As we look ahead to the 2011 college football season, we take with us the lessons we learned from seasons past. We calculate, scrutinize, dissect and digest schedules, returning starters, coaching changes, injuries, and yes, even hunches, and spew it back in the form of how we think each of the 11 Division 1 FBS conferences — and the independents — will pan out by year’s end.
Of course, these are merely our opinions. Feel free, as we know you will, to disagree. We know that’s why you really come here anyway.
Here are our predictions for the ACC:
Ben Kercheval’s ACC champion: Florida State
John Taylor’s ACC champion: Florida State
Virginia Tech has to replace the offensive productivity lost from quarterback Tyrod Taylor, as well as running backs Darren Evans and Ryan Williams, but Frank Beamer, without a doubt, is one of the best coaches in the country at plugging in the pieces without missing a beat. The Hokies know who they are and that’s what keeps them in ACC title contention each year.
And, if nothing else, the ACC continues to be a box of tangled wires beyond the top two teams, and VT doesn’t play an elite opponent all year. A road game at Georgia Tech is probably the Coastal favorite’s biggest threat at a blemished conference record, but Virginia Tech gets Miami, North Carolina and Clemson at home. Pretty favorable if you ask me.
For the Atlantic, Ying, meet Yang. Florida State is a little bit like Virginia Tech — they’re a real national title contender (although FSU’s nonconference schedule might have a thing or two to say about that), they’re starting a new quarterback in E.J. Manuel, but there are a lot of reasons to suspect Florida State could get back 1990’s, coherent Bobby Bowden form.
(Relax. I’ve spoken with Bowden before and he’s as great of a guy, if not better, as he is a coach. Love the man, dadgummit)
But like the ACC Coastal, the Atlantic Division is really muddled below FSU. Clemson, like Georgia Tech of the Coastal, has the best chance to give FSU a run for its money. The Tigers do get the Seminoles at home early in the season in what will likely be a night game in a tough environment. And that’s usually when Clemson is able to inflict any kind of damage on an opponent.
The ACC has what looks to be two top-tier teams. If one of them can get to the BCS national championship game, or win a BCS bowl, it’ll return a lot of credibility to a conference that desperately needs some.
The storyline of the preseason as far as the ACC is concerned is centered on Florida State returning to prominence and taking its place back on the national stage. The thing about this storyline, though, and as compared to other over-hyped media creations, is this appears to be the real deal and not a figment of some writer’s imagination.
What’s not in question in any way, shape or form is that the Seminoles are head and shoulders — and probably a torso as well — above any other team in the Atlantic. When the closest competition in that division is some combination of Clemson, Boston College and Maryland, you know you’re in the driver’s seat for a spot in the conference title game.
While there’s not the canyon-like gap between the top team in the Coastal and the next level, Virginia Tech is still clearly the class of the division. Perhaps the only team that could come between the Hokies and a fifth title-game appearance in eight years is Miami, and even then the Hurricanes are likely a year away from serious contention as first-year head coach Al Golden is in the midst of a quasi-rebuild. All of that adds up to another Hokies-Seminoles conference title game, although the latter has the talent to earn revenge and aspire to a much, much bigger goal.