1. Florida State
The big issue entering last season for Florida State was underachieving under head coach Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles always seemed to lose at least one game it should have won in Fisher’s first few years, with N.C. State being the squad that ended title hopes the last two times the teams faced each other in Carter-Finley Stadium.
However, the National Championship helped settle that.
You would be inclined to think that pressure from his off-season arrest would hamper the play of sophomore quarterback Jameis Winston, but the Heisman Trophy winner has been dealing with pressure his entire college career.
With four offensive linemen returning and plenty of skill talent, look for Winston to continue to shred the defenses in the ACC and for the defense to be dominant.
The newest member of the ACC is no football slouch.
The Cardinals won 12-of-13 games last season and destroyed Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl to close out the season. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is gone and had coach Charlie Strong left for Texas but the Cards have former coach Bobby Petrino returning to guide the team.
For all of his personal problems, Petrino did lead Louisville to 41 wins in 50 games during his first stint as coach and had Arkansas in the top-5 while in Fayetteville.
Louisville will open its conference slate and regular season with a showdown against Miami at home followed by three of the next four league games on the road. If the Cards survive that initial run another... they could have another special season.
The Tigers are the rare school that would look at the 2013 season as somewhat of a disappointment.
The schedule was all set up for Clemson to make a potential run to the National Championship Game but Florida State went to Death Valley and simply destroyed any hope the Tigers had of winning its second national title. Another disheartening loss to South Carolina to end the regular season did not keep Dabo Sweeney’s team out of the BCS and the school represented the league well in the Orange Bowl with a comfortable win over Ohio State.
The Tigers lose most of the skill players from last season’s team and will open its conference play in Tallahassee against the Seminoles the final week of September. Three straight home games follow and the schedule sets up well for another very good season, but there has been plenty of roster turnover in Tiger Town.
4. NC State
With its 2014 team being one of the youngest in the nation, NC State will need to mature as the season progresses.
In 2013, the Pack was limited offensively but will look to Florida-transfer Jacoby Brissett to improve upon its play at quarterback. If State can be atypical from most of its teams in school history and win all the games that it is supposed to a return to postseason play is not out of the realm of possibility. The game on November 1st at Syracuse could be important towards determining if the Pack will play a 13th game in Dave Doeren’s second year as coach.
Placing NC State fourth is just as much about the rest of the teams in the division than anything else. The Wolfpack lost several close games in 2013 and battled injuries... that can often balance itself out the next season.
Syracuse will have to replace key players from the squad that finished 7-6 and reached the Texas Bowl last season. Two keys to the team’s success in 2014 will be how well it does at home and if there is any improvement from a defense that allowed at least 48 points in four games last year.
The schedule is not too arduous, particularly on the road. The Orange will travel to Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, and Boston College... all games where a win is not out of the realm of possibility. The other ACC game away from the Carrier Dome is at Clemson and this could be the year to make the trip to face the rebuilding Tigers and come away with something.
6. Boston College
NC State should be grateful that football has a time limit. Otherwise Andre Williams would probably still be running up and down the field against the Wolfpack. After watching Williams rush for 339 yards on 42 carries last season at Alumni Stadium, things can only get better from a State perspective in 2014.
This year BC will lose Williams and much of its offensive starters from last season. With a nonconference matchup against USC and trips to Tallahassee and Blacksburg during league play, a return to postseason play seems unlikely in 2014. How the Eagles fare versus the schools in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic Division, like NC State, Syracuse and Wake Forest, will play a prominent role in determining whether Boston College is a winning team or not.
The Eagles return just 10 total starters and must replace Williams, three-year starting quarterback Chase Rettig, and All-ACC wideout Alex Amidon.
7. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons begin life post-Jim Grobe in 2014 without the services of quarterback Tanner Price, running back Josh Harris and wide receiver Michael Campanero due to graduation. League play begins for Wake Forest with games at Louisville and at Florida State, which are not exactly atmospheres conducive for young opposing teams.
Wake has a three-game stretch at home against Syracuse, Boston College and Clemson that will determine if the Deacs will finish in the basement of the division or not.
New coach Dave Clawson will likely have a rough go of it in 2014.