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Houston-Centric College Football Preview: The ACC

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The ACC looks to be one of the most competitive conferences in the country in 2010. Here's what you need to know.

Despite being the fourth-most populous city in the country, and a sports hotbed, the city of Houston often finds itself widely ignored by the mainstream sports media. To fight back, SB Nation Houston brings you a primer for the upcoming college football season, through our own Houston-tinted glasses. To begin, we look at the ACC.

Atlantic Division

1. Florida State Seminoles

2009 record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 9-3 (7-1)

What to watch for: How will the team react to the retirement of Bobby Bowden? (Offensive Coordinator Jimbo Fisher takes over.) Will QB Christian Ponder have a Heisman-caliber season? Will the porous run defense improve?

FSU's all-time record vs Houston: 2-12-2. The Cougars have dominated the series, although the schools haven't met since a 27-21 UH victory in 1978.

FSU's all-time record vs Rice: 1-0. The schools met for the first time in 2006, and it wasn't pretty. The Seminoles racked up 500 yards of total offense in a 55-7 victory.

FSU's Houston connection: Houston native Dustin Hopkins graduated from Clear Lake as the top-ranked kicker in the country. He signed with the Seminoles, and started as a freshman, connecting on 19 of 27 field goal attempts, including a long of 52 yards. Gotta love those Houstonians named Dustin.

2t. Clemson Tigers

2009 record: 9-5 (6-2 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 8-4 (6-2)

What to watch for: Plain and simple, who replaces All-American C.J. Spiller at RB? Or for that matter, who replaces their top three receivers, who are all gone? Kyle Parker's a talented QB, and Andre Ellington might soften the blow that is the loss of Spiller, but I'm not sure there's enough talent here to break the ACC title drought of Clemson, who lost the championship game against Georgia Tech last year, and hasn't won their conference since '91.

Clemson's all-time record vs Rice: 4-3. The Tigers first faced the Owls in 1949, and haven't played since 1980, a 19-3 Clemson victory. Clemson has never faced Houston.

Clemson's Houston connection: Jess Neely, the most successful coach in Rice history, took over for the Owls in 1940 after a nine-year stretch as the head man at Clemson.

2t. Boston College Eagles

2009 record: 8-5 (5-3 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 10-2 (6-2)

What to watch for: How much of an impact will the return of cancer survivor Mark Herzlich have on the Eagle defense? Will BC get a better pass rush than last year? How much of a leap will sophomore QB Dave Shinskie make as a second-year starter?

Boston College's all-time record vs Houston: 2-1. After each team scored a shutout victory at home in the early '60s, the Eagles won the rubber match in '85. (See below.) Boston College has never faced Rice.

Boston College's Houston connection: Everybody has seen Doug Flutie's Hail Mary to beat Miami in '84, but that was just a regular season game. The Eagles then took their 9-2 record to the Cotton Bowl to face the Cougars of Houston, who had won the SWC on the final day of the season. Flutie eluded defenders again, (although it was Troy Stradford's 196 rushing yards which won the game for BC) and the Eagles didn't need any miracle plays to defeat the Coogs, 45-28.

4. North Carolina State Wolfpack

2009 record: 5-7 (2-6 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 5-7 (2-6). I know. I really went out on a limb with that one.

What to watch for: After throwing 48 TDs against just 12 picks as an underclassman, what can junior QB Russell Wilson do for an encore? Will an inexperienced defense (with no returning starters on the line) be able to keep pace with the offense?

NC State's all-time record vs Houston: 1-1-1. Not even an odd number of games could separate these two teams, who last met in the 1974 Blue Bonnet Bowl, a 31-31 tie. NC State has never faced Rice.

NC State's Houston connection: Stud Houston Texans DE Mario Williams is an NC State alum. Thank God I didn't have to branch off into basketball to find a link... :cringe:

5. Maryland Terrapins

2009 record: 2-10 (1-7 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 3-9 (1-7)

What to watch for: Will head coach Ralph Friedgen hold onto his job through the end of the year? With just twelve returning starters, and a new QB to break in, coming off a one-win ACC campaign, the 31 wins Friedgen had in his first three seasons at the helm at Maryland are a distant memory.

Maryland lost to Houston in the 1977 Cotton Bowl, by a score of 30-21, and has never faced Rice.

Maryland's Houston connection: The Terps ran the table in 1976, going 11-0. Their defense ended the season with three straight shutouts over Cincinnati, Clemson and Virginia. They were the favorites heading into the Cotton Bowl, against a Cougar squad that hadn't played a New Year's Day bowl game since '52. But the Cougars rolled up 21 unanswered points in the first quarter, and held on for a nine-point victory.

6. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2009 record: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 2-10 (0-8)

What to watch for: How smoothly does the switch to the option attack come along, while Wake replaces Riley Skinner, a four-year starter at QB? Skinner became the school's all-time leading passer, and even led the team to its second ever ACC title as a freshman in '06, but his team won progressively fewer games each year he was at the helm.

Wake Forest has never beaten a team from the city of Houston, losing two contests against the Coogs by a combined score of 76-8. In two games against the Owls, the Demon Deacons garnered one tie, and one loss.

