2012 ACC Football Preview: Atlantic Division
Clemson Tigers: 11-1 (7-1)
After their embarrassing 70-33 blowout loss to West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl last season, the Tigers' main focus over the spring was to strengthen the defense so that would never be replicated again. And with a nasty defensive line set to take the field in 2012 led by Corey Crawford, things should be a lot stiffer on that side of the ball. The offense is going to be one of the best in the nation, with the three-headed monster of QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington and Heisman-contending WR Sammy Watkins returning. Few programs are going to be more stacked offensively than Clemson this year.
Florida State Seminoles: 10-2 (6-2)
2012 is essentially a "do-over" year for Florida State, which finished 9-4 and failed to take the Atlantic last season after receiving a lot of hype. It returns 18 starters and is loaded on defense, including a front seven that ranked second in the nation against the run. Everything the Seminoles do this season will be based off senior QB E.J. Manuel's performance—we saw a lot of inconsistency from him last year, and if he doesn't start being the 5-star player the team needs him to be (he looked painfully bad this spring), the offense will continue to sputter all over the field.
North Carolina State: 9-3 (5-3)
17 wins in its last two seasons—including two bowl victories—and a lot of talent returning gives coach Tim O'Brien and North Carolina State a lot of optimism heading into 2012. The entire secondary is back, which accumulated 27 interceptions last year. Corner David Amerson is likely going to be the top player at his position taken in next year's draft and is a dominant force. If the offensive line can do a better job of opening holes for the running backs, the Wolf Pack have a legit shot of contending with Clemson and FSU.
Wake Forest Demon Decons: 6-6 (3-5)
After beating North Carolina State and Florida State to begin last season 5-2, Wake Forest fell off the map, losing five of its final six games. A lot of the fallout had to do with injuries and inconsistency among both lines, which have looked to be improved this spring. Tanner Price is the prototype quarterback and does a great job controlling the pace of the game all while holding onto the ball. The running back and wide receiver positions are both deep, and the defense should be strong throughout the secondary. The Decons should have no problem reaching a bowl game for the second straight year.
Maryland Terrapins: 3-9 (1-7)
Coach Randy Edsall seemed to have gotten his type of players in a promising 2012 recruiting class that finished 36th overall, according to Scout. This was headlined by the No. 2 wide receiver in the country, 5-star Stefon Diggs who should have an immediate impact in both the passing game and special teams. Still, it's likely that it'll take another year for his players to mold into the system and develop into college players, and we could be looking at another disappointing season for the Terrapins—just not as bad as 2011.
Boston College Eagles: 2-10 (0-8)
The BC offense rarely moved the sticks last season, averaging a league-low 298 yards and 18 points a game. Only 11 schools nationally compiled fewer yards per play than the Eagles, who don't even return their star running back Montel Harris (now with Temple). The defense will continue to be the only thing keeping the team in games, but will have to somehow replace top-10 NFL draft selection Luke Kuechly at linebacker.
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