Sunday, August 29

2010 College Football Predictions: The ACC

For the past decade, the ACC has not exactly been flavor country for college football. Putrid showings in bowl season after bowl season and no team playing for the BCS title since 2000 (Miami was in the Big East in 2002) has led many to view ACC has a punchline and a failed expansion project. However, the conference does contain some talented players and teams and despite non-sexy national match-ups in the championship game the conference is making money. Include the new TV deal with ESPN and the conference is healthy, but still lacking a breakthrough performance. Once again the ACC brings talented teams to the table, but will the conference be holding its head high at the end of the year or sticking it in the sand like so many years before. The ASD ACC predictions after the jump.


1. Clemson

I usually have a rule against picking Clemson to win anything, in any sport, but the Tigers proved that they could advance from the muck that is the ACC Atlantic last year. CJ Spiller was a difference-maker for Clemson last year and his explosiveness will be missed. They may believe they have the next two-headed backfield monster in James Harper and Andre Ellington, but talk is cheap. Kyle Parker has staved off the baseball field for one more season, but will he find consistency behind center? There seems to be a dynamic duo phenomenon going on down in western South Carolina because Clemson also has one on defense in safeties DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall. The Tigers have the talent to get this done, but in my mind the jury is still out on Dabo and his staff. He should rightfully get credit for taking the team to the ACC title game but in BCS conferences coaches are measured by championships and the consistency of playing for them. Swinney appears to have his system in place to succeed where Tommy Bowden failed but he needs to shore up his special teams and game management. This could be the year they get it done.

The Tigers schedule has it's challenges but the placement of the games proves favorable. They only have back-to-back road games once toward the end of the year. They get cupcakes North Texas and Presbyterian(go Blue Hoes!) to open before they travel to Auburn in another ACC/SEC showdown. Even if Clemson loses that which I think they will, it does not affect their status in the Atlantic Division. They then have a week off before Miami comes to Death Valley. They also get Georgia Tech at home. The two other challengers in the Atlantic, FSU and BC, will be road challenges for them but Clemson will be able to afford to drop one. Prediction is Clemson goes 8-4 and makes it to Charlotte.

2. Boston College

Despite how loathe I am to watch another stupid replay of the Flutie Hail Mary pass, I have a lot of respect for BC football. From the time of Tom O'Brien to Frank Spaziani's tenure now, you are always guaranteed a solid effort from the Eagles when they take the field. The biggest story for them this year will be off the field, or rather a return to the field. Mark Herzlich will return from the cancer in his leg that took him away from football. He made his presence felt on ESPN and the sidelines last year but now his September return will provide an emotional boon and hopefully a productive difference in the defense. Quarterback was a problem last year and while Dave Shinskie (aka Wienke 2.0) has another year under his belt, the 25-year old has have to made great strides to provide more solid play. Defensively the Eagles should be their usual stalwart selves. If the offense can take pressure off the BC defense and produce sustained, long drives the Eagles will have success.

The schedule shapes up quite swimmingly. Cream puffs Weber State and Kent State lead them into a 3rd week open date. Virginia Tech comes next as their most challenging contest but they get it at Chestnut Hill. Notre Dame comes calling next but don't believe the hype, I'm a believer in Brian Kelly but the Irish are not to be feared this year. The Eagles will round out their conference play with Wake, Duke and Virginia. Damn, maybe I should change that Clemson pick but no, I think the Eagles come up just short of a division title.

3. Florida State

Will it be weird to not see Bobby Bowden on the sidelines for the Seminoles? No, since he really wasn't there the last couple seasons, with the exception of his Gator Bowl fairwell. While I am a Cane for life, Bobby Bowden deserves his respect for what he accomplished at FSU and we will ignore all that off the field stuff for now. Bowden is hocking a book (shocking I know) so he has got his best "Dang gum" act on the radio and while he has admitted he was forced out he has no ill-will toward the suits in Tallahassee. This will be a tough year for Jimbo Fisher, not because he is now the head coach, but because of all the distraction away from the field about replacing Bowden. The Seminoles will continue to be impressive on offense thanks to Fisher's game-planning but the defense is suspect. Christian Ponder is as good a combo of smarts and athleticism as anyone in the country. The offense should again be lighting up scoreboards, but can the defense keep up? I think FSU will have a number of close losses on the plate this year.

The out of conference schedule is tough for Florida State; after Samford comes to Doak, they will travel to Oklahoma and then host BYU. The Cougars will be eager to avenge their blowout last year. As always, Florida looms at the end fo the schedule and it is doubtful the Seminoles have risen as high as the Gators will fall without Tebow. It will be a season of highs and lows with a solid bowl bid at the end.

4. NC State

The honeymoon is over for Tom O'Brien in Raleigh. If there is no bowl game for the Wolfpack this year, the natives will be very restless. Six wins will be a challenge but it can be done. Shoring up the defense will be the biggest test. Russell Wilson will also need to take the leap forward he did not last year before he takes his leap to baseball. Tom O'Brien's BC teams were well known for strong offensive lines supporting strong running games while the defense played tough. The Pack defense was 99th in points against last year. It will be a tough road to hoe but Tom O'Brien is a coach that has yet to get it accomplished.

NC State has those games that could go tenuously either way. At UCF, Cincinnati, East Carolina, at North Carolina and at Maryland to close the season. Then there are games like at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech back-to-back. I think the Pack will squeeze their 6 wins out of it.

5. Wake Forest

Wake went bowl-less for the first time in 5 years in 2009. Riley Skinner who seemed to be in Winston-Salem for a decade is gone and he represents a problem that Jim Grobe and company have had over the pas couple years, they have lost those diamonds in the rough and have to develop new ones. Grobe will try to introduce more of an option attack on offense which may accompany their personnel and style of play better...or fall flat. The defense will have fresh blood on the line, which will likely make stopping the run a challenge. Grobe made believers out of a lot of people but unfortunately he will have to do it again.

The Deacons got the dreaded Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech combo from the Coastal, and they will play fellow smart schools Navy and Stanford out of conference. The Deacons will struggle to make a bowl but be more than happy wherever they go if they do.

6. Maryland

The Terps could do worse than last year, but that would mean they went 1-11 or 0-12. I'll go out on a limb and say that will not happen and not just because they have instituted a prime yoga regiment. Ralph Friedgen was given a stay of execution, mainly because Maryland gave Gary Williams another shot and he delivered and Maryland is a basketball school. With a more "athletic" quarterback taking over in Jamarr Robinson Friedgen will add more of an option look. Nothing much to shout about on the defensive side, except their linebackers.

Maryland will need to finish strong if they are going to make it happen this season. From October 16 to November 27 they play 7 of their 8 ACC games consecutively.


1. Virginia Tech

I often refer to the Hokies as the flag-bearers for the ACC because they are the one team that has been BCS-consistent throughout the decade. They provided a much needed Orange Bowl win a few years ago and even in a last year they defeated an SEC foe in their bowl game. This year Tech boasts another top ten ranking and their Bud Foster-led D will again keep teams in check while their stud RBs Darren Evans and Ryan Williams will pound the ball and give support to sometimes maligned Tyrod Taylor. While they have been the consistent, a national title has eluded Frank Beamer and company. This will be another year where they are in the hunt.

The biggest match-up of the opening weekend in college football will happen Labor Day night at FedEx Field. While it cannot be said absolutely that the Hokies have no shot at the title if they lose this game, it is all but assured if they cannot beat Boise State. All eyes will be on that game more for the Broncos than the Hokies but the game is likely the whole season for both. After the opener Tech should roll until a Thursday Night clash in Blacksburg against Georgia Tech and then at North Carolina and at Miami which will decide this division. I think Virginia Tech falters against Boise State, the potato-eaters have been thinking of nothing else of the game and had months to prepare. With one or two losses in conference the season overall might be seen as a disappointment by the Hokie faithful but as is custom in the Coastal I foresee a tie for the division title which the Hokies will win out on.

2. Miami

The second player in my 3-way tie is Miami. Miami is responsible for loading its non-conference schedule but the ACC schedule makers do not help them out either. The bright side is that the Canes should be even better than their 9-4 bounce back of last year. Jacory Harris returns having a full season at starter under his belt and his injured thumb surgically repaired. Miami had two key additions late in the recruiting season in Latwaan Anderson, a stud CB from Ohio, and Seantrel Henderson the big O-lineman who bailed on USC. Those are the young guns, but Miami's roster has finally matured. To add to that many of these players have in-game experience and the roster now has the depth of the classic Miami teams. Can Randy Shannon take the next step with the talent? I think they fall just short of their goal to play for the ACC title in Charlotte, mainly because of the schedule.

