There won't be any college football games played for quite a while but that doesn't mean we are going to stop talking about the sport we love. Each week during the off-season we will bring you the top stories and we will also be discussing a variety of topics in our weekly roundtable. Agree, disagree or want to chime in to the conversation then let us know in the comments. If you want to pose a question for us to answer then e-mail it to us at collegefootballzealot at gmail.com or just drop it in the comments section. Over the next seven weeks we will be touching on all of the BCS Conferences and also taking a look at the non-BCS teams. We start this week in the ACC. We will be talking Big 12 football next week so send in your questions if you want to hear our answers on the Big 12....
What will be the most intriguing storyline in the ACC this year?
J Martin: I'm really interested to see how Al Golden's first season at Miami unfolds. For all of Randy Shannon's inability to produce on the field, he left a lot of talent behind for Golden to work with in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes placed the 3rd most players on our Pre-Spring All-ACC team with 5 guys, and, in my opinion, they were even underrepresented at that. This looks like one of those prime situations where a new coach can step in and make some serious noise in his first season, no rebuilding necessary. It all depends on how he connects with the team this offseason. Thus far, we've seen him make some bold moves to get their attention, such as essentially turning the depth chart upside down prior to spring practice. I get the sense he's either going to really wake these guys up and go on a big run in 2011 or he's going to alienate much of the team with his decided non-Shannonness, they'll go in the tank, and he'll end up having to blow the whole thing up and start over in 2012. I'm anxious to see which it is.
Ross: I think the most intriguing storyline in the ACC this year will be the progress of Florida State in year two under Jimbo Fisher and seeing how close they are to being "back." Last year they won 10 games and made the ACC Championship, but they came up short against Virginia Tech. They lose starting QB Christian Ponder, but return a lot of other talent on both sides of the ball. It also appears that the rest of their division remains fairly weak or in transition, which is advantageous. They shouldn't have too much trouble getting back to ten wins and the ACC Championship Game. I don't know that they'll be in the national title picture, but they should have an excellent shot at getting 10-12 wins and being in their first BCS bowl game in over five years.
Kevin: I think my blogmates picked the top two storylines so I'm going to mention another really interesting one for me and that's Clemson. This is a crucial year for Dabo Swinney. So far Dabo is 19-15 as a Head Coach (15-12 if you just count full seasons) and Bowden got canned after going 9-4 and then starting 3-3. Besides Dabo being on the hot seat Clemson will be intriguing to watch because they brought in Tulsa's offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Tulsa was dynamic on offense last year so it will be interesting to watch what he can do with Clemson's talent. Clemson might be the only team that can challenge FSU in their side of the ACC. All eyes will be on Dabo to see if he can get it done in Death Valley.
We have FSU in our "Pre Spring Top 10". Give me a surprise team that could unexpectedly step up to challenge for the ACC Championship.
J Martin: Well, my real pick as FSU's biggest threat in the ACC is Virginia Tech. But with 4 conference championships in the last 7 years, I guess another would be considered neither a "surprise" or "unexpected" (although I do think they're a little more under the radar than usual this year after losing their QB and 2 big name RBs). Beyond the Hokies, and barring the afformentioned big run from a rejuvenated Miami, I'd watch out for NC State to push FSU in their own division. The Wolfpack is far from the most talented bunch in the conference, but they do have the best quarterback. Russell Wilson almost single-handedly led them past the Noles last season. Don't be surprised if they make another run at the Atlantic division title in 2011.
Ross: Virginia Tech again figures to be their toughest challenger in the ACC, but I don't know that you could really call them a "surprise team" when they've basically owned the ACC for most of the last decade. So I'll tab North Carolina State as the most likely team to emerge and give Florida State a run for their money in the ACC. They're slated to return eight starters on both sides of the ball, including the league's best QB, Russell Wilson (unless he decides to go play minor league baseball), as well as a reasonably favorable schedule. If Florida State stumbles, North Carolina State could be there to slip ahead of them.
Kevin: Since FSU is clearly the team to beat in the Atlantic, I'm going to slide over to the Coastal to make my pick. Virginia Tech went undefeated in the league last year so them repeating would not be a surprise. I'm going to give you two teams to watch. UNC and Miami. Why Miami? Despite having a new head coach they have a ton of talent and sometimes it just takes a new coach to be a difference maker. Is Al Golden that guy? I have no idea but Miami has the tools to get to the ACC Championship Game. Why UNC? Despite not returning a lot of production on offense I think their defense will be solid. UNC was 4th in the league in yards allowed last year with half of their defense suspended. This year they return a lot of experience on defense. Defense wins championships.
Who are the 3 players in the ACC you would pick first if you were starting a team from scratch?
J Martin: I'm a big believer in that old truism about games being won and lost on the line. That said, I'm as susceptible to being dazzled by elite skill position players as anyone being given carte blanche to pick the best players out there. Fortunately, as far as I can tell right now, there really aren't any elite skill position players in the ACC this year, so I can stick to the business of building from the ground up. On offense, I'd take big Blake DeChristopher from Virginia Tech to anchor my line from the tackle position. On defense, I'd take Quinton Coples from North Carolina and Brandon Jenkins from FSU as dual terrors at DE. Between them they share over 20 sacks and even more tackles for loss. Good luck scheming protections for THAT, opposing offensive coordinators.
Ross: Florida State CB Greg Reid, North Carolina DT Quinton Coples, Miami LB Sean Spence. Cornerback and defensive tackle are two of the hardest positions to recruit, so if I could start with Reid, a budding shutdown corner, and Coples, a destructive force from the inside of the line, I'm going to do it in a heartbeat. Linebackers are easier to find, but Spence is a playmaking demon who covers a lot of ground, picks up a lot of tackles, forces turnovers, and makes things happen on defense.
Kevin: I'm going all defense on this one and I'm taking defensive play-makers. Guys that can impact the game and get me the ball back on offense (where I will probably have 2-star guys since I'm spending my first picks on defense. Maybe I will run the wishbone just to screw with people). First I would take Brandon Jenkins of FSU. He was second in the league with 13.5 sacks behind some dude named Da'Quan Bowers. He was also had 21.5 tackles for loss and he forced a couple of fumbles. He will anchor my DL. The next guy I'm taking is Jayron Hosley of Virginia Tech. He's my ball hawking corner. In case you haven't heard of him, he led the NATION in interceptions last year. He can also play Special Teams and return kicks for me (he returned a punt for a TD last year against Central Michigan). He's a game changer and he's my number two pick. Now that I've got a QB chasing defensive lineman and a ball hawking corner I'm going for the middle of the D and I'm picking a LB to anchor my defense. I'm picking Luke Kuechly. He might not be the LB with the most ability but I can count on him to get the job done on every play and provide the leadership I need for the rest of the defense. It's hard to argue with 183 tackles.
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