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Using our college football simulation engine, WhatIfSports.com simulated thousands of college football games to create the 2014 ACC Preview. Team ratings, player ratings and depth charts are accurate as of August 15th. What you see in the Conference Standings table is the most likely outcome based on the computer simulations. The team-by-team schedules use Absolute Records, which you can learn more about below. Those same game-by-game simulations also generate average points per game for both teams.
All team previews are provided by CollegeFootballNews.com.
2014 ACC Predicted Conference Standings
|North Carolina State||3||5||6-6|
For this analysis, thousands of college football games are simulated, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in the table above) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.
Everyone in America is looking up at Florida State. The 'Noles are planning to keep it that way.
FSU is the king of the college football world. Remaining on the throne is Jimbo Fisher's singular priority in 2014. He'll be reloading with a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, Jameis Winston, and a roster littered with gifted former high school stars. Fisher and the staff know they possess the right mix of talent to repeat, at least as the ACC champ. Maintaining the drive and focus that helped Florida State navigate last year's schedule without a loss will be a far tougher task than filling a few holes on the depth chart.
It's been a steady climb up the mountaintop for Florida State. The Seminoles finished the season ranked in 2010 and 2011, Fisher's first two years as Bobby Bowden's successor.
A year later, they won the ACC for the first time since 2005. And last fall, they put it all together, capping a perfect season with a thrilling 34-31 win over Auburn in the final BCS National Championship Game.
Moving beyond the malaise that gripped the end of the Bowden era was hard. On some level, keeping the defending champs motivated in 'Bama-like fashion will be every bit as challenging.
Fisher is facing more distractions than any coach in the FBS. It doesn't help matters when the face of the program, Winston, gets dinged for shoplifting crab legs from a supermarket in April. It's not as if opposing fans will use that little indiscretion as fodder for heckling this fall. Fisher has been fantastic through four seasons as the head coach. If he can keep his kids from taking their eye off the ball in 2014, he'll skyrocket toward the top of his profession.
In terms of personnel, the Seminoles have issues, but few pressing enough to keep the team out of the inaugural College Football Playoff chase. The offense will again be borderline unstoppable. The top priority will be for Winston to develop chemistry with a retooled receiving corps that's going to miss WR Kelvin Benjamin. There's a key opening on the outside across from Rashad Greene, which seniors Christian Green and Jarred Haggins, and sophomores Jesus Wilson, Kermit Whitfield and Isaiah Jones are battling to fill.
The defense lost a lot, from last year's five All-ACC first or second-teamers to influential coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. But you might not notice it this season. The Seminoles boast a revolving door of next-level defenders. Yeah, you don't get better by losing Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Terrence Brooks. But you don't get much worse either, when you've got Mario Edwards, P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby and Jalen Ramsey ready to explode into the spotlight. Tallahassee is once again a breeding ground for elite young defenders.
There's no doubting that Florida State has the requisite talent to repeat as the national champs. Years of recruiting - and developing - the right kids has the 'Noles as stacked as ever. But are they hungry, hungry enough to thrive with a huge target on their chest? Fisher and the staff are working overtime this offseason to keep their kids from falling into the trap of complacency and malaise that can derail even the deepest of teams.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Florida State Seminoles
|1||Oklahoma State Cowboys||72||31-22|
|5||@North Carolina State Wolfpack||86||33-16|
|6||Wake Forest Demon Deacons||89||31-13|
|8||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||70||29-23|
|12||@Miami (FL) Hurricanes||76||32-20|
|13||Boston College Eagles||82||32-18|
New quarterback. Same expectations.
Clemson will no longer have longtime QB Tajh Boyd behind center, or his favorite target, Sammy Watkins, running routes. Huge losses, but don't expect the bar to be lowered dramatically around Death Valley. Dabo Swinney has a great thing going with the Tigers, and he and his staff continue to thrive on Signing Day. The program is bound to take a small step back in 2014, fading a little farther behind Florida State in the ACC Atlantic, but there's ample talent on hand to realistically be thinking major bowl game for the third time in the last four years.
Clemson is Clemson, with a twist. Although the offense has largely been the catalyst for the program's 32 wins over the last three years, the defense will be asked to shoulder the load in the early going. Seven starters return to a unit that's made enormous strides for coordinator Brent Venables, and will be expected to do so again in 2014.
