The power division of the ACC features the two realistic national contenders from the league in Clemson and Florida State. Beyond those two, there are a number of teams hoping to take baby steps toward the top of the division. That group, led by teams such as North Carolina State, Syracuse and Maryland, has a great deal of ground to cover to do so. The Wolfpack did, however, score a victory over the Seminoles in 2013.
Boston College Eagles
2012: 2-10, 1-7 ACC; No bowl
It’s amazing how one program fell so far from a regular conference contender to the dismal season Boston College endured in 2012. Linking the struggles back to the administration’s unwillingness to ante up to keep Tom O’Brien followed by its insane decision to fire Jeff Jagodzinski for interviewing for a head-coaching job with the Atlanta Falcons might be oversimplifying things. Still, this is a program that desperately needs to prove it is willing to compete with the rest of the division.
The latest coach, Frank Spaziani, ran the win total into the ground over his four years – winning eight during Year 1 and then fewer for every season until getting fired for a two-win 2012. Now the Eagles turn to Steve Adazzio to reverse their fortunes. The former Temple coach and Florida assistant has his work cut out for him.
QB Chase Rettig returns for his senior season and eight defensive starters return from a unit that played horribly for most of last year.
What constitutes a successful season? Getting back to five wins would be a significant step forward for the Eagles. For a program that once was an easy bet for a bowl game, that sounds strange. However, the move to the ACC has been rough on BC and the program needs to show its fan base that better days are ahead. More wins – three in the non-conference and at least two more in the ACC – would go a long way. Making a bowl game would be a very strong first year for Adazzio.
2012: 11-2, 7-2 ACC; Won Chick-fil-A Bowl
Looming behind the hope and optimism surround Clemson’s 2013 season is a serious question: Is this the program’s best and final chance to win a national championship in the near future? It seems to be the perfect storm for coach Dabo Swinney, who has the best offensive coordinator in the game in Chad Morris. The Tigers also return 2012 ACC Offensive Player of the Year in QB Tahj Boyd and elite WR Sammy Watkins. And with non-conference games against SEC teams Georgia and South Carolina, the Tigers can likely afford to lose a game and still keep their national title hopes alive.
The largest concern seems to revolve around the secondary, which must replace three starters. How quickly a very green group of cornerbacks comes of age might well determine the Tigers’ ceiling.
In addition to Clemson’s two SEC games, the program’s biggest game – an Oct. 19 showdown with Florida State – is at Memorial Stadium. A road game at North Carolina State on a Thursday night could prove difficult and the game at Maryland a week after the Tigers play the Seminoles is another potential trap game.
What constitutes a successful season? At the very least, Clemson needs to win the ACC championship for this to be a successful season. Beating South Carolina would go a long way as well. There is no overstating the importance of the Tigers’ contest against Florida State. The entire ACC race hinges on that game. From a national standpoint, games against Georgia and South Carolina are just as important. If Clemson can win two of those three games, it has a realistic chance of playing for a national championship.
Florida State Seminoles
2012: 11-2, 7-1 ACC; Won Orange Bowl
Eleven starters from last year’s team are gone, including first-round NFL draft picks QB EJ Manuel, CB Xavier Rhodes and DE Bjorn Werner. Coach Jimbo Fisher has done an excellent job stocking the pipeline, however, and the Seminoles aren’t expected to miss a beat in 2013.
Florida State features a new defensive coordinator – aggressive blitz-caller Jeremy Pruitt – and will turn to freshman QB Jameis Winston. Both have plenty of talent, but are unproven at their respective positions. Leading rusher Chris Thompson is gone as well, but a group filled with potential, led by RBs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., seem poised to run behind a talented offensive line.
The season will come down to the Oct. 19 battle at Clemson. By then Winston will have half a season under his belt. Many of Florida State’s other potential games come at Doak Campbell Stadium, including tilts against North Carolina State and Miami. The annual regular-season finale against Florida will be played at The Swamp.
What constitutes a successful season? With two enormous changes, Florida State finds itself in a rare position – a non-favorite to win the ACC. That mantle goes to Clemson, though few will be stunned if the Seminoles make it back-to-back years winning the league. Considering the importance of the two major changes, expectations must be scaled down a bit for Florida State. Of course, in Tallahassee that still means double-digit wins. If the Seminoles win 10, including one against Florida, it will have been a strong first season for Winston.
