The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 24, 2012

2012 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

The Atlantic Coast Conference has not had a National Champion since Florida State won the title in 1999 (defeating future ACC rival Virginia Tech).  The league suffered through several down years with teams playing in the conference championship game and finishing with three, four, and even five losses.  Just last year, conference champion Clemson gave up 70 points in the Orange Bowl.

 

Prospects look brighter this season as the sports “experts” believe Florida State is a strong national title contender once again.  Clemson and North Carolina State are improved enough to reach double digit wins.  The other three Atlantic Division teams will compete for bowl eligibility.  In the Coastal Division, North Carolina is not bowl eligible this year, and the Tar Heels could finish in first place in the division.  There is a chance a 5-3 and definitely a 6-2 team could face the Atlantic Division winner at the end of the year.

 

Here is the league’s official preseason media poll.

 

 

 

ACC Atlantic

Votes

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Florida State

72

543

(60)

2

Clemson

17

470

(13)

3

North Carolina State

5

402

(1)

4

Wake Forest

0

241

 

5

Boston College

0

181

 

6

Maryland

0

148

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACC Coastal

 

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Virginia Tech

83

558

(18)

2

Georgia Tech

10

421

(3)

3

North Carolina

2

341

 

4

Virginia

0

326

 

5

Miami (Fla.)

0

245

 

6

Duke

0

104

 

 

 

 

 

 

Numbers in ( ) are votes to win ACC Championship Game

 

 

The PiRate Ratings and PiRate Vintage Ratings vary only slightly from the media poll.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

ACC Atlantic

PiRate

1

Florida State

120.0

2

Clemson

115.0

3

North Carolina State

103.1

4

Boston College

102.9

5

Wake Forest

98.6

6

Maryland

95.6

 

   

Rank

ACC Coastal

PiRate

1

Virginia Tech

111.8

2

North Carolina

109.0

3

Georgia Tech

107.4

4

Virginia

100.0

5

Miami (Fla)

99.3

6

Duke

98.4

 

   

 

   

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

ACC Atlantic

Vintage

1

Florida State

115

2

Clemson

113

3

North Carolina State

110

4

Boston College

107

5

Maryland

100

6

Wake Forest

99

 

   

Rank

ACC Coastal

Vintage

1

Virginia Tech

109

2

Georgia Tech

109

3

North Carolina

108

4

Virginia

105

5

Miami (Fla)

103

6

Duke

103

 

 

Team

Boston College Eagles

               
Head Coach

Frank Spaziani

               
Colors

Maroon and Gold

               
City

Chestnut Hill, MA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

               
PiRate Rating

102.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

54

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

39

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

 

Last year, the Eagles suffered through their first losing season since 1998, and it continued a pattern that has been developing for four years.  BC’s win total has decreased four years in a row from 11 to nine to eight to seven to four.

 

Fourth year coach Frank Spaziani will get a pink slip if this trend continues in 2012.  The pattern should end this year, because of the 22 starters that should take the field for the opener against Miami, 20 of them started at least one game last year.

 

Expect big changes on the offensive side, even though all 11 positions will have a player with starting experience.  Spaziani hired Doug Martin as his new offensive coordinator.  Martin is a passing specialist.  He couldn’t turn the corner as head coach at Kent State, but the Golden Flashes moved the ball through the air.  In Martin’s one season as the OC at New Mexico State, the Aggies improved by nine points and 100 passing yards per game.

 

Whether quarterback Chase Rettig is up to the chase is another story.  In two seasons, Rettig has thrown as many interceptions as touchdown passes, and his completion percentage has been just a tad over 50%.  Rettig is not a running threat, so the Eagles need a major jump by the junior this year if they are to challenge for a winning record.

 

All the key personnel returns at the receiver positions, but one key piece will be sidelined until late October.  Bobby Swigert led in receptions as a possession receiver, and Colin Larmond led in yards as more of a breakaway threat.  Alex Amidon is another deep threat, while tight end Chris Pantale continues the tradition of excellent play at that position by Eagle tight ends.  This quartet was responsible for about 70% of the pass receptions last year.  Pantale will miss the first half of the season with a broken bone in his foot.

 

Deuce Finch and Andre Williams return to share the running back position after Montel Harris was dismissed from the team in the early part of last season.  This duo combined for 1,222 yards and seven touchdowns, but they cannot match what Harris did.  With the new emphasis on the passing game, expect BC’s rushing numbers to stay around 100-120 yards per game.

 

Four full-time starters return up front, and the fifth started a game last year.  The left side of the line is strong and talented with guard Bobby Vardaro and tackle Emmett Cleary.  Ian White moves from guard to center.

 

We expect the Eagles to increase their points and yardage this season.  Of course, they have easy marks to better, as they scored 18 points and gained less than 300 yards per game in 2011.  Expect a jump by five points and 50-75 yards.

 

The defense would have been better if it didn’t have to stay out on the field so long.  BC’s opponents averaged seven more scrimmage plays per game than the Eagles averaged.

 

The strength of the 4-3 alignment is at linebacker, where weak side linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis returns after finishing second on the team with 74 tackles, including six for negative yardage.  Steele Divitto returns to the other outside position.  He finished third with 72 tackles and picked up a couple of sacks.  Sean Duggan started a trio of 2011 games as a true freshman, and he finished with 39 stops.  He has to replace Luke Kuechly, a first-round NFL draft pick.  Even without their all-American, BC is solid here.

 

The defensive front four suffered with injuries last season, and several youngsters saw extended playing time.  End Brian Mihalik was pressed into duty as a true freshman and now has game experience.  He will team with Kasim Edebali at the opposite terminal position.  The Eagles made just 11 sacks all season, and these two anchors need to approach that number by themselves for the Eagles to compete for a bowl bid.  Tackles Dillon Quinn, Dominic Appiah, and Kaleb Ramsey give the Eagles three quality players at the inside position.

 

The secondary never had a chance last year due to the weak pass rush.  The Eagles were repeatedly exploited in the underneath zones.  Two starters return this season, but the two new starters saw a lot of action as freshmen.  None of these four players will challenge for all-ACC honors, and if the pass rush is morbid again this season, BC’s defense will suffer through another long season.

 

Boston College has a history of producing some excellent kickers, but even this phase of the game suffered last year.  Nate Freese connected on a 52-yard field goal, but he was just 10-16 for the season. 

 

The schedule presents another obstacle in the Eagles’ path to bowl eligibility.  Outside the ACC, BC has just one guaranteed win, and that is against a really good FCS team in Maine.  The Eagles face Northwestern and Army on the road and host Notre Dame.  We can see BC winning two of the four non-league games.  The Eagles draw Miami, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech from the Coastal Division and of course must face the big three out of the Atlantic.  3-5 in league play looks like the ceiling, so BC could very well come up one game short.

 

 

 

 

Team

Clemson Tigers

               
Head Coach

Dabo Swinney

               
Colors

Orange and Purple

               
City

Clemson, SC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-4

               
PiRate Rating

115.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

113

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

11

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-3

 

A season that included Clemson’s first ACC Championship in 20 seasons plus two wins over Virginia Tech and wins over Florida State and Auburn were almost forgotten after the debacle at the Orange Bowl.  CU lost to Geno Smith and West Virginia 70-33!  After an 8-0 start, the Tigers limped home at 2-4, and the fans in Clemson were not all that happy.

 

Coach Dabo Swinney took immediate action to improve the defense by luring away Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables.  Venables is going to make as much as some mid-major head coaches this year, and he will earn that if he can turn this defense around.  Defense is the definite Achilles ’ heel of this team.

 

CU gave up close to 30 points and 400 yards per game in 2011.  In the final eight games, they gave up 36.6 points per game and 423 yards per game.  Venables has not been all too pleased by what he has to work with so far.  He told the media that he was only comfortable with about a dozen players, and a defense cannot get by on that many.

 

The defensive line lost its top three players from last year, and it is the reason CU will not repeat as Atlantic Division champions this season.  End Malliciah Goodman is the lone holdover here.  He made 59 tackles and just two sacks, and his sack total should triple or even quadruple this year with the losses of Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson.

 

The second line of defense returns all three starters from a year ago.  Corrico Wright recorded 80 tackles with five for loss.  Jonathan Willard added 75 tackles.  Quandron Christian contributed 36.  Tony Steward is trying to come back from two torn ACL’s, and he had the potential to be an All-ACC player.  It looks like he could be forced to miss this year rehabbing the knee.

 

Rashard Hall led CU in tackles with 89.  It is never a good thing when your leading tackler is a safety, unless your team leads every game 14-0 after seven minutes.  Hall only recorded three defended passes.  Xavier Brewer starts at the other safety position.  Brewer picked off one pass and knocked away seven others.  There isn’t much depth in the secondary, and injuries will be a major problem here.  Hall had a minor surgery after last season.

 

The Clemson offense is in much better shape, and the Tigers can still win games in which they give up four touchdowns.  Tajh Boyd completed 60% of his passes with 33 touchdowns in his first season as a full-time starter.  He added five more on the ground.  Boyd quickly picked up offensive coordinator Chad Morris’s offense, and CU made a jump by almost 10 points and more than 100 yards per game.

 

Two of the ACC’s top receivers (possibly the two best) return this year, but one will miss the first two games of the season following an off-season arrest.  Sammy Watkins will be missed against Auburn.  He led CU with 82 receptions, 1,219 yards, and 12 touchdowns.  DeAndre Hopkins finished with 72 catches and 978 yards.  Tight end Dwayne Allen must be replaced, but the Tigers have a couple of talented replacements in Brandon Ford and Stanton Seckinger.

 

Clemson is not a one-dimensional team.  The Tigers can do damage on the ground as well.  Andre Ellington returns after gaining 1,178 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns.  A concern is the loss of backup Mike Bellamy who failed to stay academically eligible.

 

Rebuilding is needed on the offensive line, the one possible liability on this side of the ball.  The Tigers must break in three new starters in the trenches.  Center Dalton Freeman has NFL potential.  He earned 1st Team All-ACC accolades last year.  Brandon Thomas returns at one tackle position, while the new starting tackle figures to be Shaq Anthony.  The two new starters at guard are Tyler Shatley and David Beasley.

 

Chandler Catanzaro is one of the best placekickers since “Iggy kicked the piggy” back in the 1980’s.  He hit on 22 of 27 field goals, including 9 of 12 from 40 yards and out.

 

Clemson has seven sure wins on their schedule.  How well they perform in five key contests will determine if the Tigers can win 10 games again.  We think they can, but only if they win their bowl game this year.

 

 

Team

Florida State Seminoles

               
Head Coach

Jimbo Fisher

               
Colors

Garnet and Gold

               
City

Tallahassee, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-4

               
PiRate Rating

120.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

115

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

8

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

12-1

 

The Seminoles have not competed for the national championship since 2000, when they fell to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.  The Seminoles are the media darling this season, as multiple media personnel are picking FSU to win all the marbles.

 

Third year coach Jimbo Fisher returns a load of talent, and the Seminoles have the horses on both sides of the ball to make the media look like geniuses.

 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Seminoles may begin to resemble the great units produced by Mickey Andrews in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  FSU is loaded on this side of the ball, possibly the top line and set of linebackers in the league.

 

The defensive line is as strong as LSU’s or Alabama’s.  Ends Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins remind us of Eric Curry and John Copeland at Alabama in 1992.  These two bookends teamed up for 15 sacks and 23 total tackles for loss.  Werner can drop back in pass coverage and defend like a linebacker.  Three excellent tackles return in the inside with Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud starting and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Timmy Jernigan backing them up.  FSU may actually see their excellent sack total of 41 going up this year.

