With only two teams expected to be ranked in most preseason polls, 2013 may not be a banner year for the ACC.
Clemson and Florida State are the only ACC teams ranked in Athlon’s Top 25 for 2013, with the Tigers predicted as the conference champion. The Seminoles are the defending ACC champs, but Jimbo Fisher’s team must replace quarterback EJ Manuel and a handful of key contributors on defense.
While there is some clarity in the Atlantic Division, the Coastal is a wide-open race.
Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina each deserve consideration for the top spot. But the Hurricanes get the edge in Athlon’s predictions for 2013. Coach Al Golden seems to have Miami moving in the right direction, and the program could have some clarity by kickoff to the NCAA investigation that has been hovering over the school. The biggest concern for the Hurricanes is a defense that allowed 30.5 points a game last year.
Virginia Tech’s offense needs to play better if the Hokies are to push for the Coastal Division title. But the defense could be the best in the ACC in 2013.
Keep an eye on Maryland, NC State and Virginia. The three teams are the biggest wildcards to watch in 2013. The Terrapins are making progress under coach Randy Edsall and return quarterback C.J. Brown from a knee injury. The Wolfpack have one of the ACC’s most-favorable schedules, and new coach Dave Doeren was one of the offseason’s top hires. Virginia has a tough schedule to navigate, but coach Mike London has assembled some promising young talent.
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Inside the War Room: Key Questions That Shaped Athlon's 2013 Predictions
There were four teams that were in the discussion for first place in the Coastal Division. Why was Miami the pick?
The Hurricanes should be strong offensively with the return of quarterback Stephen Morris and arguably the league’s top offensive line. Morris, in his first full season as the starter, played very well down the stretch in 2012. In his final four games, he completed 60 percent of his passes with 11 TDs and no interceptions. We also expect a big season from sophomore tailback Duke Johnson, who averaged 6.8 yards per carry as a true freshman. The defense will no doubt be an issue, but we believe the Canes have enough talent on that side of the ball to show at least modest improvement. The schedule is in Miami’s favor: The Canes host Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, two teams they will be battling for supremacy in the Coastal, and they don’t play Clemson, the team to beat in the Atlantic.
Can Logan Thomas live up to his vast potential? If so, can Virginia Tech win the league?
Virginia Tech should once again field one of the best defenses in the ACC, but it’s difficult to get too excited about the Hokies because of how much this team struggled on offense last year. Quarterback Logan Thomas regressed as a junior after a strong sophomore season, and the Virginia Tech offense struggled to score — especially in the latter half of the season. If new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler can coax a big season out of Thomas and the rest of the offense, Virginia Tech will be a legitimate threat to win the league. If not, the Hokies will have a tough time holding off North Carolina and Georgia Tech for second place in the Coastal Division.
Maryland has won a total of six games the last two seasons. Why are the Terps projected to win seven in 2013?
It hasn’t been the smoothest ride, but Maryland is showing signs of progress under Randy Edsall. Last year, the Terps improved dramatically on defense, jumping from 108th in the nation (457.2 ypg) in 2011 to 21st (336.8) in ’12. And while there are some key losses (tackle Joe Vellano and linebackers Demetrius Hartsfield and Kenny Tate), the Terps have recruited well in recent years and should still be strong on defense. The offense was a disaster last year, due in large part to a rash of injuries at quarterback. This year, expect dramatic improvement. Ricardo Young, who began his career at New Mexico, will try to unseat C.J. Brown at quarterback. Keep an eye on Stefon Diggs, an emerging star at wide receiver. The Terps’ slow climb back to relevance will continue in 2013.
Syracuse won eight games last season. This year, we have the Orange projected to go 4–8. Why so pessimistic?