2012: 4-8, 2-6 ACC; No bowl
What a difference a quarterback makes. Well, that’s the hope of Maryland this season. The issues at the position last year have been well-documented. C.J. Brown returns from an ACL tear to resume his role as QB1 for the Terps.
Despite a 4-8 record, Maryland showed improvement in most positions in 2012. Unfortunately, when a linebacker is playing quarterback for significant time, such improvements aren’t reflected in the win-loss category.
This is a pivotal season for coach Randy Edsall, in his third year after going 6-18 through the first two. Though Edsall hasn’t produced the desired results on the field, he has done an excellent job on the recruiting trail. If everything comes together in 2013, the Terps could be among the most improved teams in the nation this season.
What constitutes a successful season? Because Edsall inherited a team that won nine games in 2010 and he has since gone 6-18, he doesn’t get the benefit of simply making a bowl game being steady improvement. Instead, success will be measured as a significant move forward in the division and more wins this season than in Edsall’s previous two. Seven or eight wins, with a victory over annual rival West Virginia, would be tremendous progress for the Terrapins.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
2012: 7-6, 4-4 ACC; Lost Music City Bowl
A 7-5 season that included a victory over Florida State was not enough for coach Tom O’Brien to save his job. First-year coach Dave Doeren lacks experience – 2013 will mark his third season as a head coach – but saw spectacular results in two years at Northern Illinois. Last season he guided the Huskies to becoming the first team in MAC history to qualify for a BCS game.
Not only does the Wolfpack start anew with its coach, it also must find an answer at quarterback with Mike Glennon now gone. Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell couldn’t win the starting job with the Razorbacks because he couldn’t avoid costly turnovers. He will have a chance to become QB1 with the Wolfpack in August after Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker played to an indecisive stalemate during spring ball. Whoever gets the nod will take snaps behind an offensive line that replaces three starters.
Fortunately for North Carolina State, a non-conference season lacking in threats could easily lead to a clean slate there. That would mean the Wolfpack would need to navigate just a 4-4 mark in the ACC to win eight regular-season games.
What constitutes a successful season? A regular-season finale against Maryland could well determine which team finishes third in the division. In theory, the schedule should allow a strong start for Doeren. For significant improvement, though, the Wolfpack must avoid crippling upset losses that stained O’Brien’s tenure. Last season it was an inexplicable 33-6 home defeat against Virginia that left more questions than answers. Eight wins, including a win over the Terps, and a third-place finish in the division would be a strong season.
2012: 8-5, 5-2 Big East; Won Pinstripe Bowl
New conference, new coach, new quarterback. Aside from that, things haven’t changed that much at Syracuse. At least former coach Doug Marrone left former defensive coordinator and first-year coach Scott Shafer with a program moving in the right direction. Marrone inherited a mess from Greg Robinson, who went 10-37 over four seasons. The Orange went to a pair of bowl games, including last year when it beat West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Moving from the Conference Formerly Known as the Big East doesn’t figure to be an easy adjustment for Syracuse. Add in a pair of non-conference games against Big Ten teams that finished with winning records in 2012 – Penn State and Northwestern – and it’s easy to see that this year could see a step back.
A five-game stretch, starting Oct. 12 at North Carolina State, featuring a home game wedged in the middle of four road contests could determine whether the Orange are bowl-bound or home for the holidays.
What constitutes a successful season? Though the Orange won eight games a season ago, all the changes this season make a regression seem likely. If Syracuse can win six regular-season games and go to a bowl, it would be a strong start to the ACC era .
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2012: 5-7, 3-5 ACC; No bowl
A senior quarterback (the enigmatic Tanner Price) a talented run game and a return to a tried and true offensive strategy gives hope to a Wake Forest team that finished one win away from a bowl game in 2012. Eight defensive starters return, but they must improve on a unit that allowed 31.8 points per game a year ago.
Coach Jim Grobe has performed miracles at Wake Forest before, leading the Demon Deacons to the 2006 ACC championship. He won’t have the most talented team in the league, but with a few breaks, he could easily have a team competing for third in the ACC Coastal.
A tricky home game against Louisiana-Monroe could pose problems and closing with Vanderbilt means running the non-conference slate will be difficult. Of the three opponents that seem likely to contend for the No. 3 spot in the division, two – Maryland and North Carolina State – come to BBT Field.
What constitutes a successful season? While Wake Forest probably has its sights set higher, a .500 record in the conference would be an exceptional season. A good year would probably mean 6-6 regular season with a bowl victory. Especially if the Demon Deacons can split with Duke and North Carolina State, it will have been a pretty strong season.