- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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There are two second-year coaches in the ACC this season who, despite their similar tenures, are at totally different points in their careers. Expectations are soaring for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and tempered for Virginia coach Mike London. Here’s a closer look at how far the ACC’s Year 2 coaches have come and what to expect in their second seasons:
Rewind: There’s not much that the Seminoles didn’t do in Fisher’s first season. They ended a six-game losing streak to rival Florida, and Fisher became the first FSU coach to beat the Gators in his first season. Fisher finished with a 10-4 record, the Atlantic Division title and a Chick-fil-A Bowl win over SEC East champ South Carolina. FSU finished the season ranked No. 16 by the Associated Press. The 10 wins were the most the program had seen since 2003, and Fisher’s record was the third-best in ACC history for a first-year head coach. He built upon that success with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, which bodes well for the future. Speaking of which ...
Fast-forward: Considering Florida State’s head-coach-in-waiting plan and the success he had last season, it seems that Fisher is in his fourth season instead of his second. As a member of Bobby Bowden’s staff, Fisher had the luxury of recruiting players he knew were going to be his, and this is the first season fans will see his first hand-picked quarterback, EJ Manuel. If Manuel flourishes in his first season as full-time starter, the sky is the limit for these Noles. FSU returns 17 starters, including what could be the top punter/kicker duo in the country in Dustin Hopkins and Shawn Powell. FSU is loaded at the skill positions, and there is plenty of talent in the freshman class that could contribute immediately if needed. Manuel has already started in the ACC championship game. He and his teammates know what it takes to get there. Last month, the media picked the Noles to win this year’s ACC title. The question this season is whether they’re capable of even more.
Quotable: “I think we’re very capable,” Fisher said of winning the ACC title. “I think it’s our goal. We want to have a winning season, we want to be a state champion, we want to be the division champion, we want to be the ACC champion and a BCS bowl and hopefully a national championship. I think we’re very capable, and I’m anxious to see how our team takes that challenge.”
Rewind: It was a rebuilding year for Virginia, where London finished 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the ACC. The lone conference win, though, was a big one. Virginia knocked off No. 22-ranked Miami, 24-19, in a game that changed the course of Miami’s season. Three of Virginia’s losses last season were by seven points or fewer, including a three-point loss at No. 16 USC. Off the field, what separated London from his predecessor was his gregarious personality and how approachable he was not only within the football building, but also within the community. He made a concentrated effort to rebuild bridges with in-state high school coaches, made dozens of public appearances, spoke at clinics and was readily available to the media. He also placed an emphasis on academics, and in his first spring, the team posted its best cumulative GPA in a decade. He also lured in the No. 20 recruiting class in the nation, according to ESPN Recruiting.
Fast-forward: Nobody in the ACC returns more starters than Virginia (19), but that experience has been overshadowed by the lack of a proven quarterback. The biggest storyline moving forward for Virginia is who will replace Marc Verica, and four candidates entered summer camp with an equal opportunity: Ross Metheny, Michael Rocco, Michael Strauss and David Watford. How that position unfolds will determine how much closer the Cavaliers can get to the postseason. They also need to find a playmaker to compensate for the loss of production from Keith Payne, who led the ACC in touchdowns last season with 16 and was the league leader in scoring. Defensively, the front seven should be strong and show significant improvement from a season ago. The Hoos also have one of the top players in the country in cornerback Chase Minnifield, who tied for fifth nationally last year in interceptions. Virginia’s schedule is conducive to improvement, as a road trip to Indiana is the toughest nonconference game, but until consistent playmakers emerge and a dependable quarterback is named, a bowl season will be out of reach.
Quotable: "Every year you’re a different team, you’re a new team. And after having gone through a season of changes, personnel-wise and schemes and things like that, we have the same staff back basically intact, the same terminology, the same things are being talked about over and over again, concepts, techniques and things we want to see in terms of improving play and also self-evaluating ourselves as coaches, the schemes we use, the plays we call. Are we utilizing our best players? We spent an extensive amount of time addressing that, so as we go into this season, a new season, hopefully we’ll put those things together. With the familiarity of the coaches and everything we’ve done, improvement will be made in all areas just because of that fact. We all know there’s a tremendous amount of things that can be accomplished with continuity, and going into the second year we’ve experienced that, and now we’ll have an opportunity to capitalize on it." -- Mike London
1dMax Olson and Jake Trotter