Yes, the ACC is a basketball conference. However, it is still a strong football league with perennial contenders such as Miami, Florid State, and Virginia Tech that dominate the conference every year. Out of the blue in 2006, Wake Forest shocked the college football world. The Deacons were an ACC bottom dweller, but last fall Wake Forest won the hearts of millions with an improbable run to the ACC title game. To put the finishing touches on a tremendous ACC season, they beat Georgia Tech 9-6 like they beat all their other opponents, with a conservative offense, shutdown defense, and great special teams.
The ACC is always difficult to predict. FSU and Miami have the best NFL talent on their rosters, but both have been average, by their standards, in the past few years. You will see a lot of magazines and experts pick FSU and Miami to win their division, just like those experts did last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and so on. When does it end? Right here, because I am tired of putting my trust in Drew Weatherford and Kyle Wright.
I think the ACC will be won by the team with the best running back. Tashard Choice, Brandon Ore, and the Clemson duo of Davis and Spiller lead a wonderful stable of talent. Wildcards like Wake Forest, Maryland, Virginia, and Boston College will be in the race until the end as well. I think the ACC will be slightly better in 2007, but that is not saying much due to the fact that they had one of their worst years ever in 2006.
1. How will the departures of Calvin Johnson and Reggie Ball affect Georgia Tech? Losing Ball and his 44.4% completion percentage isn't all that bad, but losing Johnson, the best player in Tech football history, will hurt. He was the most dominate player at any position last year. Tech is going to have to spread the ball to 3 or 4 different receivers consistently to succeed this year, which is something they have not done since Johnson was a freshman.
2. Kyle Wright and Drew Weatherford have been overrated since they became starters. Both QBs have had at least 2 years to be starters, and have done nothing to impress me. I do not think it was Larry Coker’s fault that Miami was starting to struggle. I think it was the poor play of Wright. Call me crazy, go ahead. Wright has thrown 26 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2 years as starter. I do not see Miami making it back to the top of the ACC with him as QB. Even worse is Drew Weatherford. He beat out Xavier Lee, another freshman, in 2005 to win the job. In 2 years, he has thrown 30 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. I see more trouble for Weatherford because FSU lost Lorenzo Booker, their only proven back. FSU has a talented team, but they lack a confident QB.
3. The dynamic duo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller, Thunder and Lighting. You can not stop both of them. Maybe one, but not both. Spiller averaged 7.3 yards per carry last year, and combined, they scored 27 touchdowns and rushed for over 2000 yards. Davis will get slightly more carries, but one would not be as successful without the other. As long as Clemson finds a passing game and the duo shares hand-offs fairly equally, there should be nothing stopping them from running all over the competition.
OFFENSE: The ACC is full of great running backs and average QBs. However, Matt Ryan is the lone exception. The senior was 2nd in touchdown passes and 1st in passing yards last year. He does lose one of his top targets in Tony Gonzalez, but BC has an underrated group of receivers. The unit will be good, not great, but they will get the job done. Seniors L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender will share carries again. They are no Spiller/Davis, but they are the next best thing in the ACC.
DEFENSE: BC’s defense that allowed 15.7 points per game last year returns 9 starters. MLB Jolonn Dunbar is back after leading BC in tackles and tackles for loss in 2006. BC has one of the best front seven's in the ACC. They are strong at pressuring the QB and stopping run. The pass defense, however, is leaky and unpredictable. CB DeJuan Tribble is a NFL superstar waiting to happen though. It is the other corner that presents a problem. Either Taji Morris or Roderick Rollins will have to step up big time, because no one wants to throw at DeJuan Tribble.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Walk-on Kicker Steve Aponavicius was a great last-second replacement last year, making 8 out of 11 field goals, but he will be replaced in 2007. Freshman Billy Bennett was the highest rated kicker out of high school in 2006, as 95% of his kickoffs were touchbacks. Punter Johnny Ayers returns after a nice average of 42.1 yards per punt in 2006. DeJuan Tribble and Jeff Smith are very dangerous return men.
COACHING: Tom O’Brien left for NC State, which is a step down and an odd career decision in my opinion. Former Green Bay Packers OC Jeff Jagodzinski is the new coach. I do not like when college coaches go to the NFL, but I love when NFL coaches come down to college football. I think he will pick up right where O’Brien left off.
