Florida State will edge Clemson to win the ACC Atlantic

It is never easy when a coaching legend leaves or, as was the case with Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, is gently nudged out the door. Transitions are normally hard as an entire team has to adjust to a new staff and a new way of doing things. Wins and losses, in the short term, take a back seat to the sometimes painful process of just getting everybody on the same page.

This will not be the case at Florida State.

Bowden is gone after a Hall of Fame career that included 35 seasons at Florida State and an unprecedented string of success in Tallahassee. But the fact remains that the Seminoles, who dominated the ACC after their arrival in 1992 and were a fixture in the BCS championship race from 1987-2000, have not been relevant on the national stage for a decade.

That is about to change. Jimbo Fisher agreed to serve as head coach in waiting to Bowden for what seemed like three very long seasons. The purpose of that exercise was to make the inevitable coaching transition as seamless as possible.

“We all knew this day was coming,” said Fisher. “I love coach Bowden and owe him and his whole family a lot. My job is to take what he built and move forward.”

And in 2010, that is exactly what Florida State will do by winning the ACC’s Atlantic Division and playing for its first conference championship since 2005.

The likely challenger to Florida State will be Clemson, which reached the ACC championship game in Dabo Swinney’s first full season as head coach. But there are some holes to fill in Death Valley, especially the one left by the splendid C.J. Spiller. There is also the uncertainty around quarterback Kyle Parker, who may get a chance to play professional baseball after the June draft. Clemson goes to Florida State on Nov. 13 and the division championship could be on the line.

Here is our Spring practice review of the ACC’s Atlantic Division. The teams are listed in the order of their projected finish:

 

1. FLORIDA STATE

**–Last season:  7-6, 4-4 ACC; beat West Virginia 33-21 in Gator Bowl.

**–Coach: Jimbo Fisher, first season at Florida State.

**–Key losses:  CB Patrick Robinson, LB Dekoda Watson, WR Rod Owens.

**–Returning starters: Offense 10, defense 6, specialist 2.

**–Players to watch: QB Christian Ponder, OG Rodney Hudson, CB/KR Greg Reid, LB Nigel Badham.

**–What we know: Life must go on without Bobby Bowden. Bowden stepped down as college football’s No. 2 all-time winner after last season and Jimbo Fisher is now in command. He will start with an offense that is going to be very, very good.  Christian Ponder was playing as well as anybody in the country last season (2,717 yards passing, 14 TD), when he was knocked out (shoulder) in the ninth game against Clemson. Ponder is back and will be protected by an offensive line that will be the best that Florida State has put on the field since the glory days of the 1990s. All five starters return and collectively they have started 142 games for the Seminoles.

**–What we still don’t know:   Can the Florida State defense improve just enough to be okay? A big chunk of this spring was spent breathing life into a defense that finished dead last in the ACC (434.62 ypg).  Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops (brother of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops), replaces veteran Mickey Andrews. Stoops and company had a good spring but there is still much work to do this summer. “I know we struggled last year but we’ve got some guys on defense who can run and hit people,” Fisher said. Three starters return up front. DE Markus White had 10 tackles for loss last season. Kendall Smith (85 tackles) and Nigel Bradham (93 tackles) are proven linebackers. If the defense can just finish in the middle of the league, the offense will be good enough to put Florida State in the ACC championship game.

**–Opening game: Sept. 4 vs. Samford.

 

2. CLEMSON

**–Last season:  9-5, 6-2 ACC; lost to Georgia Tech 39-34 in ACC championship game; beat Kentucky 21-13 in Music City Bowl.

**–Coach: Dabo Swinney, 13-8 in two seasons at Clemson.

**–Key losses: RB/KR C.J. Spiller; TE Michael Palmer, LB Ricky Sapp, CB Crezdon Butler.

**–Returning starters:  Offense 7, defense 6, specialist 2.

**–Players to watch:  QB Kyle Parker, TE Dwayne Allen, DE Da’Quan Bowers, RB Jamie Harper.

**–What we learned:  The defense is going to be more physical and more aggressive. This will be the second year that Clemson works under the system of DC Kevin Steele. There is depth up front and a bunch of guys who can make plays. Junior DE Da’Quan Bowers (10.5 tfl in 2009) was one of the most highly-rated players in the country coming out of high school and this year he will shine. All-America safety DeAndre McDaniel has 208 career tackles and 11 career interceptions.

