We are just 11 short weeks away from the return of college football. A mere 77 days (75 until the Thursday kickoff). Over the next 11 weekends, I will be guiding you through the wilderness that is the summer offseason. We'll begin with a look at the ACC.
For 3 straight years, Clemson has been on the precipice of an Atlantic Division title. For 3 straight years the Tigers have finished one game out of the money. In fact, in both 2005 and 2006, the Tigers actually defeated the eventual Atlantic (and ACC) champs (Florida State and Wake Forest). So is this the year Clemson finally gets over the hump? It better be or Mr. Bowden will have some serious explaining to do.
In 2007 the Tigers had the second most prolific off, and the best defense in ACC play. The offense returns all the key skill position players including quarterback Cullen Harper, who finished with a sterling pass efficiency rating of 140.97 (tops in the ACC and 22nd in the country) and the ‘Thunder and Lightning’ running back duo of James Davis and CJ Spiller. The Clemson defense has been good and steady under 4th year coordinator Vic Koenin, finishing between 10th and 16th in scoring and 9th and 20th in total defense each season, but has yet to emerge as an elite unit. Expect more of the same this season, where the Tigers are strong at every defensive position with the possible exception of linebacker. Leading tackler Nick Watkins and fellow senior Tramaine Billie are gone and Antonio Clay’s return is questionable as he is dealing with emotional issues. Still, good and steady should be enough to get things done in the ACC—the weakest of the BCS leagues. The only possible hitches in the Tigers giddy up could be the offensive line, where only a single starter, center Thomas Austin, returns. If the line is unable to open holes for Davis and Spiller, and keep Harper upright against the better teams on the schedule, the dreams of a championship could once again be dashed in tragic fashion. The other thing to keep in mind is the Tigers penchant for some confounding losses under Bowden. In 2003 there was the 28-point loss at Wake Forest, in 2004 there was the loss at Duke, in 2005 there was another loss at Wake Forest, in 2006 it was a blown game against Maryland, and last season there was the inexplicable 3-point showing at Georgia Tech. With road conference games against Boston College, Florida State, Wake Forest, and Virginia, you can bet 2008 will include another head-scratcher.Prediction: Clemson should roll through the home portion of their conference schedule, but expect them to drop 2 of the aforementioned road games. All told, the Tigers should get to Jacksonville, and stand a good chance at playing an important game in Miami in early January.
You’d think after last season I’d learn my lesson about picking NC State to do anything of note. After pegging them as a potential conference sleeper, the Pack went out and started 1-5, with the lone win coming against Wofford. Then something strange happened. The Wolfpack started turning the ball over occasionally instead of every other possession and even began snagging a few turnovers themselves. The result was a 4-game win streak that brought about expectations of a bowl bid before a dazzling display of ineptitude in season-ending losses to Wake Forest and Maryland (combined score of 75-18). As the table below illustrates, the Wolfpack were not a ‘good’ team in their closing 4-2 stretch, but they were much improved over their early season incarnation. So the good news is, the team improved throughout the season under first-year coach Tom O’Brien. However, despite that improvement, the Pack allowed more yards in conference play than every team (even Duke). Couple that with the fact that they gained fewer yards in conference play than all but 3 teams (Duke, Miami, and North Carolina), and you see they still have a ways to go.Those below average units from 2007 will see a lot of new faces in 2008. Only 4 or 5 starters return on the offensive side of the ball, depending on who nabs the starting quarterback job. Returnees Daniel Evans and Harrison Beck posted pass efficiency ratings of 111.54 and 93.42 respectively, so the insertion of redshirt freshman Russell Wilson may not be a bad thing. Regardless of who lines up under center, expect O’Brien to try to win games on the ground with Jamelle Eugene and Andre Brown. On defense, the Pack lose 7 starters, including all 3 starting linebackers. However, for a unit that was 91st in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game, this may not be a bad thing. The playmakers for the Pack defense reside on the line where both Willie Young (end) and Alan-Michael Cash (tackle) return. The pair combined for 1/3rd of the Pack’s sacks (9 of 27) last season and will be vital to the defense this year. Normally a team that was statistically better than only Duke and loses as many starters as NC State would be in for a long season. But the Wolfpack do have some trends in their favor going into 2008. Their turnover margin of -16 was among the worst (116th) in the nation. It’s unlikely to be as horrendous this season. The Pack can also thank the scheduling gods for their fantastic conference home schedule. Boston College, Florida State, Wake Forest, and Miami all come to Raleigh. 