Saturday, August 30, 2008

This Is Bullshit

Family-friendly posting has now gone bye-bye. These are the current scores of the ACC games in progress:

-UNC 21 - McNeese State 20, 1:00 3rd Q
-Duke 14 - James Madison 7, Halftime
-Alabama 23 - Clemson 3, Halftime (with just 89 total f%cking yards!)
-Boston College 21- Kent State 0, 11:54 4th Q

Combined with the general shittiness of earlier today (USC 52-Virginia 7, ECU 27-Va Tech 22, Maryland 14-Delaware 7) I'm pissed as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.

The coaching in this league is one big pile of rotten ass outside of Jim Grobe, Jeff Jagodzinski, and Frank Beamer (although not today or last Jan. 3 or whenever I seem to watch the Hokies). And please excuse David Cutcliffe, Paul Johnson and their assistants from this rant as well - for now. Al Groh, Ralph Friedgen, Tommy Bowden and Tom O'Brien are borderline thieves when you consider the results they've delivered in comparison to the checks they cash. And Butch Davis is now on my shitlist with the turd the Heels are dropping against McNeese tonight; I guess 4-8 last year really was a shitty 4-8 and not the special 4-8 with sprinkles that I was deluded into believing. Randy Shannon is still the in-over-his-head-goober who lost 48-0 to Al Groh in the Orange Bowl finale last year. Even Bobby Bowden has irritated me today and his Noles didn't even play - but Joe Paterno just tied him in the Death Race, making up eight games in overall record over the last four years.

Too many of these millionaire coaches have either done nothing to deserve such riches, or are living off past - waaaaaaaay past - glory. The boosters of the schools with these shitty coaches had better demand more bang for their buck or else this same bullshit will rain down year after year after year.

Good night. Oh who the hell am I kidding, another beer. And then another salty and perhaps more profane rant if I can find the keyboard.

Greensboro, We Have A Problem

Even if Clemson beats Alabama tonight, the ACC is in for a long and massive PR beating this season. And it almost goes without saying that if the Tigers lose to the Tide, the ACC is effectively DOA from week one. But I'm getting ahead of myself with that.

Virginia Tech's loss to East Carolina was something a lot of people saw coming (myself included but only when the Hokies decided to redshirt Tyrod Taylor last week), and Virginia getting smashed by USC (it's 21-0 Trojans approximately 9 seconds into the game) is not all that surprising. NC State's loss at South Carolina was generally expected as well, although the misleading 34-0 score doesn't help at all in terms of perception.

The problem is that the ACC couldn't throw anyone for a loop and do something unexpectedly right. And that points to disaster in the coming weeks. And by disaster I mean that East Carolina is probably going to go 3-0 vs. the ACC this year (they play @Virginia and @NC State in the next few weeks). Forget the expected beatdowns that are likely to come in September (Miami @ Florida, Cal @ Maryland, USF @ NC State); Big East-reject East Carolina will likely go 3-0 vs. the ACC this year. That will be the epitaph on the ACC 2008 tombstone unless some gigantic and/or plentiful upsets occur in the conference's favor.

Perhaps I'm jumping the gun a bit. College football is the most bipolar sport around, since things can change so quickly from week to week and since every single quarter of every single game matters. But over the last two years, ACC teams have typically surprised us only in negative ways and rarely offer the unexpected jolt or shocker on the positive side. And now we're at the point that not going 0-3 vs. East Carolina will be a welcome surprise. At least it only took me four hours into the first Saturday to realize that 2008 is shaping up to be a rinse-and-repeat of '06 & '07.

Gameday Recipe, Inaugural Edition

Every other week or so, yours truly will post a tried and true grilling recipe for your gameday consumption. You won't need anything more than a charcoal and/or gas grill, an oven, or a crock pot, and the recipes will be easy to follow. Enjoy and post a comment if you try one of these.

Today I give you my pulled pork recipe.....