 We also learned that while the Tigers cannot replace C.J. Spiller, they are not without some playmakers. RB Jamie Harper (418 yards rushing) and redshirt sophomore Andre Ellington (491 yards rushing) now get the chance to step out of the shadow of Spiller, who had 21 career touchdowns of 50 yards or more. Tight end Dwayne Allen is just a sophomore but he is going to be a star. The offensive line returns four starters. This year that group will be a little meaner and more physical.

**–What we still don’t know: Will Kyle Parker return as Clemson’s quarterback? Parker, who threw for 2,526 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, will have a decision to make come June, when he is expected to be taken in the Major League baseball draft. If the up-front money is big enough, Parker could give up his final three years of football eligibility. “I think he’s going to be back,” said Swinney. “I just believe he would rather spend this fall running down the hill in Death Valley than riding a bus in Wichita.” But it depends on where Parker, who leads the ACC with 16 home runs, is chosen. Last year every player but two chosen in the first round of the draft earned a signing bonus of $1 million or more.  Without Parker, redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd takes over. Boyd is talented, but he’s not quite ready to be a starting quarterback in the ACC.

**–Opening game: Sept. 4 vs. North Texas.

 

 

3. BOSTON COLLEGE

**–Last season:  8-5, 5-3 ACC; lost to Southern California 24-13 in Emerald City Bowl.

**–Coach: Frank Spaziani, 9-5 in his second season at Boston College.

**–Key losses: C Matt Tennant, WR Rich Gunnell, LB Mike McLaughlin, SS Marcellus Bowman.

**–Returning starters:  Offense 8, defense 7, specialist 1.

**–Players to watch: LB Mark Herzlich, RB Montel Harris, LB Luke Kuechly, TE Chris Pantale.

**–What we learned:  We are not going to bet against Mark Herzlich. Herzlich was the ACC defensive player of the year in 2008 but missed the entire 2009 season while he underwent treatments for bone cancer. This time last year the discussion was about Herzlich’s survival, not if he had a football future.  He returned to practice on a limited basis (no contact) this spring. “We let Mark do what he could,” said coach Frank Spaziani. “He’s certainly nowhere near ready to play, but it’s remarkable to see him where he’s at right now.” Herzlich had a titanium rod inserted in one leg. If Herzlich comes back anywhere near his previous level, BC will have two of the best linebackers in the country. Freshman Luke Kuechly took Herzlich’s position last season and was the league’s defensive rookie of the year.

**–What we still don’t know:  Will QB Dave Shinskie take another step forward? Shinskie, a former minor league baseball player, was pressed into service as a freshman last season and responded by throwing 2,049 yards and 15 touchdowns in 10 starts. Shinskie turned 26 years old on May 4 and so mentally, he’s not a sophomore. We still don’t know if BC will be able to find some help for running back Montel Harris, who ran for 1,457 yards as a sophomore. His 308 carries in 13 games was more than any back in the ACC. Only two players in Division I-A football—Toby Gerhart of Stanford (343) and Dion Lewis of Pittsburgh (325)—had more carries last season than Harris.

**–Opening game:  Sept.  4 vs. Weber State.

 

4. N.C. STATE

**–Last season: 5-7, 2-6 ACC.

**–Coach: Tom O’Brien,  91-66 in 13 years, 16-21 in three years at N.C. State.

**–Key losses: C Ted Larsen, RB Toney Baker, DE Willie Young.

**–Returning starters: Offense 7, defense 5, specialist 1.

**–Players to watch: QB Russell Wilson, LB Nate Irving, TE George Bryan, WR Owen Spencer.

**–What we know: This spring was all about survival for the Wolfpack. From an injury standpoint, the 2009 season was one of the worst O’Brien has experienced in his 13 years as a head coach. N.C. State used 10 different defensive lineups because of injuries. One of O’Brien’s primary goals was to get to the end of spring practice with as many healthy bodies as possible. Still, O’Brien said he had only 44 scholarship players during spring drills.

