Seminoles picked to repeat in evolving ACC

Jul. 21, 2014 @ 10:08 PM

Reigning national champion Florida State is the undisputed favorite to win the ACC football championship.

The Seminoles, who beat Auburn in the final Bowl Championship Series title game in January, were picked to win the Atlantic Division in front of Clemson. Louisville, which joined the league July 1, was third.

Of those picked to win the title game, Florida State had 104 votes, and Clemson and Virginia Tech got two each.

Florida State’s Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner a year ago, was the preseason player of the year favorite on 99 ballots. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley was named on six, and one vote each went to Miami running back Duke Johnson, Duke receiver Jamison Crowder and Virginia Tech quarterback Brenden Motley.

Miami was chosen to win a balanced Coastal Division despite Duke gaining more first-place votes for the division crown. Four teams shared all but three of the first place votes. Miami had 26 and Duke 33. Virginia Tech was picked third with 23 first-place votes and North Carolina fourth despite 27 first-place votes.

Georgia Tech was picked fifth, Pittsburgh sixth and Virginia seventh.

Rounding out the Atlantic Division forecast was Syracuse fourth, N.C. State fifth, Boston College sixth and Wake Forest a distant seventh.

This fall, Notre Dame begins its agreement to play football members each season. The Irish are a member in all of the league’s other sports. The Irish host Syracuse, North Carolina and Louisville and visit Florida State.

Seminoles’ head coach Jimbo Fisher said his team understands they are not defending anything; rather, each year’s team is unique with “a life expectancy of one year.”

“Our kids understand what it takes to be at an elite level,” Fisher said. “That’s a great advantage.”

Florida State’s national title, the ACC’s first since 1999, led a cavalcade of honors last season. The league became just the second to win the national title game and another BCS game when Clemson added a victory over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.

The league became the first in a single season to be home to winners of the Heisman, Nagurski, Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik, Doak Walker, Lou Groza, Rimington and Davey O’Brien awards.

Eleven teams appeared in bowls, an NCAA record, and 11 teams had winning records.

“We had the greatest year any conference has ever had,” Fisher said. “There’s a saying: Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

North Carolina (7-6, 4-4 ACC in 2013) was among a trio figuring to be voted to dethrone Duke in the Coastal. The Tar Heels, who tied Georgia Tech atop the division in 2012, were troubled by a slow start to last season, including within several games.

“Teams jumped on us,” said quarterback Marquise Williams. “East Carolina did it. Duke did it. That’s part of what we have to change this year.”

After losing to Miami, the Tar Heels won five of six and then defeated Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.

“We were tired of losing,” Williams said. “It opened our eyes after the Miami game. I saw grown men crying. We turned it up in practice. We were more focused from that point on.”

Not even the revered Duke teams of more than half a century ago won 10 games. But the Blue Devils (10-4, 6-2 ACC) did last season, just missing an 11th win against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.

Prognostications may not figure for a repeat, but players believe sustained success can happen.

“Now we have that depth we need,” said Duke senior guard Laken Tomlinson. “We’re not worried about a drop off.”

But Tomlinson said he understands the choices.

“That’s just the way it has always been,” Tomlinson said. “It’s something to we have to go prove every single game. It’s our job to go out and prove them wrong — again.”

N.C. State (3-9, 0-8 ACC) enters the season on an eight-game losing streak. A soft non-conference schedule — Georgia Southern, Old Dominion and Presbyterian at home — figures to help the September start.

“Anyone can lead a 9-3 team, with everybody congratulating you and patting you on the back,” said Wolfpack defensive end Art Norman. “You have to find your inner characteristics when it’s not going as well.”

Life in ACC football was once seen as not going so well. But 2013 changed in many ways, both for teams and in individual accolades.

“You look at the NFL and its quarterbacks,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “What do they ask? How many Super Bowls have you won?“In the world we live in you’ve got to have validation.”

“You win the ACC,” said North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora, “you can reach every goal you will ever have.

”Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.