2012 ACC Conference Football Preview

The ACC has been down in recent years compared to most of the other six major conferences. How will they fair in '12?

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

This year people will most likely once again sleep on the ACC teams, and while they won’t get as much national attention, the top half teams in this conference are right on par with any other major BCS conference title contenders.  The ACC has many proven, veteran quarterbacks returning and their offenses are some of the best in the country.  Look for some possible national title contenders to emerge towards season’s end.



  1. Florida State
  2. Clemson
  3. NC State
  4. Maryland
  5. Wake Forest
  6. Boston College



  1. Georgia Tech
  2. Virginia Tech
  3. Virginia
  4. Miami
  5. North Carolina
  6. Duke

The ACC will be a tale of two halves in 2012.  A multitude of solid starting quarterbacks return for many of the top teams in the league.  This is what sets them apart from the teams in the bottom half of the conference.  Florida State and Georgia Tech both have returning starters at the quarterback position and while FSU’s defense will dominate and win many games for them, Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jackets will once again earn their stripes with toughness and team effort.  Johnson’s offensive option attack scheme works and is a legitimate weapon that he hopes will spoil the hopes of perennial ACC title contenders Virginia Tech.  So long as Seminoles quarterback EJ Manuel performs anywhere close to his high school hype, FSU should be competing for the ACC Championship at season’s end.  The same will go for Georgia Tech as long as their talented linebackers hold up their end of the bargain on the defensive side of the ball. 

Look for NC State and Virginia’s passing attacks to be strong and put them in position for a couple of upsets.  Both teams are good enough to finish in the top four of the league entirely.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, new UNC coach Larry Fedora will struggle with a young team adjusting to a new staff, as will veteran Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe.  However, don’t be surprised to see the Demon Deacons overachieve yet again.  Meanwhile, the Miami Hurricanes and the rest of the conference should be vying for last place in a tightly contested, year-long race for the ACC title.


All-ACC Offense:

QB – Tajh Boyd, Clemson

RB – Andre Ellington, Clemson

RB – Perry Jones, Virginia

WR – Sammy Watkins, Clemson

WR – Conner Vernon, Duke

TE – Colter Phillips, Virginia

OL – James Hurst, North Carolina

OL – Oday Aboushi, Virginia

OL – Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech

OL – Dalton Freeman, Clemson

OL – RJ Mattes, North Carolina State

KR – Sammy Watkins


All-ACC Defense:

DL – Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

DL – James Gayle, Virginia Tech

DL – Joe Vellano, Maryland

DL – Bjoern Werner, Florida State

LB – Steve Greer, Virginia

LB – Brandon Watts, Georgia Tech

LB – Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech

DB – Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

DB – David Amerson, North Carolina State

DB – Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State


PR – Stefon Diggs, Maryland


Best Offensive Player:

Sammy Watkins – WR, Clemson

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins burst into the national spotlight last year as a true freshman, gaining 2,294 all-purpose yards and 13 combined touchdowns.  He also ranked third in the ACC in kickoff returns, averaging over 25 yards per return.  Look for his extremely high football IQ and natural running skills to take his game to an even higher level in 2012 while trying to help lead the Tigers to a second consecutive BCS bowl game.

Best Defensive Player:

Brandon Jenkins – DE, Florida State

Look for Jenkins 2012 season to be closer in similarity to his 2010 season rather than the form he displayed last year.  Last year teams focused much more on blocking the lightning-quick speed rusher as he saw his sacks drop from 13.5 in 2010 to 8 in 2011.  Now that everyone knows how dangerous he and his teammates along the defensive line are there’s really nothing anyone can do about it but hope that he’s off.  I’m predicting another double-digit sack season for Jenkins, who this time next season will be preparing in an NFL camp.

Surprise Team:

Virginia Cavaliers

Third year head coach Mike London orchestrated a quick turnaround in Charlottesville last year, leading the Cavaliers to an 8-5 record in just his second year with the team.  This led to London also being named 2011’s ACC Coach of the Year.  Expectations are expanding and the Cavs are now knocking on the doorstep of the ACC powers with an offense that should be much improved from the one that averaged just 23.2 points per game last year.  Look for the Cavs to spend the majority of the first half of the 2012 season getting their feet wet and really sneak up on some teams later in the year.  Goal number one on the upset list?…..beating in-state rival Virginia Tech who has won 12 of the last 13 (and the last eight straight) against the Cavs.

Disappointing Team:

Clemson Tigers

It pains me to say this, but I don’t think that the 70-33 loss to West Virginia in last year’s Orange Bowl was a fluke.  Did the Tigers win the 2011 ACC title?  Yes.  Is the Tigers defense horrible?  Yes.  You just cannot win games without a capable defense.  Offensive coordinator Chad Morris was hired away from Tulsa and led Clemson’s offense into the record books last year, setting single season team records for points, touchdowns, total offense and passing offense.  Freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins earned All-American honors and quarterback Tajh Boyd set the ACC single-season record for touchdown passes with 33.  This is all fine and good, but in the meantime Clemson’s defense was busy allowing 394 yards per game; the team’s worst total-defense average since 2001.  They ranked 81st in scoring defense in 2011 and 71st in scoring defense.  Clemson hired long-time Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables in the offseason to try and put a stop to their defensive woes.  Still, don’t expect the Tigers to improve on their 10-4 record from a season ago.

Instant-Impact Freshman:

Stefon Diggs – WR, Maryland

All hail Stefon Diggs, the biggest Maryland recruiting signing in what must feel like decades to Terrapin fans.  Diggs, who was rated as the number one recruit in the state of Maryland by both ESPN and Rivals should make his impact felt immediately as he provides an explosive, playmaking presence in a receiving corps that was in very short supply of it last year.  The 6’0” 185lb speedster totaled 13 touchdowns his senior year of high school, 10 of those coming from at least 37 yards out.  Diggs has much more pure talent than anyone else among the Terrapin receivers and should provide a nice complement to senior Kevin Dorsey who is a great route runner.  Look for Maryland’s super recruit to see time very early on and take the ACC by storm from there just like Sammy Watkins a year ago.   

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