ACC Preview: New Teams, New King?

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Last year was supposed to be the year that Florida State’s reign in the ACC ended. Virginia, Maryland, and N.C. State, according to the experts, were going to give the ‘Noles a run for the title. The Sporting News picked the Cavaliers to take the conference and each of the four got first-place votes in the preseason media poll.

It didn’t quite happen as the Seminoles claimed their 10th league championship in 11 years. (Maryland won in 2001.) So will things be any different now? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing’s for sure: FSU should be significantly more challenged in the new-look ACC, with Miami and Virginia Tech joining the party and Virginia, N.C. State and Maryland continuing their ascent into the nation’s elite.

There seem to be some clear divisions in the conference this year. Miami and Florida State have to be placed alone atop the league, with the favorite being whoever wins their season-opening Labor Day battle in Tallahassee. (Miami, in my opinion.) Virginia, Clemson, Maryland, and N.C. State sit below those two, and all have BCS aspirations, though their fulfillment will require an upset or two. The next two schools, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, should have no problem becoming bowl-eligible but will, barring miracles, be playing in December games. At the bottom sit Wake Forest, UNC and Duke, for whom a bowl game would mark a successful season.

With fewer guaranteed bowl spots than likely bowl-eligible teams, the postseason picture should be very cloudy come Thanksgiving, especially with a good possibility that two ACC teams make the BCS. With the Hokies kicking off the 2004 season tonight against Southern Cal at FedEx Field, here is one prediction for how things will shake out.

1. Miami

Offense: Only five starters are back for the ‘Canes, but it should not matter as they simply reload every year with superior athletic talent. The biggest offensive loss from a year ago is tight end Kellen Winslow, the team’s leading receiver with 60 catches for 605 yards. Brock Berlin will return under helm after a shaky junior season, his first as a starter. The transfer from Florida threw more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (12) last year and could be pushed by touted freshman Kyle Wright. Wright is clearly the future here, and may be the present if Berlin does not prove that a stellar spring performance was an indicator of him turning the corner.

“Brock’s got to make better decisions,” said coach Larry