Update: Due to the suspensions and cloud hanging over the Miami program, I have changed the projected standings and bowl predictions for the ACC.
ACC Atlantic Projected Standings
Florida State, 8-0, 13-0
Maryland, 6-2, 9-3
North Carolina State, 5-3, 9-3
Clemson, 4-4, 7-5
Boston College, 3-5, 4-8
Wake Forest, 0-8, 2-10
ACC Coastal Projected Standings
Virginia Tech, 8-0, 12-1
Miami, 4-4, 6-6
North Carolina, 4-4, 7-5
Duke, 2-6, 5-7
Georgia Tech, 2-6, 5-7
Virginia, 2-6, 4-8
ACC Championship Game
Florida State over Virginia Tech
After a little down period, the ACC appears to be back with at least 5 strong teams in 2011 and 2 viable National Title Contenders. Florida State leads the way in Jimbo Fisher's 2nd year. The Seminoles are turning the quarterback reins over to EJ Manuel, who is 4-2 as a fill-in starter for the now departed Christian Ponder. The 'Noles are loaded on defense and have some explosive offensive playmakers. Oklahoma comes to Tallahassee on September 17th in a game with potential huge National Title implications. I think FSU prevails and runs the table through the ACC, with a very manageable road schedule and Maryland, NC State and Miami all visiting Tallahassee.
The sleeper ACC and National Title contender is Virginia Tech. Despite losing Tyrod Taylor and their top two running backs, Frank Beamer always finds adequate replacements. David Wilson could explode onto the scene at RB this year. While this might not be a vintage Hokie squad, the National Title consideration hinges from a favorable schedule unrivaled by any other team in 2011. VA Tech has four very manageable non-conference games and then proceeds to play the four worst ACC teams on the road. If the Hokies can win their home games vs Miami, Clemson, Boston College and North Carolina, they could set-up an undefeated showdown in the ACC Championship Game with Florida State.
I really like Maryland this year, despite a coaching change. Randy Edsall was having success with lesser talent and now gets potentially the ACC's best QB in Danny O'Brien at his disposal. The defense should take another step forward, which will make Maryland an ACC Title contender. Two tough home games vs Miami and West Virginia start the schedule and will go along way toward determining the success of this season in College Park.
North Carolina State looks to ride a solid defense and manageable schedule into the title picture as well. Mike Glennon replaces the departed Russell Wilson at QB and will need to play well to take NC State to the next level.
Miami is the enigma of the conference. Always loaded with talent, the Hurricanes made way too many mistakes in 2010 with turnovers and penalties. Al Golden arrives as coach and sorting out the QB position will be an on-going task in Miami as Jacory Harris gets one last chance to shine. If the defense can improve against the run and Harris lives up to his former potential, the 'Canes could be the surprise team of the ACC.
Clemson and North Carolina appear to field solid squads that will earn bowl-eligibility, but will need a huge surprise to compete for the Conference Title.
If there is a team I am most likely to wrong on, its Boston College. The Eagles could not score in 2010 and I don't see enough improvement to offset a brutal road schedule plus home games vs FSU and NC State.
Duke can pass the ball around the lot with almost anybody, but lacks talent on defense to make any noise. Georgia Tech likely takes one more step back with all the offensive talent they have lost the last two years. Virginia may be improved, but is still overmatched by the ACC elite. Finally, Wake Forest is destined for another disappointing year at the bottom of the ACC.
Games to Watch
September 17 - Oklahoma at Florida State
September 17 - West Virginia at Maryland
September 17 - Ohio State at Miami
October 8 - Miami at Virginia Tech
October 22 - Maryland at Florida State
November 12 - Miami at Florida State
November 12 - Notre Dame at Maryland
November 26 - Maryland at North Carolina State
September 10 - Virginia Tech at East Carolina
ACC Player of the Year
Danny O'Brien, QB, Maryland
Team Most Likely to Exceed (my) Expectations: Miami. The talent is always there if it can come together.
Team Most Likely to Fail to meet (my) Expectaions: Florida State. I have set the bar at the highest level for a team who hasn't been at that level for a longer time than you think.
National Championship Game: Florida State
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Virginia Tech
Champs Sports Bowl: Maryland
Hyundai Sun Bowl: North Carolina State
Belk Bowl: Clemson
Music City Bowl: Miami
Independence Bowl: North Carolina