I can imagine every team in the ACC is chomping at the bit to get the football season underway. Given all the offseason excitement, who could blame them?
Three programs are either facing or have faced the NCAA for infractions. Georgia Tech was put on probation for four years in July for using an ineligible players in 2009. North Carolina, playing under a shroud all of last season for players receiving impermissible benefits, faces a hearing in October in front of the Committee On Infractions. And let’s not forget the “U“, facing all kinds of scrutiny after last week’s bombshell report about Nevin Shapiro and his seemingly unchecked access to Hurricane football players. I’ve heard of making it rain, but it was a monsoon down in Coral Gables for the football team, and the university from Shapiro’s hand. Not exactly how the conference would like to be noticed on a national level.
But if you can get your mind away from those troubles, another football season will be starting on the first day of September. Whether it places any ACC teams in the national consciousness for deeds on the field remains to be seen. Florida State and once again, Virginia Tech appear to be the conference favorites. After those two, it is hard to say who will step forward, as every team has question marks.
For Florida State, now in year two of the Jimbo Fisher era, it has a chance to prove that it belongs back among the college football elite. The Seminoles had a pretty good season after the long reign of Bobby Bowden, winning the Atlantic Division and beating the SEC runner-up South Carolina Gamecocks in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. After two early home games that should be easy wins, the real challenge arrives in week 3, as the Seminoles take on preseason #1 Oklahoma. The game will be played in Tallahassee, which will give the home team a boost. A win over the Sooners will give Florida State and the ACC a much needed lift in national perception. Whether the Sooners can maintain that momentum towards a possible national championship run will be a big question going forward.
Because Miami and Florida State have failed to be the class of the conference as was originally planned when the ACC raided the Big East for Miami back in 2005, the mantle of the ACC’s best team has fallen to the Virginia Tech Hokies. The squad from Blacksburg, VA has been consistent, but hasn’t made the big national splash it has seemingly been on the verge of for the last half-decade. The last few seasons have followed one of two scripts: either the Hokies are beaten early by a nationally ranked foe, or they lose to a team they should beat. In 2007, a trip to LSU resulted in a 48-7 beatdown. In 2008, East Carolina beat the Hokies at Lane Stadium. In 2009, eventual national champion Alabama took down the Hokies in the season kickoff. Last year, Virginia Tech managed to follow both ends of the story: losing to Boise State in the opener, then following it up with an inexplicable loss to FCS James Madison at home the following week. This year, the schedule is less daunting, and perhaps the more forgiving slate will give the Hokies and their new quarterback a chance to build some confidence heading into the conference season. Will it be enough to make a dent in the national conversation? Time will tell.
As for the other teams: Maryland and Miami start out with new coaches; though who can tell what effect the new scandal will have on the Hurricanes. The Terps have the quarterback with the best returning statistics in sophomore Danny O’Brien, but can the team improve upon their surprise season from last year? Will Jim Grobe find a way to get Wake Forest turned back around? Will Duke become relevant in the conference? Will Georgia Tech and North Carolina fight through adversity? Can Dabo Sweeney give Clemson the winner it has long thought it has deserved? Can Boston College and North Carolina State improve upon last season’s performances? Will Virginia take the next step in rebuilding under Mike London? Stay tuned.