ACC Atlantic Preview

ACC ATLANTIC PREVIEW: IS FLORIDA STATE READY FOR A NATIONAL RUN?

The month of August brings our previews of MAJOR conferences here in the NOTEBOOK. We start off with the ACC this weekend...studying the Atlantic Division and projected national power Florida State Saturday...followed by the Coastal Division with Virginia Tech, Miami, Miami and company on Sunday.

Florida State has made some headlines in the offseason in terms of predictions. Many pundits have them as a top 10 team, including the Athlon publication that we use within our preview data. Phil Steele has gone on record picking the Seminoles as his #1 team. Has Jimbo Fisher's bunch really become this good? Or, will this be the about the 10th straight year of Florida State being OVERRATED in August only to disappoint in the Fall.

Let's run through our indicator numbers for FSU, Clemson, and the rest of the Atlantic Division...

ACC ATLANTIC

FLORIDA STATE
Athlon Ranking: 9th
2011 Total Offense: 77th
2011 Total Defense: 4th
Strength: Rush Defense (2nd)
Weakness: Rush Offense (104th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Jumbo Fisher
Notebook: You longtime readers no we're regularly annoyed about the hype that Florida State gets in the offseason. The latter years of Bobby Bowden's era got ridiculous...as he kept trying to get a "launch it and hope"offense from the 1990's to work against modern defenses. He was finally pushed aside...but the media kept right on hyping the program because of their recruiting, their history, and because they had been hyping Jimbo Fisher as "the next big thing"when he was an assistant coach. Well, this IS a talented team. But they were supposed to be great last year and finished just 9-4. That included being physically outclassed by an Oklahoma team that turned out to be not so fantastic...and an embarrassing 14-13 home loss to Virginia. It was as "B"or a "B-Plus"season in what had been hyped as an "A-plus"return to glory. So, forgive our patience as we wait to evaluate an experienced quarterback who could only lead his team to a #77 ranking on offense against a relatively weak schedule in a disappointing conference. E.J. Manuel is back, and should put up big numbers early against Murray State and Savannah State. That will get the hype machine rolling. South Florida and Florida may or may not be tough non-conference foes later depending on how the season develops. A home game with Clemson and a road game at Virginia Tech currently look to be the toughest tests in league action. We're not as high on FSU as the media is. We'll pick our spots to back them at value once they start playing real teams, and won't be afraid to fade them if it's clear they're destined to disappoint again.

CLEMSON
Athlon Ranking: 15th
2011 Total Offense: 26th
2011 Total Defense: 71st
Strength: Pass Offense (21st)
Weakness: Rush Defense (83rd)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 9 on defense
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney
Notebook: Wow...you can think of the 38-10 ACC Championship win over Virginia Tech that made the Tigers the clear kings of the ACC. Or, you can think of the 70-33 shellacking at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl that humiliated the league on a national scale. Clemson was 2-0 vs. the Hokies with a combined 61-13 scoreboard edge, and also beat Florida State. Great in the ACC. The rivalry game with South Carolina was a 34-13 loss. The bowl was a debacle. How can you rate the Tigers off that? Well, they have a lot of starters back including quarterback Tajh Boyd. The schedule suits them well with tune-ups before a road game at FSU, followed later by home draws against Virginia Tech and South Carolina. They are in position to be a force again...which means you look to back them in spots where they can run up the score...before being cautious once their style forces them to run out of gas down the stretch.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Athlon Ranking: 28th
2011 Total Offense: 94th
2011 Total Defense: 41st
Strength: Rush Defense (37th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (109th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Tom O'Brien
Notebook: A lot of people love quarterback Mike Glennon's arm. So, it's weird that the team only ranked 54th in passing last year, and 94th in total offense, while playing a schedule that was more than manageable. The Wolfpack faced Liberty, South Alabama, and Central Michigan in non-conference play. Give us a break! They did close the season pretty well though, which gives the program a great mindset entering the new campaign. A lot of starters return from a team that upset Clemson, drilled Maryland, then beat Louisville in a bowl. We'll learn a lot from the season opener vs. Tennessee in Atlanta , where we'll be looking for signs that Glennon has figured out how to control his rifle.

