The Atlantic Coast Conference welcomes two new teams into the fold this season, as Pittsburgh joins the Coastal Division while Syracuse joins the Atlantic. How will the competitive balance change?
Team That Could Surprise: North Carolina.
The Miami Hurricanes are seen as the favorite in the Coastal Division, with Virginia Tech being many experts’ selection as the second choice. Why can’t North Carolina grab the Coastal crown? The Tar Heels made forward strides last year in the first season of head coach Larry Fedora. The Tar Heels are going to attack opposing defenses with their vertical passing game, and it’s the aggression of their offense that will make the Heels hard to contend with in the Coastal. As was the case in 2012, the Coastal Division is likely to be a clogged, jumbled, confusing, and ultimately tight race from start to finish. If pundits think there’s a clear line of separation between Miami and Virginia Tech in the top tier, and then North Carolina and Georgia Tech in the middle tier (with Pittsburgh, Virginia and Duke in the bottom tier), they might be segmenting the Coastal into too many sections. This is much more a division in which there’s a top half (Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina) and a bottom half (Pitt, Virginia, Duke). North Carolina could very easily win the Coastal. Don’t be shocked if it happens.
The Best NFL Prospect In The Conference Is…: Sammy Watkins, Clemson.
The wide receiver and part-time kick returner is a lethal playmaker, the kind of force that leaves an unmistakable imprint upon a game, an opposing team, and opposing defensive (and special teams) coordinators. Watkins’ speed is as good as you’ll see from a skill-position player in college football this season. His knack for making people miss is certainly up to NFL standards. His hands are reliable, so as long as he gets open, he should be able to finish plays. Watkins is going to draw double-team coverage from opposing coordinators and defenders, so his numbers might not shoot through the roof. Nevertheless, by drawing two bodies on many plays, Watkins will create opportunities for his teammates. If “the other guys” on Clemson’s offense fulfill their part of the bargain, the Tigers will most likely beat Florida State in the ACC regular season game of the year and win back the conference title the Seminoles took from them last season. Tajh Boyd has become a fine quarterback at Clemson, but Watkins is better as a receiver than Boyd is as a signal caller.
Team That Will Win: Clemson.
The ACC champion should emerge from the winner of the Florida State-Clemson game. The Seminoles won last season, but the Tigers now host this game in 2013. Home-field advantage plus experience at the quarterback spot should carry the Tigers to first place in the Atlantic. Clemson will then beat North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game.
ACC Champion (odds from 5Dimes)
Florida State +240
Virginia Tech +775
North Carolina +850
Georgia Tech +1050
N.C. State +7000
Boston College +8500
Wake Forest +15000
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