The Pi-Rate Ratings

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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September 1, 2009

2009 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

2009 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

Four teams finished with 5-3 records in the ACC last year.  That’s not abnormal.  However, when 5-3 wins both divisions of a 12-team league, that’s a sign of real parity.  Unfortunately, it was a parity of mediocrity.  In 2007, Boston College won the Atlantic Division with a 6-2 record.  Wake Forest did the same in 2006.  This year, the parity should begin to wane some, but the races in both divisions should go down to the final week, and tiebreakers once again could determine the division title winners.  All 12 ACC members have exploitable liabilities, and many teams can take advantage of them.  However, no team has the tools to exploit all of those liabilities, so we expect no 8-0 conference records yet again.

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, when Florida State hosts Florida, the Seminoles only get about two points for home field advantage.  However, if a smaller school, such as Arkansas State comes to Tallahassee for Homecoming, FSU’s home field advantage jumps by several points. The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.

  Atlantic Coast Conference Preseason PiRate Ratings  
   

 

Prediction *

 

 
  Team

PiRate

ACC

Overall

 
  Atlantic Division

 

 

 

 
  Florida State

116

5-3

7-5

 
  Clemson

113

6-2

10-3

#

  Boston College

109

1-7

4-8

 
  North Carolina St.

108

3-5

6-6

 
  Wake Forest

106

4-4

8-4

 
  Maryland

98

2-6

4-8

 
   

 

 

 

 
  Coastal Division

 

 

 

 
  Virginia Tech

117

7-1

10-2

 
  Georgia Tech

115

7-1

10-3

#

  North Carolina

113

6-2

10-2

 
  Miami-FL

108

4-4

6-6

 
  Virginia

99

2-6

4-8

 
  Duke

97

1-7

3-9

 
   

 

 

 

 
 

*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but

 
 

on expected changes to rating during the year

 
 

# Clemson to upset Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game

 

 

Atlantic Division

Florida State:  The Seminoles are no longer the beast they were for a quarter century.  They are simply an above-average team that doesn’t challenge for national honors any more.  While they begin the season highly ranked in the PiRate Ratings, we just don’t see any way that they will stay there.  By October 22, we see FSU sporting a record no better than 4-3 and possibly just 3-4 with three tough games to play.

The Seminoles, once one of the toughest defenses to crack, appear quite vulnerable against both the run and the pass.  The defensive line no longer has all-Americans manning the four spots.  This year, we don’t even see an All-ACC caliber player up front.  Look for FSU to surrender more than four yards per rush for the first time in ages.

With a weaker pass rush, the secondary will find the going tough against quality passers.  The Seminoles will be vulnerable to quick receivers coming across the middle of the field.

The one real star on this side of the ball is linebacker Dekoda Watson.  He made eight stops for losses last season, but he’s going to see an extra blocker headed his way this year.  We envision FSU giving up 25 points per game and 350 total yards per game.

The offense is in better shape, and if the ‘Noles can manufacture an above-average rushing attack, they will be able to outscore several opponents.  It all starts up front, where State has the top line in the conference.  Center Ryan McMahon will start in the NFL early in the next decade, and guard Rodney Hudson could do so next year.  They should make the running game look better than it normally would and protect the QB with great pass blocking.

The fortunate QB is Christian Ponder.  He threw for just a little over 2,000 yards last year and with a so-so 14/13 TD/INT ratio.  Those numbers will be much better this season.  Ponder can take off and run at any time and could even lead FSU in rushing in several games.

A mediocre receiving corps will look better because Ponder will have more time to look for an open receiver.  Give any college receiver and extra two seconds to get open, and they will most of the time.

The running attack is not strong and will need exceptional blocking to match last year’s numbers (179 yards per game and 4.8 avg. per run).  Expect a group effort here with Jermaine Thomas leading the way.

The schedule gives the Seminoles a couple of easy wins (Jacksonville State and Maryland), one for sure loss (Florida), and several tough games they could win or lose (Miami, BYU, USF, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Clemson, and Wake Forest).  There will be days where FSU can win by outscoring their opponent, but there are going to be defenses that can slow them or shut them down.  It adds up to another just above average season and lesser bowl bid. 

Clemson: The team that has been picked to break out and have a big season every year in recent memory has never done so.  Tommy Bowden never could reach that next level.  Now it’s Dabo Swinney’s turn to try.  He went 4-3 after taking over at mid-season.  Swinney is primed to return CU to its old way of playing football—using the run as the principle weapon to set up the pass as a surprise weapon.  The defense should be better because they won’t be on the field for 67 plays per game.  Five to eight fewer plays by the opponents could lead to 35 fewer yards and three fewer points per game before factoring in the improvement on that side of the ball.

The Tigers’ defense is strongest on the back line.  The secondary has two shut down cornerbacks who will take away a lot of opponents’ passing plans.  Chris Chancellor and Crezon Butler can both make the All-ACC team.  Last year they teamed up for 15 knocked down passes and eight interceptions.

All three of last year’s starting linebackers return, and Kavell Conner was the team’s leading tackler with 125.  Middle linebacker Brandon Maye is capable of having 100 tackles.  DeAndre McDaniel has moved to safety, and he’s going to put a hurtin’ on some poor receiver who tries to catch a weak pass.

Up front, Clemson’s line is among the best in the league.  Three starters return; Da’Quan Bowers, Jarvis Jenkins, and Ricky Sapp combined to record 23 tackles behind the line in ’08, and that number could improve this year.

Clemson gave up only 17.3 points and 300 yards per game last year, but we expect those numbers to be even better this year.  How about 15 points and 270 yards per game allowed?

The offense wasn’t a standout attack unit last year, and the Tigers might only match those numbers of 25 points and 329 yards per game, but it’s how those numbers will be accrued that counts.  We expect CU to run for 190 and pass for 140 yards per game, using three more minutes of clock time.

New quarterback Kyle Parker is not much of a passing threat, but he can run the ball like a fullback in the open field.  When CU must pass, Willy Korn could be the man doing so.

At running back, Clemson has super quick C. J. Spiller returning after finishing second on the team in rushing last year with 629 yards and seven scores.  He caught 34 passes out of the backfield and could be used on play-action and screen passes this season, as well as being a safety valve on other plays.

The receivers will take on less responsibility this year, and they will be required to block downfield more than last year.  Tight end Michael Palmer could see more passes thrown his way because Parker will command the linebackers to keep him in their sights lest he take off and run.

The offensive line returns intact from last year, and it is the equal of the OL at Florida State.  They will open holes for Spiller and protect Parker or Korn on passing plays.

The schedule presents a few bumps.  CU must play at Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina State, and South Carolina.  One of the non-conference home games is against TCU, who should be 2-0 and highly ranked when they visit on September 26.

Boston College: It may just be a hunch, but all of us here at the PiRate Ratings believe there’s going to be a collective BC headache this year in Chestnut Hill.  For the third time in four seasons, the Eagles have a new head coach.  Frank Spaziani has been the head coach at BC before—for the 2006 Meineke Car Care Bowl against Navy (BC won 25-24).  In addition to the change at the top, the Eagles will have to go with a quarterback they didn’t plan on starting.  Dominique Davis couldn’t keep up his academic load and was dismissed from the team.

The new quarterback is yet to be determined, but freshman Justin Tuggle is in the lead with a week to go before the season begins.  Codi Beck, a former fullback, and Dave Shinskie are in the picture as well.  The BC passing game is going to falter some, and it wasn’t all that spectacular last year.  In the final three games against Maryland, Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game, and Vanderbilt in the bowl, Davis and Chris Crane completed just 43% of their passes.

Two of the top three receivers from last year return, but Rich Gunnell and Justin Jarvis are not going to be attracting the eyes of NFL scouts.

The running game will have to step it up a notch if BC is to score consistently this year.  Montel Harris and Josh Haden teamed up for 1,379 yards at a 4.6 average last year and could top that this year by 200 yards. 

A usually strong offensive line will not deviate from that statement this year.  However, they aren’t as good as either Florida State or Clemson. 

The defense was tough last year, giving up just 268 total yards per game.  The defense suffered a big blow when linebacker Mark Herzlich, was diagnosed with bone cancer.  We here wish him a speedy recovery and hope he is able to return to the field in 2010.  Herzlich was a one-man wrecking crew leading BC with 110 tackles, 13 behind the line, breaking up eight passes, and picking off six more.  He cannot be replaced by anybody on the roster.  Mike McLaughlin takes over as the leader of this side, and he could be considered a junior Herzlich.

The Eagles are going to regress some in the trenches following the loss of two NFL draftees at tackle.  B. J. Raji was a 1st round pick and Ron Brace went in the 2nd round.  Expect to see teams running line plunges for a few extra yards against the defense.

The secondary returns three starters who need to do a much better job this year in order to make up for a weaker trio of linebackers.  Wes Davis has a chance to shine from his free safety position.

After two easy games to start the season, BC opens conference play at Clemson, and it could be ugly.  Road games against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame could produce the same result.  The Eagles could split their four home conference games, but they could easily lose all their road games.  It looks like a year away from bowl competition in 2009. 

North Carolina State: This was a tale of two seasons a year ago in Raleigh.  The Wolfpack began the year 2-6 and looked to be headed to a possible nine loss season.  Then, Coach Tom O’Brien’s team acted like a switch had been activated.  NCSU demolished Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Miami to sneak into the Papajohns.com Bowl (where they lost to an even hotter Rutgers team).  The Wolfpack could be better this year as a whole, but the record may not be any better as teams remember the shellacking they received in November and seek revenge.

Quarterback Russell Wilson earned 1st team All-ACC honors in his freshman season last year, and he is the leader in the clubhouse for repeating this year.  All he did as a freshman was pass for 17 touchdowns with just one little interception!  That’s got to be the greatest TD/INT ratio in a major conference ever!  Wilson can run the ball too, but our advice is for him to limit that this year.  Behind him, the reserves are much weaker, and Wilson is injury-prone.

Wilson’s top two targets are back in the fold this year.  Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams combined to catch 57 passes for 1,123 yards and nine scores.  Both can burn a secondary for a long touchdown, and both can win a jump ball in the end zone.  Tight end George Bryan provides a nice secondary target and must be respected by the defense.

The returning running backs are more of the plodding, power variety than the quick burst of speed variety.  That could present a small problem, because it takes a good line to hold their blocks long enough for the backs to hit the holes.  The offensive line is the weakest unit on the offense.  NCSU could fail to rush for 100 yards per game in conference play.

The defense showed little signs of improvement in O’Brien’s second year in Raleigh, and it will be hard to show much improvement this year as well.  The secondary was hit hard by graduation and defections.  Two projected starters quit the team and transferred elsewhere.  It leaves a huge hole, and the Wolfpack might give up more passing yards than last year’s dismal secondary (249 yards per game and 62.2% completions).

More problems abound at linebacker, where Nate Irving, a potential All-American, saw his 2009 season end in a summer car crash.  That leaves Ray Michel as the only holdover in the middle of the defense.  Michel led the team with 85 tackles, but he’s no Irving.

The defensive line will have to get the job done, or else State will give up a lot of yards and points.  Willie Young has the potential to be a star but not the next Mario Williams.  He should be a first day draft pick next year, but he will see some heavy double teams this year.

The Wolfpack will pick up some easy wins against some weak competition (Murray State, Gardner-Webb, Duke, Maryland), but they will get it handed to them against the top tier teams in the league.  Expect something like a repeat of last year, but the wins won’t all come in November.

Wake Forest: Jim Grobe ranks as the top coach in the Atlantic Division.  He gets more out of his talent than any other head man.  He will have to come up with one great accomplishment to keep his defense from imploding after losing his three starting linebackers and three starting defensive backs.  Replacing Alphonso Smith (seven INT and 13 PBU) will not be possible.

Wake surrendered 18.3 points and 297 total yards per game last year, but the Deacs could give up close to that in passing yardage alone this season.  Brandon Ghee is the only returnee to the back seven, and he’s anything but a star.

The defensive line returns three starters, but only nose tackle Boo Robinson will contend for All-ACC honors.

With the top five tacklers, including first round draft pick Aaron Curry and fourth round pick Stanley Arnoux, the Demon Deacons will be much more angelic to enemy offenses in 2009.

All is not lost in Winston-Salem, for the Wake Forest offense has a chance to be really good this year.  Quarterback Riley Skinner is a master at the quick passing game.  He can lead a team downfield with a long, time-consuming drive with short passes; call it five yards and a cloud of wind.

When Riley throws, he will see some unfamiliar faces.  He won’t have D.J. Boldin around this year, after Boldin led the Deacs with 81 receptions.  In this offense, receivers can acclimate quickly with short routes.  Holdover Marshall Williams can be a great change of pace wide out, as he can get open deep.

The running game is not the same as the Wake Forest running games of 2002-2004, when all the cut blocking was giving them a bad reputation.  Look for quite an improvement here this year, as the top three backs return and could combine for 1,200-1,400 yards on the ground.  Skinner can sneak by for a first down on a scramble.

The offensive line returns five players who have started in their careers.  The two tackles, Joe Birdsong and Chris DeGeare will protect Skinner like he’s gold.

Expect a season much like 2007 in Winston-Salem this year.  Wake Forest will outscore opponents much like Florida State, and much like Florida State, they will falter on offense a few times and suffer some tough losses.  Still, it looks like a fourth consecutive bowl bid.  As always, there will be some coaching changes at power schools, and Grobe will probably wind up on a few short lists once again.

Maryland: This figures to be a long year in College Park.  The Terrapins suffered more to graduation than any league foe, and they have been wiped out in the trenches on both sides of the ball.  When a team cannot block at the line and gets blown off the line on defense, they aren’t going to win many games.

Let’s start with the offense.  Coach Ralph Friedgen has some weapons back, but without decent blocking, those weapons can produce only so much.  Quarterback Chris Turner is an average signal caller for this league.  He threw 13 touchdown passes, but he also tossed 11 interceptions.  He has a tendency to have wild streaks and miss his receivers. 

Turner has lost his top two receivers from last year.  Darius Heyward-Bey took a lot of flak when Oakland made him their first pick in the NFL draft with Michael Crabtree still on the board, but he’s set to start for the Raiders while Crabtree is set to lose the year and return to the draft.  Heyward-Bey led the Terps with 42 receptions and 609 yards, and there isn’t a player on the team who can rival his speed.

Maryland has a tough running back tandem returning in Da’Rel Scott and Davin Meggett.  Scott rushed for 1,133 yards and eight TDs last year, but it will be difficult if not impossible for him to repeat that feat.

The offensive line lost four key contributors and will take a step back this season.  Only center Dave Cost, who moved to the middle from guard, and part-time starting tackle Bruce Campbell return this year.  Expect Maryland’s offense to falter many times and average only 18-19 points and 300-325 total yards per game.

The news isn’t much better on the other side of the ball, as the entire starting defensive line is gone.  Tackle Travis Ivey has the most experience, but he made just 26 stops last year in nine games.

Only one starter returns at linebacker, but he’s the best player on this side of the ball.  Alex Wujciak led the Terps and finished second in the league with 133 tackles, 8 ½ of which went for losses.  The two new starters cannot come close to equaling the production of last year’s starters who combined for 171 tackles and 17 for losses.

The secondary will have four senior starters, two of whom started a year ago.  Cornerback Anthony Wiseman broke up 10 passes, but he’s likely to see opposing quarterbacks pass away from him more this year.  That may be a mistake because Nolan Carroll has the potential to be better than Wiseman.  He broke up eight passes last year after starting four games.

The Terp pass defense will suffer if the pass rush doesn’t help it some.  Give any QB an extra couple of seconds to pass, and he can shred Florida and Southern Cal with completed passes.

The schedule is going to keep Maryland under .500 this year.  Out of the conference, the Terps must face California in Berkeley to open the season and Rutgers.  They will be looking up at the rest of the Atlantic Division and will be fortunate to win more than two conference games and more than four overall.

Coastal Division

Virginia Tech: If one team is going to break through the parity party and run away from the field, this one is the favorite to do so.  However, the Hokies still have some issues to be resolved, and we think they will suffer at least one conference defeat and one out of conference defeat.

The unexpected loss of one player brings Tech back to the pack.  Star running back Darren Evans may have been a Heisman Trophy contender with a big year.  He ran for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, but unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending ACL injury in practice.  It’s not like the backups who will come to the forefront are chopped liver, but they aren’t going to get into the Heisman Trophy picture either.  Instead of dominating in the running game, Tech will just be average here and rush for about 150-160 yards per game.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor could actually become the leading rusher by default.  He better have a stellar season afoot, because he isn’t going to strike fear in the opponents with his arm.  Tight end Greg Boone will get some snaps out of the wildcat formation, but Coach Frank Beamer limits its use to a couple plays.

Taylor has a wealth of talent to catch his passes this year.  Every player with double digit receptions last year returns this year, led by Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale, and the aforementioned Boone.  Taylor’s passing numbers will improve from about 130 to 175 yards per game.

The offensive line will give Taylor ample time to throw or run the ball, and they should be strongest in the off-tackle and wide running lanes on the left side where tackle Ed Wang and guard Sergio Render form an excellent tandem.

Beamer’s teams are noted for top notch defensive and special team’s play.  This year’s stop troops won’t disappoint, but they won’t live up to recent standards either.  Tech gave up 16.7 points and 279 yards per game last season, but those numbers will rise this year.  If they rise to 18 points and 300 yards, Tech will be okay and contend for another league championship.  If they top 20 points and 330 yards, then the Hokies might lose a key extra game that costs them the division title.

The question mark rests at linebacker, but we believe they will be okay there even though the two lost players were the top two tacklers.  Cam Martin and Cody Grimm platoon at the whip linebacker position, and they totaled 122 tackles with 19 ½ for losses. 

Up front, three starters return, including Jason Worlds at end.  Worlds will contend for 1st team All-ACC honors after earning 2nd team accolades last year.  He led Tech with 18 ½ stops behind the line including eight dumps of the quarterback.

The secondary returns three starters as well.  They were one of the best in the nation last year, but they should be even better in 2009.  Cornerback Stephan Virgil and safety Kam Chancellor will vie for all-conference honors.

Virginia Tech faces three out of conference foes expected to contend for division championships in their respective conferences.  The Hokies begin the season playing Alabama in Atlanta.  They also host Nebraska and make a visit to East Carolina with revenge on their minds.  They must make an even more important second trip to Atlanta on October 17 to face Georgia Tech.  The winner of that game could be the Coastal Division representative in the ACC Championship Game.

Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson is the nation’s top contrarian coach.  In an era where the spread passing game is all the rage, Johnson is still a proponent of the old option offense made popular by the Split-T in the 1940’s and 50’s and the veer and wishbone of the 60’s and 70’s.  The so-called football experts claimed a BCS conference team could not succeed running such an archaic and antiquated offense.  Let us let you in on a little secret folks: with the right personnel, the single wing offense from the 1920’s could devastate BCS defenses today. 

Johnson’s teams at Navy and Georgia Southern, as well as the days when he was an offensive coordinator at Hawaii and Navy the first go-around always made huge strides on offense in the second year of his implementing his package.  We expect year two at Tech to be more of the same.

10 starters return to an offense that averaged 24.4 points and 372 yards per game (273 on the ground).  It is our belief that the Yellow Jackets will top 300 rushing yards per game this year and score upwards of 30-35 points per game.  Start with an experienced Josh Nesbitt at quarterback, who rushed for 693 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season running the option.  Backup Jaybo Shaw showed promise as well, and it is required of this offense to have more than one capable quarterback.

Jonathan Dwyer thrived in the new offense, gaining 1,395 yards and scoring 12 times, while averaging an eye-popping seven yards per carry.  It earned him ACC Offensive Player of the Year.  His numbers could decline a little but for a great reason.  Former 1,000 yard rusher at Louisville Anthony Allen is now eligible after sitting out a year.  It wouldn’t surprise to see both Dwyer and Allen top 1,000 yards on the ground and wear out some defenses.  When defenses bunch up to stop those two, watch out for the pitch to two speedy slot receivers.  Lucas Cox and Roddy Jones combined to average 8.7 yards every time they ran the ball.  There could be a game where Jones,  Allen, and Dwyer all top 100 yards!

Cox and Jones are pass catching threats to go all the way every time they receive a surprise pass.  Demaryius Thomas caught 53% of Tech’s completed passes and accumulated 49% of the yards.  He will see more deep balls thrown his way this year. When Georgia Tech passed the ball last year, they averaged 7.8 yards per attempt and 17.4 yards per completion.  Those numbers could be more like 9.5-10 yards per attempt and 18-22 yards per completion this year.  If so, the Techsters will be almost impossible to stop.

The offensive line has four starters returning if you count tackle Nick Claytor a starter.  He started the final five games and played spectacularly against some very strong defensive opponents.  This unit is all about run blocking, and they will break down if Tech finds itself in too many obvious passing downs. 

Not to be overlooked is an experienced defense that returns its top five and eight of its top nine tacklers.  Tech will be much tougher this year against the pass, as six of the seven back defenders will return to the starting lineup.  The Jackets gave up 193 passing yards per game last year and picked off 17 passes.  Look for those numbers to improve to 170 yards and 20 interceptions in ’09.

The star of the secondary is rover Morgan Burnett, who intercepted seven passes and broke up eight more.  He found time to bring down seven runners behind the line as well.

At linebacker, all three 2008 starters return.  They weren’t stellar, but they were more than adequate.  None will make the All-ACC team, but they won’t be a liability either.

Up front, Tech has a little to worry about, and it will be their Achilles heel.   Three key players have used up their eligibility, and only end Derrick Morgan returns.  Tech could see its rushing defense numbers jump from 120 to 150 yards allowed per game.

The annual rivalry finale with Georgia is the only non-conference game for the Yellow Jackets to fret over, as they should handle the other three.  The schedule favors Tech in the Coastal Division race, as they host Virginia Tech and North Carolina.  Back-to-back Thursday night games against Clemson and Miami could decide whether the Virginia Tech game in October will be for the division title. 

North CarolinaCoach Butch Davis has quickly rebuilt the North Carolina football program back to where it was during the Bill Dooley and Dick Crum days.  The Tar Heels may soon be as successful on the gridiron as they are on the hardwood.

Nine starters return to a defense that gave up 21.2 points and 365 yards per game.  Expect those numbers to improve to 18-20 points and 325-350 yards per game.

The strength of the defense is the line.  The front four could be one of the five best in the nation this year, as all four starters return to the fold.  Tackles Cam Thomas and Marvin Austin both top 300 pounds but have exceptional first movement on the snap of the ball.  All four of the second four return as well, so the Tar Heels will have the best depth in the nation outside of Gainesville, Florida or Norman, Oklahoma.

Two starters return at linebacker, and middle linebacker Quan Sturdivant will be playing for pay in a year or two.  Sturdivant led UNC with 122 tackles and played tough against the pass as well.

Three starters return in the secondary, and two of them should make the All-ACC team.  Cornerback Kendric Burney and safety Deunta Williams combined for 143 tackles, 8 ½ tackles for loss, six interceptions, and eight deflected passes.

The offense will struggle at times this year, and that’s why UNC will probably come up short in the Coastal Division.  The Tar Heels averaged 28 points on just 321 yards per game last year; the total yardage could go up, but the point total will drop.

T. J. Yates and Cameron Sexton were expected to split quarterback duties again this year, but Sexton transferred.  Yates has had problems staying on the field, even suffering a sprained thumb in spring practice.

Yates may not recognize his receivers when they line up before the first snap.  Five of the top six pass catchers are gone, leaving only Greg Little and his 11 receptions as a holdover.  Expect some drop in passes caught and yardage gained.

The running game should be able to make up for the lost passing yardage and maybe add a little more than that.  Shaun Draughn gained 866 yards last year, and we expect him to top 1,000 this season. 

The offensive line is the offensive question mark as three starters are missing from last year, including guard Aaron Stahl who had a year of eligibility left but decided to leave after graduating in May.

The Tar Heels’ schedule should allow them to win all four non-conference games (Citadel, Connecticut, East Carolina, and Georgia Southern).  Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are both road games, and that’s why we believe UNC will miss out on a share of the division title by a game.  This team is good enough to win the title if the passing game can make any hay.  

Miami-FL: Here is a program that should always have enough talent to compete for the ACC crown.  However, the Hurricanes have yet to make it to the ACC Championship Game.  Coach Randy Shannon guided Miami to the Emerald Bowl last year, and that’s about where we expect them to be this season.

Inconsistent quarterback play has kept this program from turning the corner the last few years, and that problem will repeat this year.  Sophomore Jacory Harris is the only experienced signal caller left after two players left the team after spring practice.  True freshman A. J. Highsmith may see significant playing time if Harris struggles or is injured. 

Harris has almost all of his receiving weapons returning this year, so he should have a lot of open looks when he throws.  10 players had double digit receptions, and nine of them are back, headlined by Aldarius Johnson.  However, if Harris gets injured, we can foresee a major drop in passing yards in the games he misses—down to as low as 100-125 yards per game.

Luckily for the Hurricanes, they have two very capable running backs.  Graig Cooper led the team with 841 yards, and Javarris James added 286.  Those numbers will increase by about 200-300 yards split between the two.  As a team, we expect to see UM run for 175 or more yards per game.

The offensive line is a work in progress.  Tackle Jason Fox has NFL potential, but he cannot block three defenders at once.

Miami’s defense was dominant when the Hurricanes were competing for national titles.  The past two seasons, the ‘Canes have ranked in the lower half in defensive statistics in the ACC.  If they are going to return toward a defense of dominance, it will start with the linebackers taking over.  Colin McCarthy, Darryl Sharpton and Sean Spence all have all-conference potential.  Add in three returning starters up front, led by tackle Marcus Forston, and opponents will not run the ball with much success.

The secondary has some holed to fill, but it should be at least as good as last year.  Opponents may pass the ball for more yards, but they are going to pass the ball several additional times.

The Hurricanes will know their fate on Monday night, September 7.  The opener against Florida State in Tallahassee should eliminate the loser from their respective divisional race.  UM gets 10 days to prepare for the home opener against Georgia Tech, and that could mean the difference in an upset win instead of a loss.  If they can open 2-0, then Miami’s players could start to believe they can win.  Nine days later, the ‘Canes play at Virginia Tech, who will have the regular seven days between games.  If they are 3-0 at this point, they have a legitimate shot at winning the Coastal Division.  If they are 2-1, they are still in the race.  If they are 1-2, they can still recover and get to a bowl.  If they are 0-3, they are in big trouble because regardless of the record after three games, game number four will be a bad loss.  Oklahoma comes to Miami.

Virginia: Al Groh is on the hot seat in Charlottesville, and another losing season could be the end of his tenure at UVa.  Coach Groh, it doesn’t look too promising for you, because you’re missing a lot of talent from last year’s 5-7 team.

The Cavs appear to be ready to begin the season with a 5’9 quarterback.  Vic Hall is a former starting cornerback who played admirably on short notice in the season finale against Virginia Tech.  Coach Groh has called him a “Kung Fu Fighter,” as he gives everything and leaves it all on the field.  However, at 5’9, he’s going to have a tough time passing over the line. 

To make matters worse, all the key receivers from last year are gone.  Jared Green is the leading returnee after catching just 12 passes for 144 yards.  No other player on the roster caught even 100 yards worth of passes nor averaged 10 yards per catch.

It’s almost as sad at running back, as the leading returning rusher, Mikell Simpson, gained 262 yards at three yards per rush.

The offensive line has four starters back, so it gives the new skill players a little bit of cushion.  We don’t see the Cavs matching their offensive output of last year, and they only averaged 300 yards and 16.1 points per game.

The defense isn’t going to bail out the offense.  In fact, they have as many problem areas as the offense.  The top four tacklers have departed, including three key linebackers.  Three starters return to the secondary, and two of three starters return in the trenches, but as a whole, this defense is a bit small and not all that quick.  Opponents will run the ball with more success this year, and they won’t have to throw at the Cavalier strength. 

Virginia hosts Duke and should exact revenge after getting slaughtered last year in Durham.  The Cavs also host Boston College.  Those two are the only winnable conference games as we see it.  Two of the four non-conference games are going to be tough and probably losses.  TCU and Southern Mississippi can beat UVa.  The sports talk shows in the Commonwealth and in DC will be creating a lot of coaching rumors as soon as it becomes apparent that the Cavs will not enjoy a winning season.

Duke: Seven games into the 2008 season, Coach David Cutcliffe appeared to be on the verge of guiding Duke to a possible winning season and bowl game.  The Blue Devils were 4-3 with wins over soon-to-be bowl teams Navy and Vanderbilt.  However, in game eight, Duke had a chance to get to 5-3, but lost to Wake Forest in overtime after missing a makeable field goal at the end of regulation.  As so often happens with young and unsuccessful teams, that was enough to drain out the extra energy.  Duke didn’t win again, losing the final four games by an average of 13 points per game.

The Blue Devils may have blown their best opportunity to break through with a winning record, because they are going to take a step backward this season. 

A defense that surprisingly played much better than expected last year will regress back to usual form and give up 30 points per game this season.  Seven of the top 10 tacklers from last year graduated, leaving Duke with several holes on that side of the ball.

Two starters are missing from all three units on the stop side, but the biggest loss of all is linebacker Michael Tauliili, who led the team in tackles for the third time in his career.

Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis returns for his senior season after passing for 2,171 yards and 15 touchdowns with just six picks.  Backup Zack Asack was switched to safety and then dismissed from the team. 

Re’Quan Boyette returns at running back after missing last year with an injury.  He rushed for 432 yards in 2007, and he should form a large platoon that could improve upon last year’s 106 rushing yards per game by 20-30 more.

Lewis has a couple of decent holdovers at receiver, but he lost top receiver Eron Riley and his 61 receptions.  Combine that with three lost starters in the offensive line, and Lewis could be running for his life more than he did last year.

We see one winnable conference game on the schedule this year.  Maryland comes to Durham, and the Terps have several issues themselves.  Outside the league, Duke better take care of business when they play Richmond, Army, and North Carolina Central.  Richmond, the defending FCS National Champion, beat Duke 13-0 just three years ago, and they are a better team now.

Next up: Will Southern Cal make it eight in a row in the Pac-10?  Can Cal challenge the Trojans?  Will the Washington schools make progress?  Can Stanford make it to a bowl?

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