- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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The early NFL draft hopefuls have gone, the early enrollees have arrived, and recruiting classes have been added that could have an impact on the 2012 ACC race. Considering all the offseason shuffling, it’s time for an updated yet still way-too-early look at how the ACC could stack up this season:
1. Florida State:The Noles brought in the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, including the No. 1 defensive end, the No. 1 defensive tackle and the No. 1 quarterback. Not to mention the abundance of talent they return from last season’s nine-win team. Not only will FSU be better in 2012, but it will also be deeper and more talented.
2. Clemson: The Tigers have the No. 9-ranked class in the country, and they used it to fill some major needs up front. Clemson’s biggest obstacle this fall will be replacing three starters on both the offensive and defensive lines. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has enough skill players around him, though, that the Tigers can repeat as ACC champs.
3. Virginia Tech: The Hokies also have some big shoes to fill on the offensive line and running back thanks to the early departure of David Wilson to the NFL, but the staff lured in a top-25 recruiting class complete with some impressive running backs to rebuild the depth at the position. Virginia Tech’s best asset heading into 2012 will be one of the nation’s best defenses.
4. NC State: The Wolfpack can be a dark horse for the ACC title, especially if they stay healthy. Quarterback Mike Glennon should be one of the best in the league, four starters return on the offensive line, and this recruiting class gave the defensive line some old-school speed off the edge.
5. Virginia: Mike London quietly brought in one of the better recruiting classes in the ACC again, albeit with less fanfare than a year ago. If the Cavaliers can overcome the loss of seven starters on defense, they can again challenge for the Coastal Division title.
6. Miami: The outlook for the Canes has improved significantly with the nation’s No. 8 recruiting class, as many of those true freshmen will be given an opportunity for starting jobs or to at least work their way into the rotation and get meaningful reps. Still, there will be a learning curve, and quarterback Stephen Morris still has something to prove.
7. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets seem like an average team right now. There are no superstars, the recruiting class was ho-hum, and the program’s place in the eyes of the NCAA right now is in limbo. While they return a bulk of their starters from a year ago, other programs seem to be making more progress quicker.
8. Wake Forest: The Deacs brought in a typical, Jim Grobe-type recruiting class: not flashy but will help the program to bowl games with the staff’s ability to develop talent. They return starting quarterback Tanner Price, who was one of the most improved players in the ACC a year ago, but must replace four starters on the offensive line.
9. North Carolina: First-year coach Larry Fedora has the energy, but does he have enough time? Fedora said he wants to change everything at UNC from the personnel to the philosophy and the culture. He’ll switch schemes on offense and defense, but is the offseason enough time to do that and make Carolina a contender in the Coastal race?
10. Maryland: The Terps will be better, and they should go to a bowl game, but without knowing what’s going on at quarterback, they’re a little tricky to predict. Is C.J. Brown the guy, or will Danny O’Brien be the man under first-year coordinator Mike Locksley? This team could move up the rankings quickly this season.
11. Boston College: The Eagles had another blue-collar class that could have been a disaster with defections but was salvaged in the end. Replacing linebacker Luke Kuechly isn’t realistic, but BC welcomes back more than it loses, and that could add up to a surprise season in Chestnut Hill.
12. Duke: The Blue Devils brought in a better class than it was probably given credit, but until that starts translating into wins, Duke will maintain the dubious distinction of last in the ACC.
2dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna