The long national nightmare is over. This week, we’ll be treated to real live college football for the first time since the BCS National Championship game in Pasadena. This year’s ACC race is filled with plenty of sub-plots. From the return of BC’s Mark Herzlich and N.C. State’s Nate Irving to the NCAA investigation into the North Carolina program to the first time a new coach will run the Florida State Seminoles onto the field in nearly six decades.
There’s no shortage of compelling stories coming from ACC football this season. There are more than a few unknowns headed into the season, which makes the below preseason prognostications that much tougher. But here’s one guys' (biased) preview of the ACC race in 2010.
Boston College Eagles (2010 Prediction: 10-2, 7-1 ACC)
Wins: Weber State, Kent State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, at N.C. State, Maryland, Clemson, at Wake Forest, at Duke, Virginia
Losses: at Florida State, at Syracuse
Outlook: If the Eagles can pull out a win against their intra-division rivals Virginia Tech, BC will go far in 2010. Even though I see the Eagles losing to Florida State on October 16, I think BC will be the first Atlantic team to lose the head-to-head to the team that finishes second in the division, but still win the title. BC will again end up with a curious loss, but I think that this year that game will come in the regular season finale against Syracuse. There’s no love lost between the two former Big East rivals, and Syracuse could be playing for a berth in the postseason.
Bowl: Sun Bowl
Florida St. Seminoles (8-4, 6-2 ACC)
Wins: Samford, Brigham Young, Wake Forest, at Virginia, Boston College, North Carolina, Clemson, at Maryland
Losses: at Oklahoma, at Miami, at N.C. State, Florida
Outlook: While I see Florida State knocking off the Eagles, I think they’ll lose to their Coastal Division rivals the Miami Hurricanes and lose in a shootout at N.C. State. Two losses in conference combined with non-conference losses to Oklahoma and Florida, both legitimate Top 10 programs heading into the season, and the Seminoles finish the regular season at 8-4. Still, that’s a marked improvement for the Seminoles in Jimbo Fisher’s first season.
Bowl: Champs Sports Bowl
Clemson Tigers (6-6, 3-5)
Wins: North Texas, Presbyterian, Maryland, N.C. State, at Wake Forest, South Carolina
Losses: at Auburn, Miami, at North Carolina, Georgia Tech, at Boston College, at Florida State
Outlook: I don't see the Tigers making much noise in the ACC Atlantic Division title race, mostly because of a brutal schedule that includes three ranked Coastal Division teams -- Miami, Georgia Tech, and at North Carolina -- and two strong SEC programs in Auburn and South Carolina. Gone, too, are home-run hitters C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford. I think the honeymoon phase of Dabo Swinney's tenure at Clemson will end this season as the Tigers struggle through a 6-6 season.
Bowl: Independence Bowl
N.C. State Wolfpack (6-6, 3-5)
Wins: Western Carolina, at UCF, at East Carolina, Florida State, Wake Forest, at Maryland
Losses: Cincinnati, at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Boston College, at Clemson, at North Carolina
Outlook: A win in week one -- a program first since the 2006 season -- will be welcome for Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack, but it won't be enough to propel N.C. State into ACC Atlantic Division title contention. A surprise Thursday night victory over Florida State is the high point in an otherwise mediocre season for O'Brien in Raleigh.
Bowl: EagleBank Bowl
Maryland Terrapins (5-7, 3-5)
Wins: Morgan State, FIU, Duke, Wake Forest, at Virginia
Losses: Navy, at West Virginia, at Clemson, at Boston College, at Miami, Florida State, N.C. State
Outlook: Improvement for the Terrapins comes in the form of a 5-7 season, a three-win upgrade from a nightmare 2-10 season a year ago (with only one of those wins coming over a FBS team, even if that was the eventual ACC Atlantic Division champs). Wins will be at a premium on the road, as Maryland faces Clemson, BC, Miami and West Virginia away from Byrd Stadium this season. Throw in a neutral site game against in-state program Navy, and Ralph Friedgen and the turtles finish one win shy of becoming bowl eligible.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-9, 1-7)
Wins: Presbyterian, Duke, at Vanderbilt
Losses: at Stanford, at Florida State, Georgia Tech, Navy, at Virginia Tech, at Maryland, Boston College, at N.C. State, Clemson
Outlook: It's hard to find many wins on the 2010 Wake Forest football schedule. That is, other than Presbyterian, an FCS team that finished last season with a perfectly imperfect record of 0-11, and Vanderbilt, a team that should struggle in the SEC this season under first year coach Robbie Caldwell. It's also hard to predict an ACC Atlantic Division team to finish the year 0-8 -- as it's never happen in five years under the division format -- so you have to think the Deacons will get in the W column at some point in the season. Their ACC opener against Duke seems as good a place as any to look for that one win.