ACC Atlantic Preview

IS FLORIDA STATE READY TO RETURN TO NATIONAL PROMINENCE?

There's a lot of buzz about Florida State this year. The respected Athlon publication has them #4 in the country to start the season even though veteran quarterback Christian Ponder has graduated. Many pundits consider them a legitimate darkhorse to go the distance because an early season tester against Oklahoma is in Tallahassee...and because Florida isn't the threat it used to be as a season finale rivalry game.

Well...you regular readers know that we basically spend every summer saying the following things:

  • The bulk of the Big Ten has been overrated by the media (typically true in the extreme)

  • Florida State has been overrated by the media (an example so egregious from year to year that you have to wonder who's been paying off reporters to avoid covering what had been a decade long collapse).

So, we come into this report on the ACC Atlantic with some skepticism. We'll concede that Florida State is the favorite to repeat as divisional champs over the likes of NC State, Maryland, and company. We'll admit that Virginia Tech would be vulnerable in an ACC title tilt replay because they have a new quarterback this year. But, Florida State is going to have to PROVE TO US ON THE FIELD that they're really top 10 or even top 15 material let alone top 5 material.

Consider:

  • Florida State lost to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game last year by double digits, getting outgained by more than 100 yards. That Virginia Tech team then got obliterated by a real national power in Stanford in their bowl game.

  • Florida State did manage to beat South Carolina in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. But, that was a turnover win. Florida State was outgained by more than 100 yards by the Gamecocks despite having more time of possession. You'll recall South Carolina got obliterated by eventual national champion Auburn in the SEC Championship game.

  • Florida State lost at Oklahoma 47-17 last year, allowing 500 total yards while getting outgained by more than 150.

The Seminoles had a very nice 2010 campaign, going 10-4 for the season and 6-2 in ACC play. They were still LIGHT YEARS behind the actual powers in the sport. It's tough to make up that kind of ground when you lose a veteran quarterback!

Let's take a close look at the Seminoles and the rest of the ACC Atlantic Division as our summer preview series continues. We'll cover the ACC Coastal Division Sunday, which includes Virginia Tech, Miami of Florida, and North Carolina. Please check the archives if you missed out on the Big 10, Pac 12, and SEC.

ACC ATLANTIC

FLORIDA STATE
Athlon Ranking: 4th
2010 Total Offense: 60th
2010 Total Defense: 42nd
Strength: Rush Defense (29th)
Weakness: Pass Defense (71st)
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 9 on defense
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher
Notebook: Good news and bad news. The good news concerns returning starters. There's A LOT of experience and talent coming back. And, Ponder's replacement at quarterback EJ Manuel saw some late season action. In fact, he played the whole Virginia Tech game and most of the bowl. There's a chance that the Seminoles won't lose anything at that position (Ponder's production never came anywhere near his hype anyway). Let's say that happens. Look at the poor stats in 2010! Florida State ranked 60th nationally on offense, and 42nd on defense. An admittedly tough schedule suggests the team was better than those numbers. But, how much better? Ten slots better on both sides of the ball? That still grades out as about 40th best if you average the rankings. There was a four-game hunk in ACC play last year where FSU played consecutive nailbiters against Boston College, NC State, North Carolina, and Clemson (going 0-4 against the spread by the way). That's not a class of team that represents the sports superpowers. This is a solid team with a chance to get better. It's a leap of faith to put them in the top five before they've faced Oklahoma again…which they'll do on September 17th. Let's see what happens there, then we'll talk big picture.

NC STATE
Athlon Ranking: 31st
2010 Total Offense: 39th
2010 Total Defense: 31st
Strength: Rush Defense (14th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (95th)
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Tom O'Brien
Notebook: This was an exciting team to watch last year because they generally played thrillers. The team ended up 9-4 for the year, and 5-3 in league play…meaning they found a way to win their share of those battles. Things could get ugly fast this year though. Quarterback Russell Wilson took his final year of eligibility to Wisconsin, leaving the job to 6'6' junior Mike Glennon who's gotten rave reviews in practice but hasn't seen much game action. Only four starters are back on that side of the ball…meaning any sort of learning curve has to be dealt with quickly. Luckily the first three games of the season are Liberty, Wake Forest, and South Alabama. The team could drop 3-4 points in Power Ratings and end up with the same record. We'll have to see how the new QB performs before firming up our impressions. We'll be saying that about a lot of teams in the ACC this year!

