In last year’s Discover Orange Bowl, ACC-Atlantic representative Florida State took home the trophy after defeating Northern Illinois out of the MAC. This year, FSU and Clemson are the favorites to win the ACC-Atlantic, but other teams are hot on their tail. And while we won’t know the final result of the ACC Championship Game until early December, here is my version of the 2013 ACC-Atlantic Division Preview in the meantime.
1. Clemson Tigers
In 2011, Clemson took the ACC Championship Game in a game in which quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns, and a game in which Boyd earned acknowledgement from across the nation. This year he enters the season as one of the front-runners for the Heisman trophy, and should be able to lead the Tigers to the ACC Championship, and some say even a national championship. Alongside the senior quarterback, look for explosiveness from receiver Sammy Watkins, another Heisman candidate who could be the top receiver in the nation. Defense has always been a problem for the Tigers, but look for them to improve in 2013 by way of a strong recruiting class.
2. Florida State Seminoles
For Florida State, it all starts at the quarterback position. The Noles will have to replace E.J. Manuel, who led them to the BCS in his senior year. The frontrunners for the job are junior Clint Trickett, sophomore Jacob Coker, and the redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, who has already shown his talent on the Noles’ baseball squad a season ago. If the season started today, the team would probably go with Winston. At receiver, Rashad Greene, who racked up 741 yards and 6 TD’s last year, is a great, physical receiver for the Noles. Other key players for the Noles’ success in 2013 will be running back James Wilder Jr., receiver Christian Green, defensive back LaMarcus Joyner, and linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith. Florida State should be able to finish second best in the 2013 ACC-Atlantic, but if they are able to pull off a victory in Death Valley at Clemson, they could be in Charlotte for the conference title game.
3. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
This may be a bit of a surprise to some, but I’m putting Wake Forest at third-best in the Atlantic. Why? Well, for starters they return senior quarterback Tanner Price, who threw for 2300 yards and 12 TD’s last year. The offensive line will certainly be the wildcard of the team, as they have looked shaky this spring. Although on defense, the Deacs return nine of eleven starters, and should dramatically improve after allowing over 30 points per game last year. I don’t see the Wake Forest getting to Charlotte for the conference title game, but expect drastic improvement from the 2012 squad.
4. North Carolina State Wolfpack
Like Florida State, N.C. State lost their 2012 quarterback to the NFL Draft. And after Mike Glennon left, there is a big question mark at the signal caller position. The good news for N.C. State is that this offseason, former Arkansas QB Brandon Mitchell transferred to the Wolfpack, and looks good on tape. The bad news, however, is that Mitchell has only one year of eligibility left and has little experience. The Wolfpack will also look for an improved running game from backs Shadrach Thornton and Tony Creecy, after having a running game ranked 111th a year ago. On defense N.C. State only returns five starters, and a loss by defensive back David Amerson to the NFL was the worst hit. Overall, expect nothing more than an average season for the Wolfpack.
5. Maryland Terrapins
The unquestioned leader of the Maryland Terrapins is the sophomore receiver Stefon Diggs, who looks to be a top ACC receiver in 2013 and presents great overall speed and athleticism. At quarterback, junior C.J. Brown returns to the squad after missing the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL, and he will likely be the starter Week 1. Defense will be the weakest link of the team, as they only return one starter on the defensive line and five overall on defense. Maryland could be a surprise team in the ACC team this year, but with their offseason woes I don’t see it happening.
6. Syracuse Orange
For Syracuse, it is their first year in the ACC, and their first game in conference is versus Clemson. Even further, both quarterback Ryan Nassib and top receiver Alec Lemon graduated last year. The Orange also travel to Georgia Tech and Florida State. All this could add up to a tough year for Syracuse, and they most likely will have to look for leadership from senior running back Jerome Smith, who ran for over 1,000 yards last year. On defense, the Orange do return seven starters, but I see it being a very tough year for the ACC newcomers.
7. Boston College Eagles
At the cellar of the ACC-Atlantic, I have Boston College. Last season they were 1-7 in the ACC, and they should not be too much better this year. On offense, quarterback Chase Rettig returns but his wild inconsistency is an issue. Receiver Alex Amidon also returns, and he should be the highlight of the team. The Eagles had the worst running game in the ACC a season ago and 119th in the country, and this year their offensive line will be average at best. The good news is that seven starters return on defense, and the team will badly need these players to lead the team. Their schedule is also tough, as they travel to USC, Clemson, and North Carolina, and also have matchups against Florida State and Virginia Tech. Overall, Chase Rettig and Boston College could shock the ACC, but I highly doubt it.