 

Nigel Bradham led the ‘Noles in tackles for three years in a row, and he will be hard to replace.  However, Vince Williams and Christian Jones return after teaming for 110 tackles.

 

Safety Lamarcus Joyner led FSU with four interceptions and he joins cornerback Xavier Rhodes as the holdovers in the secondary.   If there is a concern, it is in the secondary, but FSU will have three games to break in the new starters before they face a quarterback that can exploit them. 

 

The offense was not quite up to standard at times last year, but numerous injuries made it difficult to stay consistent.  Quarterback E. J. Manuel was one of those players needing medical attention.  When healthy, Manuel completed 65.3% of his passes for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns.  He averaged better than 8.5 yards per attempt.

 

All of Manuel’s key receivers return this year.  Rodney Smith, Rashad Greene, and Christian Green teamed for 100 receptions and 1,607 yards; all three can take a five-yard pass and turn it into a 50-yard gain.

 

Devonta Freeman led the Seminoles with 579 rushing yards last year, but he will back up Chris Thompson this year.  This is one area where there is need for improvement.  A good pass defense may be able to slow the FSU offense down and produce an upset.

 

Several players saw time in the offensive line last year due to injuries.  Center Bryan Stork was the regular when he was healthy.  He can play anywhere on the line.  Tre Jackson and Josue Matias will start at guard, while Daniel Glauser and Cameron Erving get the nod at tackle.  If Jacob Fahrenkrug can return from an ankle injury at some point this year, he will provide a major boost.

 

Don’t get us wrong:  Florida State has its best team in a decade, and they can run the table with the talent they have.  However, we are not ready to coronate this team as the top team in the land.  Our ratings show the ACC Atlantic Division to be much improved overall this year.  The top three teams could possibly split the three games.  Outside of conference play, the ‘Noles begin the season against Murray State and Savannah State, so their Strength of Schedule will suffer.  Their other two non-league games are in-state, at South Florida and home with Florida.  If they have one loss, their SOS will not hold up against a one-loss Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, USC, or Oregon team.

 

 

 

Team

Maryland Terrapins

               
Head Coach

Randy Edsall

               
Colors

Red, White, Black, and Gold

               
City

College Park, MD

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

95.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

74

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

66

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

4-8

 

As so often happens, a school’s fan base and athletic administrators frequently believe they can do better and deserve better than they have.  They rush to making inaccurate decisions based on faulty logic by looking at their product through rose-colored glasses.  Such was the case with Maryland. 

 

Ralph Friedgen had just guided the Terrapins to a 9-4 season and 31-point win in the Military Bowl.  It wasn’t enough for the Terps.  They expected the ACC title in 2010, but they lost by 14 to Florida State.

 

Friedgen was probably only going to coach another season, and Maryland had a budding superstar coach-in-waiting.  The athletic administration not only dropped the ball when they dismissed Friedgen, they bungled the timing as well, allowing James Franklin to slip to Vanderbilt.  Maryland suffered through a 2-10 season with one of those wins coming against Towson State, while Franklin turned Vanderbilt into a bowl team in one year.

 

Coach Randy Edsall came to College Park with a solid reputation.  He turned Connecticut into the Big East Champion and Fiesta Bowl participant.  It took him 12 years to do it, and it he will not be given nearly that long to turn the trick here.  He faces an uphill climb, because there isn’t enough football talent in this general area, and there are many competitors from the Big Ten and SEC, as well as other ACC schools vying for said talent.

 

Edsall was further put behind the eight-ball with a major blow at the most important position.  Former quarterback Danny O’Brien did not mesh with Edsall’s philosophy of moving the ball.  After a subpar year in which O’Brien suffered a broken arm and missed the last two games, this after he had been previously benched for runner C. J. Brown.  O’Brien thus became the next Russell Wilson.  As a college graduate, he became eligible to transfer to another school and play immediately.  His first choice was to follow his former offensive mentor Franklin to Vanderbilt, but Maryland charged that Vanderbilt had illegally talked to O’Brien and filed a complaint against the Commodores.  O’Brien decided to pull a Wilson and ended up as the new starter at Wisconsin.

 

That left Brown as the obvious starter and only experienced quarterback on the roster.  Last week, Brown suffered a knee injury that forces him out of action for this season, and that leaves the Terps with two true freshmen to share the quarterback spot.  Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe have potential to be decent quarterbacks, but maybe not until 2014.  Starting in the much improved ACC in 2012 is not going to get the job done, and opposing defenses will crowd the box with the intent to stuff the run and force the rookies into throwing mistakes. 

 

Maryland has some talent at receiver.  Kevin Dorsey could start for any ACC team other than Florida State. He led the Terps with 45 receptions, 573 yards, and three touchdowns last year as the one of two bright spots on the offense.  Tight end Matt Furstenburg is one of the top two or three ACC players at his position.  He should become an even more important target this year (31 receptions 348 yds. 2 TD) because inexperienced QBs tend to throw to the biggest target they can find. 

 

Justin Pickett is a step down from Davin Meggett at running back, and he is going to find it hard to locate many running lanes if opponents bring an eighth player into the box and do not respect the quarterbacks’ throwing ability.

 

Maryland’s interior line is strong inside and mediocre on the outside.  Center Sal Conaboy and guards Bennett Fulper and De’Onte Arnett are credible, but tackles Justin Gilbert and Nick Klemm are not going to give the frosh QBs ample time to set up in the pocket and not get nervous feet.

 

Expect Maryland’s offense to stall at several times against the better teams.  Having three not-so-tough non-conference games and a home conference game against Wake Forest will allow the attack side to pad their stats and come close to replicating or even topping last year’s final numbers.

 

If the defense does not find itself on the field for 33-35 minutes a game this year, the Terps should be quite improved on the stop side.  Most of the key contributors return from a unit that gave up 34.3 points and almost 460 total yards per game, so improvement should be a given.

 

Up front in the 3-4 alignment, Maryland has one of the top tackle/ends in the nation.  Joe Vellano is not your typical defensive tackle.  He doesn’t just occupy blockers so his linebackers can make the headlines.  Vellano makes the tackles, and he did so 94 times last year including 7 ½ for losses.  He will be joined by nose tackle A. J. Francis and end Andre Monroe, the sack specialist.  As a freshman, Monroe led the Terps with five sacks.  If this group doesn’t have to stay on the field all day, they should give make new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart look like a genius.

 

The quartet of linebackers is led by the league’s leading returning tackler.  Demetrius Hartsfield was one of two Terps to top 100 tackles last year, coming in at 108.  Seven of those stops produced a loss of yardage.  Darin Drakeford, Kenny Tate, and L. A. Goree give the Terps four returning starters here.  Goree is imposing as a blitzer.

 

It’s the back line of defense that will keep this defense from shaving 10 points off the scoring average allowed.  Safety Eric Franklin recorded 106 tackles last year, but he picked off nary a pass.  Dexter McDougle is the top cover corner on the team, and he led the Terps with three interceptions and nine passes defended.  An untested Jeremiah Johnson is set to start at the opposite corner.

 

Maryland’s kicking game needs improvement as well.  Nick Ferrara handled both kicking and punting duties, and he tired during the season.  He only connected on 12-20 field goals, just 1-4 from 40 yards and out.

 

The only reason the Terps should improve in the win column is the easier schedule.  They open with William & Mary at home, Temple on the road, and Connecticut at home.  This gives them a legitimate shot at starting 3-0, but then the only real winnable game the rest of the way is a home tilt against Wake Forest.  We expect them to lose their final seven games.

 

 

Team

North Carolina State Wolfpack

               
Head Coach

Tom O’Brien

               
Colors

Red and White

               
City

Raleigh, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

103.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

52

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

23

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-2

 

Tom O’Brien has been waiting eagerly for this season.  His Wolfpack appear to be better than the last two teams that finished 9-4 and 8-5 with back-to-back bowl wins.  In fact, North Carolina State may be one upset away from playing in the ACC Championship Game this year.  Fans in Raleigh anxiously await the big home game on October 6 against the Seminoles.

 

The offense is in capable hands with Mike Glennon at quarterback.  Glennon took over for Russell Wilson and by the end of the year, he was possibly the equal of Wilson.  O’Brien states that he has taken another step forward since the end of last year and could be primed for a season reminiscent of Phillip Rivers.  Glennon completed 62.5% of his passes for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns, and we expect him to approach 3,500 this year.  The question here is what happened should Glennon get injured, because it appears that a true freshman will back him up.  Manny Stocker is not the answer if he is forced into action in league play.

 

The Pack took a hit in the receiving corps with the loss of its top two pass catchers, including T. J. Graham who went in the third round of the NFL Draft.  Tobias Palmer will become the new top threat after catching 37 passes and scoring five touchdowns.  State has two quality tight ends in Mario Carter and Anthony Talbert, and O’Brien could use some two tight end formations in passing downs.

 

James Washington and Tony Creecy will split the running back duties, with Washington probably getting ¾ of the rushing attempts.  He could approach the 1,000-yard mark this year after gaining almost 900 last year.

 

Having a talented offensive line that can protect a quarterback can make an average passing game good and a good passing game great.  NCSU has a talented offensive line.  Center Camden Wentz is another great ball-snapper in a league full of great centers.  Zach Allen is set at one guard, and R. J. Mattes slides inside from tackle to man the other guard spot.  Rob Crisp and Andrew Wallace will be the new starting tackles.

 

Defensively, it all starts with the secondary, where the best pass defender not getting a paycheck resides at cornerback.  David Amerson is the NCAA’s Nnamdi Asomugha.  He ran away with the national interception title with 13, and he got his paws on five others.  The starting safeties, Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff teamed up for eight interceptions and 172 tackles.  Some opposing quarterbacks will be apprehensive about throwing into this secondary and even intimidated, just like many batters are scared to dig into the batting box against Aroldis Chapman.  It will make the pass defense even better.

 

One reason the pass defense is so good is the pass rush up front.  As a redshirt freshman, end Art Norman posted seven sacks and an incredible 30 QB hurries.  Some of those rushed passes ended up producing a sudden change of possession.  The talent at end is so good, Norman will not start.  He will be used as a designated pass rusher.  Brian Slay and Darryl Cato-Bishop are the two starters, and both are excellent run-stoppers.  Cato-Bishop is almost the equal of Norman as a pass rusher. 

 

Linebacker is where State has troubles.  All three starters and the top reserve from a year ago are gone.  The three projected starters played in just one game last year, but two of the players missed the season.  Still, it figures to be the one reason why NCSU may not win the ACC Atlantic Division.

 

The Wolfpack open the season in Atlanta against Tennessee, and this game will be an excellent gauge of their improvement.  The Vols are now beatable thanks to the recent loss of their top offensive player.  If State gets by Tennessee, they should be 5-0 when the Seminoles invade Carter-Finley Stadium.  If they can pull off the upset, they get a week off to come down from the high before resuming the conference schedule.  Only a November contest at Clemson would stand in their way of maybe doing something memorable. 

 

We tend to believe that beating Florida State and Clemson is asking a bit too much for a team that will have three new linebackers.  However, this looks like a solid 10-win team.

 

 

Team

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

               
Head Coach

Jim Grobe

               
Colors

Black and Old Gold

               
City

Winston-Salem, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

98.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

66

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

69

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

 

After going 28-12 between 2006 and 2008, Wake Forest has now suffered through three consecutive losing seasons, but at least they met that fate last year after losing their bowl game.  Coach Jim Grobe faces a minor rebuilding project in Winston-Salem this year, and the Demon Deacons must deal with a tougher Atlantic Division as well.  The non-conference schedule features the same two bowl teams that handled Wake last year, and both of those teams look to be better.  This does not look like a stellar year for Grobe and his Deacs.

