hazy
Friday May 29th, 2015 6:18AM

Is Clemson ready to make ACC a power again?

By The Associated Press
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Atlantic Coast Conference got bigger. Now it's time to find out if it got better.

Syracuse and Pittsburgh are finally in after nearly two years of Big East purgatory, bringing the ACC up to 14 teams and helping to solidify its status as a power conference.

The league has plenty of things going for it. It's wedded to the Orange Bowl for at least 13 more years with an attractive lineup of other bowls behind it. The new grant-of-rights agreement makes it highly unlikely that anybody follows Maryland out the door.

But there's still work to do as the ACC once again tries to make itself nationally relevant on the field - and the league's preseason favorite, Clemson, has the best chance to raise the profile of the conference.

The Tigers have the league's most likely Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Tajh Boyd and a schedule bookended by Southeastern Conference heavyweights Georgia and South Carolina.

They made people take them seriously by beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last December, and how they deal with the increased attention that came along with that victory could determine whether they're in contention for their second ACC title in three years - if not a bigger prize.

"I told them last year (that) we didn't handle success very good" in 2011, coach Dabo Swinney said. "We're going to have success again, and how we handle that is going to determine our season. And they did a much better job last year.

"We have to focus on Clemson and our formula for success, our preparation," he added. "That's what matters."


5 THINGS TO WATCH IN THE ACC THIS SEASON:


1. PUT UP OR SHUT UP. The ACC has plenty of early season chances to raise its profile. In addition to that Clemson-Georgia game, Virginia Tech-Alabama and Miami-Florida are among the high-profile matchups that could either make people take notice of the basketball-first league - or simply shrug their shoulders at another missed opportunity. It went just 4-11 in 2012 against the four other heavyweight leagues, and was winless in four final-week matchups with the mighty Southeastern Conference.

2. CLEMSON'S CHANCE. The Tigers shape up as the ACC's best shot at a serious national title contender, with Boyd, the league's reigning player of the year throwing to 2011 breakout star Sammy Watkins. But the last time Clemson was picked to win the ACC (2008) the Tigers stumbled to a 3-4 start that led to a midseason coaching change. In the ACC's neverending fight against its public perception, the league can ill afford a faceplant from its preseason favorite. They host Florida State on Oct. 19 in a game that likely will decide the Atlantic Division race.

3. DARK HORSES. The league's parity - or is it mediocrity? - usually means a team or two can come out of nowhere to challenge for a division title. Duke was in the mix in the Coastal Division last year, Virginia did it the year before, and it's hard forget Wake Forest's surprise run to the title in 2006. This year it could be North Carolina, which lost 10 players but has enough talent back - led by QB Bryn Renner, TE Eric Ebron and DE Kareem Martin - to make coach Larry Fedora's second season an interesting one. Or maybe there's a surprise coming at Maryland, where all those injuries in 2012 mean plenty of players got at least some game experience and WR Stefon Diggs could be one of the league's top playmakers. And don't look past coach Paul Johnson's triple-option at Georgia Tech, which returns virtually its entire offensive line. Former backup QB Vad Lee showed promise last season, rushing for nine TDs.

4. THE NEW GUYS. Unlike the ACC's 2003 expansion, nobody's expecting much of a football upgrade from Syracuse and Pitt. Those schools have combined for two 10-win seasons since 1992 and one outright Big East title in the past 15 years (Syracuse, 1998). Other new faces to keep an eye on: Boston College coach Steve Addazio will try to turn around a program coming off its first consecutive losing seasons since 1997-98, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren arrives after leading Northern Illinois to back-to-back Mid-American Conference titles and takes over for the fired Tom O'Brien - who's now on Virginia's staff - and Duke safety Jeremy Cash, an Ohio State transfer who will look to improve a defense that allowed at least 41 points to six of its final seven opponents.

5. COACHING RANKS: None of the ACC's coaches appear to be in serious danger of being fired - at least, not yet. Twelve of the 14 schools have changed coaches since 2007, and the other two - Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer and Wake Forest's Jim Grobe - are institutions on their campuses. But that's not to say they aren't feeling any pressure. A fifth straight losing season for Grobe would make that 2006 Orange Bowl run feel like a lifetime ago, and all eyes in Blacksburg are on Beamer's overhauled offensive staff after last year's out-of-character 7-6 finish.


Predicted order of finish:

ATLANTIC DIVISION
1. Clemson
2. Florida State
3. N.C. State
4. Wake Forest
5. Maryland
6. Syracuse
7. Boston College

COASTAL DIVISION
1. Miami
2. Virginia Tech
3. North Carolina
4. Georgia Tech
5. Pitt
6. Virginia
7. Duke

Title game winner: Clemson
© Copyright 2015 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Bartus, Icemen shuts out Gwinnett
Garrett Bartus pitched a 42 save shutout, as the Evansville IceMen topped the Gwinnett Gladiators on a New year
10:23PM ( 1 year ago )
Gator Bowl Preview Capsule
A rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl, which Georgia won 45-31 in Orlando.
8:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Millsap's 34 leads Hawks past Celtics
Paul Millsap had season highs with 34 points and 15 rebounds as the Hawks rallied from an 18-point deficit for a 92-91 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday afternoon.
7:44PM ( 1 year ago )
Sports
No. 19 Georgia blows past Illinois
Shacobia Barbee had 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists to lead No. 19 Georgia over Illinois 82-60 on Saturday.
10:42PM ( 1 year ago )
Dogs will face Nebraska without standout DE Moss
Nebraska defensive end Avery Moss returned to his home in Arizona to attend to a personal issue and won't play in the Gator Bowl against No. 23 Georgia next week.
10:16PM ( 1 year ago )
Georgia Southern coach Monken headed for Army
Desperate to snap its long losing streak against its archrival, Army has hired former Navy assistant Jeff Monken as its 37th football coach.
1:04PM ( 1 year ago )
College Sports
VIDEO: Spring sports standouts provided countless memories for area fans
It's been an incredible few months on the prep sports scene... And we've been lucky enough to see a lot of it in person.
By Bailey Pless
5:48PM ( 11 hours from now )
Ralston guns down another tournament title, sets personal bests in process
Gainesville prep golfer Spencer Ralston began his summer tournament schedule with a bang this week, winning the Orchard Hills Junior Classic in Newnan by firing an 18-under-par 126 over 36 holes.
By AccessWDUN Staff
11:59AM ( 5 hours from now )
Georgia, ex-Habersham standout McCoy chosen as Nicklaus Award finalist
Georgia golfer Lee McCoy has been chosen as one of five finalists for the 2015 Division I Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award presented by Barbasol, the Golf Coaches Association of America announced Thursday.
By UGA Sports Communications
11:00AM ( 4 hours from now )
Giants use 6-run 8th to rout Braves
Brandon Belt's solo home run in the seventh inning broke up a scoreless pitching duel and the San Francisco Giants won their fourth straight, beating the Atlanta Braves 7-0 on Thursday night.
By The Associated Press
1:06AM ( 5 hours ago )
Opinion: Gainesville's heroic effort a worthy cap to an astounding prep season
Any coach, athlete, parent or booster that follows prep sports witnessed some amazing moments over the last few weeks -- from championships (some historic), to heartbreak and everything in between, as area teams and individuals provided us with a stunning finish to the 2014-15 high school sports campaign.
9:13PM ( 9 hours ago )