FSU, Watkins honored at ACC Media Day
By Joedy McCreary
GREENSBORO — It’s an annual rite of summer in the Atlantic Coast Conference: Picking Florida State and Virginia Tech to meet in the league championship game.
For the fourth straight year, the Seminoles and Hokies are the preseason favorites to win their divisions and face off with a spot in the Orange Bowl on the line.
In voting results announced Monday during the second day of the league’s two-day media blitz, Florida State was picked to win its first ACC championship since 2005 — the second straight year media members covering the event have anointed the Seminoles as the league favorites.
“That’s why I say I like being at Florida State — you have expectations,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “That’s why I wanted to coach there, and that’s why people want to come there.”
Of the 95 media members who voted, 72 put Florida State on top in the Atlantic Division. Defending league champion Clemson was second and had 17 first-place votes, followed by North Carolina State (5), Wake Forest, Boston College and Maryland.
The Hokies were chosen to win the Coastal by 83 voters with second-place selection Georgia Tech receiving 10 first-place votes. North Carolina (2) was third, followed by Virginia, Miami and Duke.
“From my standpoint, what I see is, we’ve got a team that can be good, but we’ve got work to do,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “We’re not there right now.”
Florida State was then selected as the eventual league champion on 60 ballots. The Seminoles return 18 starters from a team that finished 9-4 and beat Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Last year’s team had designs on claiming its first BCS bowl since Bobby Bowden’s 2005 team lost to Penn State in the Orange Bowl. But a three-game losing streak — which partly coincided with a shoulder injury to quarterback EJ Manuel — wound up leaving Florida State on the outside looking in.
“We’ve learned some vital lessons,” Fisher said. “Everybody says, ‘Talk about potential.’ Potential’s three things. It’s talent, and we are physical, we have good size, good speed. It’s knowing what to do. We know what to do, we know how to do it.
“But I think the key is, the third element, which is very important, is the consistency you do it with and the detail you do it with,” he added. “I think that comes from time and experience. Two things will give us that, guys being in the program for the third year … and just the overall experience and knowledge of just going through what we’ve been through.”
Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins received 25 votes to win preseason player of the year honors ahead of Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, who had 21 votes, Manuel (19) and Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd (18).
Watkins, the ACC’s rookie of the year in 2011, set league single-season records for freshmen with 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns and led Clemson to its first league title in 20 years and a berth in the Orange Bowl.
The Tigers were picked second in the Atlantic for the fourth straight year.
“And we’ve won it twice” during that span, coach Dabo Swinney said. “So, you know, that stuff is fun for everybody to talk about and predict. I’m much more interested in how it ends up in December. That’s really the only concern I have.”
The bottom of the balloting had a familiar feel, too.
Bringing up the rear in the Coastal Division, once again, was Duke — which was picked to finish last either in its division or overall for the 13th straight year. The Blue Devils’ 104 poll points were the fewest in the league.
Maryland, which was coming off a 2-10 finish in Randy Edsall’s first year, was picked last in the Atlantic Division for the second time in three years and has not been picked to finish higher than fifth since 2006.
“Sometimes you have to take two steps back to move forward,” Edsall said. “In terms of having the kind of program that I want to have, that’s going to stand the test of time and is going to fight through those issues, sometimes you’ve got to have some of those things that we had in order to get where you want to get to.”