The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 18, 2019

2019 Southeastern Conference Football Preview

Current Penn State and former Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin once said, “The three toughest conferences in football are the NFC, AFC, and SEC.”  Even though Clemson has taken Alabama to the woodshed twice in three years, the SEC is still the class of college football.  Clemson has no rival in the ACC like Alabama has in the SEC.  There are no Georgia, LSU, Florida, or Texas A&M types in the ACC.  Clemson played Texas A&M last year; it was a close game, and the Aggies had a chance to win it.  They go to Clemson early this season, and it is probably the only game Clemson will have to worry about until the Playoffs.

In the East Division, Georgia is the only team that has won the SEC Championship in the last 10 seasons.  The Bulldogs won the 2017 title, and they led Alabama in the National Championship Game until Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench and became the best quarterback to wear the Crimson since Ken Stabler and Joe Namath.  Georgia lost to LSU last season and then led Alabama into the second half in the Championship Game, before Tua rallied the Tide again.  Can the third year be the charm?  Coach Kirby Smart has star quarterback Jake Fromm and talented running back D’Andre Swift back behind a tough offensive line.  The receiving corps is thin on experience but has some talent, and with Fromm throwing the ball, the passing game will top 200 yards a game.

The Bulldog defense had a little trouble stopping some enemy quarterbacks last year, but the secondary will be improved in 2019.  The Bulldog defense should yield 17 or less points per game, and Georgia has a chance to go 12-0 and get that third chance in a row to stop the Tide.

Florida won 10 games in Dan Mullen’s first year as head coach in the Swamp.  The Gators should be Georgia’s principle competitor this year, but Mullen has some rebuilding to do on the attack side.  Feleipe Franks is a near star at quarterback.  If he stays healthy, Franks should pass for 3,000 yards this year, as Florida has a receiving corps that rivals Alabama’s in the league.  A defense that returns a lot up front and in back could give the Gators a chance in Jacksonville against the Bulldogs.

Unless an appeal is successful, Missouri will be on probation this year and not eligible for the SEC Championship Game, the Playoffs, or a bowl.  The Tigers might be the dark horse in the division, and if eligibility is restored, this team might be good enough to sneak into the division title picture, probably in a three-way tie.  Former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant replaces Drew Lock at quarterback, and the Missouri offense will be a little different, using Bryant’s ability to run.  The Tigers have an excellent receiving corps, led by a potential Mackie Award-winning tight end Albert Okwuegbunam.  The Missouri defense is not up to the standards of Florida and Georgia, but Coach Barry Odom has been gifted with a plum of a schedule this year.  The Tigers have a chance to go to Georgia on November 9 with an 8-0 record.

South Carolina and Tennessee are teams in transition.  The Gamecocks are trying to stay relevant against a tough schedule, while Tennessee is trying to return to relevance after several years under .500 in the SEC.  The Gamecocks are looking at a mild rebuilding year with a young, inexperienced defense that gave up more than 27 points last year.  Having to compete with Florida and Georgia is tough, but USC has three tough non-conference opponents, in rival Clemson plus North Carolina and Appalachian St.

Tennessee returns the most starters of any team in a power 5 conference, and the Vols have a rather strong group of redshirt freshmen available for second year coach Jeremy Pruitt.  Pruitt is a master defensive specialist, and the Volunteers will improve on their 2018 numbers of 28 points and 377 yards per game allowed.  The Big Orange offense was inconsistent last year, and it won’t be championship quality this year.  With Jim Chaney brought on board as offensive coordinator, Tennessee should be a little more consistent in 2019, and the Vols should improve to the plus side of .500 and make a bowl game.

Kentucky had its best season since 1977 in 2018, but the Wildcats face a major rebuilding year under Coach Mark Stoops.  The Wildcats lost All-American Josh Allen off the defense, and even if they returned the rest of that unit, it would mean the defense would be weaker.  Unfortunately, UK lost six other starters from this side of the ball, and it was defense that allowed UK to win 10 games last year.  The offense also lost seven starters, including star running back Benny Snell.  Terry Wilson is a serviceable quarterback, but he’s not going to shred defensive backfields like Fromm or Franks in the East.

Vanderbilt is the perennial choice for last place in the East Division, but Coach Derek Mason has been able to produce bowl eligibility twice in three years, even having to play a tough non-conference foe in those years.  The Commodores lost star quarterback Kyle Shurmur, but they bring in former Ball State starter Riley Neal, and Neal has the talent to equal or even top the production given by Shurmur.  With running back Keyshawn Vaughn returning after leading the SEC in rushing, and with a receiving corps that is deep and talented, the Commodores could average more than 400 total yards and 30 points per game this year.  Unfortunately, the defense may give up even more, and that is why Vandy might not be as dandy in 2019.  The losses of secondary stars Joejuan Williams and Ladarius Wiley will be tough on an inexperienced pass defense.

In the West, Alabama is the odds-on favorite to go 12-0, win the SEC Championship Game, and then win the semifinal game in the Playoffs, where a rematch with Clemson will excite college football fans from coast to coast.  In the Nick Saban years in Tuscaloosa, the Tide has had numerous stars drafted into the NFL, and it looked Saban had a little rebuilding to do.  At Alabama, one future star replaces a former star.  There is no such thing as rebuilding when you perpetually have the number one recruiting class in college football.  With Tagovailoa returning at quarterback, and with the best receiving corps outside of the NFL, Alabama should have no trouble topping 40 or even 45 points and 300-350 passing yards per game.  The Crimson Tide has the SEC’s best defense yet again, but they could be a tad vulnerable against some tough running backs and top of the line quarterbacks (like Fromm).  It will not be a cakewalk for the Crimson Tide this year.  One team is liable to upset them along the way, but whether that team can also finish 7-1 in the league and win the crown is highly unlikely.

LSU appears to have the best chance of dethroning the King.  The Tigers won 10 games last year but did not compete with Alabama, losing at home 29-0.  Coach Ed Orgeron has done a fine job recruiting talent to Baton Rouge, and in quarterback Joe Burrow, he has a potentially great passer, something that has prevented the Tigers from beating Alabama in recent years.  Defensively, the Tigers have the best defense not wearing crimson, and the LSU secondary might be the best in the nation.  It will give the Tigers a chance to stop Tua and the Tide.  An early game against Texas in Austin should give the nation a great look to see if LSU has what it takes to knock off the Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium in November.

