ACC Preview: Expert Predictions
Is Jameis Winston the offensive player of the year in the ACC? Is Miami the most overrated or underrated? Our staff breaks it all down in the ACC preview for 2014.
Offensive player of the year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Mr. Crab N Go tries to make it two in a row. Championships, that is. The number of off-field problems just seems to go on. Perhaps Winston's greatest strength is his ability compartmentalize. During much turmoil, he threw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Defensive player of the year: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. The Tigers' chances of repeating an 11-win season went way up when the All-American decided to return for his senior season. Beasley 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss.
Top newcomer: Jacoby Brissett, QB, N.C. State. The Pack's first winless conference season since 1959 will be a distant memory. After sitting out, Brissett, the former Gator, brings experience and athleticism to a position Dave Doeren couldn't get going in '13.
Coach of the year: Larry Fedora, North Carolina. Tar Heels' coach looks more ripped than some of his players. But few teams have more momentum than North Carolina which six of its last seven.
Most underrated team: Miami. Forgot about the Canes didn't ya? Miami went on NCAA probie in October. Al Golden almost left for Penn State. Quarterback is a question mark. But the sanctions weren't that bad, Golden stayed it looks like Kansas transfer Jake Heaps has a chance to start. While FSU is hogging the headlines and the state's recruits, the Canes are picked at or near the top of the Coastal.
Most overrated team: Louisville. As good as Bobby Petrino is, Charlie Strong left the Cardinals at just the right time. There's lots of work to be done here.
Most intriguing conference game: Clemson at Florida State, Sept. 20. The Tigers' only ACC loss came to the Noles in 2012 and 2013.
Most intriguing non-conference game: Miami at Nebraska, Sept. 20. Neither team may win its conference but the rematch marks a historical milestone. This matchup 31 years ago kicked off the Miami dynasty. The winner will enhance its national reputation, tarnished lately.
Bold conference prediction: Duke will 10 games for a second consecutive season.
Offensive player of the year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. There's a compelling case for Miami running back Duke Johnson, but Winston's ability to shrug off shaky starts and avoid bad games makes him the safe choice. With that offensive line and those receiving options, Winston's numbers will be stellar.
Defensive player of the year: Luther Maddy, DT, Virginia Tech. Clemson's defensive front is so deep that Vic Beasley might not have the numbers to surpass Maddy, an agile tackle who thrives in Bud Foster's system. The 296-pounder recorded 13.5 tackles for loss in 2013.
Top newcomer: Jacoby Brissett, QB, N.C. State. The Dave Doeren era can begin in earnest now. He has his quarterback. The Florida transfer has the size and the arm. Can he rally a young team?
Coach of the Year: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech. Jimbo Fisher will be deserving. He'll have the best squad. But this award doesn't always go to the most dominant coaches. Here's to betting Beamer doesn't have three straight uncharacteristic years. The Hokies can win the crowded Coastal.
Most overrated team: North Carolina. This is tough because no ACC team save FSU was ranked in the top 15 of the Coaches Poll. The Tar Heels are the only Coastal Division team in the top 25, so since I've picked Virginia Tech to win the division, UNC is rated slightly too high.
Most underrated team: Pittsburgh. The Panthers easily could surpass their sixth-place preseason Coastal ranking and climb the proverbial ACC ladder. New quarterback Chad Voytik has dual-threat ability and Tyler Boyd might be the league's best wideout.
Most intriguing conference game: Miami at Louisville, Sept. 1. So this is how you enter a new league -- on a Monday night in a marquee home game as Bobby Petrino's reintroduction to Louisville. Miami finally has a balanced roster in Al Golden's fourth year but enters the game with shaky quarterback otulook after injuries and suspensions.
Most intriguing nonconference game: Florida State vs. Oklahoma State (Dallas), Aug. 30. The Cowboys might have something for FSU. Don't think they'll win, but they will start hot with a sound offensive plan. The Seminoles will overwhelm in the second half, using the first weekend of the year to set the tone.
Bold conference prediction: The Hokies channel vintage Beamer Ball and pull off an ACC Championship Game win -- and the Seminoles still make the College Football Playoff at 12-1.
Offensive player of the year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Winston loses some of his playmakers, but he's helped immensely by the return of four senior starters on the offensive line. A clean pocket is a quarterback's best friend, and new skill-position players will emerge for Winston.
Defensive player of the year: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. Beasley returns after producing 13 sacks last year. The conventional thinking is Clemson will rely on its defense more this season, although it’s hard to imagine a Chad Morris offense slowing down too much.
Top newcomer: Ermon Lane/Travis Rudolph, WRs, Florida State. Take your pick. Either one of the five-star prospects could make an immediate impact with Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw gone. On the flip side: The Seminoles may be counting on freshmen WRs more than they’d like.
Coach of the year: David Cutcliffe, Duke. There aren't enough words to appropriately describe what Cutcliffe has done transforming Duke. Duke has played for more ACC championships than Miami. Let that sink in for a minute.
Most overrated team: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are a trendy pick to win the Coastal thanks to winning six of their last seven games in 2013, including a rout of Cincinnati. They were still a 7-6 team that got blown out by East Carolina at home.