LB Nate Irving returned to football after almost losing his life in an automobile accident last summer. Irving was an honorable mention All-ACC pick in 2008. The spring ended on a decidedly down note as four players, including All-ACC tight end George Bryan, were arrested on misdemeanor drug charges. Bryan, a candidate for the Mackey Award (nation’s best tight end), was charged with maintaining a dwelling for the use of controlled substances. Starting left tackle Jake Vermiglio was also among those players charged.

**–What we still don’t know:  Quarterback Russell Wilson, who had 31 touchdown passes last season, missed the spring as he spent his third season with the N.C. State baseball team. That has led to speculation that Wilson, like Clemson’s Kyle Parker, could give up football if he is taken high enough in the June baseball draft. O’Brien insists that Russell will be back. “Russell’s coming back, so I don’t know why there’s ever been any question,” O’Brien told reporters in mid-April. If Russell does leave N.C. State has a capable quarterback in sophomore Mike Glennon, a highly-recruited player who completed 24 of 39 passes in limited action last season. Glennon threw for 423 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game.

**–Opening game: Sept. 4 vs. Western Carolina.

 

 

5. WAKE FOREST

**–Last season: 5-7, 3-5 ACC. 

**–Coach: Jim Grobe, 92-84-1 overall, 59-51 in nine seasons at Wake Forest.

**–Key losses: QB Riley Skinner, DT John Russell, CB Brandon Ghee, NT Boo Robinson.

**–Returning starters: Offense 6, defense 7, specialist 2.

**–Players to watch:  RB Josh Adams, QB Skylar Jones, WR Marshall Williams, DE Kyle Wilbert.

**–What we learned:  The Deacons will go back to basics. Coach Jim Grobe came to Wake Forest nine seasons ago as a coach who believed strongly in running the football. But when the Deacons signed quarterback Riley Skinner in 2006, Grobe changed his offense. Skinner started 49 games for the Deacons, won an ACC championship (2006) and took his team to three straight bowl games. “You really get spoiled when you have a reliable guy like that for four years,” said Grobe. Expect Grobe to return to running the ball with former wide receiver Skylar Jones, who emerged from spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback. But don’t count out the other quarterbacks, sophomore Ted Stachitas and redshirt freshman Brendan Cross (son of former NFL great Randy Cross) of Alpharetta. “We’ll find a guy who can get the ball out there,” said Grobe. “It just won’t be as many times as we did with Riley.”

**–What we still don’t know:  With a new quarterback, will Wake Forest be able to get the ball to its playmakers? It’s telling that wide receiver Devon Brown, who caught 61 balls for 671 yards a year ago, ran the ball four times from the slot position in the spring game. The Deacons have another good, athletic receiver in Marshall Williams (60 catches, 867 yards). Don’t be surprised if Grobe puts in more running plays for these two in order to give them a chance to operate in space. And because Wake Forest will go back to the run, can we expect a big senior season for Josh Adams? Adams was the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2007. Last season he averaged 4.8 yards per carry and caught 28 balls for 307 yards. Will Wake Forest finally catch a break in a close game? The Deacons lost seven games in 2009. Five of those were by three points or fewer for a total combined 13 points. There were two overtime losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech.

**–Opening game: Sept. 2 vs. Presbyterian.

 

 

6. MARYLAND

**–Last season: 2-10, 1-7 ACC.

**–Coach: Ralph Friedgen, 66-44 in nine seasons at Maryland.

**–Key losses: QB Chris Turner, OT Bruce Campbell, CB Anthony Wiseman, FS Terrell Skinner.

**–Returning starters: Offense 7, defense 5, specialist 2.

**–Players to watch: RB Da’Rel Scott, P Travis Baltz, WR Torrey Smith, LB Alex Wujciak.

**–What we learned: The offense is going to be just fine. Quarterback Chris Turner (30 career starts) is gone but Friedgen was encouraged this spring about the progress of Jamarr Robinson, who got significant experience in the final four games of the 2009 season. Friedgen also feels better about his offensive line, which was all but depleted due to injuries last season. A reliable quarterback and a veteran offensive line should only help RB Da’Rel Scott, who was a first-team All-ACC pick in 2008 when he rushed for 1,133 yards. Injuries limited Scott in 2009. Now the Terps have some depth at running back with Davin Meggett (338 yards last season). “I felt better at the end of the spring,” Friedgen. “If we can stay healthy, this bunch has a chance.”

**–What we still don’t know: Can Maryland find a way to win the close ones? The Terps lost 10 games last season but rarely did they get blown out. They lost to Middle Tennessee by one (32-31), to Boston College by two (19-17), to Florida State by three (29-26), to Duke by four (17-13), and to N.C. State by seven (38-31). It would help matters if Maryland could take it up a notch or two on defense. The Terps were last in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing 31.25 points per game. Veteran defensive coordinator Don Brown was brought in last season in an effort to improve that unit. Brown is building around LB Alex Wujchiak, who will be the ACC’s leading returning tackler (264). Brown also has a big time cornerback in Cameron Chism. Based on spring practice this should be a more athletic defense.

**–Opening game: Sept. 6 vs. Navy (Baltimore)

 

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124 comments Add your comment

Dudley

May 5th, 2010
7:30 pm

Tony-

FSU #1 in their division? You do realize Richt is not with them anymore, right? They havn’t done much at all since Richt left. When Richt was in charge of the offense, they got to 5 Natl Champ’s, 0 since. FSU lost their lucky charm when richt left.

BUMMER

May 5th, 2010
7:32 pm

Come on Tony! FSU??? Jimbo has alot of fires to put out in Tallahassee, and then must turn around and start some. FSU want beat both B.C. and Clemson losing to one of the two is certain. I*m not a Clemson fan, but the Tiger crowd now believes it can . In 2009 we saw Clemson play as a unified team for the first time in a long while.

Gillislee

May 5th, 2010
7:42 pm

Charlie Bama

May 5th, 2010
8:15 pm

This just in — Dabo can coach! Sure, there continues to be a lot of on-the-job training for him, but he has a clue, unlike his predecessor. Jimbo Fisher has his hands full, and I think he’ll do well at FreeShoesU, but 2010 won’t be the year it happens.

Chip

May 5th, 2010
8:37 pm

SEC. SEC. Come on Tony. Who Cares?. The SEC is where it’s at…

Beast from the East

May 5th, 2010
8:43 pm

FSU does not have 5 NC’s. They have 2….one from ‘93 and the other I belive from ‘99. Richt then went on to take over the head job at UGA.

Ormewood

May 5th, 2010
8:48 pm

If you read it, he said “got to 5 NC’s.”

Miles

May 5th, 2010
9:52 pm

Of course Florida State will win the ACC…Clemson is to the ACC what Cal is to the Pac 10 or what Iowa is to the Big 10, i.e., high expectations annually with low results…fact!

Ormewood

May 5th, 2010
10:27 pm

Miles, don’t forget there’s another division in the ACC. There might be three or four teams on that side better than the Noles. We’ll see what happens on the field this fall.

Chuck Uga

May 5th, 2010
10:42 pm

Virginia Tech will win the ACC and beat Florida State soundly be it regular season, ACC title or both. I can guarantee you FSU will not win the ACC. Book it.

Reptiles Rule

May 6th, 2010
12:24 am

Wow, just looked back and I see 755 comments on Tonys Monday article about Florida winning the East and so far 111 comments of FSU winning their ACC division. Shows where the passion lies!

NightNole

May 6th, 2010
1:06 am

Dear Gator fans,
You should be worrying about Urbans health and winning your own conference because Oct 2nd, your gonna get spanked…again.

UM- Please sign Shannon for four more years haha.

FSU is going to be back and putting us as number 1 in the Atlantic isnt a stretch ;)

leland

May 6th, 2010
7:25 am

Dear Mr. CF–You’re right; FSU will beat Clempson, but only because the Tigers are saving themselves up for the junior prom. Your pal, Leland

Dawgbreath

May 6th, 2010
7:52 am

Klempsin better get it done while they can. When conference expansion hits and the SEC is forced to 16 teams, they will be left in the barren desert of what is left of the ACC. Especially if the SEC jumps to NC and picks up UNC and NCSU. Don’t rule it out.

NoleEllie

May 6th, 2010
8:45 am

Leo=typical classy Miami fan

NoleEllie

May 6th, 2010
8:46 am

I think I love Thug U. Hilarious post!