 

Usually when a team returns its starting quarterback, there is a strong chance that the offensive numbers will improve.  However, we suspect that it will not happen here this season.  Tanner Price topped 3,000 yards passing last year with 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions.  He is saddled with an offensive line that suffered major graduation losses, as well as the loss of an NFL draft pick and the team’s best running back.  Opposing defenses are going to disrupt his rhythm this year, and Tanner will see his numbers regress.

 

The loss of Chris Givens is going to hurt more than just replacing his 83 receptions and 1,330 yards.  The other receivers found looser coverage on them because defenses had to devote two defenders to Givens.  Michael Campanaro will be the new go-to guy, but he will not command the same respect as Givens.  So, defenses will be able to play all the receivers a little tighter.  Redshirt Sherman Ragland has the potential to emerge as a starter and contribute.

 

Joshua Harris and Orville Reynolds will try to replace Brandon Pendergrass at running back.  The duo combined for 541 yards and an average of 4.2 yards per carry.  Don’t look for a major rushing average this year, as the offensive line will have to learn on the fly.

 

The only returning regular in the trenches is center Garrick Williams, and the best of the reserves from last year is tackle Colin Summers.  So guess which two offensive linemen were hurt and missed the Deacons most recent scrimmage?  You guessed it.  Williams is nursing a hamstring injury, and Summers sustained a calf injury.  Leg injuries to an offensive lineman is like an elbow injury to a pitcher.

 

Things are not dire on the defensive side of the ball, but then again, they are not peaches and cream either.  Wake gave up 27.4 points and 397.8 yards per game last year, and we do not expect those numbers to be much better if at all this season.

 

The Deacs are strongest in the secondary, thanks to two exceptional cornerbacks.  Bud Noel was the top defensive newcomer in the ACC last year.  He led the league in passes defended with 21, although unlike Amerson at NCSU, 19 of those were broken up passes and just two were interceptions.  Kenny Okoro had 10 passes defended, but like Noel, 90% of those were batted away passes and just one was an interception.

 

Three starting linebackers return, but none of them are stars, and two could be replaced by new starters.  Only Riley Haynes is guaranteed to keep his spot in the lineup.  Ziggy Allen and Mike Olson have apparently moved to number one on the depth chart ahead of Joey Ehrman and Scott Betros.

 

The Deacons play their 3-4 defense a little differently than most teams.  Usually the nose guard has to be big enough to blot out the sun in a day game, but Nikita is svelte for a 3-4 nose.  He is not a boulder that ties up space.  He is a disrupter who can get in the backfield and destroy an offensive play before it can develop.  Last year, he led Wake with 14 tackles for loss.  On either side of him are Kris Redding and Zach Thompson, two ends that will not show up on any media voter’s all-ACC teams.

 

Wake Forest has four winnable games at home this year (Liberty, Army, Duke, and Boston College, as well as another on the road (Maryland).  We may be generous in believing that they can win four of these five games, but Grobe always seems to find a way to get his teams to outperform.  

 

 

Team

Duke Blue Devils

               
Head Coach

David Cutcliffe

               
Colors

Royal Blue and White

               
City

Durham, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

98.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

67

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

56

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

 

The Blue Devils have been much more competitive under David Cutcliffe than they were for the last several years prior to his arrival in Durham.  His four years at Duke show a 15-33 record compared to a 4-42 record the previous four years.  His 3-9 team lost four close games last year.  In 2010, Duke also lost four close games and finished 3-9.  The year before that, they needed just one more victory to become bowl eligible and lost two close games.

 

That is the problem with a team that never has enough depth.  They can get up and play close games with several opponents but come up short when they tire.

 

The same fate may strike Duke again this year.  The Blue Devils have several talented players, just not enough to win the close games in the final quarter in the sunny South, where heat and humidity demands teams to have depth.

 

The Duke offense is the better of the two sides, but unless a better running game emerges, the Devils will not be strong enough to beat three ACC opponents and contend for Bowl Eligibility.

 

Duke rushed for just 94.1 yards per game on 30.4 attempts for an average of just 3.1 yards per try.  Factoring out the 19 sacks, the Blue Devils still failed to reach 100 yards per game.

 

Juwan Thompson and Josh Snead will be called upon to take some of the heat off the Duke passing game.  Thompson rushed for 457 yards to lead the team, but it is Snead that holds the key to whether Duke will improve on the ground.  He has breakaway speed.  His development allowed Cutcliffe to move Desmond Scott to receiver.

 

Scott immediately solves a problem that was facing the Duke offense.  In the off-season, a tragic accident almost took the life of receiver Blair Holliday.  Holliday’s amazing recovery from a terrible accident will inspire his teammates this year.  Scott will be the starting wideout in Holliday’s place.  He will team with Jamison Crowder and Conner Vernon to give Duke three quality receivers that should team for 130 receptions.  Garrett Patterson moves over to the offensive side and teams with Nick Hill to be the principle reserves.

 

Throwing the ball to these receivers is an experienced senior with more than two years served as a starter.  Sean Renfree completed 65% of his passes for 2,891 yards last year.  His 11 interceptions were a bit high, and his 14 touchdown passes were a tad low.

 

One star does not make an offensive line exceptional, but at least it is better than no stars.  Guard Laken Tomlinson leads an offensive line that provides excellent protection for their quarterback but has trouble opening holes for their running back.  However, if the line can push the defense back just long enough to gain two yards on third and one, it will make this offense work.

 

This could be the year where Duke’s defense begins to show improvement.  The last time the Blue Devils had this much experience returning from the season before, they gave up 10 fewer points and almost 70 less yards per game and improved the won-loss record by three games.  Of course, improved does not necessarily mean dominant.  This is still probably the weakest defense in the league with no players on the all-conference radar screen.

 

Up front, Justin Foxx and Kenny Anunike are serviceable ends.  They teamed for six sacks and 9 ½ tackles for loss, but they were the top pass rushing threats.  Most teams third and fourth best pass rushers team for six sacks and 9 ½ TFL.

 

The expected best linebacker on the team would have been Kelby Brown, but he will not play this year because he never fully recovered from an ACL injury from last year.  David Helton was the leading candidate to replace Brown, but he was knocked senseless in practice and will miss some time with a concussion.  Remember, Duke cannot afford to go deep into their depth chart to find new starters, so this is a major concern.

 

Cornerback Ross Cockrell could be the best defender on the team.  He broke up nine passes and picked off another last year, and he finished the season with 56 tackles.  Safety Walt Canty had 87 tackles and defended six passes.

 

The non-conference schedule includes a trip to Stanford and three winnable home games against Florida International, North Carolina Central, and Memphis.  Duke tends to stub its toe in these “winnable games” every year.  Richmond beat them last year for the second time in three years (they didn’t play Duke in 2010).  The Blue Devils must go 3-1 outside of the ACC to even begin to think about finding three more wins.  As the injuries pile up, so goes the chances of finding those three wins.  We don’t see it happening this year.

 

 

Team

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

               
Head Coach

Paul Johnson

               
Colors

Old Gold and White

               
City

Atlanta, GA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

107.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

39

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

27

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-4

 

Here is a team that may be getting overlooked by the media.  Georgia Tech finished in a tie for second in the ACC Coastal Division last year, and the Yellow Jackets should field their best team in three years with an experienced quarterback and group of ball carriers.

 

In Coach Paul Johnson’s option offense, a cerebral quarterback who can think quickly on the run is as important as a passing quarterback having multiple years passing in the same offense.  Tevin Washington is not the best passer in the league or even on this team, but he knows how to operate the veer and all its sister plays.  Washington led Tech with 986 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns last year.  He completed just 49.3% of his passes for 1,652 yards, but he averaged 11 yards per attempt!  That is because when Tech throws, a majority of those passes are deep routes off play-action.  Just the threat of having four receivers spread wide that can run deep, forces defenses to play the option with seven in the box.  When they did not respect it, Tech made them pay, as Washington threw a touchdown pass every 13.6 attempts.

 

The top two running backs return from last year.  Fullback David Sims forced defenses to assign more than one defender to bring him down, and he gained 698 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per attempt with seven scores.  Slotback Orwin Smith was even more deadly as the pitch back than he was as a receiver.  He took pitches off the option and made many of them long gainers.  Smith averaged better than 10 yards per carry, but he usually only received a pitch out when he had open space in front of him.

 

Smith is the leading returning receiver this year.  He caught 13 passes but averaged 23.5 yards per reception.  The rest of this unit will be used more for blocking ability than route running, as the playbook leads to their big play potential.

 

When this offense returns a lot of experience in the interior line, it spells trouble for opposing defenses.   Four starters return this year, and the new starter was headed toward cracking the lineup last year before he was lost to injury.  Guard Will Jackson and center Jay Finch have all-conference potential, while guard Omoregie Uzzi and tackle Ray Beno are better than average.  Morgan Bailey will slide into the vacant tackle position, and Tech will be off and running in 2012.

 

Critics of this offense say that these teams are too one-dimensional, but they are wrong on this.  How can you call a team that averages better than 11 yards per pass attempt not a passing threat?  Just put eight men in the box against this offense and watch how quickly Tech can pass the ball for six points.  You won’t see it happen, so there is your answer.  Look for the Ramblin’ Wreck to top 325 yards on the ground and 35 points per game for the first time in Johnson’s tenure.

 

The defense has slipped here the last few years.  From 2008 to 2011, Tech gave up 20.3, 24.8, 25.2, and 26.1 points per game.  If that trend continues this year, then GT will continue to fall short in the standings by a game or two.  However, if the numbers improve back to 24 points or less, the Yellow Jackets might sting the rest of the division and head to the conference title game.

 

No unit really stands out on this team, but the secondary is its top piece of the puzzle.  Unfortunately, one of the key starters here will be unavailable for the opener.  Louis Young is suspended for the first game, but he also has an arm injury.  He and fellow cornerback Rod Sweeting form a formidable tandem on the outside.  Safety Isaiah Johnson is equally talented at stopping the run and the pass.

 

Jeremiah Attaochu leads the four-man defensive line.  He led Tech with six sacks and 11 ½ tackles for loss last year.  The Jackets need a better showing from the opposite end.  Izaan Cross did not record a sack.

 

The middle of the defense has its opening game issues as well.  Expected starter Daniel Drummond is suspended the first game and one half of the second following his arrest for piloting a boat while intoxicated.  That leaves Quayshawn Nealy as the only truly experienced linebacker for the first game.

 

The first game is not your typical opener for a team in the ACC.  Georgia Tech does not play an FCS school in a guaranteed win game.  No, the Jackets play the one team that they have to beat in order to win the Coastal Division or at least finish second behind ineligible North Carolina.  Georgia Tech opens with Virginia Tech on the road on the Monday night game that substitutes for Monday Night Football.  They also have road games against Clemson and North Carolina as well as at rival Georgia.  So, it is a tough pill to swallow that they will not be at full strength for their most important game.  Also, Virginia Tech has had all year to prepare for stopping the option.  It puts Georgia Tech at a great disadvantage, and it gives Virginia Tech a great leg up.

 

 

Team

Miami Hurricanes

               
Head Coach

Al Golden

               
Colors

Royal Purple and Gold

               
City

Coral Gables, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

               
PiRate Rating

99.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

64

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

52

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

 

Here is a program that never seems to stay out of trouble for long.  When they were winning national championships between 1983 and 2001, they had to deal with numerous off the field issues.  Just a couple of years ago, they had additional major issues which forced the school to self-impose a bowl ban and rule multiple players suspended for multiple games.