-a charcoal grill, preferably with a deep base such as a Weber kettle
-4-6 hickory wood chunks or a buttload of hickory wood chips
-disposable foil roasting pan
-an oven

-4 to 6lb bone-in pork roast (Boston butt)
-suggested rub mix: brown sugar, oregano, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt in whatever measurements you like
-whatever BBQ sauce you like

Prep time: about 2 hours
Cooking time: about 5 1/2 hours

1. Mix all rub ingredients in small bowl, apply to pork butt, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least an hour.

2. At least 1 hour prior to cooking, remove pork butt from refrigerator, unwrap, and let it come to room temperature. Soak 4 (3-inch) wood chunks in cold water to cover for 1 hour and drain. Meanwhile, light about 40 charcoal briquettes (use a chimney starter or electric starter, lighter fluid is not recommended) and burn until all the charcoal is covered with a layer of fine gray ash.

3. Empty the coals into the grill; build a modified two-level fire by spreading the coals onto one side of the grill, piling them up in a mound 2 or 3 briquettes high, leaving the other half with no coals. Open the bottom vents completely. Place the soaked wood chunks on the coals. Position the cooking grate over the coals, cover the grill, and heat until hot, about 5 minutes (you can hold your hand 5 inches above the coals for 2 seconds). Make sure the cooking grate is clean.

4. Set unwrapped pork butt in disposable pan and place it on grate opposite the fire like this:

Open grill lid vents three-quarters of the way and cover, turning lid so that vents are opposite chunks to draw smoke through the grill. Cook, adding about 8 briquettes every hour or so to maintain an average temperature of 275 degrees, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours depending on the size of the roast.

5. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place roast in pan and wrap with heavy-duty foil to cover completely. Place pan in oven and cook until meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours.

6. After the 2 hours in the oven, turn oven off and let the roast sit in the oven for about 30 minutes. Transfer roast to cutting board and unwrap. When cool enough to handle, "pull" pork apart by tearing it into shreds so that it looks roughly like this:

Place shredded meat in large bowl; toss with 1/2 to 1 cup barbecue sauce, adding more to taste.

Serve the pulled pork however you like - a lot of people like pulled pork sandwiches on a toasted bun with pickles, but I prefer a big ol' plate o' pork with some sauce and whatever side dish is available.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

ACC on TV - Week 1

Here's your handy guide on where to find this weekend's games on the tube:

All times Eastern

Thursday, Aug. 28
Charleston Southern at Miami, 7:30pm (ESPN360 - web only)
Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech, 7:30pm (ESPN360 - web only)
N.C. State at South Carolina, 8pm (ESPN)
Wake Forest at Baylor, 8pm (FSN)

Saturday, Aug. 30
Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina, 12pm (ESPN)
USC at Virginia, 3:30pm (ABC or ESPN2)
Delaware at Maryland, 3:45pm (ESPNU)
James Madison at Duke, 7pm (ACC Select - web only)
Boston College vs. Kent State, 7:30pm (ESPNU)
Alabama vs. Clemson, 8pm (ABC)

There doesn't appear to be any TV or web coverage for McNeese State at North Carolina at 6pm on Aug. 30.


No Game Previews This Week

With eleven different games involving ACC clubs this weekend - and with 5 of those involving 1-AA/FCS opposition - I'm going to pass on compiling my game previews this week. We haven't seen any of these teams play yet so any predictions at this point are just hunches.

So instead of crunching the minutiae of stats and other data to see who should beat who and by how much, I'll just sit back and enjoy the first weekend. Oh look, just a few hours to go...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

ACC Championship Game & Bowl Picks

Clemson beats an overmatched North Carolina squad 34-14 before 58,000 in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Next.

Please review the ACC bowl pecking order (.pdf file) before poring over these picks.

Here's how I see things shaping out this bowl season...

