Pack Pride's Preseason ACC Ballot: Atlantic

Here is an in-depth look at our preseason ACC ballot for the Atlantic Division and the reasons behind our picks. We will submit our ballot this weekend at the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff.

Here is an in-depth look at our preseason ACC ballot for the Atlantic Division and the reasons behind our picks. We will submit our ballot this weekend at the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff.


No. 1 Clemson Tigers
The Tigers bring back the league's most prolific quarterback and plenty of weapons offensively.

The defense is in the hands of Brent Venables for a second year. He has that group headed in the right directions.

Clemson should be the class of the ACC this year, but will they live up to the expectations?

Sammy Watkins

Key Player: Sammy Watkins. Boyd gets the attention, and rightfully so, but Watkins has a lot to prove this year with the NFL draft looming.

An explosive wide receiver with game-breaking ability, he must step up and be a consistent weapon now that first-team All-ACC wideout DeAndre Hopkins is in the NFL.

Don't be surprised if Watkins has an absolutely huge season for the Tigers.

Don't Sleep On: Rod McDowell. Andre Ellington is no longer the starter at tailback and leaves huge shoes to fill, but McDowell, a redshirt senior, appears to be ready to do just that.

Last season, he ran 83 times for 450 yards and five touchdowns as Ellington's backup. Now the job is his.

Blessed with terrific speed and ability to make plays in space, he's a good fit in Clemson's spread offense.

Schedule Note: The Tigers couldn't have asked for a better league schedule.

They host Florida State and don't play Virginia Tech, Miami, or North Carolina. They also have bye weeks prior to NC State and Georgia Tech.

No. 2 Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles have what it takes to push Clemson, but heading into the season the big difference between the two is at the most important position on the field... quarterback.

FSU is expected to start a freshman, Jameis Winston, who is extremely talented but lacks the experience of Tahj Boyd.

With that being said, they'll be loaded defensively and should have an outstanding ground game that they can lean on, especially early in the season.

Rashad Greene

Key Player: Rashad Greene. Obviously Winston will be key, but Greene has to be there for him this season.

The 6-0, 175-pound speedster hauled in a team-best 57 passes for 741 yards and six touchdowns in 2012, while also rushing for a score and adding two punt returns for touchdowns. An electrifying game-changer on the outside, Greene doesn't figure to get passed over by All-ACC voters for a second straight year

Don't Sleep On: The Defense. It should be outstanding.

Multiple playmakers on all three levels, led by nose guard Timmy Jernigan, linebacker Christian Jones, and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner.

How strong is FSU in the secondary? Joyner was a first-team All-ACC pick at safety in 2012 but has been moved to corner because of the depth at safety.

This will be the best defense in the ACC, as long as they stay healthy.

Schedule Note: Solid.

Most expect the Atlantic Division crown to come down to FSU and Clemson, and they pay in Death Valley this year. However, the Seminoles have a bye prior to the game, which is big.

Homes games with Miami and NC State are nice, and they don't face Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, or North Carolina.

No. 3 NC State Wolfpack
Dave Doeren's first season is here, there is talent on the roster.

NC State returns two quality wideouts in Bryan Underwood and Quinton Payton, and Rashard Smith was terrific in the spring. Four offensive linemen with starting experience return, along with the top two tailbacks.

The defense has some question marks in the secondary at linebacker, but the front four should be very good with depth.

However, the biggest question mark is at quarterback. Who will be the guy?

Rashard Smith

Key Player: Quarterback. We just don't know who it is yet.

Four players are expected to compete for the starting job: Pete Thomas, Manny Stocker, Brandon Mitchell, and Bryant Shirreffs, with the latter being a longshot given he's a true freshman.

Whoever is the guy, he'll have a chance to succeed playing in Doeren and OC Matt Canada's system. Their quarterbacks at Northern Illinois were efficient through the air and on the ground and ran a balanced offensive attack.

Don't be shocked if the position ends up not really being a concern at all.

Best guess on the starter? Brandon Mitchell, the Arkansas transfer.

Don't Sleep On: Rashard Smith. He had a breakout spring for the Wolfpack and should excel in the spread offense where he can work in the slot.

Also, he is a major threat in the return game and will get the chance to impact at kick returner and punt returner once again.

Very few outside of the Wolfpack program are touting Smith right now, but he could have a big year.

Schedule Note: A big reason for the optimism in this prediction is the schedule.

NC State leaves North Carolina just twice this year (Florida State, Boston College) and host expected competitor for the No. 3 spot (Maryland). Toss-up games against North Carolina and Syracuse are at home, and road games versus Wake Forest, Duke, and Boston College are certainly winnable.

