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 (
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
Prediction: The Noles leave the state of
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 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
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.
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
Jeff Jagodzinski rode Tom O’Brien’s players all the way to
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
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.
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
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 (
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
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.
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,
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
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—
Prediction: Despite their horrid finish last season,
The first season of the Butch Davis era in
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
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
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
Prediction: 2007 was the year for the Cavs to win the ACC. Unfortunately, like
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.
Citcliffe’s forte at
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