 

Miami is once again eligible to go to a bowl game, but the Hurricanes will not be bowl eligible in the won-loss record.  This could be their worst team since the 1977 went 3-8.

 

Second year coach Al Golden lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and Miami will be weaker on offense and defense.  The offense returns just four starters, but one of those four has been displaced on the depth chart.

 

Quarterback Stephen Morris started last year against Maryland, but he was benched in favor of Jacory Harris.  Morris completed a touchdown pass in the final minute of that game, but it was to the wrong jersey, as the interception led Maryland to victory.  Since Harris finished up his career with a decent season, look for UM to regress in the passing game this year.

 

Miami’s two outstanding receivers from 2011 are now playing in the NFL.  Tommy Streater and Travis Benjamin combined for 1,420 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.  That leaves Allen Hurns and Phillip Dorsett as their replacements.  This duo gained just 562 yards in receptions.  Miami should rely more on its tight ends this year, as the Hurricanes have two (Asante Cleveland and Clive Walford) that can get open over the middle.

 

The running game has to replace a game-changer as well.  Lamar Miller rushed for 1,272 yards last year and left early for the NFL.  Mike James and Eduardo Clements will not be able to make up the lost yards.  Look for UM’s rushing numbers to fall by at least 20 yards per game and possibly as many as 35-40.

 

The Hurricanes have issues in the offensive line, where two starters return.  Seantrel Henderson is not one of those starters, but he is without a doubt the best lineman on the team when he is healthy and not having to deal with personal issues.  He just was cleared to practice this week, and he spent time away from Miami dealing with two funerals.  He will not be ready for the start of the season, and Miami starts out with two tough road games.

 

Miami has further issues clouding its defense.  The best player on the team, safety Ray Ray Armstrong was dismissed from the team for the rules violations that forced Miami to sanction itself.  Expected starting tackle Curtis Porter has health issues and may not play following an appendectomy.  Linebacker Eddie Johnson was supposed to platoon with converted safety Thurston Armbrister at the Will linebacker spot, but he has been absent in practice.

 

The Hurricanes still have some quality talent on this side of the ball; they just don’t have enough.  End Anthony Chickillo returns after leading UM with five sacks.  Middle linebacker Denzel Perryman has the ability to record 100 tackles.  Safety Vaughn Telemaque has started 36 games in the secondary. 

 

The schedule does Golden and his team no favors.  They open with consecutive road games against Boston College and Kansas State and should be 0-2 when they face Bethune-Cookman in their home opener.  BCU will not be a pushover in this game, but you have to figure Miami will win.  It is the only game we are confident in calling a sure win for the Hurricanes this year.  If they get all the breaks (the healthy return of Henderson/Morris has a breakout season/defense gels), Miami could win four or five games.  If UM has to struggle to beat BCU to win its first game, it isn’t impossible that they could go 1-11.  We will split the difference and call for three wins.

 

 

Team

North Carolina Tar Heels

               
Head Coach

Larry Fedora

               
Colors

Carolina Blue and White

               
City

Chapel Hill, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

109.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

35

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

108

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

32

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-3

 

The Tar Heels are in timeout.  There will be no bowl game for them this year due to multiple infractions.  Too bad for UNC; this is their best team since Mack Brown guided the Heels to an 11-1 season in 1997. 

 

New head coach Larry Fedora guided Southern Mississippi to the CUSA Championship last year.  He brings along his spread offense and 4-2-5 defense, and he believes he has the pieces in place to make both formations work immediately.

 

Bryn Renner led the ACC in passing efficiency last year.  He completed 68.3% of his passes for 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns and averaged 8.8 yards per attempt.  He is not much of a runner, so it remains to be seen how well he will fit into the spread.  Fedora’s quarterback at Southern Miss ran the ball five or six times per game last year.

 

One player that should thrive in the new offense is running back Giovani Bernard, the league’s Rookie of the Year and a 1st team Freshman All-American after he rushed for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 45 passes.

 

The receiving corps took a major blow when T. J. Thorpe broke his foot earlier this month.  Thorpe was a major weapon as a kick returner, and he was expected to be the Devin Hester of this team in 2012.  Still, UNC has two quality pass catchers in Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd.  Boyd can take it to the house on just about any catch where he sees daylight.

 

The offensive line returns four starters, and they take up a lot of space, averaging almost 320 pounds.  The spread offense really needs more quickness than size, but you cannot go wrong with guards Travis Bond and Jonathan Cooper as well as tackle James Hurst.

 

The defense is not as strong and talented as the offense, and it could become a liability if the offense does not hold onto the ball for sustained drives.  Fedora’s USM team had to defend for an averaged of 74 plays last year, which is about eight more than average.

 

Up front, end Kareem Martin tries to make up for the loss of All-American Quinton Coples.  Martin finished third behind Coples’ 7 ½ sacks and 15 Tackles for loss (and All-American linebacker Zach Brown’s 5 ½ sacks and 13 ½ TFL) with four sacks and seven stops for loss.  Tackle Sylvester Williams is an excellent inside-out pass rusher, so the Tar Heels should still be able to pressure quarterbacks this year.

 

Brown was the top tackler on the team as well as top pass interceptor.  Middle linebacker Kevin Reddick now takes on the role of top defender.  He made 71 stops last year.

 

The new position in the defense is the “Ram.”  It is a hybrid linebacker/safety which will call on the player to blitz, provide extra run support, and play pass defense.  Gene Robinson will wear the horns this year.  Tre Boston and Tim Scott give Carolina two additional standouts in the secondary.

 

If Carolina was using the same offense and defense as last year, we might have been inclined to select this team as a surprise dark horse to run the table this year.  All the tough games are at home, and the non-conference slate is not that difficult with just one game against anybody good.  However, because they are on probation and must break in new formations on both sides of the ball, we expect UNC to lose three times, twice in the ACC.  They may still finish in first place in the Coastal Division.

 

 

Team

Virginia Cavaliers

               
Head Coach

Mike London

               
Colors

Blue and Orange

               
City

Charlottesville, VA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

100.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

62

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

48

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

Mike London turned around the fortunes of Virginia in rapid time.  The former coach of the FCS National Champion Richmond Spiders, proved that he was ready to step up to the big time.  He must do a lot of reclamation work with his defense, but we believe he will keep the Cavs in contention for a repeat trip to a bowl.

 

Returning starting quarterback Michael Rocco may not be the best passer in the ACC, but he must be vastly improved this year.  That’s because he is expected to hold onto his spot after the Cavs landed former top high school recruit Phillip Sims.

 

There will be a two-man platoon at running back with Perry Jones and Kevin Parks form an impressive tandem.  The two men combined for 1,624 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.

 

Replacing Kris Burd at wideout won’t be easy.  Burd led the Cavs with 66 receptions, twice as many as the next guy.  That next guy, Tim Smith, returns and looks to add on to a season where he caught 33 passes for 565 yards.  No other receiver on this roster caught more than 20 passes.

 

Three starters return up front, and one of them, Luke Bowanko, is making the switch from guard to center.  Tackle Oday Abousji is a mountain at 6-6 and 310 pounds, and the NFL scouts are gushing at his ability.  Morgan Moses gives UVA high quality at this position.

 

Virginia may score more points this year, but they are going to give up more points as well.  London has a lot of holes to fill with the loss of eight players that saw multiple starts in games.

 

One position that has experienced talent is at end, where Jake Snyder and Bill Schautz return.  The two were much better run stoppers than pass rushers, and London used designated pass rushers in obvious passing downs.  Cam Johnson led the Cavs with four sacks and 11 TFL, but he does not return.  Four players will share reps at the defensive tackle positions, but combined they bring one career start.

 

The top two tacklers return to the next unit.  Linebackers Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds teamed up for 191 tackles with 14 going for negative yardage.

 

It is the back line of defense that makes this team so vulnerable this year.  Only one regular returns to the secondary, and depth is a major issue here.  True freshman may be called on to play the nickel and dime backs.

 

Virginia opens the season at home against Richmond and Penn State.  They could be 2-0, but they could fall to 2-2 with back-to-back road games against Georgia Tech and TCU.  That’s the way we see this season going.  There will be happy days half the time and sad days the other half.  Of course if you win half your games, you get a bowl bid.

 

 

Team

Virginia Tech Hokies

               
Head Coach

Frank Beamer

               
Colors

Maroon, Orange, and White

               
City

Blacksburg, VA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-3

               
PiRate Rating

111.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

26

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-4

 

Hokie coach Frank Beamer has been in this situation before.  He had to start over on offense with a team that returned the bulk of his defense back in 2006.  Tech’s offense struggled at times and scored more than 100 fewer points than in 2005, but the Hokies still finished 10-3 thanks to having the best defense in the nation.

 

Beamer’s offense returns just three starters, but fortunately one of them is his outstanding quarterback.  Logan Thomas is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in college football.  He is built like a defensive end, the modern day Joe Kapp if you will.  At 6-6 and 260, he could mow linebackers and safeties over.  Last year, Thomas passed for more than 3,000 yards and completed almost 60% of his tosses, and he rushed for 469 yards and 11 touchdowns.

 

Receiver Marcus Davis is the only other returning starter at a skill position.  He was just number three in receptions last year, but he was number one in yards per catch.  He provides a big target for Thomas at 6-4 and oftentimes, he could jump higher than defenders for the ball.  D. J. Coles and Dyrell Roberts should both see their receptions increase this year.  Both have size and quickness, and opposing teams will have a hard time playing cover two zones on this team.

 

Perhaps the biggest shoes to fill in the entire league are those worn by departed 1st Round Draft choice David Wilson, who led the ACC with 1,709 yards rushing.  Redshirt freshman Michael Holmes will begin the season as the starter.  When VT uses a fullback, Joey Phillips is a bull as a lead blocker.

 

Andrew Miller is the only holdover in the offensive line.  This could be a problem early in the season, especially since the Hokies open with their most important game of the season.

 

The biggest and most important holdover on defense is coordinator Bud Foster.  Since he arrived in Blacksburg in the mid-1990’s, Tech has given up an average of 16.4 points per game and has made it to a bowl every year!

 

Having to replace six starters last year, VT gave up just 17.6 points and 304.6 yards per game.  12 of the top 15 tacklers return from that squad this year, so it is easy to surmise that this might be the top defense in the nation this year that isn’t a member of the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference.

 

One of those top defenders will not be ready for the season opener.  Short-side linebacker Tariq Edwards just had a pin removed from his leg, and he is not expected to be ready for the important first game.  Edwards is a force against the run, as a pass rusher, and as a pass defender, and the Hokies are not as strong without him.

 

Everywhere else on the front and second lines, Tech is loaded with experienced players.  Ends J.R. Collins and James Gayle teamed up for 13 sacks and 49 QB hurries.

 

The back line is the only possible liability where two starters must be replaced.  The two returnees, Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller could both earn all-league honors. 

 

That first game is the Monday night opener at home against Georgia Tech.  It could be more exciting than any other Monday night game this year.  The winner will become the prohibitive favorite to represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game.  We know Tech will most definitely win this game (but which one?)  Tune in next Wednesday, August 29 to see our PiRate picks.

 

Coming Saturday evening, August 25: The Big Ten Conference Preview.  With 1/3 of the Leaders Division ineligible for the Big Ten Championship, can any team challenge Wisconsin?  The Legends Division race shapes up to be a spectacular three-team competition.

