College Football: After latest BCS woes, ACC looks for fresh start

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 1, 2012

By Joedy McCreary
Associated Press
GREENSBORO — The Atlantic Coast Conference is looking for a fresh start. The way the last few postseasons have ended, the beleaguered league could use one.
The ACC sent two teams to the BCS for the first time in 2011 — but that just gave the league two chances to lose.
Every touchdown allowed by Clemson in the Orange Bowl seemed to push the league closer to rock bottom and deliver yet another blow to the on-the-field reputation of a conference that dropped to 2-13 all-time in the BCS.
So, after West Virginia’s 70-33 thumping of the Tigers, the ACC figures there’s nowhere to go but up.
“They don’t put two Ls because one got away from us,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “The bottom line is, (when) you win and when you lose, you have opportunities to learn and grow. That’s what the offseason’s about, and that’s what we’ve done.”
The ACC coaches hope that’s not only true for his Tigers, but the entire league — especially since it announced this offseason that it will keep sending a team to the Orange Bowl through the 2025 season.
For years, conference leaders have been eager for one of its teams to remain in contention for a national championship and, by association, keep the league nationally relevant.
That responsibility usually falls to Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State, Clemson. When they struggle, the rest of the ACC seems weak, too.
Now it’s probably up to the loaded Seminoles — who enter as the favorites for the second straight year — to carry that burden.
“When you sign your letter of intent to FSU, that’s what you should expect — to always be the topic of conversation as far as having a great team, having great players, a winning team,” quarterback EJ Manuel said.
Coach Jimbo Fisher’s first two seasons in charge in Tallahassee have been marked by close losses, dropping five games by a total 21 points since 2010. He knows his team has to find a way to win the tight ones if it’s going to resemble the swaggering bunch that captured the ACC’s last national title in 1999.
The Seminoles will be without senior cornerback and punt returner Greg Reid, who was kicked off the team on Wednesday for a violation of team rules.
Manuel says the team has worked on paying closer attention to details. After losing at least four games every year since 2004, Fisher says it’s time to finally live up to those lofty expectations.
“I think we’re ready to do it. I think we can do it now, and I think it’s something that we should do,” Fisher said. “I mean, that’s something you strive for all the time. You go through the season and you deal with it, you have to play well, focus, eliminate the clutter, block everything out and prioritize.”
FLORIDA STATE — Key players: QB EJ Manuel, DE Brandon Jenkins, CB Xavier Rhodes. Returning starters: 8 offense, 9 defense.
NOTES: Seminoles face a hole in the secondary after the dismissal of CB Greg Reid. … A three-game losing streak that included a loss to Clemson ultimately kept the Seminoles from winning the division for the second straight year. … Florida State has higher hopes than just its 36th straight winning season. … Toughest test comes Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech.

CLEMSON — Key players: WR Sammy Watkins, QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
NOTES: Tigers aiming for third division title in four years. … Watkins, the ACC’s preseason player of the year, faces uncertain punishment after his offseason drug arrest. … Former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables takes over from Kevin Steele, who left following the Orange Bowl meltdown.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE — Key players: QB Mike Glennon, LT R.J. Mattes, CB David Amerson. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
NOTES: Amerson led the nation last year with 13 interceptions. … Four returnees on offensive line have combined to make 96 career starts. … Linebacker is the biggest question mark after departure of all three starters.

WAKE FOREST — Key players: RB Josh Harris, QB Tanner Price, CB Bud Noel. Returning starters: 3 offense, 7 defense.
NOTES: Price enters season with streak of 172 passes without an interception. … Demon Deacons lost four starters on offensive line. … Noel led the nation last season with 19 passes defended.

BOSTON COLLEGE — Key players: TE Chris Pantale, QB Chase Rettig, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis. Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense.
NOTES: Eagles must replace LB Luke Kuechly, who led the nation in tackles, and RB Montel Harris, last year’s preseason ACC player of the year who was kicked off the team during the spring. … BC’s 58 wins since joining the ACC in 2005 are the second-most by a league school in that span.

MARYLAND — Key players: TE Matt Furstenburg, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, DT Joe Vellano. Returning starters: 5 offense, 10 defense.
NOTES: Terrapins enter 2012 on an 8-game losing streak with the last seven losses coming by double figures. … Second-year coach Randy Edsall changed both coordinators, bringing in Mike Locksley to run the offense and Brian Stewart as the defensive coordinator.
VIRGINIA TECH — Key players: QB Logan Thomas, CB Kyle Fuller, LB Bruce Taylor. Returning starters: 3 offense, 9 defense.
NOTES: Hokies are the nation’s only team with eight straight 10-win seasons. … Thomas had a school-record 3,482 total yards last year. … Hokies likely circling Oct. 20 visit to Clemson after Tigers beat them twice last season, including in the ACC title game.

GEORGIA TECH — Key players: QB Tevin Washington, RB Orwin Smith, DE Izaan Cross. Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense.
NOTES: Yellow Jackets face a huge opener against Virginia Tech. Winner of that game has won the Coastal every year since divisional play began in 2005. … Smith averaged 9.56 yards per career carry, the best among ACC running backs with at least 1,000 yards rushing. … Tech has finished at least .500 in ACC play for a league-record 17 straight years.

NORTH CAROLINA — Key players: RB Giovani Bernard, QB Bryn Renner, LB Kevin Reddick. Returning starters: 8 offense, 5 defense.
NOTES: Tar Heels have their third head coach in three years, with Larry Fedora bringing his fast-paced offense from Southern Mississippi to take over for interim coach Everett Withers. … With 1,253 yards rushing last year, Bernard became UNC’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1997.

VIRGINIA — Key players: TB Perry Jones, LB Steve Greer. Returning starters: 7 offense, 4 defense.
NOTES: Alabama transfer Philip Sims could push Michael Rocco for starting job at QB. … Cavaliers were 6-1 last season in games decided by 10 or fewer points. … Mike London claimed UVa’s ninth ACC coach of the year honor, the most by any school.

MIAMI — Key players: RB Mike James, CB Brandon McGee, K Jake Wieclaw. Returning starters: 4 offense, 6 defense.
NOTES: A second straight season in Coral Gables could be overshadowed by an NCAA investigation into the Hurricanes’ compliance practices. … No ACC team lost more starters (12) than the Hurricanes. … Memphis transfer Ryan Williams and Stephen Morris will battle for the starting QB job. …

DUKE — Key players: QB Sean Renfree, WR Conner Vernon, LB Kelby Brown. Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense.
NOTES: WR Blair Holliday remains in intensive care after suffering head injuries in July 4 jet ski collision with teammate Jamison Crowder. … Blue Devils lost three games in 2011 by total of seven points. … Vernon enters 643 yards shy of Clarkston Hines’ 23-year-old school record for career yards receiving.