No. 4 Wake Forest Demon Deacons
On paper, this should be Wake's best team in a few years.

They return 19 starters, including All-ACC caliber wideout Michael Campanaro and defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock. Quarterback Tanner Price will be a three-year starter and tailback Josh Adams has had his moments.

Michael Campanaro

Key Player: Michael Campanaro. He just makes plays.

Not the biggest or the fastest, Campanaro is so tough to handle when facing zone coverage, and he has great chemistry with Price.

A second-team All-ACC pick last season, he finished third in the league with 79 catches for 763 yards and six touchdowns.

Don't Sleep On: Josh Harris. Did you know Josh Harris is the ACC's leading returning rusher with 1,760 rushing yards?

Now a senior, Harris has had an up-and-down career since bursting on the scene as a freshman with 241 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries at Virginia Tech.

Schedule Note: The Deacs play at Miami, but avoid Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech from the Coastal.

They have bye weeks before home games against Duke and Maryland, making both of those certainly winnable.

No. 5 Maryland Terrapins
Like NC State, Maryland could surprise some folks this season.

The Terps were 4-2 at one point last year before injuries at quarterback caught up with them. C.J. Brown is back and expected to be the signal-caller, and he'll have two talented wideouts in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.

Defensively they may have to reload but return experience in the back seven.

Stefon Diggs

Key Player: C.J. Brown. Brown must give the Terps what they need at quarterback.

He's experienced, poised and capable of beating defenses with his legs. Returning from ACL surgery, will he still be the runner he was, and can improve as a passer? Those questions loom large, and his play could ultimately decide the season.

Don't Sleep On: Stefon Diggs. We can talk about Sammy Watkins, Alex Amidon, Quinshad Davis, Devin Street, and the list goes on... there are great wideouts in this league. But, Stefon Diggs may be as talented as any of them.

Despite playing with what seemed like a different quarterback every week, he still caught a team-best 54 balls for 848 yards and six touchdowns.

He is big-time.

Schedule Note: They will travel to Florida State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, and NC State while hosting Clemson, Syracuse, Boston College, and Virginia.

The season finale (Nov. 30) at NC State will be their final game in the ACC.

No. 6 Boston College
Like NC State, Boston College has a new head coach with Temple's Steve Addazio taking over, and he will have some solid weapons to play with.

Quarterback Chase Rettig and wideout Alex Amidon form a terrific 1-2 punch and tailback Andre Williams is experienced.

However, there are question marks defensively that must be addressed through recruiting, specifically rushing the passer.

Alex Amidon

Key Player: Andre Williams. We know about Amidon and Rettig, but it's time Williams steps up and produces.

He burst on the scene with a few big games early in his career, but sporadic line play and opportunity (he has just four games of 20+ carries in three seasons) have kept him from standing out.

Now there has been some turnover at the position and the job is his. If he can lead a strong running game that will only make Rettig and the passing attack even more explosive.

Don't Sleep On: Kevin Pierre-Louis. Boston College continues to churn out top linebackers, and now it's Pierre-Louis who has the chance to shine.

The 6-1, 215-pounder has missed three games each of the last two seasons, but when he's on the field he's ultra-productive.

Last year he was an honorable mention All-ACC selection... he's one of the league's best at the position.

Schedule Note: The Eagles play Virginia Tech and North Carolina from the Coastal Division and host Wake Forest on a Friday this year (Sept. 6).

No. 7 Syracuse Orange
There are major, major questions for the Orange.

Not only are they entering a new league, but they are doing so with a new coaching staff, lose a record-breaking senior quarterback, and brought in a senior quarterback transfer from another high-major program.

Sound familiar?

Jerome Smith

Key Player: Jerome Smith. A great find last fall, Smith was terrific in his first year as the starter at tailback, rushing 227 times for 1,171 yards and three touchdowns.

With a new quarterback under center, Syracuse will lean on Smith a lot his fall.

He ended last season with five games of 115+ rushing yards in the last seven matchups.

Don't Sleep On: Dyshawn Davis. He'll be one of the league's best linebackers.

Checking in at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Davis has terrific speed and loves to make plays in the backfield. Last year he totaled 69 tackles, 14 stops for minus yards and two fumble recoveries.

He will lead the defense.

Schedule Note: The Cuse plays a brutal five game stretch starting in October where they play two sets of back-to-back road games sandwiching a home matchup with Wake Forest.

At NC State. At Georgia Tech. OPEN DATE. Wake Forest. At Maryland. At Florida State.

One home game in a six-week period.

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