August 01, 2012

By mikebarber

BLACKSBURG, Va. – The Atlantic Coast Conference is fairly strong at the top this season, with Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech all legitimate contenders for a conference crown.

According to media projections, Florida State and Virginia Tech will win their divisions, with FSU topping the Hokies in the ACC title game.

Tech has won the Coastal Division in four of the last five years and has appeared in five of seven title games, winning three times.

What are the biggest obstacles blocking the Hokies from another ACC championship?

First Down. The fast paced and potent offensive attack of Clemson: Virginia Tech just scored a major off-the-field win over Clemson, landing touted, five-star recruit Kendall Fuller. But on the field, it’s been all Tigers.

Clemson beat the Hokies twice last year by a combined 61-13 under new offensive coordinator Chad Morris and his rapid attack.

“When you look across the line and you see those guys can’t hardly get in their stance, or get out of their stance when we snap the ball, you know you’re going to win that play 90 percent of the time,” Clemson center Dalton Freeman said. “It’s very exciting and it gives us that competitive edge.”

This year, the up-tempo Clemson attack won’t only be the fastest, it should be the league’s most explosive. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins and running back Andre Ellington give the Tigers offensive threats all over the field.

“I am excited that we’ve had a year in the system,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I’m excited I’ve got a quarterback back that’s had some success and has a lot of weapons coming back. It’s really the first year we’ve been able to kind of put all that together offensively sine I’ve been the head coach.”

Second down. A rebuilt offensive line: Decimated by the loss of four starters, dominated early in the spring by the second team defense, the Hokies’ offensive line may be the key to the season.

Junior center Andrew Miller is back to anchor the unit and Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is encouraged by the raw athleticism of tackles Nick Becton and Vinston Painter.

Guards David Wang, Bruce Benedict (a transfer from Georgia) and Laurence Gibson, are bigger question marks.

But the Hokies do have a wildcard left to play. Senior Michael Via is back from injury. He missed the spring but could plug into any spot where Tech offensive line coach Curt Newsome thinks needs to strengthened.

Third down. A Labor Day date with Georgia Tech: The Hokies’ top competition in the Coastal Division comes to Lane Stadium for the season’s opening game. And while the benefits of playing on national television and having more than a standard week to gear up for the Yellow Jackets’ option offense are definitely positives, teams are rarely at their best in the opener.

And this is a rare must-win opener.

“Of course there’s that extra pressure,” Tech junior quarterback Logan Thomas said. “You know you have to bring your A-game from Day 1. You can’t have any slip-ups. It’s a great test right off the jump.”

An opening loss to Georgia Tech would leave the Hokies chasing the Yellow Jackets all season just to get a spot in the title game.

Fourth down. The resurgence of Florida State: The chop is back. The Seminoles are the preseason favorite to win the ACC. Their defense is stacked, their offense is loaded. And if the projections came to fruition, Virginia Tech will have to face them twice. The first is a Thursday night game on Nov. 8 at Lane Stadium. The second meeting would come in the ACC championship game.

FSU has to get by Clemson to make that happen, but with stars on both sides of the ball, it’s clear to see why people expect them to do it.

With quarterback E.J. Manuel leading the offense with eight starters back. A ridiculously strong defensive line, including ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner, anchors a defense with nine players back. That also includes arguably the ACC’s top secondary, led by cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Lamarcus Joyner. (EDIT: Cornerback Greg Reid was kicked off the FSU team Wednesday.)

“Those guys have another year under their belt,” Manuel said. “Trust me, it’s very tough to play against those guys and execute in seven-on-seven.”fsu manuel