GREENSBORO — For the 17th straight year, a Bowden-coached team is the preseason favorite in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
For the first time in that span, it isn’t Florida State.
Clemson — coached by Tommy Bowden, the son of Bobby Bowden, major college football’s wins leader at Florida State — was announced Monday as the favorite to win the ACC title. It’s the first time Clemson has been the league’s preseason choice since 1991, the year before the Seminoles entered the league.
"I’d like to see him win every game but one — not us," said Bobby Bowden, whose team was picked third behind Clemson and Wake Forest in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. "But it’s good. If I can’t be there, I’d just rather him be next."
Clemson picked up 59 of 65 first-place votes in the league’s Atlantic Division balloting, and was an overwhelming choice — named on 51 ballots — to win the overall ACC title and claim an automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series. Defending league champion Virginia Tech easily picked up top honors to prevail in the Coastal Division, over North Carolina and Miami.
Boston College, Maryland and North Carolina State rounded out the Atlantic Division preseason list; Georgia Tech, Virginia and Duke had the last three spots in the Coastal Division.
"I’m not used to being in this position," Tommy Bowden said. "My father’s more accustomed to handling this question than I am. But I think it’ll definitely elevate competition."
The Tigers have tons of offensive talent coming back, including quarterback Cullen Harper, two stellar tailbacks in James Davis and C.J. Spiller, and a breakout receiver in Aaron Kelly. And there’s a clear sense that last year’s 9-4 record won’t be good enough in 2008 to Clemson.
"We’ve got all the guys coming back," Harper said. "Typically, people don’t get worse."
The last time Florida State wasn’t a preseason favorite in the ACC, George Bush was president of the United States, the New York Giants were the reigning Super Bowl champions and the Los Angeles Lakers had just lost in the NBA finals.
No, really, a lot has changed since 1991.
The Seminoles were the ACC’s preseason choice for each of their first 13 years as a league member and won at least a share of the title in 11 of those seasons. The league expanded and split to a two-division format in 2005, but the Seminoles’ run of first-place predictions continued in the Atlantic Division — where they finished fifth in 2006 and fourth last season.
And those struggles beg the constant question in Tallahassee: Can the ‘Noles regain the stature they’ve lost?
"I understand the history and I understand the tradition that we have at Florida State," Seminoles quarterback Drew Weatherford said. "I was a fan long way before I became a player and I would be asking the same questions. We’ve been working extremely hard, but we just haven’t gotten it done. That’s what it comes down to."
Over the last seven years, the preseason favorite has gone on to win the ACC title only four times.
"It always changes," said Miami coach Randy Shannon, whose team was tabbed to finish third in the Coastal for the second straight season. "It’s a starting block for us to know where we’re at, to see what people think about Miami."
There’s even hope for the teams picked to finish last in the ACC: Two years ago, Wake Forest was tabbed to finish sixth in the Atlantic Division and ended up winning the conference’s overall title.
But the veterans on coach Jim Grobe’s team downplayed all the preseason hype, remembering that it was worthless two years ago and seeing no reason to change their thinking now.
"It’s preseason," Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith said. "It’s scary in the sense that the young guys on the team might buy into it. ... Us old guys, we understand how this thing goes. It really doesn’t matter."