SCHEDULE: BC opens with 3 straight ACC games: Wake Forest, NC State, and GA Tech. BC has away games at GA Tech, Notre Dame, VA Tech, Maryland, and Clemson. This is a rough schedule that will hold BC back from winning the ACC.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... If the receivers can have moderate success, BC will have a better offense than last year’s team and will have great conference success. The defense should be nothing short of amazing. Eight or nine wins is possible.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... BC has a very tough schedule, especially on the road. They were 7-0 at home last year, but 2-3 on the road. BC needs to have early success, because the 2nd half of their schedule is as hard as it gets in college football. Their receivers need to step up and give Matt Ryan some help. They need to be a great group of WRs if BC wants to win the ACC. The team is good enough to win the Coastal division, but their schedule could hold them to 6 wins.
MAKE OR BREAK: It is now or not for a while for BC. A possible 15 out of their 22 starters will be seniors, not including their punter. This is the year for the Eagles, because it may be a while before they have this type of talent and experience on the field.
OFFENSE: One thing is for sure about the 2007 Clemson Tigers. They are going to run the ball, and run it a lot. After losing their starting QB and number one receiver, Spiller and Davis will get even more carries than last year. Davis will see slightly more carries and playing time, though Spiller is the speed back and the better pass catcher. Cullen Harper should be the starting QB, but he may not hold the position for long. Like Mitch Mustain last year, highly touted freshman Willy Korn will not be kept down for long. I think he will eventually take over the starting job. Losing sure-handed Chansi Stuckey will hurt whoever the new QB is. At 6’5", Aaron Kelly will be the number one WR after catching 30 balls in 2006. The O-line is average at best. If it was not for the tremendous duo of Spiller/Davis, I would call for low offensive production, but there is no stopping Clemson’s running game.
DEFENSE: The defense will surely miss DE Gaines Adams and his ACC leading 12.5 sacks. They do return 7 starters and their top 3 tacklers. The leader of the defense, Nick Watkins, had 116 tackles and 3 interceptions last year. The defensive backs were the best thing about this defense last year, holding opponents to 178 passing yards per game. They lose some, but will be almost as strong. Junior safeties Chris Clemons and Michael Hamlin are the stars of the defense. They combined for 166 tackles last year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Clemson has to replace both their kicker and punter. Mark Buchholz has a chance to win the kicking job, but freshman Richard Jackson should take over as kicker and might punt as well. He made a 64 yard field goal in HS, so he has a strong leg. Jimmy Maners will try to hold on to the punting job, but it will not be easy holding off the Parade All-American.
COACHING: Tommy Bowden has been on the hot seat for a few years now. After a 7-1 start last year, Bowden was supposedly off the chopping block. Then Clemson imploded, losing 4 out of their last 5. Bowden better put up wins and an ACC title before Davis and Spiller leave, or he is gone.
SCHEDULE: Clemson should be favored in nearly every game it plays this year. They host FSU, VA Tech, Wake Forest, and Boston College. They travel to GA Tech and Maryland. The end of the year rivalry game at South Carolina should be awesome this year.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... The defense should be just as good as it was last year. The schedule is favorable, and Clemson has 2 amazing running backs. The Coastal division is wide open, and anyone can win it (see Wake Forest last year). Clemson has a great chance to win the ACC in 2007.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... With a weak group of receivers and quarterbacks, defenses will load the box against Clemson. If the Spiller/Davis numbers decrease from last year, Clemson is in trouble.
MAKE OR BREAK: The new QB has to take pressure off the running backs. As long as Harper or Korn has the ability to make the big play, the defense should back off and give the duo room to rumble.
OFFENSE: To put it simply, Duke’s offense stunk last year. They averaged 14.9 points per game. They gave up 43 sacks. They averaged 2.9 yards per carry. Yes, they stunk! However, Duke returns all 11 offensive starters, and sophomore QB Thaddeus Lewis has tons of potential. As a freshman, he threw for 305 yards vs. Wake Forest, losing on a late blocked field goal. He was sacked and hit more than any other QB in the conference. All of the WRs and RBs return as well. Justin Boyle, who scored 5 touchdowns, and Re'quan Boyette, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry, should share carries. Eron Riley lead the team with 643 receiving yards last year.
