By Jeff Nations
I'm still trying to absorb the latest reshuffling in collegiate athletics.
So forgive me if I seem a bit dumbfounded to find Pittsburgh and Syracuse receiving votes in this year's Atlantic Coast Conference preseason football media poll -- taken at the ACC Football Kickoff at the Grandover Resort, no less (fancy, fancy).
These formerly scabby refugees from the smoking crater that was the Big East Conference have been smoothly integrated into their new ACC finery, tucked neatly near the bottom of the preseason rankings. The likes of Pitt and Syracuse must pay their dues, after all. It may seem an unattainable quest to ascend to the heights of that powerhouse that is Clemson, but one must admire their gumption.
For this year, though, the media has deemed the newcomers so much cannon fodder, much like Virginia. Pitt, those irrepressible Panthers, even rank ahead of the Cavaliers and fellow doormat Duke in the Coastal Division preseason rankings.
The Atlantic Division promises to be much less welcoming for Syracuse, picked next to last by the ACC's dedicated scribes. This is a tough conference, people. You don't just walk into the ACC and expect to carry off the hardware on Day 1 -- unless you're Florida State, of course.
As for the exalted few that have gathered the favor of the media, we find Clemson (95 votes to win the ACC championship), Florida State (a precipitous drop here, with 15 votes), followed by an intriguing three-way tie between Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina (three true believer votes apiece) and one lone voice trumpeting Virginia Tech.
This does not look promising for football fans in Virginia. The Hokies and Cavaliers combined are worth one championship vote? In the ACC?
OK, so I'm going to be guardedly optimistic here. I tried outright optimism last year, and that didn't pan out so well. I will not be predicting any pivotal regular-season matchups involving the Commonwealth's confirmed rivals, rife with championship possibilities for the winner -- not that I did that last year, mind you, but I did at least entertain the remote possibility early in the season.
Somehow -- I'm not sure how -- I do expect Virginia to improve upon last year's 2-6 ACC mark. I am assuming, of course, that Cavaliers coach Mike London will find someone to quarterback the offense. That could be David Watford, who saw time as a backup two seasons ago before redshirting last year. It could be Greyson Lambert, a hulking 6-5, 220-pounder who was once a four-star recruit by something called Scout.com. Or, it could be somebody else ... I love a good mystery. I'm looking at that media poll assessment that plops that Cavaliers in sixth in the Coastal Division. I'm thinking fifth -- crazy optimistic, I know -- ahead of that upstart Pitt and the usually reliable awfulness that is Duke.
Virginia Tech, as usual, is a bit higher up in the pecking order. Despite that measly one championship vote, the Hokies are a solid pick to finish second behind Miami in the Coastal Division standings. The 'U' is known for many things in college football -- breaking NCAA rules has to be high up on that list -- but lately, the 'Canes seem to excel at underachieving. They do have a true stud running back in Duke Johnson, but somehow, some way -- looking at you, Virginia -- Miami will stumble along the way.
That would leave the door wide open for Virginia Tech, or North Carolina, or Georgia Tech. Let's say it's the Hokies, and why not? They've got Logan Thomas coming back to lead an offense that ... yeah, never mind. Virginia Tech has some serious holes to fill on offense.
Luckily, the ACC isn't exactly the Big 12 when it comes to high-octane scoring attacks, which should bode well for Virginia Tech's defensive strength. I can see the Hokies returning to that hallowed ACC championship for another crack at Clemson, or maybe Florida State ... definitely not Syracuse, though.
A quick start in the non-conference would go a long way toward building that momentum, and Virginia Tech has the chance to start reeling off wins right out of the gate when they face -- No. 1 Alabama?
That's the opener, all right. The Hokies take on the top-ranked Crimson Tide, twice defenders of the national championship and all-around SEC bullies of the worst sort, in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.
I respectfully decline making a prediction for that particular game, other than this -- the Hokies are sure to enjoy a delicious pregame meal. Don't forget the sweet iced tea.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>