The Tigers will be led by one of the nation's best D-lines, a deep unit that'll attack the pocket with the inside-outside combination of Grady Jarrett and All-American Vic Beasley, respectively. You want depth? This line's second unit would rank among the 25 or so best groups in America. It's a good thing that Clemson will dominate the line of scrimmage, too, because it might be vulnerable in the back seven. LB Stephone Anthony is a beast. But two of his mates have graduated, as have last year's starting corners. Quality quarterbacks can solve this secondary, unless Beasley & Co. are in their face for 60 minutes.
Chad Morris is back. You can come in from the ledge now, Clemson fans.
Morris is one of the hottest offensive coordinators in college football, which is why no one is panicking yet over the departures of Boyd, Watkins and five other starters. The Tigers can't possibly be as potent as they were in 2012 and 2013. Morris, though, is so good at developing attacks that Clemson will still be one of the ACC's highest-scoring teams.
Boyd's perennial backup, Cole Stoudt, is the likely starter. The senior brings poise, experience and leadership to the huddle. His supporting cast is a work-in-progress. The Tigers are in the market for reliable targets, a feature back and a couple of new starting linemen. Clemson was a 40-point offense in Boyd's final two years. With so many question marks, the 2014 edition might have to settle for hovering around the 35-point range.
Clemson has found its groove. But then again, so have Florida State and in-state rival South Carolina. And the Tigers know it. They can't allow the gap with the Seminoles and the Gamecocks to widen, even in a year when there's so much turnover on offense. Swinney won't let the program slip too far, though this could be one of those seasons that ends in December instead of January.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Clemson Tigers
|2||South Carolina State Bulldogs||95||49-8|
|4||@Florida State Seminoles||28||21-29|
|5||North Carolina Tar Heels||57||24-21|
|6||North Carolina State Wolfpack||71||25-17|
|8||@Boston College Eagles||71||26-19|
|11||@Wake Forest Demon Deacons||78||26-16|
|12||@Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||65||25-21|
|13||Georgia State Panthers||89||32-14|
|14||South Carolina Gamecocks||50||23-24|
Change is hard. Louisville is anxiously nodding its head in agreement.
Teddy Bridgewater is preparing for a career as an NFL quarterback. Charlie Strong is preparing for his first season as a Longhorn. And the American is but a distant memory, replaced by a timely relocation to the ACC. Louisville is on solid footing for the long-term, but 2014 will be wrought with all kinds of tricky challenges.
Just how well the program weathers the initial storm will depend heavily on the ability of Bobby Petrino to recapture the magic he had as the school's head coach from 2003-06. Hiring Petrino made for a shrewd reunion, provided the coach leaves his baggage at Louisville International Airport.
Petrino is one of the best in the business, an offensive innovator who excels at developing young quarterbacks. He was 41-9 in his first stint in Derby City. He won 29 games in his final three seasons at Arkansas. He went 8-4 last fall at Western Kentucky.
Yet, the records aren't what folks remember when the subject is Petrino. They remember the abrupt in-season exit from the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. And the motorcycle accident, with Jessica Dorrell aboard, that cost him the Razorbacks job two years ago.
With Petrino comes a heavy dose of risk - and reward. Athletic director Tom Jurich is betting on his coach to keep the program on a path to prosperity. The Cardinals went 23-3 over the past two years for Strong, who'd thoroughly scrubbed any remnants of the failed three-year Steve Kragthorpe experiment. It's now up to Petrino and his staff to solidify what Strong built, while making an opportunistic step up in weight class.
The first order of business this offseason will be to install new systems on both sides of the ball. Petrino's offense will not only feature an unproven triggerman, but the terminology and the philosophy is going to change. Yeah, the Cardinals want to be balanced, but the passing game - and the quarterbacks - will be the stars of the show going forward. On defense, former Georgia coordinator Todd Grantham is employing a 3-4 alignment that shifts smaller ends to outside linebacker, and puts a premium on immovable nose tackles. Grantham inherits a unit that was dynamite a year ago, but is also replacing seven quality starters.
After a seven-year hiatus, Petrino is back in Louisville, looking to make the most of his second chance at a spotlight school. Not many coaches get the opportunity for a sequel with a former employer. In that genre, Petrino needs to be Bill Snyder or Mike Riley, and not John Robinson or Johnny Majors. The Cardinals are undergoing significant changes in 2014, both on and off the field. The constant? They're still one of the surging programs in America, a trend Petrino & Co. are determined to further as the newest member of the ACC.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Louisville Cardinals
|1||Miami (FL) Hurricanes||50||23-22|
|2||Murray State Racers||95||46-8|
|4||@FIU Golden Panthers||94||31-10|
|5||Wake Forest Demon Deacons||72||23-14|
|8||North Carolina State Wolfpack||73||25-17|
|10||Florida State Seminoles||18||18-28|
|11||@Boston College Eagles||70||24-19|
|13||@Notre Dame Fighting Irish||51||22-20|
North Carolina State
Tom O'Brien was fired at the end of the 2012 season because NC State had grown tired of mediocrity. Mediocrity never looked so good in Raleigh.
