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ACC: Team-by-team preview

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer

Capsule looks at each ACC team, in predicted order of finish:

ACC Atlantic

1. Clemson: Reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Year Tajh Boyd excelled in 2012, leading the Tigers to an 11-win season that finished with a fourth-quarter victory against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Boyd, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and All-ACC left tackle Brandon Thomas are now in year three of Chad Morris' potent offensive scheme, and the conference schedule sets up well for the Tigers if they can defeat Florida State at home on Oct. 19. It is the non-conference schedule, which is bookended by a season opener against Georgia at home and annual season finale at South Carolina, that will determine where the Tigers fall in the national picture.

ACC All-Conference
PosPlayerYrSchool
QBTajh BoydSr.Clemson
RBDuke JohnsonSoph.Miami
RBJames Wilder Jr.Jr.Florida State
WRSammy WatkinsJr.Clemson
WRStefon DiggsSoph.Maryland
TEEric EbronJr.North Carolina
OTCam ErvingJr.Florida State
OTBrandon ThomasSr.Clemson
OGWill JacksonSr.Georgia Tech
OGBrandon LinderSr.Miami
CBryan StorkSr.Florida State
DEJeremiah AttaochuSr.Georgia Tech
DEKareem MartinSr.North Carolina
DTAaron DonaldSr.Pittsburgh
DTTimmy JerniganJr.Florida State
LBChristian JonesSr.Florida State
LBJack TylerSr.Virginia Tech
LBSteele DivittoSr.Boston College
CBLamarcus JoynerSr.Florida State
CBRoss CockrellSr.Duke
SJason HendricksSr.Pittsburgh
STravis BlanksSoph.Clemson
KChandler CatanzaroSr.Clemson
PWill MondaySoph.Duke
KRStefon DiggsSoph.Maryland
PRJamal GoldenJr.Georgia Tech

2. Florida State: Just like the Tigers, the key to Florida State's BCS dreams will be winning the Atlantic Division showdown in Death Valley. Seminoles defensive back Lamarcus Joyner told the Orlando Sentinel that the Oct. 19 game wouldn't be "a walk in the park," but instead "a walk down a dark alley." Even after the departure of a school-record 11 NFL Draft picks, the Seminoles are restocked with enough talent to defend their ACC title. Keys for repeating as league champs will be maintaining the suffocating defense under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and the new starting quarterback, either Jameis Winston or Jacob Coker, taking advantage of the returning talent on offense.

3. North Carolina State: Dave Doeren, coming off back-to-back MAC championships at Northern Illinois, walks into an ideal situation for year one in Raleigh. The Wolfpack have eight home games on the 2013 schedule, draw Duke as their rotating crossover opponent and leave the state of North Carolina just twice -- traveling to face Boston College and Florida State. Doeren's work on the recruiting trail points to an upward trajectory for the program, but even the coach says NC State is two classes away from a comfortable depth. There will be some frustrations in the transition, but the schedule and a solid defense -- led by linebacker DJ Green and Thomas Teal, among others -- will be the reasons NC State is bowling again.

4. Maryland: The improvement from year one to year two under Randy Edsall was significant, but massive losses to injury prevented some of the payoff on the field and the Terps finished 4-8 in 2012. Stefon Diggs helped carry the offense with eight touchdowns, 848 receiving yards and 172.4 all-purpose yards per game while the Terps ran out of healthy quarterbacks, and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart helped propel the unit to No. 3 in the ACC in total defense -- just behind Florida State and Virginia Tech. With CJ Brown healthy under center, this could be a breakthrough year for Edsall and the Terps.

5. Boston College: If senior quarterback Chase Rettig can make in impact in the Eagles' new offense -- Ryan Day is Rettig's fifth offensive coordinator in 3.5 years -- like he did in 2012, Boston College should be able to reverse the program's five-year slide in the win column. Longtime defensive coordinator Don Brown takes over a unit with 10 returning starters, and head coach Steve Addazio has rejuvenated the program with his #BeADude recruiting campaign. There may be very little separation between the teams in the bottom half of the Atlantic, and the Eagles' season finale at Syracuse could determine December plans for both teams.

6. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons' struggles in 2012 resulted in putting Jim Grobe's redshirting policy "on hold" and adding new option-centric wrinkles in offense. But all the philosophy won't amount to wins if the Demon Deacons can't improve on third down. Wake Forest ranked No. 117 nationally in third down conversion on offense, and No. 103 nationally in opponents third down conversion. Improving the ball control will help avoid early deficits and take attention off one of the most versatile playmakers in the ACC: senior wide receiver Michael Campanaro.

