ACC: Atlantic Division

Video: Previewing the ACC

August, 19, 2009
8/19/09
4:00
PM ET

Ivan Maisel and Heather Dinich preview the 2009 ACC season.

November will decide December in the ACC Atlantic

July, 31, 2009
7/31/09
4:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

And here is where the wackiness will mirror 2008.

Fans of the Atlantic Division might as well get comfortable. You're going to be waiting a while to figure this one out. We should have the answer by Thanksgiving.

What makes it difficult to predict the Atlantic Division is that there really is no clear frontrunner. FSU was picked by the media to win the division at the ACC Football Kickoff, but four different teams -- FSU, Clemson, NC State and Wake Forest -- received first-place votes. Maryland and Boston College are the only two teams that aren't generating high expectations, and with good reason.

That's why the month of September doesn't carry too much weight for the Atlantic Division. Only Boston College plays twice -- at Clemson and home against Wake Forest. Odds are those games will carry more importance for the Eagles' opponents. Either way, there are plenty of games left on the schedule to redeem September mistakes.

There's not one game in particular that seems to hold the answer to the Atlantic Division. If I didn't have a hunch that Clemson were really going to be in this thing, I'd say it would come down to the Oct. 31 game between Florida State and NC State. But I don't expect it to be that simple. Instead, it seems to be a combination of that game, plus November weekends when Florida State travels to Clemson and NC State hosts the Tigers. And these days, you never take Wake-FSU lightly.

Bottom line: September is the month for BC to find consistency at quarterback and leadership at linebacker. October is the month Wake Forest could surprise some people, BC's fate will be determined and Clemson could start to make a push in the standings. November is when the separation will occur between Clemson, Florida State and NC State.

Here's how the Atlantic Division schedule shakes out:

SEPTEMBER
BC at Clemson (Sept. 19)
BC vs. Wake Forest (Sept. 26)

OCTOBER
NC State at Wake Forest (Oct. 3)
BC vs. FSU (Oct. 3)
Clemson at Maryland (Oct. 3)
Maryland at Wake Forest (Oct. 10)
BC vs. NC State (Oct. 17)
Clemson vs. Wake Forest (Oct. 17)
FSU vs. NC State (Oct. 31)

NOVEMBER
Clemson vs. FSU (Nov. 7)
Maryland at NC State (Nov. 7)
Clemson at NC State (Nov. 14)
FSU at Wake (Nov. 14)
FSU vs. Maryland (Nov. 21)
BC at Maryland (Nov. 28)

The votes are in: Hokies, Dwyer picked as tops in the ACC

July, 27, 2009
7/27/09
2:19
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The results are in, and Virginia Tech was predicted to win the ACC championship -- again. Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer was picked as the 2009 Preseason ACC Player of the Year. There were 87 total votes.

Here's how the voting broke down:

ATLANTIC DIVISION

  1. Florida State (56)
  2. Clemson (14)
  3. NC State (10)
  4. Wake Forest (7)
  5. Maryland
  6. Boston College

COASTAL DIVISION

  1. Virginia Tech (78)
  2. Georgia Tech (9)
  3. North Carolina
  4. Miami
  5. Virginia
  6. Duke

PREDICTED ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME WINNER

  1. Virginia Tech (69)
  2. Florida State (7), Georgia Tech (7)
  3. Clemson (2), NC State (2)

2009 PRESEASON ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR

  1. Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech (39, and Happy Belated Birthday to Dwyer, who turned 20 on Sunday)
  2. C.J. Spiller, Clemson, (28)
  3. Russell Wilson, NC State (16)
  4. Christian Ponder, FSU; Vic Hall, Virginia; Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech; Riley Skinner, Wake Forest (1)

Preseason mags: Duke and Maryland? Maybe next year

July, 13, 2009
7/13/09
1:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

While you were chewing on the lunchtime links, I snuck out today and snagged as many preseason magazines as I could find at Borders. I got Athlon, Lindy's, Yahoo! Sports and rivals.com, Sporting News, and Phil Steele.

