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July 22, 2013

The Wolfpacker's predicted order of finish



Every year, the ACC Sports Media Association polls the assembled media at the ACC Kickoff to gather predictions for the upcoming season, in addition to preseason All-ACC squads.

The Wolfpacker staff writer Ryan Tice's predicted order of finish for the ACC can be found below with a quick synopsis. Check back later for Tice's preseason All-ACC squad.

Atlantic
1. Clemson
The schedule is far from easy — non-conference dates loom with Georgia and South Carolina — but they do receive the luxury of hosting Florida State in the October tilt that will probably decide the division champion. They also caught a break with a bye week before Georgia Tech in a November crossover game. Clemson's offense is likely to continue having its way with the rest of the league, and the defense should be better with a lot of front seven help returning.

2. Florida State
Is FSU back? (Sorry, had to use the line at least once per ACC rules). The Seminoles won their first conference crown since 2005 last year, but saw an ACC-record 11 players go in the NFL Draft. The 'Noles will probably still have more talent than just about everybody they line up against, but it might come down to how redshirt freshman Jameis Winston performs under center. The schedule is probably more favorable than Clemson's, but it's going to all depend on who wins the head-to-head matchup.

3. NC State
Yes, NC State is a team in transition, but they have a favorable slate that sends them out of the state just twice. The Pack have a lot of household names to replace, but the team is not starting over from scratch. Whoever wins the four-way battle royale for the starting quarterback position will really dictate how Dave Doeren's debut campaign in Raleigh ends up, but he will benefit from some proven veterans at both running back and wide receiver. The defense must replace almost the entire secondary, but cornerback Dontae Johnson is a good one and Juston Burris hauled in three interceptions during his debut campaign.

4. Boston College
BC is also breaking in a new coach, but what they do have is an experienced quarterback in Chase Rettig, a veteran rusher in Andre Williams, an excellent receiver in Alex Amidon and a myriad of returning starters on defense, including a very underrated linebacking corps. The schedule isn't easy — they travel to USC and draw crossover games agaiinst North Carolina and Virginia Tech — but 16 returning starters, including a capable quarterback, gives me more confidence in the Eagles than the other three underneath of them.

5. Wake Forest
Quarterback Tanner Price is still playing? The veteran of 34 starts enters his last year of eligibility with the Demon Deacons switching to a more ground-based, option-oriented attack. He will be aided by the return of the pint-sized dynamo Michael Campanaro, who battled injuries last season, and what should be an improved offensive line with three returning starters. In addition to the offense's seven returning starters, the defense brings back eight and 11 of them have at least 14 career starts.

6. Maryland
The Terrapins, who will be competing in the ACC for the last time, are a tough team to figure out simply because of all the injuries they suffered during last year's 4-8 campaign. They were also just one or two breaks out of several games — they lost three contests by a total of eight points and dropped five by 10 or fewer, despite playing a touch schedule. Not having a converted linebacker playing under center should help this fall, but they do lose the majority of last year's top defenders. The team's 13 returning starters are not that experienced, either — only one has more than 13 career starts.

7. Syracuse
The Orange is another team in transition, going from now Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone to former defensive coordinator Scott Shafer. The offense will be looking for a new trigger man and will also have to replace a ton of experienced veterans, but look for the ground game to be strong. 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith is back and running behind a line that boasts three returning starters. On defense, Shafer boasts a ton of experience — his six returning starters have combined to open 135 contests, and a pair of veteran specialists are also back.

Coastal
1. Miami
The Hurricanes return an ACC-best 19 starters, including 10 on offense. The only thing that could hold them back from claiming a Coastal Division title are the looming NCAA sanctions, which prevented them from appearing in the ACC Championship game last fall. Miami lost two games by a total of five points last season, and should be even better this season. Quarterback Stephen Morris is a good one and he'll have weapons out wide and in running back Duke Johnson. The defense will need to be better this year, but last year's experience is a big help.

2. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets were not consistent last season, but they found a way to claim their third Coastal Division crown and ended the year with a bowl victory. A-back Orwin Smith, quarterback Tevin Washington and All-American guard Omoregie Uzzi are gone, but Zach Laskey was the leading rusher in 2012 (697 yards, 1 touchdown) and he is back. Returners David Sims, Vad Lee (who is expected to take over at quarterback) and Robert Godhigh also return after each rushed for at least 420 yards last season. The defense remains largely intact with eight returning starters, led by defensive end Jeremiah Ataochu and Isaiah Johnson.

3. Virginia Tech
The Hokies were in real danger of staying home during bowl season for the first time in 20 years, but pulled off some magic at the end of the year with two overtime victories and continued the streak. The offense will look different with the loss of last year's top three receivers, but 2012's top four rushers return and Logan Thomas should improve on last season. The defense should be its normal steady self with nine returning starters, including seven of last year's top eight tacklers.

4. North Carolina
Quarterback Bryn Renner returns to Chapel Hill as one of the nation's most efficient signal callers and he returns both of last year's top two targets, but the loss of running back Giovani Bernard and a solid trio of offensive linemen cannot be overstated. UNC has to hope that the defense improves to help offset those major losses. The entire secondary returns for the Heels and Kareem Martin should continue the school's tradition on the defensive line.

5. Pittsburgh
The Panthers will likely be led by their defense, which returns eight starters, while they try to fill in several holes on the other side of the ball. The top returning rusher is Issac Bennett, who totaled 141 yards last season, and a new quarterback must be found. The good news is Devin Street, who totaled nearly 1,000 yards receiving, returns to help the new quarterback, who could be Tom Savage, the former Rutgers starter who threw for 2,211 yards in 2009. Each returning starter on defense has opened at least 11 contests during his career.

6. Duke
Duke got back to a bowl game in 2012, but a repeat effort could be difficult. Four returning starters lead the way up front, but quarterback Sean Renfree and proven wide outs Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott must be replaced. The good news is that 1,000-yard receiver Jamison Crowder returns, but the offense might rely on the ground attack more with everybody who accumulated rushing statistics last year, outside of Renfree, back on the roster. Like the offense, the defense boasts seven returning starters and the Devils' specialists are top notch.

7. Virginia
Last year was a nightmare for coach Mike London and company as they stumbled to a 4-8 finish and major overhauls were made following the season. London brought in a couple of former head coaches as assistants, including former NCSU mentor Tom O'Brien and Pack defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, but there will be several new faces. Both quarterbacks who played last year are gone — and not by graduation — and running back Kevin Parks looks like the cornerstone of the unit now. Five receivers who totaled at least 374 yards through the air last year are also back, but the defense is probably going to lead the way for this squad. The Cavs ranked 28th last year in total defense.

ACC Championship game prediction: Clemson over Miami

Preseason Player of the Year: Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Could it be anybody else other than the Tigers' signal caller? Boyd became the first quarterback in school history to be named a first-team All-American (AFCA) and he was named the ACC Player of the Year by both the media and coaches. He threw for 3,896 yards and an ACC-record 36 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions, and he added another 10 scores on the ground. His touchdown responsibility of 46 set an ACC record, and he account for 4,410 yards of total offense. The two-time All-ACC first-teamer has a career record of 21-6.


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