Over four months since the ACC Kickoff, here we are again weeks away from the next Clemson football game.
Back in July, we predicted the ACC order, All-ACC teams and the key storylines. In review...
ACC Media Ballot – Brandon Rink
1. Clemson (2)
2. Florida State (1)
3. N.C. State (7)
4. Syracuse (3)
5. Boston College (4)
6. Wake Forest (6)
7. Maryland (5)
1. Virginia Tech (2)
2. Miami (3)
3. North Carolina (5)
4. Virginia (7)
5. Georgia Tech (4)
6. Duke (1)
7. Pittsburgh (6)
Champion (Actual) Clemson (FSU/Duke)
ACC Player of the Year (Actual) Tajh Boyd (FSU's Jameis Winston)
2013 Preseason All-ACC Team (Actual)
QB- Tajh Boyd (Winston)
RB- Duke Johnson (Williams, BC)
RB- Kevin Parks (Freeman, FSU)
WR Sammy Watkins (Clemson)
WR Stefon Diggs (Crowder, Duke)
OT- Brandon Thomas (Erving, FSU)
OT- James Hurst (UNC)
OG- Brandon Linder (Jackson, FSU)
OG- Josue Matias (Mason, GT)
C- Jay Finch (Stork, FSU)
TE- Eric Ebron (UNC)
K- Chandler Catanzaro (Freese, BC)
Spec.- Stefon Diggs (Switzer, UNC)
DE- Vic Beasley (Clemson)
DE- James Gayle (Martin, UNC)
DT- Aaron Donald (Pitt)
DT- Derrick Hopkins (Whitlock, WF)
LB- Christian Jones (Brown, Duke)
LB- Telvin Smith (Perryman, Miami)
LB- Dyshawn Davis (Pierre-Louis, BC)
CB- Antone Exum (Joyner, FSU)
CB- Ross Cockrell (Duke)
S- Tre Boston (Harris, UVa)
S- Jason Hendricks (Cash, Duke)
P- Tommy Hibbard (O'Donnell, Miami)
1. Tigers’ target on their back: "The preseason hype machine really kicks up here. By Monday, Clemson will likely be crowned ACC favorites, by a wide margin, and Tajh Boyd will be anointed ACC Preseason Player of the Year. Both as a team and individually, they will look to shake some bad luck that’s come with the favorite status. Of course, Clemson was last picked to win the ACC in 2008…and then finished third in the Atlantic Division with a new coach by the end of the year (Swinney). Overall, the Tigers have won the conference 67 percent of the time (4-2) when tabbed as the favorite by the media. Individually, Boyd hopes to be the first player since 2007 to win both the pre-and-postseason ACC player of the year honors (Matt Ryan, Boston College). He will also be sure to shoulder a good amount of Heisman talk as well – despite no official campaign being underway yet. Odds-on, at least three more Tigers will join him as preseason All-ACC, including receiver Sammy Watkins, tackle Brandon Thomas and kicker Chandler Catanzaro."
Going into the season, Florida State was the game Clemson couldn't lose, and taking place in a place that the 'Noles hadn't won in since 2001, that didn't seem likely preseason. However, no one expected the juggernaut that Jimbo Fisher put on the field this season, and from play one, the difference in talent level was evident back on Oct. 19. The Tigers crushed the rest of their conference slate by 20 points a game, but none of those opponents came close to a top-25 ranking to close the season.
If not for Winston, Boyd would have been first-team All-ACC at quarterback for a third consecutive season, but BC's Andre Williams would have certainly taken player of the year honors.
2. But what about FSU?: "Much like Clemson last year, the reigning ACC champs are actually flying under the radar and the “disrespect” card is sure to be played here. The Seminoles face restocking their entire d-line and nine starters overall. Highly-rated redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has been tabbed by the experts as a Johnny Manziel-esque instant-impact player and he has some weapons to work with and a veteran offensive line (113 career starts). The Atlantic is likely to come down to the Clemson-FSU matchup again, which is in TigerTown on Oct. 19."
