ACC Atlantic Division Preview

DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPS FLORIDA STATE LIKELY TO DOMINATE “ATLANTIC” DIVISION OF ACC

Whenever the defending national champions of college football return their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, they’re usually a virtual lock to win their conference the following season. That’s certainly the case for the Florida State Seminoles, who will have to deal with graduation losses on defense…but in a conference with very few experienced quarterbacks.

In fact, the “Atlantic” Division where FSU resides only has one other returning signal call besides “Famous” Jameis Winston! And, that’s Terrel Hunt of Syracuse…who lead an offense that only ranked #85 last season.

Clemson and newcomer Louisville aren’t going to just roll over and play dead. But, Florida State is the prohibitive favorite to coast to the ACC championship game from this division…where they will likely be a prohibitive favorite to beat the winner of the “Coastal” Division (which we’ll preview tomorrow)…which might give them a crack at a second straight undefeated season.

Let’s run the numbers (note that returning starter data comes from the respected Athlon publication)

ACC Atlantic Division

Florida State
2013 Record: 14-0
2013 Rankings: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher
Notebook: Last year’s defense was fantastic, but could develop into a weak spot relatively speaking if new starters aren’t up to the task. They will be tested in a season opener against Oklahoma State at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, but perhaps not very often otherwise unless non-conference opponent Notre Dame develops a strong offense before a meeting on October 18. Early Vegas lines show FSU will be double digit favorites every time they take the field. Handicapping value will probably come from figuring out when to fade them.

Clemson
2013 Record: 11-2
2013 Rankings: 10 on offense, 25 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney
Notebook: Last year’s team was fantastic. But, NOT returning are quarterback Tajh Boyd and dynamic receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. And, last year’s team was crushed at home by Florida State anyway! No way you can assume the Tigers make a run at first place unless they show something very special in their season opener at Georgia. Their shot at the Seminoles comes early, on September 20. Can the new skill set performers get ready that quickly?

Louisville
2013 Record: 12-1 (in the American Athletic Conference)
2013 Rankings: 28 on offense, 1 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Bobby Petrino
Notebook: Petrino, of course, replaces Charlie Strong…who was hired by Texas to clean up the mess that Mack Brown created. That’s going to bring a very different style and attitude to the Cardinals. You can expect the defense to be much worse this year given graduation losses and a style switch. And, the offense will be dealing with the loss of Teddy Bridgewater. This may be a case of a team rising up to a bigger conference at exactly the WRONG time. The fact that many pundits are picking Louisville to finish third in the division tells you how weak the rest of the group is. Conference play begins early with an opener vs. Miami, and six conference games by mid-October.

Syracuse
2013 Record: 7-6
2013 Rankings: 85 on offense, 33 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Scott Shafer
Notebook: Here’s the other returning starting quarterback. Hunt goes from a sophomore to a junior, which may create a big leap in maturity and production. See it before you assume it. The Orange will play four games before having to deal with any of the ACC powers…with a late September game against Notre Dame at the Meadowlands offering up a breakout opportunity in terms of media coverage. Potential sleeper given how well that defense played vs non-juggernauts last season.

Boston College
2013 Record: 7-6
2013 Rankings: 92 on offense, 92 on defense
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Steve Addazio
Notebook: They’ve become a team of heartbreakers for bettors…playing surprisingly well when you’ve bet against them…but laying eggs when they’re supposed to play well. They played Florida State tougher than anybody in the regular season, yet were blowout fodder in their 42-19 bowl loss to Arizona. Try to get in synch with them in dangerous dog spots, and monitor how transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy (by way of Florida) adjusts to the new league.

North Carolina State
2013 Record: 3-9
2013 Rankings: 70 on offense, 61 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Dave Dorean
Notebook: Last year was a big disappointing, as Coach Dorean was supposed to make a much bigger splash than 3-9. They started 3-1! Though, one of the wins was a nailbiter over Richmond. If last year was just a transition where Dorean cleaned out dead weight while recruiting new talent…then this team could matter very quickly. On the other hand, he could be in way over his head in a major conference. This is the critical year for making that assessment.

Wake Forest
2013 Record: 4-8
2013 Rankings: 118 on offense, 32 on defense
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Dave Clawson
Notebook: It’s amazing how many teams in this division lost experienced but mediocre quarterbacks! If nobody could move the ball with experience, how are inexperienced guys supposed to shine? Wake Forest was racked by graduation. New head coach Clawson will also try to show a MAC winner can step up in class. That used to be very common, but is far from a sure thing to continue at this point.

The summer is racing by, which means football will be here before you know it! Build your bankrolls with daily baseball when the season resumes this Friday after the All-Star Break. Take this time to consider special “early bird” rates for football. Any questions about NETWORK packages can be answered during normal business hours at 1-800-323-4453.

We move to the “Coastal” Divisioni of the ACC tomorrow, featuring Virginia Tech, Miami, and North Carolina. Here’s the upcoming two-sport schedule here in the NOTEBOOK…

Thursday: College Football…ACC Coastal Division Preview
Friday: MLB Series Preview…Baltimore Orioles at Oakland A’s
Saturday: College Football…Big 10 “East” Preview
Sunday: College Football…Big 10 “West” Preview
Monday: MLB Series Preview…LA Dodgers at Pittsburgh Pirates

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