2 seasons ago when they finished 3-9, the Pack defeated Boston College and Florida State at home, and lost a 2-point decision to the perhaps the best Wake Forest team in history. The final reason to be optimistic is the fact that the Pack play in the ACC. As Wake Forest has proven the past 2 seasons and Virginia showed last year, you don’t have to necessarily be good to win games. O’Brien’s style of playing games close to the vest and establishing the run could pay dividends in a weak league with few elite teams.Prediction: The Pack’s home schedule is a godsend for a team with their issues. It’s reasonable to envision them winning 3 of 4 against the aforementioned quartet. NC State is not in the same stratosphere talent-wise as Clemson, so that game may as well be on the road. The Pack also draw Duke in one of their games against the Coastal Division, so at least one road contest is very winnable. The Pack are probably not one of the top-50 teams in the country, but the schedule, coupled with an improved turnover margin will have them contending, but not really contending in 2008. Outside the league a 2-2 record is realistic with South Carolina, South Florida, East Carolina, and William & Mary on the ledger. Look for the Pack to be bowl-eligible in O’Brien’s second season.
Is this the year the Seminoles return to their former glory? We’ve been hearing for quite sometime that their return is imminent. No one seems to be pushing those views this year. Is that a good omen for the Seminoles? Will they rise just after everyone has stopped expecting it?Despite their ‘struggles’ in the new decade, the Seminoles still have the best conference record in the 2000s by a healthy margin among the old 9-team ACC (8 games better than 2nd place Georgia Tech). However, as the table below illustrates, that margin was acquired entirely in the first half of the new century. Since 2004, Florida State is tied for 2nd with Clemson and Virginia with a very middling 18-14 conference record. Rumors of their demise have not been greatly exaggerated. Florida State is an afterthought in the 2008 ACC season. At best playing second fiddle to Clemson, and at worst further tarnishing Papa Bowden’s legacy. However, the pieces and the schedule are in place to make Florida State a contender in the ACC and give the Noles a shot at 9 wins for the first time since 2004. Florida State was actually a pretty proficient team last season despite their 7-6 record. They were above average in conference play on both offense and defense (3rd and 5th respectively). Both units return 7 starters and should remain in the upper-echelon of the league. On offense a trio of seniors at the skill positions—quarterback Drew Weatherford, running back Antone Smith, and receiver Greg Carr—will not make Nole fans forget Chris Weinke, Warrick Dunn, or Peter Warrick, but should make the offense one of the league’s best. Defensively, the Noles should also remain among the ACC’s best even with the early season suspensions (which we’ll get to in a moment).Prediction: The Noles leave the state of Florida exactly 3 times during the season. In conference play, Wake Forest, Boston College, Clemson, and Virginia Tech must all come to Tallahassee. Boston College and Virginia Tech, last year’s ACC Championship Game participants, lose a great deal of talent, and it’s very unlikely Wake Forest makes it 3 in a row over the Noles. That leaves Clemson as the toughest home conference game on the slate. The Tigers have won 3 straight in the series, but only one of those has come outside of Death Valley. Florida State has a great chance to sweep their ACC home games and position themselves in the Atlantic Division race. Outside the league, the Noles have taken the Clemson path of non-conference scheduling—2 Division IAA teams, an in-state rival, and a non-conference tilt with a former power. The two cupcakes come in the first two weeks when the Noles will be without as many as 10 returning players thanks to last year’s academic fraud scandal, which is great for Florida State athletics, but maybe not so much for the university’s academic integrity. The ‘neutral’ site game against Colorado is in Jacksonville, so the crowd will likely be heavily in the Noles favor. The final non-conference game is against Florida. The Gators are strapped to the nines, and the Noles have not beaten them since 2003, but the game is at home, and stranger things have happened in this rivalry. All together, the Noles are not ready to ascend to the top of the ACC, but a 3-1 non-conference record would put them on a collision course with a possible 9th win in the bowl game.