Judging by these picks, Maryland and Duke might as well start looking ahead to 2010, because they've pretty much been written off for this season. (My take: Boston College and Virginia will struggle more.) And Miami, a program which desperately needs a boost into the national spotlight, was regarded overall as the fourth best team in the Coastal Division. Virginia Tech, obviously, is the clear-cut favorite, and there seems to be some confusion about whether or not Georgia Tech is better than North Carolina. That's understandable, because nobody really knows. But lord knows we love to guess ...

Here are the predictions:

Athlon
Atlantic:
1. FSU, 2. NC State, 3. Clemson, 4. Wake Forest, 5. Boston College, 6. Maryland
Coastal: 1. Virginia Tech, 2. North Carolina, 3. Georgia Tech, 4. Miami, 5. Virginia, 6. Duke
Virginia Tech over FSU in the title game
My take: The final verdict is a good early pick, and one that should be pretty popular, but I think the Nos. 5 and 6 spots for each conference should be reversed. I definitely don't think the Terps are a last-place team, even though they graduated so many players. There's a lot of young talent still on the roster the staff is excited about, and this group might actually have better athletes than it has in the past. The Eagles have more concerns right now than the Terps, who at least have a proven veteran quarterback in Chris Turner.

Lindy's
Atlantic: 1. FSU, 2. Wake Forest, 3. Clemson, 4. NC State, 5. Boston College, 6. Maryland
Coastal: 1. Virginia Tech, 2. Georgia Tech, 3. North Carolina, 4. Miami, 5. Virginia, 6. Duke
My take: That's a lot of confidence for a Wake Forest team that lost its best defensive players in school history. Jim Grobe is arguably the best coach in the ACC, so I wouldn't put it past the Deacs, especially with so much returning offensively, but Clemson and NC State have more going for them on paper right now.

Sporting News
Atlantic: 1. FSU, 2. NC State, 3. Wake Forest, 4. Clemson, 5. Maryland, 6. Boston College
Coastal: 1. Virginia Tech, 2. Georgia Tech, 3. North Carolina, 4. Miami, 5. Virginia, 6, Duke
My take: Remember when I said nobody is talking about Clemson? So far the Tigers haven't been given too much credit, and this is the lowest they've been picked so far.

Here's my biggest disagreement with the Sporting News' preview, and it has nothing to do with team rankings. The magazine rated Dolphin Stadium as the best stadium. I beg to differ. It's not even close to the atmospheres at Lane Stadium, Doak Campbell or Death Valley. However, they did give best home-field advantage and best fans to Clemson. That's more like it (although I think the Hokies rival them there, too).

Yahoo! Sports and rivals.com
Atlantic: 1. Florida State, 2. Clemson, 3. NC State, 4. Wake Forest, 5. Boston College, 6. Maryland
Coastal: 1. Virginia Tech, 2. Georgia Tech, 3. North Carolina, 4. Miami, 5. Virginia, 6. Duke
Championship: Virginia Tech over FSU
My take: These are great picks, and I've already mentioned I'd switch the last two in each conference. Somebody is finally recognizing the talent on Clemson's roster, and this magazine says Clemson is the team that will surprise and Miami is the team that will disappoint. (I think both teams have already accomplished that, no?)

Phil Steele
Atlantic:
1. Clemson, 2. Florida State, 3. Boston College, 3. NC State, 5. Wake Forest, 6. Maryland
Coastal: 1. Virginia Tech, 2. Miami, 3. Georgia Tech, 4. North Carolina, 5. Virginia, 6. Duke
My take: Way to change it up, Phil. No doubt Clemson is capable, but NC State should be better than a tie for 3rd and BC has too many questions right now for that much credit. Phil also gives the most credit to Miami, and if it weren't for their brutal schedule, more people would probably agree with him. There's no question the Canes have the talent to challenge the Hokies, but don't forget they've also got two new coordinators.

It's time to talk about Clemson

July, 8, 2009
7/08/09
10:54
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Shh. Hear that?

It's nobody talking about Clemson.

What a dramatic turnaround from a year ago, when the Tigers seemed to be invincible before the season even began. They were the talk of August. This summer, there's barely a whisper.

The thing is, more people should be giving this team a legitimate chance to win the Atlantic Division this year. It's wide open, and with the exception of Florida State, Clemson might have the most raw talent to work with.