The Pack is looking for a fresh start after going 3-9, dropping the final seven games and failing to win an ACC matchup for the first time since 1959. The debut of head coach Dave Doeren didn't go as planned, as State proved incapable of delivering in the latter stages of tight games. A new year, though brings new hope and a wish to turn the page as quickly as possible.
As a program, State has traditionally struggled to get over the hump; the school's last ACC championship occurred in 1979, and it's won 10 games in a season just one time. Still, there's cause for optimism in the Triangle. Not only does Doeren have a better grasp on his personnel in Year 2, but he's excited about the bumper crop of high school talent that signed letters of intent in February. Oh, and the quarterback position has a lot more clarity than it did a year ago.
Jacoby Brissett isn't a savior. He is a major upgrade. One of the Pack's myriad - and biggest - issues in 2013 was a lack of consistency behind center. Doeren & Co. tried everything, yet State still threw more interceptions than touchdown passes. For the coach's attack to work, the quarterbacks must do a better job of delivering the ball. And that's where Brissett enters the discussion. The Florida transfer sat out last season, yet he still impressed the staff from the scout team. He is in many ways the prototype of what Doeren is after in a triggerman.
Brissett gives the locals a reason to smile. The rest of the roster will provoke frowns. The Wolfpack doesn't stack up well versus the ACC's tougher teams, which will create instant opportunities for the heralded rookies, like DE Kentavius Street, WR Bo Hines and CB Troy Vincent. The staff has let it be known that every position will be up for grabs this offseason...except quarterback.
Doeren has been a success at every stop on the career path, from his days as a coordinator at Kansas and Wisconsin to being the head coach at Northern Illinois. He's going to win in Raleigh as well. But fans of the program will need to be patient, as the young and inexperienced roster is gradually improved and groomed. The Pack will be better in 2014, in part because the team can't get much worse. The extent of its improvement will depend on the play of the lines and the maturation process of the rookie class.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 North Carolina State Wolfpack
|1||Georgia Southern Eagles||67||26-19|
|2||Old Dominion Monarchs||54||26-25|
|3||@South Florida Bulls||56||23-21|
|4||Presbyterian Blue Hose||95||42-7|
|5||Florida State Seminoles||14||16-33|
|7||Boston College Eagles||48||23-24|
|11||Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||47||22-23|
|12||Wake Forest Demon Deacons||66||22-18|
|14||@North Carolina Tar Heels||36||20-25|
With the wind at their backs, the Eagles are hoping to soar in the face of wholesale changes on both sides of the ball.
Now that second-year head coach Steve Addazio has succeeded in changing the culture at BC, he and his coaching staff plan to make winning a habit on the Heights. Sure, there'll be challenges ahead, like finding replacements for RB Andre Williams, WR Alex Amidon and LB Kevin Pierre-Louis. Addazio, though, has already completed the heaviest lifting in Chestnut Hill, getting an entire program to rethink its potential.
Boston College was a starkly different team in 2013, more confident and a lot more physical on both sides of the ball. The talent was essentially the same as it was in 2012, yet the program made the leap from two wins to seven prior to a New Year's Eve bowl loss to Arizona. Addazio has already been a game-changer across the board for the Eagles, and he's only begun the process of building BC into a perennial winner.
In the short-term, the Eagles will need to retool during the offseason, especially in the offensive backfield. Four-year starting QB Chase Rettig and Williams, who led the FBS in rushing, have graduated, leaving holes to fill at both positions. Rettig's shoes are likely to be filled by Florida transfer Tyler Murphy, a Connecticut native originally recruited to be a Gator by Addazio. If Murphy gets help from the skill position players, like RB Myles Willis, former UConn WR Shakim Phillips and rehabbed WR Bobby Swigert, the attack could be pleasantly diverse for a change.
On D, Boston College has a long list of priorities, from locating new edge rushers to coaching up the secondary. Last season, bad things often happened when the ball was in the air. The 108th-ranked Eagles pass efficiency defense allowed 26 touchdowns passes, while picking off just nine. The silver lining is that everyone is back for another year, though but no job will be safe this summer. Addazio will ride the four best defensive backs, regardless of their age and experience level.
