With the regular season officially over, we check back in with the ACC’s teams to assess the damage of 2012. The good: two teams won ten games during the regular season, just one team won less than four games, and 10 teams (could be 11 if Pitt wins this weekend) won at least six games. The bad: No team won more than 10 games, two of the league’s top five teams are ineligible, and eight teams (out of 14) won between five and seven games. Oh, and Maryland decided to leave. Which is bad.
1. Florida State Seminoles (10-2) (7-1) (LW: 1): Favored against archrival Florida, the Seminoles had a very manageable game at home and seemed poised for their first 11-win regular season in years. But then they struggled out the gate, and closed just as poorly en route to a 37-26 defeat. As a team, FSU looked outmatched everywhere but the defensive line, and quarterback EJ Manuel‘s four turnovers were the stuff of a worst-case nightmare. They’ll be favored again in the ACC Championship Game, and under no circumstances can the conference really afford for them to lose.
2. Clemson Tigers (10-2) (7-1) (LW: 2): Clemson’s BCS dreams are all but dead after they came up very short against South Carolina and its vaunted defensive front. The Tigers impressive offense was shut down in a way no one had really figured out up until Saturday, and the result exposed a team that can’t run the ball with consistency, nor can they manage to stop anyone on defense either. If Clemson hopes to take the next step and become a truly elite program under coach Dabo Swinney, they need to take full advantage of opportunities against top-tier competition. They had just three games against teams with winning records all season, and went 1-2 in those contests, while being outscored 124-116.
3. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (7-5) (5-3) (LW: 5): It’s unfortunate for the conference to see Miami sit out another postseason, but if the alternative is seeing an even better, more experienced version of this group next year, it may be the best option for everyone. In line to play in its first ACC title game, we miss out on a ‘Canes/’Noles matchup this year in exchange for what’s hopefully many more to come. Anyone who watched Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson in action this season knows there are good times ahead, so long as the defense starts to clean up its act.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4) (5-3) (LW: 4): As the year’s wore on, we’ve caught glimpses of what this Heels offense could truly become under Larry Fedora and his spread attack. But on Saturday, quarterback Bryn Renner really delivered on that potential by putting up over 300 yards and five touchdowns. The junior’s obviously taken a bit more time to adapt to the new system than initially expected, but all in all, you still can’t argue with 3,356 yards and 28 scores. Expect even better production next year, as Fedora really turns him loose.
5. Syracuse Orange (7-5) (LW: 6): Syracuse just wrote the book on how to end a season — something its future ACC counterparts should take notes on. Backs against the wall at 4-5, with two road games and a home date left on the slate, the Orange ran through three consecutive opponents en route to a surprising 7-5 finish. Even more shocking is the fact that this left-for-dead SU squad could still end up winning a Big East title in this, their final season. All year, this group never gave up, and now they’re reaping the rewards.
6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-6) (5-3) (LW: 3): This year’s iteration of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate was a sad showcase of both the SEC and Georgia‘s utter dominance over its southern brethren, and a commentary on the ACC’s (lack of) quality as a whole in 2012. As stated many times before, Al Groh was a scapegoat. The real issue is coach Paul Johnson’s gimmicky offense, as was glaringly obvious against the Bulldogs. While Tech still racked up 300 yards on the ground, the one-dimensional attack made it easy to predict their next move, and the Bulldogs thwarted them nearly every drive — despite the Wreck’s two-to-one time of possession advantage.
7. NC State Wolfpack (7-5) (4-4) (LW: 8): NC State finally had enough of Tom O’Brien’s underachieving teams, and cut the chord with their head coach on Monday. But will this truly change anything? With the expectation of simply competing for a conference championship this season, the Wolfpack fell miserably short and never really found an identity on either side of the ball. While big names like Mike Glennon and David Amerson were supposed to be stars on both a conference and national level, they fell short as well, and the struggled without other standout contributors. Most important under the new regime will be depth, if they hope to compete successfully with UNC.
8. Pittsburgh Panthers (5-6) (LW: 9): Pitt embarrassed Rutgers on Saturday by executing its gameplan to perfection. Applying consistent pressure to Scarlet Knights’ QB Gary Nova and running the ball well between the tackles, the Panthers took Rutgers out of their element immediately. As harped on in the preview, the Knights’ offense is sporadic at best. If you force them to score in order to win games, they’ll certainly fail to do so, and that’s exactly what happened here. Now, the Panthers need just one more win to get themselves to the postseason, and it’s likely they’ll pull it off against USF on Saturday.
9. Virginia Tech Hokies (6-6) (4-4) (LW: 10): It wasn’t pretty, but the Hokies managed to grab a late victory against cross-state rival Virginia and will head to a bowl game for the 20th consecutive season. So despite the positive result here, there will be plenty of changes in Blacksburg come the offseason. Virginia Tech’s offense was ranked just 79th in all of FBS while putting up 26.1 points per game. With a talented passer like Logan Thomas, that lack of production should not be acceptable going forward and a staffing shake-up may be necessary.
10. Duke Blue Devils (6-6) (3-5) (LW: 7): Duke’s been in freefall for the past month, yet will still find themselves in the postseason thanks to October’s last-second heroics. And the blame for dropping four straight can certainly be spread around evenly. The offense, despite playmakers like Conner Vernon and Sean Renfree, looked utterly overmatched regardless of opponent. When they actually managed to score points, it was the defense that let them down. After starting off the year by showing off a significant improvement on that side of the ball, the Blue Devils have given up 196 points over the course of the last four games.
11. Virginia Cavaliers (4-8) (2-6) (LW: 12): The Hoos put in a poor performance in 2012, no doubt about it, but at least give them some credit for the effort they showed down the stretch. After dropping six straight to get to 2-6, Virginia buckled down and remained fairly competitive in every game thereafter, winning two of four. Even rival Virginia Tech got a scare from them to end the season, with the difference being just a three-point loss. It may look like a step back from 2011 — and it is — but Mike London is in the midst of a culture change at UVa. There are no quick fixes. Next year’s highly-regarded recruiting class and last year’s bowl trip are just part of a much bigger movement to get this program on a more competitive track.
12. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-7) (3-5) (LW: 11): This year’s Wake squad made a sad transition — from being a scrappy, overachieiving underdog, to a hapless also-ran in a conference seemingly full of them. Following a 2-0 start, the offense lost its way and the defense, no longer as injury-plagued as it once was, actually got worse. The Deacs finished 117th in the nation in scoring offense (18.5 points per game), while allowing 31.8 (93rd). What once appeared to be a team and fan base content with six- and seven-win seasons it was well-capable of attaining has now devolved into a frustrated fan base hoping a sloppy team changes it ways.
13. Maryland Terrapins (4-8) (2-6) (LW: 13): Things could’ve gone so much worse for Maryland, all things considered. With Shawn Petty at the helm at quarterback, the Terps went 0-4, sure. But for the most part, there was also obvious improvement and a real effort put forth by the beleaguered group. By the last game, Petty managed his first game passing for over 200 yards, and ended up throwing for six scores on the year, in contrast to just two interceptions. If nothing else, the injuries showed off just how deep this group is, and how quickly they’ll show improvement starting with next year’s squad.
14. Boston College Eagles (2-10) (1-7) (LW: 14): Coach Frank Spaziani is gone, ending a downward-spiraling nightmare for the Boston College faithful that’s lasted his entire four-year tenure. Now, they’ll try and rebuild, as the program looks to regain some relevance in the coming years. Considering how poorly the offense and defense performed this season, don’t be surprised if there’s a full-fledged housecleaning slated for the next few months. It’s the least any new coach can do as they attempt to fix BC football.