After taking the league by storm in 2001, and continuing to win games at a prolific clip through 2003, the Fridge and the Terps have fallen on relative hard times. 3 of the past 4 seasons have ended with the Terps below .500. They have only one winning ACC record in that same span, and their highest finish in scoring offense and total offense is 69th and 56th in the nation respectively. To put it mildly, Friedgen’s reputation as a coach and an offensive guru has taken a major hit. If there ever was a year for the Terps, and especially their offense to get back on track, this is it.The Maryland offense returns 9 starters, including 4 offensive linemen. Whichever member of the Chris Turner, Jodan Steffy, or Josh Portis triumvirate wins the starting job should be well protected. The only real downside to the Maryland offensive attack is the loss of running back Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball, who combined for nearly 1600 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. Likely starter Da’Rel Scott had only 14 carries last season, but with the experience returning up front, there should be some holes for him to run through.The other side of the ball was not without its blemishes last season either. The Terps finished a respectable 40th in the nation in total defense in 2007, but those numbers are a bit deceiving. In ACC play, the Terps were ahead of only NC State and Duke in yards allowed. That unit returns only 5 starters, so it should once again be behind the curve. Prediction: It’s highly likely that Friedgen will have his best offense at College Park since 2003. That should make up for the below average defense and keep the Terps competitive in most games. In conference play, three key swing games against teams of similar abilities (Wake Forest, NC State, and North Carolina) are at home. With a little luck the Terps could be undefeated against their non-conference opponents. They face Delaware, Middle Tennessee State, and Eastern Michigan in the cupcake division, but also play host to California in mid-September. The Golden Bears are a better team, but playing a game across the country is never easy. Maryland should get to at least 7 wins in the regular season and assure themselves of a finish above .500 for the 2nd times in 3 seasons.
20 wins over the past 2 seasons and a plethora of returning starters on both sides of the ball should have Deacon fans excited about the possibilities for a special season in 2008. Alas though, it pays to keep in mind how fortunate the Deacons have been the past two seasons. In that span, Wake Forest is 8-2 in close games (those decided by 8 points or less), their turnover margin is +22, and they have 13 non-offensive touchdowns in that span. Last season, corner back Alphonso Smith and linebacker Aaron Curry combined for more touchdowns (6) on interceptions that Kenny Moore and Kevin Marion on Riley Skinner passes (5). Like any extreme performance, the market is due for a correction. While the extent of the correction is indeterminate, it’s a safe bet that the Deacons will not have their defense and special teams score as many touchdowns next season.But hope for a special season is not lost. The Deacon offense, while it loses the aforementioned receiving duo of Moore and Marion, plus tight end John Tereshnski, and 3 offensive linemen, including All-American center Steve Justice, does return quarterback Riley Skinner and running back Josh Adams. Skinner saw his interceptions jump from 5 as a freshman to 13 as a sophomore, but he also led the NCAA in completion percentage at 72.4%. The passing game will not be a big-play threat, but it should be able to consistently move the ball. Josh Adams on the other hand, could be the team’s big-play threat. Adams gained 953 yards as a freshman and scored 11 touchdowns. His electrifying run against Florida State helped the Deacons emerge victorious. Expect more of the same from the offense in 2008: a conservative attack that still manages to keep the chains moving.The defense should once again be the real strength of the team. 9 starters return from last season’s unit, with the only losses linemen Jeremy Thompson and Zach Stukes. Thompson did lead the team in sacks last year (6.5), but the Robinson boys (Matt and Boo) should hold down the fort in his stead. The entire secondary and linebacking corps return. 6 of the 7 members are seniors. That may not bode well for 2009, but for 2008 Deacon fans wouldn’t have it any other way.Prediction: If things break right, the Deacons could be back in Jacksonville. However, things have broken right for the Deacons that past 2 years. A realistic expectation is that things won’t break just right. Still, the conference home schedule is very advantageous (Clemson, Duke, Virginia, and Boston College come to Winston). I think a good chance exists that Wake sweeps all 4. However, the road schedule is just as daunting (Florida State, Maryland, Miami, and NC State). A realist would see only about 1 win in those 4 games. A .500 conference record seems likely and with 4 winnable non-conference games (Baylor, Ole Miss, Navy, and Vanderbilt), the Deacons should go bowling for an unprecedented 3rd straight year.