The objective at Boston College this season is to add a new level to the foundation, while erasing any possibility that 2014 was a one-and-done fluke. Addazio is building something that will have a lasting effect on the program at a macro level. His Eagles are unquestionably moving in a positive direction, even if they veer sideways on the field this fall.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Boston College Eagles
|4||Maine Black Bears||95||45-6|
|5||Colorado State Rams||51||25-24|
|7||@North Carolina State Wolfpack||52||24-23|
|9||@Wake Forest Demon Deacons||68||22-17|
|10||@Virginia Tech Hokies||39||19-23|
|13||@Florida State Seminoles||18||18-32|
Decent start in the ACC, Orange, but will 7-6 be as good as it gets?
Syracuse exceeded expectations by rising above .500 with an upset of Boston College and a Texas Bowl win over Minnesota. But where do Scott Shafer and his program go from here? The Orange proved it can compete in the ACC, but Shafer isn't content with simply remaining competitive or filling the voids in the league's second-tier bowl openings. The coach has made eight wins a priority this season, a rigorous challenge in the face of a thorny schedule.
Syracuse will have a critical edge this year over much of the conference - a quarterback with starting experience. Junior Terrel Hunt had a rocky debut, but he never left the lineup after taking over in September. And he's had a solid offseason so far, locking down the starting gig for a second straight year. Keeping the job, though, will require Hunt to become a more efficient thrower.
The Orange will be productive on the ground behind Hunt and backs Prince-Tyson Gulley, George Morris and Devante McFarlane. Running the ball has not been an issue at Syracuse the past few years. Still, the program needs to achieve balance, which is why Hunt's development inside the pocket is such an integral component of the 2014 squad's success.
The D is in pretty good shape, especially the back seven, entering the quiet months of the offseason. Syracuse houses all-league contenders in SS Durell Eskridge and linebackers Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch. The line, though, is a major concern now that DT Jay Bromley has moved on. The Orange will not only be more vulnerable on running plays, but it'll need a defensive end, such as Robert Welsh or Ron Thompson, to bring the heat on a more consistent basis.
Finishing with a winning record in a year that the team entered a much tougher league with a green coach and quarterback was an underrated achievement for Syracuse. Now, the program is out to prove that 2013 was the beginning of a trend, rather than some one-year anomaly. If the Orange is going to bowl in 2014, it'll have to be expeditious and detail-oriented between now and the Aug. 29 visit from Villanova. The team has holes to fill and young players that must mature to adequately navigate a wicked slate littered with ACC landmines.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Syracuse Orange
|3||@Central Michigan Chippewas||61||24-21|
|5||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||22||15-26|
|7||Florida State Seminoles||7||16-33|
|8||@Wake Forest Demon Deacons||49||18-19|
|10||North Carolina State Wolfpack||41||19-21|
|11||Duke Blue Devils||27||18-25|
|14||@Boston College Eagles||56||21-20|
The Demon Deacons had grown stale under Jim Grobe. Enter Dave Clawson.
Grobe had a good thing going for a while in Winston-Salem, even winning the ACC back in 2006. But that was a long time ago, and the program hasn't delivered a winning season since 2008. Clawson was lured out of the Mid-American Conference in the hopes that he can do at Wake Forest what he did for Bowling Green...and Fordham and Richmond previously. In short, the coach is a program-builder, who has always left his team in better shape than when he arrived. In Year 5 with the Falcons, he led the school to its first MAC title since 1992.
Wake Forest is at a perennial disadvantage versus the rest of the ACC, since it's a small private school that attracts second-tier recruits. Clawson will look to overcome the odds in 2014, sans last year's best offensive and defensive players, starting quarterback and leading rusher. The administration has no choice but to be patient, even if the coaching staff isn't.
Clawson's biggest roadblock, by far, to immediate success will be the offense. The coach is an innovator, to be sure, but he's inheriting a team that averaged 18 points a game in 2013, and returns no sure-thing playmakers. The quarterback will be inexperienced, and the backs and receivers are giant black and old gold question marks. If Winston-Salem isn't home to the ACC's worst offense in 2014, mark it down as an upset.
If Wake Forest beats forecasts this season, the defense will likely get most of the credit. The Demon Deacons were respectable in 2013, allowing 24 points per game. And while NG Nikita Whitlock and others will be missed, the D can build around an underrated secondary that returns all four starters from last November. Corners Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel have next-level potential, which will cause problems for quarterbacks if a pass rush shows up.