Phil Steele is one of the few preseason magazines (probably the only one) that predicts Clemson will finish atop the Atlantic Division standings. He backs it up: The offensive line will be better (maybe still not as good as it needs to be, but better), the defense should be one of the best in the conference and there are two quarterbacks worth getting excited about.

Steele ranks Clemson's offensive and defensive lines No. 2 in the ACC. All of the ingredients are there, especially with so many questions facing Maryland, Wake Forest and Boston College. The possible absence of Nate Irving at NC State, and Florida State's issues at receiver also evens out the competition a bit.

The obvious question is whether coach Dabo Swinney is the right man for the job. Swinney is motivated, he's outgoing and he's a salesman. But so far, he's only got Clemson talking about Clemson.

Video: ACC football rivalries

July, 2, 2009
7/02/09
1:49
PM ET

ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel and Heather Dinich discuss the ACC's red-hot rivalries for '09.

Video: ACC vs. SEC Mythical Challenge

June, 12, 2009
6/12/09
6:00
PM ET

Ivan Maisel sits down with Heather Dinich and Chris Low to pit college football conferences head-to-head.

Video: ACC vs. Big East Mythical Challenge

June, 12, 2009
6/12/09
3:45
PM ET

Ivan Maisel sits down with Heather Dinich and Brian Bennett to pit college football conferences head-to-head.

Make or break time in the ACC

May, 29, 2009
5/29/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

There is usually a point during the season that makes or breaks a team's chances at contending for the conference title. Here's a look at what that key stretch in the schedule might be for each team in the ACC:

BOSTON COLLEGE: A three-game swing against Atlantic Division opponents that begins Sept. 19 at Clemson, includes a Sept. 26 home game against Wake Forest and ends Oct. 3 against Florida State will go a long way in determining if the Eagles have a prayer of ending up in the ACC title game for the third straight season.

CLEMSON: The back-to-back games against Atlantic Division opponents to start the month of November could either push the Tigers into the race or spoil it for the two preseason frontrunners, Florida State and NC State.

DUKE: The Blue Devils have a tough four-game stretch against all Coastal Division opponents late in the season, and three of the four games are on the road at Virginia, North Carolina and Miami. Duke hosts Georgia Tech on Nov. 14.

FLORIDA STATE: Yes, the opener against Miami will be important, but it won't carry as much weight in the conference race as the Noles' November schedule. It actually begins on Oct. 31 with a home game against NC State -- a game that could determine the division winner - and continues with back-to-back road trips to Clemson and Wake Forest before finishing the conference schedule against Maryland. Considering four of FSU's five Atlantic Division opponents aren't played until the second half of the season, that's when their fate will be determined -- not on Labor Day.

GEORGIA TECH: If the Yellow Jackets are going to push Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division title, they first have to put themselves in contention to win it, and that starts in September with back-to-back games against Miami and North Carolina. The game at Miami is on a Thursday night, and the Canes will want to redeem themselves from last year's poor performance on defense.

MARYLAND: The Terps have a tendency to wait until the final two games of the season to let Florida State and Boston College determine their fate for them. This year, though, Maryland has four straight games at home that could put them at 4-1 heading into a critical Atlantic Division game at Wake Forest. Factoring in a possible loss at Cal, the Terps have to take care of business at home early.

MIAMI: The Hurricanes have no choice but to play November football in September. Their first three games are conference games, including a Thursday night matchup against Georgia Tech and a trip to Blacksburg. Best case scenario? The Canes are 3-0 heading into a showdown with Oklahoma. Worst case scenario? They're 0-4 and heading into trap games against Florida A&M and Central Florida. Even if Miami is 1-3 out of the gate, though, and beats their in-state opponents, that sets up for a huge game against Clemson.

NORTH CAROLINA: Yes, the road trip to Georgia Tech will be critical, but back-to-back Thursday night games -- including the first Thursday night game ever in Chapel Hill -- is where it begins or ends for the Heels. An upset in Blacksburg would be huge, and a preceding home win over FSU would give them the momentum and confidence to do it. A 2-0 Thursday night record heading into home Coastal Division games against Duke and Miami would help outweigh whatever happened earlier in the season in Atlanta.