Jeff Jagodzinski rode Tom O’Brien’s players all the way to Jacksonville in 2007, before falling short against Virginia Tech. The table below lists the Eagles splits through their first 7 games (a 7-0 start) and their last 7 games (4-3 beginning with the comeback win over Virginia Tech). As you can see the Eagles were quite dominant in their opening 7-game run. In the second half of the year, the offense slowed a great deal (down 60 yards per game or roughly 13% less). The defense remained quite stout, but the ever fickle turnover margin reversed. The result was that a team that had outscored it’s opponents by almost 17 points per game, was actually outscored in the second half of the season. Still, an 11-win season is nothing to sneeze at. Now comes the hard part. The morning after. Matt Ryan. Gone. Andre Callendar. Gone. Kevin Challenger. Gone. Those 3 players accounted for over 92% of the team’s yardage in 2007. Receivers Brandon Robinson and Rich Gunnell return for new quarterback Chris Crane to throw to. However, the offense is sure to experience some growing pains with so much lost talent.The Eagle defense, also suffers some extreme personnel losses. Only 4 starters return, and the biggest hit is in the secondary where safety Jamie Silva and corner DeJuan Tribble leave a tremendous void with their departure. The duo combined for 11 interceptions last season and were two of the best defensive backs in the ACC. The Eagles were second in the nation with 25 interceptions last season, and should see significant drop off in that area this year. Prediction: It’s time to rebuild for Boston College. The bad part of it is there is little help from the home conference schedule. Clemson is likely the strongest team in the ACC. Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, despite their flaws, are formidable foes from the Coastal Division. Even Maryland will pose a threat. The non-conference slate could also pose a problem. Rhode Island should be an easy win, but Central Florida was last year’s Conference USA champ, and Notre Dame can’t possibly be as bad as they were last season. Even the opener against Kent State (in Cleveland) should be cause for concern. Remember, 2 seasons ago the Eagles opened against Central Michigan and escaped Mount Pleasant with a 7-point win. The Eagles should finish in the Atlantic basement, and only a non-conference sweep would get them to bowl eligibility.
Before we delve into what the Hokie offense will look like in 2008, let’s answer a question about the offense was 2007: Was it any good? While the Hokies were a respectable 53rd in scoring offense, they were horrible in total offense (100th in the nation). It stands to reason that a lot of their points were scored thanks to the 31 turnovers and numerous 3 and outs the defense forced. But if we look a little closer, we can see the Hokies were actually a middling offense, at least in the ACC. The Hokies gained only about 331 yards per game. However, that number is depressed by their struggles in the opener against East Carolina (278 yards), the beatdown in Baton Rouge (149 yards), their surprising ineptitude against William & Mary (287 yards), and the bowl loss to Kansas (306 yards). In ACC play, the Hokies actually gained about 354 yards per game (5th in the league). Fortunately for them, after much debate, they will continue to play a schedule comprised of mostly ACC teams in 2008. To summarize, by national standards the Hokies were below average (though not as dismal as their national rank would lead one to believe), but by ACC standards, they were a shade above average. So what can we expect in 2008? For starters, the team loses their top 4 receivers, who accounted for 15 of the team’s 17 touchdown receptions and 73% of the team’s receiving yards. The Hokies also bid adieu to troubled running back Brandon Ore, who gained nearly 1000 yards last season. The good news is, despite his status as the team’s leading rusher, Ore averaged only 3.72 yards per rush. The Hokies also have 4 of their 5 starting offensive linemen back so Ore’s replacement(s) (probably freshmen Darren Evans and Josh Oglesby) should match his production. The quarterbacking duo of pocket passer Sean Glennon and running threat Tyrod Taylor also return to the Tech backfield. The passing game should sputter with the loss of so many receivers, but the stability of the offensive line should enable the running game to improve. The Tech offense may be a little worse than last season, but not appreciably so.The other side of the ball is where the Hokies will feel the biggest pinch. 