Clawson is a program-builder, not a miracle-worker. He's going to need time. Lots of it, in fact, before Wake Forest can seriously think about the postseason, let alone ACC contention. This first season for the coach and his staff will be all about installing systems, learning the personnel and building depth on both sides of the ball. After five straight losing seasons, the Deacons needed to replace Grobe on the sidelines. While his successor may be a step in the right direction, it's doubtful anyone will know it until at least 2015.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Wake Forest Demon Deacons
|2||Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs||95||37-8|
|3||@Utah State Aggies||32||16-23|
|4||Army Black Knights||62||23-18|
|6||@Florida State Seminoles||11||13-31|
|9||Boston College Eagles||32||17-22|
|12||@North Carolina State Wolfpack||33||18-22|
|13||Virginia Tech Hokies||25||14-23|
|14||@Duke Blue Devils||22||15-25|
Duke broke through with its first-ever 10-win season and a highly improbable first ACC Coastal Division title last year. The biggest surprise of all is that the Blue Devils are just getting started.
Last season in Durham was epic. Duke, the noted basketball school, provided football fans in the region with a reason to celebrate. In 2012, the Blue Devils reached a milestone with the school's first bowl game in nearly two decades. In 2013, they reset expectations across the league and the country with a hellacious eight-game winning streak that included upsets of Virginia Tech for the first time since 1981 and Miami three weeks later. Without any warning, the balance of power was suddenly shifting beneath the Coastal foundation like a blue and white tectonic plate.
The inimitable leader of the Duke renaissance is head coach David Cutcliffe. He's succeeding in changing the culture in Durham among players and fans. Though it might seem otherwise, the Blue Devils have not been an overnight success story; they've arduously laid a ground floor drenched in sweat, patience and an unwavering belief in a righteous man who's shot straight with them from the moment he stepped foot on campus. Duke took its usual lumps in Cut's first five seasons in Durham, finishing below .500 and no higher than fifth place in the ACC Coastal Division each year. Progress, though, was constant, even if it had to be measured by an unconventional ruler.
Next on the agenda for Cutcliffe and his flock is to sustain excellence. Duke doesn't want to be Wake Forest, a program whose success is fleeting. No, Duke is striving to become the Stanford of the Eastern Seaboard by achieving perennial football success at an esteemed academic institution. With 17 starters back this fall, and a locker room gushing with confidence, the Blue Devils are poised to quiet those critics expecting 2013 to go down as a momentary blip on the college football radar.
The Blue Devils should be similar to last year's edition; the offense, even without coordinator Kurt Roper, will work to overcome defensive deficiencies, especially along the front wall. And special teams will be a hidden plus, thanks to the presence of P Will Monday, PK Ross Martin and return men Jamison Crowder and DeVon Edwards. An occasional reprisal of Duke's 52-48 Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Texas A&M is almost a certainty with this team in 2014.
Duke was one of college football's feel-good stories of 2013, ascending to new heights under the leadership of a meticulous, hard-working coach who'd earned the trust and affection of his players. Might it have been a table-setter? Even better days are ahead for the Blue Devils who've got the talent and the mojo to add more bricks to the foundation in 2014.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Duke Blue Devils
|4||Tulane Green Wave||75||29-16|
|5||@Miami (FL) Hurricanes||50||25-24|
|7||@Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||66||25-21|
|12||Virginia Tech Hokies||59||22-20|
|13||North Carolina Tar Heels||45||23-24|
|14||Wake Forest Demon Deacons||78||25-15|
Now that Frank Beamer has fallen, can the Hokies help him get back up?
The school that won at least ten games during an eight-year period from 2004-11 is 13-11 against FBS teams the last two seasons. Tech went 8-5 a year ago, looking in the second-half like a program whose best days just might be in the rear view mirror. Plus, the gap with Florida State and Clemson has widened dramatically, and most of the Coastal Division has caught up as well, creating justifiable uneasiness around Blacksburg.
The Hokies continue to endure a familiar and frustrating dichotomy - the defense is championship-caliber, yet the offense is painfully inept. Even with a senior, Logan Thomas, at the controls in 2013, Virginia Tech still scored less than 20 points in seven games. For starters, Tech can't average 119 rushing yards a game, as it did a year ago. The production of Frank Beamer's running game has slipped in each of the last four seasons, a trend that needs to be halted and reversed in 2014. And then there's the quarterback quandary.
Yeah, Thomas was wildly inconsistent, but he had experience and the ability to bully opponents on the ground. No such player exists on the current roster. Senior Mark Leal is the veteran, but if he was an answer, the staff would have tried him during one of Thomas' many erratic stretches. Sophomore Brenden Motley's upside is tempered by his inexperience. Maybe Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer can shake things up when he arrives in the summer.