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August 24, 2011

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

 

Last year, Virginia Tech and Florida State met in the ACC Championship Game for the second time in the history of the game.  The Hokies won to advance to the Orange Bowl, where they ran into the new “greatest quarterback ever” in Andrew Luck and Stanford.

 

This year, it looks like a strong possibility that the two powers will once again meet in the ACC Championship Game.  Both teams are national title contenders as well.  Florida State appears to be the stronger team as the season starts, but Virginia Tech doesn’t have a Boise State or Alabama at the start of the schedule this year.  Two teams, North Carolina and Miami, were hit with summer news that could greatly affect their showing this season.  Butch Davis was fired at North Carolina, while Miami may be looking at a possible death penalty.  This could be the season where some of the former bottom feeders move up at the expense of programs in trouble.

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION

 

Florida State

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

E. J. Manuel takes over as starter for Christian Ponder.  He started twice last year and completed 70% of his passes and passed for an excellent 9.3 yards per attempt.  Manuel is also a much better runner than Ponder, so this position will actually be as strong or even stronger this year—as long as Manuel stays healthy.

 

Receivers

Had Taiwan Easterling not decided to become a future Chicago Cub, this might have been one of the 10 best in the nation.  It will still be one of the two best in the ACC.  Bert Reed is an excellent possession receiver; he led the Seminoles with 58 receptions.  Willie Haulstead is more of a deep threat; he led the ‘Noles with 15.4 yards per reception and six touchdowns.  Tight end Beau Reliford caught just 19 passes, but he should contribute more this season.

 

Running Backs

The situation is in limbo here.  Starter Chris Thompson has a bad back, and he is not getting many reps in practice and has missed multiple practices.  Last year, he led FSU with 845 yards while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.  Backups Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas are both capable.  Jones has been a number one back in the past. 

 

Offensive Line

This is Coach Jimbo Fisher’s only concern on this side of the ball, and it really isn’t much of a concern.  Tackle Zebrie Sanders is recovering from a groin injury, and center David Spurlock has missed time and only recently began practicing in full pads.  Tackle Andrew Datko is the star of this unit.

 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Simply, this is the best front four in the ACC and one of the top five nationally.  End Brandon Jenkins finished second in the league with 13 ½ sacks and 21 ½ tackles for loss.  If he goes pro, he could be the first defensive lineman taken in the 2012 NFL Draft.  Tackles Jaccobi McDaniel and Everett Dawkins make it difficult for enemy backs to run between the tackles.  As a unit, FSU led the nation with 48 sacks.

 

Linebackers

Nigel Bradham is the only returning starter to this unit.  Bradham led the Seminoles with 98 tackles and recorded five sacks and five passes defended.  Christian Jones has the potential to be an all-conference player in his sophomore season.

 

Secondary

All four starters return, but not all are guaranteed a starting spot this year.  The two-deep is hands down the best in the league.  Cornerbacks Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes teamed for 33 passes defended.  Lamarcus Joiner will start at one of the safety spots, meaning either Terrance Parks or Nick Moody will drop to second team.

 

OTHER

Punter Shawn Powell and place kicker Dustin Hopkins are the best in the ACC at their positions.  Hopkins has enough leg to connect from 60 yards.  Reid is one of the best punt returners in the nation.

 

SUMMARY

We believe FSU will score 35-40 points and gain 400-425 yards per game, while yielding about 17 points and 325-350 yards per game.  Their schedule has one big obstacle in it—a rematch with number one Oklahoma at Doak Campbell Stadium.  In league play, the Seminoles must visit Clemson and Boston College.  The finale with Florida may not be the tough game it has been in the past.

 

It is a big if to expect FSU to beat Oklahoma, but it is possible.  If they win that one, then their destination could easily be New Orleans, and we are not talking the Sugar Bowl.  11-1 headed into the ACC Championship is very possible.

 

Clemson

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Dabo Swinney’s best recruiting effort may have taken place after the season.  Chad Morris comes in from Tulsa to take over at Offensive Coordinator.  So, expect a move to a no-huddle, hurry-up offense.  Can new starter Tajh Boyd impersonate G. J. Kinne?  Behind him are two true freshmen.  Boyd played in seven games and completed just 52% of his passes as a freshman.

 

Receivers

Wideout DeAndre Hopkins and Tight end Dwayne Allen give Boyd a couple of quality targets, but after that, the book is out on the rest of this group.  Hopkins led CU with 52 receptions, 637 yards, and four touchdowns.  Allen could compete for a final spot on the Mackie Award list.  True freshman Sammy Watkins could be the difference in making this a great unit or a better than average unit.

 

Running Backs

The Tigers lose Jamie Harper, who is now a Tennessee Titan.  Andre Ellington returns after starting six games and rushing for 686 yards and 10 touchdowns.  If he stays healthy, he could double that amount this year.

 

Offensive Line

The biggest concern here is the learning curve.  Four starters return from last year, but all the blocking schemes will be radically different.  Center Dalton Freeman has the talent to receive votes for the Rimington Award.  Guard Antoine McClain and tackle Landon Walker could appear on one of the postseason all-conference teams.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This is going to be a liability and the reason why CU will not compete with Florida State for the ACC Atlantic Division title.  Da’Quan Bowers and his 26 tackles for loss is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.  Jarvis Jenkins is now a Washington Redskin.  The new replacements are not in their league.  The two returning starters are good ones, but neither will record 26 tackles for loss, and they probably will not combine for that many.  Andre Branch is good enough to become a star end in the ACC.  Brandon Thompson is a quality tackle, but this unit will take a big step backward.

 

Linebackers

Middle linebacker Corico Hawkins is the only returning starter to this unit.  He came up with 10 stops for loss last year, but he did not help much versus the pass.  A couple of true freshmen could see considerable playing time this year.  For now, sophomore Quandon Christian and Jonathan Willard will flank Hawkins.

 

Secondary

Xavier Brewer is the star of this unit.  The cornerback defended 10 passes last year.  Coty Sensabaugh was a late signee four years ago, and now the senior will finish his career as a starter.  Rashard Hall returns at one safety, while Jonathan Meeks will be the new starter at the other safety position.  Overall, this is an above average secondary but not a great one.

 

OTHER

Clemson’s schedule gives the Tigers an excellent chance to start 3-0 prior to hosting Florida State on September 24.  Home games with Troy, Wofford, and Auburn give CU a great chance to go 3-0.  Then, the Tigers host FSU and play at Virginia Tech in back-to-back weeks.

 

SUMMARY

Clemson averaged just 24 points per game and 335 yards per game last year.  With the new offense, CU should score 30-35 points per game and gain around 400 yards.  However, the new offense will make things harder for the green defense.  CU gave up just 19 points per game last year, but we see the Tigers giving up about a touchdown more in 2011.  Clemson should win eight or nine games and go bowling once again.

 

Boston College

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Chase Rettig is the clear number one this season, as the three quarterbacks that saw action last year all return.  Rettig passed for 1,238 yards and six touchdowns, but he threw nine interceptions and completed just 51% of his passes last year as a freshman.

 

Receivers

Boston College has been known for its tight ends, and Chris Pantale is the current star.  He caught 31 passes last year and could top that number this season.  Alex Amidon and Bobby Swigert return after combining for 55 receptions and six touchdowns.  There is a lot of experienced depth here, but it is not the most talented.

 

Running Backs

Montel Harris rushed for 1,243 yards and eight touchdowns last year, but he is going to miss some time at the start of the season due to a knee injury.  Backup Andre Williams is also a little banged up, so the Eagles are thin at this position as they start the season.  Rolandan Finch will get first crack at filling this spot until Williams and Harris are ready to go.  BC has averaged less than four yards per rush every year since Derrick Knight graduated as the all-time rushing leader in 2003.

 

Offensive Line

The Eagles have been known for developing excellent lines, but this year’s OL will be a liability for 3rd year coach Frank Spaziani.  Only two starters return, and one of those two will miss the start of the season.  Guard Nathan Richman has a back injury and will not be ready for the start of the season.  Tackle Emmett Cleary is a titan at 6-07 and 300 pounds.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Eagles must start over almost from scratch in the trenches.  Three of the four starters from 2010 have left the building; BC gave up just a little over 80 rushing yards per game last year, and that number was not inflated by a lot of sacks.  Only tackle Kaleb Ramsey returns.  Ramsey made 7 ½ stops behind the line and finished with 39 tackles.  Max Holloway was a part-time starter last year.  He will start full-time at one end spot after leading the team with 14 tackles for loss and four sacks.

 

Linebackers

This is where the defense shines, and the reason the Eagles have a chance to repeat as the number two defense in the league.  It starts with return of consensus All-American Luke Kuechly, who led the nation with 183 tackles.  He also intercepted three passes and batted away three others.  Nick Clancy has been impressive in August drills, and he could become the new starter at the Sam position, while Kevin Pierre-Louis returns to the Will position.  Pierre-Louis was a Freshman All-American last year after recording 93 tackles.  If Clancy can repeat in games what he has done in scrimmages, this could become a top three unit.

 

Secondary

As optimistic as things are at linebacker, the secondary is almost as much pessimistic.  The dismissal of expected starting safety Okechukwu Okoroha and the back injury to cornerback Donnie Fletcher has left BC thin in the backfield.  Fletcher will miss the opening of the season.  The new safety figures to be Spenser Rositano, a true freshman.  Jim Noel started eight games last year and picked off four passes.  He will start at the other safety spot.  Cornerback Al Louis-Jean, a true freshman, will replace Fletcher until he is ready to return, while redshirt freshman Dominique Williams figures to start at the other corner spot.

 

OTHER

Boston College has yielded less than 20 points per game six of the last seven years and his not given up more than 333 yards in any of those seasons.  They have surrendered just 92 rushing yards per game in the last six seasons.

 

SUMMARY

This is a tricky season to predict Boston College’s outcome.  The Eagles could be as much as a touchdown weaker than normal to start the season due to key injuries, and their opener comes against Northwestern, a team that can beat them.  In week two, they have a trap game at Central Florida, before opening conference play in Chestnut Hill against an improved Duke team.  BC could be 3-0, 2-1, or 1-2 by this time, and that will give an excellent barometer for what will happen at the back end of the schedule.  Games four and five are as close to sure wins as they will have (hosting UMass and Wake Forest). The Eagles end the season on the road against Notre Dame and Miami.  Road games against Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Maryland will make for a tough October stretch.  If BC is to go bowling for the 13th consecutive season, they need to start 4-1 at the least.

 

North Carolina State

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

There will be a drop-off from what they had to what they will get this year out of this position.  Russell Wilson left Raleigh with the thoughts of playing professional baseball.  He ended up playing college football in Madison, Wisconsin.  Mike Glennon takes over after completing nine passes for 78 yards last year.  Glennon saw action in three games last year, but he did play in seven as a freshman.  He won’t replicate Wilson’s numbers, but he will have some good games—and some bad games.  His mobility is a question at this point; he is not a dual threat like Wilson.

 

Receivers

The Wolfpack must replace their top two receivers from 2010.  Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams teamed for 112 receptions and 1600+ yards.  T. J. Graham should become the go-to guy this year.  He caught 25 passes and scored four touchdowns.  Coach Tom O’Brien is concerned with this position, because the talent level drops off quite a bit after Graham.  Tight end George Bryan will be called on to be a primary receiver after catching 35 passes last year.  Look for more dropped passes and fewer yards per reception.

 

Running Backs

Mustafa Greene led NCSU with 597 rushing yards last year, but a foot injury will keep him from playing until October.  O’Brien will choose from among four contenders to replace Greene for the first month.  James Washington, Brandon Barnes, Curtis Underwood, and Anthony Creecy could all see action.  Washington and Underwood have the most experience, but Creecy has the best moves.

