For Virginia Tech, it is a case of "what might be" if the Hokies win their opening game against Alabama in the Georgia Dome. "If we win this game, we just got to take it step-by-step," Hokie tight end Greg Boone said. "Our goal is to make it to California (BCS title game, Rose Bowl), we just need to take it one game at a time."
There's no question that the Virginia Tech players know what's on the line, and are guarding against getting ahead of themselves, but realize how big the Alabama game could be.
"We're taking it one game at a time, we're thinking about this Alabama game right now," safety Kam Chancellor said.
From the preseason ACC title favorite, to a green Maryland team, everyone was playing the expectation game.
"Every year there is something to prove," Maryland quarterback Chris Turner said. "We are a young team, so in that sense we've got a lot to prove. We want to win the big games, we want to earn that respect. Everybody talks about goals. We all just want to win football games, that's why we're all here."
Wake Forest, which loses multiple stalwarts on defense, isn't ready to concede anything either.
"I think everybody would love to be the team that's ranked preseason No. 1 and all that," Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner said, "But not everybody can and we're just going to do our best to get there. We're just going to put our head down and work and kind of do it the way we've been doing it, that's just through hard work and discipline."
The Boston College players also downplayed any feeling that they should be counted out because of a second coaching change in as many years and heavy defensive losses.
"Last year, they said, ‘Matt Ryan's gone, BC doesn't have a chance, ' Eagles offensive lineman Matt Tenant said. "Guess what, we were there last year. I have no doubt in my mind that we can make it this year."
Close, But No Cigar
With ten teams finishing at either 5-3 or 4-4 in ACC play last year, several players talked about missed opportunities – and the possibility that their team is "this close" to emerging at the top of the heap.
"Last year we had it in sight and we let it slip from our fingertips," Miami offensive lineman Jason Fox said.
"If you think about it, going into the last three games we still had a shot at winning the ACC title," Virginia offensive lineman Will Barker echoed.
Virtually every player interviewed noted, multiple times, that the ACC is a league that doesn't allow you to take a Saturday off. "The ACC is a competitive league, you can't look past any opponent, you've got to be ready to play.," Fox said.
Not even the Virginia Tech players could be goaded into saying it was their title to lose.
"No, I am not going to say it is ‘our league,' Boone said. "There have been ACC teams that have beaten us, so until you prove that you are the dominant team, winning all your games and not letting anybody beat you, that's when you can hold your heads up high."
The funny thing is that as clichéd as it sounds, the players are pretty much nailing it – the parity in the ACC is such that even the favorites in their divisions acknowledge that a lot of league teams could wind up in Tampa.
"I think we definitely have the potential to reach that championship game," Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder said. "Our schedule is tough, there are a lot of great teams in the ACC, and I think everyone in the ACC has a chance to win it, but I think we definitely have the potential to reach (the title game)."
A couple of new offensive wrinkles will hit the ACC this year. One in Virginia, where the Cavs decided they're going to run the spread option - but not necessarily who is going to run it. Jameel Sewell, who is returning from academic ineligibility, Marc Verica, who has an entire season under his belt, and defensive back/quarterback Vic Hall all have a chance to emerge as the quarterback of spread option guru Greg Brandon's newly installed no-huddle, high-octane offense.
The fact that the change was this year may have started all three on a level playing field in the eyes of the staff.
"It (a new offense) did even me out with them," Hall said. "Marc (Verica) is coming off a full season at quarterback, and Jameel, even though he took a year off, that was the position he played. So it did kind of even things out for me. That makes us more aggressive as a team. Each guy brings something different to the table."
In Miami, the Canes are getting ready to unveil the "Whiplash" offense of Mark Whipple, who is bringing a new approach, though not necessarily a new offense.
"I'm not going to say it's very similar – it's similar in some aspects," Jason Fox said. "Some things are different here or there to allow us to be more successful. We kept a lot of stuff that was working for us, and got some new stuff for the stuff what wasn't working."
A frequently asked question about the change in offenses is whether it will be more complicated – perhaps too complicated?
"When he first had an offensive meeting with us, he said he was going to challenge us, he said ‘I'm going to give you an NFL playbook,' Fox said. "We've done a really great job so far picking up most of those plays. I'm sure he's going to trim down whatever he wants to trim down, and the game plan will be tailored for each game, but it's definitely very much an NFL playbook."
Check back for Part II ...