Venerable defensive coordinator Bud Foster is facing a few more holes than usual, but he always finds a way to have his kids ready to go. While Blacksburg will be home to one of the country's best defensive backfields, led by precocious corners Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, the front seven is a work-in-progress. Three starting linemen and two starting linebackers have graduated, leaving DT Luther Maddy to serve as the foundation on which the rest of the front seven will be built. While Tech won't be as stingy as it was in 2013, it'll still house one of the best defenses in the ACC.
Virginia Tech is swimming in unfamiliar waters. Back-to-back disappointing seasons. A trophy case that's beginning to collect a thin layer of dust. Beamer needs to deliver the kind of season that quiets the chatter that he's lost the magic, because the Hokies are in danger of drifting deeper into the Coastal Division pack.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Virginia Tech Hokies
|1||William & Mary Tribe||95||43-7|
|2||@Ohio State Buckeyes||40||19-21|
|3||East Carolina Pirates||63||25-21|
|4||Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||64||22-19|
|5||Western Michigan Broncos||89||27-14|
|6||@North Carolina Tar Heels||49||21-20|
|9||Miami (FL) Hurricanes||52||22-21|
|10||Boston College Eagles||61||23-19|
|12||@Duke Blue Devils||41||20-22|
|13||@Wake Forest Demon Deacons||75||23-14|
It's Year 3 for head coach Larry Fedora, so Carolina is naturally hoping to take another step forward.
Fedora's unique systems are in place, on both sides of the ball, and he's had a few years to get his kinds of players to Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels now believe they're ready to move closer to their goals by competing for - and plucking - a ripe Coastal Division. They'll begin 2014 with a head of steam after winning six of last year's final seven games, capped by a 39-17 Belk Bowl blowout of Cincinnati.
It's been a very busy offseason so far for the program as it jostles with a roster missing its stars on both offense and defense. First Team All-ACC TE Eric Ebron and LT James Hurst are now in the NFL. And fellow all-stars on defense, DE Kareem Martin and FS Tre Boston, are gone as well. Fortunately, Fedora and his staff have recruited well, and 16 of last year's starters are still in school.
The biggest question on offense focuses on the quarterbacks. Yeah, the Heels have good options, but will Marquise Williams get an opportunity to build on last season's solid finish? Or is Fedora ready to hand the ball to blue-chip redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky? The veteran may have the edge, but the rookie isn't backing down an inch, setting the stage for a fascinating competition in the summer. Whoever gets the nod will be working behind a line that's going to sorely miss Hurst and C Russell Bodine.
After bottoming out with a 55-31 loss to East Carolina last Sept. 28, Carolina's defense got steadily better as the season progressed. The unit wants to build on the strong finish, but doing so will require a rebuilt D-line to grow up in a hurry. Not only is Martin out of the picture, but so is veteran DT Tim Jackson. Someone other than frenetic Bandit Norkeithus Otis will have to offset the 21.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks that Martin produced in 2013.
Carolina likes where it's headed under Fedora. The NCAA - for now - is no longer sniffing around. And the 2013 squad capped a torrid second-half with its first bowl win in three years. The Tar Heels are eyeing continued progress in 2014, with a first-ever appearance in the ACC Championship Game looming large on the Tar Heel to-do list.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 North Carolina Tar Heels
|2||San Diego State Aztecs||63||26-22|
|4||@East Carolina Pirates||69||26-20|
|6||Virginia Tech Hokies||51||21-20|
|7||@Notre Dame Fighting Irish||37||22-26|
|8||Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||58||24-21|
|10||@Miami (FL) Hurricanes||51||24-22|
|13||@Duke Blue Devils||55||24-23|
|14||North Carolina State Wolfpack||64||25-20|
Just who are you, Miami? Are you the team that opened 2013 7-0, or the one that ended the year 2-4?
The Hurricanes have a bit of an identity crisis these days. Yes, there was undeniable progress and hints of contention, such as the Sept. 7 upset of Florida. But it's also obvious that this program isn't ready to compete with the likes of Florida State and Clemson. It's a good thing the Seminoles and the Tigers are in the Atlantic Division, which allows Miami to focus on seizing a far more manageable Coastal Division.
Miami is trending north for fourth-year head coach Al Golden, who's done a solid job of shepherding the program through the distractions and noise of NCAA sanctions. The Canes have upped their win total each of the last two seasons, going 9-4 in 2013. Against the toughest opponents on the schedule, though, they struggled; a 41-14 loss to Florida State. Falling by 18 points to Virginia Tech and Coastal champ Duke. And getting whipped by Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Miami learned in the first-half of 2013 that it was heading in the right direction. The second-half showed there's still a long way to go.
