2011 Predictions: ACC Atlantic

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Who will be the top challenger to Florida State in the ACC Atlantic Division?

Who will be the top challenger to Florida State in the ACC Atlantic Division?

Athlon Sports' editorial staff is knee-deep in 2011 college football production. For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, a select group of Athlonians order some pizza and lock themselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The finalized 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with team No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through. Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I really like NC State. To me Florida State is the clear team to beat for the top spot and the Wolfpack are the clear team to beat for No. 2 — even if Russell Wilson doesn't come back. The other teams in the division have too many question marks. And I'm a big believer in Tom O'Brien.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
We may not have a clear grasp on No. 2 in the Atlantic until the June baseball draft when NC State quarterback Russell Wilson will likely have another decision to make. Should he return, the Wolfpack could be the top challenger to Florida State. Since we don’t know, however, the debate then becomes, “In Randy Edsall I believe” or “This is finally Clemson’s year.” The Tigers have the talent to win the whole conference, but can they put it all together? I will risk life and limb and take Tajh Boyd and Clemson to finish second.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I like Maryland to finish second in the ACC Atlantic. If you ask me in August, my answer might be different, especially if Russell Wilson is coming back to NC State. Right now though, there are too many questions for me to pick the Wolfpack second in the division. New Maryland coach Randy Edsall did a great job at Connecticut and should once again have this team in position for a finish among the top three in the ACC Atlantic. If Wilson decides not to return to Raleigh, Danny O'Brien is the ACC's best quarterback, and the offense should have playmakers, despite the loss of Torrey Smith and Da'Rel Scott. Mike Glennon was a touted prospect out of high school, but he has yet to perform for a full season and lost three key receivers from last year. The Wolfpack defense also suffered a couple of key losses, including linebacker Nate Irving. The Terrapins also suffered some losses, but the returning pieces in College Park are arguably better than the ones at NC State.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
With Florida State the clear favorite in the Atlantic, I believe the next best team will come to down to either NC State or Maryland. After that, Clemson (just too many losses off an average team) and Boston College (just not enough offensive firepower) should compete for fourth. As far as second, I'll take the Terrapins. I believe new coach Randy Edsall will have a solid defense, and new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton has some quality players on that side of the ball. Quarterback Danny O'Brien was the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2010, and senior running back Davin Meggett will have a productive final season. I am more concerned with NC State's personnel losses — possibly quarterback Russell Wilson, top two receivers, best defender in linebacker Nate Irving and key members on both lines —than I am with Maryland's attrition. Even though the Wolfpack schedule looks a little more manageable, I'll predict a quality debut season in College Park for Edsall as his Terps claim second in the Atlantic.

Nathan Rush
In a wide open ACC Atlantic race — assuming FSU takes a Secretariat lead out front — I’ll go with perma-underachiever Clemson. The Tigers have a new quarterback in five-star U.S. Army All-American redshirt sophomore Tajh Boyd, a new offensive coordinator in former Tulsa spread shotgunner Chad Morris and a new O-line coach in former Vandy interim Robbie Caldwell. Sure, Clemson always underachieves — recently, neither Dabo Swinney nor Tommy Bowden could win with a roster loaded with the likes of DaQuan Bowers and C.J. Spiller. But this year, everyone expects the team that touches Howard’s Rock to sink to the bottom of the ACC Atlantic. Prepare to be disappointed again; Clemson will finish a distant second to Florida State in the division standings.

Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has Auburn picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

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<p> The Editors debate who will challenge Florida State in the Atlantic Division.</p>