2003 ACC Football Preview

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Pick up any preseason college football publication or go to any website that has predictions on the 2003 season. In
each case, the same four teams are at the top of every ACC list: Florida State, Maryland, N.C. State and Virginia. Make
that Virginia, N.C. State, Maryland and Florida State. Or is it N.C. State, Florida State, Virginia and Maryland?

Everyone’s top four teams may be the same, but no one seems to agree on the pecking order. There’s a reason for
that. When it comes to evaluating the top teams in the conference, weighing their respective strengths and weaknesses,
gauging their talent levels and considering their coaching staffs, you come to one conclusion: There’s no damn
difference.

OK, there are dramatic differences at certain positions and the teams are hardly identical. On paper, it looks
like N.C. State has the best offense, Florida State the best defense, Maryland the best special teams and Virginia the
best young talent. Yet from an overall standpoint, the gap between the top four teams appears so small that you could
barely slide a piece of paper between them. Which is why it seems fruitless to try placing them first, second, third and
fourth. Instead, let’s call them 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D. My only prediction is that three of them will end up 6-2 in ACC
play, while the fourth will go 5-3. Any of the four could wind up in the BCS, while the remaining bowls with ACC ties
can pick whoever is left. (Uh-oh, Virginia.)

What seems clear (but probably isn’t) is that there is a sizable gap between the top four teams in the ACC and the
other five. Who knows? Perhaps one lower-tier team will emerge, as Maryland did two years ago and Virginia did last
year, to challenge for the conference title. But for now, the not-so-fab five of Clemson, North Carolina, Wake Forest,
Georgia Tech and Duke appear to be as closely bunched together as the Big Four. Last year’s bottom two, North Carolina
and Duke, should be improved. Meanwhile, Clemson, Wake and Georgia Tech – all bowl teams in 2002 – look worse. Call
them teams 5A-F, with none likely to finish at .500 or better in league play. That may make it difficult for the ACC to
fill its six bowl slots, but it should also make for a competitive and highly entertaining season in conference play.
Not to mention an unpredictable one.

But what the heck. Here are my predictions for the ACC standings, with a look at each of the teams:

1a) FLORIDA STATE

Offense: The

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