ACC 2014: Conference earns respect, now looks ahead
The Atlantic Coast Conference owns a few prized possessions that once were property of the Southeastern Conference.
Among them: A national championship trophy, a Heisman Trophy, and a measure of respect.
That’s mostly because of Florida State’s big 2013 season, and now it’s up to the ACC to keep that momentum going.
“How about that, man, taking the rein from the SEC, huh?” said Heisman winner Jameis Winston of the Seminoles. “We are the national champions in this conference, and that’s important to me because people do need to respect the ACC more. ... I believe that Florida State, we helped gain that respect, and hopefully we can continue that.”
There’s no question the Seminoles set the standard for the league after capturing the last national title of the BCS era seven months ago.
That helped change the perception of the ACC, which had won two BCS bowls from 1998-2011 before claiming three wins in the final two years of the format.
Now the league needs another team that can challenge Florida State.
Maybe it will be Clemson, last year’s Atlantic Division favorite which bounced back from a lopsided loss to the Seminoles and beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.
Maybe it will be Louisville, a league newcomer which won two BCS games in the old Big East.
Or maybe someone else will make a run — like perennial cellar dweller Duke did last year.
Here are 10 things to watch while the ACC prepares for another season:
ENTER LOUISVILLE, EXIT MARYLAND: Fast-rising Louisville is in the ACC after founding member Maryland left for the Big Ten. The Cardinals seem to have the players — and the resources — to remain competitive during their step-up in competition.
PRODIGAL PETRINO: The new coach for the ACC’s newest team isn’t really all that new: Bobby Petrino is back in charge at Louisville. He took a circuitous path that included a messy scandal at Arkansas to lead him back to the Cardinals.
THE GOLDEN DOME: This is the first year of Notre Dame’s scheduling arrangement with the ACC. The independent Irish play four games against ACC schools as part of their membership in all other sports the league sponsors. Notre Dame will play host to North Carolina and Louisville, will visit Florida State and will face Syracuse in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
QB QUESTIONS: Only four schools return their full-time starting quarterbacks from 2013, and only one of those players (Duke’s Anthony Boone) started a game before 2013. The QB with the most career starts? Winston, the redshirt sophomore who started all 14 games of the Seminoles’ national title run.
CLOUDY COASTAL: The Coastal Division could be a crapshoot. Miami was voted as the preseason favorite even though both defending champ Duke and North Carolina each received more first-place votes than the Hurricanes. “I believe anybody can win it,” Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said.
MIAMI’S DUKE RETURNS: Miami running back Duke Johnson says he’s at 100 percent after breaking his ankle last season against Florida State. Johnson appears to be the league’s top offensive player not named Jameis Winston.
DUKE REDUX? What can Duke do for an encore? The Blue Devils are coming off the best season in school history — winning 10 games, claiming the Coastal title, finishing at No. 23 in the AP Top 25 and reaching the Chick-fil-A Bowl. ACC Coach of the Year David Cutcliffe says he believes his program is getting stronger.
REALLY SPECIAL TEAMS: ACC teams combined to return 16 kickoffs and punts for touchdowns last season, and North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer tied an NCAA single-season record with five punt returns for scores.
SECOND TIME AROUND: Both Pittsburgh and Syracuse went 7-6 and reached low-level bowl games in their debut ACC seasons. They both want to do more in Year 2. Said Pitt coach Paul Chryst: “As proud as we are to be members of the ACC, our goal and objective is to make an impact on it.”
BIG GAMES: There are a few marquee nonconference games early in the ACC season. Florida State opens with Oklahoma State in Irving, Texas, while Clemson heads to Georgia. The following week, Virginia Tech visits Ohio State, and later, Southern California heads to Boston College and Miami travels to Nebraska.
Predicted order of finish:
ATLANTIC — 1. Florida State, 2. Clemson, 3. Louisville, 4. Syracuse, 5. N.C. State, 6. Boston College, 7. Wake Forest
COASTAL — 1. Duke, 2. Miami, 3. North Carolina, 4. Virginia Tech, 5. Georgia Tech, 6. Pittsburgh, 7. Virginia
Title game winner: Florida State