With college football less than three weeks away, The Student Section will continue to break down what’s going to happen every conference this fall. Today, I’ll be focusing on how things will shake out in the ACC this year.
Also, please be sure to check out the link to the podcast below where Bart Doan and I gave our ACC picks in depth with Matthew and Jeff from All Sports Discussion. To say it was an entertaining discussion is an understatement.
ACC Projected Order of Finish
1. Florida State
5. NC State
6. Boston College
7. Wake Forest
2. Virginia Tech
4. North Carolina
6. Georgia Tech
Conference Championship Game: Florida State over Miami
Why Florida State?
This one is a no-brainer. As I said in my initial piece for The Student Section, I expect Florida State to qualify for the initial College Football Playoff. With 13 starters returning from last year’s championship squad, the Seminoles are a heavy favorite to defend their title, as well as win the conference.
Let’s be honest: last year’s Seminole team was one of the greatest of all time. After all, Florida State dominated all but two of its contests last season, thrashing its opponents by an average of 39.5 points per game.
The ‘Noles will pick up right where they left off last season. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston returns, as does most of the offensive line, which will open up huge holes for new starter Karlos Williams to run through. On the other side of the ball, FSU returns six starters from a defense that ranked 1st nationally in scoring defense (12.1 ppg), 3rd in total defense (281.4 yards per game), and 10th in yards per carry (only allowed 3.26 yards per rush).
Surprise Team of the Conference: Louisville
As associate editor Bart Doan pointed out in a previous article, teams that switch conferences typically don’t fare well the first season.
However, Louisville will be the exception to that rule. Sure, the Cardinals won’t beat Florida State this season (will anyone?), but there’s enough talent left over from the Charlie Strong era to compete with everyone else on the schedule this year. With Bobby Petrino calling the shots and a veteran line (115 career starts) returning, the offense will have no trouble putting points on the board. This will take the pressure off the UL defense, which has to adjust to Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme, and break in seven new starters.
Biggest Disappointment: Georgia Tech
Many people from Atlanta wrote in to tell me that I was nuts for suggesting that Coach Paul Johnson was on the hot seat (but thank you for the emails – I really appreciate them!). According to them, the only way that Johnson wouldn’t return to the Flats is if the Jackets had a horrible year in 2013.
Does horrible include a sixth-place finish in a seemingly wide-open Coastal Division race?
Surprisingly, that will happen this year. Georgia Tech plays an absolutely brutal conference slate, which includes six teams what went bowling last year, with three of those games on the road. The home games aren’t exactly gimmes, as the Jackets face Clemson, Miami (the Jackets are 1-5 versus the Canes under Johnson), and defending Coastal Division champion Duke.
That doesn’t bode well for a defense that needs to find seven new starters from a underrated unit that finished 28th nationally in yards per game allowed.
Offensive Player of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
The reigning ACC Player of the Year is the frontrunner to win the award again in 2014. Winston had a monster freshman season, finishing second in the nation in touchdown passes, even though he didn’t play in the fourth quarter in eight of the ‘Noles 14 contests. More importantly, Winston was at his best when the game was on the line. When FSU was within a touchdown either way last season, he completed 71 percent of his passes with an outstanding 14/3 TD-to-INT ratio.
Defensive Player of the Year: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
While I could make a case for as many as five people earning this distinction, the nod goes to Clemson’s Vic Beasley, who terrorized opposing quarterbacks all season long in 2013. A more disruptive force than South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney last year, Beasley spent plenty of time in opposing backfields, leading the ACC in sacks (13) and finishing second in tackles for a loss (23.0). He also broke up six passes and forced four fumbles.
Newcomer of the Year: Jacoby Brissett, QB, NC State
Although he didn’t play much at Florida in 2012, Brissett did make the most of his limited opportunities, including leading the Gators to a come-from-behind victory over Louisiana-Lafayette, when he went 6-for-8 for 64 yards and a TD. Even though he had to sit out as a transfer last season, Brissett gained valuable reps against the Wolfpack’s regulars as the scout team quarterback. Combining all of these experiences, I look for a strong season from Brissett, which will propel State into a bowl game this season.
Coach of the Year: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
As the head coach of the No. 1 team in the nation, Fisher is the obvious choice to win this award. If the ‘Noles win the national championship as I expect, he should win national Coach of the Year honors as well.
Need more information on the ACC? Be sure to check out the ACC Podcast on RWR Radio at the Itunes Store. While I encourage you to listen to all of the podcasts, Bart and I made our predictions in episode 53.