The Atlantic Coast Conference can be rather neatly divided into two tiers: 1) newcomer Florida State and 2) everyone else. Clemson, the winner of four of the last six ACC titles, meets the Seminoles on Sept. 12, and from there on, the Tigers will be cast in the unfamiliar role of bridesmaid. The best battle in this league will be for runner-up behind Florida State. Virginia, which has finished second three times since 1987, will need a monster season from tailback Terry Kirby to stay in the hunt now that 6'7" quarterback Matt Blundin has gone to the Kansas City Chiefs. Blundin's replacement, 5'11" Bobby Goodman, came off the bench last season to pass for 229 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-21 loss to Georgia Tech.
The toughest shoes to fill will be those of Bobby Ross, who left Georgia Tech after five years and a share of the 1990 national title. His successor is Bill Lewis, who was named national Coach of the Year by his peers last season for leading East Carolina to a best-ever 11-1 finish. Lewis will build his team around senior quarterback Shawn Jones and fullback William Bell, who returns to the Yellow Jackets after missing all of last season due to a suspension for stealing school supplies.
The most surprising political announcement in the ACC occurred in January when North Carolina State noseguard Ricky Logo informed his fellow American Samoans that he would not succeed his grandfather as the islands' high chief. Instead, as a Wolfpack co-captain, Logo will try to lead N.C. State to its fifth straight bowl bid. This past spring NFL scouts declared that North Carolina was one of the five fastest teams in the country after clocking 17 Tar Heels at 4.5 or under in the 40. The best of this swift group is wideout Corey Holliday. Fittingly, the Terrapins of Maryland are the slowest team in the league. New coach Mark Duffner will try to install the same run-and-shoot offense that helped him achieve a 60-5-1 record at Holy Cross.
The conference's best-known unknown quarterback is Wake Forest sophomore Jim Kemp, the son of Jack Kemp, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and a pretty fair passer in his day. The smartest team, as usual, is Duke. But when it came to thinking on the field last season, the Blue Devils posted dismal marks in 1991—surrendering an average of 36 points over their final four games.
As the Big East prepares to embark on its second season of football, it can already boast as many national champions (one, Miami '91) as the Big West, MidAmerican and Western Athletic conferences combined. With the Hurricanes looking to pad that total in '92, some teams in the Big East can take solace in the fact that the conference is still a year away from its full round-robin schedule. The toughest intraleague road destinations that won't require sun block are Syracuse and Morgantown, W.Va. The Mountaineers are strong up the middle. Six-foot-seven center Mike Compton should clear dump truck-sized holes for the conference's best trio of runners: Adrian Murrell, Garrett Ford and Jon Jones. But for West Virginia to improve on last year's six wins, aptly named wide receiver James Jett, an Olympic sprinter, must get his hands on the ball more often.
Pittsburgh senior Alex Van Pelt, the league's best quarterback, missed spring drills to recover from elbow surgery on his throwing arm, but sometime in September he should surpass Dan Marino's 8,597 career yards and become the Panthers' alltime leading passer. The most eagerly awaited homecoming in the league is that of Rutgers quarterback Bryan Fortay, who returned to his native New Jersey after riding the bench for two years at Miami and sitting out his mandatory transfer year. Virginia Tech has the dubious honor of being the least-experienced team in the conference. The Tech tenderfeet face five opponents who played in bowl games last season. Boston College will have a stylish retro feel to it with junior quarterback Glenn Foley playing the same position for the Eagles as his father, Ed, did nearly 30 years ago. Temple won only two games last year, but one Owl who is still likely to soar is 36-year-old walk-on punter David Klukow, a former member of the Flying Wallendas high-wire troupe.
The biggest surprise in the Big Eight last fall was a burst of aerial attacks as every team passed for more than 1,000 yards for only the seventh time since 1907. Don't expect anyone in this league to break the 1-2-3 grip of Oklahoma, Colorado and Nebraska just yet, but the turnaround of Kansas and Kansas State—last season both schools finished with winning records for the first time in 58 years—is causing the most excitement Tornado Alley has experienced since the days of Gale Sayers. No one laughs at Kansas anymore, but folks do get a chuckle out of the Jayhawks' 305-pound all-conference tackle, Keith Loneker, a dead ringer for Curly of The Three Stooges. Loneker will see to it that quarterback Chip Hilleary isn't thwarted in his quest to become the only Jayhawk to pass for more than 4,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in a career. At K-State, coach Bill Snyder has some real talent in linebacker Brooks Barta and defensive tackle Jody Kilian.
The conference's most intriguing slogan belongs to Iowa State, whose players have taken to wearing baseball caps with MEN OF THE CIRCLE sewn on the front. "It's our motto," says sophomore quarterback Bob Utter. "It's a show of team unity." This comes as a surprise to those who watched State's spring practice; the Cyclones did more fighting among themselves than a Liverpool soccer crowd. In between breaking up brawls, coach Jim Walden and his assistants taught their toughs a triple-option offense. The conference's least-effective defense is Missouri's read-and-react. Coach Bob Stull scrapped it before spring practice because in '91 the Tigers didn't read or react—they allowed a second-worst-in-the-nation 505 yards a game. With Oklahoma State nearing the end of a four-year NCAA probation, coach Pat Jones offered his players the nation's most morbid motivational display. He gathered his team at Lewis Field and with great ceremony buried a small wooden casket representing the last three years of sanctions. It will take more than theatrics by Jones to dig this program out.
Because the Big Ten is still a year away from allowing Penn State a chance to run for the roses, for the 20th time in the last 25 seasons the conference will be represented in Pasadena by either Michigan or Ohio State—with Iowa having an outside chance. The unhappiest loser in the conference is Michigan State coach George Perles, who was forced to relinquish his contemporaneous post as athletic director in favor of former NCAA assistant executive director Merrily Dean Baker. "I will watch over Michigan State no matter what my title," said Perles, whose 3-8 Spartans did more losing last season than any other team from East Lansing since 1982. State was ninth in the conference in total offense, but the Big Ten's most exciting player this time around could well be sophomore receiver Mill Coleman, who reminds folks of former Spartan wideouts Andre Rison and Mark Ingram.
Stability at quarterback is one of Illinois' major strengths, thanks to the Big Ten's total offense leader, Jason Verduzco, who returns for his senior season. The Illini also boast one of the nation's biggest kickers in 249-pound Chris Richardson. Running back Jeff Hill returns to Purdue, where last season he helped to boost the Boilermakers' team-rushing total past 1,000 yards for the first time since 1985. The biggest hole in the conference exists at Indiana, where coach Bill Mallory must find a tailback to replace Vaughn Dunbar, the school's third alltime leading rusher.