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The ACC Atlantic Preview – 2014

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ACC Atlantic Division – 2014

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The talent gap between the top team, Florida State, and the rest of the division is greater than any other division in the country. Clemson will get a small shot, every other year, at home to try and claim a division crown; however, the Tigers’ talent is still another level away from the Seminoles and FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s coaching strength rank exceeds that of Dabo Swinney. It will be tough to bet against FSU over the next several seasons. The division got an upgrade with the departure of declining Maryland and replaced it with Louisville, a more talented team and a coach in Bobby Petrino, who arguably has been one of the best at coaching up talent in the past decade. After the Cardinals, there is a pretty big drop off in talent. Syracuse and Boston College have already proven to have solid, if not excellent game coaches. That type of praise is on hold for coach Dave Doeren at NC State and ACC rookie, Dave Clawson at Wake Forest. It will take a tremendous effort for these last two programs to overcome significant talent and coaching obstacles to finish in the top four over the next several years.

Bartoo’s Projected Finish

1. Florida State (11-1/7-1): Is there really any other pick here? This is the team with the third-ranked talent in the CFB Matrix for 2014, and the fourth overall coach result from Fisher. I expect the ‘Noles to be favored in every game they play this season. The only intangible that could work against them is a national title hangover. However, Fisher and his staff did not take time off from the national title game as evident in their recruiting. They extended their reach to over 500 miles per recruit for the 2014 class. This is the largest distance-from-home average per player FSU has reached in a class under Fisher. If he can maintain the focus of the program, this team will be the pick to win the ACC for many years.

2. Clemson (10-2/3-1): While Florida State has a huge talent gap over the rest of the ACC, the Tigers, as with the second-ranked talent in the conference, have a pretty healthy gap over the next 12 teams themselves. They should be favored, and by quite a margin, in most of their conference games this season, save the early tilt in Tallahassee on Sept. 20. Their recruiting has been too inconsistent to expect a lot out of Clemson. They pull some elite classes, but flounder in between great classes. They have improved recruiting under Swinney with their classes being ranked 23rd on average over the last 10 years and 17th over the last five years. Nevertheless, they need to string together more quality classes to compete for a playoff spot in the future. Mid-20’s classes, like the one signed this year, are not going to win playoff games, let alone be good enough to take out FSU. If this team is going to get over the hump, it needs to perform better on the road. When picked to lose on the road, Swinney has won just once. That tells me he has not figured out how to overcome better talent and coaching on the road. And stop scheduling teams like Georgia in Week 1! Great losses are worse than a bad win.

3. Louisville (7-5/3-1: Bobby Petrino is now coaching the ______________. (Fill in the blank). That team, whatever the team, in my opinion, is immediately dangerous. Petrino’s coaching numbers in the CFB Matrix at Arkansas and in his first go-round with Louisville were superior. This is not the Louisville program that he left behind several years ago. The Cardinals are transitioning to a new conference, expectations left behind by Coach Strong are high and the competition level is at a higher level. The one constant is talent. The Cardinals’ 10-year talent rank average is 43.9. Their five-year average is 45 and this year’s class is ranked 44th. In the Big East and AAC, that is good for top one or two. In the ACC, that isn’t even top six; however, most of the top six recruiters have under-performing coaches. This puts the Cardinals in the mix of the second tier of the conference from day one with Petrino. While he vastly over- performed with his talent at Arkansas (Ask Bret Bielema how tough it is finding nine wins in Fayetteville), I am aiming low with the new coach on a team in a new conference.

4(t). Syracuse (7-5/4-4): I was really impressed with the numbers new head coach Scott Shafer put up at Syracuse last season. They lost quarterback Ryan Nassib to the NFL and did not miss a beat. As a bottom- half recruiter in the conference, any season over six wins is solid. While most new head coaches perform below expectations, Shafer was well above the norm. Syracuse recruiting has been a classic range-bound case with classes usually in the high 50s. They get some really good breaks in the schedule with NC State and Maryland at home and a BC team on the road that lost most of its 2013 offense. Those are the key games and two out of three need to be won for bowl eligibility.

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4(t). North Carolina State (7-5/4-4): I do not think there is a less appealing first three home games, for Power-5 conference team than the Wolfpack’s. That is a tough sell for NC State to season ticket holder, so you better win them all. Coach Dave Doeren underperformed in his first season, as he tried to dig out of the talent drop his predecessor handed off to him. NC State has never been a recruiting juggernaut but a 10-year average of No. 42 and five-year of No. 50 tells a story of a program on decline under ex-coach Tom O’Brien. Doeren’s first full class was ranked No. 32 this year. We will see if he can get this team bowl eligible and turn a corner with his program as I expect him to do this season.

6. Boston College (5-7/2-6): Coach Steve Addazio was brilliant in his one-year stint at Temple and carried it right over to Boston College last year. However, with over 80 percent of the offensive production lost from 2013 and more than 40 percent of defensive stats, I am not expecting the same from the Eagles in 2014. Their 10 returning starters is the lowest number in the ACC and I expect it to cost them a game or more. This program has been stuck in the high 50s in recruiting for the 21st century, and I don’t see that making a big turn any time soon. This year, they are in a rebuilding mode and bowl eligibility would be another outstanding effort from Addazio and his staff. The big swing games in terms of getting to 6-6 are at NC State, at Virginia and hosting Syracuse. My No. 58-ranked team for talent in 2014, BC needs two out of three to get to .500. I am going against Addazio’s coach effect in the CFB Matrix and saying they don’t get there in 2014.

7. Wake Forest (4-8/4-0) : Dave Clawson takes over after making the move from Bowling Green. He performed to expectations at Bowling Green, but never did anything that would warrant me expecting even bowl eligibility over the next few years. At BGSU, he led a team that was a top two recruiter in MAC. In the ACC, he runs a team that defines my major conference Mendoza Line for recruiting. They have the lowest talent ranking in Power-5 college football and frequently get out recruited by mid-majors. With average coaching, Wake is looking at six wins as a very good year. A new coach, low talent, and the loss of 14 of 24 starters from 2013 and this team will be lucky to find a conference win and avoid a non-conference loss. A personal shout out to former Wake head coach Jim Grobe, who engineered one of the single most amazing coaching accomplishments this century when he took the Demon Deacons to an ACC title.

Dark Horse: Clemson. This is the team with the second best talent in the division. The Tigers have solid coaching, and it just takes one game, albeit a game in Tallahassee against the coach with the fourth-best Coach Result in the CFB Matrix. The rest of the division is simply way too far in talent from the Seminoles to even consider them at good odds to win the division.=

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