Most college football experts acted as if they were offended when asked about the level of play in the ACC heading into the 2012 college football season. However, by the end of the year, those same experts were singing the praises of several programs in this generally basketball-mad conference.
Florida State finally made good on its annual influx of recruiting talent, taking home the program’s first conference title since the 2005 season before laying the wood on Northern Illinois to win the prestigious Orange Bowl.
However, and again, very much to the surprise of the pundits and experts, this league was not merely a one-pony show.
Yes, fifth-year senior EJ Manuel tied a ribbon around his career as a Seminoles’ star with an elite bowl win, but there are several faces and programs ready to step up and generate some real buzz around the conference come 2013.
After spending the last two seasons under the heavy shadow of looming NCAA sanctions, Miami finally gets a reprieve following the governing body of college sport’s own indiscretions. The school self-imposed a postseason ban in 2012, but if it had not, the Hurricanes would have been in the ACC championship game against FSU, not Georgia Tech.
Coach Al Golden has brought aboard two Miami stars in Mario Cristobal and James Coley to run his offense. With freshman sensation Duke Johnson another year older and stronger, the transitions of these two great coaches should be made far easier.
North Carolina was another ACC program unable to participate in any postseason play following a one-year bowl ban for various academic improprieties. Under first year head coach Larry Fedora, the Heels are trending upwards, finishing with an 8-4 record and are looking to break into double-digit wins — and perhaps an ACC title in 2013.
FSU narrowly defeated Tech in that title tilt, 21-15. After struggling all season, however, the Yellow Jackets finally got mad and took their frustrations out on the uber-talented student-athletes of Southern Cal in the Sun Bowl. Georgia Tech outclassed the Trojans, 21-7, drawing smiles from players, coaches, and ACC administrators alike.
Like Georgia Tech, Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech squad rounded out a disappointing season with three straight wins, including one over Rutgers in overtime in the Russel Athletic Bowl. With 12-foot tall quarterback Logan Thomas returning, a return to glory for Va. Tech is not at all out of the question.
Heck, even Duke got in on the fun. The hardwood powerhouse earned a trip to a bowl game for the first time since the internet became a popular means of communication and the team is building a legitimate program. Do they actually have a shot at the title? That is not for us to decide, but for you.
All of this being said, if any of these teams are going to win it all, they are going to have to overcome the fireworks exploding over at Clemson under coach Dabo Swinney.
The league drew a collective gasp when star Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd announced that he would be returning to school for his senior year, rather than jumping to the NFL. He will be a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft, but in 2013 the immense weight of expectations do not rest on professional shoulders.
If Boyd continues to pile up yardage, touchdown passes and, most importantly wins, the league could be his for the taking.
The operative phrase there, however, is ‘could be’. There is talent across this league and there are teams that are going to be hungry to taste postseason success following a year, or years, without any bowl game glory.
Thus, we’re just going to come right out and ask it …