Florida State dominated the Atlanta Coast Conference last season. En route to going 8-0 in the conference, they won games against their fellow ACC members by an average of nearly 40 points per game. Their closest game: a 14 point victory over Boston College. By season’s end, no one could beat the Seminoles, as they went on to win the National Championship over Auburn, 34-31, in a thrilling back and forth encounter.
Throughout the season, FSU was led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston became the second freshman in a row to win the most prestigious award in college football, as he passed for over 4,000 yards and was responsible for 44 total touchdowns. Like Johnny Manziel before him, Winston will look to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner, all while trying to stay out of trouble, which has been something of great concern over the last seven or eight months. The season can’t come fast enough if you’re Winston or an FSU fan.
With “Famous” Jameis back in the fold for the 2014-2015 season, and with a total of 15 returning starters from last year’s championship team, the Seminoles are of course the favorites once again in the ACC. But the bull’s eye is square on the back of Florida State, and there are several teams who will be looking to knock them off of their perch as defending champs.
FSU’s biggest competition will probably come in the form of Duke. The Blue Devils are coming off of their most successful season in school history, as they went 10-4, capped by an appearance in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Like Florida State, Duke returns a majority of their starters, including quarterback Anthony Boone, who passed for over 2,000 yards last season. Boone’s favorite target was Jamison Crowder, who caught 108 balls for over 1,300 yards and eight TD’s. With a veteran heavy team, fans in Durham will now have another sport to actively cheer on.
But Duke will have stiff competition from other teams in their division alone. Miami started the season 7-0 last year before running into and being steamrolled by FSU. That loss began the slow unraveling of the Hurricanes during the second half of the season, as they went on to lose four of their final six games. But with explosive running back Duke Johnson back fully healthy, and one of the top linebackers in the country in Denzel Perryman leading the defense, the U will look to challenge their arch rival for ACC supremacy. Miami will first need to settle on a starting quarterback, but if they can do that, they should be a factor towards the end of the season.
Other potential teams to look out for are Clemson, ACC newcomer Louisville, and Virginia Tech. Unfortunately for all three of these teams though, they are all looking for new quarterbacks to take over for past incumbents. Tajh Boyd, Teddy Bridgewater and Logan Thomas all moved on to the NFL in May after extended successful tenures with their respective college homes.
North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Boston College all finished with seven wins last season. Of the five teams, only one of them returns their starting quarterback from 2013. There aren’t huge expectations for any of these teams, but a bowl game appearance would most likely suffice for each program.
Rounding out the conference are NC State, Virginia and Wake Forest. All three teams finished at the bottom of the ACC last season, so they only have room to go up. With just one truly dominant team in the conference and a lot of turnover in teams behind Florida State, moving up is a very real possibility for each of those schools.
In recent years, the Southeastern Conference has dominated college football. But last season, FSU finally ended the SEC’s streak of seven consecutive championships in a row. With Jameis Winston poised for another big season, a repeat as ACC champion is the only option in Tallahassee. With no real powerhouses in their path, a repeat is also very likely.