A week from now – we’ll have ACC football to look forward too, so let’s wrap up some final thoughts/projections going into the seasons…
Top Five Games I’m Looking Forward To
1) Florida State at Virginia Tech, Nov. 8 (Thursday) – Divisional picks face off on a Thursday in Lane Stadium. What else can ya say?
2) Clemson at Florida State, Sept. 22 – If Clemson and FSU take care of business, this could be your primetime and maybe College Gameday site in week four. If all goes well, I plan on this being my first trip to Tallahassee – pumped about that.
3) Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, Sept. 3 – I’m a big fan of these ACC Labor Day games and it doesn’t get much better than the two teams that have dominated the Coastal going at it in week one.
4) Virginia Tech at Clemson, Oct. 20 – The rematch of the ACC title rematch of 2011 – the Hokies have a lot to prove after struggling mightily in two games with the Tigers last season.
5) Chick-Fil-A Kickoff games, Aug. 31-Sept. 1 – Cheating here, hey – they’re both in Atlanta. Tennessee-NC State up first on Friday and Clemson-Auburn to follow. I’ll be in town for part two and can’t wait.
Top Five Games That Could Be Better/More Important Than You Think
1) NC State at Clemson, Nov. 17 – As you noticed, there was a lot of FSU, Clemson and Virginia Tech in the list above, because they’re my top three teams this season. But if someone’s going to upset the apple cart (don’t even know what this means), it’s the Wolfpack. The Atlantic could come down to this one, and NC State beat down the Tigers 37-13 in Raleigh last season.
2) Florida State at NC State, Oct. 6 – Same reason as above…FSU fell 28-24 at Carter-Finley in 2010, but dominated in the Tallahassee rematch last season, 34-0.
3) Clemson at Wake Forest, Oct. 25 (Thursday) – This one went down to the wire last season with the division on the line, with the Deacs missing an opportunity to put the pressure on leading in the fourth quarter in Death Valley and the Tigers hitting a field goal at the gun to win, 31-28. Wake may or may not be in the same title hunt, but they can certainly spoil Clemson’s chances here.
4) UNC at Virginia, Nov. 15 (Thursday) – Depending on early season results, this could determine who challenges the Hokies in the final week for at least a share of the Coastal (UNC can’t advance on to Charlotte though).
5) Wake Forest at Duke, Sept. 29 – This will likely have no bearing on the title race, but it’s just been fun over the years. 39.4-34.2 average final with an overtime game and four decided by a touchdown or less in the last five.
Five Players Not All-ACC Preseason That Could Be Postseason
1) Bjoern Werner, FSU DE – 7 sacks/8 PBUs last season
2) DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson WR – Over 1,600 receiving yards in first two seasons with 9 touchdowns going into the second year in a prolific offense
3) Kevin Pierre-Louis, BC LB – 83.5 tackles average in two seasons
4) Xavier Rhodes, FSU CB – 1 INT/4 PBUs last year, but 4 INTs/12 PBUs in his freshman season
ACC Teams in Final Regular Season Top-25 (Projection)
No. 4 Florida State
No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 17 Clemson
No. 21 UNC
No. 22 NC State
ACC’s Rank Among Big 6 (for now) Conferences in 2012 (Top-25 teams, bowl eligible, OOC performance, championship contenders)
2) Big 12
4) ACC (Close to PAC-12 though)
5) Big Ten
6) Big East
ACC Heisman Contenders
1) Tajh Boyd, Clemson QB – Up until the stumble at the end last year, Boyd was putting up numbers on par with RGIII. In year two of the Chad Morris’ offense, maybe even better? (I tend to think they’ll be around last year’s numbers with the new o-line and his ’11 season being pretty good on its own…probably short of an invite to NYC).
2) Giovani Bernard, UNC RB – Behind an experienced o-line and new scheme, Bernard could turn his breakout sophomore campaign (1,253 yards/13 TD) into an All-American junior season.
3) Sammy Watkins, Clemson WR – He certainly has the name recognition after last season, but missing two games to start the season, the sophomore stud has some work to do starting week three against FCS-level Furman.
Positions That Could Derail the ACC Contenders
FSU: O-line – It’s been a weakpoint due to injury and otherwise over the last couple seasons, and ‘Noles quarterback E.J. Manuel needs all the protection he can get for a healthy 2012 season.
Clemson: O-line – Basically four new starters – two replaced by guards with no career snaps (LG David Beasley and RG Tyler Shatley) and possibly a third with zero snaps to start at right tackle in the opener (Shaq Anthony until sophomore Gifford Timothy’s knee heals enough to get back in action).
Virginia Tech: Wide receiver – You could just as easily say offensive line here too, but junior QB Logan Thomas needs reliable (and healthy) options at receiver to replace his top two targets from ’11.
NC State: Linebacker – After being a spot Jon Tenuta could count on of late, they replace all three starters here.
Georgia Tech: D-line – Three upperclassmen are projected as starters, replacing two seniors, in a critical part of Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme.