HOW THEY'LL FINISH
This is an article from the Aug. 22, 2011 issue
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME DEC. 3 IN CHARLOTTE: FLORIDA STATE OVER VIRGINIA TECH
Best offensive player
MONTEL HARRIS RB, Boston College, Senior
The conference's rushing leader in 2010 (103.6 yards per game) provided nearly a third of the production for the Eagles' moribund offense.
Best defensive player
BRANDON JENKINS DE, Florida State, Junior
A beastly 6'3", 265-pound pass rusher, he had 13½ sacks and 21½ tackles for loss last fall, his first season as a starter.
True freshman to watch
STEPHONE ANTHONY OLB, Clemson
A top 25 recruit out of Anson High in Polkton, N.C., he has the size (6'3", 220 pounds), speed and skills to contribute immediately as a run stuffer.
Coach on the hot seat
JIM GROBE Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons' ACC title in 2006—the second in their history—earned him a deal through '16, but eight wins in the last two seasons might hasten his exit.
Coach on the rise
Debuted with a 10--4 record and a bowl win in 2010, then signed the nation's top recruiting class in February. The future is bright in Tallahassee.
Players to Watch (Top performers from unranked teams)
LUKE KUECHLY MLB, Boston College, Junior
His first year at the heart of the Eagles's defense was a smashing success: With 183 tackles (110 of them were solo) he led the nation in that category and earned All-America honors.
CONNER VERNON WR, Duke, Junior
The ACC's leading receiver last season, with 73 catches, he'll team with pint-sized Donovan Varner (5'9" and 175 pounds) to give the Blue Devils the conference's most formidable wideout tandem.
BRANDON WASHINGTON RG, Miami, Junior
The 6'4", 320-pound All-ACC performer anchors an offensive line that allowed 17 sacks last fall, the second fewest in the conference.
CHASE MINNIFIELD CB, Virginia, Senior
Despite a nagging ankle sprain late last season, the ball hawking playmaker finished seventh nationally with six interceptions.
DANNY O'BRIEN QB, Maryland, Sophomore
The 2010 conference rookie of the year had 22 TD throws and just eight interceptions last fall; he already ranks 19th on the school's alltime passing list with 2,438 yards.
QUINTON COPLES DE, North Carolina, Senior
He had 10 sacks last year as a defensive tackle. Back at his natural position this fall, the 6'6" 280-pounder has the speed to be even more effective coming off the edge.
The conference is stocked with NFL-caliber pass rushers and defensive backs, which will make it a baptism of fire for the seven (or more) new starting quarterbacks, including Bryn Renner (North Carolina), Tajh Boyd (Clemson) and Mike Glennon (N.C. State).... New Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is a former high school coach whose spread attack at Tulsa was one of the nation's best last fall. The hope in Death Valley is that Morris can re-create the success enjoyed by one of his close friends who also rose quickly from the high school ranks, Auburn coordinator Gus Malzahn.... First-year Maryland coach Randy Edsall, in an effort to restore discipline, has banned earrings and caps indoors. To inspire team unity he also removed the players' names from the backs of their jerseys. In 1961, Maryland became the first team in college football to put names on uniforms.... Even in the run-first, triple-option offense of Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, the completion rate for the passing game in 2010 (38.1%) didn't cut it. New starter Tevin Washington doesn't look like the answer, though: The junior connected on just 41.0% of his throws in part-time duty last fall.