1. Orange (ACC Champ vs. BCS): CLEMSON vs. West Virginia
2. Chick-Fil-A (ACC vs. SEC): FLORIDA STATE vs. Auburn
3. Gator (ACC vs. Big XII, Big East, or Notre Dame): NORTH CAROLINA vs. South Florida
4. Champs Sports (ACC vs. Big Ten): VIRGINIA TECH vs. Illinois
5. Music City (ACC vs. SEC): WAKE FOREST vs. South Carolina
6. Meineke Car Care (ACC vs. Big East): BOSTON COLLEGE vs. Rutgers
7. Emerald (ACC vs. Pac 10): MIAMI vs. Oregon State
8. Humanitarian (ACC vs. WAC): MARYLAND vs. Boise State

*The ACC has a ninth tie-in with the Congressional Bowl in Washington DC, but my powers of foresight indicate that the league will not be able to fill it's spot

And thus endeth my preseason preview. Each team's capsule, the divisional outlooks, and this forecast can be found on the right sidebar under the cryptically titled "2008 ACC Preview". The best time of the year begins tomorrow. Can't freaking wait.

Coastal Division Forecast

As mentioned in my Atlantic Division Forecast, you may have noticed that in the team previews I compiled - at great personal expense and sacrifice - I projected some wins, some losses, and some toss-up games for each team. In order for me to make a reasonable prediction for the divisions as a whole, I went ahead and loosely picked the toss-ups so I could come up with a predicted overall record and conference record for each team.

I turn my attention now to the Coastal Division. OK then, I now want to divert my attention elsewhere. Let's face it, the Coastal is in rough shape in 2008. The Hokies, Hoos and Yellow Jackets should be down from where they were last year and they happen to be the squads that finished in the top three in the division in 2007. The Tar Heels, Hurricanes and Blue Devils should be better this year, but improving from a collective record of 10-26 doesn't exactly mean setting the world ablaze. Let's just get to it....


1. North Carolina (9-3 overall, 6-2 ACC)
I'm not exactly comfortable with what I just wrote above, but someone has to win this division and on paper the Heels are a surprisingly clear choice. Click on their team preview, read it and then look at the schedule - I bet you can see a division title in the making as well. But it really comes down to the Sept. 20 meeting with the Hokies in Chapel Hill. I'm picking the Heels. But if I'm wrong, then scrap this pick because there's no other way for them to get to Tampa without beating Virginia Tech straight up.

2. Virginia Tech (8-4 overall, 6-2 ACC)
I like Frank Beamer and he's surprised us before, but another ACC title this year just ain't in the cards given what he has to work with. The Hokies could still win the division if they knock off the Tar Heels on the road, but they decided to put everything on Sean Glennon's shoulders this year and that means they're really looking at 2009 and beyond.

3. Miami (6-6 overall, 4-4 ACC)
Now do you see what I mean when I say the Coastal is in rough shape? A team with a non-winning record overall and in the conference is slated to finish third in the division. You're welcome to whatever league(s) get(s) the bowl slots that the ACC won't be able to fill.

4. Georgia Tech (5-7 overall, 2-6 ACC)
Paul Johnson finished 2-10 in his first year at Navy. He went 43-19 the rest of the way at Annapolis. This season will end the Jackets' long bowl appearance and winnning season streaks, but it will also be a building block to get them out of the 7-5 purgatory they've been in for so long.

5. Virginia (4-8 overall, 2-6 ACC)
I'm a little uneasy at placing the Cavaliers this low, but it doesn't really matter since the difference between them and Miami is the fact that I picked the Canes to get revenge for last year's Orange Bowl massacre. If I'm wrong, they both finish 5-7, 3-5 so that still means no bowl for the Hoos.

6. Duke (4-8 overall, 1-7 ACC)
A 400% increase in overall wins would warrant street parties at about 115 other 1-A programs, but at Duke it just means they win four times this year. That's still progress and look for Cutcliffe and Co. to be a landmine game for many programs from here on out.

ACC Championship Game and Bowl Picks should be posted shortly. I need a drink after reviewing what I just I really picking 66% of this division to finish at .500 or below? I suppose I am.

Atlantic Division Forecast

You've read the team previews (at least I hope you have because I sure as hell ain't repeating them here). You may have noticed that in those previews I projected some wins, some losses, and some toss-up games. In order for me to make a reasonable prediction for the divisions as a whole, I went ahead and loosely picked the toss-ups so I could come up with a projected overall record and conference record for each team.