WAKE FOREST
Athlon Ranking: 57th
2011 Total Offense: 78th
2011 Total Defense: 74th
Strength: Pass Offense (39th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (99th)
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Jim Grobe
Notebook: Last year's team was schizophrenic, which often happens with undersized programs that have to pick their spots for peak intensity. The Demon Deacons upset Florida State, and lost a heartbreaker to Clemson. They also played Notre Dame pretty tough in a 24-17 loss. But, they got routed by Vanderbilt, and barely got past lowly Duke. Tanner Price is back at quarterback, but hardly anyone else is on offense. Looks like it will be best once again to look for "dangerous dog"spots with this team at tall spreads. But, if the inexperienced offense can't get things figured out, even that will be dicey. Pick a few spots with them, but don't fall in love with them.

MARYLAND
Athlon Ranking: 72nd
2011 Total Offense: 67th
2011 Total Defense: 108th
Strength: Rush Offense (42nd)
Weakness: Rush Defense (111th)
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Randy Edsall
Notebook: Last year was an odd one to be sure. Maryland opened the season with a 32-24 win over Miami in a national TV game. They would go 1-10 the rest of the year, with the only win coming against Towson! A horrible debut for Randy Edsall, who found stepping up in class from the Big East to the ACC tougher than he'd imagined. Now the starting quarterback and most of the offense is gone. The defense has experience but was godawful last year as you can see from the stat rankings. We'll let the Terrapins play their way onto our radar. We have to assume they'll mostly be a go-against team unless the new skill position players surprise in early action vs. Temple and Connecticut.

BOSTON COLLEGE
Athlon Ranking: 86th
2011 Total Offense: 112th
2011 Total Defense: 70th
Strength: Rush Defense (59th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (100th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Frank Spaziano
Notebook: Watching Boston College games last year was pure torture. The offense was one of the worst in the nation even though it wasn't playing a particularly brutal schedule. The fired up defense toughened in the red zone, and would rank 43rd in points allowed even with that disappointing 70th ranking in total yardage allowed. Ugly football, in a conference that was uglier overall than it was supposed to be. Clearly there's not much optimism from Athlon entering the season with a national ranking down near 90, and a divisional rating at the bottom. We like the defensive attitude we saw against opponents like Notre Dame, Miami, and NC State. Our early proprietary Power Ratings have them ranked better than many other places. We'll look for "dangerous dog"spots up and down the card...and maybe more than that if the offense ever shows that they've moved beyond high school level dynamics.

Not particularly good news overall for the ACC so far. Last year was a disappointment, and it's far from a sure thing that Florida State and Clemson will erase that from people's memories. Tomorrow we'll see if there's better news over in the Coastal Division.

Don't forget that early bird football packages are available right now at the website. The NFL Preseason starts SUNDAY NIGHT with the Arizona/New Orleans matchup in the Hall of Fame Game. Note that we'll start running our NFL divisional previews on MONDAY here in the NOTEBOOK. We'll cover the AFC this week Monday-Thursday, then the NFC next week on the same days. Yes, a lot of football coming up in the NOTEBOOK as we prepare you for the coming college and pro seasons.

If you have any questions about JIM HURLEY'S football, please call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Remember that every dollar you win in August will multiply itself several times over between now and the Super Bowl.

If you're late to the party in terms of the conference previews, please check the archives for all the mid-major reports that ran on weekends during July. And, make a note now to be with us next week for the Big 12 and the Big East, followed by the Pac 12 North and South the week after.

See you Sunday with notes on Virginia Tech, Miami, and the ACC Coastal Division. JIM HURLEY wants you to print out all the conference previews so you'll have them handy when the season starts. A PREPARED LAS VEGAS BETTOR IS A WINNING LAS VEGAS BETTOR!

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