On with the show....
Predicted order of finish
1. Georgia Tech
Offense: The pieces are all in place for this to be a dynamite unit. While still struggling at times with accuracy, QB Reggie Ball drastically cut his interception rate last season. The Yellow Jacket running back pipeline churns out Tashard Choice this season, who still scored 6 touchdowns in limited action in 2005. The offensive line returns four starters. Last but certainly not least, Tech has possibly the best WR in the country in junior Calvin Johnson. Finding ways to get him the ball a lot more often than he saw last year is the big issue for the Jacket offensive staff this season.
Defense: Five starters return for ace coordinator Jon Tenuta - mainly along the front seven - in addition to stud tackle Darryl Richard, who missed last season with a knee injury. As with most other clubs in the ACC this year, secondary is the main concern and it could be costly - only one of the DBs has solid gametime experience, and the first game on the slate is gunslinging Brady Quinn and Notre Dame.
Miscellaneous: Last year's ugly loss to Utah in the Emerald Bowl continued the wildly inconsistent play of Tech teams under Chan Gailey (2002- upset NC State, lost to Fresno State; 2003- upset Auburn and Maryland, blown out by Duke; 2005- upset Auburn and Miami, routed by the Utes)....Archrival Georgia's win-streak over the Jackets is now at 5, with last year's 14-7 home loss the most galling - Calvin Johnson caught just 2 passes for 14 yards....Tech's four-year streak of 7 wins per year most assuredly will end this season; 8-5 after the bowls looks to be a realistic worst-case scenario....Upset alert: at NC State (Nov. 4), a road contest near the end of a difficult stretch in the schedule (coming off back-to-back games with Clemson and Miami)....The Yellow Jackets bypass Florida State, Boston College and Wake Forest from the Atlantic Division on this year's slate
Predicted record: 9-3 overall, 6-2 ACC
2. Virginia Tech
Offense: There are question marks all over this unit, but fortunately for the Hokies, those question marks have more to do with experience than talent. At QB, sophomore Sean Glennon recently won the job and will get a nice tune-up in Game 1 against 1-AA Northeastern. At RB, Brandon Ore is a super talent, but his performance will be all too dependent on a green offensive line. The receiving corps is in the capable hands of senior David Clowney, and juniors Eddie Royal and Josh Morgan.
Defense: This could be a monster. The defensive line is exploding with talent, LBs Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall could both be all-ACC, and the secondary will be one of the league's best. There really is no weakness with this unit, other than the lack of full season experience on the DL; but the talent there alone should make up for it.
Miscellaneous: Unless things go horribly awry this year, this is a national title caliber team in 2007 and 2008....The Hokies' surprising loss to Florida State in last year's ACC Championship Game was their 12th straight defeat to the Seminoles, dating back to 1976....ESPN and the ACC didn't do the Hokies any favors by scheduling a Thursday night matchup with Clemson just 5 days after a potentially tougher-than-expected game with Southern Miss....Upset alert: at North Carolina (Sept. 9), the second game of the season and the first road contest for Glennon and the young offense....Tech bypasses Florida State, Maryland and NC State from the Atlantic Division on this year's slate
Predicted record: 9-3 overall, 5-3 ACC
Offense: It begins and ends on the shoulders of talented junior quarterback Kyle Wright, who looked impessive most of last season despite getting battered about like a pinball. Starting RB Tyrone Moss, suspended for the Florida State game, is coming back from a torn ACL. The underperforming receiving corps is lacking that typical Miami breakaway threat. Last year's underachieving offensive line is another unknown quantity. Add all that with a new offensive coaching staff, and this is reason numero uno as to why the Canes are sitting at third in the Coastal.
Defense: The #4 overall defense in the country in 2005 returns much of that talent, so little-to-no dropoff is expected. The front seven looks solid, highlighted by DE Baraka Atkins who blew through many an OL at tackle in 2005. The secondary is far and away the best in the ACC, particularly at safety with Brandon Merriweather and Kenny Phillips. Pity the young QB facing this crew.
Miscellaneous: Look for the Canes to head into late October at 7-1 or 6-2, before the wheels fall off; road games with Georgia Tech and Maryland, and home dates with Virginia Tech and Boston College highlight the final month of the season....The erratic Jon Peattie returns to his placekicking duties for his senior season, although he's one of those players you swear has been there since the Reagan administration....Despite 5 national titles in 23 years and a 9-3 campaign in '05, Miami ranked just 9th in the ACC and 49th nationally in average attendance (45,310) last year....Larry Coker's job will likely come down to winning a pre-Jan. 1 bowl game....Upset alert: the season finale at home against Boston College (Nov. 23); one of those notorious Thursday night games, and as noted in my BC preview, 22 years to the day of the Flutie-to-Phelan Hail Mary on that same field.....Miami bypasses Clemson, NC State and Wake Forest from the Atlantic Division on this year's slate
Predicted record: 8-4 overall, 5-3 ACC
4. North Carolina
Offense: New coordinator Frank Cignetti has brought his high-octane offensive mindset over from Fresno State with reportedly glowing results, if reports out of practices are to be believed. The QB situation is far from settled, with Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey and redshirt frosh Cam Sexton in a dead heat heading into week one. Senior RB Ronnie McGill returns, along with the left side of the OL. The receiving corps is the big question mark with just one of the top 5 wideouts from last season (Jesse Holley) back. Still, there's enough talent and experienceto help Cignetti to improve on last year's 102nd ranked unit.