Mike

May 6th, 2010
8:52 am

Two things about BC:
1. At this point, it is looking like Shinskie won’t be the starter. Mascovetra may be overtaking him. I think the offense will be much dependant on Montel Harris’ health than anything else. The article is correct that we really need to find him some help.
2. BC’s defense will be scary good. This defense has been consistently very good to great for a while now, and this unit is among the best we’ve ever had. Expect the BC D to be top ten nationally, pushing for top five.

box

May 6th, 2010
9:17 am

“Clemson, with those nice facilities”

Huh? Do you mean our nice stadium? Surely you don’t mean our invisible indoor facility or training table…

HUJ

May 6th, 2010
12:27 pm

Clemson’s going nowhere this year. “Stifling” defense? Their D melted down last year about midway. Check the stats before saying dumb stuff and that was with McDaniel and Bowers and experienced corners. Spiller’s gone, Ford’s gone, Palmer’s gone, and like it or not, Parker, if he returns, will somehow take a step back as ALL Clemson QBs do. First year, they’re great. Second and third years, they implode. They’ll finish no better than third in the division behind BC and FSU. And they’ll lose to SC. And after that, they’ll give Swinney an extension for it. Business as usual at Clemson.

Spreister

May 6th, 2010
5:19 pm

DUDE are you kidding me. Andre Ellington ran back to back plays against FSU and for 75 yards. He can replace Spiller and is… Spiller was great but not a god. Ellington looked just like spiller most of the time. Parker knows the Draft can wait another year and he will get so much exposure preceding a monster senior campaign. I mean do you guys get paid by Burt Reynolds at the AJC…I mean come on FSU has to prove it in my book, why just go ahead and give them the title they will look like little babies against that Clemson Dfense…..they did last year and we know no freshman is going to be as good right of the bat as Patrick Robinson or Dekota Watson. So please lay off hte nose candy and live with your feet on the ground where it’s more of what have you done lately. Clemson is on the rise. BC, State, Maryland, Virginia, & FSU will be lucky to not run and hide when Clemson comes calling. This side of the division is weak and Clemson is the only power house. The key is Defense and FSU don’t have have. PS so ponder is now a Heisman candidate… well the last game he played he threw 4 ints. and was stupid enough to try and tackle an all American head knocker (might I ad that McDaniel was laughing and pointing at him right before he ended his season, well maybe he will get farther than spiller in the Heisman because he plays for a Florida school) We already know the Heisman is rigged by ESPN biased coverage…we saw that with who got drafted first and who barely got in. A screw it you analyst suck at your job. Maybe you should go to politics they are crooks too…

naganole

May 6th, 2010
5:47 pm

This whole comment section is like something out of the twilight zone. I mean, I know FSU OWNED college football for a whole decade, but that was a whole decade ago. Why still all the hate? There are 2 things I’d like to touch on. 1) To the poster who said Kevin Steele is a better DC than Mark Stoops, I’d like some of the stuff you’re smoking, and 2) FSU declined because Bowden stayed and not because Richt left. FSU’s defense had much more to do with the decade of dominance than the offense…

Robear

May 7th, 2010
2:51 pm

Golden Domer,

Where are you getting your information that FSU lost their 4 “best” players on D? I think you are foolishly discounting the new coaches, schemes and players that were out of position, not properly coached, etc.

Last years safeties couldn’t cover my 73 year old mother if she was walking out to get the mail. I think you will be surprised at how much better this team will be in ‘10.

Robear

May 7th, 2010
2:59 pm

Spreister,

Take off the Orange colored glasses for a second and realize that FSU did have the lead for 3 quarters at Clemson last year with one of the worst coached D’s in the history of college football. This year the game is in Tally and FSU WILL be better on both sides of the ball. But go ahead and speculate away.

GO HEELS

May 11th, 2010
9:08 pm

FSU will be loaded… Kyle Parker may not even be playing football in sept depends on MLB draft… BC will be a motivated bunch with thier defensive leader back @ LB the true freshman that replaced him last year was a force and Harris will be the best RB in this division…. I call a toss between these three, but ima go out on a limb and say BC….