The 2009 football season couldn't end soon enough for the ACC.
Just when it appeared the ACC was making a move toward respectability, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State lost to their in-state, SEC rivals on Nov. 28, the final weekend of the regular season.
The ACC championship game (Clemson vs. Georgia Tech) drew about one-fourth the viewership of the Big 12 championship (Texas vs. Nebraska) that was televised in the same time slot.
Four of the seven ACC teams that reached bowl games lost, including Georgia Tech against Iowa in the Orange Bowl. And just four ACC teams - No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 13 Georgia Tech, No. 19 Miami and No. 24 Clemson - finished the season in The Associated Press' top 25.
The Sagarin computer ratings have the ACC as the fourth best conference, behind the SEC, Big East and Pac-10 but ahead of the Big 12 and Big Ten. But it hurt the ACC to have the regional rival from the SEC win the BCS for the fourth straight year while the ACC barely had a team in the top 10.
Here are five things to wish for if you want the ACC to improve its lot in 2010:
1. Hokie high. Virginia Tech is geared up for a possible run at the top five in the preseason rankings.
The Hokies return Tyrod Taylor, an athletic quarterback who's improved as a passer. They have a fantastic stable of running backs with Darren Evans returning from a knee injury and Ryan Williams coming back after an outstanding redshirt freshman season.
Although Virginia Tech loses some defenders, including Cody Grimm and early NFL draft entry Jason Worilds, the Hokies always are good on defense and special teams. The returning players on offense should give the Hokies a shot at a BCS championship game appearance that the ACC desperately needs to gain credibility.
2. Georgia Tech gets defensive. After two years, it's clear that Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has built an offense that can be devastating except in bowl games and other times when opponents have more than a week to prepare for it.
But despite having some excellent athletes such as Morgan Burnett and Derrick Morgan, the Georgia Tech defense struggled this season. Johnson and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack have parted ways, so the Yellow Jackets need a big-time hire here.
If Johnson makes a good hire and the defense improves, Georgia Tech has a chance to be considered an elite team.
3. Russell returns. N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson made first-team All-ACC as a redshirt freshman in 2008 and led the ACC in touchdown passes in 2009, but there's a chance his days in school are numbered.
Wilson, who also plays baseball for the Wolfpack, will be eligible for the major league draft this summer. It would seem based on Wilson's poor numbers as a hitter (.236 in 2009) that he won't attract much interest - or a big signing bonus - from baseball executives.
But there's a school of thought that says if Wilson ever played baseball full time, he'd have a better shot at becoming an accomplished hitter.
Although N.C. State has another capable young quarterback in Mike Glennon, the Wolfpack needs Wilson back. And so does the ACC.
4. FSU rises. It's impossible to predict what effect Bobby Bowden's forced retirement will have at Florida State.
It seemed apparent that the Seminoles had plenty of speed on defense in 2009 but were playing a high-pressure scheme under now-retired Mickey Andrews that left them vulnerable to big plays by opponents.
If Fisher can get the defense turned around, Florida State has enough talented skill players on offense to be the Atlantic Division favorite. And the ACC dearly needs Florida State to become relevant again.
5. UNC QB shines. With Marvin Austin, Deunta Williams and Bruce Carter all returning for their senior year, North Carolina's defense will be dominant again.
But the ACC needs the Tar Heels to make a big statement in the season opener against LSU and make the transition from an eight-win team to a 10-win team. That won't happen unless North Carolina gets improved play at quarterback.
Whether it's senior three-year starter T.J. Yates or highly regarded freshman Bryn Renner, somebody needs to give the Tar Heels a serviceable passing attack that won't waste the contributions of the team's dynamic defense.
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