Wednesday, August 20, 2014

ACC Football Preview. Sort Of.

Because it's that time of year again, and the local airwaves are buzzing with talk of ACC football. In truth, there's more reason to do it than most years, seeing as how A)last year was a remarkably successful one for the conference and B)they've just added an actually good football team in Louisville, and Notre Dame has started keeping a change of clothes and a toothbrush at conference HQ while still insisting that they're just friends with benefits.

(Kudos to Notre Dame, incidentally, for potentially cracking down on those football players who apparently violated the school's academic honor code. It's all very impressive, but it doesn't make up for the fact that you stonewalled a sexual assault case that ended up in a student's suicide.)

So excitement is high, and people are a-flutter about the fact that FSU is the #1 seed in the brand spanking new "college football playoff", which is really just the BCS with a slight makeover that may have been performed during a montage set to an old Starship tune. And yes, it's nice to see someone other than the Belichick of Birmingham, Nick Saban, glowering down from the #1 preseason spot.

But as documented in this space last year, the ACC's success was a little more fragile than it appeared. Lots of losses to non-conference opponents they should have run out of the building, lots of close calls that shouldn't have been. And now it's one year later and a lot of the talent that propelled the ACC to all those bowl bids is playing on Sunday, which means that anyone expecting the ACC to eclipse the SEC this year has been partaking of legalized herbage in Colorado.

Florida State is going to be great. There is no doubt about that. Even if Jameis Winston does a few dozen more stupid things - crab legs? really? - there's enough talent on that team that they could start Edward Scissorhands at QB and they'd do fine.

Clemson will do exactly what Clemson did last year, which is to look really impressive against anyone who isn't Florida State, at which point the distance between 1 and 2 in the conference will be measured starkly in ass-kickings.

NC State will improve vastly over last year's dreadful performance, based largely on the fact that their schedule includes more pastry than an episode of Cupcake Wars. Louisville is genuinely good, but they've lost both a star coach and a star QB, so there's likely going to be some dropoff. Carolina has talent, but between academic scandals, athletic scandals and Chapel Hill's remarkable propensity for stepping on its own junk at key moments, they're unlikely to live up to their preseason ranking. BC and Wake are bereft of talent, and Virginia Tech will go as far as their offense will carry them. (Note: Their offense will carry them as far as whatever bowl is being played in Shreveport this year). Georgia Tech's gotten to the point where the rest of the league has seen their offense enough to be able to prepare for it, and quarterback Vad Lee has transferred to someplace where they'll occasionally let him throw a forward pass. Syracuse is, err. Syracuse, and distinguishing them from fellow Big East refugee Pitt is largely going to be a question of which color are the helmets. [Insert mandatory "You do realize that 43% of the conference is Big East, right?" note] UVA's got the talent to make some noise, but they never seem to put it together, and in a year where they're playing for coach Mike London's job, they're unlikely to break tradition and bust out.

Duke? Duke was the breakout star of the conference last year, an exciting team that could score (and give up) points with the best of them. Unfortunately, they've already been shredded by injuries, and the problem with a school like Duke is that tiny university + high academic standards = not a lot of depth. David Cutcliffe will scheme them into some wins their talent level might not be enough for, but some regression from last year seems likely.

Which leaves the remaining glamor boys of the conference, Miami and Notre Dame. ND has a brutal schedule mitigated only by the fact that their only road game before late October is a jaunt to Syracuse. And if by some miracle they do lose a group of starters to code-of-conduct issues (as opposed to "you naughty lads have to sit out a series against Rice", then a five week run that includes FSU, Stanford, and ASU may put the kibosh on any playoff hopes. And Miami? Never count out a man who can win at Temple, but it'll be a lot easier to trust Al Golden if he gets a quarterback.

So what does it all mean? Same thing it meant last year. Hitch your wagon to Florida State, because they're the ones who are going places.
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