The Boston Globe examines how the teams and the ACC may look during the 2012 season. (Order of finish based on preseason media poll)
Florida State — Three straight losses to Oklahoma, Clemson, and Wake Forest derailed an otherwise promising 2011 for the Seminoles, but expectations are high with experience up front to give quarterback E.J. Manuel time to find a loaded receiving corps. Led by second-team All-American defensive end Brandon Jenkins (13.5 sacks in 2011), Florida State boasts the nation’s second-ranked run defense and led the ACC in sacks and pass defense last season.
Clemson — The Tigers were blown out by 37 points against West Virginia in the Orange Bowl despite winning the Atlantic Division title for the second time in the past three seasons. After the enigmatic season, Clemson returns quarterback Tajh Boyd and John Mackey Award-winning tight end Dwayne Allen, but All-American deep threat Sammy Watkins is suspended for the season’s first two games after an offseason drug arrest.
NC State — The Wolfpack are the Atlantic Division dark horse after a roller-coaster 2011 in which they were unable to string more than two wins together until they ended the season on a four-game streak, culminating in a bowl win over Louisville. Senior Mike Glennon will be supported by an offensive line that returns four starters. If NC State can hang in a shootout, its turnover-adept defense, led by cornerback David Amerson (13 INTs last season) might be enough to help the Wolfpack shake up the established order.
Wake Forest — The Deacons went 4-1 in the Atlantic Division last season, capped off by huge wins over NC State and Florida State. They are thin on the offensive line and young on defense, but coach Jim Grobe has gotten plenty out of less. Quarterback Tanner Price threw for 3,017 yards last season and leads a batch of playmakers in running backs Josh Harris and Orville Reynolds. But given the loss of fourth-round pick Chris Givens, junior Michael Campanaro will have to step up in the receiving game.
Boston College — The Eagles brought in offensive coordinator Doug Martin to retool the offense and give Chase Rettig more freedom after a 4-8 season in 2011, so all eyes will be on the junior quarterback. BC flashed glimpses of promise towards the end of an injury-plagued season with November wins over N.C. State and Miami, and already have seen tight end Chris Pantale suffer a broken foot during training camp. Coach Frank Spaziani is on the hot seat, and this could be a defining season for him, Rettig, and the program.
Maryland — Randy Edsall’s first season as head coach was a 2-10 disaster, one marked by constant scrutiny and resulting in 24 transfers since he took over. Now, with a new Under Armour-fueled stadium, the Terrapins are shifting to a pro-style offense with dual threat C.J. Brown under center, looking to overcome the loss of quarterback Danny O’Brien, who bolted to Wisconsin. Preseason All-ACC selection Joe Vellano anchors the defensive line, and Edsall’s top recruit, dynamic receiver Stefon Diggs, enters amid high expectations for a turnaround.
Virginia Tech — It’s open season for quarterback Logan Thomas, who was second in the ACC with 248.7 yards of total offense last season. Replacing running back David Wilson could be a challenge, but true freshman J.C. Coleman and converted fullback Martin Scales have looked up to the task. The Hokies are deep in the front seven; eight of their top 10 tacklers are back. Consecutive road games against Clemson and Miami could be the potential pitfall, however.
Georgia Tech — Quarterback Tevin Washington returns after leading the ACC’s top scoring offense with a conference-high 14 touchdowns last season in Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack. With consecutive losses at Virginia and Miami, followed up by a 14-point win over then-undefeated Clemson, the Yellow Jackets had a maddening 2011, and their success will likely hinge on their ability to pass out of Paul Johnson’s Flexbone system.
North Carolina — NCAA penalties from the Butch Davis era are still lingering in Chapel Hill, and postseason opportunities are out this season. This gives first-year head coach Larry Fedora some time to rebuild alongside quarterback Bryn Renner, who averaged 237.4 passing yards per game last season, third-most in the ACC, and finished with a league-high 159.4 pass efficiency. On defense, UNC is switching to a 4-2-5, so the burden of success will be on a young secondary.
Virginia — Buoyed by a surprisingly lockdown defense, the upstart Cavaliers swept Florida State and Miami on the road last season. Quarterback Michael Rocco (13 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) has plenty of room for improvement, but can rely on running backs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks, who combined for more than 1,600 rushing yards in 2011.
Miami — Storms of scrutiny are engulfing the Hurricanes thanks to booster Nevin Shapiro, but coach Al Golden stuck around after a 6-6 season and turned in a solid recruiting class. Good thing, because plenty of replacements have to be made on both sides of the ball. Junior Stephen Morris will take over at quarterback for the opener against BC on Sept. 1.
Duke — Quarterback Sean Renfree disappointed in 2011 as the Blue Devils went 3-9 and finished the season on a seven-game losing streak, but returns alongside top weapon in senior Connor Vernon, a second-team All-ACC selection after nearing 1,000 receiving yards. Veteran members of the secondary and the defensive line anchor the 4-2-5 system, but the linebackers need to step up in the middle.