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FOOTBALL | AROUND THE NATION / ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE

Five Points

September 01, 2006|CHRIS DUFRESNE

* The conference's first year in the new divisional format took a huge credibility hit when four-loss Florida State upset once-defeated Virginia Tech in the first title game. That produced an ACC champion with a final Bowl Championship Series ranking of No. 22. Had this year's new rules applied to last year, Mountain West Conference championship Texas Christian, which finished No. 14, would have received an automatic BCS bowl bid instead of Florida State.

* It's hard to believe Miami Coach Larry Coker, with a record of 53-9, is on shaky sand in South Florida, but he is. Note the pattern: After winning the national title in 2001, Coker lost one game in 2002, two games in 2003, and three games each of the last two years. He grabbed a broom in the off-season, fired legendary offensive line coach Art Kehoe and brought in six new assistants. Coker also had to mediate several player issues and enters Monday night's opener against Florida State short-handed after suspending two star players.

* Florida State will bounce back after a weird 8-5 season that was salvaged only by winning the ACC title game against Virginia Tech. Coach Bobby Bowden needs one victory to reach 360 in his career. His Seminoles have lost 20 games the last five seasons, and there are plenty of fans willing to blame offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, the coach's son. Sophomore quarterback Drew Weatherford, though, should be vastly improved if he can finally get some help from tailback Lorenzo Booker.

* Duke will be the doormat (again) as fans count down the days until basketball. Steve Spurrier made his name at Florida but proved he was one of the all-time great coaches by once winning a share of a conference title at Duke, which continues to sink into the ACC abyss. The Blue Devils' only win last year was against Virginia Military Institute, and it's possible they'll win only one game this year, against Richmond. Duke is so far from rebuilding it hasn't even placed a phone call to the contractor. Four wins this year and the Blue Devils set off fireworks.

* Boston College will win its seventh consecutive bowl game and continue to get half the hype of Catholic school rival Notre Dame, which has lost eight consecutive bowls. Many chided Boston College for bolting the Big East for the ACC, but it worked out OK in the first year, with the Eagles finishing 9-3 after a win over Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl. Before it hired Tyrone Willingham, Washington made a run at Boston College's Mr. Anonymous, Tom O'Brien, who seems happy fashioning winning teams amid the Red Sox Nation. -- CHRIS DUFRESNE

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Quick Facts

* AP preseason top 25: Florida State No. 11; Miami No. 12; Virginia Tech No. 17; Clemson No. 18.

* AP final 2005 ranking: Virginia Tech (11-2) No. 7; Miami (9-3) No. 17; Boston College (9-3) No. 18; Clemson (8-4) No. 21; Florida State (8-5) No. 23.

* 2005 bowl record: 5-3.

* 2006 favorite: Miami.

* Top newcomers: Myron Rolle, Fr., SS, Florida State -- Should start at rover if he can overcome summer shoulder and knee injuries; C.J. Spiller, Fr., RB, Clemson -- Top high school player in Florida last year will be in the mix in the Tigers' backfield and probably handle punt-return duties; Ike Whitaker, Fr., QB, Virginia Tech -- Drawing comparisons to Michael Vick, which makes him gold in Blacksburg.

* Top returning players: Josh Beekman, Sr., G, Boston College -- Outland Trophy candidate the latest model in Eagles tradition of producing NFL linemen; Buster Davis, Sr., LB, Florida State -- The anchor to a defense that is rebuilding after an off year; Calvin Johnson, Jr., WR, Georgia Tech -- Had 54 catches for 888 yards last year and might be the most talented offensive player in the ACC; Brandon Meriweather, Sr., S, Miami -- Made 88 tackles last year and is the best athlete in perhaps the nation's best secondary; John Talley, Sr., CB, Duke -- one of the best corners in the country is surrounded by one of the worst defenses.

-- Eric Maddy

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