1. Florida State Seminoles
FSU was solid across the board last year, winning 10 games and going to the ACC title game. They were 33rd in scoring offense, 24th in scoring defense, and they return 17 starters. All their top skill players are back, and QB EJ Manuel has done well in the bowl games he's had a chance to play in.
DE Brandon Jenkins amassed 13.5 sacks last year, their secondary is excellent, and even their kicking game will be good. If not for a meeting with Oklahoma, they'd be strong candidates to run the table.
9/17 vs. Oklahoma
10/22 vs. Maryland
10/29 vs. NC State
11/12 vs. Miami
11/26 @ Florida
Prediction: 12-1, ACC Atlantic winner, ACC title game winner, National Title contender
2. Virginia Tech Hokies
Frank Beamer is 2 wins shy of 200 as Virginia Tech's head coach. The Hokies' offense will have a lot of fresh faces. Most notably, QB Logan Thomas replaces Tyrod Taylor. Thomas is 6' 6" and 245 pounds, but Taylor's playmaking abilities will be sorely miss. Last year Tech had the best offense in the ACC, and the 21st in the country. They'll struggle to be that good again. Although guys like RB David Wilson will still get to the end zone. He rushed for 5 TDs last year, and caught 4 more.
The defense was their weakness last year, and it will have to become a strength. They allowed 155.9 rushing yards per game. They have some stars on that side of the ball, but they're balanced with some liabilities. Thanks to a favorable schedule, and Miami being under siege, the Hokies should still be able to win the Coastal Division with relative ease.
10/8 vs. Miami
11/17 vs. North Carolina
Prediction: 11-2, ACC Coastal winner, ACC title game loss
3. Miami Hurricanes
Will they play? If they do, how many of them will play? Will they be eligible for anything? They were a likely contender to vie for the Coastal Division title. Although they had tough road games in Blacksburg and Tallahassee. The Canes had been experiencing a rebirth and a return to relevance. And now, who knows?
I feel bad for first year head coach Al Golden. After being the defensive coordinator at Virginia, he gets hired by the U in December and probably feels like he's in heaven. Now he's got to tread through a see of someone else's crap.
4. NC State Wolfpack
NC State is defensively strong. Their LBs rush the passer (sacked the QB 41 times last year). 8 starters return from the 24th scoring defense in the country. Unfortunately, the offense will be painful to watch. QB Mike Glennon is untested. There are talented but unproven RBs behind him, and an ugly WR situation. Glennon will be protected by 3 solid returning linemen, but that will just prolong the agony each snap.
Nevertheless, the defense will keep them in games, and they do play in the ACC.
10/29 @ Florida State
11/26 vs. Maryland
5. Maryland Terrapins
Maryland fans should be excited about new coach Randy Edsall, who built up UConn's program from I-AA to a BCS berth. They should also be excited about QB Danny O'Brien, who threw for 2,438 yards, 22 TDs and 8 INTs as a freshman. Backs DJ Adams and Davin Meggett will run the ball well. Any RB named Meggett is bound to be good, and UConn produced some quality RBs under Edsall. All this, combined with an opportunistic defense that scored 4 times last year, and you get a solid team. Despite a rough schedule, they'll be pretty good.
Then again, they play FSU at home, and if they can win that, they might go to the ACC title game, and possibly a BCS bowl.
9/5 vs. Miami
9/17 vs. West Virginia
10/22 vs. Florida State
11/12 vs. Notre Dame (in Landover, MD)
11/26 @ NC State
6. North Carolina Tar Heels
UNC went a solid 8-5, only losing to respectable teams. So despite the loss of QB TJ Yates, they should be poised for another decent season. WR Dwight James will be a prime target for new QB Bryan Renner. James had 946 receiving yards last year. And as usual, the Tar Heels boast a strong defensive line.
However, their weak secondary combined with an under-powered rushing offense will make it tough for them to hold leads. The Heels won't be able to drain the clock on the ground, and their opponents will be able to throw the ball at will. For now, UNC is just too raw to win the Coastal division.
10/15 vs. Miami
11/5 @ NC State
11/17 @ Virginia Tech
7. Boston College Eagles
If this were 1896, and the forward pass were still illegal, then Boston College might be one of the best teams in the nation. RB Montel Harris ran for 1,243 yards last year. And the Eagles had the #1 rush defense in the country. Harris underwent arthroscopic surgery recently, but he should return for the heart of BC's conference schedule.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, passing is part of the game now. BC doesn't have any legit pass rushing threats, nor does it really have a quarterback. There are decent WRs to catch the ball, but no passers to throw it. Meanwhile, BC's offensive play-calling resembles a pro team with a decent QB more than a college team with no QB but a great running attack.
It's frustrating to watch BC football these days, because the defense can play extraordinarily well, only to watch the offense lose the game. Stud LB Luke Kuechly accounted for 183 tackles last year, 110 of them on his own. He's gotten 10+ tackles in 22 straight games. He's a beast, and at least he is entertaining to watch.
No passing game, and a difficult road schedule mean that BC will struggle to make a bowl game.
8. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
I love watching Georgia Tech play. How can you be a fan of college football and not love a team that averaged 323.3 rushing yards and 83.9 passing yards per game last year. The Jackets had the #1 rushing offense and the #119 passing offense. But that was just yardage. They struggled to score. And that struggle will continue in 2011. QB Tevon Washington only completed 41% of his passes last year, so the passing game isn't even a legit wrinkle for GT. It's a leak.
Defensively, they run a 3-4 with few LBs who can make plays. And that just doesn't compute. They'll struggle for bowl eligibility.
9. Virginia Cavaliers
UVA's 4 wins last year came against Richmond, VMI, Eastern Michigan, and (surprisingly) Miami. But that's actually an improvement. You know the expression "nowhere to go but up?" That was how UVA football could be described in 2009. They dramatically improved in 2010, and had the 75th best scoring offense in the country, and 70th best scoring defense. That sounds awful, but they used to be out of the top 100 in both categories. Now they need to continue to improve. If a QB and/or RB can emerge, then they might just do that. Their defense should also get better, as they return 7 starters. They also have an easy non-conference schedule.
10. Clemson Tigers
Clemson has a revamped offensive style that lacks the talent to make it effective. They have some good receivers and that's pretty much it. The defense lost its key players up front and in the secondary. It will be a solid unit, but not good enough to keep their lackluster offense in many games. Their kicking is also a major liability.
11. Duke Blue Devils
Duke is exceptionally good at passing the ball. QB Sean Renfree threw for 3,131 yards, and they have good WRs. It's convenient that they're such good at throwing the ball, because they're going to be behind a lot due to an atrocious defense.
12. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
They'll use an option offense because their QB can't pass the ball. RB Josh Harris ran for 720 yards and 7 TDs as a part-timer his freshman year. They'll improve on their 91st ranked scoring offense, and their 110th ranked scoring defense, but not by much.