DEFENSE: The defense was ripped for big plays and lots of points last year. They gave up an average of 33.8 points per game, and they lose their only really good player, John Talley, who had 7 interceptions in 2006. The defense loses 6 starters total. DE Patrick Bailey is the only bright spot. The senior had 77 tackles and 9 tackles for loss. Everything about the defense is weak. This year’s defense will be worse than the 2006 unit.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Joe Surgan had a horrible year in 2006. He hit just 3 of 10 field goals, and he missed 3 extra points. He will improve this year. He had a good freshman year, so you know he has the potential. Freshmen Nick Maggio and Kevin Jones will battle it out for the punting job.
COACHING: Ted Roof had been head coach at Duke since 2004, and served as an interim head coach during the 2003 season. He has a total of 3 wins in the past 3 years, and is 5-34 overall. I do not think hiring someone else is going to accomplish anything. Roof still needs time trying to rebuild a program like Duke.
SCHEDULE: No Division 1-AA opponent means no wins for Duke. I do not see anyway that Duke can win a game this year unless Connecticut or North Carolina lays an egg.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Thaddeus Lewis is just going to keep getting better. The offense is full of experienced seniors. This team is better than last year’s on offense, so maybe they can steal a game.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The defense is just going to be horrible. The offense will put up more points than last year, but the defense will give up more points as well. Another winless year for Duke.
MAKE OR BREAK: Thaddeus Lewis is fun to watch. I think he has a lot of potential. Every once in a while, he will keep Duke in a game all by himself.
OFFENSE: Drew Weatherford returns for his 3rd year as starter, and he has yet to accomplish much. He is mistake prone, and Xavier Lee is breathing down his neck. If Lee can be more accurate, there is no reason he should not be starting. ACC track star Antone Smith will take over for Lorenzo Booker at RB this year. Look for Smith to have a good year running the ball if he gets enough carries. FSU also has the best receivers in the conference. Greg Carr found the end zone 12 times last year, and De’Cody Fagg will line up on the other side. He is experienced and reliable.
DEFENSE: The defense was up and down last year. Late in the season they shut out Virginia 33-0. A week later, Wake Forest whipped them 30-0. A lot of the blame has to go to the offense and the huge amount of turnovers they lost last year. The defense loses their top 2 tacklers, but does return 8 starters. Myron Rolle had a great freshman year, and he is a part of the best secondary in the ACC. FS Roger Williams led the team with 4 interceptions and is the 2nd returning leading tackler. The defensive line is also top-notch. DE Everette Brown had 3 starts as a freshman, and had 3 sacks and 27 tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Gary Cismesia had a solid year in 2006. He mad 14 out of 20 field goals with a long of 53. He struggled with his range, however. Cismesia was 3-8 on any field goal past 40 yards. Graham Gano returns after averaging 40 yards per punt last year.
COACHING: Bobby Bowden has this job for life. However, he is not the big game coach he used to be. Bowden is 22-13 in his last 3 years. That is not up to FSU standards. Getting back to the ACC title game will get the fans off his back.
SCHEDULE: Colorado, Alabama, and Florida make up a very tough and interesting OOC schedule. They get Miami at home, but have to travel to Clemson, Wake Forest, BC, and VA Tech.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... The QB play needs to improve, but everything should be stellar. The defense will shut down opponents, and the receivers will get open. FSU has a lot of potential this year and will be in the race for the Coastal division all year.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Weatherford is unreliable and mistake-prone. The schedule is challenging. I call for 2 out of conference losses, but they should do no worse than 3rd in the ACC.
MAKE OR BREAK: QB play. Whoever it is, they need to have a big year. That does not mean they have to throw for 4000 yards and 25 touchdowns. Just avoid the mistakes!
OFFENSE: Calvin Johnson is gone. He is no longer there for the Yellow Jackets to rely on for game changing plays and big time performances. Luckily, they have RB Tashard Choice. He is a workhorse. Last year, he carried the ball 297 times, and I think he is a dark horse Heisman contender this fall. Reggie Ball is gone, which is not all bad. Taylor Bennett got a good amount of playing time last year, and he is ready for the starting job. James Johnson is also ready to take over the number one WR role. All the attention went to the other Johnson last year, but James had a solid year himself.
DEFENSE: The defense returns 8 starters and 8 out its top 11 tacklers. LB Phillip Wheeler is an electric player who is always going at 100 miles per hour. He had 9 sacks last year! Senior safeties Djay Jones and Jamal Lewis hold down the defensive backfield. Lewis was 1st team All-ACC last year. DC Jon Tenuta has never had a bad defense since he came to Tech 6 years ago, and this one will be one of his best.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Travis Bell is an experienced kicker who had a great freshman year, a bad sophomore year, and an average junior year. He does not have a big leg, but he is serviceable. Durant Brooks is one of the best punters in college football. Last year he averaged a booming 45.5 yards per punt and pinned opponents inside the 20 yard line 35 times!
COACHING: Chan Gailey has slowly improved Tech every year over the past 5 seasons. Last year, he led Tech to a 9 win season for the first time since 2000. I think Gailey is a great coach, and I think he will continue to have success at Tech.
SCHEDULE: Tech opens the season at Notre Dame. They host BC, Clemson, VA Tech, and Georgia while traveling to Maryland and Miami. They have a favorable conference schedule.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Tashard Choice should have a great year. That will open up the passing game. Tech needs to have a smooth start in the post-Calvin Johnson era. The defense will better than last year’s, and the team should be able to win 9 games again.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Choice will not have a superstar at WR to distract the defense. If James Johnson does not step up, Tech could struggle to find another go-to receiver. An opening season loss to ND would hurt bad. This team should do no worse than 6 or 7 wins.
MAKE OR BREAK: The key is to find one reliable receiver, such as James Johnson, and make him their go-to guy. Then Tech needs to spread the ball around and forget about throwing the deep ball so much. They need 3 receivers to have 30 catches or more with Johnson leading the way.
OFFENSE: The QB job is supposedly up for grabs, but Jordan Steffy has the job all but locked up. Sophomore Josh Portis will see playing time, but I think the safe and steady Steffy will start game one. He will throw to talented Darrius Heyward-Bey, who caught 5 touchdowns with a long of 96 yards in his freshman year. Maryland returns its top 7 pass catchers, and they also return their top 2 rushers, Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore. Together, they combined for over 1500 yards and 11 touchdowns. Maryland’s offense will be very good if the QB is solid.
DEFENSE: The defense loses 3 out of its top 4 tacklers. They do return top tackler LB Erin Henderson though. He is the leader of the defense, which will take a step down in 2007. DE Jeremy Navarre and 311 pound DT Dre Moore lead a good d-line. The line is better at getting sacks than stopping the run. Maryland struggled to force turnovers in 2006 because they lacked a big play safety. FS J.J. Justice is a diamond in the rough. Look for him to have a big year and lead the team in INTs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Terrapins lose their kicker and punter. Chris Roberts or Travis Baltz will have to try and fill the place of All-American punter Adam Podlesh, a two time Ray Guy semifinalist. Obi Egekeze has yet to try a field goal in 2 years at Maryland. He has a strong leg, but only time will tell if he is accurate and consistent like last year’s kicker Dan Ennis.
COACHING: Ralph Friedgen is in his 7th year at Maryland, and he is an impressive 50-24. He was on the hot seat after a 5-6 year in 2005. However, last year’s 8-4 record and bowl win gives Maryland fans reason to believe in him.
SCHEDULE: Maryland has a tough OOC schedule with a home game vs. West Virginia and a road game at Rutgers. They host GA Tech, Clemson, and BC, and FSU is the only conference game at home where they will likely be underdogs.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Maryland has great WRs and RBs, so the new QB will not be to pressured to make big plays. The defense will be about the same as last year, good but not great. Maryland has a good confernce schedule and should be able to win at least 7 games with the same offense coming back, minus an average QB.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The defense should be alright, but they do lose some talented players like Wesley Jefferson and David Holloway. Coach Friedgen will feel the pressure if Maryland gets off to a slow start. This team could be really good, or very average. Good QB play and defense is key.
MAKE OR BREAK: Games 3 through 6: WVU, Wake Forest, Rutgers, and GA Tech. Winning 2 or 3 of these games would be great, but beating Wake Forest and GA Tech to open conference play is more important. If they can start 2-0 in confernce, they will be favorites to win the division.
OFFENSE: Kyle Wright will likely be the starting QB, but watch out for junior Kirby Freeman to see lots of playing time if Wright struggles. Javarris James, cousin of Edgerrin James, will be the next great Hurricane RB. Last year, he rushed for 802 yards on just 175 attempts, nearly breaking Clinton Portis‘ freshman rushing record. He is also a talented receiver out of the backfield. DajLeon Farr and Chris Zellner will both play TE in 2007, after losing 1st round pick Greg Olsen. Lance Leggett and Sam Shields are a very good 1-2 punch at WR. Both have blazing speed and big play potential.
