How did Virginia only wind up with 5 first-place votes while Florida State (35), NC State (26) and Maryland (18) were so much more popular? Sure, Maryland is the last team other than FSU to win the ACC title, and NC State dominated the Noles a year ago and has knocked off FSU two seasons in a row. But Al Groh's Cavaliers did defeat NCSU (and lambasted Maryland, 48-13, a week later to boot) and they boast the defending ACC Player of the Year (QB Matt Schaub) on offense. Virginia will prove to be the fourth-best team in the league, but the margin between the Hoos and the other three will not be that great.
Conversely, if Virginia got the shaft by the media, then North Carolina's player representatives (TE Bobby Blizzard and FS Dexter Reid) at Football Kickoff in Greensboro, Ga., must have giggled all the way to the parking lot after seeing where the Tar Heels were picked. Sixth? Ahead of Wake Forest (who thumped UNC 31-0 last year)? Ahead of Georgia Tech? Ahead of Du--? Never mind. While having Darian Durant at quarterback is probably good for a couple of wins by himself a year, the Heels will have a huge mountain to climb from the outset. If John Bunting's team doesn't win against Syracuse on September 6 (a week after an almost-certain loss at home to Florida State), then the Heels may go winless for the entire season. And that would include a home game against the Blue Devils.
Two teams (other than UVa) that have to be smarting from the preseason prognostications are Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Sure, Chan Gailey is already in hot water - and it's only Year 2 of the "Gailey Era." But with a dozen starters returning, the Yellow Jackets can look forward to being no worse off than seventh. After all, Gailey's Ramblin' Wreck a year ago lost regular-season games at Clemson, to Wake Forest, at Maryland, Florida State and at SEC champ Georgia (I know, I know - you can't forget or forgive a 51-7 beating), and Tech sent NCSU's season to a screeching halt with a 24-17 win in Raleigh in early November. The losses (save for a Silicon Valley Bowl loss to Fresno State) weren't to bad teams. The nucleus is there for Tech, even if the expectations aren't.
The same goes for Jim Grobe's Demon Deacons. Has no one figured out yet that Wake is actually good? Sure, they lost quite a bit on offense, but trained seals could run that offense to perfection and have success with it - especially if Grobe is on the sidelines. Wake will go bowling yet again.
And last but not least, here some preseason picks which are sure to be either dead-on or laughable by December (if not sooner) ...
MATT'S PRESEASON PICKS
Final ACC Rankings
1. Florida State - My red heart says NC State, while my brain (and apparently most of the brains of the ACC's media) still says Florida State.
2. NC State - The Pack has almost all the weapons to unseat the Noles, but a win in Tallahassee may be too much to ask. Then again, the Pack's done it before.
3. Maryland - If QB Scott McBrien continues to improve, then so will the Terps' chances at a second ACC title in three years.
4. Virginia - Hey, Matt Schaub: no pressure. All you need to do is prove to everyone that you really can go from beleaguered backup to Heisman hopeful in, oh, about 10 months, and that last year wasn't a fluke. Oh, by the way: Billy McMullen is gone.
5. Wake Forest - No longer pushovers. In fact, the Deacs may be one of the most feared teams in the ACC.
6. Clemson - Tommy has gone from "hot" coach to "hot seat" in record time.
7. Georgia Tech - The Jackets have had their share of off-season problems, but Chan Gailey also has his share of talent - even if it is depleted.
8. North Carolina - The Heels need an exceptional group of youngsters to step up right away.
9. Duke - Just like FSU (sorta). Someone needs to "knock" Duke "off" before they can really lose their spot.
ACC Coach of the Year
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest - At a school like Wake Forest, coaches do a good job if, after five or six years, they've built the program into a near-.500 team that every now and then earns a bowl game. Grobe hasn't settled for that, and this year should be no different. The fact that Wake was picked seventh in the preseason by the media suggests that there are those that think this will be the Wake Forest of old. I'll believe it when I see it.
ACC Player of the Year
Philip Rivers, NC State - It's his to lose. And he won't.
ACC Game of the Year
NCSU at Florida State, November 15 - This one could be for all the ACC marbles - until NCSU hosts Maryland the next week.
Game of the Year involving an ACC team
Miami at Florida State, October 11 - Two future ACC rivals meet just for pride one last time.