First up to bat is the brutal Atlantic Division. And by brutal I mean that the two best teams in the league reside here and going further out than that, five of the top seven teams in the ACC are here. So yeah, brutal.


1. Clemson (10-2 overall, 6-2 ACC)
I know, zero points for originality. But this is the most talented ACC roster since Florida State 2000. Unfortunately, Tommy Bowden as head coach will mean two regular season losses when about three dozen other coaches would run the table with this team. Nonetheless, Tiger faithful should starting searching for vacation packages to Tampa in early December.

2. Wake Forest (9-3 overall, 5-3 ACC)
The Thursday-nighter with Clemson will decide the division, and I've pegged the Tigers to take it. Wake will lose twice more in conference because they typically play to the level of their competition - that's their style, but it'll bite 'em.

3. Florida State (8-4 overall, 5-3 ACC)
It's a long slog back to the top, but the Noles are on their way. 3-5 in the ACC in '06, 4-4 in '07, 5-3 this year. They're on the right track, but they will have a gigantic whiskey-tango-foxtrot loss sometime this season as well.

4. Boston College (8-4 overall, 4-4 ACC)
This is where BC would've finished last year without the two Matt Ryan magic moments at Virginia Tech and Clemson. Matt Ryan is gone. So here they sit.

5. Maryland (7-5 overall, 4-4 ACC)
I had Maryland teetering on a 2nd place finish in the division until four words were uttered by Terp coaches last week: Jordan Steffy, starting quarterback. I understand that behind-the-scenes issues have a lot to do with these kinds of decisions, but that doesn't change the fact that on Saturday afternoons, Chris Turner is a better QB than Steffy. Much better. As in two games in overall record better.

6. N.C. State (4-8 overall, 2-6 ACC)
The decision to name Russell Wilson as starting quarterback makes the Wolfpack worse at the beginning of the year but probably better as the season goes along. Daniel Evans would have gotten the Pack this same record, but in a different way and State would then be less stable heading into 2009. But let's not sugarcoat it - the Pack will look pretty damn awful for the first few games, so I'd advise you not to watch.

The Coastal Division forecast will be up shortly. In the meantime, grab a beer and fire away at these picks.

Clemson Preview

2008 Schedule
Aug. 30Alabama (in Atlanta, GA)
Sept. 13N.C. STATE
Sept. 27
Oct. 9@Wake Forest
Nov. 1
@Boston College
Nov. 8@Florida State
Nov. 15DUKE
Nov. 22@Virginia

2007 Results: 9-4 overall, 5-3 ACC (T-2nd Atlantic Division); lost to Auburn 23-20 (OT) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl

Offense: Despite fielding many a talented offense over the last several years, this is the first time the Tigers return so much proven experience at the skill positions at the same time, as quarterback Cullen Harper, RBs James Davis and CJ Spiller, and wideouts Aaron Kelly and Jacoby Ford can each make a case at being the best player(s) at their respective position in the league. Think about that for a second; now consider that not even once during Florida State's domination of the ACC in the 1990s could they have said that. Now you see why folks are so high on the Tigers this year despite their complete failure to make any real dent on the national or conference scale in any of Tommy Bowden's nine seasons at the helm. The one possible crack in the offensive foundation in 2008 is the offensive line, as four starters must be replaced. The positive spin is that last year's OL was a major disappointment, as they allowed 35 sacks and didn't open enough holes and lanes for Davis and Spiller to work their magic, so new blood may be just what is needed. The troubling aspect to the prolific Clemson attacks these last few years has been the propensity to completely buckle against a good pass rush, as four opponents last season held the Tigers to less than 2 yards per carry, and one of them was Furman. That's poor OL technique and development, and shoddy gameplan adjustment. In fact, for all the gushing about the Tigers' talent on this side of the ball, they finished just 50th nationally in total, 46th nationally in passing, and 52nd nationally in rushing offense in 2007. Rob Spence, you got some 'splainin to do.

