While Tobacco Road is a path most recognized, and well-traveled, by its basketball brethren, the ACC has more than held it's own on the gridiron.
Looking back, in its seven years as a 12-member league, the ACC has sent 58 teams to a bowl game, topped only by the SEC (60) in that span. And after leading the nation with the most players selected in the first-round of the NFL Draft (30) from 2007-2010, 15 of the top 60 players in last year's draft chewed, puffed or spit some form of tobacco. It was more of the same in this year when 15 of the first 100 players selected in this year's draft called the ACC home last year.
The kingpin of the conference, Virginia Tech, is the only team in the nation with 10-plus wins each of the last eight seasons. Not to mention Georgia Tech leads the nation in rushing offense the last four years.
In closing, this will be the 'Year of the Quarterback' in the ACC. Unlike last year when the ACC returned less than half (5) it's starting quarterbacks from the previous season, 2012 will feature 10 teams returning starting signal callers, five of whom tossed for more than 3,000 yards last season.
Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Designated 'Play On' and 'Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.
BOSTON COLLEGE (*9/6)
Team Theme: THWACK
Like a bow stretched too far, the Eagles' 12-year bowl skein was finally snapped last season when their normally unswerving defense snapped like RB Montel Harris' oft-injured knee on the first day of spring drills. Consequently, BC's win-loss percentage, like Harris' knee, has deteriorated each and every season under Frank Spaziani's three-year tenure. On course to break the ACC all-time rushing record in 2012 - after missing most of last season with the aforementioned knee injury - Harris was quickly booted off the squad this spring for disciplinary reasons, thus putting Spaziani squarely on the hot seat this year. As a result, the former defensive coordinator needs to re-string ASAP.
Stat You Will Like: The Eagles have allowed 99.5 rushing yards per game the last seven seasons - 5th best in the nation.
PLAY ON: at Northwestern (9/15)
Team Theme: FROSTED FLAKES
How is it after an 8-0 start to the season, the Tigers closed out 2-4, including a 70-33 drubbing in the Orange Bowl? Our best guess is that half of the 84 players on scholarship - being either true or redshirt freshmen - got caught reading their press clippings after becoming the first team in ACC history to defeat three ranked teams in succession. The hiring of former Oklahoma DC Brent Venables is a reminder that the Tiger defense wasn't 'great' in 2011, but the 1-2 punch of QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins shattered all kinds of ACC records in Watkins' freshman season last year. Expect Clemmie to win more than its share of shootouts.
Stat You Will Like: The Tigers are 7-1 SU and ATS at home with revenge under Swinney.
PLAY ON: vs. South Carolina (11/24)
FLORIDA STATE (*8/9)
Team Theme: LOCKED AND LOADED
Much like their neighbors to the south from Gainesville, the Seminoles failed to have a player drafted in the first three rounds for the first time in the last 25 years. That could be attributed to the fact that 17 starters and a whopping 69 lettermen are back and looking to make amends for a 'disappointing' 9-4 campaign. The entire offensive skill set missed some time due to injuries but the nation's best defense against the run (2.35 YPR) remained solid all year and virtually everyone who made a tackle returns. If QB E.J Manuel can pull out the close ones (four losses in 2011 were by a combined 21 points), they'll be a pep rally in Tally come January.
Stat You Will Like: The Seminoles have registered 35 winning seasons in a row and have appeared in 30 straight bowl games, tops in the nation.
PLAY ON: as a dog at Virginia Tech (11/8)
When Randy Edsall was hired to take over the Terrapins' football program, Maryland felt as if it stole the blueprints to success. Little did UM realize it was more like Ford Motor debuting its new toy in 1958 when they proclaimed, "They'll know you arrived when you pull up in an Edsel." Unfortunately, the old engine sputtered in College Park, requiring a few new parts to be added this season. OC Mike Locksley and his pro-style attack join the fray while DC Brian Stewart has been hired to repair a leaky defense that slipped nearly 100 YPG. A user-friendly schedule with no back-to-back away games may get Edsall and the Terps back on the road to recovery.
Team Theme: START ME UP
Stat You Will Like: Edsall is 18-7 ATS in his career in games off a double-digit spread loss, including 7-0 ATS as a favorite.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Connecticut (9/15)
NC STATE (*7/7)
Team Theme: IN A STATE OF WONDERMENT
It's no wonder family, friends and fans (read: ATS investors) are infatuated with Tom O'Brien these days. Since Tommy 'Take Home' hit Raleigh, the 'Pack have been a moneymaking machine. That's confirmed by some truly astonishing numbers: 26-0 ATS in SU wins, 9-0 ATS when playing with rest and 11-1 ATS in games against foes off an underdog win. Of more importance to O'Brien, though, is the return of star QB Mike Glennon, who aired it out for 3,054 yards and 31 TD's last season. In addition, four offensive linemen with a league-leading 113 starts are back as well as four starters from a secondary that led the nation in interceptions (27) in 2011.
Stat You Will Like: O'Brien owns the highest win percentage (.800) of any coach in bowl game history with at least 10 appearances.