 

Offensive Line

What was already a concern became something a bit more concerning after the ‘Pack saw one guard leave the program and two others suffer knee injuries that will keep them out for at least the first month of the season.  Nobody on the roster will earn an all-conference award this year.  Center Camden Wentz, guard Zach Allen, and tackle R. J. Mattes at least have experience on their side.  NCSU only averaged 3.5 yards per rush last year, and the OL gave up 39 sacks with a mobile quarterback under center.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There’s more bad news on this side of the ball.  The one star in the trenches, J. R. Sweezy, is out six weeks with a foot injury.  That leaves end Jeff Rieskamp as the only player with real experience.  Rieskamp only picked up two QB sacks, but he did force 17 QB hurries. 

Linebackers

This trio is second in the conference in talent only to the group at Boston College.  Audie Cole recorded five sacks and picked up 10 ½ tackles for loss last year.  Terrell Manning added five sacks and 11 tackles for loss.  Rickey Dowdy figures to be the new starter after moving from defensive end.  The Wolfpack will miss Nate Irving, who led the team with 97 tackles and 20 ½ tackles for loss.

 

Secondary

All four starters return from 2010, but this unit is not a major plus.  Cornerback C. J. Wilson led the team with 10 passes defended, but his counterpart, David Amerson, only had one.  Safety Earl Wolff finished third on the team with 91 tackles and proved to be an effective safety blitzer.  Brandon Bishop led the team with four interceptions.

 

OTHER

O’Brien’s four years in Raleigh have seen his teams post 5-7 seasons in the odd years and advance to bowls in the even years.  The ease of the schedule could give him a chance to break that string.  After scoring almost 32 points per game and gaining more than 400, we do not see the Wolfpack matching those numbers this year.  Call it 22-26 points and 350-375 yards.  The defense could come close to matching last year’s record of 21 points and 340 yards. 

 

SUMMARY

Home games with Liberty, South Alabama, Central Michigan, and North Carolina plus a road games with Wake Forest and Virginia give NCSU a great shot for six wins.  A game at Cincinnati on Thursday, September 22, could be the best shot at a seventh win.  Do not expect another nine-win season.

 

Maryland

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

New head coach Randy Edsall brought in former BYU head coach and LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton to run the Terp offense.  Crowton has an excellent quarterback to work with and an up and coming backup.  Danny O’Brien completed 57% of his passes last year for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns.  C. J. Brown shows promise, and if O’Brien falters or is injured, he is more than capable of playing for extended time.

 

Receivers

The Terps lost their top two receivers from a year ago, including Torrey Smith.  Smith caught 67 passes for 1,055 yards and 12 touchdowns.  The new group of receivers should improve as the season progresses, but the road could be bumpy early.

 

Quintin McCree, Ronnie Tyler, and Kevin Dorsey combined for just 44 receptions and 524 yards.  There is some depth here with true freshman Marcus Leak a highly-prized recruit.  Tony Logan could challenge for a starting nod, and Kenny Boykins should contribute.

 

Tight end Matt Furstenburg added a dozen receptions but led the team with 17.2 yards per catch.

 

Running Backs

Davin Meggett takes over full-time here after splitting time with Da’Rel Scott last year.  Meggett rushed for 720 yards, seldom losing yardage.  He should go over 1,000 this year.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return, but there are no stars on this unit.  The dismissal of guard Justin Lewis and the double broken legs of tackle Pete DeSouza from a motorcycle accident makes this a thin unit. Center Bennett Fulper, guard Andrew Gonnella and tackle R. J. Dill are the experienced veterans.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

All four starters from 2010 return this year, but end Justin Anderson has an injured foot.  He had lost his starting spot to Isaiah Ross.  The strength of this unit is at tackle.  A. J. Francis and Joe Vellano teamed for 107 tackles and 17 ½ stops for loss.  True freshman Keith Bowers could see the field early.

 

Linebackers

There is no depth at linebacker, so the three starters better stay healthy and be able to play for long stretches.  Kenny Tate moves to linebacker from safety after he made 100 tackles with 8 ½ for loss.  He intercepted three passes and broke up four others.  Demetrius Hartsfield finished third on the team with 88 tackles.

 

With no real depth here, Edsall moved Avery Graham from cornerback to a backup linebacker spot.  Graham is 5-10 and weighs just 195 pounds.

 

Secondary

Cornerbacks Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes return after recording 18 passes defended, but only one interception.  Matt Robinson and Eric Franklin will not be able to match the efforts by last year’s safeties.

 

OTHER

Logan is an excellent punt returner.  In 2010, he took two punts to the house while averaging 18.1 yards per return.

 

SUMMARY

Edsall has a chance to send the Terps to a bowl this year, but the team will not match last year’s results.  The schedule offers them no favors.  Out of the league, the Terps host West Virginia, Temple, and Towson.  They face Notre Dame at Fedex Field (Washington Redskins home), which is basically a home game.  It looks like Maryland will go 2-2 in those games.  Maryland will have to break even in the league just to get to 6-6.

 

Wake Forest

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Tanner Price edged out Ted Stachitas in the spring.  As a freshman, Price led the Demon Deacons with 1,349 passing yards and seven touchdowns.  He completed 56.8%, but he only averaged 5.6 yards per attempt.  True freshman Kevin Sousa is the top incoming recruit, but he may not see the field this year.

 

Receivers

This unit is not all that strong, but it has to be an improvement over last year, when WF averaged just 144 passing yards per game.  Chris Givens returns after leading the Deacs with 35 receptions and four touchdowns.  However, Givens has a hamstring injury, and his status for the start of the season is unclear.  Danny Dembry (8 receptions) may start in his place.  Michael Campanero should more than double his number of catches in 2011, but he only caught 10 last year.  Tight end Andrew Parker is more of a run-blocker, while Cameron Ford is the better route runner.

 

Running Backs

The Demon Deacons averaged more than four yards per carry last year for the first time in five years.  Josh Harris returns after gaining 720 yards and scoring seven times.  He averaged 5.7 yards per rush.  Two quality backs will back him up.  Brandon Pendergrass and Nick Knott should both see action this season.

 

Offensive Line

Four starters return to the line, so this unit should fare better this year.  However, they are prone to giving up sacks.  Four of the five are seniors, so this unit will keep mistakes to a minimum.  Guard Joe Looney is the one candidate likely to appear on an all-conference ballot. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe switched the team from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in the middle of last year’s season.  It made Nikita Whitlock a nose guard instead of a defensive tackle.  Semantics aside, Whitlock recorded 10 ½ tackles for loss.  He got better as the season progressed.  Zach Thompson and Tristan Dorty will be the two new starters at end.  Dorty was a linebacker last year and made 7 ½ tackles for losses.

 

Linebackers

Kyle Wilber figures to be the star of this unit.  He comes off a season in which he led the team with 14 ½ stops behind the line and six sacks.  He also got his paws in on four balls to send them harmlessly to the ground.  Scott Betros, Justin Jackson, and Joey Ehrmann figure to make up the rest of the quartet.  Wilber has been nursing a sore hamstring, and in his absence, Zachary Allen has been subbing for him.  While not overpowering, this unit should improve this year if Wilber can get healthy.

 

Secondary

Three starters return, led by safety Cyhl Quarles, who recorded 71 stops last year.  Kenny Okoro and Merrill Noel will start at the corners, while Joe Bush starts at the other safety spot.  This unit has room for improvement after giving up 238 passing yards per game in 2010.

 

OTHER

Kicker Jimmy Newman was almost perfect last year.  He connected on all of his PAT attempts and was 12 of 13 in field goal attempted.

 

SUMMARY

The non-conference part of the schedule is Jekyll and Hyde.  Wake Forest plays at Syracuse and hosts Notre Dame, two games the Deacons figure to lose.  They host Gardner-Webb, the only sure thing on the schedule this year.  They host Vanderbilt in the season finale, and that game should be a close one.  Wake Forest will go 2-2 or 1-3 in those four games.  In the ACC, the Deacs host North Carolina State and Maryland, the two teams that figure to be just above them in the preseason polls.  Road games with North Carolina and Duke could be winnable based on how WF has performed leading up to those games.

 

There are not enough winnable games on the schedule to see any way Wake Forest could get to six wins.  Four wins seem about right.

 

COASTAL DIVISION

 

Virginia Tech

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Replacing all-time leading passer Tyrod Taylor will be tough.  Taylor passed for 2,743 yards with a 24/5 TD/int ratio, while rushing for more than 900 yards (sacks removed).

 

Logan Thomas is big and mobile.  At 6-6 and almost 250 pounds, he is built like a tight end and was recruited to Tech as an H-Back.  Thomas saw limited action as a freshman, completing 12 of 26 passes for just 107 yards, while rushing for 29 yards on five carries. 

 

Receivers

Coach Frank Beamer has three receivers capable of challenging for all-conference honors.  Jarrett Boykin leads the way after grabbing a team-high 53 receptions in 2010.  He averaged 16 yards per catch.  Danny Coale averaged nearly 19 yards on his 39 receptions, while former QB Marcus Davis added 19 receptions.  Chris Drager has moved from tight end to defensive end and back to tight end. Eric Martin shows promise and could be used in a double tight end formation.

 

Running Backs

David Wilson has 1,000-yard potential, and the Hokies will not miss much of a beat after losing two key backs, one of whom signed with the Arizona Cardinals.  Three players are competing for the backup position.  Josh Oglesby is the leader, followed by Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes.

 

Offensive Line

This shaped up to be one of the best in the country until injuries hit two starters.  Guard Greg Kosal suffered a shoulder injury, and tackle Blake DeChristopher went down with a pectoral injury.  Both players are well-ahead of schedule in their return, but neither may be ready for the season-opener.  David Wang is working as Kosal’s replacement, and Nick Becton, Michael Via, or Vinston Painter will fill in at tackle.

 

Center Andrew Miller takes over the starting role after seeing extensive playing time as a freshman.  He is a former high school state wrestling champion and the strongest player on the line.  Guard James Brooks made the 2nd team all-conference squad last year.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been at VT for a quarter century.  Last year, a young defensive line led to the Hokies giving up more than 20 points per game and 300 yards per game for the first time since 2003.  This year’s defensive line is a concern once again with three new starters.

 

The one holdover is tackle Antoine Hopkins.  His brother Derrick will start opposite him.  The new ends are James Gayle and J. R. Collins, with redshirt freshman Zack McCray and true freshman Luther Maddy backing them up.  The potential is there for this unit to be tougher to run on than last year and with an equal pass rush.

 

Linebackers

The Hokies have both quality and quantity here, as they can go two-deep with little drop-off in talent.  Bruce Taylor is a probably 1st team All-ACC middle linebacker.  He led VT with 91 tackles and 15 ½ for loss last year with six sacks and 12 QB hurries.  He also showed his worth as a pass defender, separating the receiver from the ball four times.  Telvion Clark and Tariq Edwards are competing for one outside spot, while Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is competing with Nick Dew for the other spot.

 

Secondary

The Hokies have excellent talent, but they are not as deep here as Beamer would like to be.  Cornerback Jayron Hosley is the best in the league at his position.  He led the ACC with nine interceptions and finished tied for first with 17 passes defended.  Kyle Fuller replaces all-star Rashad Campbell; Fuller had six passes defended as a reserve last year.

 

Safeties Antoine Exum and Eddie Watley switched positions this summer, with Exum moving to free safety and Whitley moving to rover.  

