2012 NCAA Football Preview: Atlantic Coast Conference

August 13, 2012

In less than a month, teams around the country will suit up for what should be another exciting college football season. If you are at all like me, then you are counting down the days until the season begins (17 days, in case you were wondering). With the conclusion of the London Olympics, those seventeen days will undoubtedly seem to last a lot longer.

Readers of Around The Corn have seemed to enjoy the conference-by-conference breakdown of the FBS division of college football, so once again I will be bringing you the previews in that format. To begin the segment, we’ll take a look at the Atlantic Coast Conference.


It seems like you can produce a similar write-up for the ACC every year; it is a collective of several decent to pretty good teams, but no one team is great. Add in the fact that most people don’t have high expectations for the majority of the teams after watching them during bowl season, and you’ve got a conference destined to fly under the radar for the better part of the year.

This year’s Atlantic Coast Conference appears to be no different. There are teams with a good offensive corps (Clemson, Georgia Tech) and teams that should have a strong defensive presence (Florida State, Virginia Tech), but a team with both is hard to find. While that should make for some very interesting battles within the conference, it is not a recipe for a national title contender.

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

Florida State

As Alabama reiterated last season, defense wins championships. Coming into the 2012 season, Florida State has the most feared defense in the ACC. With 8 starters back from a defense that led the conference in points allowed, pass defense, rush defense and yards per game allowed, the Seminoles should be in every game thanks to their defense. The difference between a possible undefeated season in Tallahassee and a couple of heartbreaking losses will be the offensive line.

Last season the offensive line suffered numerous injuries, which contributed to a poor rushing attack that averaged just over 112 yards per game. Although the front five are a young bunch this season, better depth should prevent the team from faltering completely if injuries do arise. In addition, senior tailback Chris Thompson will be back in the lineup after missing the majority of last season with a back injury.

A tricky game at NC State in October and an always difficult trip to Blacksburg in early November will be the toughest obstacles for this defensively loaded squad. If the offense comes together by that point, then the Seminoles have a legitimate shot at contending for the national title this season.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Georgia Tech

The Yellow Jackets surprised most people in 2011 when they began the season 6-0 and cracked the Top 25, but the success ended there for the most part. This year, Georgia Tech has the experience to keep the train going the second half of the season and be a true contender for the Coastal Division crown.

Similar to last season, the Yellow Jackets will rely on the running game to get things going on offense. While quarterback Tevin Washington has the experience to be a solid quarterback, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be the polished passer that some of his ACC peers have become. However, thanks to a solid offensive line, Georgia Tech may be able to get away with Washington simply being a game manager.

If the Yellow Jackets can find a way to pull through in close games, they have a good chance to notch double digits in wins this season. More than likely, if they can do that they’ll find themselves in Charlotte for the ACC title game.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Sammy Watkins (So.), Clemson Wide Receiver

Watkins is the most electric player in the ACC, and a big reason why Clemson’s offense remains one of the most exciting in the entire nation. As a freshman Watkins burst onto the national scene, catching 82 passes for 1,219 yards and also contributing as a kick-returner. With blazing speed and the ability to find the smallest seam, Watkins is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

What is most scary about Watkins is that he still has another year in college after this one before he is even eligible for the NFL draft. Clemson fans should be salivating at the fact that the leader of one of the best receiving corps in the country is only going to get better.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

Florida vs. Florida State (November 24th)

Florida will probably have at least a couple of losses by this point, but Florida State might not. The Seminoles greatest out of conference test this season will come in the form of an in-state rivalry, which makes it all the more interesting if a national title bid is on the line.

This game will probably be dictated by the defenses, but Florida will need to grow on the offensive side in order to realistically have a shot at winning. If this game were played earlier in the year, Florida State would be a heavy favorite. However, throw in the rivalry factor and almost a full season of maturation for Florida and this game becomes a lot closer to call.

In-Conference Game To Watch

Clemson vs. Florida State (September 22nd)

When these two teams met at Death Valley last season, it ended up being one of the ACC’s best games all year. Expect this year’s edition to be no different, as the conference’s best offensive squad squares off against one of the nation’s best defensive squad. Don’t let Florida State’s low points per game allowed numbers fool you, though; this game will produce some offensive fireworks.

Last year Clemson got out to a lead and didn’t let go. If the Seminoles want to avenge the loss and keep a possible perfect season alive, they will need to find an answer for both Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd. Boyd torched the Seminole defense for 344 yards passing, with Watkins accounting for 141 of those yards. Athleticism shouldn’t be an issue for Florida State’s defense this year, so this game should be just as exciting as the 2011 version.

Conference Predictions

Atlantic Division

1. Clemson (10-2, [7-1])

2. Florida State (10-2, [6-2])

3. North Carolina State (8-4, [4-4])

4. Wake Forest (3-9, [2-6])

5. Maryland (3-9, [1-7])

6. Boston College (2-10, [1-7])

Coastal Division

1. Georgia Tech (10-2, [6-2])

2. Virginia Tech (10-2, [6-2])

3. North Carolina (8-4, [5-3])

4. Miami (Fla.) (6-6, [4-4])

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

6. Duke (3-9, [1-7])

Championship Game (Clemson vs. Georgia Tech)

Winner: Georgia Tech

Questions from the Readers

This is a section dedicated to the readers, where I will answer the questions you have sent me through Facebook, Twitter or email. Unfortunately, there were no questions sent regarding the ACC or its teams. Feel free to ask multiple questions, as I will answer any appropriate question that is submitted in time. Thanks guys.

– K. Becks


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