The ACC enters the final year of the BCS as a banged-up league. Not in terms of injuries but reputation. The addition of Miami and Virginia Tech was meant to increase the conference’s football profile. Over that same period of expansion, Boston College added a great new television market to the league. Things didn’t pan out as planned, however, as the BCS losses mounted. Financial woes at Maryland have forced an original member to bolt for the Big Ten just to pay the bills. As the Big East disintegrated, the ACC reached out to Pitt and Syracuse and while they bring a lot to the hardwood, their football benefit is not apparent. Meanwhile, rumblings over FSU’s disappointment with the league and Notre Dame sort of joining make what is going on behind the curtain as interesting as all the transition taking place in the public sphere.
Speaking of the public sphere, hopefully this isn’t your first time checking out our stock report. If it is, the chart above depicts the power rankings of the league. The buying/holding/selling of stock in a team is relative to preseason expectations, making a better bowl, or surprising the league and competing for a division title. Just because I’m buying a lot of stock in a team doesn’t mean I think they are better than the first-place team.
Since no teams have risen to the occasion or sunk quite yet, let’s clarify a few examples: Florida State is currently No. 2 in that chart while Georgia Tech is on the five-line. The red bullet on the eight-line is NC State and the Terps are positioned 11. Virginia is sitting at 10 and the Orange are 14.
Now that we are all in sync, let’s get after it!
Clemson – Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins make the Tigers offense delightfully explosive and getting Florida State at home helps for the league race. The national title push could end early with an opening day matchup against Georgia and then against another SEC powerhouse, South Carolina, to end the regular season, but their ACC prospects are very good.
Duke – I’m not saying they’ll make the ACC title game but I see three locks on their schedule, four winnable home games and two manageable road games. Even if they get swept in their three toughest games (at Virginia Tech, Miami, at North Carolina) that still adds up to nine - nine wins. The schedule is very easy, coach David Cutcliffe continues to impress me as a coach and a stud receiver in Jamison Crowder is back. I might be the only one buying Duke stock, but at some point someone was the only person buying Apple stock.
Florida State – Losing 11 players to the 2013 NFL draft is worrying, but Jameis Winston enters with a lot of buzz and this is the marquee program of the league. If they can’t reload, who can from the ACC?
Miami – The Canes boast 19 returning starters. There are almost 100 career starts between the offensive line, wow. The experience and talent is there but the schedule has some minefields. They go to Chapel Hill and Tallahassee as well as my Duke team. Going to Pitt in a November 29 game could be interesting. When is the last time the Hurricanes had a snowy game?
North Carolina – I loved Larry Fedora’s work at Southern Miss and for his debut season for the Tar Heels – well, color me impressed. Bryn Renner could be the Coastal’s best quarterback. If the defense can improve upon a very average 25.7 ppg (No. 53 in the nation), the Heels could be a force in the ACC and even upset the national title picture in their opener at South Carolina.
Georgia Tech – The Jackets got going after dumping Al Groh as an assistant and played FSU pretty tight in the title game as well as winning a bowl (however, the six people that remember the Sun Bowl against USC are smirking at this) and returning five linemen helps for the option attack but I don’t like the schedule. League road trips to Duke, Miami and Clemson make me worried. They also have two FCS teams on the schedule. This squad needs to win at least nine games to make up for that scheduling shame.
Pittsburgh – Tempting to sell with Tino Sunseri and Ray Graham graduating but I have a lot of faith in second-year coach Paul Chryst. I don’t think the Panthers will set the world on fire, especially with a tough schedule, but three of the team’s final four are at home, so they could make a late bowl push as long as they don’t fall apart through the opening eight games.
Virginia – Another team that is easy to sell, but I like Tom O’Brien as a football mind. Guess where he landed after NC State fired him? On Mike London’s staff at Virginia. The Cavs’ middle stretch of VMI, at Pitt, Ball State, at Maryland, Duke and Georgia Tech must break this team’s way if they hope to make a bowl.
Virginia Tech – The Hokies are getting votes in both polls and many people think Frank Beamer will get a bounce back thanks to Logan Thomas returning along with a ton of defensive starters. Here’s the thing: The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Thomas has been pretty up and down his entire career. Why should we expect any more this time around? I have to admit though, avoiding both Clemson and Florida State is a great way to boost your chances (and stock, of course) in the league.
Boston College – Coach Steve Addazio was good, not great at Temple and Chase Rettig is a decent college quarterback. However, I still think the talent gap due to the horrific tenure of Frank Spaziani will leave BC looking at a lot of losses.
Maryland – This team did improve under Randy Edsall in his second year but injuries made the record ugly, so I do think the Terps will be better but I’m selling on them due to the schedule. In addition to FSU (on the road) and Clemson being in their division, one of their crossover games is at rowdy Lane Stadium in Hokie Land. To make a bowl they have to go 6-3 in the other nine games. Are you counting on Maryland to pull that off?
NC State – Dave Doeren did do impressive work at Northern Illinois and with eight home games, as well as an overall soft schedule, a bowl is possible. Until I see how good Mike Glennon’s replacement is, I’m selling my NC State stock, however. Of these five teams, I do think the Wolfpack have the highest ceiling.
Syracuse – With probably the biggest roster overall in the league, as well as a whole new coaching staff, is a tough way to enter a new conference. The back-breaker might be the Orange’s schedule: Penn State, Northwestern, Clemson and Florida State will all be big favorites when they take on ‘Cuse. NC State and Georgia Tech also look daunting. With those six games looking like long shots for wins, that leaves a very tight margin of error for going .500 and making a bowl.
Wake Forest – This team’s offense couldn’t extend drives (117th in third down conversion) and also trotted out a defense that couldn’t get off the field as they were one of the worst teams in the nation in the same stat. In order to improve an awful rushing game (116th), the Deacons are adding in some option looks to try and spice things up. The schedule also looks tough with one of their crossover games being a trip to Miami. I like Jim Grobe and I think he has done great work at Wake, but his team really needs to come to play in the seven games that they actually have any shot at winning, otherwise a fifth straight losing season could be on the table. At that point, even with all that he has done, it might be hard to justify keeping Grobe around after four bowl-less seasons in the last five – especially if each of those seasons have ended in losing records.