 

OTHER

This is a much easier schedule for VT than the last two.  Appalachian State replaces Boise State and Alabama as the season opener.  Road trips to East Carolina and Marshall book-end a home game with Arkansas State.  The Hokies get Clemson, Miami, and Boston College at home and avoid Florida State.  They could easily run the table in the regular season.  One loss will eliminate them from any national championship talk.  They have to go 13-0 and hope two other big name teams do not do so as well.

 

SUMMARY

We believe Thomas will emerge as an excellent quarterback, but he will not be as consistent as his predecessor.  His percentage will be lower, but his yards per reception could be higher.  Look for VT to average 28-30 points per game and 375-400 yards per game.  On defense, the Hokies will recover from last year’s aberration and give up less than 20 points and 300 yards again.  A 12-0 regular season is a strong possibility, but remember this team has lost some early games to teams they should have beaten handily.  Remember James Madison last year and East Carolina in 2008?

 

Miami

Note: The PiRate Ratings have not been able to adjust for the recent news that emerged from Miami.  School President Donna Shalala revealed that 15 current players are being investigated for receiving illegal benefits from Miami booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro.  Those names were not release, but Shapiro implicated 12 players.  Since we do not know at this point just how involved things are, we cannot begin to deduct points from their rating.  We can try to put a number on the intangible destruction of the program as a whole, but for now, their PiRate Rating shows them as the second best team in the Coastal Division.

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Miami quarterbacks were a bit too generous with the ball last year, throwing 26 interceptions (2/game, almost 6% of all passes).  New head coach Al Golden faces an additional headache because the projected starter is one of the 12 current Hurricanes implicated by Shapiro.  Jacory Harris may or may not get to suit up this year for his senior season.  Harris has quite an arm, but he has not been accurate.

 

Sophomore Stephen Morris will inherit the position if Harris is declared ineligible.  Morris started the four times last year and posted stats similar to Harris—54% completions 6% interceptions.  He did average better than 15 yards per completion. 

 

Receivers

Again, it is unsure if this position will be decimated with ineligibility.  Travis Benjamin and Aldarius Johnson combined for 58 receptions and 900 yards last year; both were accused by Shapiro.  That would leave LaRon Byrd as the only experienced receiver.  He caught 41 passes, but Byrd does not have the elusiveness of the other two.  True freshman Phillip Dorsett could be thrust into action immediately.

 

The top two tight ends, USC transfer Blake Ayles and Chase Ford, have both missed practices with injuries.  Ayles was a 5-star recruit when he entered Trojanland four years ago.

 

Running Backs

Lamar Miller is a speedster, who can break open a long gain with the slightest of daylight.  He averaged six yards per carry and scored six times.  Mike James will back him up.

 

Offensive Line

This unit has a lot of depth, even with the loss of tackle Seantrel Henderson, who underwent back surgery and should miss the season.

 

Guard Brandon Washington made the 1st Team All-ACC squad, while center Tyler Horn earned 3rd Team honors.  Harland Gunn will start at guard.  Joel Figueora is a sixth year senior who can play either guard or tackle.  Redshirt Malcolm Bunche could start at tackle, while Jermaine Johnson and Jon Feliciano will provide depth.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This area is going to take a major hit if its five implicated players are declared ineligible.  Projected starting tackle Marcus Forston, starting ends Marcus Robinson and Olivier Vernon, and key backups Adewale Ojomo and Dyron Dye are the heart and soul of the line.  Forston, Vernon, and Ojomo represent 114 tackles, 14 sacks, 30 tackles for loss.

 

Tackle Micanor Regis was not implicated by Shapiro.  He made 42 tackles with eight for loss.  True freshman Anthony Chickillo could join seldom used Andrew Smith at end.

 

Linebackers

One player was accused from this unit, but he is the best defender on the team.  Sean Spence finished second on the team last year with 111 tackles, 17 for loss.  Spence also knocked away six passes.  If he becomes ineligible, outside linebacker Ramon Buchanan will become the leader of this unit.  The vacant middle linebacker spot will go to Jordan Futch, with true freshman Gionni Paul providing backup.

 

Secondary

75% of the expected starting defensive backfield is on Shapiro’s List.  Cornerback JoJo Nicolas and Safeties Ray Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque combined for 173 tackles and 15 passes defended.  This unit will become a major liability if these players are declared ineligible, and Miami will give up at least 100 extra yards through the air than they would have with the three starters in the lineup.

 

OTHER

Shapiro accused 12 players, but the university is investigating 15.  Aside from the possible loss of eligibility, the total repercussions are greater than just the loss of 12 or 15 players.  Others will “quit” on the team, and the situation will steamroller into a catastrophe.  The Hurricanes were in line to achieve 10 to 12 wins this year if the quarterbacks could cut down on interceptions.  It could get ugly in Coral Gables, and “The U” could be looking at a losing season.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule offers few breathers.  Miami begins the season playing at Maryland on Labor Day.  Then, the ‘Canes host Ohio State in what will receive some sarcastic billing as convicts vs. convicts.  A home game with Kansas State now becomes a losable game.  Bethune-Cookman is the only sure win if all the players are lost.

 

With all the players available, Miami could go 10-2.  Without them, the Hurricanes could finish with four or five wins.  They are somewhere between 17 and 25 points weaker per game if the players are declared ineligible.  Golden inherits a mess, and we would not be surprised if he leaves after just one season.

 

North Carolina

Here is another situation, but it pales in comparison to the one in Miami.  Butch Davis was fired as head coach late in the off-season, and defensive coordinator Everett Withers was appointed as interim head coach.

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Bryn Renner gets first crack at replacing T. J. Yates.  Yates completed 67% of his passes for 3,418 yards and 19 touchdowns last year, topping the eight-yard per attempt mark.  Renner threw two passes, completing one for 14 yards.  The Tar Heels passed for 264 yards per game in 2010, and it would be a stretch to think Renner can match that number.  Look for a considerable decline here.

 

Receivers

Renner has the top two receivers returning from 2010.  Dwight Jones led the club with 62 receptions and 946 yards.  Erik Highsmith finished second with 348 yards.  Jheranie Boyd is the wildcard here.  He took a pass from Yates and ran 97 yards for a score against LSU in last year’s opener, en route to a 221-yard night.  He was only 8 for 89 after that.  He also was used to run the wide reverse and gained 62 yards on 10 attempts.  This unit is loaded.

 

Running Backs

This unit loses its top three players from last year.  It welcomes back Ryan Houston, who missed last year with an injury.  Houston is not fast, but he requires two or more defenders to bring him down.  Houston will remind some fans of Jerome Bettis.  However, he has not participated in contact drills due to his shoulder surgery earlier this year.  The roster is thin after Houston with redshirt and true freshmen backing him up.

 

Offensive Line

This is where the Carolina offense needs to improve the most.  The Tar Heels’ line gave up 37 sacks last year.  Three starters return this year—center Cam Holland, guard Jonathan Cooper, and tackle James Hurst.  Cooper was a 2nd Team All-ACC player, while Hurst earned Freshman All-American accolades.  Travis Bond started against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl, and he will man the vacant guard position, while Brennan Williams will take over at tackle.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

What could have been the top DL in the nation last year turned into an average line due to the ineligibility of two top players.  End Quinton Coples took advantage of his chance to start and bankrolled it into a spot on the All-ACC first team.  He finished third in the league with 10 sacks and was credited with 12 QB Hurries.  Donte Paige-Moss starts at the other end spot.  Moss recorded 13 ½ stops behind the line.  Withers can count on three players to rotate at the tackle positions.  Tydreke Powell, Sylvester Williams, and Jordan Nix are all listed as 1st string players.  While not as talented as what 2010 could have been, this is one of the best lines in the league.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return from last year; Kevin Reddick and Zach Brown finished one-two in tackles with 74 and 72 respectively.  Reddick has all-conference potential.  Darius Lipford will be the new starter.  This unit is about average for the ACC.

 

Secondary

A hand injury to expected starting cornerback Jabari Price will keep him out for at least all of September.  Charles Brown will miss the opener after having to sit out a game, so two new cornerbacks will start at the beginning of the season.  Safety Tre Boston might start at cornerback until Brown and Price are back.  Matt Merletti will start at one safety position.  Wide receiver Todd Harrelson moves to cornerback to fill in, and true freshman Tim Scott might start the opening game.

 

Brown is the star of this unit, but UNC will sorely miss Da’Norris Searcy and Deunta Williams.  Opponents will find holes in the Carolina secondary.

 

OTHER

There is only one cupcake on the schedule, and James Madison must be taken seriously; just ask Virginia Tech!  The remainder of non-league games include home games with Rutgers and Louisville and a trip to East Carolina.  UNC will be fortunate to go 3-1 in those four games.  UNC draws Virginia, Clemson, and North Carolina State from the Atlantic and avoids Florida State.  It looks like a 4-4 conference mark will be their limit this year; interim coaches are hit or miss.

 

SUMMARY

The Tar Heels will try to rely on more lengthy drives rather than trying to make quick touchdowns.  They averaged just 25 points per game but gained close to 400 yards per game.  The yardage definitely will drop, but the scoring could be about the same and not much less if any.

 

Defensively, the ‘Heels will go as far as their front four will take them.  The back seven is a little suspect, especially in the secondary.  Opponents will complete 60% of their passes and gain more than 200 yards through the air.  We believe UNC will surrender about as many points as they score.  It looks like another so-so season in Chapel Hill, but cheer up Carolina Fans—basketball season is not that far away.

 

Duke

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

If Harris is ineligible at Miami, Duke’s Sean Renfree will be the only returning quarterback in the Coastal Division.  Renfree is on the cusp of breaking out into Coach David Cutcliffe’s next star passer.  He tutored a couple of guys with the last name of Manning, so he knows how to develop passers.

 

Renfree threw for more than 3,100 yards and completed better than 61% of his passes last year.  14 of those passes went for touchdowns, but 17 went into the wrong pair of hands.  If he can reduce his mistakes this year, we could be looking at an All-ACC performer.

 

Receivers

Renfree has some quality players to pass to.  Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner could both finish in the top five in the league in receptions and yardage after combining for 133 catches for 1,709 yards last year.  Brandon Braxton will at least double his amount of receptions this year after grabbing 14 passes in 2010.  Tight end Cooper Helfet added 34 receptions, so this group has talent. Keep an eye on true freshman Jamison Crowder.

 

Running Backs

At Duke, 110 yards per game is an exemplary amount of rushing yards.  It was the most in five seasons in Durham.  Desmond Scott, Josh Snead, and Juwan Thompson all return after sharing the load last year, and the Duke running game should top 100 yards again this season.  The quartet will also top four yards per carry, making this unit abnormally strong in 2011—at least for Duke.

 

Offensive Line

This is the major question mark on this side of the ball.  The Blue Devils’ offensive line has been rather offensive in recent years.  The loss of starting center Brian Moore for an indefinite amount of time (fractured forearm) clouds the issue even more.

 

Cutcliffe has recruited well the last couple of years, and we have a sneaky suspicion that the offensive line will improve to mediocrity this season.  At Duke, mediocre is a milestone.

 

Dave Harding was an outstanding freshman last year in a part-time starter role.  He will move in from guard and take over at center.  Perry Simmons and Kyle Hill will protect the flanks and open up holes at their tackle positions.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The biggest addition to the defensive line will not suit up once this season.  He is new defensive line coach Rick Petri.  Petri has over 30 years of successful experience.