Texas A&M faces an impossible schedule.  They play Clemson, Alabama, LSU, and Georgia, which is just plain brutal.  Second year coach Jimbo Fisher has worked wonders in his short time in College Station, but the A&M defense is going to be battered and bruised by these top notch offenses.  The Aggies could average more than 40 points per game in the other eight contests, and it would not be a surprise to see them upset one of those four powers.  At the same time, Auburn, Mississippi State, and South Carolina might sneak up and upset the Aggies.  8-4 is about the best that can be expected under these circumstances.

Auburn also has an impossible schedule this year, as in addition to Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M in the West, the Tigers have their annual game against Georgia, and then they must commence play against a tough Oregon team in a neutral site game.  With the loss of Jarrett Stidham and his top two targets, the offense may take a step backwards.  The defense should be quite strong, but in the SEC West, the Tigers could lose a lot of 21-17 games.  Coach Gus Malzahn is in a bit of a pickle on the Plains, and if War Eagles don’t win nine times this year, Gus may be on the bus out of town.

Mississippi State might be strong enough to compete for a division title in the Pac-12 or Big 12, but in the SEC West, they are probably not even in the top four.  In a league with incredibly talented defenses, the Bulldogs had the best of all in 2018, holding nine teams under 14 points.  Still, it led to only an 8-5 season, and the Maroons have issues on the offensive side of the ball this year, especially the all-important passing game.  Only a strong chance of going 4-0 outside the league will guarantee the Bulldogs bowl eligibility.

Arkansas might be the true sleeper of the league this year.  Second year coach Chad Morris had a major transition when he came to Fayetteville and switched the Razorbacks from a smash mouth offense to a more finesse spread offense.  He didn’t have the personnel to make the offense shine.  He will have a lot more of the necessary pieces this season, and he has a quarterback that can make the offense go.  Ben Hicks was Morris’s quarterback at SMU, when the Mustangs passed for close to 300 yards and scored 38 points per game in 2017.  He won’t replicate those numbers in the SEC, but Arkansas should top 28 points per game and challenge for a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility.

Ole Miss comes off probation this year, and the Rebels can become eligible for a bowl once again.  Unfortunately, the Rebels face a major rebuilding and transitioning with new offensive and defensive coordinators.  The offense welcomes Rich Rodriguez, and his read-option spread to the SEC.  The West Division foes have many years experience facing a nearly identical offense at Auburn, so it will not be something new and surprising.  The Rebels will not be as talented or competent at Auburn running this offense, so Ole Miss should see a considerable dip in production on this side of the ball.  Of course, losing quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and three star receivers would hurt no matter what offense was being run.  Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre has a lot more experience to work with on his side of the ball, but the Rebels lack the talent to compete against the rest of the West.  It could be a long year in Oxford.

Here is how the SEC Media voted in the preseason poll.

 

Southeastern Conference Media Poll
 

 

East Division
Pos. Team 1st Place Votes Overall
1 Georgia 233 1789
2 Florida 21 1499
3 Missouri 3 1149
4 S. Carolina 1 883
5 Tennessee 1 804
6 Kentucky 1 798
7 Vanderbilt 0 358
 

 

West Division
Pos. Team 1st Place Votes Overall
1 Alabama 253 1813
2 LSU 5 1493
3 Texas A&M 0 1268
4 Auburn 1 1090
5 Mississippi St. 1 769
6 Ole Miss 0 504
7 Arkansas 0 343
 

 

Championship Game Winner Overall Votes
Alabama 203
Georgia 49
LSU 3
Mississippi St. 1
Tennessee 1
Florida 1
South Carolina 1
Auburn 1

 

The PiRate Ratings show just how strong the league begins the 2019 season.  Ten teams begin 2019 at least 10 points better than the average FBS school.

 

Preseason PiRate Ratings–SEC

 

East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Georgia 126.2 123.6 126.6 125.5
Florida 120.5 117.8 119.5 119.2
Missouri 115.3 112.4 115.3 114.3
S. Carolina 114.0 112.2 113.9 113.4
Tennessee 112.6 111.6 111.1 111.8
Kentucky 109.5 107.5 108.3 108.4
Vanderbilt 104.3 103.3 103.4 103.7
 

 

West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Alabama 135.6 130.6 136.4 134.2
L S U 123.3 120.4 122.0 121.9
Texas A&M 118.6 116.6 117.0 117.4
Auburn 116.8 114.4 115.9 115.7
Mississippi St. 117.0 112.5 116.7 115.4
Ole Miss 102.0 101.1 100.7 101.3
Arkansas 100.0 100.5 99.3 100.0
 

 

SEC Averages 115.4 113.2 114.7 114.4

 

Note:  These preseason ratings are accurate as of August 1, 2019, and subject to change before the first week of the season due to personnel changes prior to the first week of the season.

 

Predicted Won-Loss Records

The PiRate Ratings were not created to forecast won-loss records like other ratings might attempt.  Our ratings are valid for just the next game on the teams’ schedules, and we have pre-set adjustments built into our ratings on many teams.  For instance, if a team has exceptional starting talent but little depth, their rating has a pre-set reduction per week of the season, so that even if they win or lose a game by the exact expected margin, they will lose some of their power rating due to their depth issues.

If a team has exceptional, but inexperienced talent, their rating will have a pre-set addition per week of the season, and even if their performance may be exactly what was expected, their power rating will rise.

What you see in these predicted won-loss records are our opinion and not calculated from the ratings.  These are the estimated records based on a vote, with the Captain having 50% of the vote and the crew having the other 50%.  The Captain then rounded up or down those teams picked to have an average wins that were not whole numbers.

 

PiRate Members Predicted Won-Loss

 

East Division

Pos Team Conf. Overall
1 Georgia 8-0 12-1
2 Florida 6-2 10-2
3 Missouri 5-3 9-3
4 Tennessee 3-5 7-5
5 South Carolina 3-5 6-6
6 Kentucky 2-6 6-6
7 Vanderbilt 2-6 5-7
 

 

West Division

Pos Team Conf. Overall
1 Alabama 8-0 13-0*
2 LSU 6-2 10-2
3 Texas A&M 5-3 8-4
4 Auburn 4-4 8-4
5 Mississippi St. 3-5 7-5
6 Ole Miss 2-6 5-7
7 Arkansas 1-7 5-7
 

*

 

Alabama picked to win SEC Championship Game

 

Coaches That Could Be In Line To Get A Top 10 Job

Most of the coaches are already at a program that either is a top 10 job or has the potential to be.  However, there is one coach that could advance to a bigger program

Mark Stoops, Kentucky

 

Coaches on the Hot Seat

Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Will Muschamp, South Carolina

 

Malzahn’s seat is considerably hotter than Muschamp’s seat.  If Auburn does not find a way to finish in the top three in the SEC West, there will most likely be a change on the Plains.

 

Top Quarterbacks

We have been showcasing three and sometimes four quarterbacks in the other conferences, but there is NFL Draft potential deep into the ranking of SEC quarterbacks.

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Jake Fromm, Georgia

Feleipe Franks, Florida

Kellen Mond, Texas A&M

Kelly Bryant, Missouri

Jake Bentley, South Carolina

Joe Burrow, LSU

Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee

 

Best Offense

Alabama

Georgia

Missouri

 

Best Defense

Alabama

LSU

Florida

 

Coming Tomorrow:  It’s finally here!  This is week 0 of the NCAA Football season.  There are two games Saturday, and that means we will debut the full regular season ratings.  Look for our first weekly report tomorrow.

Here’s how we expect to release our information this year.

Mondays: Updated College Football Ratings and Spreads for the week’s FBS games

Tuesdays: Updated NFL Ratings and Spreads for the week’s games

Thursdays: Our PiRate Rating picks for the week’s college and NFL games

Very Important Reminder: The members of the PiRate Ratings do not wager on football games.  We issue our selections just for entertainment purposes only and remind you that they are presented free of charge.  You get what you paid for, so don’t go wagering your mortgage payment on our advice.

That said, the PiRate Picks have returned narrow overall profits for four consecutive seasons.  Our claim to fame is finding Money Line Parlays that return better than even money odds.  Thus, we can hit on just 40% of them and still turn a profit, because the average parlay has +150 to +180 odds.  This means that if you place $1 on a parlay at +180 odds, if you win, you will receive $2.80 back from the Nevada books (Your $1 investment plus a profit of $1.80 for winning the parlay).  If you win 30% of your wagers at +150, you will turn a profit of 5%.  If you can win one of every three parlays at an average of +150, your profit is 16.7%, more than the average return in the stock market over time.  Of course, over time, your chances of profiting in the stock market nears 100%, where in football wagering,  your chances of profiting remains at 47.6%, unless you have inside information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 18, 2018

2018 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.
Our Power 5 Conference preseason ratings and won-loss predictions were figured before knowing the outcome of recent suspensions to Coaches Urban Meyer and D.J. Durkin at Ohio State and Maryland. Because our ratings set 100.0 as average, and the mean of all 130 teams must be 100.0, taking points away from Ohio State and Maryland require redistributing points to the other 128 teams. Expect these ratings to change prior to August 25.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has gotten tougher in recent years, and even though one team has dominated the league, they have been upset in conference play both of the last two years. Last year, Clemson lost at last place Syracuse. Coastal Division winner Miami fell at Pittsburgh, and the Panthers failed to get bowl eligible.
What does this mean? The ACC has quality teams from top to bottom, and on any given Saturday, a highly-ranked team might be very disappointed at the end of the day.
Clemson
Running Game: The Tigers are in excellent shape with the return of their top three runners from last year. Quarterback Kelly Bryant may see fewer snaps this year, because Coach Dabo Swinner signed the nation’s top passer, but Bryant is a game-changer with his wheel. Backs Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne have similar running styles. They can blast through small holes and head into the clear. All three had a 100-yard game last year. CU should rush for about 200 yards per game and average about five yards per attempt.

Passing Game: Here is where things get interesting. True freshman Trevor Lawrence is not a dual-threat like Bryant, but he comes to Clemson with an NFL quarterback’s arm. Lawrence has a quick release and quite a zip on his passes. At 6-6, he still has just enough quickness to avoid the pass rush and fire off-balance to an open receiver. He needs to work on his accuracy a little and realize that he cannot make all the passes in college that he made against inferior high school defenses, but he comes to Clemson with the potential of a Peyton Manning or John Elway.  The receivers are not as strong as a year ago, but the Tigers still have loads of talent here. Hunter Renfroe is an excellent possession receiver. Tee Higgins can go deep and can turn a short pass into a long gain. Tight end Milan RIchard is an excellent target. Clemson should top 225 passing yards per game and top 30 points per game.
Defensive Line: Quite simply, Clemson’s defensive line is the best in college football, and all four starters return. When quarterbacks have little time to set up in the pocket or make a zone read decision, offenses fail, and CU’s defensive line makes them fail a lot. This unit is so strong that the second string might be the third best in other leagues. We compare this defensive line with the 1992 Alabama defensive line, in other words, one of the best ever assembled. It may even be better than a couple of NFL teams. Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, and Austin Bryant would all start if they were in the NFL this year.
Linebackers: This is the weakest part of the defense, if you can call a top 10 unit weak. Leading tackler Kendall Joseph will be a first team all-ACC player. Middle linebacker Tre Lamar is a headhunter.

Secondary: This unit is the best in the league and a top 5 secondary overall. Safety Tanner Muse and cornerback Trayvon Mullen are the returning starters. A.J. Terrell and Mark Fields have significant experience at corner, but there could be some depth issues if this unit suffers a lot of injuries like it did last year.

Special Teams: Clemson won’t win games with their special teams, but they probably won’t lose any this way either. The loss of Ray-Ray McCloud will hurt the return game.

Outlook: They have been upset against teams they had no business losing to the last two years, but if they lose a regular season game this year, it will be ridiculous. There is so much talent throughout the roster, and the nation’s best defense could easily hold opponents under 10 points a game. This team should be 13-0 and Playoff bound yet again, where it would not surprise us if they play a familiar foe for the National Championship.
Boston College
Running Game: How good is sophomore running back A.J. Dillon? How about potentially being the next Jim Brown? Dillon is the best running back in college football, even if he must take a backseat in the headlines to Bryce Love and Jonathan Taylor. Dillon convinced us how incredible he is when he destroyed Louisville last year. On one 75-yard run, there was no hole when he took the hand-off; the Cardinal defense had multiple defenders wrapping him up, and he shed them to momentarily break free. Then, at about three yards, he basically threw another defender to the ground in a self-pancake block. In the clear, he showed his incredible speed and ran away from the defensive backs for a touchdown, one of four on the day. Dillon will force defenses to bring eight and even nine into the box. The great news is that the entire starting offensive line returns.

Passing Game: Anthony Brown is a better runner than passer, but he will get excellent protection and should make some big plays on play-action passing when defenses have to think about stopping Dillon first. B-C has always been a sort of Tight End U, and they have an excellent tandem in Tommy Sweeney and Chris Garrison (51-664/5 combined)

Defensive Line: The Eagles were too generous against the run last year, giving up 4.8 yards per rush. Notre Dame ran for 515 yards on this unit. End Zach Allen is the star of this unit, and enemy blockers will have to double team him to keep him away from the quarterback. Allen projects as a 1st round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Linebackers: This could be an improved unit if it stays healthy. John Lamot showed promise as a freshman. Conor Strachan is healthy again after missing last year. In 2016, he made 80 tackles with 11 for loss.

Secondary: The secondary played admirably well last year and should be quite strong again this year. Free safety Lukas Denis is a bandit and picked off 7 passes, while strong safety Will Harris stops running plays before they can get too far.

Special Teams: Michael Walker is an effective returner, but kicking game is nothing special.

Outlook: Boston College should go 4-0 outside of the ACC, and with Dillon running behind a strong offensive line, Coach Steve Addazio should be able to keep his defense off the field enough to keep them fresh and hide his depth issues on this side of the ball. B-C could be a dark horse challenger for second in the Atlantic Division, and the Eagles should return to a bowl this year, and most likely win a game or two more than last year.

N. Carolina St.
Running Game: Unless true freshman Ricky Person takes over early and dominates like his press clippings predict, the Wolf Pack running game is likely to retreat from recent seasons. Expected starter Reggie Gallaspy has yet to get through a season healthy. Person already has missed practice time with injuries. NC St. may not average 125 rushing yards per game this year.

Passing Game: Ryan Finley needs to live up to his hype. NFL scouts believe he is a late 1st round draft pick, but Finley had a terrible stretch late in the year when his completion percentage fell under 60%, and he threw more interceptions than touchdown passes, while averaging just 6.1 yards per attempt. He recovered to look like a Heisman Trophy contender in the Sun Bowl, when he torched Arizona State. Finley benefits by having one of the nation’s top receivers on the roster. Kelvin Harmon caught 69 passes for 1,017 yards last year and could top 80 and 1,200 this year. Stephen Louis gives Finley an excellent number two receiver. The offensive line is better at pass blocking than run blocking, and there is experience and depth here.
Defensive Line: While not exceptionally talented and somewhat inexperienced, this is the best unit on this side of the ball. The Wolf Pack were much better at stopping the run than the pass last year, but the players responsible for stuffing runners at the line are no longer here. Tackle Eundraus Bryant and end Darian Roseboro give NC St. a couple of above-average linemen.

Linebackers: This unit is a big concern. After losing its leading tackler, there isn’t much talent or depth remaining. Germaine Pratt is the best of the two-deep, but he is not one of the top 10 linebackers in the league.

Secondary: Expect a little better play from the defensive backfield this year, but if an adequate pass rush doesn’t form, the statistics could be little changed from last year, when the Pack surrendered 253 passing yards per game. There has been an upgrade in talent here, with former Tennessee safety Stephen Griffin eligible this year.

Special Teams: Punter A.J. Cole is very good. The Wolf Pack need a kicker to emerge with consistency, and freshman Christopher Dunn may become the new regular. The return game was excellent last year, but they lose their key man.

Outlook: Make no mistake about this–Coach Dave Doeren has slowly built up this program to where it was during the Dick Sheridan years. Even with a rebuilding defense, the offense can carry this team to a top 25 ranking. Except for the game at Clemson, State can beat any other team on their schedule, and we expect the Wolf Pack to at least match last year’s nine-win total.

Florida St.
Running Game: Are two very good running backs as good as one superior running back? It depends. If the one superior back goes out injured, the team is toast. If one of the two really good teammates goes out injured, at least you still have one remaining. Florida State’s top two backs are very good, but neither will remind anybody of Dillon. Cam Akers topped 1,000 yards last year, but he did a lot of his damage against weaker teams. He did explode for 121 yards against Miami, so there is promise that he will be more consistent this year. Jacques Patrick missed a couple game due to injury but still managed to add 748 rushing yards. The Seminoles’ offensive line is also very good but not a great unit.
Passing Game: Florida State will take their quarterback competition down to the wire before naming a starter for the Virginia Tech game on Labor Day. After enjoying a successful freshman campaign in which he threw for 3,350 yards and 20 TDs, Deondre Francois was touted as a phenom last year on the eve of the opener against Alabama. Francois didn’t last through the opener, ending his season with a knee injury. He will need some new game experience to remove the rust, and he will most likely be number two on the depth chart. James Blackman isn’t as mobile as Francois, and he has issues sometimes with finesse passes, but he has the best arm on the roster. Blackman looked like the leader of this team when he torched Southern Miss in the Independence Bowl with 4 TD passes. Bailey Hockman is a pure dropback passer with a strong and accurate arm but with no game experience. Whoever wins the starting job, he will have some talented receivers catching his passes. Nyqwan Murray can catch the ball in a crowd and knows how to turn upfield and gain extra yards once he catches the ball. There are depth issues here.

Defensive Line: The Seminoles have half of an excellent front four. Tackle Demarcus Christmas and end Brian Burns can compete for All-ACC honors. If tackle Marvin Wilson can play the way his pedigree predicted, FSU could improve their run defense and give up less than 125 yards per game. The pass rush is adequate but not exceptional.

Linebackers: This is a rebuilding project. The Seminoles lost all three starters, including two NFL picks. The leading returnee had just 12 tackles. The development of the new starters will determine if FSU can slow down the great backs in this league and prevent short passing games from picking them apart.

Secondary: The Seminoles should be okay at cornerback with two fine starters and a decent backup, but there could be issues at safety.

Special Teams: This unit should be better than average, but the Seminoles are not likely to pick up any extra wins by relying on it to be decisive.

Outlook: Coach Willie Taggart’s hurry-up spread offense may take some time for his players to adjust to after playing a power, pro style under Jimbo FIsher. The Seminoles will start slow but pick up momentum as the season continues. Their bowl streak should continue, but the bowl is likely to be earlier in December than they like.

Wake Forest
Running Game: The ground game under Coach Dave Clawson has improved for three consecutive years after being dead last in the nation in 2014. Matt Colburn approached 1,000 yard territory last year, as he averaged 5.4 yards per rush. With the loss of dual-threat quarterback John Wolford, expect Colburn to run the ball a few more times per game. His second half was better than the first, so it would not be surprising if he rushed for 1,200 or more yards in 2018. With all five offensive line starters back, the Demon Deacons could top 200 rushing yards per game if new quarterback Kendall Hinton can pick up where Wolford left off.

Passing Game: This is where Wake Forest will really miss Wolford. Hinton will most likely fail to match his 3,192 passing yards and incredible 29 touchdown passes. Wake Forest shattered its all time scoring and total offense high marks last year, averaging more than 35 points and 465 yards per game. They need to come close to matching that this year, because they will have to outscore opponents once again.

Defensive Line: Not much has changed in Winston-Salem on this side of the ball, as Wake Forest is mediocre in its front seven. They had one star in Duke Ejiofor, who now plays for the Houston Texans. The pass rush will be weak, and backs like Dillon and Akers will be smiling when they line up against this defense.

Linebackers: This unit is weaker than the defensive line. One starter returns in middle linebacker Demetrius Kemp. Most of his tackles were made after successful plays by the opponent.

Secondary: This is the strongest unit on the team, but it is still not stellar, just average. Three starters return. Corners Amari Henderson and Essang Bassey and strong safety Cameron Glenn teamed for 7 interceptions and 33 passes defended.

Special Teams: Dom Maggio is one of the top punters in the ACC, but Wake Forest lost All-conference kicker Mike Weaver. Greg Dortch is a fine but not outstanding return man.

Outlook: Coach Clawson has another good offense that will have to win games by scoring a lot of points. The Deacons will do that six or seven times, but they will take a small step backwards this year.

Louisville
Running Game: Lamar Jackson rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in three years as Louisville’s quarterback. His running ability will be harder to make up for than his passing ability. Jawon Pass is not close to Jackson as a runner. Louisville will not rush for 245 yards this year. Top back Dae Williams rushed for just 235 yards last year, but he is capable of topping 1,000 yards. Still, UL will most likely rush for less than 200 yards per game this year, even with an experienced offensive line returning.

Passing Game: Pass can hum that pigskin. He has a strong arm, and he’s more likely to be like past Bobby Petrino quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He might top 300 passing yards per game, and with Jaylen Smith, Seth Dawkins, and Dez Fitzpatrick returning to catch those passes, the Cardinal offense will still thrive. The terrific trio averaged almost 16 yards per catch and scored 20 TDs on their 147 receptions.

Defensive Line: Uh-oh! Louisville’s defensive line was not outstanding last year, but it was experienced. Nary a starter returns this year. There is one star returning in former designated pass rusher end Jon Greenard, who tallied 7 sacks in 2017.

Linebackers: It’s a similar issue at linebacker, as the Cardinals must replace two of three starters. The lone returnee, Dorian Etheridge, finished second on the team in tackles, but he did not create big plays. True freshman Robert Hicks may hit the field immediately this year.

Secondary: We failed to mention that 9 of 11 starters on this side of the ball finished their college careers last year. That leaves just one starter left in this unit. Russ Yeast was a part-time starter, and he produced no big statistics.

Special Teams: The Cardinals have exceptional kicking but nothing special in their return game. Kicker Blanton Creque is accurate up to 50 yards, while punter Mason King is one of the best in the league.
Outlook: With Jackson and a more experienced defense, Louisville could only manage an 8-5 season. Frequently, teams outscored the Cardinals. Expect the Cardinals to take a step backwards. A 6-6 regular season with a minor bowl would be a successful season for this young roster.

Syracuse
Running Game: Dino Babers’ teams are known for their wide-open passing attacks, but Syracuse had several excellent games on the ground last year. Miami’s game plan was to force the Orangemen to run the ball, as they played a lot of safe zone coverages. SU ran the ball well enough to keep the game close. The key players return this year, including Dontae Strickland. Quarterback Eric Dungey actually led the team in rushing, and his return means he could team with Strickland to combine for about 1,200 yards. The offensive line improved somewhat in year two of the Babers era, and it should be as good or even better this season.
Passing Game: Dungey passed for 2,495 yards with 14 touchdowns last year, but for the third consecutive season, he missed games due to injury. Even if he stays healthy this year, he will have a hard time matching his per game average from 2017, because SU lost Steve Ishamel and Ervin Phillips and their 194 catches. Syracuse will spread their receptions out among four or five wideouts this year.

Defensive Line: Three starters return to the trenches led by end Alton Robinson, who led the Orangemen with 5 sacks. Tackle Chris Slayton is strong against the run.

Linebackers: This is the weakest unit on the entire team. SU will have to rely on juco transfers this year, as graduation took their number one, two, and four tacklers.

Secondary: The Orangemen have three experienced defensive backs returning, but this is another liability. Syracuse gave up 7.8 yards per pass attempt, and only 4 interceptions (3 from the secondary).

Special Teams: Sean Riley is decent as a return specialist, and Sterling Hofricher is a capable punter, but the Orangemen need a new placekicker. Hofricher might have to take over and handle both jobs.

Outlook: If Syracuse didn’t have to play Notre Dame this year, we might be inclined to pick this team to sneak into bowl eligibility with six wins. With the Irish added, the schedule is a bit too difficult to expect Syracuse to get past 5 wins.

Miami
Running Game: When you look at the sum of the parts, Miami didn’t have the look of 10-3 team. The Hurricane running game was nothing special, finishing 10th in the ACC, but on closer look, Mark Richt’s team finished third in average yards per rush behind Louisville with Jackson and Georgia Tech with their option offense. With quarterback Malik Rosier and top back Travis Homer returning, behind an offensive line that should be on par with 2017, look for the running game to be as good or better than last year.

Passing Game: Rosier’s 2017 season might have inspired Charles Dickins to write A Tail of Two Passers in One Body. It was the best of times for the signal caller during the first ten games, and the worst of times in the final three. Rosier is more of a gunslinger than a West Coast Offense prototype. He’s near the top in the nation at throwing the deep ball, but he can be impatient with everything else. In the first ten games, his efficiency rating was 141.7, and he averaged better than 8 yards per attempt. In the last three games, his efficiency rating fell to 92.0 with a 44.9% completion rate and five interceptions. Rosier lost his top targets from last year, but he has some athletic replacements that can run deep routes and get enough separation for the Hurricanes to get some quick scores again.

Defensive Line: Enemy quarterbacks will not look forward to playing the Hurricanes with their strong pass rush. Joe Jackson and Jonathan Garvin will get their share of sacks and hurries, and their quick rush might help UM carry on that great Turnover Chain tradition. Miami could be a little more generous against the run this year.

Linebackers: This is by far the best trio in the league and one of the five best in the nation. This trio will be back for the third year, and you can expect Zach McCloud, Shaq Quarterman, and Michael Pinckney to top 200 total tackles if they stay healthy. 22 1/2 of this groups tackles last year were for lost yardage.

Secondary: Three starters return to a unit that liked to wear that chain following interceptions. Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson both intercepted four passes in 2017, and Johnson forced three fumbles as well. Rarely can a defense finish first in its conference in turnover margin in consecutive seasons, but this unit could pull off that feat this year if the offense does its part.

Special Teams: The Hurricanes are not strong here, and this could actually cost them a close game. Punter Zach Feagles averaged just 38.6 yards per punt, and he could be the strongest link in this unit. True freshman kicker Bubba Baxa can kick the ball a mile, but he has to become more consistent with kicking it straight.

Outlook: The Hurricanes are the team to beat in the Coastal Division for the second consecutive season. Unfortunately, they still have a ways to go before they can challenge Clemson for the ACC Championship. Another 10-win season is probable, only this time the losses won’t all come at the end.

Virginia Tech
Running Game: Coach Justin Fuente shared the wealth in his running game last year, basically because no back emerged as the go to guy. Deshawn McClease, Jalen Holston and Steven Peoples will share most of the carries again this year. The Hokies failed to average four yards per rush last year, and it brought down the scoring average. The offensive line may be slightly improved this year for the running attack.

Passing Game: Josh Jackson played like a talented freshman last year as the young starter. He put up some rather good numbers with 2,991 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, but down the stretch, his passing efficiency fell to 106.7 in the final 5 games. With Cam Phillips off to the Buffalo Bills, Sean Savoy and Eric Kumah become the top targets.

Defensive Line: This is where the Hokies will shine. Three starters plus the top reserve return to the trenches. Bud Foster is still around coaching the defense, and Virginia Tech will always be tough to run against. Tackle Ricky Walker made 41 tackles, with 12.5 for loss. He’s nearly impossible to run on, and he can get after the quarterback from the inside.

Linebackers: Other than running back, this is the one potential problem area. Mook Reynolds is the only returning starter, and he recorded nine tackles for loss last year. There isn’t much depth here.

Secondary: This is one of the best defensive backfields in the ACC, but it is less experienced than it was last year. Reggie Floyd is the top star here. The strong safety intercepted three passes last year, including a pick six against North Carolina.

Special Teams: For years, Virginia Tech was noted for its excellent special teams. 2017 was no different, but the stars that made this unit so good have left Blacksburg. Punter Oscar Bradburn returns, but the rest of this unit is somewhat untested.

Outlook: The Hokies will be a good but not great team in 2018. The defense lost a bit too much to repeat its performance of last year, and the offense is not ready to simply outscore the better teams. More of the projected tossup games are on the road, so we expect an 8 or 9 win season this year.

Duke
Running Game: Half of Duke’s excellent tandem of 2017 returns this year. Brittain Brown rushed for 701 yards at a 5.4 average per rush. He’s got good hands and can catch the ball out of the backfield. The offensive line has less experience entering the season, but the line was not a strong point last year and could actually be a little better this year.

Passing Game: Daniel Jones is a better runner than a passer to this point in his career. His TD/INT ratio was 14/11, and he averaged less than 6 yards per pass attempt. He was better as a freshman in 2016, and he finished the season playing his best ball, so prospects are good that 2018 could see a jump forward. All of his key targets from last year return, including T.J. Rahming, who led with 65 receptions and 795 yards. Expect David Cutcliffe to get a lot more out of this phase of the game this year; Duke could average 250 passing yards per game.

Defensive Line: Duke concentrates its pass defense on keeping maximum personnel in coverage, and their pass rush is not all that terrific. The line is not a strong point, and even thought three of four starters return, it isn’t one that will scare opposing ACC backs.

Linebackers: Here is where the Blue Devils make their plays. The linebacker duo return to try to improve on 25 tackles for loss. Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris could start for most Power 5 teams.

Secondary: Two players with extensive starting experience return to the 5-man secondary, including cornerback Mark Gilbert. Gilbert intercepted six passes a year ago and broke up 15 more.

Special Teams: Duke must audition for a new kicker and punter. There is experience in the return game, but the talent is average here.

Outlook: A 7-6 season that included a bowl win over Northern Illinois was about what was expected last year. This year, the Blue Devils should maintain the status quo or improve ever so slightly on last year’s success.

Georgia Tech
Running Game: It’s the option attack, so the running game is always going to be some variation of good. When they averaged 307 yards per game to lead the ACC last year and finish fifth overall in the FBS, it almost was like a minor disappointment. Any time the option attack returns an experienced quarterback, it almost always improves over the previous year, and TaQuon Marshall returns after rushing for 1,146 yards and 17 touchdowns. Marshall has the ability to free-lance a little more than the average option quarterback. Once in the clear, he accelerates like a top-rated running back. Georgia Tech returns both starting A Backs and their starting B Back. B Back KirVonte Benson (old-fashioned fullback position) is a powerful runner, who gives Tech two returning 1,000 yard rushers. He’s powerful with a low center of gravity, and it isn’t uncommon for him to push the defense an extra five yards after multiple defenders make contact.

Passing Game: It’s the option attack, so the passing game is always going to be a decoy until the quarterback lulls the defense into thinking he will never pass. Marshall is a runner first, second, and third. He has just enough passing talent to run play-action and throw the bomb. Even when it is not completed, it warns the safeties to remember that the next one could be completed. The offensive line is built for run blocking, so Tech cannot get too fancy with their passing game. Still, there is room for improvement. While 8.6% of his passes resulted in touchdowns, 4.3% of his passes resulted in interceptions.

Defensive Line: This is a work in progress. Coach Paul Johnson brought in Nate Woody as his new defensive coordinator, and Woody brings the 3-4 defense to Atlanta. Tech was a 4-2-5 team last year, and the front line will have some rough adjustments, as it becomes more of a protector for the linebackers.

Linebackers: Although not a juggernaut, the quartet of linebackers makes this the best unit on this side of the ball. Outside backer Victor Alexander should thrive in this new set, and Brant Mitchell should add about 30 more tackles to his stat sheet than he did last year.

Secondary: This could be trouble. The problem with option teams is they seldom have a scout team quarterback and receivers that can help their pass defense practice in real game-like situations. Add to this that just one starter returns from the five that started last year, and Tech could give up 230 to 250 passing yards per game.

Special Teams: Pressley Harvin is one of the nation’s top punters, and he’s just a sophomore. Tech hopes Shawn Davis can improve from a so-so year, as the Yellow Jackets made just 7 field goals. The return game is average at best.

Outlook: After suffering a 5-6 season with a game wiped out due to a hurricane, Georgia Tech should recover and become bowl eligible once again. With a few breaks, they could even challenge for the division title.

Pittsburgh
Running Game: The offense grounded to a halt last year, as Pitt could only muster 148 rushing yards per game and had consistent star running back like James Conner. Darrin Hall could be that missing ingredient this year after flashing signs of greatness in 2017. Against Duke, he broke two long touchdown runs and scored three total on the way to a 254-yard day. Hall will run behind a stronger offensive line this year, even though there will be some new faces starting.

Passing Game: Three quarterbacks took turns starting last year, and the third one in that group returns as the starter at the beginning of 2018. Kenny Pickett went 1-1 as the starter at the close of the season, performing quite well and earning the starting nod in 2018. He engineered the victory over Miami when the Hurricanes were 10-0 and ranked number two in the nation. The problem is that none of last year’s starting receivers are back. Rafael Araujo-Lopes was a regular who just so happened to come of the bench, so it is like having one starter back.

Defensive Line: A deceptively good defense last year, Pitt should be more obvious about their goodness this season. The Panthers were strong against the run, and they should be so again this year. End Dewayne Hendrix leads a talented and deep front four, as Pitt substituted and played a lot of players up front last year.

Linebackers: All three starters return, making this the strength of the team. Leading tackler Oluwaseun Idowu recorded 94 tackles with 11 1/2 for loss and 5 sacks. Second leading tackler Saleem Brightwell had 73 tackles.

Secondary: The defensive backfield makes a lot of changes this year as three starters depart. Coach Pat Narduzzi has some highly-prized recruits to come in and help out against the pass.

Special Teams: Any time Pitt gets to the opponents’ 40 yard line, they are in field goal range for Alex Kessman. His leg is among the strongest in the nation in college or the NFL, but his accuracy has not caught up to his strength. Replacing All-ACC punter Ryan Winslow won’t be easy. Replacing star returner Quadree Henderson won’t be possible.

Outlook: Pittsburgh faces the strongest non-conference schedule this year, and it could prevent the Panthers from returning to the plus side of .500. The Panthers have road games with Central Florida and Notre Dame plus a home game with Penn State, and they could be 1-3 out of the ACC. It would take a 5-3 conference mark to become bowl eligible, and that is asking a bit too much for this roster.

N. Carolina
Note: 13 players face 1 to 4 game suspensions for selling their school issued tennis shoes. The opening week PiRate Rating will reflect the change in personnel for the Cal game.

Running Game: Both running backs that shared most of the load last year (Jordan Brown & Michael Carter) return, but they will be running behind a rebuilt offensive line that must replace three full-time starters plus a fourth player that started most of the games. It may be hard to top the 145 rushing yards per game from last year.

Passing Game: Chazz Surratt lost his spot as starter last year due to injury. This year, a 4-game suspension gives the job to last year’s replacement Nathan Elliott. Elliott started the last four games and had mixed results. Elliott has one star target in the receiving corps. Anthony Ratliff-Williams had just 35 catches last year, but he gives Elliott a big receiver to leap over defenders to make circus catches, while supplying speed to break long gains from short and medium length passes.

Defensive Line: The Tar Heels couldn’t stop opposing offenses last year, giving up 31.3 points and 436 yards per game. While there are experienced players returning to the trenches, this group could not stop the run. Expect a little improvement as most of the two-deep is back.

Linebackers: Like the defensive line, there is room for improvement, but unlike the line, there isn’t much experience returning past leading tackler Cole Holcomb.

Secondary: There is some talent and experience in the backfield. K.J. Sails led the Heels with 13 passed defended. Myles Dorn had 71 tackles and two interceptions.

Special Teams: This has been a strong point during the Larry Fedora era. Kick returner Anthony Ratliff-Williams returned 2 of his 34 kick returns for touchdowns. He will handle punt returns this year as well. Hunter Lent took over as Punter in the middle of the season last year and performed brilliantly with a 44.9 average.

Outlook: This could be a win or else year for Fedora, and with all the suspensions early in the season against a tough September schedule, the Tar Heels could be doomed early and struggle to stay out of the basement for a second consecutive season.

Virginia
Running Game: Bronco Mendenhall shocked the league by guiding Virginia to bowl eligibility coming off a 2-11 first season in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers certainly didn’t win six games with their running game. UVA averaged just 93.5 rushing yards per game and 3.1 yards per rush. Nearly 70% of the team’s rushing yardage came from one player, and Jordan Ellis returns as that player. He may struggle to do much better this year behind a raw offensive line, which might be the weakest in the league.

Passing Game: Kurt Benkert’s arm got Virginia to the Military Bowl last year, but Benkert graduated. Stepping in to replace him is junior college transfer Bryce Perkins. Perkins is a dual-threat quarterback, something Mendenhall has not had at Virginia. Perkins has speed like a top running back, but he is no slouch as a passer. H-Back Olamide Zaccheaus caught a team-leading 85 passes a year ago, while tight end Evan Butts added 32 catches.

Defensive Line: The Cavaliers yielded just under 200 rushing yards per game last year, but with both ends missing from last year’s 3-4 front, and with some missing pieces in the next line of defense, that number will most likely zoom over 200 this year. Don’t expect much pass rush from this group either.

Linebackers: Things are a lot better in this unit, but the Cavaliers are still missing two fine starters from last year. Jordan Mack and Chris Peace are talented all around, stopping runs for little gain and getting into the backfield when they blitz. Still, this unit loses All-Conference and leading tackler Micah Kiser (143 tackles/5 sacks/2 fumble recoveries).

Secondary: They didn’t get much credit, but the secondary was one of the top four or five in the ACC last year. Three starters return. Bryce Hall, Brenton Nelson, and Juan Thornhill combined for 9 interceptions and 26 passes defended. There’s depth here, so this will be the strength of the defense.

Special Teams: This unit will help Virginia win a close game at some point in the season. Kick returner Joe Reed averaged 30 yards per return and took back 2 for touchdowns. Punter Lester Coleman averaged close to 44 yards per punt. A better year is expected out of kicker A.J. Mejia.

Outlook: Nobody expected this team to make a bowl game last year, and the media is not giving any love to the team this year. This team has the talent to challenge for bowl eligibility, and if Perkins can move the offense like he did in junior college in Arizona, the Cavaliers could surprise again with another 6-6 regular season. If Perkins does not shine, then 4-8 is more likely.

Here is how the ACC Media voted in the preseason poll

ACC
Atlantic 1st Place Points
1. Clemson 145 1,031
2. Florida St. 1 789
3. North Carolina St. 2 712
4. Boston College 0 545
5. Louisville 0 422
6. Wake Forest 0 412
7. Syracuse 0 232
Coastal 1st Place Points
1. Miami (Fla.) 122 998
2. Virginia Tech 16 838
3. Georgia Tech 8 654
4. Duke 1 607
5. Pittsburgh 0 420
6. North Carolina 1 370
7. Virginia 0 257

 

The PiRate Ratings differ somewhat

Atlantic Coast Conference
Atlantic Division
Team ACC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Clemson 0-0 0-0 131.7 128.4 132.6 130.9
Boston College 0-0 0-0 117.3 113.7 117.2 116.1
N. Carolina St. 0-0 0-0 113.8 113.0 113.6 113.5
Florida St. 0-0 0-0 111.5 110.9 111.3 111.2
Wake Forest 0-0 0-0 109.8 107.5 107.3 108.2
Louisville 0-0 0-0 105.1 105.3 104.6 105.0
Syracuse 0-0 0-0 106.2 104.2 104.6 105.0
Coastal Division
Team ACC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Miami 0-0 0-0 120.3 118.2 120.0 119.5
Virginia Tech 0-0 0-0 114.3 113.7 114.0 114.0
Duke 0-0 0-0 113.3 110.4 112.4 112.1
Georgia Tech 0-0 0-0 112.2 110.9 111.8 111.7
Pittsburgh 0-0 0-0 105.5 105.2 104.7 105.2
N. Carolina 0-0 0-0 105.3 104.3 104.5 104.7
Virginia 0-0 0-0 101.5 102.0 99.9 101.1
ACC Averages 112.0 110.6 111.3 111.3

New Coaches
Willie Taggart’s stay in the Pacific Northwest lasted just one year. The former South Florida coach left Oregon to return to the Sunshine State and takes over the reins from Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. Taggart comes from the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree, or should we say just the Harbaugh coaching tree. He actually played and then coached under papa Jack Harbaugh at Western Kentucky, before he became a Stanford assistant under son Jim. In his short stints at Western Kentucky, South Florida, and Oregon, he has improved the won-loss record every year but one, in which he equaled that one.

Predicted Won-Loss Records
Note: These predicted won-loss records are strictly mechanical based on the initial PiRate Ratings. No upsets are factored in these predictions. Additionally, our PiRate Ratings are only useful for the next week of games and cannot really be used to forecast past that point. Part of our weekly adjustment to our ratings includes a factor where depth issues or non-issues have been pre-set. In other words, a team without talented second stringers may lose ratings points as the season progresses even if they win games by the predicted margin, whereas a team with exceptional depth (like Alabama) will improve during the season and see its rating rise even if they win games by a little less than the predicted margin. Ohio State and Maryland could see their ratings change by large amounts depending on the outcome of the two coaching investigations.

ACC
Team Conference Overall
Atlantic
Clemson 8-0 13-0*
North Carolina St. 7-1 11-1
Boston College 4-4 8-4
Florida St. 4-4 7-5
Wake Forest 3-5 6-6
Syracuse 2-6 5-7
Louisville 1-7 4-8
Coastal
Miami 8-0 12-1
Duke 6-2 9-3
Virginia Tech 5-3 8-4
Georgia Tech 5-3 8-4
North Carolina 2-6 4-8
Pittsburgh 2-6 3-9
Virginia 0-8 4-8
*Clemson to win ACC Champ. Game

Bowl Tie-ins
1. Camping World Bowl in Orlando, FL
2. Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL ***
3. Belk Bowl in Charlotte, NC
3. Music City Bowl in Nashville, TN or Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, FL
3. Pinstripe Bowl in New York, NY
3. Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX
7. Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA
7. Military Bowl in Annapolis, MD
7. Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, MI
The ACC has secondary agreements with the Birmingham and St. Petersburg Bowls.
*** Citrus (if top possible team is higher-ranked than SEC or Big Ten team)

Coming Tomorrow–The Southeastern Conference

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