Defense: Lost in all the commotion surrounding Harper, Spiller, Davis and crew is the Clemson defense - the one that finished ninth nationally in total defense and was the far more reliable and consistent aspect of the Clemson Tigers in 2007. And the good news for the Clemson faithful is that eight starters are back this season, led by the best defensive line and easily the best secondary in the conference. The linebackers are solid if unspectacular. But that line - freakin' wow. On top of returning starters Ricky Sapp, Dorrell Scott and Rashaad Jackson, the Tigers add true freshman Da'Quan Bowers - their top recruit in the winter - at DE and JUCO All-American transfer Jarrett Crittenton as Sapp's backup. The secondary is anchored by safeties Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons (191 tackles combined in '07) while the weak link (relatively speaking) is corner Crezdon Butler and he'll probably get an Honorable Mention on the all-ACC team in '08. Not too shabby.

Special Teams: A catastrophe is probably the way to describe this unit's performance in the 2007. Special teams weren't exactly stellar in the three-point losses to Boston College and Auburn, but they directly caused the Tigers' two other losses last year (Virginia Tech had two returns for TDs and had another called back, while four missed field goals, a punt blocked deep in their territory and a fumbled kickoff resulted in a 13-3 loss to Georgia Tech). So it's with dampened enthusiasm that I say that kicker Mark Buchholz and punter Jimmy Maners return. But it is with unbridled fervor that I say that returners CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford are back, although they could buck up a bit on the punt return average (just 8.8yds per return last year).

Coaching: Tommy Bowden is quite the enigma. He can go 12-0 at Tulane, but can't get the Tigers to finish better than third in the ACC in any of his nine seasons at Clemson, nor can he seem to break the 10-win mark. You'd think just once - even by accident - a 10-win campaign would have been achieved sometime since 1999, but you'd be mistaken. Since Bowden took the reins, the following ACC progams have won 10 or more games in a season: Maryland (three times), FSU (three times), NC State (once), Wake (once), BC (twice in the last three years), and Virginia Tech (every year since joining the league). For all the grief Mack Brown used to get about never winning a league title (pre-2005), he at least delivered a number of 10-win seasons and Top 10 finishes, something Bowden hasn't come close to doing (his best finish in terms of record and ranking was the 9-3, #16 campaign in 2000). He's managed to finish out of the rankings more often than not (5 of his 9 years) and has finished either 5-3 or 4-4 in the ACC in 8 of his 9 seasons. My friends, there is a word for that type of performance and that word is mediocre. In it's purest form. And that's a back-handed compliment as well, because not once in Bowden's nine seasons has Clemson finished with a losing record, something every other pre-expansion ACC program not named Florida State or Georgia Tech has done at least twice since 1999. But that's lowering the bar in terms of expectations and achievement pretty significantly for a place like Clemson, which is all the more reason why I'm mystified at Bowden's fat raise and 5-year contract extension this past December. Maybe the fact that Bowden has cleaned up on the recruiting trail lately and stabilized his coaching staff (both OC Rob Spence and DC Vic Koenning are entering their fourth seasons in Tigertown) has convinced the Tiger admins and fatcats that the nine-year odyssey of mediocrity has come to an end and things have finally been figured out. Because if Bowden got that raise based on what they saw on the field and in the standings these past nine seasons, or based solely on the fear that he might be poached by another program, there's little hope that Clemson will ever get back to being the national power and ACC overlord they were so many years ago.