Defense: Seven starters return from last year's wildly inconsistent unit (week 5- coughed up 69 points at Louisville; week 6- held Virginia to 5 points). Key players return on each sector of the defense, highlighted by Shelton Bynum at tackle, Larry Edwards at strong side LB, and Kareen Taylor at safety.
Miscellaneous: UNC takes a slight break from their usual hari-kari out of conference schedule, with a road date at Notre Dame the only Top 25 foe of the bunch; Rutgers and South Florida visit Chapel Hill for potentially tough matchups, with 1-AA Furman designed to provide cannon fodder before road games with Clemson and Miami....Speaking of Furman, the last time the Paladins visited UNC (1999), they dominated the Tar Heels en route to a 28-3 victory, one of the all-time lowest moments not just in Carolina but ACC history....Must win: a home date with Wake Forest (Oct. 28); a 1-3 start in the conference is likely (Virginia Tech, at Clemson, at Miami, and at Virginia are the first 4 ACC games), so a loss to the Deacs will likely prove fatal to bowl hopes....The Heels bypass Florida State, Boston College and Maryland from the Atlantic Division on this year's slate
Predicted record: 6-6 overall, 4-4 ACC
Offense: We've got holes all over the place here- quarterback (goodbye Marques Hagans), running back (so long Wali Lundy), most of the line (farewell D'Brickashaw Ferguson). And let's not forget that coordinator Ron Prince departed for the Kansas State head coaching job, leaving Mike Groh to take the reins. Another father-son/head coach-offensive coordinator arrangement in the ACC; hmmm, I wonder how that other situation has panned out so far? On the plus side, the receiving corps returns two quality players in seniors Deyon Williams and Fontel Mines. And tight end looks to be in good hands with junior Tom Santi. Still, all is not lost. Senior Christian Olsen will take the reins at signal caller and the RB position can be filled capably by 4 talented, albeit green, players.
Defense: More holes here- a departed coordinator in Al Golden (now the Temple head honcho), an unproven line, a linebacking group minus Kai Parham and Ahmad Brooks, and two new inexperienced safeties. That said, the cornerbacks (Marucs Gorham and Chris Hamilton) are solid and battle-tested. Al Groh's recruiting coups the last few years will really have to pay off on this side of the ball in 2006.
Miscellaneous: Aside from the perpetually "rebuilding" Duke Blue Devils, this is by far the biggest restructuring job in the ACC this year; rarely does a school lose so much talent on the field and in the booth (minus a total coaching staff turnover) as the Cavaliers' did this offseason....Someone in the ACC offices has something against Al Groh and/or is a Hokie grad: The Wahoos close the season at Florida State, home with Miami, and then at Virginia Tech....Must win: at Duke (Sept. 30); lose this one and it's likely an 0-8 league record this year....UVA bypasses Clemson, Boston College and Wake Forest from the Atlantic Division on this year's slate
Predicted record: 4-8 overall, 1-7 ACC
Offense: Yikes. The offensive line is in dire shape, with Matt Rumsey at center the only returning starter, and with no other proven talent lined up for game one. This could be a freshman dominated group by season's end. The skill positions are in a bit better shape, with the versatile Ronnie Drummer looking to be the offensive star. Losing projected starter Zack Asack at QB in the offseason (academic suspension-plagiarism) was a major blow; senior Kevin Cronin is likely to ge the nod but he's not a lock. That leaves Rumsey as the only projected returning starter from last year's 116th ranked offense. Not good.
Defense: There's some hope here, particularly along the front seven with 2004 stud recruit Vince Oghobaase at tackle and linebacker with Michael Tauiliili (who lead all freshman in tackles last year). Two experienced seniors (John Talley and Deonto McCormick) hold down the fort at corner.
Miscellaneous: The Devils get one breather (1-AA Richmond, in game one), and then run a difficult conference gauntlet along with out-of-league foes Alabama, Navy and Vanderbilt.....Reason for some hope in the Alabama game: the last time the Blue Devils visited an SEC power (Tennessee-2003), they scared the ever-loving-bejesus out of the Vols (trailing just 9-6 heading into the fourth quarter) before falling 23-6......Must win: a home matchup with Virginia (Sept. 30); this is their only realistic shot at an ACC win and they get two weeks to prepare for the Cavaliers.....The Blue Devils bypass Clemson, Maryland and NC State from the Atlantic Division on this year's slate
Predicted record: 2-10 overall, 0-8 ACC
ACC postseason projections, all conference team, and other league stuff coming up shortly....