- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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In 2010, the first season under coach Jimbo Fisher, Florida State won the Atlantic Division title and played for the ACC championship.
In 2011, the second season under coach Mike London, Virginia went to its first bowl game and had its best record since 2007.
After only two seasons under their respective head coaches, both Florida State and Virginia have shown signs that they are improving and heading in the right direction. They’re the two programs on the rise in the ACC, and their continued progress will make the conference better from the ground up. Florida State, which hasn’t won the ACC title since 2005, is poised to make a statement on both the conference and national levels. Virginia is putting the pieces in place to finally challenge rival Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division. As both Fisher and London prepare for Year 3, both do so facing much higher expectations.
At Florida State, the Noles are expected to be a preseason top 10 team (again), and they should be. Fisher will have one of the program’s deepest and most talented teams in recent years – the key word being depth. There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of talent in Tallahassee, but last year, when so many starters were injured, the Noles didn’t have the depth at certain positions to overcome it. After back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes, Florida State’s roster is championship-caliber. Fisher has reclaimed the unofficial “state championship,” as he has surpassed in-state rivals Florida and Miami in the rebuilding process. The next step is to finish the season where it starts -- at or near the top of the polls.
At Virginia, London has changed just about everything, from the culture to the expectations in the classroom and the community, and the results on the field. He was named the ACC’s 2011 Coach of the Year and has recruited well throughout the state. One of the biggest differences he said he saw this spring was continuity -- same staff, same philosophies and schemes, same expectations.
“It was probably one of the most productive springs as far as guys knowing what to do,” London said. “… I just thought we moved ahead and advanced as far as our knowledge and capabilities.”
Virginia has to replace seven starters on defense, so building upon last year’s success could be difficult -- especially with Penn State, Georgia Tech and TCU on the September schedule. The Cavaliers are much more confident, though, after last year’s eight-win season. And Florida State already knows what it takes to get to the ACC championship game.
London and Fisher didn’t need much time to gain positive momentum. Their programs are on the rise, and consequently, so are the expectations for Year 3.
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