The Atlantic Champion will be Florida State, but not in nearly as decisive a fashion as their Coastal counterpart. It seems like '09 will finally see consistent production at QB for the Seminoles, and with 8 returning offensive starters and 90 returning O-line starts, FSU will be set on this side of the ball. However, with only 5 starters returning on an already unsure D, don't look for Bowden and company to move out of the middle of the pack statistically. The D will cost them some big games, but I'm calling for the win on the road over the fighting Dabos of Clemson to clinch the division with a 5-3 record.*
I was going to put a picture of Bobby Bowden, but, hey, c'mon.
2. Clemson - I'm really hesitant to actually put my faith in Clemson. They're just so darn good at flopping when they're supposed to win big. Technically, the Tigers are probably the best team in this division, but if history teaches anything, it's that they won't win the division. They return 15 starters and could have the best D in the conference, but I see them splitting Tech-BC back-to-back and falling to both Miami and FSU. While they'll finish 5-3 just like the Noles, the loss head-to-head will keep them out of the CG yet again.
3. Boston College - The coaching situation might finally be evening out in Chestnut Hill. Spaz is a program guy who's been here for 13 years and should help a great program get even better. While BC will be breaking a new QB, he'll have a sturdy O-line to protect him and top-5 rusher Montel Harris to alleviate some pressure. I honestly don't see much change on the D, wit the Eagles returning 7 to a unit that's usually in the top-half of the league. It will be enough for BC to be competitive, and win the Tom O'Brien Bowl with NCSU, but don't look for a return to 9 wins. BC will finish 4-4 in the ACC with the head-to-head win against NC State being the deciding factor in the hierarchy.
4. NC State - There will be a real traffic jam in the middle of this division, with BC, NCSU and Wake most likely settling in with similar records. The Pack have finished with 3, 5, and 6 wins in the last three seasons and the '09 squad looks poised for 7 or 8. They return a solid 14 starters, but with a questionable run game, Russel Wilson will have to carry more of a load than he might be able to handle in big games. Tom O'Brien will again come up short against his old team on 10/17, but the 4-4 conference mark will be enough to send the Pack bowling again.
5. Wake Forest - The Demon Deacons will be winning games on offense this year, as they return 9 starters, 119 O-line starts, and a talented leader in Riley Skinner. But, it won't be enough to reach last year's 8-win total with the anchor of a rebuilding defense dragging them down. A mere 4 starters return to a beleaguered unit that very well could lose all 3 b-2-b-2-b games with Miami, GA Tech, and FSU. They should split the BC-NCSU swing for a nice 3-way tie here in the middle with 4-4 records.
6. Maryland - Finally, a clear pick in this division. The Terps could finish 0-8 if they lose at Duke and can't muster an upset somewhere in an upset-happy league. A mere 9 total returning starters and a washed out O-line (27 starts) will doom Maryland to the cellar in '09.
Florida State at Clemson - For the division.
NC State at Boston College - The O'Brien Bowl could be the difference between New Year's and Christmas bowling.
Miami at Florida State - A cross divisional match-up that will set the tone of each team's season and could affect the outcome of the Atlantic division.
Florida State at Wake Forest - This is a stumbling block for the Noles and a potential upset win for Wake.
Clemson at GA Tech - an early match up where a loss could send each team reeling
If the wins are permanently vacated, will this be Bowden's last season? It'd be nigh on impossible to overcome JoePa for the record now. Of course, he doesn't seem to be serving much function other than figure head anyway, so who knows; maybe he'll stay till he drops dead on the field.