Being more of a basketball guy I was not sold on conference expansion. I held fast to the traditions that the ACC has been and always will be a basketball conference. However the economics of the modern sport's world changed when the SEC and Big 12 thought it would be a cool idea if they had a conference championship game. And it was a great idea, so much so, the networks were willing to shell out huge gobs of money to the conferences for the right to give their advertisers access to thousands of college football fans who were guranteed to watch the game. Thus gave birth to the megaconference era of NCAA athletics. It did not take long for others to jump on board and the ACC, under the direction of former UNC AD John Swofford, went out and found themselves three dandy football schools to create a 12 team megaconference so the ACC could have its own cash cow championship game. Now on the basketball side I think it weakens the conference and creates that annoying unbalanced schedule in both sports.
But, what are you going to do, it is what it is right? At least now we have two teams to give Florida State a run because it became clear after 13 years no one else was going to. Another plus is the ACC does have a whole new set of matchups within the conference which should make for compelling football and in all honesty I like the concept of having a championship game. Sure it is all hype but it makes for a fun Saturday to have these immensely important title games happening, something akin to the NCAA Tournament's opening rounds. As for the road which leads to Jacksonville I think it is pretty freaking muddled. My reading on the situation is there is no clear cut, above the shoulders team that you can say will absolutely march through to win the ACC title.
Tar Heel Fan's Picks
1. Florida State
3. Boston College
4. NC State
6. Wake Forest
The number one question for the Atlantic division is: Has FSU return to form? Some pundits say yes and others like me are not so sure. I think FSU may be comprable talent-wise with Miami and only a small step ahead of Clemson and Virginia Tech. I also think FSU has fewer personnel issues than everyone else. The injury bug has stayed away, the police blotter is fairly clean, and they have a returning starter at QB along with excellent group of receivers and a strong defense. So in my opinion I think FSU is in a better position to begin the season but by no means would I be inclined to think of them as a Top 5 school yet. The other issue is we simply do not know how good Clemson is going to be this season. They are breaking in a new quarterback(like most of the ACC) and their defense has shown promise. If you want a dark horse pick to win the ACC, Clemson is the team. The problem is there are too many unknowns where the Tigers are concerned as well as a history of slow starts. The two crucial games which will shape the divisional race are the FSU opener with Miami which could saddle the Noles with an early loss and then 9/16 visit Clemson makes to Tallahassee. Clemson is due to play Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in Blackburg at the end of October which will most likely make or break the Atlantic division race seeing that FSU only needs to worry about a road trip to NC State on 10/05 the rest of the way.
As for the other teams in the division. Boston College is the model of consistency and probably will be again. The Eagles also have the privelage of playing the top two predicted finishers in both divisions so I imagine that will put them at 4-4 in the ACC. The game at NC State will be crucial in determining if BC can hold on to third place. NC State comes into the season having lost three 1st round draft picks on defense but a QB who seems to be much steadier than the interception prone Jay Davis was last year. Unlike BC, NC State only gets Clemson and Florida State from among the top four but travels to Maryland, Virginia, and UNC. The Pack strike me as being a better team than Maryland and should finish above them in the standings. If all falls right the NC State might be able to move past BC into third. Maryland has a horrible in conference slate with games against three of the top four as well as travelling to GT, UVa, and BC. The worst case scenario for the Terps is six losses from those games with a win against Wake Forest and a home game with NC State as the only difference between 2-6 and 1-7. Maryland's best case has them winning 2 of 3 against the latter group as well as beating NCSU and Wake for an even 4-4 mark. Wake Forest will be a troublesome opponent but remain at the bottom of the division.
Tar Heel Fan's Picks
2. Virginia Tech
3. Georgia Tech
4. North Carolina
A commenter on this blog referred to the Coastal Division as the "Good Division." He could be right. I would also charcterize this division as the "Question Mark" division as well. Miami has had behavior problems, VT used to have behavior problems but they kicked that guy off the team which led to a QB problem, GT is a modicum of stability on offense but Chan Gailey is still the coach, UNC could be using two QBs behind a suspect offensive line, UVa lost four assistant coaches and some key players, and Duke lost it's starting QB for failing to read the MLA handbook. On the plus side Miami does have a QB returning though the Ryan Moore situation still needs to be resolved. Virginia Tech will be relying on the defense since the offense is breaking in a new QB. GT will be explosive on offense with Reggie Ball under center and Calvin Johnson who I think is perhaps the most prolific offensive threat in the conference at WR. UNC has some good running backs while Virginia relies on a senior QB who used to be a Notre Dame. And Duke? (Crickets)
As for the schedule Miami and Virginia Tech meet on 11/4 which will be crucial for deciding the division title. That is assuming both teams dispatch GT and VT does not stumble against Clemson the previous week which is entirely possible. GT has the toughest gaunlet to run with a road game at Miami, home to Maryland, at Clemson, home to Miami, and then travelling to UNC and NC State before resting the starters most of the game against Duke. Oh did I mention GT has Notre Dame to open the season and the Georgia to finish it? No rest for the weary in Atlanta. Virginia is looking at a similar trap on their schedule. They will play GT in late September but a month later start a stretch which includes UNC, NC State, at FSU, home with Miami, and at Virginia Tech. UVa could be 6-1 overall before playing UNC and it is within the realm of possibility they could lose the last five games to end up 6-6. UNC sits in the middle of all this chaos with their three toughest conference opponents in the front end of their schedule in VT, Miami, and Clemson making them in all likelihood 0-3 in the ACC by the time they hit Charlottesville. UNC would have to do some serious winning the rest of the way to even see 4-4. And then there is Duke (Crickets). All of these wild runs of stiff competition will probably mean a lot of shuffling in the standings. I expect Miami and VT to weather the storm however GT cannot be counted out. Calvin Johnson could be a huge difference maker, whether that diffrence is worth two spots in the standings remains to be seen. UNC's offensive line could have a similar effect but only the difference between fourth and fifth. UVa needs to figure out pretty quick who is on the team and try to parlay that into a bowl bid. And Duke? (Crickets)
Anyone up for Miami-FSU II in the ACC Champioship? Two rivals playing for a spot in a BCS bowl and conference bragging rights. Makes for a nice scenario, lots of national TV focus, and perhaps proof that the ACC expansion was not such a bad idea after all.
Oh and whoever loses the opener will this title because (1) There is no way Miami or FSU loses to the other one twice in one season and (2) Honestly how can I possibly offer a prediction for a game that is not set to occur for another three months. At least by then all the crickets will be dead.