Most underrated team: Duke. Call Duke a fluke at your own peril. The Coastal is so jumbled that there's no reason to think the Blue Devils can’t be a regular contender and make losing to Florida State in the ACC championship game an annual tradition.
Most intriguing conference game: Florida State at Louisville, Oct. 30. The Seminoles have only four true road games — N.C. State, Syracuse, Louisville and Miami. Weirder things have happened than the Seminoles getting challenged by a Bobby Petrino team on a Thursday night.
Most intriguing nonconference game: South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29. Dabo Swinney has made Clemson more consistent and nationally relevant than it was under Tommy Bowden. The problem: It’s happening during the greatest run ever by the Gamecocks, who have won five straight over Clemson.
Bold conference prediction: Florida State won't go undefeated again. The Seminoles will lose one game, win the ACC and create one of the first playoff arguments: Should a one-loss ACC champion be in the playoff? With the Seminoles' schedule, the answer will be yes.
Offensive player of the year: Jameis Winston, QB, FSU. The Heisman Trophy winner had an interesting off-season, but he's still among the favorites to win the award again.
Defensive player of the year: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. Beasley is the nation's leading returning pass rusher. He had 13 sacks last year and was a first team All-American.
Top newcomer: Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State. Rudolph was the top high school receiver in the country last year and figures to step into the prolific Seminole offense right away.
Coach of the year: David Cutcliffe, Duke. Duke shocked everyone by winning the division a year ago. It will be less of a shock if it happens again.
Most overrated team: Louisville. The Cards are in a year of transition with a new league, new coach (also an old coach) and new quarterback. Look for some struggles with all the changes.
Most underrated team: Pittsburgh. Not much is expected of the Panthers this year, but with a pretty favorable schedule, they have a chance to be a pleasant surprise.
Most intriguing conference game: Florida State at Miami, Nov. 15. The Seminoles will be a big favorite every time they take the field. This game is no exception, but it's probably their best chance to get beat.
Most intriguing nonconference game: South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29. This is likely the only non-conference game on the slate between two top ten teams. The fact that it's a big rivalry makes it even juicier.
Bold conference prediction: Duke will win its second straight division title. People will no longer think of Duke as a basketball school. (OK, maybe I got a little carried away with that last bit)
Offensive player of the year: Duke Johnson, RB, Miami. Everybody else is going to pick Jameis Winston, but I just want to go in a bit of a different direction. Last season Duke Johnson rushed for 920 yards and six touchdowns, and he did that while missing the last five games of the season. If he stays healthy he's going to have a huge season for the Hurricanes.
|DT||Luther Maddy||Jr.||Virginia Tech|
|CB||Kendall Fuller||Soph.||Virginia Tech|
|PR||Ryan Switzer||Soph.||North Carolina|
Defensive player of the year: Luther Maddy, DT, Virginia Tech. I developed a crush on the Virginia Tech defense last season, and Luther Maddy was one of the players that stood out to me more than any other. I love what he brings to the middle of that line as both a run-stopper and a pass-rusher. He'll be this year's Aaron Donald.
Top newcomer: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. Cook was one of the top recruits in the country, and he steps into a situation where there's certainly carries available for running backs. With all the other weapons on Florida State's offense, he should find plenty of room to work.
Coach of the Year: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech. After a couple of mediocre seasons, I expect Virginia Tech to get back to its roots of running the ball and playing strong defense and special teams. IN an ACC Coastal division that's wide open, that could be enough to win the division and get Beamer this honor.
Most overrated team: Louisville. This was tough because it's hard to call any team in the ACC overrated. They're all rated pretty accurately. But I just see that Louisville is finished to pick third in the Atlantic, and I'm not sure that's going to happen. Combine the move to the ACC, the loss of Teddy Bridgewater and the change from Charlie Strong's idea of offense to Bobby Petrino's, and I see a lot of potential pratfalls for the Cardinals in 2014. They'll go bowling, but if they do finish third in the division, they'll be a significant gap between them and second place.
Most underrated team: Virginia Tech. As I said earlier, I think Virginia Tech has a very good chance to win its division, yet the preseason media poll has the Hokies finishing third. But take all of this with a grain of salt because four Coastal Teams received at least 23 first-place votes from ACC media members.
Most intriguing conference game: Florida State at Miami, Nov. 15. Honestly, I'm just looking for potential losses for the Seminoles, and they're hard to find. Maybe if the Clemson game were later in the season and not in Tallahassee I'd point to that game, but instead I'll look at FSU's road trip to Miami in November. Maybe? I don't know. That's what's so intriguing!
Most intriguing nonconference game: Florida at Florida State, Nov. 29. Same thought process as the other game. Just looking for potential losses for the Noles, and this annual rivalry game to finish the season might be the best bet.
Bold conference prediction: NC State will finish third in the Atlantic. Somewhat insane to think after the Wolfpack went 0-8 in conference play last year, but I believe the combination of Jacoby Brissett, Shardrach Thornton and Bryan Underwood, along with four returning starters on the line should lead to a much-improved offense. That will help a young (but year older!) defense that struggled last season stay off the field a bit more.