NC STATE: The Wolfpack has a bye week to prepare for a trip to Florida State, and a win in Tallahassee would go a long way. That momentum could set up two more home wins against Maryland and Clemson, both Atlantic Division opponents, and possibly have NC State on a significant win streak heading into Blacksburg.

VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers have four weeks to prepare for their first ACC opponent, and it's not until Oct. 24 against Georgia Tech that they'll start to figure out where their place is in the Coastal Division standings. Consecutive home game wins against Georgia Tech and Duke could lead to an upset win at Miami and shake things up drastically in that race.

VIRGINIA TECH: Yes, the Alabama game is big-time, but it doesn't do diddly when it comes to the ACC race. The Hokies Oct. 17 game at Georgia Tech is followed by a bye week to prepare for a Thursday night home game against UNC. Those two games will be a huge factor in determining the Hokies' fate.

WAKE FOREST: This one is interesting. Why? Because the Demon Deacons aren't facing the highest of expectations, yet their schedule is very favorable with five of their first six games at home. The potential is there for Wake Forest to be 6-0 and bowl eligible before hoops practice starts. You know the last time that happened? The year they won the league, 2006. Wake became bowl eligible on 10/14/2006, but if they accomplish that feat this year, it would be by Oct. 10. And they've never started out 6-0. The 5-0 start in 2006 was their best.

Looking into the ACC's crystal ball

May, 22, 2009
5/22/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's not September yet, but there's nothing wrong with going out on a limb and making a few early predictions. Here are five things that are going to happen in the ACC this fall, according to this blogger's crystal ball:

1. Duke will beat somebody it's not supposed to. That means you, Virginia Tech, NC State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Miami. The Blue Devils have an upset brewing this season, and while the odds of them winning seven games and going to a bowl game are a bit premature, there's enough talent on the roster to humble a few opponents.

2. Backup quarterbacks will be called upon. Nobody wants to see anyone get hurt, so let's hope that's not the case, but considering how fragile Tyrod Taylor's ankle has been, and how vulnerable Russell Wilson tends to make himself, odds are their fleet feet will run into some trouble.

3. The conference race will be as crazy, if not more unpredictable, as last season. The Coastal Division should be the better and deeper of the two divisions, but who's to say Wake Forest, Maryland and Clemson don't have that dark horse capability this fall? The Demon Deacons should be better on offense, Clemson has a ton of talent and the folks in College Park think they've got some very talented young athletes you'll get to know this fall.

4. Ten teams will qualify for bowl games. That's right, they're starting a trend. The ACC has the potential to match last year's NCAA record for bowl-eligible teams, but the key lies in the Carolinas, where NC State, UNC and Duke all have two FCS teams scheduled and need to win at least seven games to qualify. Shouldn't be a stretch for anyone except the Blue Devils, but can Virginia turn around its postseason problem?

5. Enough nonconference games will be won that the ACC's reputation will rank behind the SEC and Big 12. There are more than enough opportunities for the ACC to make a statement this fall, starting with the Virginia Tech/Alabama game on Sept. 5. Actually, start with NC State hosting South Carolina on Thursday night (Sept. 3). A 2-0 start against the SEC would get some folks talking.

Ultimate ACC road trip

May, 15, 2009
5/15/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Let's just say you had unlimited time and resources to spend every weekend this fall traveling around the ACC to see the best games of 2009. How would your travel schedule look? If you're missing a Thursday night game in Lane Stadium, then you're missing out.

Allow me to help.

The schedule has to be realistic -- Thursday/Saturday games are doable but can be tough. I saw 11 of the 12 teams play live last fall (sorry, NC State), but only made it to nine of the campuses during the season. The deeper you get into the schedule, the more you have to predict who's going to be doing what in their respective division races. And the more trips you plan, the more you realize the season is a lot longer than just 13 games. Heck, you could pack your suitcase for the entire month of September with this ACC schedule.

Let's keep it real, though. Only the best games. This plan allows you to see 11 teams (sorry, Virginia) on eight different campuses. If you're looking for a bye week, hit the Big East road trip, where my colleague Brian Bennett is willing to cut you a break. There's no rest for the weary in the ACC.