MARYLAND
Athlon Ranking: 33rd
2010 Total Offense: 80th
2010 Total Defense: 39th
Strength: Rush Defense (21st)
Weakness: Rush Offense (82nd)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Randy Edsall (new)
Notebook: There's a new coach in town, as former UConn head man Randy Edsall replaces Ralph Friedgen. We've been critical of Friedgen for years…as his teams floundered badly once opposing defenses figured out how to stop his offense. It's amazing how many guys called 'offensive geniuses' because they installed variations of the spread early on were exposed as one-trick ponies. Edsall, hasn't ever been called an offensive genius. His Huskies always played smash mouth football, and made it work in a bad conference. Is he ready to step up in class? We'll learn that in the season opener when the Miami Hurricanes come calling. Returning quarterback Danny O'Brien will help with the transition, though he struggled vs. quality defenses last year. One reason Florida State is striking the media so dramatically this summer is that the rest of their ACC Division is dealing with question marks.

CLEMSON
Athlon Ranking: 38th
2010 Total Offense: 88th
2010 Total Defense: 19th
Strength: Pass Defense (22nd)
Weakness: Rush Offense (79th)
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney
Notebook: Clemson's hired a new offensive coordinator to try and fix an attack that's been ailing for years. Chad Morris was with Tulsa last year. There have certainly been some success stories in recent years with teams picking up their tempo and getting more points on the board. But, it doesn't work everywhere. Some squads become turnover machines. Some fix their offense while killing their own defenses with the new pace. And, some assistants were riding on the coattails of others and get exposed by the Peter Principal. Time will tell where Morris and Clemson will register on the scale. At the very least, look to play Overs in September games against Troy, Auburn, and Florida State. Killer early schedule for a new offense and a new quarterback. The Tigers might be a team to fade early and back in November once they're more battle-tested.

BOSTON COLLEGE
Athlon Ranking: 45th
2010 Total Offense: 109th
2010 Total Defense: 13th
Strength: Rush Defense (1st)
Weakness: Pass Offense (97th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Frank Spaziani
Notebook: At least ACC teams were aggressive in the offseason regarding offensive issues. BC also changed offensive coordinators after ranking a horrible 109th nationally with the ball in 2010. They do return young QB Chase Rettig, who at least showed some leadership qualities last year if nothing else. Not many ACC teams are scary on defense in the current era. Boston College is…which always gives them a fighting chance in any battle. We'll definitely be looking for live dog situations with this team if the defense continues to hurt people while the offense improves.

WAKE FOREST
Athlon Ranking: 83rd
2010 Total Offense: 108th
2010 Total Defense: 101st
Strength: Rush Offense (54th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (114th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Jim Grobe
Notebook: Boy did these guys fall off the map fast. A team like Wake Forest can rise up an impress every few years with a senior heavy team, or if they have a talented quarterback. Last year's team didn't have much of anything going for it, other than a schedule that included Presbyterian and Vanderbilt. Returning seven starters on both sides of the ball is a good sign. And, quarterback Tanner Price had moments where it looked like he might develop into a player who matters. Early tests with Syracuse and NC State will give us a quick September read. It's great for handicappers that ACC teams play at least one conference game and usually one non-conference tester in the first month. This isn't a league that's full of mystery until mid-October. Learn what you can in these early games!

Now that we've run through the sextet, it's clear why Florida State is seen as such a heavy favorite within this group. They return the most starters by a good bit. They have a quarterback they're excited about even if he's not technically a full season returning starter. They did score some very impressive wins last year. You can be head and shoulders above the ACC Atlantic and still not be top 10 in the country. Maybe FSU really is that good. We're looking forward to the season getting here so we can find out!

Our summer previews continue tomorrow with the ACC Coastal Division, and then next week with the Big 12 and Big East. August brings the mid majors, along with NFL divisional previews if and when preseason action gets under way. Don't forget that you can sign up with JIM HURLEY NOW for football and enjoy fantastic early bird rates. The sooner you sign up, the more you save! Take care of business online with your credit card, or call the NETWORK office at 1-800-323-4453.

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22
Aug

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