After a breather against Florida A&M, Miami travels to Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Clemson. Then they return home to find rival FSU waiting for them. If that was not tough enough, they get Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in consecutive weeks to close out the ACC. I think they trip up once against Ohio State at the Shoe which is understandable and then falter twice in conference and lose out on the tiebreaker to Virginia Tech.

3. Georgia Tech

They scoffed at Paul Johnson and his triple option after they got destroyed by LSU two years ago in the Peach Bowl, but the Jackets came back strong last year and won the ACC title before they got smacked by Iowa in the Orange Bowl. Johnson has made adjustments to his offense and will have to continue to in order to advance Tech to where they want them: national prominence every year. It's not my lack of confidence in Paul's ability to do that that has them at the bottom end of the 3-way tie, it's their losses to the NFL. Jonathan Dwyer and Demariyus Thomas on offense, Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett on defense. I expect Josh Nesbitt to improve this year and the Jackets will fair well but not reach the heights they did last year.

Game number 2 at Kansas intrigues me, just to see the two meet in Kansas. After a date in Chapel Hill with North Carolina the schedule opens up until Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami in games 8-10. Another winning season in Atlanta, which will leave the Jackets to find some success in bowl season and dispel the "time to prepare" knock against them.

4. North Carolina

Wow, the dreams sure did unravel fast for the football program this year at UNC. The only questions that the Heels had coming into this season was their offense and QB production when an alleged agent-funded trip to Miami opened up an institution investigation that lead to a group of defensive stars relegated to the scout team in the wake of possible academic fraud. How did it come to this? Needless to say this situation has dropped the Tar Heels down in many people's opinions and that includes mine. I don't think the season will be a total wash, but UNC will not reach the promised land when their strongest point has been weakened.

After representing the ACC(sigh) in the kickoff classic in Atlanta, the Heels will then host Georgia Tech before jaunting out of conference to host Rutgers and East Carolina. How they do after these first four may indicate whether Butch Davis loses the team's focus or not.

5. Duke

Duke's first win came when David Cutcliffe decided to stay at Duke despite the Tennessee job, where he was a former assistant, opening up. Their second came when the basketball team won the NCAA Tournament. Two wins already! Sadly they cannot use those two toward bowl eligibility but they will help the pressure off the team. There are 6 wins on Duke's schedule, a bowl game is within reach. Cutcliffe will have to use his strength in preparing QBs to aid Sean Renfree if the Devils will succeed. A new defensive coordinator means a new scheme, and it remains to be seen how much Marion Hobbby can hold opposing teams in check with the players he has this year, leading to more need of points on the board.

Wallace Wade Stadium will be jumping when preseason number 1 Alabama visits in week 3. Of course it will be jumping because of all the Tide fans that will invade Durham but attendance is attendance right? Elon, Wake, Army, Maryland, Navy, and Virginia are the 6 wins I can count for Duke, if they win all those or steal another, they could be bowl bound for the first time in awhile.

6. Virginia

Mike London returns to Charlottesville to find a program in disarray. I have confidence that he will turn it around but it will not come this year. I think London will be able to bring in a lot of in-state talent because of his run from UVA as d-coordinator and his FCS title reign in Richmond. With all that said, the cupboard is not exactly empty for the Cavs. Dominique Wallace at RB and sophomore WR Tim Smith represent some of this potential on offense. The defense should be solid as London's roots lie in the defensive side of the ball. It may be a familiar sight for Wahoo fans on the field at least for this year. Not much scoring, not many wins.

The first game of London's tenure will be against his former team, Richmond. That should be a comfy opening for London before they travel to USC and most likely get throttled. It's hard to find much solace in the schedule outside of the first game and guarantee gimmes against VMI and Eastern Michigan.

Player to watch: Darren Evans, Virginia Tech
Exceeds expectations: Boston College
Fails expectations: North Carolina
In-conference game to watch: Miami at Georgia Tech, Nov. 13
Out of conference statement game: Boise State vs. Virginia Tech, Sep. 6

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