The move from the Big East to the ACC is a factor, but the bottom line is that we don’t think Syracuse will be as good in 2013. The Orange lost three elite offensive players to the NFL Draft — quarterback Ryan Nassib, wideout Alec Lemon and left tackle Justin Pugh — and also have to deal with a coaching change. Out is the highly respected Doug Marrone. In is the unproven Scott Shafer. Syracuse’s first season in the ACC could be a struggle.
Why won’t Duke be more of a factor in the ACC Coastal Division after breaking through and playing in a bowl game in 2012?
Duke was a nice story last year, but the Blue Devils weren’t a very good team when you really look at the numbers. They managed a respectable 3–5 record in the ACC but were outgained by an average of 140.5 yards in those eight conference games — the biggest margin in the league. (Wake Forest was next at minus-127.7). And they lost six of their last seven games, with the six defeats coming by an average of 21.7 points. Veteran coach David Cutcliffe has done a very good job elevating the profile of this program, but Duke will have a tough time reaching bowl-eligibility for the second straight season.
2013 ACC Team Previews
Bowl season redemption
The ACC has been pilloried, and deservedly so, for its efforts against quality non-conference opposition in recent years. That wasn’t eased by the league’s 6–17 mark against automatic qualifying conference teams and Notre Dame during the 2012 regular season, including a 1–5 mark against SEC teams.
But the league redeemed itself somewhat in the postseason. For the first time, ACC teams won their top four bowl games. Florida State beat Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl, Clemson rallied late to beat LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Virginia Tech eked by Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl and Georgia Tech beat USC handily in the Sun Bowl. In fact, the ACC went 4–2 in the bowl season, tying for the best winning percentage among BCS conferences with the SEC (6–3).
Even though the ACC lost Florida State’s EJ Manuel, NC State’s Mike Glennon and Duke’s Sean Renfree, it still has a healthy number of experienced quarterbacks who have reached significant career milestones already. For the first time in league history, the ACC has five returning quarterbacks who have thrown for at least 6,000 yards in their career. That list includes Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (8,053), Wake Forest’s Tanner Price (6,666), North Carolina’s Bryn Renner (6,456), Boston College’s Chase Rettig (6,258) and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas (6,096).
Lucky with Louisville
While the ACC fortified itself by adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh this season, those schools have hardly been football powerhouses lately. The scheduling agreement that will bring pigskin monolith Notre Dame into the fold for five games a year was another boost to the league, which is trying to hold off poachers.
But the addition of Louisville once Maryland announced it was leaving for the Big Ten might be the best of the bunch. The Cardinals, who 10 years ago were in Conference USA, reached new heights in Charlie Strong’s third season in 2012, going 11–2, winning the Big East title and pounding Florida 33–23 in the Sugar Bowl.
Louisville might not have the TV market that Maryland has, but its football product and overall athletic budget — $84.4 million in the 2011-12 academic year, according to the most recent available data from the Office of Postsecondary Education’s Equity in Athletics, and higher than the ACC’s top school, Florida State, at $81.4 million — suggest that the league added more than it lost in the most recent conference reshuffling. The Cardinals will join the ACC before the 2014 season.
Bowl bound, up and down
When Duke snapped a 17-year bowl drought by making the Belk Bowl last season, it also put the ACC in the same category as the SEC and Big East as the only conferences to have all of their members go to a bowl game at least once in the last three years.
Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Georgia Tech and NC State have made bowls in each of those seasons. The Seminoles, in fact, have the longest active bowl streak in the country at 31 years. Virginia Tech is third (20) and Georgia Tech is tied for fourth (16).
An offensive explosion
The additions in recent years of offensive-minded coaches like North Carolina’s Larry Fedora, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, Duke’s David Cutcliffe and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris seem to be finally having a major impact.
The ACC saw an explosion of offense in 2012. Teams topped the 500-yard mark 38 times last year, more than double the previous high of 15 set in 2011. The league also saw teams reach the 40-point mark 42 times, a single-season record that dwarfed the previous mark of 30 set in 2010.
