For about five years now I have defended the ACC.
I’ve told family and friends that an ACC team was going to step up and become a serious national contender.
Clearly I have been wrong.
Ever since the ACC expanded the first time with Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech, it’s like the conference has been the most dysfunctional of any of the BCS conferences.
So why should 2012 be any different?
I don’t think I can give you a good reason. But there are still going to be some good matchups that are worth watching.
Maybe this is the year FSU lives up to its potential or Clemson doesn’t have a meltdown.
Here are the 20 best ACC games in 2012.
20. Clemson at Boston College
Boston College’s 2011 was a complete train wreck and Frank Spaziani’s job will be on the line this season.
So will the Eagles rally for their embattled coach or just bail on him in 2012?
If BC can win its home games next year, then the Eagles could become a bowl team again.
Clemson is one of the more talented teams in the ACC, so it’s important for them to not let a game like this get away if they want to be a serious contender in 2012.
Early prediction: Clemson 38-17
19. Virginia Tech at Boston College
Here’s another game at Boston College and the Eagles will get another shot at knocking off one of the ACC’s top programs.
Boston College will need to figure out a way to stop quarterback Logan Thomas and Bud Foster’s defense will put a lot of pressure on the Eagles’ offense.
Quarterback Chase Rettig should be better in 2012 and if he can find enough playmakers around him, he could lead BC to an upset or two next season.
It would help if the Eagles could establish a running game against the Hokies.
Tech will need to find someone to replace running back David Wilson, who chose to leave early for the NFL.
Early prediction: Virginia Tech 28-7
18. Clemson at Wake Forest
Wake Forest was one of the best stories in the ACC last season.
Jim Grobe was playing with a lot of youth and he hopes 2012 is the year all of that experience pays off.
Wake went 4-3 at home last year and with quarterback Tanner Price back to run the offense, the Demon Deacons could improve on their 26 points per game.
Price did lead a strong passing attack that ranked 39th in the nation.
Clemson beat Wake in 2011, but it wasn’t an easy game. The Deacons hung tough in Death Valley, but eventually fell 31-28.
Early prediction: Clemson 38-21
17. Miami at Georgia Tech
Miami has owned Georgia Tech the past three seasons.
The Hurricanes have won the last three meetings by scores of 24-7, 35-10 and 33-17.
Now Al Golden must rebuild the offense as quarterback Jacory Harris is gone and running back Lamar Miller left early.
On the other side of the ball, the Hurricanes have the talent to be special. But if the NCAA comes down hard on Miami it will be interesting to see if the players rise up or not.
Georgia Tech returns Tevin Washington at quarterback. Washington showed some solid passing skills to give Paul Johnson’s triple option some diversity.
Still, Miami has shut the potent offense down the past three seasons.
Early prediction: Georgia Tech 24-21
16. North Carolina State at Clemson
Clemson owes North Carolina State after getting annihilated by the Wolfpack 37-13.
This happened one week after N.C. State lost to Boston College.
The Wolfpack did use that win to catapult them to a 3-0 finish and 8-5 record.
The Tigers should return the favor at Memorial Stadium and this game could have major implications in the ACC.
The Wolfpack should be better in 2012, especially with Mike Glennon having a full season under his belt.
Early prediction: Clemson 34-24
15. Georgia Tech at North Carolina
Is it possible that Larry Fedora can take all of that leftover talent recruited by Butch Davis and help North Carolina finally live up to its potential?
It took Fedora a few years at Southern Miss to find his groove.
Fedora will have Brynn Renner at quarterback and Giovani Bernard at running back, so he does have two very critical pieces in place.
Carolina can be a tough place to play, but Georgia Tech is going to be battle-tested.
Early prediction: North Carolina 30-27
14. Virginia at North Carolina State
Mike London is rebuilding Virginia into an elite program in the ACC, but the Cavaliers are still learning how to deal with success.
After opening the season 8-3, including a win over Florida State, Virginia was manhandled in its final two games of the season.
North Carolina State, however, closed strong and could carry that momentum into 2012.
Mike Glennon will just be that much better with one solid year under his belt and he threw for 31 touchdowns last season.
This game could be a lot of fun to watch.
Early prediction: North Carolina State 27-17
13. Virginia Tech at North Carolina
North Carolina hasn’t defeated Virginia Tech since 2009 and the Tar Heels don’t look like a serious contender this coming season.
UNC will use the spring to begin adjusting to a new coaching staff, but Larry Fedora will need to find some replacements on defense if the Tar Heels are going to have a chance against an established team like Virginia Tech.
The Hokies are good, but will Frank Beamer‘s team be dominant?
A big win at North Carolina should send a message.
Early prediction: Virginia Tech 24-14
12. Virginia at Georgia Tech
It will be interesting to see if Virginia is a serious contender again in 2012.
The Cavaliers have a long way to go to reach Virginia Tech and Clemson, but a road game at Georgia Tech should give everyone a good indication how far Virginia has come in Mike London’s third season.
Quarterback Michael Rocco had a breakout season, but he’ll need to become an offensive leader for Virginia to make the next step in 2012.
Linebacker Steve Greer will lead a Cavaliers defense that must play better than it did against Auburn in the season finale.
We know Georgia Tech has a potent offense, so this game could be a blast.
