By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
When Clemson landed big-time recruits like Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward, many pointed to 2013 as the year for the Tigers in the Atlantic Coast Conference. However, Clemson got a little ahead of schedule in 2011 when it won 10 games and the programs first ACC Championship in 20 years.
It then followed that up with an 11-win season last year, which included a dramatic victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With all the success of the last two seasons, all the stars coming back and a favorable schedule with Georgia, Florida State and Georgia Tech all coming to Death Valley, many think this Clemson team can make a serious run at a national championship.
Only time will tell if this is the case or not, but one things for certain, Clemson appears to be a cut above the rest in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
ACC Atlantic Division (Predicated order of finish)
Clemson (11-2, 7-1 ACC in 2012): Last year, Clemson won 11 games in a season for the first time since 1981, but the Tigers were not able to get over the top and repeat as ACC Champions. This year, Clemson is the odds on favorite to make it back to Charlotte and reclaim the ACC Title. The Tigers have 13 starters back, plus several key contributors that will come off the bench. The offense returns Heisman candidate Tajh Boyd at quarterback and playmaking wideout Sammy Watkins, plus four starters on the offensive line. The defense is loaded with talent on the front line and at linebacker, but the secondary will be a huge question mark with so many newcomers coming in. The most important thing Dabo Swinney has going for him is a veteran coaching staff that returns offensive coordinator Chad Morris and defensive coordinator Brent Venables. It does not hurt that Georgia Tech and Florida State both come to Death Valley this year.
Florida State (12-2, 7-1 ACC in 2012): The Seminoles are the defending ACC Champions and they have the talent to get back to the title game, again. But what makes it tough is the fact just 10 starters—four from its nationally rank defense—return for 2013. It also did not help that several assistant coaches also left, including defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. But head coach Jimbo Fisher is not buying any of that. He says the Seminoles are right where they need to be heading into the fall and that guys stepping in as starters had just as much experiences as those they lost. But the key position that will not have experience will be at quarterback where freshman Jameis Winston steps in for the departed EJ Manuel.
NC State (7-6, 4-4 ACC in 2012): Last year was a disappointing season for the Wolfpack after such high hopes going in. That’s why they departed with former head coach Tom O’Brien and brought in Dave Doeren. And though the Wolfpack will struggle—especially after replacing quarterback Mike Glennon—next to Clemson and Florida State they have the most talent in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. The ‘Pack will get better as the season goes along, but will struggled early since they have to replace seven new starters on both sides of the ball.
Maryland (4-8, 2-6 ACC in 2012): After an injury plagued season in 2012, things seem to be on the up for the Terrapins this season, their last in the ACC before joining the Big 10 in 2014. Quarterback C.J. Brown returns after a torn ACL injury the first day of camp last year, while wide receiver Stefon Diggs is back as one of the best playmakers in the country. The running game took a hit last week when Wes Brown was dismissed from the team and the defense returns only four starters from a unit that was much improved in 2012.
Wake Forest (6-6, 3-5 ACC in 2012): Fourteen seniors will play key roles for a Wake Forest team that is set to get back to where it once was when it won the ACC in 2006 and played in three straight bowl games. The Demon Deacons return 15 starters back overall, including quarterback Tanner Price, nose guard Nikita Whitlock and wide receiver Michael Campanaro. Not much separates Wake Forest, NC State and Maryland from third place in the Atlantic and with most of the offensive line back after an injury riddled 2012, plus a veteran defense, the Deacons have a shot to make some noise and erase that four-season non-winning season stretch.
Syracuse (8-5, 5-2 Big East in 2012): Scott Shafer, who was Doug Marrone’s defensive coordinator the previous four years, takes over as head coach. He inherits a club that must replace quarterback Ryan Nassib. However, he does get the services of running backs Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, which make up one the ACC’s top running games. The defense returns six starters, but the front line is thin, especially when it comes to quality depth and experience.
Boston College (2-10, 1-7 ACC in 2012): The good news for the Eagles is that quarterback Chase Rettig is back, but he will have to adjust to his fourth offensive coordinator in four years. Wide receiver Alex Amindon is also back after catching 78 passes for 1,210 yards in 2012. New head coach Steve Addazio is full of spirit and will have his team riding on an emotional high when the season starts, but how much of that will last when they play Southern Cal and Florida State in September then travel to Clemson and North Carolina in October. The defense returns eight starters, but the bad news there is that it is from a defense that gave up 456.4 yards per game last season.