A couple of programs, Georgia Tech and Duke, are in the second year of a grand experiment. In Georgia Tech's case, it is year two of the flexbone, and in Duke's case, it is year two of having a real, honest-to-God, FBS Division head coach.
As for teams finding it easier to defend head coach Paul Johnson's offense, the Georgia Tech players seemed far less concerned than the inquisitive media has been.
"People might be adjusted to it, but all that matters when the whistle stops is whomever was more physical, and how well they executed," running back Jonathon Dwyer said. "As long as we do that, I think we have a great chance to come out with the win."
In Durham, you just get the feeling that the Blue Devils are beginning to treat football seriously.
"Just in the one year I've been here under Coach Cutcliffe there has been tremendous change in the football, and not just football-wise, it's even off the field," defensive lineman Vince Oghobassse said. "From an administrative standpoint, the support staff, the support we get from the fans, the money that is coming into the program to help with facilities – it's been immense for us."
They might have been late to the party, but it seems like football may just become part of athletics at Duke again.
Dealing with Loss
Unsurprisingly, you find few ACC players who acknowledge that personnel losses from the previous season will be a drag on the outlook for this season's team.
"It's going to be fun; it's going to be tough, a lot teams are probably going to try and kill me, but we got other guys who can step up and make plays," Clemson running back C.J. Spiller said of losing offensive Tiger staples Cullen Harper and James Davis.
"I feel just as comfortable with my receiving corps now as I ever did last year," Maryland quarterback Chris Turner said of losing Darrius Heyward-Bey and other senior Terp receivers."
"We've got a lot of talent, and even a lot of guys who've done it before," Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner said of heavy Deacon defensive losses. "Once in a while you'll see true freshmen guys, but the red-shirt system is working and it is really going to help us on defense this year."
"Yeah, we lost Greg Carr and Preston Parker, but we've got a lot of guys with a lot of potential," Seminole quarterback Christian Ponder said.
"I think we're a young team, but a more mature team," Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis said. "The young guys that will play this year were actually thrown in the fire last year, and you see the maturity and the growth of the guys. Now they are going to be counted on to make plays, and to be the big-play guys."
"The defensive line has a lot of pride in itself," Georgia Tech defensive lineman Derrick Mason said. "Our goal is to be better than last year. It's going to be hard, because we lost three talented seniors, but that's what we're striving for, to be better than last year,"
The players may have a better handle on these losses than the media does, who tend to focus on question marks created by departed players.
Good Point, Christian
If you look through the ACC in most years, it is the defensive stars that jump out at you in the preseason, and that's been especially true since expansion to a 12-team league.
This year, however, the ACC is loaded with excellent running backs and experienced quarterbacks. Spiller, Dwyer, Darren Evans at Virginia Tech, Montel Harris at Boston College, Josh Adams at Wake Forest, Jamelle Eugene at NC State, Shaun Draughn at North Carolina – the league is flush with versatile running backs at nearly every stop.
Only a couple of teams will be breaking in new starters at quarterback, and several teams have quarterbacks who've started multiple seasons. Christian Ponder summarized how the ACC's defensive image may change a bit in 2009:
"The ACC has always been viewed as a defensive conference, and there's some offenses out there that can produce," Ponder said. "Florida State is one of them - we have the potential, and people are starting to change their perception.
"The defenses are going to stay good as well, and that's been the problem in the past – good defenses and not-so-good offenses."