ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach has taken the pulse of each team in the ACC. Consider it sort of a health check, a quick once-over to determine if the program is feeling good or if it's going to be laid up for a while. He assigned a rating to each program, and I agreed with him on the majority of assessments. Here was his grading scale:
5: Elite program with potential to be a BCS bowl contender every season
4: Above-average program with potential to join the sport’s elite in the near future
3: Average program with recent mediocre results, but seems to be building momentum
2: Average program with recent success, but seems to be headed in wrong direction
1: Below-average program with little success in past or future
Below you'll find Schlabach's rating, followed by my response:
After an 11-3 finish behind star quarterback Matt Ryan in 2007, the Eagles’ victory total has decreased in each of the past three seasons, from nine in ’08 to eight in ’09 to seven in ’10. BC is isolated from the rest of the ACC, and, fair or not, is an unattractive bowl selection because of its small fan base.
Counterpoint: Boston College should finally start to turn things around this season because quarterback Chase Rettig will be in his second season as a starter, and that position has been the Eagles’ biggest hindrance during the drop Schlabach refers to. Can’t argue with the last sentence.
HD Rating: 3
The Tigers haven’t won a conference championship since 1991, although they came close to doing it in coach Dabo Swinney’s second season in 2009. The Tigers slipped to 6-7 last season, putting a lot of pressure on Swinney in 2011. The Tigers’ incoming top-10 recruiting class might help.
Counterpoint: Swinney at least acknowledged the fact that changes needed to be made, and hired a new offensive coordinator and implemented a new system. There’s no question he’s facing pressure, but too quickly fans forget Swinney had the Tigers in the ACC championship game in 2009.
HD Rating: 2
David Cutcliffe has done a nice job in three seasons at Duke and a bowl game might even be in the works in 2011. But the program’s history suggests the Blue Devils’ 5-7 finish in 2009 might be as good as it gets.
Counterpoint: The Blue Devils could have one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC this year in Sean Renfree. If they’re going to take the next step and get to a bowl game, this is the year. Can’t argue with the rating, though, based on the history of the program and the Virginia Tech-owned division it’s in.
HD rating: 1
Perhaps no team will ever match FSU’s amazing run during the 1990s, but the Seminoles’ 10-4 finish in coach Jimbo Fisher’s first season in 2010 gives their fans plenty of hope for the future. Fisher has stockpiled back-to-back top-five recruiting classes as well.
Counterpoint: I’ve got no argument here. If Fisher took the Noles to the ACC title game in Year 1, there are only bigger things ahead.
HD rating: 4
Can Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson build a consistent winner with his triple-option spread offense? After guiding Tech to an ACC title in 2009, Johnson’s team slipped to 6-7 in 2010 and his recruiting efforts haven’t been great.
Counterpoint: That triple-option spread offense has won Johnson an ACC title, and produced a few NFL draft picks. The offense works. The bigger question to me is recruiting the talent to execute it.
HD rating: 2
A coaching change was probably inevitable, but former Connecticut coach Randy Edsall’s conservative coaching style might not inject much enthusiasm into a Maryland program that could really use some new life.
Counterpoint: The players I’ve spoken to this offseason seem to really have embraced Edsall’s militant style, and he’s well-respected among his peers. He is a proven winner, but there is a ceiling at Maryland as long as the program continues to recruit average talent.
HD rating: 2
Former Temple coach Al Golden built a winner in the most unlikely of places, but he’ll have his hands full trying to resurrect Miami’s program. The Canes lack great facilities and a big and generous fan base, which are two requirements in joining the sport’s elite.
Counterpoint: It’s not like Miami hasn’t won before. Golden isn’t taking over a one-win team, he’s got to improve upon a seven-win team. Definitely doable, especially with the talent in their own backyard. There’s no way to tell if the Canes are “building momentum” under Golden until they play, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because he has at least injected some energy into a program that desperately needed a lift.
HD rating: 3
The Tar Heels’ ongoing NCAA problems might end up preventing them from joining the sport’s upper-echelon of teams. Coach Butch Davis has done a tremendous job of upgrading UNC’s talent; keeping his best players eligible has been another matter.
Counterpoint: There’s no question Davis has done an outstanding job recruiting and he has improved the program significantly.There are only two things that will stop his momentum: The players’ poor decisions and/or the NCAA. Until the NCAA investigation is over, though, there’s no telling which direction the program is headed.
HD rating: 2
Did the Wolfpack finally turn the corner with a 9-4 record in 2010? Known for building consistent winners at Boston College, NC State coach Tom O’Brien failed to produce a winning campaign in each of his first three seasons in Raleigh.
Counterpoint: Yes, NC State turned the corner last year, and the Wolfpack came off a productive spring that featured the deepest, healthiest team O’Brien has had since he arrived in Raleigh. The only question is whether or not Mike Glennon can continue that success in his first season as a starter.
HD rating: 3
The Cavaliers can only hope they hit rock-bottom during the past three seasons, when they went a combined 6-18 against ACC foes. Coach Mike London is a great recruiter, but it might be a couple of more seasons before he fields a really competitive team.
Counterpoint: London has been good enough on the recruiting trail that he lured in a top 25 class last year, but the uncertainty at quarterback is the biggest reason for concern heading into 2011. Virginia needs playmakers, and it's going to take London more than one recruiting class to put it all together, but all signs point to positive change, whether it's now or in the next few seasons.
HD rating: 3
It’s hard to find a more consistent team in the country. The Hokies claimed ACC titles in three of the last four seasons and won at least 10 games in each of the last seven.
Counterpoint: There is no question that Virginia Tech should be considered an elite program. Despite the fact that Hokies fans lament the lack of a national title, at least Frank Beamer and his staff consistently put their players in position to contend for one.
HD rating: 5
The past two seasons proved how remarkable the Demon Deacons’ 2006 ACC championship really was. After winning eight games or more in three straight seasons from 2006 to ’08, Wake Forest went a combined 8-16 the past two seasons combined.
Counterpoint: Those within the program are convinced this team will be better, and it should be with Tanner Price entering his second season as the starting quarterback. The problem is, the schedule is difficult enough that fans might not be able to tell by looking at the win-loss column.
HD rating: 2