By Marc Lawrence
After leading the nation the previous four years with the most players selected in the first-round of the NFL Draft (30), the ACC lost a momentary grip on the position when only three players were chosen on Day One of the draft this season. Included was Florida State's Christian Ponder, who became the first ACC quarterback to go in the opening round since Matt Ryan in 2008.
The floodgates opened on Day Two, however, as the loop witnessed a whopping 13 picks go in the 2nd-round when 15 of the top 60 players in this year's draft came out of the ACC.
Looking back, in its six years as a 12-member league, the ACC has sent 50 teams to a bowl game, topped only by the SEC (51) in that span.
The kingpin of the conference, Virginia Tech, is the only team in the nation with 10-plus wins each of the last seven seasons. Not to mention Georgia Tech led the nation in rushing offense and Boston College topped the land in rushing defense last season.
A word of caution: The ACC returns less than half (5) it's starting quarterbacks from last season and three of those - Boston College's Chase Rettig, Maryland's Danny O'Brien and Wake Forest's Tanner Price - started as freshmen last year. Hence, most will be learning on the job in 2011.
Note: Team writeups excerpted from the 2011 PLAYBOOK Football Preview magazine. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Designated ‘Play On' and ‘Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.
Atlantic DivisionBOSTON COLLEGE - *7 / 7
TEAM THEME: WHERE'S THE O? Despite landing its 12th bowl game in a row, the Eagles win total slipped for the third straight season as the offense failed to muster 300 yards in seven different contests and actually averaged less than 300 YPG on the entire season. Fortunately, the stop-unit was rock-solid, leading the nation in rush defense (82.8 RYPG). Expect more of the same this year as Luke Kuechly, the nation's leader in tackles, returns for his junior season. The tackling machine led a ‘D' that held Nevada to 114 rushing yards (196 below average), despite suffering a third straight bowl loss. The offense, however, will need all ACC RB Montel Harris to carry the load or the Eagles will keep slip sliding away. Stat You Will Like: The Eagles are 7-0 SU and 5-0 ATS in games in which they score 27 or more points under Frank Spaziani.
PLAY ON: as a dog at UCF (9/10)
CLEMSON - 8 / 5
TEAM THEME: TIGER PAUSE
Beset by injuries and inexperience on offense, the Tigers lost six games last year by less than 10 points as their streak of 10 straight winning seasons came to an abrupt end. The Clemmie brass felt the offense needed more than a little dab, hence the arrival of new OC Chad Morris. Morris comes from Tulsa with a propensity for putting up points in a hurry. New QB Tajh Boyd will run the show and he'll be joined by RB Andre Ellington, who averaged 6.3 YPC in 2010, and WR DeAndre Hopkins, whose 52 receptions were the most ever by a Clemson freshman. A schedule that features no less than 10 bowlers is also not this cat's meow. Stat You Will Like: Clemson's defense ranked No.1 in the ACC last season.
PLAY ON: vs. Florida State (9/24)
FLORIDA STATE - 8 / 8
TEAM THEME: LOCKED AND LOADED
Jimbo Fisher debuted with a 10-win season against a salty schedule, certainly validating his dad gum hiring. Behind DC Mark Stoops, the defense vastly improved (10 PPG, 82 YPG) and should continue as the entire defensive line and secondary return to Tallahassee. While surprising first-round pick Christian Ponder heads to Minnesota, dual threat QB EJ Manual (4-2 as a starter) takes over the reins. Manual came up big in FSU's last two bowl wins and will be joined by a full compliment of WR's and RB's. With only eight seniors gone from last year's team and a very favorable road schedule, it's BCS or bust for the Sems in 2011.Stat You Will Like: The Seminoles have registered 34 winning seasons in a row and have appeared in 29 straight bowl games, tops in the nation.
PLAY ON: vs. NC State (10/29)
MARYLAND - *7 / 7
TEAM THEME: CLOSE THE FRIDGE
After 10 solid seasons in College Park in which the Terps produced a 75-50 record, Maryland has closed the door on the Ralph Friedgen era. Ironically, Friedgen exits as ACC Coach of the Year after leading the Terps to a seven-win improvement in 2010, the second most in the nation. The Turtles have turned to Randy Edsall, the former UConn head coach, who has spent time in the ACC as a defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. Edsall will keep the reins with QB Danny O'Brien, the No. 2 freshman QB in the nation last year. Despite not starting until the fourth game of the season, O'Brien tossed 22 TD's as the offense improved 11 PPG. The Fridge may be closed but the light is still on. Stat You Will Like: Before coaching at Connecticut, Edsall was a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator at Boston College and Georgia Tech respectively.
PLAY ON: as dog vs. Clemson (10/15)
NC STATE - 5 / 8
TEAM THEME: AIRED OUT
The devastating, high velocity wind that ripped through Raleigh in May wasn't just a tornado passing by. It was the sound of the air being let out of the football when QB Russell Wilson announced he was not returning to the program for his senior season, opting instead to play professional baseball. Sure to smash every ACC passing record, Wilson's departure opens the door for 6'6" Mike Gleason. While Gleason performed admirably in mop-up duty last season, this appears to be too big a hit for the Pack to overcome. Last season's 9-4 record had a chance to be much better as all four losses, including a heartbreaker to Va Tech, were decided late. Not this year. Phhttt!
Stat You Will Like: The Wolfpack led the nation with 20 fumble recoveries last season.
