I'm susceptible to the fallacy of projecting prior results onto the upcoming season, especially when it comes to football. I'm much more bolder in predicting future basketball seasons, in part because the roster turnover is easier to comprehend, and the loss or gain of a single player can wildly swing a team's level of talent. Football is tougher to judge year-to-year; you're often left to judge the new players at the marquee positions from spring practice rumors and other brief glimpses, while crucial changes in linemen can go unnoticed altogether. So I err towards past results. That and an irrepressible optimism for Carolina's chances.
With the ACC, however, this merely puts me in line with everybody else, as the preseason poll bears out, year after year. The preseason media poll is out, with the Coastal Division picked to finish in the basically same order they did last year, and Virginia Tech and Florida State placed atop their respective divisions. And I can't really say I disagree with that last choice. I expect another year of no team truly dominating, and so why not go with the Hokies and Seminoles as the favorites? It's likelier than anything else.
I did find one thing interesting in the voting. Boston College running back Montel Harris got the most votes for Player of the Year, with linebacker teammate Luke Kuechly coming in third. The Eagles as a team finish fourth in voting in the Atlantic Division, however. Either the media really has little faith in BC's passing game – I expect Chase Rettig to improve – or they're not thinking these things through. (The player who finished second in voting, FSU's E.J. Manuel, is a sophomore in his first year starting under center, replacing a guy who at this time last season was launching Heisman campaign. I'm skeptical here.)
I submitted my own preseason votes, for a blog tally that should appear on the sister Virginia Tech site at some point. I didn't put a lot of thought into them – it's early, yet – but here are the votes and what I was thinking.
1. Virginia Tech They win it often enough you have to keep picking them until someone else emerges, really.
2. North Carolina This is less a result of my limitless optimism for Carolina football than my bearish view of Miami, honestly.
3. Virginia I allow myself at least one strange pick a year, and this is it. (And like I said, I'm very bearish on Miami.) The Cavs are only in their second year under Mike London, and are returning a decent number of starters. Sure they lost their quarterback, top rusher, and top receiver, and they don't get the infuriatingly-certain win of UNC in Charlottesville, but still they could be good. I may also be backing away from this pick all season long.
4. Georgia Tech I'll be honest. I have no idea how well Paul Johnson's offense is going to do without Josh Nesbitt. But then again, Nesbitt was never that objectively great, yet Tech did pretty well. Fourth is a good place to slot them for now.
5. Miami The Hurricanes have a new coach, a quarterback controversy between two interception-throwing machines, and lost their top rusher and receiver as well. People thus may be overestimating what Al Golden can do out of the gate. There's a lot of talent there, but I have no idea where it all fits, so until I hear otherwise, I'm not giving them much.
6. Duke Were it not for my personal biases, I may have picked Duke to finish outside of the cellar. They do have possibly the most experienced quarterback in the ACC, but no rushing game and a pretty bad defense. Still, it's July, where I can imagine strange and exciting things happening. But not strange enough, it seems.
1. Florida State Not as good as everyone thinks they'll be, but still better than the Atlantic.
2. Clemson Basically, this was the default position to start, and nothing spurred me to move them. Had I to do it over again, I wouldn't have them here. New quarterback, new offensive coordinator, and a suspect defense don't really add up to a lock on second place.
3. Boston College OK, the two of the top three POY candidates officially put me on the BC bandwagon. I think Rettig will improve, and everything else is in place for a decent season. They may have had a shot at winning the Atlantic if it wasn't for the three-game road stretch of Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Maryland in the middle of the season.
4. N.C. State I'm not really sure what about losing Russell Wilson and going with Mike Glennon makes voters think "As good as last year!" but I'm not buying it. State lost most of their receiving corps – see Virginia Tech, 2009 – and will be relying on defense that was good but not great. I'd put them lower except for there's no one left.
5. Maryland New coach, no receivers, and a defense where there's an awful lot of shuffling going on in the offseason. Maybe I'm just biased against the new coaching hires here and in Miami, or maybe I was just irrational putting the Terps here after a 9-4 season. Be that as it may, here's where they lie.
6. Wake Forest I see no evidence this team will compete this season, either.
So that's my ballot, with more thought put into after the fact than when I actually ranked the teams. This could all change in the coming weeks, once I write more on the teams, but the basic framework is here. Most importantly, I don't expect any team to truly break away from the pack; even with Virginia Tech's 8-0 run they never appeared to be that much better than the rest of the Coastal, and that Hokie team should be better than this year's model.