Tuesday, August 30, 2011

College Football Preview: ACC*

For the most part, the Atlantic Coast Conference is similar to the Big East. There are lots of teams that are very good at one aspect of the game, and then godawful at another. However, the ACC does have some legitimately powerful teams at the top. So it's a slightly more entertaining conference to watch.

1. Florida State Seminoles
FSU was solid across the board last year, winning 10 games and going to the ACC title game. They were 33rd in scoring offense, 24th in scoring defense, and they return 17 starters. All their top skill players are back, and QB EJ Manuel has done well in the bowl games he's had a chance to play in.

DE Brandon Jenkins amassed 13.5 sacks last year, their secondary is excellent, and even their kicking game will be good. If not for a meeting with Oklahoma, they'd be strong candidates to run the table.

Key Games:
9/17 vs. Oklahoma
10/22 vs. Maryland
10/29 vs. NC State
11/12 vs. Miami
11/26 @ Florida

Prediction: 12-1, ACC Atlantic winner, ACC title game winner, National Title contender

2. Virginia Tech Hokies
Frank Beamer is 2 wins shy of 200 as Virginia Tech's head coach. The Hokies' offense will have a lot of fresh faces. Most notably, QB Logan Thomas replaces Tyrod Taylor. Thomas is 6' 6" and 245 pounds, but Taylor's playmaking abilities will be sorely miss. Last year Tech had the best offense in the ACC, and the 21st in the country. They'll struggle to be that good again. Although guys like RB David Wilson will still get to the end zone. He rushed for 5 TDs last year, and caught 4 more.

The defense was their weakness last year, and it will have to become a strength. They allowed 155.9 rushing yards per game. They have some stars on that side of the ball, but they're balanced with some liabilities. Thanks to a favorable schedule, and Miami being under siege, the Hokies should still be able to win the Coastal Division with relative ease.

Key Games:
10/8 vs. Miami
11/17 vs. North Carolina

Prediction: 11-2, ACC Coastal winner, ACC title game loss

3. Miami Hurricanes
Will they play? If they do, how many of them will play? Will they be eligible for anything? They were a likely contender to vie for the Coastal Division title. Although they had tough road games in Blacksburg and Tallahassee. The Canes had been experiencing a rebirth and a return to relevance. And now, who knows?

I feel bad for first year head coach Al Golden. After being the defensive coordinator at Virginia, he gets hired by the U in December and probably feels like he's in heaven. Now he's got to tread through a see of someone else's crap.

4. NC State Wolfpack
NC State is defensively strong. Their LBs rush the passer (sacked the QB 41 times last year). 8 starters return from the 24th scoring defense in the country. Unfortunately, the offense will be painful to watch. QB Mike Glennon is untested. There are talented but unproven RBs behind him, and an ugly WR situation. Glennon will be protected by 3 solid returning linemen, but that will just prolong the agony each snap.

Nevertheless, the defense will keep them in games, and they do play in the ACC.

Key Games:
10/29 @ Florida State
11/26 vs. Maryland

Prediction: 10-2

5. Maryland Terrapins
Maryland fans should be excited about new coach Randy Edsall, who built up UConn's program from I-AA to a BCS berth. They should also be excited about QB Danny O'Brien, who threw for 2,438 yards, 22 TDs and 8 INTs as a freshman. Backs DJ Adams and Davin Meggett will run the ball well. Any RB named Meggett is bound to be good, and UConn produced some quality RBs under Edsall. All this, combined with an opportunistic defense that scored 4 times last year, and you get a solid team. Despite a rough schedule, they'll be pretty good.

Then again, they play FSU at home, and if they can win that, they might go to the ACC title game, and possibly a BCS bowl.

Key Games:
9/5 vs. Miami
9/17 vs. West Virginia
10/22 vs. Florida State
11/12 vs. Notre Dame (in Landover, MD)
11/26 @ NC State

Prediction: 9-3

6. North Carolina Tar Heels
UNC went a solid 8-5, only losing to respectable teams. So despite the loss of QB TJ Yates, they should be poised for another decent season. WR Dwight James will be a prime target for new QB Bryan Renner. James had 946 receiving yards last year. And as usual, the Tar Heels boast a strong defensive line.

However, their weak secondary combined with an under-powered rushing offense will make it tough for them to hold leads. The Heels won't be able to drain the clock on the ground, and their opponents will be able to throw the ball at will. For now, UNC is just too raw to win the Coastal division.

Key Games:
10/15 vs. Miami
11/5 @ NC State
11/17 @ Virginia Tech

Prediction: 8-4

7. Boston College Eagles
If this were 1896, and the forward pass were still illegal, then Boston College might be one of the best teams in the nation. RB Montel Harris ran for 1,243 yards last year. And the Eagles had the #1 rush defense in the country. Harris underwent arthroscopic surgery recently, but he should return for the heart of BC's conference schedule.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, passing is part of the game now. BC doesn't have any legit pass rushing threats, nor does it really have a quarterback. There are decent WRs to catch the ball, but no passers to throw it. Meanwhile, BC's offensive play-calling resembles a pro team with a decent QB more than a college team with no QB but a great running attack.

It's frustrating to watch BC football these days, because the defense can play extraordinarily well, only to watch the offense lose the game. Stud LB Luke Kuechly accounted for 183 tackles last year, 110 of them on his own. He's gotten 10+ tackles in 22 straight games. He's a beast, and at least he is entertaining to watch.

No passing game, and a difficult road schedule mean that BC will struggle to make a bowl game.

Prediction: 7-5

8. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
I love watching Georgia Tech play. How can you be a fan of college football and not love a team that averaged 323.3 rushing yards and 83.9 passing yards per game last year. The Jackets had the #1 rushing offense and the #119 passing offense. But that was just yardage. They struggled to score. And that struggle will continue in 2011. QB Tevon Washington only completed 41% of his passes last year, so the passing game isn't even a legit wrinkle for GT. It's a leak.

Defensively, they run a 3-4 with few LBs who can make plays. And that just doesn't compute. They'll struggle for bowl eligibility.

Prediction: 5-7

9. Virginia Cavaliers
UVA's 4 wins last year came against Richmond, VMI, Eastern Michigan, and (surprisingly) Miami. But that's actually an improvement. You know the expression "nowhere to go but up?" That was how UVA football could be described in 2009. They dramatically improved in 2010, and had the 75th best scoring offense in the country, and 70th best scoring defense. That sounds awful, but they used to be out of the top 100 in both categories. Now they need to continue to improve. If a QB and/or RB can emerge, then they might just do that. Their defense should also get better, as they return 7 starters. They also have an easy non-conference schedule.

Prediction: 5-7

10. Clemson Tigers
Clemson has a revamped offensive style that lacks the talent to make it effective. They have some good receivers and that's pretty much it. The defense lost its key players up front and in the secondary. It will be a solid unit, but not good enough to keep their lackluster offense in many games. Their kicking is also a major liability.

Prediction: 4-8

11. Duke Blue Devils
Duke is exceptionally good at passing the ball. QB Sean Renfree threw for 3,131 yards, and they have good WRs. It's convenient that they're such good at throwing the ball, because they're going to be behind a lot due to an atrocious defense.

Prediction: 4-8

12. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
They'll use an option offense because their QB can't pass the ball. RB Josh Harris ran for 720 yards and 7 TDs as a part-timer his freshman year. They'll improve on their 91st ranked scoring offense, and their 110th ranked scoring defense, but not by much.

Prediction: 3-9

College Football Preview: Big East*

After a quick glance at the preseason Top 25, you can see why the Big East added a team from Texas. TCU's ranked higher than West Virginia in the AP Poll, and WVU isn't even ranked by the Coaches'. WVU are the favorites, but each team in the Big East, including WVU, have big enough weaknesses that there are many contenders for that BCS bid. The conference title race might remain wide open until December.

The Mountaineers are men amongst boys in the Big East. QB Geno Smith will be the spotlight of the offense. He threw 24 TDs with only 7 picks last year, and amassed nearly 3,000 yards of total offense. But he was a supporting actor to Noel Devine, whose loss WVU will have to adapt to. They do have a solid WR group, and their O-line returns 4 starters.

Last year, though, WVU won with their defense. But they only bring back 4 starters. They have standouts such as DE Bruce Irvin, who'll be a full-time end after recording 14 sacks as a 3rd down specialist last year. Corner Keith Tandy intercepted 6 passes. But the linebackers are weak, and most of the secondary is vulnerable.

The offense will have to pick up the slack. But in the Big East, how many good offenses are capable of really exploiting WVU's weaknesses? Not many.

