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ACC Football: 5 Bold Predictions for the 2013 Season

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College Football: 5 Bold Predictions for the ACC in 2013

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Steve Mitchell-USA Today Sports

Throughout August, college football analysts have been making their predictions for the upcoming 2013 season. While some are willing to go out on a limb, most make the dull, boring choices that won’t be second guessed, even if they are wrong. It’s easy to stick with the popular opinion, rather than sticking your neck out and being bold.

That is why nearly everyone is picking Alabama to win a third-straight title. The opponent in the national championship game might be different in some cases, but a majority of analysts are picking the Crimson Tide to win it all again. It’s a safe pick, but ultimately, not particularly risky. I’ve heard a few pick Ohio State, but other than those two, not many others.

The same could be said for the Heisman Trophy predictions until Johnny Manziel got into some potential legal trouble with his alleged autograph signing splurge. He was the odds on favorite to win the award again, but with his eligibility in jeopardy, players like Braxton Miller and Teddy Bridgewater have started to receive some national attention.

In the ACC, almost everyone has the Clemson Tigers winning the championship, and quarterback Tajh Boyd repeating as conference player of the year. Boyd put up jaw-dropping numbers as a junior and has one of the best players in country (Sammy Watkins) to throw to.

However, picking them wouldn’t be bold. So, here’s a look at five bold predictions for the ACC, including my surprising pick to end up winning the conference.

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5.) Duke Blue Devils Make Back to Back Bowl Appearances

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Jeremy Brevard- USA Today Sports

Why it will happen: David Cutcliffe.

Cutcliffe has brought legitimacy to a program that has struggled mightily. Amazingly, the Blue Devils have never made back-to-back bowl appearances in school history. After last year's trip to the Belk Bowl, they can accomplish that feat with another six-win season in 2013.

Not only does Cutcliffe have a great reputation with developing quarterbacks, he is also a tremendous recruiter. During his time in Durham, he has consistently brought in quality talent, which has given them much better depth across the board.

That depth will be tested as Duke lost a number of outstanding seniors following the 2012 season. Anthony Boone will be the new starting quarterback, and has a skill set that can succeed in the ACC. Although their schedule isn’t favorable, they should still win at least six games and make history by making consecutive bowl games.

Why it won’t happen: Loss of Sean Renfree

Renfree was integral in the revival of the Blue Devils under Cutcliffe. As a three-year starter, he had a wealth of experience that is impossible to replicate in practice. Boone has a lot of talent, but Renfree was a standout for Duke, so that transition has to be a little disconcerting for Blue Devil fans.

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4.) Virginia Cavaliers Go Winless in ACC

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Jason O. Watson- USA Today Sports

Why it will happen: Tough ACC schedule

Despite recently naming David Watford the starting quarterback, Virginia still has a lot of question marks on offense. Last year, they really struggled to run the ball, and as a result, ended up 95th in the country in points per game. Their defense wasn’t much better, ranking 71st in the country in points allowed.

If that wasn’t enough, their schedule is also working against them. Unfortunately, their two most winnable ACC games (Pittsburgh and Maryland) are on the road this year. If they aren’t able to win one of those two games, their best chance is on Oct. 19 when they host Duke. Beyond that, there are not many favorable matchups in the conference.

This year, there is a ton of pressure on head coach Mike London to show that he is leading the program in the right direction. He has recruited well, but if it that doesn’t translate to the field, this could be his last year. It might not happen, but there is a decent chance the Cavaliers don’t win an ACC game in 2013.

Why it won’t happen: Pittsburgh isn’t very good either

Pittsburgh is also in a bit of a rebuilding mode at this point, giving the Cavaliers a chance to beat them on Sept. 28. The Panthers just named Tom Savage their starting quarterback, and although he is talented, he hasn’t played much football in recent years.

It’s an early season game, and they should be coming off a victory over VMI, so there is a chance they get a conference win at Pittsburgh.