Odds & Ends: Clemson and Bowden are 0-3 against Atlantic Division rival Boston College since expansion, but two of the losses came in overtime and the other came in the final two minutes of regulation.....the Tigers are 32-1 under Bowden when they rush for 200+ yards.....for all the tradition and rabid expectations surrounding the program, Clemson hasn't finished in the Top 10 since 1990 and that was also the last time they broke the 10-win barrier

Schedule Analysis: I'm not a fan of the opener in Atlanta with Alabama (the Tigers are just 1-5 against non-Gamecock SEC teams under Bowden) as things will get incredibly sour incredibly early for Clemson and the ACC with a loss, whereas a win won't garner the equivalent amount of hype (unless we're talking 35-0 or so). The Tigers then get a relatively easy September, and then a bye week in early October before the Thursday night showdown at Wake. They get another off week before back-to-back trips to BC and FSU. A jaunt to Virginia (upset alert) comes just before the finale with arch-rival South Carolina. That BC-FSU stretch is the biggest pothole on the slate, but the rest of the schedule is very manageable and is set up for an division title and perhaps even a national championship run if Spiller/Davis/Harper morph together to become Tommy Bowden's Vince Young.
Projected Wins: The Citadel, N.C. State, South Carolina State, Maryland, Georgia Tech, @Boston College, Duke, South Carolina
Projected Losses: none
Toss-Ups: vs. Alabama, @Wake Forest, @Florida State, @Virginia
Primo Tiger Blogs: Sporting Gnomes, Danny Ford is God

Heartwarming You-Tubery:

Would you believe Clemson lost nine games in the last two years with these guys? I wouldn't either except, well...they did.

Preview Disclaimer

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Virginia Tech Preview

2008 Schedule
Aug. 30East Carolina (in Charlotte, NC)
Sept. 20@North Carolina
Sept. 27
Oct. 18@Boston College
Oct. 25
@Florida State
Nov. 13@Miami
Nov. 22DUKE

2007 Results: 11-3 overall, 7-1 ACC (ACC Champions); lost to Kansas 24-21 in the Orange Bowl

Offense: Sometimes it pays to procrastinate. In doing so, this Hokie preview of mine just became very timely and hopefully a lot more accurate. Tech coaches announced today that backup QB Tyrod Taylor will be redshirted this fall, leaving the offense in the experienced but uninspired hands of senior Sean Glennon. Lord knows why the Hokies made this move. Securing Taylor for three years as starting QB starting in '09 seems like a reasonable idea, but that means Glennon will basically have free-reign and a very long leash this season. Now if Glennon goes down to injury early, they'll likely scrap Taylor's redshirt and play him, but in terms of general performance, the Hokies have loaded up on the Glennon train for the long haul. And that concerns me because Branden Ore - last year's leading rusher - was booted from the team in the spring, and 2007's top four receivers have departed as well. As of this posting, junior Kenny Lewis (57 carries in 2007) will be the starting tailback, and two freshmen are the first-team receivers. There is some relief when it comes to the OL; they're experienced (they lose just one starter, and all of the second-teamers return), but they were pretty sketchy last year (54 sacks allowed). TE Greg Boone is heck of a talent and may lead the team in receptions early on. Last year's offense had it's moments, but struggled far too much given the talent they had. With last season's top five skill players gone - and with Glennon returning - I see little reason to expect improvement in 2008.

: And the hits just keep on coming. The losses: LBs Xavier Abidi and Vince Hall, three of the starting linemen (chief among them DE Chris Ellis), and two starters in the secondary. The good news is that most of their replacements have some decent game experience, but depth will be a major issue all year as most of this year's second-teamers have scant if any experience . As for the starters that do return, they're among the best in the league, including Macho Harris (5 picks, 11 pass breaks-ups last year) at corner and Kam Chancellor at safety. It's been a long time since the Hokies were hit this hard by the graduation bug, but Bud Foster has a pretty damn good track record in developing carnivorous defenses with whatever talent he has at his disposal. Tech won't finish #5 overall in total defense as they did last year, but top-half in the ACC is a safe bet and since that usually equates to Top 30 or so in the country, this is not the portion of the team that should concern Hokie fans.

Special Teams: Look for more punt blocks and a few return TDs this season, as the Hokies are a broken record in this category. As far as personnel goes, the returners and placekicker will be new this season, but punter Brent Bowden and 42.5 yards per boot are back. What Frank Beamer has done with this unit over the last 20 years speaks for itself and there's no point in really trying to analyze how Tech will do this year. They'll be good, opposing punters will soil themselves, water is wet and the sky is blue.