Here's your ticket to the ultimate ACC road trip (good luck finding hotels):

WEEK 1

Sat., Sept. 5

Virginia Tech vs. Alabama (Georgia Dome)

The fun has just begun. This is a game that will go a long way in determining which direction both of these teams will head, and whether the Hokies are ready for prime time. If you want to fly home on Sunday go ahead, but if it were me, I'd catch a nonstop flight from Atlanta to Tallahassee. Gotta go through Atlanta to get there by Monday anyway.

WEEK 2

Mon., Sept. 7

Miami at Florida State

Both of these teams will need to get off to a good start so they've got some momentum heading into tough early schedules. Both teams will also have some kinks to work out, yet will have to look close to November form -- Miami in particular.

WEEK 3

Thurs., Sept. 17

Georgia Tech at Miami

Welcome to ... Land Shark Stadium? It's not a bad beer (if you like the Corona-types), but it's also got nothing to do with the U. Same can be said for much of the gameday atmosphere here. Nonetheless, they're trying to change that this season, and it will be a critical Coastal Division matchup. Game 2 for the Canes. For your sanity, I recommend flying into Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami. But don't get too comfortable there ...

Sat., Sept. 19

Boston College at Clemson

This is the first chance to get a look at the Eagles' new offense against an ACC opponent, and by now, Frank Spaziani might have finally decided on a quarterback. It's an early Atlantic Division game, and BC should be looking to avenge last year's home loss while Dabo Swinney should have some confidence.

WEEK 4

SEPTEMBER 26

Miami at Virginia Tech

Ah, decisions, decisions. North Carolina at Georgia Tech will also be an important Coastal Division game, but you've already been to Atlanta. Plus, the Hokies are the frontrunners to win the division. Will they be 3-0 going into their third straight home game? 2-1? Miami will need all the momentum it can get heading into ...

WEEK 5

OCTOBER 3

Oklahoma at Miami

That's right, back to Land Shark Stadium. This is a can't-miss game, and another gauge for how far Miami has come and how far it still has to go. The question is what kind of a wave Miami will be riding at this point -- North Shore of Oahu or an undercurrent.

WEEK 6

OCTOBER 10

Georgia Tech at Florida State

It's two of the better teams in each division, and considering how tight the game was last year (FSU fourth-quarter fumble in the end zone, ouch), odds are it will be another good one since many of the players return for both teams.

WEEK 7

OCTOBER 17

Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech

This game played a huge role in determining the 2008 Coastal Division champ, and history is likely to repeat itself.

WEEK 8

Thurs., Oct. 22

Florida State at North Carolina

It's the first Thursday night game in Chapel Hill -- ever. Can't miss it. And since you're in the heart of ACC country, you may as well stay for a while.

Sat., Oct. 24

Maryland at Duke

You're on Tobacco Road. It's not going to kill you to drive eight miles. Duke is a team worth watching this year, and every coach in the ACC is taking the Blue Devils seriously.

WEEK 9

Thurs., Oct. 29

UNC at Virginia Tech

As soon as "Enter Sandman" begins on a Thursday night, Lane Stadium becomes one of best college football venues in the country. Both teams should be in the front of the Coastal Division race at this point, and will be in the midst of back-to-back Thursday night games. The Hokies, though, will have had a bye week to prepare.

Sat., Oct. 31

NC State at Florida State

Grab a Red Bull and wake up. Catch a flight to Tallahassee because this game very well could determine the Atlantic Division winner. You can sleep in ... May?

WEEK 10

NOVEMBER 7

Florida State at Clemson

Welcome to Death Valley. Have fun tailgating, but make sure you're in your seat in time to see the traditional run down the hill, and check out Howard's Rock if you can. These should be two of the best teams in the Atlantic Division, but how will Florida State be feeling after a date with Russell Wilson?

WEEK 11

NOVEMBER 14

Florida State at Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons have beaten the Noles for three straight years. Can they do it again, with a little help from home field advantage? In addition to the recent history between these teams, it's also an important Atlantic Division game. At this point, Wake Forest either could be a surprise or a spoiler.

WEEK 12

NOVEMBER 21

Maryland at Florida State

The Terps are young, so they should be more of a second-half-of-the-season type of team. This could be a trap game for the Noles, especially if they're thinking ahead to Florida.

WEEK 13

NOVEMBER 28

North Carolina at NC State

Until Virginia starts evening the series with Virginia Tech, it's time to pay attention to some more compelling rivalries out there, and this one should be good.

