushing loss – like it experienced last fall at the hands of the Sooners – does not directly affect the ACC standings, but it could quickly shake the delicate balance of youth and confidence down in the panhandle.
Additionally, both Florida State and Virginia Tech share an issue at quarterback. Replacing ACC POY Tyrod Taylor is no easy task, but neither is filling the hole left by first-round NFL selection Christian Ponder. Do I think that EJ Manuel and Logan Thomas have elite talents and abilities? Yes, but stepping into the spotlight as a highly touted prospect and succeeding with the weight of major college football on your shoulders is much easier said than done (just ask Garrett Gilbert or John Brantley).
Jimbo Fisher, and the new-look Noles, will spend plenty of time in the ACC title game over the next decade. But if I am a gamblin’ man, I will roll on down highway 41 and take the field in 2011.