7 starters are gone including linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall. The defensive line also loses standout Chris Ellis who led the team with 8.5 sacks in 2007. The Hokies should slip from the elite status they attained last season (3rd in scoring and 4th in total defense), but behind Bud Foster (Australian for defense) should remain one of the top units in the ACC.Prediction: The Coastal Division is there for the taking. Virginia Tech has lost 12 starters including their entire receiving corps. They also had a turnover margin of +11 in 2007 that is likely to regress. The other three contenders in the Coastal (North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Miami) could each conceivably head to Jacksonville. However, Georgia Tech probably will not master Paul Johnson’s system in his first season, North Carolina was competitive last year, but they have a long way to go to reach the top of the division, and Miami has not developed a competent quarterback since Ken Dorsey left town. They are flawed, but they remain the likely champion of the Coastal Division.
Can the Hokies make it 5 straight 10-win seasons? With major personnel losses on both sides of the ball, it would be hard to make a compelling argument in favor of that. However, the Hokies do have a reasonable shot at yet another ACC Championship Game appearance.
If you’re on the lookout for a sleeper in the ACC this is team. The Yellow Jackets nabbed the best coach in the NCAA this offseason when they inked Navy’s Paul Johnson to replace Chan Gailey. The question is, will Johnson’s offense take hold immediately in Atlanta, or will it take time. For reference here’s how Navy has performed in regards to points per game since 2000. The seasons shaded blue are pre-Johnson, and the red years are Johnson’s tenure. The team improved substantially his first season with players who were not recruited run his option-style offense. In the 5 seasons following his initial term, the team remained above the points per game standard he set in his first season, topping out at nearly 40 points per game in 2007.Johnson’s offense will have to make due with a host of new faces in 2008. After doing his best Reggie Ball impression in 2007, quarterback Taylor Bennett transferred to Louisiana Tech. That leaves athletic sophomore Josh Nesbitt as the likely starter. Nesbitt threw only 13 passes last season, so his abilities as a passer could be lacking, but there’s no question he poses a significant threat operating the triple option. 3 offensive linemen and the two leading receivers, Greg Smith Demaryius Thomas, return, but Jacket fans will see a lot of new faces to go along with the new schematic look of the offense. The Jacket defense returns only 4 starters, but one of them is Vance Walker, perhaps the best defensive tackle in the nation. Walker led the Jackets with 8.5 sacks last season and was second on the team with 14 tackles for loss. Joining Walker on the line is senior defensive end Michael Johnson. He played sparingly last season, accumulating 4 sacks and blocking two kicks. As a starter this season, he could possibly reach double digits in sacks and make the Georgia Tech defensive line one of the best in the nation. Outside of the defensive line, the Jackets have some holes to fill in the linebacking corps and the secondary. The 4 leading tacklers from last season—linebackers Phillip Wheeler and Gary Guyton, and defensive backs Jamal Lewis and Avery Roberson, are all gone.Prediction: Based on SDPI, the Jackets were about the 4th best team in the ACC last season. Such a discrepancy in their performance and achievement makes them a good choice to surprise in a Coastal Division very much in flux. I don’t quite have the guts to predict a division title in Johnson’s first season, but one will come sooner rather than later. Outside the conference, the Jackets splay two SEC teams, Mississippi State and Georgia. The Georgia game is the only likely loss on the non-conference slate, so if they make a run in the ACC, a high win total is possible.