Golden and his staff are keeping top recruits, such as DE Chad Thomas and RB Joseph Yearby, in South Florida, a must for future success. Now the Canes have to develop their talent, especially at quarterback and on defense. Like him or not, Stephen Morris was better than whoever gets the ball for the opener at Louisville on Labor Day night. The offense needs one of the quarterbacks to maximize the potential of an exciting set of backs and receivers. But the situation became clouded by an ACL tear suffered in April by projected starter Ryan Williams.
The D is a problem that shows no signs of disappearing. Golden might want to get a jump start on hiring a new coordinator for 2015, in the event sharply-criticized Mark D'Onofrio and his players continue to underachieve. The Canes were once again pedestrian in 2013, yielding an average of 42 points over the final four losses. And more support is needed for LB Denzel Perryman, the lone All-ACC first or second-teamer over the last two seasons.
Make no mistake about it. Miami is going in the right direction, with Golden methodically overseeing every stage of the rebuilding plan. Are the Hurricanes ready to compete for championships again? Not quite. But there's stability, momentum and radically changed culture in Coral Gables. Oh, and the botched NCAA investigation is finally completed, too. Golden will bring the 10-win seasons back to Miami. Cane fans need to exercise patience for just a little while longer.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Miami (FL) Hurricanes
|2||Florida A&M Rattlers||95||50-8|
|3||Arkansas State Red Wolves||73||29-20|
|5||Duke Blue Devils||50||24-25|
|6||@Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||52||23-22|
|9||@Virginia Tech Hokies||46||21-22|
|10||North Carolina Tar Heels||49||22-24|
|12||Florida State Seminoles||23||20-32|
Now that Pitt has achieved stability, it wants to locate prosperity.
The Panthers are about to begin their third year with the same coach, Paul Chryst, and their second season as a member of the ACC. That's the good news for a program that dealt with turbulence in the few years leading up to Chryst's hiring in 2011. The concern is that Pitt is solidly stuck in neutral, that area of college football purgatory that produces bowl berths but not much national respect.
Pitt has gone either 6-7 or 7-6 in each of the last three seasons. You are what your record says you are, and the Panthers are mediocre these days. In 2013, they were outscored by a grand total of nine points and were outgained by just 70 yards. If average was a program, its colors would be blue and gold. If the Panthers are going to elevate in 2014, it'll likely be driven by the offense. Yeah, a new quarterback, likely sophomore Chad Voytik, will be broken in, and the offensive line is perennially inconsistent. But Pitt spawned in 2013 a pair of playmaking cornerstones of the future in WR Tyler Boyd and RB James Conner. Boyd was the nation's top rookie receiver, as he paid homage to former Panther great Larry Fitzgerald. Conner wrapped up his first season on campus by rushing for 229 yards in the Little Caesars Bowl win over Bowling Green.
The big story on defense revolves around the departure of DT Aaron Donald, one of the greatest defenders to ever play for the school. His graduation not only leaves Pitt with a gaping void up front, but it has coordinator Matt House searching for new leaders and new playmakers on this side of the ball. Only five of last year's starters are back, and not one of them is likely to appear on the preseason All-ACC Team. The Panthers were vulnerable when Donald was on the field in 2013. Without No. 97, it'll take a collaborative effort just to match last season's numbers.
Chryst has helped lay the foundation at Pittsburgh, but now what? The Panthers have grown tired of six and seven-loss seasons that end in Detroit or Birmingham in half-empty buildings. Pitt will never be Florida State or Clemson. Still, there's an opening in the ACC behind the two heavyweights that the Panthers would love to fill. Reaching that point will be a process, one that won't be completed in 2014.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Pittsburgh Panthers
|1||Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens||95||48-8|
|2||@Boston College Eagles||63||25-20|
|3||@FIU Golden Panthers||92||32-13|
|8||Virginia Tech Hokies||49||19-20|
|9||Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||59||23-21|
|10||Duke Blue Devils||45||21-23|
|12||@North Carolina Tar Heels||46||23-24|
|14||@Miami (FL) Hurricanes||44||23-24|
It's becoming increasingly evident that the Yellow Jackets just might have peaked after all in 2009.
Georgia Tech won 11 games and the Atlantic Coast Conference five years ago, helping make head coach Paul Johnson the toast of Atlanta for a brief time. Since then, the school has gone 23-25 versus FBS opponents, making Johnson's seat, well, toasty. The Jackets are clearly stuck in neutral, with no end to the mediocrity in plain sight. In a decision that was both symbolic and immediately impactful to the current squad, starting QB Vad Lee voluntarily decided in January that his career would benefit from a transfer to FCS James Madison.