DEFENSE: The defense returns 7 starters, but loses its two top tacklers. However, I do not expect a drop-off in the defense’s play. Miami ships defensive players to the NFL year in and year out. DT Calais Campbell returns after collecting 10.5 sacks last year, and Kenny Phillips is the best FS in the ACC. Last year, he recorded 71 tackles and 4 interceptions. He will be a 4 year starter if he does not leave for the NFL after this year. Miami will have an amazing defense again in 2007.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Redshirt freshman Matt Bosher will be the starting kicker and punter, unless junior Daren Daley wins the punting job. The superstar freshman should be very good at both positions.
COACHING: Randy Shannon has been at Miami for 14 years, the last 6 as DC. He now replaces Larry Coker as head coach. Coker was not fired for his in-game coaching. He had a 60-15 record at Miami. It was fights and arrests that got him canned. Shannon’s main job is the keep the players out of trouble, and discipline them when they get out of line. Shannon is a defensive mastermind and should have lots of success at Miami.
SCHEDULE: Miami has a huge game at Oklahoma in week 2. They also get a solid Texas A&M team in week 4. In conference, they have to travel to FSU, VA Tech, and BC. They host GA Tech and Virginia. UVA has given Miami tough games in the past 3 years. Miami has won twice by a combined 18 points, and lost once.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Miami has a great defense and a bunch of playmakers on offense. If the QB play is consistent, they should win 8 or 9 games.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The schedule is one of the toughest in college football. Seven games will be close, and they could easily lose 5 or 6 if the Wright or Freeman start throwing more INTS and less touchdowns. Last year, they combined to throw 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
MAKE OR BREAK: This is Kyle Wright’s last year. He needs to make the most of it. The job will be his at the start of the season. He has all the tools to be a great player. He has skill, mechanics, and superstars around him.
OFFENSE: UNC returns only 5 starters on offense. Redshirt freshman T.J. Yates should be the starting QB for the Tar Heels, as Joe Dailey will make the move from QB to WR. Last year as QB, Dailey threw 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Sophomore Richie Rich (what a sweet name) should get most of the carries. The 5’9 RB has 4.3 speed, but little experience. WR Hakeem Nicks returns after his great freshman season. He had 660 yards and 4 touchdown catches last year. He is the only real WR threat, though you can bet that Dailey will be involved in several WR passes.
DEFENSE: The defense was pitiful last year, giving up 30 points per game. This year, they return 4 starters and lose 5 out of their top 6 tacklers. They do return LB Durell Mapp who led the team in tackles and tackles for loss last year. Five star DT recruit Marvin Austin should have a huge impact and a big year. The rest of the defense, not so much.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior Connor Barth was nearly perfect last year. He made all 10 of his field goal tries, but missed 2 extra points. He has a big leg and will be the best kicker in the ACC this year. JUCO transfer Terrence Brown will take over the punting duties. Brandon Tate returned 2 kickoffs and 1 punt for a touchdown in 2006. He is back and is very dangerous.
COACHING: Butch Davis is a great college coach. He is not a good NFL coach. Davis had immense success at Miami, going 51-20 and recruiting the teams that went undefeated in 2001 and 2002. He went to the NFL to coach the Cleveland Browns, which was not a good move. He is now back in college football, and UNC is very lucky to have him.
SCHEDULE: UNC has to travel to USF in week 4, and host South Carolina in week 7. They have a tough conference road schedule. Games against VA Tech, Wake Forest, NC State, and GA Tech will make it hard for UNC to get many ACC wins.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... The offense is starting fresh. The defense is starting fresh. Davis wants to play the young guys so he can build for the future. UNC will crash a few parties, and maybe pull off an upset or two. Davis will turn the program around. UNC has a lot to look forward to, even though this year will not be a huge success.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... UNC will struggle everywhere except special teams. The team just is not that good. You're two years away Tar Heel fans.
MAKE OR BREAK: Special teams is the key to this team. Barth and Tate are the best players on the team, and Brown will be very good punter. If UNC is in a close game that comes down to FGs and field position, my bet is on UNC.
