I can see kickoff on the horizon! (Almost) But nonetheless, the 2012 college football season is getting closer and closer, meaning more discussions about actual football. As we’ve done this entire offseason, below is a completely arbitrary ranking of all 14 ACC schools, taking into account all random happenings in and around each respective program. These are the final offseason rankings before we dive into our 2012 season preview. Then, once the season starts (!!!) they’ll be updated weekly, just as they were last year.
1. Florida State Seminoles (LW: 1): Can Florida State finally make good on the lofty preseason expectations that have accompanied them these past few years? The pieces are all there — 10 returning starters on defense, an experienced, veteran QB in E.J. Manuel, and a very manageable schedule. Now it’s up to the ‘Noles to deliver.
2. Clemson Tigers (LW: 2): Complain about the defense all you want, but I’ve got a great feeling about new coordinator Brent Venables and his ability to make an immediate impact. Plus, how can you honestly bet against the team’s three-headed monster on offense? You saw how they manhandled talented defenses last year. Who’s to say they can’t do so again?
3. Virginia Tech Hokies (LW: 3): There is a boatload of hype surrounding Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas. But the only way he’ll be able to deliver on it is if a) his inexperienced offensive line can adapt quickly, b) the running game can take some of the load off his shoulders (dependent, in part, on the offensive line), and c) his receivers are ready and able to make an impact. Wideout D.J. Coles appears ready to become a bigger part of the offense in 2012. He’ll be called upon often to prove it.
4. NC State Wolfpack (LW: 4): The expectations are growing down in Raleigh, especially with a manageable schedule laid out in front of the Wolfpack. So long as Mike Glennon and David Amerson are healthy, there are very few squads in the ACC that can truly hang with these guys on either side of the ball.
5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (LW: 5): We’ll get a look at just how good the ‘Wreck is right away, as they face off with Virginia Tech in week one. The key to that game, and any other this season, will be how well Tevin Washington can throw the ball, and avoid reverting to a one-dimensional attack. It’s been his Achilles’s heel throughout his time in Atlanta, and this year, there are talented backups to remove him from the starting job if need be.
6. Virginia Cavaliers (LW: 6): Everyone loves a quarterback controversy, and the Hoos appear to have one of the nation’s best on their hands as they enter 2012. Incumbent starter Michael Rocco will begin the season under center, but for how long? If understudy and Alabama transfer Phillip Sims is a quick learner, one slip-up could potentially spell the end of Rocco’s time as Virginia’s signal-caller.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels (LW: 7): The Heels manage to be chock-full of talent for the past five or six seasons, yet every year, they also manage to come up short. Will things change with the ACC’s best running back, Giovani Bernard, driving the offense? I have faith in new head coach Larry Fedora, but there’s a lot going on around this program that must be resolved before they can realize success.
8. Pittsburgh Panthers (LW: 8): There’s a lot up in the air with Pitt this season, but at least they’ll benefit from the lackluster Big East schedule. With a staunch defense and one of the country’s best running games (yup, I said it), the Panthers will be a factor in every game they play this season.
9. Syracuse Orange (LW: 9): SU’s actually starting to make a bigger dent on the recruiting front, even dipping into the JUCO ranks for talent this year. As mentioned numerous times, this team’s difficult schedule could make or break them, though. After a surprisingly successful 2010 campaign, it would be a shame to see Doug Marrone’s program take a step back for two consecutive seasons.
10. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (LW: 10): Which Wake team will show up in 2012, the one that started the year 4-1, or the one that ended it an unimpressive 2-6? With the departure of star receiver Chris Givens, I’m still tempted to believe this team’s more likely to get worse, rather than better. But then again, no one expected them to even win six games last year, either.
11. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (LW: 11): This Ray Ray Armstrong Twitter nonsense may end up being just that — nonsense. But it’s still a distraction, and the type of thing that persists no matter how “cleaned up” the U gets. As always, the ‘Canes have a lot of talent on this roster. However, they’re all just too young and inexperienced to really make noise in the ACC in 2012.
12. Boston College Eagles (LW: 13): With BC obviously a little less imposing on defense now that all-world linebacker Luke Kuechly‘s gone, they may need to lean on their offense far more this season. Unfortunately for them, their offense was putrid last year. The hope is new offensive coordinator Doug Martin can change all that. That said, he’s still got most of the same personnel, so it will be quite the challenge for him in his first year in Chestnut Hill.
13. Duke Blue Devils (LW: 13): Obviously Duke’s improved since David Cutcliffe took the reins. At the same time, it could also be argued that the rest of the league has improved too, however. So as the ceiling and floor gets higher, the Blue Devils are now running in place. Ask anyone around the league and they’ll tell you how drastic a difference there’s been. But it appears that the bowl-less streak is about to reach yet another season.
14. Maryland Terrapins (LW: 14): This Maryland team could very well be a lot better than last year’s edition, but the schedule really stands in the way of seeing if that’s true. With a slew of difficult contests (nine of their 12 opponents made bowl games in 2011), they’ll have their work cut out for them from end to end.