The buzz has naturally died down at Georgia Tech. And the losing streak to rival Georgia has reached five games. Maybe seven-win seasons that end at a second-rate bowl game is as good as it gets on the Flats. Hey, the Yellow Jackets have won 10 games just three times over the last half-century, so it's not as if this is a perennial powerhouse that demands national respect and notoriety.
If Tech is going is going to flip its usual script, it doesn't appear likely to happen this season. Lee's successor at quarterback, Justin Thomas, has upside potential, yet he's also young and green. Last season's top two rushers were seniors, and both lines are being forced to replace three starters from a year ago. Undisputed stars, the kinds who can take over games, are scarce. In fact, an argument can be made that the program's top performers are interior linemen, OG Shaquille Mason and NT Adam Gotsis.
Yellow Jacket fans have a nasty case of mediocrity fatigue, with Johnson and his 20th century offense falling squarely in their crosshairs. The coach, who's signed through the 2016 season, is none too pleased either. He has a relatively new boss, second-year AD Mike Bobinski, and a personal quest to ratchet up the sense of urgency within the program.
Georgia Tech has been to 17 consecutive bowl games. One of them, the 2010 Orange Bowl, was a marquee postseason event. That's the Yellow Jackets in a nutshell, consistent almost to a fault. They're pining to break through by nabbing a wide-open Coastal Division that's available for any school that gets hot in October and November. The program - and its leader - need to buck the odds for the first time in five years.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
|2||@Tulane Green Wave||64||22-16|
|3||Georgia Southern Eagles||72||27-20|
|4||@Virginia Tech Hokies||36||19-22|
|6||Miami (FL) Hurricanes||48||22-23|
|7||Duke Blue Devils||34||21-25|
|8||@North Carolina Tar Heels||41||21-24|
|11||@North Carolina State Wolfpack||53||23-22|
Mike London: Crackerjack recruiter, but a mediocre head coach.
London keeps cranking out homeruns on Signing Day, while whiffing on Saturdays. And for that reason, he faces a do-or-die situation in his fifth year on the job. The coach has succeeded in getting talent through the door, but that's where the celebrating has stopped. The Cavaliers won just a pair of games in 2013, and they're 18-31 since the coach replaced Al Groh in 2010. Yet, five-star studs, like DT Andrew Brown and S Quin Blanding, have chosen to play in Charlottesville, highlighting the riddle that is London. The coach cleaned up in February, but he won't be teaching his blue-chip pupils for very long if Virginia doesn't bowl in 2014.
There's a lot to like about London. High school kids admire him. So does the administration and the local community. But popularity contests don't impact the ACC standings, and three losing seasons in four years is a problem. London's downfall has been an offense that's gotten progressively worse in each of the last three seasons. More specifically, he needs a competent quarterback to lead the offense.
The last time a Wahoo quarterback ranked in the top half of the ACC in passer rating? Would you believe Marques Hagans in 2004? Yup, the situation has been that consistently bad behind center. And there are no signs of guaranteed improvement ahead. Incumbent David Watford was a disaster in 2013, throwing nearly twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. Predictably, he's been replaced at the top of the depth chart by sophomore Greyson Lambert, whose job it is to lose.
If London survives to coach the Cavaliers in 2015, bank on the D playing a huge role in the reprieve. Jon Tenuta's unit, which underachieved last fall, begins this season with nine returning starters and something to prove. The good news in C'ville is that the defense boasts star power at each level; Eli Harold up front, Henry Coley from the second level and Anthony Harris and Demetrious Nicholson out of the secondary. All four Cavs are NFL-caliber, so there'll be no excuses for not being one of the saltier ACC defenses this season.
The Virginia players like London. But if they love their coach, they'll find a way to compete at a higher level in 2014. It's desperation time in the commonwealth, and no amount of quality recruits or personal goodwill is going to save London if he can't guide the 'Hoos back to .500 for the first time since 2011.
- Rich Cirminiello
2014 Virginia Cavaliers
|5||Kent State Golden Flashes||62||24-20|
|8||@Duke Blue Devils||39||19-25|
|9||North Carolina Tar Heels||31||16-24|
|10||@Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||41||19-21|
|11||@Florida State Seminoles||5||14-32|
|13||Miami (FL) Hurricanes||32||19-23|
|14||@Virginia Tech Hokies||35||15-21|
Jake Westrich is the Digital Content Coordinator for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.