The offensive highlights included a 68–50 win by Georgia Tech over North Carolina, a game in which the teams set an ACC record with 118 combined points and combined for 1,085 yards. Miami quarterback Stephen Morris threw for 566 yards against NC State. North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard ran for 262 yards against Virginia Tech. Clemson topped 700 yards twice, in wins against Duke and NC State. And Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner’s career 154.59 quarterback efficiency rating would be an ACC record if maintained through 2013.
Old: Doug Martin; New: Ryan Day Martin is now the head coach at New Mexico State. Day previously served as the offensive coordinator at Temple, where he worked for new Boston College coach Steve Addazio.
Old: Bill McGovern; New: Don Brown McGovern had accepted a position to coach linebackers under Steve Addazio but then left to become the linebackers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. Brown, a former head coach at UMass, was the defensive coordinator at UConn the last two seasons.
Old: Brent Venables, Charlie Harbison; New: Brent Venables, Marion Hobby Charlie Harbison left to become the defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator at Auburn. Hobby was promoted to co-defensive coordinator after coaching the Clemson defensive ends last season.
Old: Kurt Roper; New: Kurt Roper, Scottie Montgomery Montgomery, a former star wideout at Duke, was the wide receivers coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2010-12. Roper will still call plays.
Old: James Coley; New: None Coley, an FSU graduate, left to become the offensive coordinator at Miami, where he will call plays. Head coach Jimbo Fisher will continue to call the plays.
Old: Mark Stoops; New: Jeremy Pruitt Stoops is now the head coach at Kentucky. Pruitt had been the defensive backs coach at Alabama the previous three seasons. He will also coach the DBs at Florida State.
Old: Al Groh; New: Ted Roof Groh was fired in the middle of the 2012 season. Roof was the defensive coordinator at Penn State in 2012. He is a Georgia Tech graduate and previously served on the Jackets’ staff from 1998-2001.
Old: Jedd Fisch; New: James Coley Fisch left Miami to become the offensive coordinator with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Coley previously served as the OC at Florida State, though he didn’t call the plays. He will do so at Miami.
Old: Dana Bible; New: Matt Canada Bible was not retained by the new staff at NC State. Canada was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin in 2012 and previously served as the OC at Northern Illinois (on two occasions) and Indiana.
Old: Mike Archer; New: Dave Huxtable Archer was not retained by the new staff at NC State. Huxtable was the defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh in 2012. He also has had stints as the DC at UCF, North Carolina and Georgia Tech in the FBS ranks.
Old: Dave Huxtable; New: Matt House Huxtable left Pittsburgh to become the defensive coordinator at NC State. House was promoted to DC after serving as the Panthers’ secondary coach in 2012.
Old: Nathaniel Hackett; New: George McDonald Hackett followed his boss, Doug Marrone, to Buffalo, where he will serve as the Bills’ offensive coordinator. McDonald coached the wide receivers at Miami the past two seasons. He had accepted a position at Arkansas in December 2012 but left to join the Syracuse staff in January.
Old: Scott Shafer; New: Chuck Bullough Shafer is now the head coach at Syracuse. Bullough spent the past two seasons as a defensive assistant with the Cleveland Browns. He was the DC at UCLA in 2009-10.
Old: Bill Lazor; New: Steve Fairchild Lazor left Virginia to become the quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles. Fairchild, a former head coach at Colorado State (2008-11) and offensive coordinator in the NFL (Buffalo, 2006-07), was an offensive assistant with the San Diego Chargers in 2012.
Old: Jim Reid; New: Jon Tenuta Reid was fired after three seasons at Virginia. He is now a defensive assistant at Iowa. Tenuta, a Virginia grad, coached the linebackers at NC State last season.
Old: Mike O’Cain; New: Scott Loeffler O’Cain was fired after seven seasons on the Hokies’ staff. He is now the offensive coordinator at James Madison. Loeffler spent last season as the offensive coordinator at Auburn.
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