ACC features parity

By: Oscar Mattingly | Sunday, August 30, 2009

QB Tyrod Taylor will lead Virginia Tech's offense

The ACC didn’t have a top-10 team last year, but did manage to win a BCS bowl game for the first time since 1999. Ten teams made bowls, but only four came away winners. Parity was the name of the game. It could be more of the same this year, once you get past Virginia Tech.

There are many teams that could make the ACC title game, especially if the Hokies stumble. It could again make for a lot of bowl-eligible teams. A look at the top teams, as far as ‘over/under’ win totals are concerned, appears below. Win totals, which count only the regular season, appear courtesy of


Virginia Tech – 9 wins

The Hokies are the class of the conference, despite news that Darren Evans is out for the year with a torn ACL. Evans rushed for 1,265 yards as a freshman despite not becoming the starter until Week 7. Though Virginia Tech is still No. 7 in the preseason AP poll, there is still room for optimism because of Frank Beamer, defense, experience and Tyrod Taylor.

The Hokies return 15 starters from a 10-4 team that captured the Orange Bowl. The defense, with seven starters back, didn’t allow more than 16 points in any of its last six games. Taylor was mistake-prone as a true freshman, but that came with an inexperienced group at wide receiver. With a year under his belt, he could be nearly as dangerous a passer as he is a runner.

LIKELY WINS: Marshall, at Duke, Boston College, at East Carolina, at Maryland, at Virginia

UP FOR GRABS: Alabama (at Atlanta), Nebraska, Miami, at Georgia Tech, North Carolina, NC State

NOTEWORTHY:  Alabama in the opener is a major test that could springboard the Hokies to national-title contention.

Georgia Tech – 8 1/2 wins

With 18 returning starters, including preseason player of the year Jonathan Dwyer, the Yellow Jackets are thinking big. Dwyer averaged 7.0 yards per carry for 1,395 yards as a sophomore for a running game that averaged 273 yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry. Returning quarterback Josh Nesbitt and running back Roddy Jones rushed for 693 and 690 yards, respectively, last year in coach Paul Johnson’s potent flexbone attack.

The defense didn’t make headlines last year, but it does return eight starters that were stingy against the run, allowing 3.6 yards per carry. Defensive end Derrick Morgan had seven sacks a year ago and could be poised for double digits quarterback takedowns.

LIKELY WINS: Jacksonville State, at Mississippi State, at Virginia, at Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, at Duke

UP FOR GRABS: Clemson, at Miami, North Carolina, at Florida State, Virginia Tech, Georgia

NOTEWORTHY:  The schedule is front-loaded. After the ACC game of the year against Va. Tech on Oct. 17, the Jackets may not be challenged until Nov. 28 against Georgia.

Clemson – 8 wins

The Tigers were a major disappointment last year, starting the preseason in the top 10, getting pummeled by Alabama in the opener and never recovering until after Tommy Bowden was fired in the middle of the season. Clemson lost its top running back and its quarterback, but will anyone really miss Cullen Harper? Running back James Davis was average at best. Willy Korn is now under center and behind the conference’s best offensive line. With seven returning starters on offense, including dangerous running back C.J. Spiller, it should be a more consistent group than last year.

The defense, with eight returning starters, should be even better than a unit that held the opposition to 17.3 points per game, 3.7 yards per carry and just 55 percent pass completions. Defensive end Ricky Sapp was disruptive and linebacker Kavell Conner racked up 125 tackles.

LIKELY WINS: Middle Tennessee, Boston College, at Maryland, Coastal Carolina, Virginia

UP FOR GRABS: at Georgia Tech, TCU, Wake Forest, at Miami, Florida State, at NC State, at South Carolina

NOTEWORTHY: The Tigers get Georgia Tech in a tone-setting cross-over game on Sept. 10, a Thursday night, after the Sept. 5 opener with Middle Tennessee.

Florida State – 7 1/2 wins

The Seminoles, once kings of the ACC, are just 12-12 SU in league play the last three years and haven’t won double-digit games since 2003. Eight starters return to an offense that racked up 33.4 points per game, a number aided by a 69-0 pasting of Western Carolina. Quarterback Christian Ponder was inconsistent as a sophomore (14 TDs, 13 INTs) and needs to be better for the Seminoles to contend because FSU is going to have to win with its offense.

The defense, which got burned for 27-plus points on five occasions last year, returns five starters. However, there’s not really a playmaker among them.

LIKELY WINS:  Jacksonville State, at Boston College, at Wake Forest, Maryland

UP FOR GRABS:  Miami, at BYU, South Florida, Georgia Tech, at North Carolina, NC State, at Clemson, at Florida

NOTEWORTHY: The Seminoles avoid Virginia Tech in a cross-over game, but they do get the Coastal division’s next thee best teams – Ga. Tech, UNC and Miami.
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