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ACC Auditing: Crystal Ball, Revisited

As muddled a league as it was, the actual results in the ACC weren't as upside-down from the summer guesses as might be expected - from the preseason consensus of 18 publications at, from most underrated to most overrated:

Preseason Actual Finish +/- Rightest Wrongest
Virginia 4th Coast. 2nd Coast. (6-2) + 2 P.Steele, Surefire (T-3rd) SportsForm (5th)
Wake Forest 4th Atl. T-2nd Atl. (5-3) + 2 SI, S&S (2nd) Surefire, SportsForm (6th)
Boston Coll. 2nd Atl. 1st Atl. (6-3) + 1 Four 1st Place Picks P. Steele (6th)
Clemson 3rd Atl. T-2nd Atl. (5-3) + 1 Surefire (T-2nd) Four 5th Place Picks
NC State 6th Atl. T-5th Atl. (3-5) + 1 Four 5th Place Picks P. Steele (T-3rd)
N. Carolina 5th Coast. 4th Coast. (3-5) + 1 SportsForm (4th) Everybody (5th)
Duke 6th Coast. 6th Coast. (0-8) - Everybody (6th) None
Maryland 5th Atl. T-5th Atl. (3-5) - Five 5th Place Picks CFN (1st)
Va. Tech 1st Coast. 1st Coast. (8-1) - Everybody (1st) ATS Consulting (2nd)
Geo. Tech 2nd Coast. 3rd Coast. (4-4) -1 Seven 3rd Place Picks Eleven 2nd Place Picks
Miami 3rd Coast. 5th Coast. (2-6) -2 Ten 3rd Place Picks Eight 2nd Place Picks
Fla. State 1st Atl. 3rd Atl. (4-4) -3 CFN, S&S (3rd) Ten 1st Place Picks

Virginia is the biggest overachiever: no one picked UVA higher than a tie for third in the Coastal, and the Cavs were playing Virginia Tech (which all but poor ATS Consulting got right at the top of the Coastal) for the division title on the last week of the season; outside of the division format, UVA tied Boston College for the second-best conference record in the regular season, was probably a full six-seven spots better than the consensus would have guessed if it ranked the teams 1-12. That's what winning six games by five points or less will do for you. For Wake Forest, too, again - more on the Deacons later.

New management did not pay the expected dividends for the Florida schools, which were the most overrated, again. Almost no one thought Florida State would finish worse than second in the Atlantic and no one had Miami worse than third in the Coastal, when the Canes would actually lose to North Carolina and NC State, get blown away in the Orange Bowl farewell against Virginia and finish with the worst conference record outside of Duke (although they did beat Florida State).

Not that I have any room to critique preseason Sunshine love, as no pundit anywhere swallowed the notion of coaches rejuvenating superior talent at the old standbys as wholly as yours truly. On Miami:

These, as the lovely chaps at the BBC would say, are the main points: last year's defense was a roughly average Miami D, which is to say it was very, very good, while the offense was way, way below average, by more than a touchdown, and still all but one conference loss was decided by a touchdown or less, including Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Florida State. If the defense holds court (there's no indication it won't) and the offense reverts to anywhere near the mean, even just back to the mid-twenties per game in scoring, UM will be much more competitive overall. The gap has closed in a hurry, but given the competition in the division, I still think Miami has the best players.
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Totally, utterly wrong in every way, and still not nearly as wrong as my thoughts on the Canes' quarterback prospects:
If Wright beats out Freeman for the starting job, his convenient precedent is Brock Berlin, another slightly confused, iffy-armed blue chip who disappointed as a junior ... but dramatically rebounded as a senior ... Wright has every tool at his disposal to do the same: a truly grizzled offensive line, an identifiable workhorse, receivers that athletically rival anybody's, if years-old recruiting rankings are to be believed, and a new playcaller whose offense last fall scored more points in Blacksburg (Georgia Tech put up 38 under Patrick Nix) than Virginia Tech has allowed to any offense, anywhere, in the last three years ... The defense here should be capable of the same and so should a more experienced Wright...
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Yeah, man, it was pretty ugly.
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I ranked Florida State eighth on what I called my "intuitive ballot" (FSU would be 16th in the more methodical version that was actually submitted to the BlogPoll, one spot behind Miami), and I knew instinctively I'd probably regret it:
It's inescapable that, after a solid decade in the top five, FSU has devolved into a shell of its once-great self, and hasn't even approached the year-end top ten since Chris Weinke left, though they've started there or found themselves there within the first few games of the season every year since. Clearly, it takes a disaster of a season with losses to NC State, Maryland and Wake Forest to fully cure the prognostocenti of its perpetual belief in the rejuvneative abilities of all that speed, because our minds have been so conditioned that way: when we see the garnet and gold, we still see the lean, aggressive, quarterback-killing machines that sauntered over the corpses of rest of the ACC. The players look the same, and Bobby Bowden's still puttering around with his folksy jowls, and so we forget what decade we're living in.
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But, yes, I still picked FSU to win the Atlantic, and by a fairly wide margin. At least I wasn't alone.

Re: Wake Forest, I was fairly adamant about the Deacons' return to the pack:

Wake Forest is not a good team. In fact, it wasn't a good team when it won the ACC last year. It was an exceedingly mediocre team with an outstanding kicker and an unsustainable barrage of fortune at its back. On an every-down basis, Wake was what it's always been - slightly below average - evidenced in it being outgained overall in league games despite a 7-2 record. The conference should be tougher this year, but even if it's the same parity-driven parade of underthrown curl routes, the Deacons are a middling bowl team at best and a lamentable bottom-dweller at worst. They'll be doing just fine to finish 7-5.
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Though I pegged Wake fifth in the Atlantic, three spots below their eventual tie for second (third, in reality, considering the lopsided head-to-head loss against fellow No. 2 Clemson) was not terribly off the mark: the Deacons were better in a lot of ways than in their conference championship season, but were still outgained in conference games, rode another substantial turnover margin therein and were convincingly dropped by each of the top two teams in the division en route to, as predicted, a middling bowl game. The "barrage of fortune" was sustainable, although to a much less entent than in 2006; it's probably fair by now to call Wake a good team after two years of just getting by, since that's what the huge majority of the conference tries to do in its lo-fi style of play (hello, Virginia) and the Deacons happen to be particularly good at it.

I was with the pack that put Clemson, Georgia Tech and (obviously) Duke in the right place at the beginning of the year, but was wrong in some way about almost every one else. The proudest non-obvious moment of my ACC forecasting might have been a throwaway explanation for North Carolina's ongoing pain:

Hang-Ups: Realistically, UNC can expect a baseline of three wins - say, James Madison, Duke and either East Carolina, Maryland, N.C. State or Wake Forest. It would be a leap for a team this young to win two of those last four, and a miracle for it to reach a bowl game.

Justify Thyself: [Butch] Davis has to assume the position for a year or two and let his little Tar Heels learn the hard way how to compete. Expect a lot of admirable efforts, a couple scares against the certifiably terrible offenses of the ACC, but very few wins. Still better than Duke.
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All of that was right: UNC was young (two-thirds of the starters were freshmen or sophomores), did put up a fight (five of eight losses were by a touchdown or less) and won exactly the "baseline" level as predicted: over James Madison and Duke, and of the four "toss-up" games, only against Maryland. The only deviation from the prediction was a win over Miami in October, which says at least as much about my failure to gauge the Hurricanes as a pending failure as it does my vision of UNC as a sniper-in-waiting. If I continue to be right about the Tar Heels' optimistic prospects going forward, the rest of the conference is in for some pain.