To say Miami has not been the same since Ken Dorsey, Willis McGahee, and Kellen Winslow left town is an understatement. The table below lists Miami’s nation rank in terms of scoring offense (points per game) and total offense (yards per game).The Canes solid showing in points per game for the 2004 season belied their below average finish in terms of yards per game. There points fell closer in line with their yards over the next 3 seasons; bottoming out at 101st in 2007. The good news for the Cane offense in 2008 is that there are a lot of new faces. A pair of freshman, Robert Marve and Jacory Harris, will vie for the starting quarterback position. The Miami passing attach posted a cumulative passer rating of 114.50 (91st in the nation), so surpassing that number will not be out o the question. Joining those newbies in the backfield are Graig Cooper and Javarris James. Cooper and James combined to rush for over 1200 yards last season and will likely be the focal point of the offense, at least early on. The team’s defense, long a strength in the mini-Renaissance under Butch Davis and Larry Coker, fell on hard times last season. The team finished respectable 33rd in the nation in total defense, but part of that was playing in the offensively challenged ACC. In conference play, only 3 teams allowed more yards than the Canes—Maryland, Duke, and NC State. Like the offense, that unit will see a ton of new faces in 2008. Eric Moncur is the lone returning starter on the defensive line, and Colin McCarthy is the sole linebacker back. The secondary, at least comparably, has an abundance of talent returning with 3 starters back. The newbies on both sides of the ball will determine how high Miami can rise in the ACC standings.Prediction: Despite their horrid finish last season, Miami does have some positive indicators heading into 2008. They were a tough luck 1-3 in one-score games and had a turnover margin that ranked 96th in the nation (-6). Normally a team with all the issues Miami faces would be hard-pressed to return to qualify for a bowl game, much less contend for a division crown. But in the ACC, every team save Duke can dream of a bowl game in 2008, and about 2/3rds of the conference can dream of a Championship Game appearance. Miami is no exception. Two likely losses stand out on the non-conference schedule—roadies at Florida and Texas A&M, but if Miami’s highly touted recruiting class comes to campus ready to contribute immediately, a season of contention is in the cards.
The first season of the Butch Davis era in Chapel Hill was one of missed opportunities. The Tar Heels lost 4 games by 4 points or fewer and 6 games by 7 points or less. Of course, on the other hand, 3 of Carolina’s 4 wins were by 6 points or less. On the whole, the Tar Heels were probably a little better than their 4-8 record but not much so. Is 2008, the year the Heels return to Mack Brown level glory?It certainly could be. The Tar Heel offense returns 9 or 10 starters depending on how you are scoring at home. The two most important players are likely the backfield tandem of TJ Yates and Greg Little. Yates had a solid freshman season, posting a pass efficiency rating of 123.63 (72nd among qualifying passers). If he can cut down on his interceptions (18 in 365 attempts), he could be one of the ACC’s premier passers in 2008. His backfield mate, Greg Little, is the ultimate X-factor. After playing much of the 2007 season at wide receiver, Little started the final two games at running back and gained 243 yards on the ground in those games. Of course, 154 of those yards came against Duke, so it remains to be seen if he can consistently pound the rock. He’ll have 4 returning starters on the offensive line leading the way, so a solid season is not a pipedream. The Tar Heel defense also brings back some familiar faces. 8 starters return, but the Tar Heels will miss Hilee Taylor and his 10.5 sacks. Besides Taylor, the only other siginifant loss is linebacker and leading tackler Durell Mapp. Despite the absence of those two playmakers, the Tar Heels defense should improve upon their middle of the pack status (the Tar Heels allowed about 5 more yards over the course of an 8-game conference season than an average ACC team). Prediction: Yet another team with reasonable aspirations at taking the Coastal Division. The Tar Heels get two of their fellow divisional contenders (Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech) at home. However, the Tar Heels are longer on potential that they are results. While a division title is certainly possible, I foresee more of a minor improvement, and the first bowl bid of the Butch Davis era.