North Carolina State
OFFENSE: The QB position is supposedly up for grabs, but Daniel Evans is the likely starter. Evans saw most of the time last year, throwing 6 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Freshman Justin Burke has the most potential out of all the contenders for the job. In a year, he will be ready to take over. Harrison Beck is also a candidate, but did very little last spring to improve his spot on the depth chart. Toney Baker and Andre Brown will share carries again this season. The juniors combined for 10 touchdowns and 1300 yards rushing last year. NC State has good players at WR, but no stars. Darrell Blackman and John Dunlap will be the top 2 WRs. TE Anthony Hill led the team in catches and receiving yards last year.
DEFENSE: The defense loses its top 3 tacklers and 5 starters. Patrick Lowery and Tank Tyler were the leaders of the defense. Now, LB LeRue Rumph is the leader of the defense, and DT DeMario Pressley is the star. Pressley was a top 10 overall recruit in 2004, but has yet to live up to the hype. Last year, he showed signs of stardom, collecting 46 tackles and 2 sacks. The defense is a year or two away from being awesome.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K/P John Deraney graduated, leaving 2 spots to fill on special teams. JUCO transfer Jeff Ruiz will take over the punting duties. He is accurate with a pretty good leg. Nate Franklin, Bradley Person, and Josh Czajkowski will fight it out for the kicking position. Darrell Blackman is a stellar returner. He returned one kickoff and punt for a touchdown last year.
COACHING: Tom O’Brien left BC for NC State, because it is a state college with lesser academic standards. O’Brien will have a better team in 2008, so BC should be better this year, but not the next.
SCHEDULE: NC State hosts Louisville in week 5. They have to travel to BC (bad blood), FSU, Miami, and Wake Forest. They also have Clemson, UVA, and Maryland on the schedule, making up one of the toughest schedules in the conference.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... The running back situation is very nice for first year coach Tom O’Brien. He should keep the ball on the ground and try to build up the defense. I think at some point they need to start Justin Burke and build for next year. They can hope for 6 wins, but that is if the ACC is really down, which is unlikely.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The defense better be good, because the offense is going to be bad like last year if Evans shows minimal improvement. NC State will be competitive, but 4 or 5 wins is as good as it should get for NC State.
MAKE OR BREAK: Darrell Blackman and John Dunlap are good. Are they great? It will be interesting to see if they will step up and have a big year.
OFFENSE: Jameel Sewell had a great freshman year. Yes, he only scored 9 total touchdowns, but he is the most dangerous player on the field every time he puts on his uniform. The offense returns 9 starters, but loses Jason Snelling, their starting RB. Junior Cedric Peerman takes over. He looks to be ready to breakout after only getting 46 carries last year. UVA loses WR Kevin Ogletree to an ACL injury for most, if not all, of the season. The WRs will not be as good without him, giving Sewell even less options. TE Tom Santi is his most reliable pair of hands. The O-line is one of the best in the conference and is full of future NFL prospects.
DEFENSE: Nearly the whole defense returns. The unit was very good last year, and will only get better. Chris Long has great quickness off the end. He recorded 57 tackles and 4 sacks last year. LB Jon Cooper is the returning leading tackler. They return all 4 starting linebacker for UVA’s 3-4 defense. The defense should improve its ranking in total defense (17th overall) and be one of the best in the ACC.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Chris Gould was the kicker and punter last year. Senior Ryan Weigand will take over the punting duties, and I think that will help Gould. Gould made all of his kicks inside 40 yards, but was 4-12 past the 40.
COACHING: Al Groh is in his 7th year at UVA. He has had plenty of teams that could have won the ACC, or at least come close. He is one of the most overrated coaches in football. He is 42-33 since he came to UVA. One more bad year, and he might be gone.
SCHEDULE: UVA’s toughest OOC game is against Pittsburgh at home. In the conference, they host GA Tech, Wake Forest, and rival VA Tech. Road games involve Maryland and Miami.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... UVA has a favorable conference schedule and an experienced team. They have a lot of potential and could easily win 7 or 8 games if Sewell keeps getting better and improves on his accuracy.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... They are missing a big time running back and reliable receivers. The defense should be great like last year, but that did not stop them from only winning 5 games.
MAKE OR BREAK: Is Sewell the real deal? The sophomore will have to make the WRs around him better. Otherwise, he will have very few weapons.
OFFENSE: Sean Glennon returns after his first year of being the full-time starter. He threw for 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Glennon is going to have a break out year, and will be the best QB in the conference next season. Brandon Ore is the star of the offense. He rushed for 1187 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. Eddie Royal leads a strong group of receivers, while Sam Wheeler is the next great VT TE. The sophomore scored two touchdowns in limited playing time.