Key Games:
9/24 vs. LSU
10/8 vs. UConn
10/21 @ Syracuse
11/25 vs. Pitt
12/1 @ South Florida

10-2, Big East Champions, and a big loss in a BCS Bowl

Junior QB Tino Sunseri had a respectable 2010, throwing for 2,572 yards, 15 TDs, all with a 64% completions percentage. The offense will be more complex under new coach Todd Graham. In the backfield, RB Ray Graham (another junior) will carry the offense. He ran for 6.2 per carry his sophomore season.

Pitt returns 8 defensive starters from a unit that was 2nd in the conference and 15th in the country in scoring defense, and also 3rd in the conference and 8th in the nation in total defense. But Todd Graham's coaching strengths are on offense. He was also Pitt's 2nd choice in the off-season. He'll implement an "attacking 3-4" which will rely heavily on linebackers. That is also Pitt's only real weakness on defense.

In the Big East, though, there's enough wiggle room to experiment and try new things.

Key Games:
9/24 vs. Notre Dame
9/29 vs. South Florida
10/26 vs. UConn
11/25 @ West Virginia
12/3 vs. Syracuse


UConn did well down the stretch last year to win their first Big East title. But they'll have to rebuild heavily at running-back, which has typically been their strongest position. There's also no clear choice at QB.

DT Kendall Reyes has NFL talent, and the defense returns 10 starters. However, there's plenty of room to improve. There's a new defensive coordinator, along with a new head coach. Without Randy Edsall, I don't know if this team will have the character it demonstrated in their stretch run last year.

They started slow last year then got on track. If they're able to do similar in 2011, they can do some damage, as their games against Big East contenders come back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

Key Games:
10/8 @ West Virginia
10/15 vs. South Florida
10/26 @ Pitt
11/5 vs. Syracuse


Syracuse should have an improved offense, but that's not difficult to do considering they averaged a mere 22.2 points per game last year. That was 93rd in the nation. QB Ryan Nassib threw 19 TDs, and he'll be protected by an experienced line, and have experienced receivers to throw to.

Defense was their strength last year, but they lost 8 seniors. They need help at every level. They need 2 new tackles, 2 new LBs, and 2 new corners. They also need to figure out how to win at home. They were 0-4 in the Carrier Dome, against D-IA opponents. They did beat Maine and Colgate, which would be an impressive feat in hockey, not football.

Key Games:
9/17 @ USC
10/21 vs. West Virginia
11/5 @ UConn
11/11 vs. South Florida
12/3 @ Pitt


QB BJ Daniels has talent, but he makes mistakes. 11 TD passes, 13 INTs last year. The Bulls have plenty of options at RB, but none of them have been tested. They boast a deep defensive line. Three of their four defensive backs are returning, which is very nice since they had the 24th best passing defense last year.

Their 8-5 record was a bit of an illusion. Wins against Stony Brook, WKU, and Florida Atlantic helped inflate their total. Their 2011 schedule has similar cupcakes, like Ball State, Florida A&M, and UTEP. But, they have to go on the road for some tough games. At Notre Dame, at Pitt, at UConn, at Syracuse. Thankfully, they do host West Virginia.

Their subpar offense and their tough schedule will make this a trying year down in Tampa.

Key Games:
9/3 @ Notre Dame
9/29 @ Pitt
10/15 @ UConn
11/11 @ Syracuse
11/19 vs. Miami
12/1 vs. West Virginia


The Bearcats had the best offense and the worst defense in the Big East. And of course, only 5 return on offense, and 10 return on defense. The Bearcats have a good QB, a good RB, but they struggle to hold on to the ball. Their -15 turnover margin killed them last year. They'll get no help from their special teams, and at best, their defense won't hurt them. The offense simply won't be good enough to carry them far.


Last year, Louisville won some games because of their between the tackles running, and their ability to defend against the pass (9th best pass defense in country). This year, their runningbacks are smaller. Their pass game isn't good enough to pick up the slack. The safeties are solid, but the corners are weak. This will be a year of practice for the 2012 season. But as of right now, Louisville will struggle to win games.


The0r 4-8 record was inflated by wins against Norfolk State, Florida International, and an OT win over Army. They were 101st in scoring offense, 110th in rushing offense, and 114th in total offense. Their offensive line allowed 61 sacks, which is an NCAA record. Their defensive pieces have been shifted around, but there's not much to work with there. The bright spot is their passing game, which was 79th last year.