WEEK 14

Dec. 5 ACC championship game

You made it through the whole season; you may as well find out who won. See you there.

ACC's lunchtime links

May, 11, 2009
5/11/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

And the links go on ... 

  • I'll admit, it's a little odd asking ACC officials about budget cuts while standing in the posh Ritz-Carlton resort. Some have questioned the accomodations here during the economic crunch. 
  • One only has to look back in Clemson's history for a cautionary tale about overhyping a quarterback because of spring football.
  • Before he breaks for June, the AJC's Tony Barnhart breaks down the ACC Atlantic Division, and what we still don't know.
  • Former coaching ties helped Maryland lure in a new defensive tackle.
  • Despite some scholarship reductions, FSU's recruiting class for 2010 is on target.

Scouting the Atlantic Division

March, 26, 2009
3/26/09
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

We took a quick look at the Coastal Division this morning, so let's check out the scenario in the Atlantic. (Keep in mind these can change between now and the end of summer camp. A lot of things happen, but teams are in the middle of spring ball and we're learning more about them).

It's going to be equally competitive, but for different reasons. Both Boston College and Clemson will be under the direction of first-year head coaches and new coordinators, Maryland lost more starters (13) than anyone else in the country and Florida State and Wake Forest both have major holes to fill.

One of the more interesting teams in this league is Clemson. They have some blazing speed on their roster. If the new coaching staff can get it together, the Tigers have the talent on the roster to surprise some people. Unlike last year, though, let's let them work their way back into it instead of falling out of it.

So, all things considered, it's anybody's game in the Atlantic, too. That doesn't mean we can't guess who the top three teams will be:

1. Florida State -- The Seminoles have to reload at a few positions and they will, and quarterback Christian Ponder will be better. The biggest reason they're starting at the top, though, is their bad-boy offensive line. I'll have an FSU update from Wednesday's scrimmage later, but for the most part, I'm told it's looking good.

2. NC State -- I almost put the Wolfpack first. That's right, you heard me. Anyone watching the first half of the Papajohns.com Bowl knows this is a good football team, and with everyone healthy, it's only going to be better. Coach Tom O'Brien has the benefit of having the best quarterback in the league in Russell Wilson. The key now is getting Wilson to make some smarter throws so he doesn't have to run as much and put himself in position to get hurt.

3. Wake Forest -- Much like FSU, the Deacs should be better up front offensively, and have committed to the I-formation this year and running the ball. They tried to go with a spread formation last year because of Riley Skinner and that didn't work. There is depth at the running back position, but they do have to find some playmakers on defense and receivers who can step up.

Miami's Shannon has toughest job in '09

March, 3, 2009
3/03/09
9:33
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Considering all of the players Virginia Tech lost to injuries, graduation, the NFL, or whatever reason heading into the 2008 season, many agreed that coach Frank Beamer had done one of the best coaching jobs of his career last season.

As we head into the 2009 season, which coaches face the biggest challenges and why? Some face more pressure because the expectations for their program are higher, others have to completely rebuild or adjust to staff changes. Some are tasked with all of the above.

Here's a look at which coaches have their work cut out for them, starting with the most difficult job in the ACC:

1. Miami coach Randy Shannon -- Shannon has three strikes against him before his team even steps on the field for the first time: His schedule is treacherous, he coaches at Miami, where the expectations are automatically higher and fans grow impatient with losing quickly, and he is entering his third season, when a real difference is expected to be made. He also has to get his players quickly acclimated to two new coordinators -- again. Shannon's team is still young, but aside from Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, nobody has more starters returning to work with. While that's a good thing for the '09 Canes, a lack of interest from NFL scouts proves Shannon had to turn around the recruiting.

2. Virginia coach Al Groh -- Change needed to be made, so he made it. Now it's time to see if the win-at-all-costs (a.k.a. fire your son) plan worked. It's not going to be easy. Groh has only five starters returning on offense and six on defense. He'll get Jameel Sewell back, but Sewell will have to shake off the rust and learn a new offense, not to mention find some capable receivers to throw it to. Groh lost all of his starting linebackers. After a five-win season and no bowl game, the pressure is on in Charlottesville.