PLAY AGAINST: at Clemson (11/17)
WAKE FOREST (*3/7)
Team Theme: STYLE POINTS
In spite of last season's bowl appearance, it's been four years since the Deacons enjoyed a winning campaign. They looked to be on their way last year before a 1-5 collapse kept them status quo for the third straight season. QB Tanner Price hopes to right the ship. He is one of five returning QB's in the conference that enjoyed a 3,000-yard passing season and his interception avoidance ratio (.142) is the seventh best in ACC history. However, the loss of leading rusher Brandon Pendergrass, four of six top receivers and four starting offensive linemen, may make this team a bit 'Pricey' for our liking. That, and a 3-15 SU log in the last five games of the season since 2009.
Stat You Will Like: Grobe's 37 ACC wins are the most in Demon Deacons' football history.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Clemson (10/25)
Team Theme: ON THE CUTTING EDGE
Question: When does a 15-33 SU overall and 6-26 SU conference record look good? Answer: When you were 10-82 SU overall and 3-61 SU in conference games the previous eight years! In a nutshell, that's the Devils before and after the arrival of HC David Cutcliffe. Can Duke continue to make strides despite facing a schedule that features 10 bowl-eligible squads? A seven-game home slate and 16 returning starters - including redshirt SR QB Sean Renfree, two-time all-ACC WR Conner Vernon and an O-line that has combined for 88 career starts - says yes. Here's hoping their 18 all-ACC Academic players make us look smart.
Stat You Will Like: Cutcliffe is 4-1 SU in bowl games in his career as a head coach.
PLAY ON: at Wake Forest (9/29)
GEORGIA TECH (*7/6)
Team Theme: RUN FOR COVER
For the first time in his tenure with the Yellow Jackets, head coach Paul Johnson will feature a veteran offensive line as four beef-eaters with a combined 77 career starts will be seen plowing through Bobby Dodd Stadium. That could prove lethal with SR QB Tevin Washington and RB Orwin Smith (a nation's best 10.1 YPR on 61 carries) keying an attack that has averaged 302 RYPG over the past four seasons - tops in the land. Johnson's 33 wins are the most ever by a coach in his first four years at Tech but we have a feeling that he's concentrating on the five losses in 2011 that 'Wrecked' a promising 6-0 start.
Stat You Will Like: Until last year, the Yellow Jackets had a running back gain more than 1,300 rushing yards each of the previous five seasons.
PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. BYU (10/27)
MIAMI, FLORIDA (4/5)
Team Theme: SILENCE IS GOLDEN
If the player suspensions handed down by the NCAA wasn't embarrassing enough, being outgained by the likes of Bethune-Cookman certainly took the cake. This once proud powerhouse is in a state of disarray and even the coaching genius of Al Golden can't fix it overnight. Despite being bowl eligible, Golden opted to stay home for the holidays, hoping to silence the critics and lessen further NCAA sanctions. Keep in mind, that despite a six-loss season for the fifth time in six years, the Canes were a moneymaking 7-4 ATS in 2011 as those losses were by a combined 33 points, with the largest an 8-point setback. Still, these days, there's no 'U' in swagger.
Stat You Will Like: Since entering the ACC in 2005, the Hurricanes have yet to play in the ACC championship game.
PLAY ON: at Kansas State (9/8) - *KEY as dog
NORTH CAROLINA (*8/5)
Team Theme: THE LID IS OFF
After averaging eight-and-a-half wins in his four-year tenure in Hattiesburg - including a school-record 12 last season - Larry Fedora and his entire staff head to Chapel Hill. Like Urban Meyer at Ohio State, Fedora inherits a team tarred by bowl probation and will be home for the holidays this season. At least the travel won't be bad as the Heels face five in-state foes for the first time since the 1940's. Leading the charge are QB Brynn Renner, who tossed for 3,086 yards and a school-record 26 TD' in 2011 and RB Giovani Bernard, whose 96.4 RYPG was tops in the nation among freshmen backs (his 14 TD's tied for the conference lead).
Stat You Will Like: Larry Fedora is 2-6 SU and ATS in non-Saturday affairs.
PLAY ON: at Miami Florida (10/13)
Team Theme: WE PREFER THE SLURPEE
As you know, we commonly refer to teams that come out of nowhere and post a winning season as 'Mission Reverse' squads. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Cavaliers. Under ACC Coach of the Year Mike London, UVA doubled its win total from the previous season and landed a bowl berth for the first time since 2007. With expectations high, they now hope for a repeat performance from a group that loses two all-ACC offensive line performers and more than half of its defensive starters, including three veteran linemen and three top-notch defensive backs. Making matters worse, four of their five road games are against teams that went 38-15 in 2011. Gulp. Big Gulp.
Stat You Will Like: Half of the Cavaliers eight wins were by three or less points last season.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Miami Florida (11/10)
VIRGINIA TECH (*3/9)
Team Theme: SECOND TO NONE
Season-ending losses to Clemson in the ACC title game and to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl aside, it was another magnificent campaign in Blacksburg. And with Joe Paterno's passing, along with 84 wins the last eight years, Frank Beamer now owns more career victories (251) than any active coach in the FBS. The Hokies have also made 19 straight bowl appearances, third best in the land. Outside of maybe a fourth ACC crown and bowl victory (though the ACC is 1-12 in BCS bowls), we don't see much changing in 2012… not with QB Logan Thomas (school-record 3,842 total yards, 30 combined TD's) leading the way. Beam us up, Frankie - we're coming aboard.
Stat You Will Like: The Hokies are the only team in the nation with 10 or more wins each of the last eight seasons, and eight or more wins the last 14 years.
PLAY ON: at Clemson (10/20) - *KEY as a dog