Wake Forest's Houston connection: Charlie Rizzo spent five seasons as Wake Forest's DC in the 1980s, and ended up spending a decade as an assistant at Rice and UH in his later years.

Coastal Division

1t. North Carolina Tar Heels

2009 record: 8-5 (4-4 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 10-2 (6-2)

What to watch for: Quite simply, will the offense start to look like it deserves to be enrolled at the same school as the stacked defense? If so, there may be no limit to what the Heels can accomplish.

North Carolina lost to Rice, 27-13, in the 1950 Cotton Bowl, and split a home-and-home with the Cougars in the late '90s.

UNC's Houston connection: Third-year starter on the offensive line, and 2010 Outland Trophy Candidate Alan Pelc is a Houston native, and Pearland High grad.

1t. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2009 record: 11-3 (7-1 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 9-3 (6-2)

What to watch for: How will an inexperienced offensive line hold up? All the other pieces are in place, but an option offense without a strong O-line is like a racehorse without its front legs. The rest of the horse may be fine, but really, so what?

GT has never faced Houston, and has two wins and a tie in three meetings with Rice. The schools last faced off in 1972, and played to a draw at 36-all.

Georgia Tech's Houston connection: Langham Creek WR Tyler Melton was named to the Houston Chronicle Area Top 100 as a senior, and chose to attend GT. Since then he has... done what most receivers do in option offenses, which is to say: not a lot. (Okay, I'm sure he's done a lot of blocking.)

3t. Miami Hurricanes

2009 record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 8-4 (5-3)

What to watch for: Can QB Jacory Harris make "the jump" from extremely talented, and putting up decent numbers to full-fledged superstar? Will leading rusher Graig Cooper be a factor after an ACL injury threatened his 2010 season? Word from his teammates is that he may be ready to go when the season starts.

Miami swept a home-and-home with Rice in the '80s, and has a long history against UH. The Hurricanes have won 11 of 18 match-ups all-time, and have a seven game winning streak against Houston. The most recent contest was a 14-13 Miami win in 2006, a game that still makes the Cougar faithful cringe. Driving with a 13-7 lead late in the third quarter, Jackie Battle of the Coogs committed a key fumble at Miami's 10-yard line, and the rest is history.

Miami's Houston connection: If Harris were to suffer an injury, he would likely be replaced by sophomore A.J. Highsmith of Missouri City.

3t. Virginia Tech Hokies

2009 record: 10-3 (6-2 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 8-4 (5-3)

What to watch for: How will Darren Evans (1,265 rush yards in '08, missed '09 with injury) and Ryan Williams (1,655 yards in '09, freshman All-American) deal with splitting carries? Can Tyrod Taylor combine his passing prowess of '09 with his running ability of '08? Will the inexperienced defense come around quickly enough to keep VT from its first single-digit win season since '03?

VT faced Houston for the first time in 1971, played the Coogs every year for five straight seasons, and hasn't faced them since. In those five contests, the Hokies earned just one win, along with a tie. The Hokies have never faced Rice.

VT's Houston connection: In 2004, Hokie alumnus Andre Davis caught a 99-yard pass for a touchdown for the Houston Texans, becoming the tenth player in NFL history to catch a 99-yard pass.

5. Duke Blue Devils

2009 record: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 5-7 (3-5)

What to watch for: How will the offense fare with nine returning starters, but without stud QB Thaddeus Lewis? How much better can highly-touted recruit Desmond Scott be as a sophomore with a much more experienced line in front of him? On defense, can a talented back seven make up for an inexperienced front four? In a stacked Coastal Division, can the Blue Devils get that sixth win and make their first bowl appearance since '94?

Duke has never faced Houston, and has a 5-1 record all-time against Rice. Four of those six contests have been decided by five points or less, however. Most recently, the Blue Devils earned a 27-24 victory in 2003.

Duke's Houston connection: Kurt Roper played both sides of the ball during his playing career at Rice from '93-'95. He currently coaches the quarterbacks for Duke.

6. Virginia Cavaliers

2009 record: 3-9 (2-6 ACC)

Projected 2010 record: 4-8 (1-7). Take those three projected non-conference wins with a grain of salt. Virginia scheduled two (TWO!) 1-AA opponents this year. Which is a thing nobody should ever do, under any circumstances. Then again, maybe the Cavaliers are just trying to challenge themselves after a 12-point loss to 1-AA William & Mary last year. Richmond and VMI aren't going to roll over.

What to watch for: Since the Cavs made their first ever bowl appearance in 1984, they've never missed out on the post-season three years in a row. Can first year coach Mike London pull a miracle and prevent it from finally happening? He'll be breaking in a new QB, and has a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball.

Virginia has never faced Houston or Rice. Why ya ducking H-town, UVa?

Virginia's Houston connection: Tight End Zach Swanson won a pair of state titles for the Katy Tigers (I've heard that team is pretty good) and reportedly had a 4.3 GPA, paving his way to play for Stanford. Except he decommitted from the Cardinal and chose to play for the Cavaliers.

The Bottom Line

North Carolina defeats Florida State in the conference championship game, Ponder is ACC player of the year.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.