The Cavaliers certainly had a tight grip on the rabbit’s foot in 2007. After a bludgeoning at the hands of Wyoming that turned down the expectations cranked up the heat on Al Groh, the Cavs won 7 straight games. 5 of those wins were by a combined 11 points. On the season, the Cavs were 6-2 in one-score games. That exceptional record in close games nearly got the Cavs all the way to Jacksonville. To be fair, the Cavs did eventually get there, as they accepted a bowl big to the Gator Bowl, but alas the trip was about a month later than they would have liked. After buying himself some time with a 9-win season, Al Groh may once again feel the heat in 2008, as the Cavs suffer some major personnel losses and are sure to see their luck change.The Cavalier offense, average by ACC standards (6th in yards in conference play), was pretty bad nationally (101st in total offense). Unfortunately, improvement is not likely in 2008. Quarterback Jameel Sewell, a below-average passer, but an effective runner (279 yards in 2008), will not return thanks to academic issues. That leaves Peter Lalich as the likely starter. Lalich appeared in 8 games, but threw only 61 passes, so he remains relatively inexperienced and the Cav passing attack will likely pose about the same threat in 2008, which is to say not much of one. Taking some of the load off of Lolich is the running back duo of Cedric Peerman and Mikell Simpson. Peerman and Simpson ran for over 1100 yards last and both averaged over 5 yards per carry. They will e hard-pressed to top those numbers as the entire interior of the offensive line (center and both guards) must be replaced. Defense was where Virginia shined last season, especially when it came to tackling the opposing quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. The Cavs finished 5th in the nation with 43 sacks. Unfortunately for the Cavs, the player with the most sacks, Chris Long (14), has exhausted his eligibility. Also gone from the defensive line is Jeffrey Fitzgerald, who garnered 7 sacks. Fitzgerald left, like Sewell, because of an academic issue. If the Cavs are unable to generate a serious pass rush, their secondary, which must replace 2 starters, will feel the pain. All told, the Cavs defense cannot expect to be at the same level as the 2007 unit.Prediction: 2007 was the year for the Cavs to win the ACC. Unfortunately, like Boston College, Virginia Tech dashed their dreams of a conference title. Now its time to pay the piper in 2008. The offense, at best, will be only marginally better, while the defense will certainly be worse. Couple that with worse luck (the 6-2 mark in one-score games is unlikely to be repeated) and a non-conference game against Southern Cal, and the pieces are in place for the Cavs to endure their 2nd losing season in 3 years.
The Blue Devils have not won an ACC game since they snuck up on Clemson late in the 2004 season. That’s a string of 25 games and counting. If 2008 features nothing else, it should include at least 1 ACC win, and be the year when the culture changed at Duke. Wake Forest has shown that if you get the right coach, have patience, and catch some breaks, you can do some pretty special things, The Blue Devils have shown they are finally committed to winning by hiring one of the best coaches on the market in David Cutcliffe. Citcliffe’s forte at Tennessee and Ole Miss has been offense. He will have the opportunity to tutor a talented quarterback for at least 2 seasons in Thaddeus Lewis. Lewis rebounded from a spotty freshman season to post a passer rating of 125.67 (65th in the nation). Lewis had a very good TD to INT ration of 21:10. However, he still needs to work on his accuracy as he completed just a shade over 55% of his passes. If Cutcliffe can pass some of his knowledge on to Lewis the Blue Devil offense could aspire for mediocrity. If things break right, the defense could be much better as well. 9 players are back from a unit that did not finish as the worst in the ACC in conference play (damning with faint praise for sure). Still, 8 of the top 10 tacklers are back and thanks to some better luck (the Blue Devils forced only 18 turnover last year—good for 103rd in the nation), the improvement is certainly likely.Prediction: A chance for a strong start exists for Duke. The Blue Devils open the season against James Madison and then play host to Northwestern and Navy. The Blue Devils figure to be slight underdogs in those games, but Duke did beat Northwestern on the road last season and led Navy for the whole game in Annapolis before falling 46-43. Look for Duke to win at least 1 ACC game and triple (at worst) their total wins from 2007.