Print and Go Back ESPN.com: ACC [Print without images]

Monday, July 19, 2010
Feldman: ACC sleepers

By Heather Dinich
ESPN.com

In his recent mailbag, colleague Bruce Feldman mentioned a few ACC teams as programs having the potential to finish the season ranked among the Top 5 in the BCS standings: Virginia Tech, Miami, North Carolina and Florida State.

Remember, the reason they're called sleepers is because you don't see them coming, and each of these teams has the potential to sneak into the national title conversation. Here's one good reason why each of them will be national title contenders this fall, and one good reason why they won't:

MIAMI

Why it will: Depth. The Canes have the fewest questions in the ACC on both sides of the ball and have answers in all three phases of the game. This is one of the most complete, experienced Miami teams in recent years.
Why it won't: Schedule. Not only do the Canes have back-to-back road trips against Ohio State and Pitt, they also have the unforgiving Coastal Division lineup.

VIRGINIA TECH

Why it will: Offense. Two 1,000-yard rushers, a senior quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, and improved receivers make for an interesting change in Blacksburg, where expectations are higher for the offense than the defense.
Why it won't: Rebuilt lines. The Hokies have to replace three of four starters on the defensive line and two starters on the offensive line.

NORTH CAROLINA

Why it will: Defense wins championships. NCAA investigation aside, if this defense remains in tact it should be one of the best in the country.
Why it won't: Quarterback concerns. Turnovers have been a problem in the past, and if a change in the starting lineup is made during the season, it will throw a learning curve into the mix.

FLORIDA STATE

Why it will: Offensive line. It all starts up front, and with five starters returning, this group of veterans should be the best in the ACC this fall.
Why it won't: Defensive overhaul. While there are bound to be improvements, it should still take some time to adjust to the new system and new philosophy.

So who has the best chance?

The Hokies. Two main reasons: 1. They'll start the highest in the preseason rankings. 2 They've got the most favorable nonconference schedule. It's also because they're talented, and they've proven capable of doing it before -- more recently than any of the other teams listed here. Until another team displaces the Hokies as the ACC's highest ranked team, they'll remain the conference's best hope at a national title.