2008 ACC Predictions
by Robert Ferringo - 08/19/2008
When the Atlantic Coast Conference raided the Big East for three of its best teams a few short years ago it was supposed to turn the ACC into a college football power. Instead, the addition of those traitorous heathens has simply cast a cloak of bad karma on the league and helped morph it into the most overrated league in the country.
That's right: the ACC sucks. It is to the SEC what Australia is to United States basketball. Sure, they may beat you on a lucky day. But in general it's like they are playing a different sport.
Don't believe me? Here are the numbers:
Over the last two years the ACC is just 14-20 straight up against teams from the other BCS Big 6 conferences. ACC representatives are 0-2 SU and ATS in their two BCS bowl games and overall the league is a pathetic 3-14 overall in bowl games. Further, the ACC is just 36-56-3 ATS in nonconference games over the last two seasons, a .391 winning percentage. All of those marks are the lowest of any of the major conferences.
However, I don't hear for any calls to strip the ACC of its BCS bowl bid like we heard about the Big East when it lost Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College. Curious.
This year the ACC will once again be the weakest sister of the Big 6 conferences. The two main reasons are the lack of quarterback talent and some suspect coaches. But I expect these teams to continue to pay out by fading them against their peers, so do me a favor and don't mention this article or any of the info you've gleaned from it in public. I wouldn't want the word to get out.
Here's a look at some of my 2008 ACC Predictions:
The Favorite: Clemson
Stop me if you've heard this one: the Clemson Tigers should dominate the ACC this year. The Tigers are a perennial disappointment, but this year they have so much talent that I wonder if even they can screw it up. C.J. Spiller and James Davis comprise the best backfield in the country and Cullen Harper is one of the top two quarterbacks in the league. Those three will have to overcome four new offensive line starters, and that is really the major question mark on this team. The defense is sensational and is the bedrock of this team. They brought back eight starters from the No. 9 defense in the country last year, and added super frosh DaQuan Bowers at defensive end. I'm not buying the Tigers as a national title contender - all the air could come out of that balloon if they lose their opener against Alabama in the Georgia Dome - but they are the class of the ACC.
The Challenger: Florida State
I think that the Seminoles, at least on paper, are in the best position to challenge the Tigers. They return 15 total starters and have eight seniors on the first team. One of those is much-maligned quarterback Drew Weatherford. This is his last chance to cement his legacy at FSU, as it is for the rest of the four-year players. They were beset by injuries last year and will be handcuffed by suspensions for their key game against Wake on Sept. 20. But FSU plays nine of its 12 games in the state of Florida and gets Wake, Virginia Tech, and Clemson at home this year.
The Dark Horse: Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons bring a workman-like attitude to the gridiron every week and have turned that into a 20-7 (16-10 ATS) record over the last two seasons. Jim Grobe passed on the Arkansas job in part because he felt he owed it to this group. He enters the season with 14 returning starters and an impressive 11 seniors on the first string. The Deacons did benefit from some fortunate bounces last year and they are a little light on offensive linemen. But this is a veteran group that's played in, and won, its share of big games. They are 9-2 ATS as an underdog over the last two years, so they excel when people doubt them. They also get Clemson at home and face a suspension-depleted FSU team early.
The X-Factor: North Carolina
When I see this team I think of Illinois last year. We have a beleaguered coach who is an ace at stockpiling talent. We have a roster full of young, hungry, athletic playmakers. And we have a team playing in a division devoid of much experience or overall power. UNC lost an astounding six games by seven points or less in 2007 and finished 4-8. Compare that with Virginia, which won five games by two points or less and finished 9-4 and you can see the Tar Heels' potential. I see them winning at least five of their seven home games and they should be favored in two of their five road games. This team should hit seven wins, easy, with the potential for even more.
The Surprise Team: Maryland
For being a rather large mammal, Ralph Friedgen is pretty good at dodging bullets. He's still on the hot seat but this year's team looks primed for a seven- or eight-win season. Jordan Steffy will start at quarterback, but there's little doubt that Chris Turner is going to get plenty of snaps leading what should be one of the ACC's top units. The Terps have a whopping 13 senior starters, including four on a massive offensive line, and this team gained a ton of experience while dealing with a rash of injuries in 2007. Having to go to Clemson and to Blacksburg will keep them out of the top-tier, but look for the Terps to have a solid season.
The Disappointment: Virginia Tech
The Hokies are in the Top 20 in both preseason polls seemingly out of respect. And, hey, I have nothing but love for Beamer Ball. But in my opinion I just don't see where this team deserves that much credit. Their 10 returning starters is the second-fewest in the ACC and they lost star running back Brandon Ore in the spring. Their defense, again, will be solid. But with just four returning starters it's nowhere near last year's No. 4 national unit. And if they aren't generating turnovers and getting fluky special teams plays they aren't scoring. The Glennon-Taylor carousel was fine last year because of the D. But I think this year it becomes too much for this team to overcome.
Boston College - Now we get to see what type of coach Jeff Jagodzinski is. It was easy to win last year with a roster loaded with Tom O'Brien's players. But Matt Ryan and 12 of 22 starters have moved on. Last year's veteran B.C. squad caught a couple breaks (at Va. Tech and at Clemson come to mind) and now the Eagles are caught in between recruiting classes. The good news is that their defense welcomes back some key starters from 2006 that missed last year (Brian Toal, for one) and the D will keep them in some games. But I think a winning ACC mark will be a tall task.
N.C. State - Tom O'Brien is going to have to roll up his sleeves and take another beating with this Wolfpack team. They lost 25 of 43 lettermen and return just 10 starters. On top of that, O'Brien's club has already seen several members of the two-deep get banged up this fall. They don't have a quarterback, and on top of everything they play three potential Top 15 teams - at South Carolina, at Clemson, vs. South Florida - in the first five weeks. This could be a "buy low" team for the second half, but the opening month should be brutal.
Duke - I was mocked and ridiculed for backing the Blue Devils last year with several plays, even though they managed to go 5-2 ATS on the road and 6-6 ATS overall. Still, I may have been a year early on seizing their true value. They brought back 17 starters, they have the most experience in the league, they have a new head coach (David Cutcliffe, former OC from Tennessee), and they have five of their first six games at home. I think they can be a decent ATS play.
Virginia - As I mentioned, the Cavaliers had a Cinderella season last year and they were, realistically, about a half-dozen plays away from being 4-9 instead of 9-4. The Cavs have just 11 starters back and have questions all over the field. I expect a major step back from Al Groh's charges.
Georgia Tech - The triple-option has found its way to Atlanta. So has a run of injuries on a roster that lacks both depth and experience. Paul Johnson, formerly of Navy, is still working to install his run-based triple-option attack at Tech. But he doesn't exactly have the optimum personnel. There is some individual talent here and the gimmicky system could fluster some ACC foes. But the defense is going to take a step back without John Tenuta (Notre Dame) calling the shots.
Miami - Slowly but surely Randy Shannon is rebuilding the 'Canes. They have just 11 returning starters and a trio of unproven arms trying to seize the quarterback slot. There is some experience on this roster, but this program is still just 12-13 SU (8-16 ATS) over the last two season.