What more can you say about Jameis Winston? Coolly leading a national title contender, 3,624 total yards in only 384 plays (9.4 per) and 38 touchdowns to eight picks. He basically has 15 games between him and a lot of money.
No one really came close to beating Florida State in conference play, averaging a 39.2 margin of victory. Oddly enough, 7-5 Boston College kept it the closest in ACC losses for both FSU (14) and Clemson (10).
Fun stat (not so fun for 'Noles opponents) - FSU freshman kicker Roberto Aguayo outscored opposing teams 137-132 this season.
3. Welcome to the ACC: "The Syracuse Orange and Pittsburgh Panthers officially joined the conference on July 1, but this is the real welcoming party before the tribunal of ACC media. With second-year coach Paul Chryst, the Panthers figure to be picked towards the bottom of the Coastal Division with only five returning starters on offense, but they do bring back key cogs on defense from a group which finished 17th nationally in total defense last season. Joining the Tigers in the Atlantic is Syracuse, which sports a new coach (Scott Shafer) and faces replacing its school record holder in passing yards both career (9,190) and single-season (3,749), Ryan Nassib. Clemson will welcome them to the ACC come Oct. 5 for their conference opener in the Carrier Dome, looking to light up a defense losing its top-two tacklers and five starters. Confidence is high in their camp though coming off a 8-5 campaign – linebacker Dyshawn Davis already on record saying the Orange will 'shock the world' in their conference debut."
Three spots above the media pick is a little shocking, no? Syracuse was picked sixth in the Atlantic and finished third, knocking off Boston College to become the ACC's 11th bowl eligible team. The season had its rough patches with three losses of 35 or more in ACC play, but they also won two road games and held three teams to three or less points. They will return their quarterback, top receiver and some pieces on defense next season.
Pittsburgh finished below expectations (sixth instead of fifth), but were able to wrap up a bowl bid versus the Orange. They will feature a new QB, but return their top rusher and receiver next season.
4. Is there a Coastal favorite?: "I’m not sure there is. Monday’s ACC media poll will be an interesting exercise with a muddled group at the top of Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami. No team other than the two Techs have won the division since its inception, but UNC would have gone to the ACC Championship Game last year if not for a postseason ban (NCAA violations). Coming off two-straight years with postseason bans, Miami has an ACC-leading 20 returning starters and 55 letterman. They also host the Hokies and the Yellow Jackets, which makes them enticing. Virginia Tech will challenge with nine returners on defense and a forgiving schedule outside of trips to Georgia Tech and Miami. Chances are this division goes to the very last week."
And it did, with picked-last Duke beating UNC in Chapel Hill for a school-record 10th win and the Coastal crown. They finished on an eight-game winning streak, having the fortune of neither Clemson or FSU on the schedule this season (after playing both last year and still making their first bowl since 1994). What a job David Cutcliffe has done and watching videos like this one - it's really no surprise.
5. Next step for the ACC: "Maryland is out the door, after this season, but will they be leaving their $50 million exit fee in Greensboro? It’s a lawsuit that holds some of the conference’s newfound stability a bit in question, but the grant of media rights surrendered by the schools through 2026-27 definitely helps. How close are we to an ACC-centric television network? What’s up with the new conference bowl schedule (coming 2014-19)? What influence will the ACC have on the four-team playoff committee for next season? Conference commissioner John Swofford will get his chance to put his frame on the topics driving the future of the ACC."
The Maryland lawsuit is still very much in play, but the Terps weren't able to throw it out in a N.C. court. There's still another case to be held in a Maryland court.
ACC Network still seems some years off.
That ACC playoff influence? Why none other than Clemson AD Dan Radakovich.
Overall, the conference took a step forward with a national title contender and what's looking like second time in three years with two BCS bids. That's not to mention an ACC record 11 bowl teams. And the competition will only get stiffer with Louisville entering the Atlantic next season.