As SB Nation so aptly pointed out today, we are halfway through college football’s offseason; which means that as of right now, it’s just 115 days ’till kickoff, one of the most magical days on the sporting calendar. For the ACC, hope springs eternal at the moment, with at least one real national title contender and a collection of up-and-comers looking to crack the polls, too. Obviously, it’s all speculation, but what else do we have to get us through the next few months?
1. Clemson Tigers (Last: 1): We’ll know all we need to about Clemson after the first game against Georgia — a matchup that’s likely to pit two top-10 teams against one another in a national showcase. The Tigers offense will be fine, but were the glimmers of hope the defense provided come the end of 2012 a flash in the pan, or an indication of better things to come? I’m tempted to think the latter, actually.
2. Louisville Cardinals (Last: 2): The Cardinals’ schedule is a joke consisting of the depleted
Big East American Athletic Conference, so running through it with 11 or 12 wins should not be a problem at all. What observers will find truly intriguing about Louisville this year will mostly revolve around whether voters will give the Cards enough credit in the national title conversation, and/or how much Heisman hype Teddy Bridgewater can amass.
3. Florida State Seminoles (Last: 3): New starting quarterback Jameis Winston appears to be the real deal, but we won’t know the extent of the young passer’s growing pains until the real games begin. Though the ‘Noles lost plenty to the draft (11 players in all), the last few recruiting classes still leave plenty of talent to keep this team hovering among the top 15-20, nationally.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels (Last: 5): On paper, the Heels lost quite a bit with the departures of Giovani Bernard and Jonathan Cooper, but that discounts the extent of the offense’s evolution under coach Larry Fedora much too heavily. As a senior, QB Bryn Renner‘s poised for his best year yet, and after a strong part-time campaign last year, running back A.J. Blue could be one of the conference’s biggest surprises.
5. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (Last: 4): This team will rise and fall on the arm of QB Stephen Morris, who will look to replicate his fleeting success from last year on a much larger scale in 2013. When Morris had a hot hand, the ‘Canes were as impressive as anyone in the ACC, and a consistent passing game will be essential to taking the heat off halfback Duke Johnson, who’s most effective when he has a competent supporting cast on offense.
6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Last: 6): How well Vad Lee can throw the ball could ultimately decide how far the Wreck can go this year, as the Jackets look to fix a triple-option that’s grown stale. The predictable set is still effective of course, but without a real passing game to complement it (as has been the case lately), it’s certainly not as productive as Tech fans would hope either.
7. Virginia Tech Hokies (Last: 7): Virginia Tech cannot hope to contend for a division title this season without offensive playmakers, so expect that to be among the largest issues addressed prior to kickoff in August. As has been mentioned over and over, quarterback Logan Thomas cannot carry this team on his own — no matter how good the defense is (and they will be good once again) — and needs help in order for the Hokies to succeed.
8. Syracuse Orange (Last: 9): Everyone feels that turnover (staff and player) could derail the Orange this year, but that discounts the continuity Scott Shafer (former D-coordinator under Doug Marrone) provides, and sells new O-coordinator George McDonald short as well. This offense has every chance to be just as explosive as last year, especially with a stacked backfield and transfer quarterback Drew Allen coming in from Oklahoma.
9. Pittsburgh Panthers (Last: 8): With Rushel Shell gone, the team’s biggest strength — running back — now seems like a legitimate question mark. That’s not a good sign when the team’s also searching for an answer at quarterback following spring camp. As always, the Panthers’ defense will be stout, but if they can’t score points, it could be a season of struggle.
10. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (Last: 10): Parts of Wake’s disastrous 2012 can be blamed on the injury bug, but with a deep, veteran team coming back this season, there are no more excuses. Tanner Price, after a strong start to his career, has severely underwhelmed, and will need to regain that early spark he exhibited. Standout receiver Michael Campanaro should help matters there, though it’ll take more than just those two to make this season a success in Winston-Salem.
11. Duke Blue Devils (Last: 14): Not to discredit all the work Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon did during their four years in resurrecting Duke football, but am I the only one who think Anthony Boone and Jamison Crowder could be just as productive? Crowder was productive as a full-time complement to Vernon, while Boone excelled in his limited snaps. Yes, the defense is still a concern, but I find it hard to believe this offense even loses a step.
12. Maryland Terrapins (Last: 13): The Terps offense looks settled with C.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs, but what’s got people buzzing even more so in Maryland is the local recruiting job Mike Locksley’s been doing. Maryland’s done pretty well by ACC standards, and it’ll be interesting to see how the 2014 class takes shape as the school’s Big Ten move looms.
13. Virginia Cavaliers (Last: 12): Virginia’s quarterback situation wasn’t supposed to be so up-in-the-air at this point, which brings a slight cloud over the Hoos’ upcoming season. But don’t think this ranking’s an indication that things will get worse for UVa than they were last year. An aggressive schedule is really what casts the most doubt, and even with that, this team could still very well contend for a bowl slot.
14. NC State Wolfpack (Last: 14): Can new head coach Dave Doeren run his pistol offense in Raleigh without the proper personnel to do so? We’ll certainly find out this fall as he attempts to fix what’s become a stagnant group that’s become far too reliant on the passing game. Expect a reversal of that norm for 2013, which could create a steep hill for this offense to climb.
15. Boston College Eagles (Last: 15): First and foremost, Steve Addazio was tasked with altering the level of talent coming to BC, and early in the 2014 recruiting game, it already appears he’s doing just that. For this year’s team, however, he’s pretty much stuck with what he’s got. That could go one of two ways: steely resolve to prove former coach Frank Spaziani was the problem, or a flat-lined going through the motions for the seniors. For what it’s worth, Alex Amidon appears committed to helping enact a culture change, which is certainly a good sign.