By contributing Fanspeak writer Geoff Nelowet
1. Virginia Tech Hokies
Why They Will Contend: The Hokies have a stingy defense every year. Tyrod Taylor is blossoming into a game-breaker, and Frank Beemer and Bud Foster are two of the best coaches in the ACC. The Hokies could run the table in the ACC and contend for a national title.
Why They Won’t Contend: Tech’s star running back, Darren Evans is out for the season with a torn ACL. Beyond Tyrod Taylor, the Hokies don’t really have any serious offensive threats. The Hokies could be an injury away from handing Georgia Tech the ACC crown.
Offensive Player to Watch: QB Tyrod Taylor. Any Quarterback that rushes for 738 yards is worth watching.
Defensive Player to Watch: DE Jason Worilds. Worilds recorded eight sacks last season, which was fourth best in the conference.
2. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Why They Will Contend: This is a talented team. Jonathan Dwyer is the best running back in the ACC, and he will have no problem shouldering the load for the Yellow Jackets. A 1,500-yard season is not out of the question for Dwyer. Morgan Burnett and Derek Morgan are two of the better defenders in the ACC.
Why They Won’t Contend: They can be one-dimensional on offense. They only averaged 16.3 points per game last season, and they run a triple-option that is not a great fit for quarterback Josh Nesbitt. The Yellow Jackets also lost three of their starting defensive linemen from a year ago.
Offensive Player to Watch: QB Josh Nesbitt. Everyone is already watching Dwyer. If Nesbitt can produce like a top-tier quarterback, Georgia Tech will be very scary.
Defensive Player to Watch: S Morgan Burnett. Burnett was an All-American last season as a sophomore. He led the team in both tackles (93) and interceptions (7). He is easily the best athlete on the team.
3. Clemson Tigers
Why They Will Contend: Clemson is talented on both sides of the ball. They are continually one of the most talented teams in the ACC, and with C.J. Spiller returning on offense, they should be a potent unit. Willy Korn and Kyle Parker were both top-ten recruits at the quarterback position, so there is no drop-off in talent at the most critical position. Clemson also returns one of the best linebacker corps in the conference.
Why They Won’t Contend: They may be talented at quarterback, but they are inexperienced. They have problems pressuring the quarterback on defense, and their offensive line struggled all last season. Clemson may have great talent in key places, but they have major holes on both lines.
Offensive Player to Watch: RB C.J. Spiller. Spiller will contend with Dwyer this season as the best back in the ACC. He led the conference in all-purpose yards a year ago.
Defensive Player to Watch: LB Kavell Conner. Conner had 125 tackles last season, and he recorded 11 against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. He is one of the Tigers’ most consistent players.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels
Why They Will Contend: Butch Davis has built an excellent defense in Chapel Hill, and this may be the best unit in the conference. T.J. Yates is back at quarterback, and he will foster both poise and experience. The Tar Heels were 8-4 last season, and that was a slight disappointment.
Why They Won’t Contend: The Tar Heels lost their three best receivers to the NFL. Their offense in all likelihood will be underpowered and underwhelming, and with the loss of guard Calvin Darity and tackle Garrett Reynolds, the Heels may have huge issues moving the chains.
Offensive Player to Watch: RB Shaun Draughn. With Hakeem Nicks gone, the offense might lean on Draugn a bit more. After an 866-yard campaign a year ago, Draugn could break out this year.
Defensive Player to Watch: LB Quan Sturdivant. Sturdivant had 122 tackles last season. Expect more of the same.
5. Florida State Seminoles
Offensive Player to Watch: QB Christian Ponder. Ponder, a junior, has shown flashes, but he’s been inconsistent, which can be attributed to inexperience. Ponder could be one of the best in the conference this season if he continues to develop and gain consistency.
Defensive Player to Watch: S Myron Rolle. Rolle, a Rhodes Scholar, is clearly a very smart player, but don’t sleep on his talent. Rolle could easily be an all-ACC selection at the end of the season.
6. Miami Hurricanes
Offensive Player to Watch: QB Jacory Harris. Harris had a strong freshman season, and he has all the tools to be an excellent college quarterback. His skill set is reminiscent of former Ohio State QB – and Heisman trophy winner – Troy Smith.
Defensive Player to Watch: LB Arthur Brown. Brown switched to inside linebacker near the end of last season, and it made a huge difference. He was heavily recruited across the country out of high school, and with the switch inside, his game should elevate to an entirely different level.
7. North Carolina State Wolfpack
Offensive Player to Watch: QB Russell Wilson. He was first-team ACC a year ago, and he led the conference in pass efficiency.
Defensive Player to Watch: LB Nate Irving. Irving recorded 80 tackles last season as a sophomore, and he did it in only ten games.
8. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Offensive Player to Watch: WR Marshall Williams. Williams is filling big shoes with D.J. Boldin (All-ACC) graduating. Williams has the speed to be a productive wide out, and his development may be pivotal to the success of QB Riley Skinner and the offense.
Defensive Player to Watch: DT Boo Robinson. Robinson led the team with five sacks last season.
9. Boston College Eagles
Offensive Player to Watch: RB Montel Harris. Expect BC to rely on Montel Harris to carry the offense with inexperience at Quarterback. Harris racked up 900 yards last season with five touchdowns.
Defensive Player to Watch: DE Jim Ramella. Ramella recorded four sacks last season for the eagles. BC was crushed on defense when star linebacker Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with bone cancer. Best wishes to Herzlich.
10. Virginia Cavaliers
Offensive Player to Watch: QB Vic Hall. This will be Hall’s first year at quarterback, but in UVA’s new wide-open spread offense, Hall could be a major playmaker in the ACC with both his arm and his legs.
Defensive Player to Watch: CB Ras-I Dowling. Dowling was second in the ACC with 11 pass breakups. Dowling is one of the best cornerbacks in the ACC today.
11. Duke Blue Devils
Offensive Player to Watch: QB Thaddeus Lewis. Lewis made it onto Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award Watch List.
Defensive Player to Watch: DT Vince Oghobaase. Oghobaase had six sacks last season, and he was a force in the middle. Duke is lucky to have him this season, as he nearly chose to leave for the NFL.
12. Maryland Terrapins
Offensive Player to Watch: RB Da’Rel Scott. Scott amassed over 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Expect him to compete with Dwyer and Spiller as best back in the ACC.
Defensive Player to Watch: LB Alex Wujciak. As a sophomore, Wujciak led the Terps with 133 total tackles. Wujciak is a potential All-American candidate.