Offensive player of the year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. A major reason no one's pulled an Archie Griffin other than Archie Griffin is that not only do Heisman-caliber numbers create expectations for beyond-Heisman-caliber numbers the following season, but Heisman-caliber numbers are usually outliers that aren't repeatable even for the game's legends. But look at Winston's teammates, his schedule, his sturdiness -- does anything suggest he can't just do what he did in 2013 in 2014?
Defensive player of the year: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. It was just last year a superstar pass-rusher playing in the Palmetto State failed dramatically to live up to the (unmeetable) hype, but Beasley might have even more help on Clemson's star-studded 2014 line and should be able to pile up the sack numbers playing opposite the Tigers' hyperdrive offense.
Top newcomer: Jacoby Brissett, QB, N.C. State. Brissett showed flashes of his blue-chip recruiting potential during his abbreviated Florida career, displaying above-average athleticism, a powerful arm, and all the requisite size for the position at the Power 5-level. He should fit Dave Doeren's offense to a T, and lead the Wolfpack back to the postseason.
Coach of the year: Bobby Petrino, Louisville. If you saw Will Gardner throw for 500-plus yards in the spring game (and if you've, you know, seen Devante Parker and Dominique Brown play at all), you know Petrino is going to have the Cardinal offense in its highest gear in years -- and if any remnant of Charlie Strong's defense remains intact under Todd Grantham, that offense can make the Cards the ACC's second-best team in its first year in the league.
Most overrated team: Clemson. No Sammy Watkins, No Martavis Bryant, no Roderick McDowell, and especially no Tajh Boyd. The Tigers might have the best defensive line in the country, but can a team with Chad Morris as its offensive coordinator really win big with a defense-first philosophy?
Most underrated team: Pittsburgh. The Coastal is as wide open as any division in the history of college football divisions, the Panthers don't play any of the three best teams in the Atlantic, and Chad Voytik, James Conner and Tyler Boyd make for the best array of skill position talent in the division. They can absolutely make the championship slaughter. Er, game.
Most intriguing conference game: Florida State at Louisville, Oct. 30. Unless you think the Seminoles are losing at home, to the Coastal champ, or to Oklahoma State --- no, no, and no -- there's only one potential hiccup on Florida State's path to the playoff: Thursday night's visit to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, where Petrino will have his team ready and waiting.
Most intriguing nonconference game: South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29. Dabo Swinney has accomplished pretty much everything asked of him at Clemson... other than wipe that smirk off Steve Spurrier's face. If Darth Visor comes into Death Valley and walks out having won a record sixth straight over the Tigers, the pain radiating from the Clemson sideline (and among the orange-clad faithful) will be visible from space.
Bold conference prediction: Pittsburgh wins the Coastal. We've already mentioned the positives for the Panthers, but don't overlook that everyone in this division (Pitt certainly included) has major negatives: Virginia Tech has no offensive identity, Miami has no quarterback, UNC is a perennial toe-stubber, Duke is thin, and Georgia Tech's quarterback transferred to James Madison. Why not the Panthers?
Offensive player of the year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. It's a down year for proven offensive talent in the ACC. Unless Duke Johnson leads the Hurricanes to a Coastal Division title this might Winston's honor to lose.
Defensive player of the year: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. Beasley, deservingly, gets most of the attention given to the Tigers' defensive front, but Grady Jarrett is a beast at defensive tackle and Corey Crawford (Honorable Mention All-ACC in 2013) is a senior in a contract year.
Top Newcomer: Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State. Rashad Greene can't catch all of Jameis Winston's passes, and the Rudolph looks like the most likely benefactor of a wide open rotation at wide receiver.
Coach of the Year: Bobby Petrino, Louisville. Louisville is ACC-ready in terms of team speed and talent, and if they can win the opener against Miami and survive the ACC Atlantic it will be a good look for Petrino in his second first year with the Cardinals.
Most overrated team: Miami. The media's pick to finish No. 1 in the Coastal needs to show some improved play on the defensive line to win me over.
Most underrated team: Duke. Knock the yardage differential and ugly wins from 2013 all you like, but winning ugly will be necessary to win a cluttered Coastal Division. If Duke can convert in short-yardage situations without Brandon Connette, the path to the ACC Coastal title will run through Durham.
Most intriguing conference game: Florida State at Louisville, Oct. 30. It'll be a Thursday night game just before Halloween. I expect a rowdy crowd and aggressive offensive showing from the Cardinals.
Most intriguing nonconference game: Virginia Tech at Ohio State, Sept. 6. After teeing off against Alabama last year, Virginia Tech's players are not uncomfortable with a trip to Columbus. If Bud Foster's defense can contain (or even frustrate) Braxton Miller, it will send a message to the rest of the ACC Coastal.
Bold conference prediction: Florida State loses a conference game. Yes, FSU will be heavily favored in every ACC game and I am still picking the Seminoles to finish as the league champion. But FSU has been good for a couple of head-scratching ACC losses, and even Alabama, in the midst of a dominant five-year run, has been unable to avoid upsets in recent years.
|ACC Predicted Order of Finish|
* - Conference Champion
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