Coaching: One day in the very near future, Frank Beamer will be the grand old man of active college football coaches. He's currently the third-winningest active coach behind Death Race participants Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno, and his 209 wins are 46 more than fourth-place Steve Spurrier, so Beamer will hold the "winningest active coach" title for the remainder of his career once Bowden and Paterno are nudged out by their schools or by the Almighty. At 61 years old, it appears to be a longshot for Beamer to reach 300 victories, as he'd need nine straight ten win seasons to hit that mark by age 70. Regardless, Beamer - faults and all - has left a huge mark on the college football landscape already and he still has time to deliver that elusive national title to Blacksburg. A big reason for Beamer's success has been his stalwart defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who is quite simply the best assistance coach in college football today. I have no idea why Foster hasn't been snatched up as the head man elsewhere, but each year he spends in Blacksburg means it's another season the Hokies stay in the national discussion. The same cannot be said for offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring; after six years as the OC, the best finish the Hokies have managed nationally in total offense is 38th in 2003. The last two seasons saw finishes of 99 and 100. Tech is at a level where those results warrant a pink slip. Can you imagine where the Hokies would be today - and what type of hardware they might own - had they simply halved their total offense placements the last six years?

Odds & Ends: For all my gushing about Beamer, he has a few albatrosses hanging 'round his neck and a big one is his 5-24 record against Top 10 competition since 1987.....Beamerballed: the Hokies led Clemson 31-8 at the half last year despite gaining just 88 yards of total offense, thanks to two special teams touchdowns (along with a defensive score).....last year's 40-21 victory over Florida State was the Hokies' first win over the Seminoles in their last 15 meetings, dating back to 1975

Schedule Analysis: The Hokies draw the short end of the stick on the road, but get lucky in terms of the ACC scheduling rotation. Clemson and Wake Forest (along with NC State) are absent from the schedule, but none of the five road games are easy, highlighted by their first trip to Florida State since 1989 along with a non-conference matchup at Nebraska. And that pesky little stop in Chapel Hill in week four will probably settle the Coastal Division title early on. The two bye weeks are helpfully placed, before the trip to BC and before the Thursday-nighter with Maryland. This is a terrible slate for the Lane Stadium faithful, as they get just three home games before November and those are Furman, Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky. And lest I forget, that opener in Charlotte with East Carolina is becoming everybody's favorite week one upset pick.
Projected Wins: Furman, Georgia Tech, Western Kentucky, Maryland, @Miami, Duke, Virginia
Projected Losses: @Nebraska, @Florida State
Toss-Ups: @East Carolina, @North Carolina, @Boston College

Primo Hokie Blogs: Gobbler Country, Tech Superfans, Wild Turkey College Football Report

Heartwarming You-Tubery:

3rd & 31

Preview Disclaimer

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Virginia Preview

2008 Schedule
Aug. 30
Sept. 13@Connecticut
Sept. 27
Oct. 18
Oct. 25
@Georgia Tech
Nov. 8@Wake Forest
Nov. 29@Virginia Tech

2007 Results: 9-4 overall, 6-2 ACC (2nd Coastal Division); lost to Texas Tech 31-28 in nauseating fashion in the Gator Bowl

Offense: What was a major bone of contention among Cavalier faithful in 2007 may now turn out to have been a blessing in disguise. The burning of heralded freshman QB Pete Lalich's redshirt in the middle of last year's drubbing in Wyoming set Hoo message boards ablaze in angst and disgust. And that anger didn't subside very much as the season played out, since Jameel Sewell remained as the starting quarterback while Lalich played sparingly. Flash forward to the summer of 2008 - Sewell is out for the season as an academic casualty and Lalich inherits the throne (although he hasn't officially been given the job), and his seemingly wasted '07 season now looks like valuable experience. Perhaps that QB job is still technically up for grabs because the offensive line is one of the least experienced in the country (4 starters are gone from '07), and some shiftier feet than Lalich's may be necessary in the early going. Thankfully for the Cavs, the rushing attack is in good hands as both Cedric Peerman and the clutch Mikell Simpson provide an excellent one-two punch to opposing defenses. The receiving corps is somewhat of a mystery - the top 3 players in actual receptions last year were two tight ends (both have since departed) and Simpson. 2006's top wideout, Kevin Ogletree, returns after missing last season to a blown ACL. Maurice Covington has excellent size but was injury-plagued last year.