PLAY ON: vs. Maryland (11/26)
WAKE FOREST - *7 / 9
Team Theme: PUT OUT THE FIRE
There's a reason the Deacons return the most lettermen (58) of any team in the ACC: an incredible rash of injuries forced HC Jim Grobe to toss anybody and everybody into the fire last year. Grobe is feeling the heat after following a super 28-12 SU run (3 bowls) from 2006-08 with an 8-16 mark (no bowls) the past two seasons. Wake's offense - which slipped 100 YPG - was 2nd-last in seven categories in the ACC in 2010 while the 'D' was dead last in scoring. Despite the return of QB Tanner Price (1,349 yards and 7 TD's in nine starts), the Deacs will be tested against nine bowlers in 2011, including five of their first six games. Pass the fire extinguisher!
Stat You Will Like: The Demons are 15-0 ATS as a dog in Game Five of the season.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Florida State (10/8)
Coastal DivisionDUKE - *8 / 6
TEAM THEME: THE FINAL CUT
Despite registering 12 wins in three seasons under David Cutcliffe (two more than Duke managed in the previous eight years combined), one gets the sense that he may be gone should the Devils wear nada (as in bowling shirts) this season. Five losses last year were decided in the final minute of play - not a good sign for teams with bowl aspirations. What is promising is the return of QB Sean Renfree (3,131 yards) and the V-boys, Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon, a pair of WR's who have combined for 274 catches - the most of any duo in the ACC. Seven home games and a reasonable non-conference slate should get the Devils their due and Cutcliffe an extension.Stat You Will Like: The Blue Devils are 1-23 SU the last four games of the season since 2005.
PLAY AGAINST: at Virginia (11/12) - *KEY if favored
GEORGIA TECH - 6 / 5
TEAM THEME: GROUND CONTROL
The Yellow Jackets were on their way to another successful season under Paul Johnson before departed QB Joshua Nesbitt broke his arm and the Wreck went on to lose four of its final five games. That, however, didn't stop the Jackets from making their 14th straight bowl appearance and registering at least a .500 mark in conference play for the 16th straight season. In fact, the Wreck led the nation in rushing, averaging 323.3 YPG, while smashing the ACC all-time record. New QB Tevin Washington averaged 105 RYPG in his four starts and should meld nicely with this offense. A very favorable September schedule should have the Jackets off and, of course, running.Stat You Will Like: The Yellow Jackets have had a running back gain more than 1,300 rushing yards in each of the last five seasons.
PLAY AGAINST: as favorite vs. Georgia (11/26)
MIAMI FL - *6 / 7
TEAM THEME: ‘U' CAN CALL HIM AL
The celebrated hiring of Randy Shannon at the ‘U' four years ago was short-circuited when the Canes laid an ostrich-sized egg in its season finale at home against USF last season. Shannon's ‘no-Cane-do' 28-22 career mark wasn't up to snuff and as a result Al Golden arrives from Temple to wipe the egg off the face of the program. Golden inherits a team that loses its leading receiver, running back, tackler, sacker and top three cornerbacks. Confounding the task at hand is a schedule that includes nine bowl teams, including all five on the road. Rest assured, Al will be put to the test as he looks to restore the Canes back to ‘Golden' stature. You can call him on it.Stat You Will Like: Temple was 3-31 before Golden. The Owls were 27-34 after Golden's arrival, including 17-8 the last two seasons.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia Tech - *KEY if off a loss (10/22)
NORTH CAROLINA - 6 / 7
TEAM THEME: HARDLY A LOST EXPERIENCE
What could have been never had a chance to pan out. Loaded with 19 returning starters and a wealth of talent (tied USC with nine players selected in this year's NFL draft), UNC saw it's season fall flat on its face before it ever began when NCAA and school suspensions resulted in a total of 221 lost games. Still, Butch's boys managed a third straight 8-5 campaign, with three of the losses coming by six or fewer points. The upside is a lot of young players saw plenty of playing time. Meanwhile, Bryn Renner looks to be the successor to QB T.J. Yates, a four-year starter in Chapel Hill. While the Heels have a stern road test against five bowlers, we'll once again color them dangerous in 2011. Stat You Will Like: Tar Heels place kicker Casey Barth is the active ACC scoring leader.
PLAY ON: at NC State (11/5)
VIRGINIA - 8 / 9
Team Theme: ONE. TWO. THREE.
When a team loses its top quarterback, running back and wide receiver, it is generally not a good omen. When that same team returns the most starters of any other team in its conference (19 with kickers), the former practically becomes a moot point. All things considered, HC Mike London did a nice job in his first year at the helm in Charlottesville. Three of Virginia's losses were by seven or less points while the offense improved dramatically, gaining 135 YPG more last year than in 2009. It appears London's three basic tenets - 1. Go to class, 2. Show class, 3. Treat people with dignity and respect - are paying dividends for the Cavaliers.
Stat You Will Like: The Cavs will face bowl teams in six of their final seven games.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Miami Florida (10/27)
VIRGINIA TECH - 6 / 7
Team Theme: BEAMER BALL
VPI head coach Frank Beamer is having a ball. Despite the 28-point blowout loss to Stanford in the 2010 Orange Bowl, the Hokies' coach owns 240 wins in 30 years as the boss. His is the only team in the nation with 10-win seasons each of the last seven years, and an 18 straight bowl game skein is third-best in the land. Following the loss of QB Tyrod Taylor and RB Ryan Williams to the NFL, Beamer may need to lean on a defense that led the nation in turnover margin last year (+1.36 TOPG) - but one that also regressed by 67 YPG. Can Beamer affect repairs to the 'D' and buy his offense time to mature? Is Meagan Fox a 10? Duh!
Stat You Will Like: The Hokies opened and closed the season with a loss to a Top 5 team in an NFL stadium last year.
PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. Miami Florida (10/8) Be sure to check back here next Monday, June 13th for Marc's 2011 BIG EAST CONFERENCE Football Preview!