2011 NCAA Football Preview: Atlantic Coast Conference

August 15, 2011

After a week of postponing the inevitable, Around The Corn’s 2011 college football conference-by-conference preview is finally set to begin. This year, conferences will be previewed in alphabetical order. Therefore, the previews will begin with the only FBS conference to start with the letter “A”: the Atlantic Coast Conference.


For several years the ACC has been begging for a team good enough to be a serious national title contender. Thanks to Florida State, the ACC finally has that team again. After the Seminoles, the rest of the ACC seems to be destined to repeat the usual storyline for the conference; that is, several teams cracking the Top 25 one week, just as quickly falling out of the rankings by losing to a lesser opponent the next. However, Florida State’s ability to still be standing when the smoke clears is enough to pay attention to this conference a little more closely than in prior years. The ACC still isn’t the SEC by any stretch, but it would be unfair to say that they will be as irrelevant as, say, the Big East in 2011.

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a National Championship Bid

Florida State

You have to believe in E.J. Manuel in order to believe that the Seminoles have a realistic shot at running the table this year. Manuel, who will be taking over the quarterback duties for Christian Ponder, isn’t without experience as the play-caller. He actually helped Florida State win their last two bowl games, and was even named the MVP in the 2010 Gator Bowl.

To say that Florida State will go as Manuel goes is not an overstatement. The Seminole defense will be very strong; they return nine starters from last year’s team, and are particularly stellar at the cornerback position. In addition, FSU returns their top three receivers and several running backs that made contributions last year.

We will get to see very early whether Florida State is a true national title contender when they take on Oklahoma in mid-September. Last year, Oklahoma torched the Seminoles in Norman, and it will undoubtedly be the biggest game of the season for FSU once again.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies are a dark horse in the national title picture, simply because they have a favorable schedule. Virginia Tech does not have to play Florida State and plays Miami at home, and their conference games away from home are against some of the weaker teams in the ACC. Without Tyrod Taylor, the offense may experience some hiccups early in the season. Sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas will take over the reins, but Thomas does not possess the pure athletic ability that Taylor did. With that said, opposing teams will be able to focus on the Hokies rushing attack, the strong point for the offense.

If Virginia Tech can remain unbeaten through their first six games, then they have a shot at staying undefeated.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)


Maryland fans were not too happy when former coach Ralph Friedgan was fired, but they can take solace in the fact that their new coach is one that has the ability to build a team from the ground up. Randy Edsall took Connecticut all the way to the Fiesta Bowl before taking the job at Maryland, and he has the ability to work the same magic with the Terrapins that he did with the Huskies.

The Terrapins return seven starters from an aggressive defense that will set the tone for the team the entire year. In addition, sophomore quarterback Danny O’Brien, who is on the short list to make first-team All-ACC, will be leading an offense that has the ability to score at will.

Maryland has the experience on both sides of the ball to be a factor in the ACC title race this year. It may take a little bit of luck, but don’t be entirely surprised if Randy Edsall makes back-to-back appearances in BCS bowl games.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Montel Harris (Sr.), Boston College Running Back

Montel Harris will be key to the Eagles’ offensive attack this season. A 5’10”, 200 pound senior, Harris is a wrecking ball at the line of scrimmage who has the ability to pick up extra yards after contact. Just 125 yards shy of the all-time rushing record at Boston College, he will almost undoubtedly enter the record books during the first few games of his senior season.

Harris also has something to prove to NFL scouts. Last season, he was able to run behind tackle Anthony Castonzo, who was selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He will not have that kind of push on the offensive line this year, so he will have to rely more on his own ability. In addition, Harris is coming back from a knee injury suffered near the end of last season.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

Oklahoma vs. Florida State (September 17th)

This game is definitely the biggest early season matchup featuring an ACC team, and may very well be one of the biggest games of the season period. Florida State gets a chance to exact revenge on the Sooners, who whipped the Seminoles in Norman last season.

The game will likely come down to which quarterback plays better. Both Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel have been hyped leading up to this season, but this game will provide the first true test for both players.

Don’t expect the outcome of this game to be similar to last year. Florida State is greatly improved on both sides of the ball, and has the offensive firepower to go blow for blow with Oklahoma all four quarters.

In-Conference Game To Watch

Miami (Fla.) vs. Virginia Tech (October 8th)

This game will probably decide who represents the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship game. Jacory Harris is back behind center for Miami in what seems like his eighth season (really, it’s just his fourth), and will need to perform well from the start, or he may not even be the starter by the time this game is played.

Both of these teams have the talent to be very good football teams. However, mistakes have plagued both teams in the past and prevented them from reaching their potential. Hopefully, Al Golden can turn around a Miami team that constantly underperformed throughout the Randy Shannon regime, and Virginia Tech can avoid the early season slip up that has seemed to occur on an annual basis. If all goes well, this game could shape up to be a very enticing battle.

Conference Predictions

Atlantic Division

1. Florida State (10-2, [7-1])

2. Maryland (8-4, [6-2])

3. North Carolina State (10-2, [6-2])

4. Boston College (4-8, [3-5])

5. Clemson (6-6, [3-5])

6. Wake Forest (2-10, [0-8])

Coastal Division

1. Virginia Tech (11-1, [8-0])

2. Miami (Fla.) (8-4, [5-3])

3. Georgia Tech (6-6, [3-5])

4. North Carolina (6-6, [3-5])

5. Duke (5-7, [2-6])

6. Virginia (4-8, [1-7])

Championship Game (Florida State vs. Virginia Tech)

Winner: Florida State

– K. Becks

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