3. North Carolina coach Butch Davis -- He set the bar much higher last year, turning a four-win season into an eight-win season and a bowl appearance. As Davis heads into his third season, a realistic expectation should be winning the Coastal Division title. That will be hard to do, though, without Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate, not to mention leading tackler Mark Paschal and safety Trimane Goddard.

4. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney -- He'll be in his first full season as head coach at Clemson, where the fan base is anxiously awaiting its first ACC title in more than a decade. Swinney will have a new defensive coordinator, and one of the youngest offensive coordinators in the country in Billy Napier, who will turn 30 next month. He will also have a new quarterback, and needs to replace several talented playmakers in Aaron Kelly, safety Michael Hamlin, and tailback James Davis. The good news for Swinney is that he's not facing the same off-the-chart expectations his predecessor did last season heading into the Alabama game. (Beamer gets that privilege this year.)

5. Boston College coach Frank Spaziani -- The first-time head coach inherited a program that went to back-to-back ACC title games and has gotten used to proving people wrong. But the Eagles need to find an answer at quarterback, and will be under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill, along with an almost entirely new staff. The good news is that their offensive line should be just as good, if not better, and they only lost four starters from one of the nation's best defenses. Two of them, though, were up front.

6. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe -- Ever since Grobe won the ACC title and transformed the program into a contender, Demon Deacons fans have quietly grown a little more spoiled each year. The Demon Deacons only have four defensive starters returning, the fewest in the ACC, and the players they lost were game-changers. In order for the Deacs to be in the hunt for the Atlantic Division this year, the offense is going to have to lead the way for a change. Grobe will also be looking for a backup quarterback this spring, and his options don't include anyone with game experience.

7. NC State coach Tom O'Brien -- Anyone actually paying attention should give O'Brien a pass for the past two injury-laden seasons. We're not talking about one player here, it's more like half his roster. The staff often joked they had a better team in their training room. Still, it will be O'Brien's third season and expectations will be higher, especially now that everyone has seen what quarterback Russell Wilson is capable of. Let's see what O'Brien can do with everyone healthy and better depth expected at the quarterback position.

8. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen -- He is the only coach that lost more starters (13) than he returns (11). The Terps were hit the hardest by graduation and lost five starters on offense, but there is still plenty of talent on the roster. Quarterback Chris Turner is a veteran, and all of the running backs return. The difference in College Park, though, is that Friedgen is facing more moderate expectations -- another winning season, another average bowl game -- par for the course.

9. Florida State coach(es) Bobby Bowden/Jimbo Fisher -- The firepower on offense is gone, and so is Lou Groza award winner Graham Gano and kickoff return man Michael Ray Garvin, who finished second nationally with a 30.1 average. Only five starters return on defense, and the Noles lost their leading tackler in linebacker Derek Nicholson. And this is Florida State, which, like Miami, has its own reputation to live up to. Plus, Bowden has his own goal of reaching 400 wins and another national championship before he calls it quits. No pressure. The difference here, though, is that FSU can recruit a higher-caliber athlete than some of the other schools, so the Noles can reload at many positions. And they will.

As for the rest of the league ... Johnson and Beamer have their rosters stocked, and Duke coach David Cutcliffe certainly gets more time than two years to recruit and build his program.

ACC has chance to shine in '09

February, 17, 2009
2/17/09
5:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The bottom line is this: The ACC has a nonconference schedule lined up with plenty of opportunities for the league to make a statement on a national level.

The ACC will play 14 FCS schools, 19 BCS programs and 24 teams that went to bowl games in 2008. The ACC will face both the national champ and the runner-up, and it will have a chance to impress recruits with six nationally televised Thursday night games. Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama, TCU, Georgia and BYU were all ranked among the top 16 in the final BCS standings.

Several teams -- namely Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech -- have marquee games that will again reveal how close those programs are to becoming national contenders. Last year's ACC losses to Alabama and Florida proved there is still work to do, but Georgia Tech made a statement with its win over Georgia.

The ACC took a step in the right direction last season with a 41-17 record against nonconference opponents. It was the most nonconference wins in ACC history. The ACC was 17-14 against the BCS conferences and Notre Dame. We'll see if it can take another step forward in 2009.

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