5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
QUINTON COPLES, NORTH CAROLINA
Sr. | 6-6 | 285 | DE
In his first season as a starter last fall, Coples made his presence felt with 15 1/2 tackles for loss, including 10 sacks, on his way to first team All-ACC.
MONTEL HARRIS, BOSTON COLLEGE
Sr. | 5-10 | 207 | RB
It remains to be seen how much an arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-August will affect him. He was expected to miss as much as four weeks, which could hamper his pursuit of the ACC career rushing yardage mark (needs 1,003 yards to surpass N.C. State's Ted Brown, who had 4,602 career yards).
E.J. MANUEL, FLORIDA STATE
Jr. | 6-5 | 245 | QB
The Virginia Beach native enters his first season as a full-time starter, but he already has the 2009 season Gator Bowl Most Valuable Player award on his resume, and he's the media's pick for preseason All-ACC quarterback.
KENNY TATE, MARYLAND
Sr. | 6-4 | 220 | LB
Though he was a first team All-ACC safety last season, in the spring he was moved to outside linebacker, where he'll have a chance to go above the 100-tackle season he had last fall.
LUKE KUECHLY, BOSTON COLLEGE
Jr. | 6-3 | 237 | LB
After leading the nation with 183 tackles last season, and finishing second in the nation in '09 as a freshman with 158 tackles, he'll be hard-pressed to come up with another impressive encore.
5 GAMES TO WATCH
Oklahoma at FSU | Sept. 17
Here's another chance for the ACC to prove its mettle against one of the top teams in the nation from outside the conference. Since FSU defeated No. 4 Florida 30-7 on Nov. 18, 2000, ACC teams have lost 33 consecutive games to top-5 nationally ranked non-conference opponents.
Ohio State at Miami | Sept. 17
Watch closely. Rules may be changed to allow extra men on the field, so NCAA investigators can camp out in the huddles of both teams on every play.
FSU at Clemson | Sept. 24
FSU will be coming off the Oklahoma game, and Clemson will be coming out of a home game against Auburn. Game could be pivotal in Atlantic Division race, plus possible ramifications for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney's job security.
UNC at N.C. State | Nov. 5
Former UNC coach Butch Davis is gone, but this matchup will still be something to see considering how dramatic it has been of late. N.C. State has a four-game winning streak in the rivalry, but it won the last two games by a combined five points.
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech | Nov. 10
This one could represent the Hokies' most daunting challenge of the season — a Thursday night road game against a team that has gained at least 278 yards rushing against the Hokies in each of the last three meetings. Georgia Tech won 28-23 in '09, the last time the teams met in Atlanta.
FINALLY TWO BCS PARTICIPANTS?
The ACC has never had two teams earn spots in Bowl Championship Series games in the same season. With FSU stocked at nearly every position, and Virginia Tech playing a soft schedule that makes an eighth consecutive 10-plus win season a possibility, could this be the year the ACC finally has two programs BCS-bound? Even if FSU and Tech both make BCS games, might the pundits downplay the achievement based on the Hokies' weak slate?
NATION'S BEST CB'S IN VIRGINIA
There's a lot of buzz about Virginia Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley and Virginia cornerback Chase Minnifield both having shots at All-America teams. Both guys finished among the top five in the nation last season in interceptions (Hosley led with nine, while Minnifield was fifth with six), and both guys are being talked about as possible NFL first-round draft picks next April (if Hosley leaves after his junior year).
YEAR OF THE COMMONWEALTH QB
You won't have to go far to find a quarterback who hails from Virginia. Half of the ACC is slated to have a starting quarterback from the state: U.Va.'s Michael Rocco (Lynchburg), Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas (Lynchburg), UNC's Bryn Renner (West Springfield), FSU's E.J. Manuel (Virginia Beach), Clemson's Tajh Boyd (Phoebus High graduate) and N.C. State's Mike Glennon (Centreville).
With 12 current Miami players alleged to have received impermissible permits from jailed former Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro, new coach Al Golden has walked into a maelstrom. The worst part of it for Golden was that he apparently was never made fully aware during the job interview process of just how bad things could get in Coral Gables. Player suspensions could devastate his efforts to get Miami back on track after a 7-6 season last fall.
TAR HEEL BLUES
While the mess is just starting for Miami, UNC is still waiting to hear what kind of NCAA sanctions will be handed down as a result of its own academic and benefit-related no-no's. UNC lost 89 starts last season due to injuries and suspensions. The sad thing is that UNC, which has three starters back on the offensive line and six of its front seven back on defense, could actually be pretty decent this season — maybe eight- or nine-win good.
Big non-conference test weekend for ACC: FSU hosts Oklahoma, Auburn comes to Clemson, West Virginia travels to Maryland, Ohio State rolls down to Miami; also, U.Va. gets its first conference test at UNC
Some intriguing cross-divisional matchups with Clemson playing at Virginia Tech (though it comes at the end of a brutal three-game stretch for Clemson that includes home games against Auburn and FSU) and N.C. State hosting Georgia Tech, plus UNC goes to East Carolina
Should start to get a clear picture of how the ACC will shake out (especially in the Atlantic Division) as the conference slate gets past the mid-point with FSU hosting N.C. State, Clemson going to Georgia Tech, BC heading to Maryland and U.Va.at Miami on Thurs., Oct. 27 (first of two trips to Florida this season for the Cavaliers)
Potential for some upsets here with Miami playing at FSU, N.C. State traveling to BC, Virginia Tech heads to Georgia Tech for a Thurs., Nov. 10 affair, U.Va. tries to snap a three-game losing streak against Duke in Charlottesville and Maryland has a tall order against Notre Dame in Landover, Md.
Traditional in-state rivalry weekend in the ACC, as FSU plays at Florida, Clemson goes across the state to South Carolina, Virginia Tech gets on I-81 and I-64 to meet U.Va. in Charlottesville, UNC hosts Duke and Georgia Tech welcomes Georgia; also, Miami hosts BC on Nov. 25, and N.C. State hosts Maryland.
Coach Jimbo Fisher has 16 starters back from a team that finished last season 20th in the nation in scoring defense (19.6 points per game) and 33rd in scoring offense (31.4 points per game). His running backs, defensive backs and special teams units all may be among the 10 best respective units in the nation. His defensive line, led by end Brandon Jenkins, could be the best in the nation. Oh, and he also has one of the nation's most promising new starters at quarterback. The ACC will get exactly what it wants if FSU plays Virginia Tech on Dec. 3 in Charlotte for the conference title.
COACH ON THE HOT SEAT
Dabo Swinney, Clemson
After following a 9-5 showing in '09 with a 6-7 disappointment last season that included a loss to South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, Swinney needs to make some noise this season, especially considering his team has nine offensive starters returning. Another six- or seven-win season may not cut it for Swinney, who enters his fourth season as Clemson's coach.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun