03 June 2008

2008 Preview Series - ACC

Regal on hardwood, the Atlantic Coast Conference has struggled in effecting a seamless transition to sod. They're the entrepreneurs of the BCS, a Janus-like collective, that have cut, copied, and pasted their membership so many times founding charters look like newspapers that get dropped on subway tracks. A 1-9 record in BCS bowl games says only one thing: they don't compete when it matters.

But they've got potential. An aching amount of it. And The Rivalry, Esq. believes in the runt of the BCS litter. It's time the ACC stops aging like 80s patio furniture, and makes waves somewhere else besides the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. 2008 may well be the beginning of a new tide for the Atlantic if they play top to bottom ball.

Esquire Rating: 1/5

Watching Duke compete in 2007 was sort of like watching Laurie Strobe try to escape from Michael Myers in John Carpenter's Halloween. It's amazing they averaged 20,064 in home attendance. Then again Halloween was one of the top grossing films of 1978. Duke's offense -- which ranked 117th out of 119 teams -- might as well have been scripted back then. So, let's not dwell on 1-11.

Under a new Roof, David Cutcliffe has charged his squad to drop lbs and adopt urgency with specific focus on winning battles at the line of scrimmage. Increased emphasis on mechanics behind a more physical front is almost certain to translate into better production. How much better remains to be determined.

Must Win: NAVY (Sep. 13th). Last year's contest with the Midshipmen was one of their best showings and closest losses. If the Blue Devils can hold on for four quarters they've got a shot at being 3-0 (or at least 2-1 out of the gate).

Predicted Finish: 3-9 (2-6 conference)

Esquire Rating: 2/5

The 07 Wolfpack started 1-5 before winning 4 out of their last 6 including contests against Virginia and at Miami. It's well believed that early season injuries contributed to the chameleon effect.

With 14 starters back and top playmakers expected to be healthy, expect North Carolina State to build on the offensive side of the ball. Tough out of conference matchups against South Carolina and South Florida may frustrate off-season confidence -- but there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Must Win: SOUTH FLORIDA (Sep. 27th). A win here will settle their stomach before back-to-back home contests against Boston College and Florida State.

Predicted Finish: 4-8 (3-5 conference)


Esquire Rating: 2/5

Maryland seemed to collect wins and losses in clusters last season resulting in a roller coaster ride to bowl eligibility.

With 16 back, including Quarterback/Wide Receiver duo Chris Turner and Darrius Heyward-Bey, the 08 squad has the opportunity to mature offensively, while at the same time leveling defensive play. An influx of talented linebackers will help drain opponents' point totals (a la Penn State).

Must Win: @ VIRGINIA (Oct. 4th). Last year the Terrapins lost a 17-18 heartbreaker. It's time to return the favor.

Predicted Finish: 5-7 (3-5 conference)

Esquire Rating: 2/5

If eight starters back from 2007 doesn't sound like many, consider defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has built what ESPN calls "...one of the best defensive lines in the ACC."

Still, switching offenses is a little like clutchless shifting on a '71 Carrera -- it requires finesse. Let's hope Johnson employs President Nixon's iron-fist/velvet glove approach to diplomacy. Will Tech come out looking like an early 90s Nebraska or a standard Navy? Their schedule won't help. An early away tour at Boston College and Virginia Tech melts into a constant middle-belt that buckles at Georgia in late-November.

Must Win: @ BOSTON COLLEGE (Sept. 6th) or @ VIRGINIA TECH (Sept. 14th). Pick one. Win to break even.

Predicted Finish: 5-7 (3-5 conference)


Esquire Rating 2/5

Butch Davis' will enjoy a foundation of 19 returning starters on his second run down Tobacco Road. He'll depend on this core nucleus to carry the team through a 2008 out of conference schedule that's far more demanding than it was last year.

It's for this reason that the bottom line might not look much better than 2007 (4-8), but the Tar Heels are primed to make strides in conference play. With capable receivers and good depth on the second team, the Davis restoration is in good hands and on schedule.

Must Win: @ RUTGERS (Sept. 11th). The Heels need something to take the edge off their out of conference play. This trip to Newark appears to be their best shot.

Predicted Finish: 5-7 (4-4 conference)


Esquire Rating: 3/5

The deacons are specialty position central with models at tailback, tight end, and corners. But they lack center force, with a weak O-Line and nameless receiver corp. They're also missing defensive ends.

Coming off of a productive 2007, The Rivalry Esq. is prone to say 2008 looks like a rebuilding year. Luckily, their schedule is a little more forgiving.

Must Win: @ FLORIDA STATE (Sept. 20th). If they handle this, they're 4-0 out of the gate.

Predicted Finish: 7-5 (4-4 conference)

Esquire Rating: 3/5

Another squad that looks like they're about to bring a sword to a gun fight, Virginia is rowdy in the defensive midfield and wimpy at mission control. To surprise the top-end of the conference they'll have to find a quarterback that can attach the ball to the Velcro hands of receivers like John Phillips and Kevin Ogletree.

If they do, they're bound to beat the 101 ranking they earned in '07 for total offense.

Must Win: @ CONNECTICUT (Sept. 13th).

Predicted Finish: 8-4 (5-3 conference)

Esquire Rating: 3/5

The scandalous Seminoles are set to play two seasons. One, marked by the continued suspensions of six of their star crop -- and the other, en banc. Then again, the winningest coach of all time isn't quite ready to plop into a recliner for fried fish and Jeopardy re-runs (as evidenced by last year's spoiler at then No. 10 Boston College).

With freshman stepping up to fill tackle holes on the offensive line -- one of the most difficult places on the field to succeed green -- the 2008 squad may have problems moving the ball. Still, a defense charged by linebackers Derek Nicholson and Dekoda Watson should keep them in games.

Must Win: COLORADO (Sept. 13th). While it won't help their conference charge, a home win against a historical power would do wonders for their confidence.

Predicted Finish: 8-4 (5-3 conference)

Esquire Rating: 3/5

It's never easy to lose a first-round, Heisman caliber quarterback. Couple that with a gutted defense and the departure of two four-year veteran backs, and you've got a condemned foundation.

Still, what's left after the dust settles is a protege regiment -- a group that's broken their backs and paid their dues shoveling coal into the boilers on the Matt Ryan express. Quarterback Chris Crane has three years of apprenticeship that should inform his reads. Smart decision making all around could be the difference for the new BC. A soft schedule doesn't hurt, either.

Must Win: @ VIRGINIA TECH (Oct. 18th).

Predicted Finish: 9-3 (6-2 conference)

Esquire Rating: 3/5

I'm hard-pressed to find a program in the history of college football that's experienced as much tumult as these hardened Hurricanes. It's been a strange, sad road from 2002 to present stained by murder, malice, and farewell to a legendary post-season palace, the Orange Bowl.

But even the scars forget the wounds. Like the forlorn phoenix, the "U" will be re-born. Perhaps no coach in the country is better suited to proctor the transformation. Randy Shannon understands his players and their struggles. This ability to connect with young athletes produced the third best recruiting class in the country in 2008, despite a difficult 5-7 season.

Sooner or later that talent is bound to show up on the field.

Must Win: VIRGINIA TECH (Nov. 13th). With no Clemson on the schedule the 'Canes could blow into the ACC Championship game with a win against the Hokies.

Predicted Finish: 9-3 (7-1 conference)


Esquire Rating: 4/5

Despite a comparably low returning class of eleven, the working class Hokies will punch in new talent on defense -- continuing to allow less than 300 yards a game. Frank Beamer's lunchbox ethic will continue to produce disciplined, selfless play. If they can establish a running game, Virginia Tech will be solid -- if not sensational.

Must Win: @ BOSTON COLLEGE (Oct. 18th).

Predicted Finish: 10-2 (7-1 conference)


Esquire Rating: 4/5

Tommy Bowden pretends to be oblivious about the pre-destination of his 2008 tigers. But with a weighty 17 starters returning, including a healthy Cullen Harper at quarterback, offensive production should easily surpass a lackluster 52nd finish in 2007. Still, a limited Tiger line will have to step up to provide adequate protection.

The defensive side of the ball is further solidified with the presence of freshman hegemon DaQuan Bowers at defensive end, ESPN 150's No. 1 overall recruit.

With no Virginia Tech or Miami on the schedule it's an open road to the ACC championship. If Clemson doesn't have the stripes to make it, they've got no one to blame but themselves.

Must Win: @ ALABAMA (Aug. 30th). Perhaps the toughest challenge the Tigers will face in 2008 is their trip to Tuscaloosa right off the blocks. If they can dye the Tide orange, they might trade a January 1st trip to the Orange Bowl for one a week later.

Predicted Finish: 11-1 (8-0 conference)

1 comment:

jholmes9 said...

Has an SEC team ever got so much media respect for beating a WAC team?
Uh...has an SEC team ever been doubted so much before a game against an over-rated WAC team? UGA crushed Hawaii, despite all the so-called "experts" who hinted quite obviously at an upset by Hawaii. Yeah, good call on that one.