 

Petri will mold a defensive line that improves on the 200+ yards allowed rushing and only 12 sacks.  Duke switches to a 4-2-5 defense this year.  Sydney Sarmiento and Charlie Hatcher return to the inside.  Sarmiento shows promise and could emerge as a star in the next couple of years, while Hatcher is a two-gap plugger.  He finished second on the team last year with 7 ½ tackles for loss.  End Kenny Anunike is nursing a bad ankle and could miss the opener, but redshirt freshman Dezmond Johnson could step in and produce for the Blue Devils.

 

Linebackers

This is the biggest liability on the team.  Mike linebacker Kelby Brown is smaller than some safeties, and he is coming back from a knee injury.  Austin Gamble will team up to form a rather weak two-man tandem. Brown hustles and makes a lot of plays, but frequently backs get an extra yard or two.

 

Secondary

Three starters return to a unit that is not that far from respectability.  Safety Matt Daniels is the star of this unit.  He played admirably against both the run and pass last year, coming up with six stops behind the line and batting away seven passes with an interception.  Lee Butler returns at a safety position after posting nine passes defended.  August Campbell will take on the new hybrid safety/linebacker position.

 

Ross Cockrell led the Blue Devils with three interceptions.  He returns at one cornerback spot, while Zach Greene figures to start at the other spot.

 

OTHER

Duke missed a seven-win season by a thin margin last year.  Close losses to Wake Forest, Maryland, Boston College, and North Carolina left Duke at 3-9 instead.  If the offense improves by four to five points, and the defense does the same, Duke could be looking at its first six-win season since 1994.

 

SUMMARY

We admit here at the PiRate Ratings that we have the highest esteem for Coach Cutcliffe and believe he will guide Duke back to a bowl game—if not this year, then next.  Duke can win six games this year.

 

The schedule has become somewhat easier since the start of summer.  Duke’s opening game against Richmond got a lot easier when the Spiders had to replace their coach following his DUI arrest less than two weeks before the game.  The Blue Devils also face Miami and North Carolina, two more teams facing dilemmas.

 

Add Tulane and Florida International as well as home games with Georgia Tech and Wake Forest and a road game with Virginia, and you can make a case for six wins.

 

Virginia

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Uh-oh!  Virginia is in a bit of a mess here.  It’s nice to have four options at quarterback, but Coach Mike London is having to choose from a weakness and not a strength.  The loss of Marc Verica will cause UVA to drop drastically in the passing game. 

 

Sophomore Michael Rocco appears to hold a slight edge at this point after throwing 25 passes last year.  True freshman David Watford could eventually be the man under center, while Michael Strauss and Ross Metheny are in the mix.  Whoever ends up playing, expect a possibility of 100 less passing yards this season.

 

Receivers

The Cavs must replace their top play-maker from 2010.  Dontrelle Inman averaged 18 yards on his 51 receptions, and there is nobody on the roster capable of matching those numbers.

 

Kris Burd actually led in receptions with 58, but he is the only receiver capable of becoming a breakaway threat.  True freshman Darius Jennings could emerge as a key player in his first season.

 

Running Backs

Perry Jones was a co-primary option last year and rushed for 646 yards and a touchdown.  The absence of Keith Payne and his ability to convert on third and short and at the goal line will cost more than his 750 rushing yards.

 

Offensive Line

The only reason for optimism on offense this year is a rather decent and experienced offensive line.  Four starters return, including tackle Morgan Moses, who stood out as a freshman last year.  Center Anthony Mihota, guard Austin Pasztor, and tackle Oday Aboushi are the other three returning starters.  This unit is the only real plus on the 2011 offense.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Virginia could not stop enemy backs last year and was torched for more than 200 rushing yards per game and better than five yards per rush allowed.  The pass rush only produced 19 sacks, so there is a lot of room for improvement.

 

London will play three tackles in a rotation.  Matt Conrath, Nick Jenkins, and Will Hill will split time inside.  At end, Jake Snyder and Cam Johnson will start.  Johnson is the stud of this unit; he led the Cavs with 6 ½ sacks and 14 ½ tackles for loss.  Expect some improvement in the trenches.

 

Linebackers

This is the major liability on this side of the ball, even though all three starters return from 2010.  Middle linebacker Steve Greer, Will linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, and Sam Linebacker Aaron Taliaferro are competent but not spectacular.  The trio made 161 stops last year but only 1 ½ sacks on blitzes.

 

Secondary

The back line is quite talented, and with the addition of some quality recruits, it will have depth this year as well.  Cornerback Chase Minnifield led the Cavs with 10 passes defended including six interceptions. Safety Rodney McLeod provided excellent run support, but he needs to improve in the passing game.  True freshman Tra Nicholson takes over at the other cornerback spot.  Three other true freshmen, cornerback Brandon Phelps and safeties Anthony Harris and Darius Lee will see playing time.

 

OTHER

Virginia’s schedule will give them a chance to top last year’s four wins.  The Cavaliers should be favored in three of their four non-ACC games.  They host William & Mary in the opener, but UVA lost to W&M two years ago.  The Tribe will be tough to beat.  Virginia travels to Indiana and hosts Southern Miss and Idaho.  It is a tricky non-league slate; the Cavs could win all or lose all, but we believe they should go 3-1 or 2-2.  In ACC play, Virginia must play at Miami and North Carolina, the two schools with predicaments. If those games had been at Scott Stadium, then UVA might be figured to win both. 

 

SUMMARY

The Cavaliers return 17 starters, but three of the four missing were the top three players on offense.  We believe the new offense will have a tough time exceeding last year’s offense.  The defense will definitely be better, but the question remains: how many more plays will the stop side have to defend if the offense does not gel?

 

We believe Virginia is looking a repeat of last year.

 

Georgia Tech

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Joshua Nesbitt was known only for his running skills, but he ran the option like a magician.  He was on pace for a 1,000-yard rushing season before he went out for the season against Virginia Tech in game nine.  Tevin Washington started the last three regular season games plus the bowl game, and he put up similar numbers to Nesbitt.  Look for Washington to lead the team in rushing, but his passing may be no better than Nesbitt.  Tech completed just 38.1% of their passes in 2010, numbers that sound like the 1940’s and 1950’s.

 

Receivers

The top four receivers return to the fold.  Okay, the top four receivers caught a grand total of 40 passes, so this position is more about downfield blocking and getting open deep when the defense thinks you will decoy or block yet again.  Stephen Hill got open and led the team with 15 receptions; he averaged close to 20 yards per catch.

 

Running Backs

The Yellow Jackets will miss Anthony Allen, who led the ACC with 1,316 yards.  The new B-Back (fullback) is former quarterback David Sims.  He has won the job after being fourth on the depth chart in spring.  Don’t expect 1,300 yards from this position, but Sims will get the job done and force an extra defender into the box to prevent him from gaining three, four, and five yards with consistency.

 

Both starting A-backs (slot backs) return this year.  Orwin Smith and Roddy Jones combined for 869 yards, averaging 8.3 yards per carry, mostly on pitches from Nesbitt. 

 

Tech must cut down on the high number of fumbles this year.  They were -6 in turnover margin because of the numerous fumbles in the option plays.

 

Offensive Line

Even though option offenses can cover up liabilities in the blocking corps, this is still a big concern.  Two players expected to start will not be available at the beginning of the season.  Will Jackson and Phil Smith are out with injuries.  Jackson was selected as a Freshman All-American last year.  Backup guard Ryan Bailey is also out with an injury, so GT has some issues here. 

 

True freshman Trey Braun will start at one of the guard spots.  Omoregie Uzzi, the top blocker, will start at the other guard spot.

 

In the option offense, the line must make a lot of calls prior to the snap, and it requires a lot of thinking prior to reacting.  With the line in despair, this could be a problem early in the season.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This is the only area on this side of the ball that does not have a lot of holes to fill.  As it is, the defensive line is average at best.

 

All three starters return.  Nose tackle Logan Walls can adequately plug the middle.  He only made 23 tackles, but he kept blockers away from the inside linebackers.  Ends Izaan Cross and Jason Peters combined for 11 ½ tackles for loss, and Cross knocked away four passes.  This group is not the best pass rushing trio, and they allowed enemy runners to average 4.5 yards per carry.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return, but it is new starter Jeremiah Attaochu that should become the star of this mediocre quartet.  As a freshman in a reserve role, the outside linebacker registered 23 tackles with three sacks.  Steven Sylvester will man the other outside linebacker spot, while Julian Burnett and Daniel Drummond will start on the inside.  Sylvester led the Techsters with 10 ½ tackles for loss.

 

Secondary

This unit is in shambles, and it is the reason the PiRate Ratings list them as the last place team in the Coastal Division to start the season.

 

Not having much depth to start with, GT lost two players that were expected to contribute.  Fred Holton tore his Achilles tendon and is done for the season, while Ryan Ayers transferred to Liberty.

 

Louis Young will start at one cornerback.  In limited action in 2010, he made 10 tackles.  Rod Sweeting takes over at the opposite corner after recording eight passes defended.  Safeties Rashaad Reid and Isaiah Johnson have some experience, but neither will be able to replace Dominique Reese, who was tough against both the run and pass.  Look for GT to give up more than 225 yards per game through the air.

 

OTHER

Tech’s special teams were not that special last year.  They had trouble covering punts, and there was virtually no help with punt returns.  Expected kick returner B. J. Bostic begins the season in street clothes and may be a medical redshirt.

 

SUMMARY

Georgia Tech led the nation in rushing with an averaged of 323 yards per game, and they could lead the nation again this season.  However, teams will put eight and nine in the box and force Tech to pass.  An option team needs to be able to average over eight yards per pass attempt to scare defenses into staying honest; Tech averaged just 6.5 yards and will more than likely do no better this year.  It adds up to some stagnation on offense, so we do not see the Yellow Jackets equaling their offensive production of 2010 (26 points and 407 yards).

 

Defense is going to be a sore spot, and second year coordinator Al Groh has a short fuse that could cause some dissension if early problems develop.  We do not like the prospects for this program in 2011.

 

Only an easy September schedule could save the season.  GT hosts Western Carolina to start the season and then visits Middle Tennessee.  They return to host Kansas and North Carolina to close out the month.  The Jackets need to be 4-0 if they plan on going to a bowl game, because the schedule is tough once October arrives.  If GT starts 2-2, then they will finish with four or five wins.

 

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Atlantic Division

 

 

Florida State

65

420

Clemson

4

286

N. C. State

 

270

Boston College

2

224

Maryland

 

211

Wake Forest

 

80

 

 

 

Coastal Division

 

 

Virginia Tech

66

421

Miami

4

328

North Carolina

 

287

Georgia Tech

1

226

Virginia

 

132

Duke

 

96

 

 

 

ACC Championship

 

Florida State

 

50

Virginia Tech

 

18

Clemson

 

2

Boston College

 

1

 

 

2011 Big East Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Atlantic Division

 

 

Florida St.

123.3

8-0/13-0 *

Clemson

110.3

5-3/8-4

Boston Coll.

109.7

3-5/6-6

N.C. State

109.1

4-4/7-5

Maryland

106.5

4-4/6-6

Wake Forest

98.5

1-7/3-9

   

 

Coastal Division  

 

Va. Tech

116.1

8-0/12-1

Miami

115.2

3-5/5-7 ^

N. Carolina

106.8

4-4/7-5

Duke

99.8

3-5/6-6

Virginia

97.9

2-6/4-8

Georgia Tech

97.5

3-5/6-6

   

 

* Florida State picked to beat Va. Tech
in the ACC Championship Game

 

 

 

 

^ This prediction based on possibility of 12
to 15 players being declared ineligible.
If they play, Miami is picked to win 9 games.

 

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