The final and lasting image of the 2011 football season for the ACC was its champion, Clemson, getting trounced in the Orange Bowl.
In this particular instance, the ACC wasnt as bad as its last game and neither was Clemson, but thats not how recentism works. Few SEC fans remember that Clemson beat Auburn early last season, or that Florida State beat Florida late last season.
Quite frankly, SEC fans begin, end and win every argument with the BCS title streak, six years and counting. The ACC would love for Florida State, or Clemson, to play for the BCS title, which is in ACC country this season (Miami). But given our predilection towards what just happened? the ACC would be just as happy to see N.C. State (vs. Tennessee) and Clemson (vs. Auburn) pick up a pair of wins in Atlanta next week when the season opens.
A pigskin guide to the ACC in 2012:
Five games to watch
1. Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech (Sept. 3): The Techs have ruled the Coastal Division, with one or the other winning it each of the seven years since expansion. Georgia Tech has had problems closing the season, not opening it; vice-versa for the Hokies.
2. Clemson at Florida State (Sept. 22): Do you realize FSU hasnt won the ACC since 2005? That particular drought will continue if the Noles cant knock off Clemson, last years champ, at home.
3. Virginia Tech at Clemson (Oct. 20): Hokies QB Logan Thomas has come a long way since a disastrous outing in a 23-3 home loss to the Tigers. Clemson (7-0) was unbeatable at home last season.
4. N.C. State at UNC (Oct. 27): Butch Davis did his best to ignore N.C. State, and went winless in four years against Tom OBrien, who tacked on a fifth win, an ugly 13-0 shutout, against interim coach Everett Withers last season. New UNC coach Larry Fedora says this game matters. Well see.
5. Florida State at Virginia Tech (Nov. 8): A Charlotte preview? The ACC media says so. Weve never been wrong before, right?
Five players to watch
1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson: The dynamic receiver was the best player in the league last season, regardless of position, when healthy. Hell miss two games because of an offseason marijuana arrest, but hell have a hand in determining the ACC race.
2. Gio Bernard, UNC: Scary thought: Bernard, who ran for 1,253 yards last season and caught 45 passes, might be even better in UNCs new offense.
3.Orwin Smith, Georgia Tech: Smith scored about every six times he touched the ball last season. Problem is, he only had 61 rushing attempts, compared to 243 for the quarterback. Paul Johnson, who no one has ever accused of being stupid, has already said Smith will touch the ball more this season.
4. Perry Jones, Virginia: The running back quietly put together a productive season, with 915 rushing yards and another 506 receiving, and was a main reason Mike London flipped a 4-8 first-year record to 8-4 at the end of the 2011 regular season.
5. David Amerson, N.C. State: The cornerbacks 13 interceptions were the most by anyone in college football since 1968. How many chances will he get this season? He doesnt need many. He only saw three passes in the bowl game and intercepted two.
Three for the ACC title
1. Clemson: Clemson pulled a Clemson at the end of last year and, of course, only has Clemson to blame. But still, any lineup with Tahj Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington has a punchers chance at the league title.
2. Florida State: The national media loves the Noles, and for good reason, but there has been something missing the past two seasons despite the overall success of coach Jimbo Fisher (19-9 in two years). If the offense catches up with the defense, the Noles will roll to their first ACC title in seven years.
3. Virginia Tech: Default mode? Only the Hokies could have a completely rebuilt offensive line and lose RB David Wilson, the conference player of the year, and be picked to win their division. Actually, the defense should be that good and QB Logan Thomas showed enough progress as a first-time starter last year to justify the expectations.
1. Larry Fedora, UNC: Fedora won big, 12-2 at Southern Miss last year, after three average seasons in Conference USA. With a new, faster offense and a change in scheme on defense, the Tar Heels will definitely be different in 2012.
2. Michael Holmes, VT: David Wilson, Ryan Williams, Darren Evans. Theres no pressure on Holmes, who redshirted last season while Wilson led the ACC in rushing (1,709 yards).
3. Stefon Diggs, Maryland: With all the misery Maryland football has endured the past 18 months, Diggs, a receiver and top recruit in the conference, adds much-needed hope.
1. Danny OBrien, Maryland: At least Maryland fans can watch their former quarterback lead Wisconsin in the Big Ten race. N.C. State fans can empathize.
2. Miami football: The Hurricanes have Dumpster-fire potential in 2012. It will get worse for Al Golden, and the most disappointing program in college football, before it gets better.
3. Dwight Jones , UNC: Two words: sexxxy casual!