7. Syracuse: The good news is that the Orange finish the season with two winnable games int he Carrier Dome. What remains to be seen is what those games will mean in terms of postseason eligibility. With an undetermined starting quarterback, re-worked offensive line and several fresh faces in the defensive line rotation, it is difficult to predict more than two or three ACC wins in the first season of play. An upset of Penn State or Northwestern might be necessary to send the Orange bowling for the second-straight year -- a feat that has not been accomplished since 1998-99.

ACC Coastal

1. Miami: Al Golden has battled a storm -- no pun intended -- for nearly his entire Miami career as a result of an NCAA investigation. But even with off-field issues looming, the program has excelled on the recruiting trail and the Hurricanes finished in a tie for first place in the Coastal Division in 2012. After two seasons of self-imposed postseason bans, the 2013 Miami team, with an ACC-leading 19 returning starters, has their eyes set on Charlotte in December. The Hurricanes have 97 total career starts on a physically imposing offensive line that will protect quarterback Stephen Morris and ACC Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson. The biggest challenge will be improvement on the defensive side of the ball, where a previously inexperienced group had a year to develop. Miami hosts Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, but road trips to Florida State, North Carolina on a Thursday night and an unseasonably cold -- at least by south Florida standards -- season finale at Pittsburgh could be potential stumbling blocks on the way to their ultimate goal.

2. Georgia Tech: On paper, it is easy to see the likelihood of improvement for Georgia Tech from 2012 to 2013. The Yellow Jackets return five experienced offensive lineman, which is always a plus in Paul Johnson's flexbone option attack, and new defensive coordinator Ted Roof will move the team to a 4-3 with All-ACC linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu moving to a potentially dominant pass-rush threat at defensive end. Sophomore quarterback Vad Lee has the tools to add a more dangerous passing attack to the offense, but the Yellow Jackets are still looking for a go-to receiver. Whether Georgia Tech can return to the ACC Championship Game for the third time in six years under Johnson could be decided by mid-October, after facing North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami in consecutive weeks.

3. North Carolina: The Tar Heels' offense broke out in year one under Larry Fedora, averaging 6.49 yards per play and over 40 points per game. Quarterback Bryn Renner added his name to the group of talented group of ACC quarterbacks, and his performance at offseason camps is drawing attention from NFL scouts. But with two big reasons for 2012's success already in the NFL -- offensive guard Jonathan Cooper and running back Gio Bernard -- the Tar Heels will look to All-ACC tackle James Hurst and a running back combination of A.J. Blue and Romar Morris to help Renner keep the offense rolling. In order to capture the Coastal Division and earn a bid to the conference title game, North Carolina will need more consistent play on defense. The Tar Heels gave up at least 33 points in six games last season, including 68 in a loss to division rival Georgia Tech.

4. Virginia Tech: With the return of multi-talented quarterback Logan Thomas and some staff shakeups -- the addition of offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes -- the Hokies are looking to move on from the uncharacteristic 7-6 finish in 2012. Virginia Tech had not lost that many games under Frank Beamer, now the FBS active career wins leader, since 1992. With nine starts back on a strong defensive unit, all eyes will be on Thomas and the re-worked offense. If the Hokies have improved line play and develop a reliable ground option (other than Thomas), they will be in the hunt to reclaim the Coastal Division crown.

5. Pittsburgh: After three head coaches in three years, it is understandable that it took the Pittsburgh players a while to get comfortable with Paul Chryst's staff. But offseason bonding stories are no longer pertinent when the Panthers hit the field, and in 2013 that will come against Florida State in a nationally televised game from Heinz Field. Pitt's meet-and-greet with the ACC will also reveal a lot to their own fans, as the Panthers take field without quarterback Tino Sunseri and running back Ray Graham for the first time since 2008. The staff is excited about the defense under the leadership of new defensive coordinator Matt House and longtime defensive coach John Palermo, and Aaron Donald will quickly become a name on the tongue of every offensive line coach in the league.

6. Virginia: An overhauled staff and the departure of two quarterbacks give the 2013 Cavaliers a clean slate after the disappointment of a 4-8 showing a year ago. Mike London tapped Steve Fairchild and former NC State coach Tom O'Brien to lead the offense, which returns nine starters from a year ago. Whoever wins the quarterback battle -- likely sophomore David Watford or redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert -- will have plenty of talent around to help. It does not help that Virginia draws Clemson from the other division, and faces both North Carolina and Miami on the road late in the season.

7. Duke: Duke will have the opportunity to return to the postseason in 2012, but the key will be avoiding the late-season slide that turned a memorable 6-2 start into another losing season. David Cutcliffe has stressed the importance of depth this offseason, but the good news is that the Blue Devils' late season schedule is much more manageable this season. November matchups with all three in-state ACC rivals -- vs. NC State, at Wake Forest, at North Carolina -- will determine whether Duke is bowling again.

 
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