Why to watch in 2010

Congratulations, ACC fans. You came out in droves this spring to watch what amounted to intrasquad scrimmages, leading me to believe there will be a heightened interest in ACC football this fall. (And no, we’re not using Alabama as the standard here.)

Four programs –- Clemson Tigers (27,000), North Carolina Tar Heels (29,500), Florida State Seminoles (51,300) and Virginia Tech Hokies (41,000) –- each set attendance records at their respective spring games this year. The Miami Hurricanes had a sellout crowd of 10,000 at Traz Powell Stadium, which is about normal because of the smaller venue, and the North Carolina State Wolfpack had 25,372.

There are reasons to be excited about ACC football this year, but here are my top five:

1. BCS contenders. Virginia Tech has already been deemed a top-10 preseason team. Georgia Tech is coming off an Orange Bowl appearance. Miami came close to a BCS bid last year. All three teams finished 2009 among the top 15 in the BCS standings. Florida State could represent in the Orange Bowl with an ACC title, but so could more than half the league.

2. Heisman hopefuls. Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams and FSU quarterback Christian Ponder are the first two names that come to mind. Don’t forget, though, that Jacory Harris’ name entered the conversation last September after the Canes’ hot start, and fans can (and will) argue the legitimacy of Josh Nesbitt as a contender.

3. Beefed up schedules. Based on opponents’ overall records from 2009, ACC teams will face the most difficult schedules in the nation this fall. ACC opponents compiled a winning percentage of .604, making the ACC the only league where its opponents won at least 60 percent of their games. And they’re not all creampuffs. Ohio State, Pitt, Alabama, LSU, Boise State, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia and BYU are all on the list.

4. Championship changes. Bring on Charlotte! Last year’s matchup between Clemson and Georgia Tech was a step in the right direction. It was one of the best games of the conference season. Now that the game will be moved to what the folks in Greensboro refer to as the “geographical footprint” of the ACC, the overall atmosphere and attendance is expected to improve.

5. Coaching. There are subplots at almost every school, whether it’s a new coordinator, new head coach, or current coach starting to feel some heat. Will this be Ralph Friedgen’s last year? Not if he has anything to say about it. What can Dabo Swinney do without C.J. Spiller? How quickly can first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops improve FSU’s floundering defense? What can John Shoop do to catch the UNC offense up to the Tar Heels’ stellar D? How will Al Groh fit in at Georgia Tech with his 3-4 scheme? Can Mike London work a miracle and get Virginia to a bowl in his first year? The list goes on.