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3.) James Wilder Jr. Rushes for 1,000 Yards

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Melina Vastola- USA Today Sports

Why it will happen: Commitment to the run game

While this might not seem like that bold of a prediction, it is when you consider the last Seminole to cross the 1,000-yard barrier was Warrick Dunn in the mid-1990s.

Wilder Jr. came in with a ton of hype, but hasn’t emerged as the dominant force he was thought to be. That could change this year. Wilder Jr. has been able to stay out of trouble this offseason and has worked hard to improve himself in all facets of the game.

He’s a beast at 6-foot-2, 229 pounds, and often has plenty left in the tank as defenses wear down in the fourth quarter. With freshman Jameis Winston starting at quarterback, expect head coach Jimbo Fisher to commit to the run game to take the pressure of the freshman signal caller. As a result, Wilder Jr. should get more than the 110 carries he had as a sophomore last year.

If he does, there’s a good chance he will go over 1,000 yards rushing.

Why it won’t happen: Devonta Freeman

Interestingly, Freeman actually out-rushed Wilder Jr. in 2012. Both players had over 100 carries apiece and 600-plus yards on the ground. Fisher loves to keep his running backs fresh, so he rotates them liberally. As a result, Florida State running backs rarely have games where they carry the ball 25 or more times. Without the workload, it will be difficult for either of them to surpass the 1,000-yard plateau.

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2.) Duke Johnson Wins ACC Player of the Year

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Robert Mayer- USA Today Sports

Why it will happen: More touches in 2013

Johnson had a tremendous freshman campaign in 2012, but is primed to do even more as a sophomore. While he likely won’t return as many kicks as he did last year (to prevent injury), he will unquestionably get more touches in the Hurricanes offense.

Last year, Johnson split time with senior Mike James, but this year, there isn’t anyone close to him on the depth chart. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield makes him a great three-down back, thus giving him more opportunities to make plays this year.

Johnson will benefit from the explosive Miami passing game as well. With quarterback Stephen Morris and a core of solid receivers returning, defenses won’t be able to load up the box to stop Johnson on the ground. The Hurricanes will probably play in a number of shootouts, so Johnson could put up some historic numbers in Coral Gables.

Why it won’t happen: Tajh Boyd

Boyd won the award last year as a junior, and enters the 2013 as the odds on favorite to repeat. Although he lost two outstanding weapons (DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington), there is still plenty of talent in the huddle with him this year. Boyd’s abilities, combined with the creative mind of offensive coordinator Chad Morris make a scary duo.

I’m sticking with Johnson as the pick, but Boyd certainly will have something to say about it.

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1.) Florida State Wins ACC Championship

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Melina Vastola- USA Today Sports

Why it will happen: Jameis Winston’s Magic

Although he hasn’t played a snap at the college level, there are extremely high expectations for the freshman quarterback. He’s been compared to Johnny Manziel, and if he plays anywhere near that level, the Noles could win the ACC.

Winston will benefit from an experienced offensive line and two solid running backs (Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.). Although they are now a little thin at wide receiver, they have some outstanding weapons for Winston to work with.

The Noles defense lost a ton of talent to the NFL, but they are loaded with athletes all over that side of the ball. Their defensive backs are outstanding, so new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will have the ability to dial up blitzes and leave them alone on an island.

This one might be a stretch because of Winston’s inexperience, but he appears to have that “it” factor that coaches love. So I expect the Noles to repeat as ACC Champions in 2013.

Why it won’t happen: Clemson

Clemson is the popular choice to win the ACC... and with good reason. The Tigers have the best passing duo in the nation in quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins. Two years ago, the two were dynamic together, leading the Tigers to the ACC crown. Watkins dealt with a suspension and injuries last year, but is looking to rebound as a junior.

There is a reason that Clemson is the overwhelming favorite to win the ACC according to most college football analysts. Despite questions on defense, the Tigers have a ton of experience coming back in 2013, and could easily get back to the top of the ACC.