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Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Take 2: Sleeper team in the ACC

By Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich

Earlier this week, ESPN Insider KC Joyner unveiled his choice for ACC sleeper pick this season .

Your ACC bloggers disagree. So who are our sleeper picks? Glad you asked!

Andrea Adelson says: Never count out Virginia Tech.

Let's get real, people. Miami is not a sleeper pick to win the ACC. Not when the Canes have become the popular choice to win the Coastal Division because they have basically every starter returning from a season ago.

Bud Foster
Bud Foster's defense should be one of the best in the ACC this season.
I got a sleeper right here for ya -- Virginia Tech.

The Hokies? you ask. As in, the team that has won more ACC championship crowns than anybody?

Uh-huh.

Funny what one down season does to a program.

Virginia Tech was decidedly un-Virginia Tech in 2012, there is no disputing that. The Hokies had their string of consecutive 10-win seasons snapped at eight; they struggled to seven wins; they were not a major factor in the Coastal race despite being selected as the preseason favorites. Friends, that vote was not even close -- Virginia Tech collected 83 of a possible 95 votes.

But now, the perennial preseason favorite is being viewed with raised eyebrows. People scratched their heads when Phil Steele had Virginia Tech higher than Clemson in his preseason rankings. Understandably, the results of last season have made folks skeptical.

But the Coastal is way more winnable than the Atlantic, which appears to be a two-team division at this point.

So why not Virginia Tech this year?

Frank Beamer has not forgotten how to coach. Virginia Tech has not forgotten how to win. And the Hokies return what should be one of the best defenses in the ACC. Yes, the offense has question marks all over the field and that is the biggest reason for trepidation when projecting how the Hokies will do this year.

But how many times have we seen Virginia Tech win with defense? More often than not.

I checked the NCAA stats to see where Virginia Tech ranked in total offense/total defense and scoring offense/scoring defense in the five years it made the ACC title game.

Four out of five times, Virginia Tech had a higher ranked defense. In fact, all four times Virginia Tech ranked in the Top 10 in total D and scoring D. Twice -- in 2007 and 2008 -- Virginia Tech ranked No. 100 or lower in total offense. That happens to be WORSE than the Hokies did last year (No. 81 total offense).

Oh, and Virginia Tech beat Boston College for the ACC crown those two seasons.

They say defense wins championships, right? Virginia Tech has the defense to win a championship. That is more than Miami can say at this point.

Heather Dinich says: Watch out for Wake.

A sleeper pick is a team that’s going to take you by surprise, one that you’re overlooking and quite frankly not giving much of a chance at all.

A sleeper pick is a team that is quietly brewing with potential.

Tanner Price
Quarterback Tanner Price threw for 2,300 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
Wake Forest is a sleeper pick.

Andrea is smart -- she picked Virginia Tech, which is coming off its worst season in 20 years but is in a crowded division that has as much separation as row homes. Duke was in that race last year. It’s anyone’s game. Me? I’m going out on a limb, and saying there IS a team in the Atlantic Division capable of shocking heavyweights Florida State or Clemson. I’m picking the Deacs because of the way they’ve recruited over the past two seasons, because of the interviews I’ve had with the players and the coaches that indicate a rekindled determination within the program, and because of the discipline the coaching staff instills, and the experience it has.

(Shh. Wake Forest doesn’t want you to hear this. They want you to keep overlooking them.)

Jim Grobe is a veteran who, despite public perception of being one of the friendliest coaches in the ACC, has more of an edge to him this summer. Over the past two years, he and his staff have brought in smart players who love the game and are willing to work to win -- and are good enough to win. No, they’re not Aaron Curry or Alphonso Smith, and this isn’t 2006, but don’t expect the Deacs to be a pushover this fall. All it takes is for Wake Forest to win the turnover battle (which it can), have fewer penalties than Florida State or Clemson (which it can), and for Grobe to win the battle on the sideline (which he has before).

Those are just the intangibles. Don’t forget the Deacs have one of the ACC’s best receivers in Michael Campanaro. They have a veteran quarterback in Tanner Price. They have 18 starters returning (only Miami has more in the ACC). And they have a defense that returns nine starters and should be the strength of the team once again -- and has been working on creating those turnovers all offseason.

In order for me to not look like a complete fool with this pick, though, the Deacs have to do their part on the offensive line. It remains a major concern, but if they can keep the starting lineup healthy, there’s no reason Wake Forest can’t have a chance to hold its own in the Atlantic Division race.

Don’t think so? That’s why it’s called a sleeper pick.