Early prediction: Georgia Tech 32-27
11. North Carolina State at North Carolina
North Carolina has struggled against its rival North Carolina State.
The Tar Heels have not defeated the Wolfpack since 2006, so new coach Larry Fedora should circle this game on the schedule now.
North Carolina has talent, but Fedora needs to teach the Tar Heels how to win the games they are supposed to win.
On the other side, Tom O’Brien has not won as much as he would like, but he has owned N.C. State’s rival.
The Wolfpack won eight games last season and this game is always a key to a successful season.
Early prediction: North Carolina State 24-10
10. Florida State at North Carolina State
Florida State dominated North Carolina State 34-0 last season in Tallahassee.
While it was an impressive win, both teams were sort of schizophrenic in 2011.
In 2012, this game has the potential to be one of those overlooked games now but turns out to be a game that decides who represents the division in the conference championship.
The Seminoles went 3-2 on the road last season, so making the trip to N.C. State could pose a challenge.
I like E.J. Manuel’s development in 2011 and his overall athleticism. He will be tough to stop.
Early prediction: Florida State 28-20
9. Wake Forest at Virginia
If Wake Forest improves in 2012, then the Demon Deacons have to be considered a serious contender in the ACC.
The same goes for Virginia.
This actually turns out to be a nice matchup of two surprise teams from last season and they each finished second in their respective divisions.
I don’t think either will compete for the conference crown next year, but this is a good game between two improving programs.
Early prediction: Virginia 17-9
8. Virginia Tech at Miami
This is annually a Top-Three or -Four game in the ACC.
But until Miami becomes a real ACC contender, this game is relegated to eighth. The longer Miami remains a mid-level team this game will drop even further.
Virginia Tech rallied late to beat Miami in Blacksburg, so maybe the Hurricanes can actually pull the upset at home in 2012.
The Hurricanes have a number of holes to fill, so it looks like Al Golden’s team isn’t quite ready for this challenge yet.
Early prediction: Virginia Tech 34-20
7. Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
Both of these programs come into every season expecting to compete for an ACC Championship.
It may not always be true, but in August there is very little pessimism in Blacksburg or Atlanta.
The winner of this game should be a legitimate contender, while the loser will need a break to get back in the race.
You have to like the battle of quarterbacks in this game with Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas and Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington.
Both defenses will be pushed to the limit in this game.
Early prediction: Virginia Tech 30-21
6. Wake Forest at Florida State
Did you think a Wake Forest game would ever be ranked this high?
But the Demon Deacons knocked off Florida State last year and the Seminoles must get by Jim Grobe’s team.
FSU has been stockpiling talent the past few years, so now is the year that Jimbo Fisher should reap the benefits.
Early prediction: Florida State 34-17
5. Florida State at Miami
Remember when this used to be one of the Top Five games in the entire nation?
Now it barely cracks the Top Five in the ACC.
If Al Golden sticks around Miami this game could be elevated to elite status again, but that’s going to take a few years.
Right now, FSU has better players and is more disciplined.
Early prediction: Florida State 37-14
4. Georgia Tech at Clemson
Georgia Tech gave Clemson its first loss in 2011 and the Yellow Jackets are a bit of a matchup problem for the Tigers.
We saw how an explosive offense like West Virginia shredded Clemson’s defense.
Even with Brent Venables taking over the Clemson defense, it’s hard to believe the Tigers will improve that much.
When Tech’s triple option is clicking, the Yellow Jackets can pile up the yards and points.
Early prediction: Georgia Tech 24-21
3. Virginia at Virginia Tech
This is an intense rivalry, but it has been one-sided for awhile.
Virginia Tech leads the all-time series 51-37-5 and the Hokies are 8-0 since joining the ACC.
Virginia hasn’t won the Commonwealth Cup since 2003.
But Mike London is changing the culture at Virginia and the Cavaliers are starting to believe they can compete for conference championships again.
However, Virginia is probably another year away from being a serious contender.
Early prediction: Virginia Tech 27-10
2. Clemson at Florida State
The winner of this game will more than likely win the Atlantic Division.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say these are the two best teams in the ACC, so expect a dogfight at Doak Campbell Stadium this fall.
The home crowd, FSU’s defense and E.J. Manuel will likely make the difference in this game.
But if Tajh Boyd can avoid turnovers and Sammy Watkins makes a big play on special teams then Clemson could pull off a huge road win.
Early prediction: Florida State 34-28
1 (a). Virginia Tech at Clemson
Until someone knocks these two off the top, this game at Death Valley has got to be the top game in the ACC in 2012 today.
Right now, the Tigers have Virginia Tech’s number.
Based on how Clemson dominated Frank Beamer’s team in two meetings in 2011, it’s hard to pick against Dabo Swinney and the Tigers.
I’m not saying Clemson will repeat as ACC champs, but with all of that offensive firepower Clemson should put up some serious points in 2012.
Early prediction: Clemson 31-28
1 (b). Florida State at Virginia Tech
If you think a road trip to Clemson will be tough, a home date with Florida State could be just as challenging for Virginia Tech.
This could be a preview to the ACC championship game in December.
If FSU is really back to being a national player then Jimbo Fisher’s team must win this game.
Early prediction: Virginia Tech 24-21