DEFENSE: Eight starters return to the defense, and Tech has one of the best LB cores in college football. Vince Hall lead the team in tackles and tackles for loss, while Xavier Adibi had 82 tackles and 3 interceptions. CB Brandon Flowers broke up an ACC best 18 passes last year. Virginia Tech’s defense led college football in total defense for the 2nd straight year in 2006. They have the potential to make it a 3-peat.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Brandon Pace was great last year for the Hokies. He made all but one of his 19 field goal attempts. Senior Jud Dunleavy will kick most of the field goals, if not all of them, for the team this fall. Senior Develli will handle the kickoffs. He forced 35 touchbacks last year. Unproven sophomore Brent Bowden will take over the punting duties. Eddie Royal is a great returner, and will likely house one or two this year.
COACHING: Beamer ball never fails, and Frank Beamer returns for his 21st year at Tech. He has a solid career 156 wins. He is one of my favorite coaches in football right now. I have a soft spot for coaches that consistently have great special teams.
SCHEDULE: Virginia Tech travels to LSU in week 2 in a huge out of conference matchup. They also travel to Clemson and GA Tech, but they get to host BC, FSU, and Miami.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Tech is the only national championship contender in the conference and should be able to win 9 or 10 games this year. If they beat LSU, they are my pick to go the national championship.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Sean Glennon cannot play like he did last year. He needs to be able to make the big play against teams like LSU and Clemson. If he is average like he was in 2006, Virginia Tech will not run away with the Atlantic division like they should.
MAKE OR BREAK: VT always has great special teams. It always helps when a title contender has reliable special teams. If the special teams are clutch again this fall, the team should be ready to make a national championship run.
OFFENSE: Riley Skinner had one of the best freshman years in ACC football history. His stats were not the greatest, but it was his leadership and calmness that made him a great QB last year as he led a lowly Wake Forest program to their first ever BCS bowl game. Wake Forest also had a +13 turnover ratio. A lot of the praise can go to Skinner and his lack of mistakes. Kevin Harris was the main ball carrier last year, but only because star RB Micah Andrews got hurt in the 3rd game of the year. If he can stay healthy, Wake Forest’s offense will show big improvement. Talented redshirt freshman Josh Adams will see some carries if Andrews does not stay healthy. Wake Forest loses its top 2 receivers. Kenneth Moore is the most dangerous WR, and he was Wake Forest’s leading rusher last year.
DEFENSE: Wake Forest’s defense was another main reason for their magical season. They lose 6 starters, including emotional team leader LB Jon Abbate. LB Aaron Curry is the leading returning tackler. CB Alfonso Smith was supposed to be the main corner last year, but he lost his starting job. In reserve, he made 3 interceptions, had 4 sacks, and broke up 8 passes. Look for him to have an even better year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sam Swank is pro kicker in the making. The junior made 23 out of 31 field goal tries last year, with a long of 53. He will be even more accurate this year. He is also a great punter, averaging 41 yards per punt, and pinning 19 punts inside the 20.
COACHING: Jim Grobe was the national coach of the year in 2006. He is in his 7th year at Wake Forest. Grobe did an amazing job last year with very little. This year, he has a slightly more on offense and should be able to have even more success.
SCHEDULE: Wake Forest has an interesting game vs. Nebraska in week 2. Before that, they open at Boston College. These 2 games will set the table for another possible ACC title run. They have a fairly easy ACC schedule. They have to travel to Clemson, but host FSU and Maryland.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... If Riley Skinner avoids mistakes and Micah Andrews stays healthy, Wake Forest should be a better team in 2007. The defense really improved last year, and I think that will stick for years to come.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The defense does lose a lot, so a drop off is possible. The receivers are not there for Skinner. If Andrews gets hurt, their offense might be in trouble. I still think Wake Forest will make their 2nd consecutive bowl trip.
MAKE OR BREAK: Micah Andrews needs to stay healthy. He is great when he is on the field making plays. If he does get hurt, Josh Adams should get some touches. He is full of potential and big play ability.
I think the running games of Clemson and Virginia Tech will be too much for the rest of the ACC to handle. I think the Hokies will win the Title game, because of their more experienced quarterback and shut down defense. The ACC will be deeper and stronger than last year. They failed to have a team finish in the top 10, but I do not see that happening in 2007. Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia, and all of the Coastal division teams have the ability and potential to finish in the top 25 this year.