It’s time to move forward in the ACC, as in 10 years forward. What can the conference expect over the next decade? Here are 10 predictions, in no particular order:
1. Ryan Williams leaves early for the NFL. Odds are Williams and Darren Evans share the carries in 2010, with Evans, the older of the two, getting the first shot to stay on the field. That could prompt an early exit, but so could a standout solo performance that makes the NFL scouts drool.
2. The ACC produces a Heisman finalist. Not quite ready to say winner yet. But it could happen as early as 2010 or 2011, as Christian Ponder, Jacory Harris, and Williams should all be viable candidates. Younger players -- E.J. Manuel comes to mind -- could be in the mix later.
3. Push for conference realignment is turned down. Following the 2015 season, ACC officials can start talking about this again to see if there’s something else that makes more geographical sense. (The only problem with this is that it’s taken half the decade for everyone to realize which teams are in which conferences now.) Despite a push from fans, and maybe even schools like Boston College and Florida State, the ACC stays status quo with the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions.
4. Changing of the guards at Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer retires, Bud Foster takes over, and AD Jim Weaver steps down. The first is inevitable. The second isn’t a guarantee. And the third could be prompted by health concerns. Foster’s latest agreement will do a good job of keeping him in Blacksburg, though, and it would be a public relations nightmare if Virginia Tech picked anyone else to succeed Beamer.
5. The rise of Duke. Not only will the Blue Devils go to a bowl game, they’ll win the Coastal Division under coach David Cutcliffe. In just his second year, Duke controlled its own destiny as late as November.
6. Somebody other than Ralph Friedgen and James Franklin coaches Maryland. Mike Leach, anyone? There are some good head coaches out there still looking for jobs, and by keeping Friedgen on board despite his 2-10 record, Debbie Yow made it less costly to buy her way out of the head-coach-in-waiting deal. Even if Franklin stays on, how much different will it really be in College Park?
7. The ACC title game will change locations again only to come home to Charlotte. The city of Charlotte is locked in for the next two years, but after that it’s open season again. Charlotte will show increased attendance, but the ACC will also try another location, maybe D.C. or Baltimore, as well as moving it to the campus of the higher rated team in the BCS. Eventually, though, it will go back to Charlotte and stay there.
8. Miami contends for the national title. It could be any number of teams in the ACC that make the big game -– Florida State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, North Carolina –- but I’m giving the Canes my vote for the ACC’s first team to the BCS national championship this decade.
9. Florida State and Miami face each other in the ACC title game. It’s only a matter of time before both of these programs return to elite status, and considering the similar paths they’re on, odds are they get in each other’s way.
10. The ACC finally gets an at-large BCS bowl bid. It hasn’t happened since before ACC expansion. The conference came very close this year to having two BCS bowl-bound teams, as Miami and Virginia Tech both flirted with top 10 BCS rankings but eventually fell out. Considering how close the conference came this year with still-young teams, it’s bound to happen sooner than later.