1. Clemson (10-2)*+
2. Wake Forest (9-3)*
3. Maryland (7-5)*
4. Florida State (6-6)*
5. Boston College (5-7)
6. NC State (3-9)
+- ACC Champion
Despite having Terry Bowden as their coach this Clemson team should be able to finally produce results commensurate with the talent they have on the roster. With 16 returning starters this Tigers team will be experienced and very talented at the skill positions. Quarterback Cullen Harper is probably the best returning QB in the ACC, with all due respect to Riley Skinner, and his running back duo of C.J. Spiller and James Davis might be tops in the nation. A solid defense gets one of the best freshmen in the nation at any position in defensive end Da'Quan Bowers who may be a Julius Peppers level player. Add into that a very favorable road schedule with only one formidable game against Wake Forest and this season is tailor made for Bowden to finally earn his salary. The only stumbling block could be an unproven offensive line that lost four starters.
Jim Grobe has done the unthinkable and turned Wake Forest into an ACC football program worth taking seriously. He has an outside shot at a second ACC title in three years and if Clemson stumbles the Deacons will be right there to get to the Championship game. In my mind they are the second best team in the ACC. Riley Skinner needs to make better decisions as his mistakes probably cost the Deacons as many games as his gun slinging style won them. On defense senior CB Alphonso Smith might be the best defensive player in the ACC as he picked off 8 passes last season, returning three for touchdowns, forced four fumbles and had 18 passes defensed.
Maryland welcomes a new offensive coordinator and a new 3-3-5 scheme on defense this season. It remains to be seen if the personnel fit the West Coast style of James Franklin's new scheme but inexperienced senior Jordan Steffy was tagged to run the team in the early season tune ups against the likes of Delaware and Middle Tennessee. If he falters expect(or hope for) a quick hook. I was never enamored with West Virginia's use of the 3-3-5 defense and don't see it as a great improvement for a group that was awful against good running teams. Unfortunately for Maryland they face Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech this season who could all run the ball down the defense's throat. It seems likely that Chris Cosh will again prove he is no Gary Blackney. Maryland gets no favors with the schedule as they face a pair of no-win road games at Clemson and Virginia Tech and a bunch of tough home dates against conference title darkhorses in UNC and Wake Forest. The offensive scheme and quarterback play will probably limit the effectiveness of the skill position players.
Florida State continues its slide to irrelevance with an aging coach and rudderless program. The offense was supposed to be revived by coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher but Drew Weatherford stunk just as much as he did the year before and the Seminoles still lack a credible ground game. The only team FSU managed to blow out last season was Duke and even their 7-6 record was a shaky 7-6. Preston Parker and Greg Carr are big play skill position players at running back and wide out but I'm not sure the offensive line and quarterback will be able to exploit their talents.
Boston College has to come back down to earth after their magical 2007 season. Much like the basketball team the law of averages will probably catch up to the Eagles this season with QB Matt Ryan, RB Andre Callender and OT Gosder Cherilus all gone. Besides Ryan, who was a top pick in the NFL draft with 32 career starts, Callender had over 1,500 yards from scrimmage for an offense that was at times dynamic and at times sputtering. The defense should be solid if LB Brian Toal and DT B.J. Raji can regain their 2006 form after sitting out last season with injuries.
I did get to see NC State get demolished 34-0 last night by a South Carolina team that looked mighty rusty on offense. Think what may have happened if Spurrier's offense was clicking. Tom O'Brien's offenses are not dynamic but he has had much better than this inept collection. The defense is okay and obviously can cause some turnovers. Running back Andre Brown looks like he could be pretty good but after the play of the quarterbacks last night teams will be stacking the box all season long. The schedule provides few breaks and the closing stretch of games: Wake Forest, at UNC and Miami is brutal. The game at Duke is their only ACC breather and that isn't a sure thing this year.