Defense: That giant sucking sound you hear is the vacuum left in Charlottesville from the departure of last year's starting line, which was one of the best in the nation and probably the best in school history. The most gigantic loss is of course DE Chris Long (14 sacks in '07), picked #2 overall in this spring's NFL draft. The new first-team DL has exactly 1 previous start combined. The polar opposite case exists with the linebackers, as three three-year starters are back, led by OLB Clint Sintim (77 tackles, 9 sacks last year). The secondary is a mix of old and new - safety Byron Glaspy and corner Vic Hall are seasoned vets, but the rest of this unit is green. Look for the Cavaliers to focus heavily on stopping the run early in the season, as the DL will be getting it's feet wet. That puts a lot of pressure on the secondary to maintain coverage and it could be a field day in September for pass-happy Cavalier opponents. Like, say, USC.

Special Teams: Punt returner Vic Hall is back, although he was a bit mediocre in that spot last year. And that's about it for known quantities on special teams. The kick returner(s), the punter and the placekicker are all going to be making their debuts in 2008. The biggest loss from last year is Chris Gould, who surprisingly was money in field goal attempts of 40+ yards (5 for 5) but struggled a bit from the shorter distances (11 for 15). As of this posting, none of the replacements appear to be set so by default this looks to be the worst special teams unit in the ACC heading into the season.

: Allow me to depart from my usual overall coaching report to go off on a diatribe. When you have no division or league championships (let alone the national titles promised upon his hire), when your seven-year record is worse than the program's seven-year mark prior to your arrival, the arrogant, brusque and generally secretive demeanor exhibited by coach Al Groh point to a guy who made the wrong career decision seven years ago. It's not as if he's reinvented the game and is protecting his secret formula for winning national titles. While none of the qualities mentioned above are admirable, they'd at least be understandable if championship banners were fluttering in the breeze around Scott Stadium. Groh did, and would again, make a solid NFL coach. He's good at developing talent for the professional ranks. He sure as hell manages games like an NFL contest. And that's the problem - the NFL is about playing close to the vest and not taking many chances. It's about surviving the grind from week to week, but not necessarily winning every week. 9-7 in the NFL can still win your division and get you a shot at the Super Bowl. And the NFL is where Groh should've remained. College football is about taking chances, having fun, playing loose, and playing to win instead of playing not to lose. Does Al Groh do that? Not in my eyes. Al Groh will get you anywhere from 4-8 to 9-4 in a given year. He's good enough in that the bottom will never fall out. But his style makes UVA incapable of bringing home championships (division, league, national) and he's always going to be in some type of rebuilding mode. I know a lot of Wahoo faithful disagree, but I'm also aware that plenty are ready for a new direction. Virginia football can be so much more. It's about change! It's about hope! Thank you ladies and gentlemen, God bless America and God bless ACC football.

Odds & Ends: That seven year record of which I speak under Al Groh: 51-37; Virginia's seven year mark pre-Groh: 54-30.....Groh's NFL approach has produced one extremely impressive stat: the Cavaliers have finished on the plus side in turnover margin in every one of his seven seasons (+37 total over those seven years).....unless you've been living in a coal mine for the last year, you probably know that the Hoos' five wins by two points or less in 2007 is an NCAA record

Schedule Analysis: It's got the bookends from hell (opening with USC, closing with Clemson and Virginia Tech), but the meat of the schedule doesn't instill a ton of fear. I must confess that UVA is the team I have the least handle on this season. I have a decent-to-solid idea on how everyone else in the league is likely to finish, but I can see 8-4 out of the Hoos just as easily as 4-8. That makes it difficult to classify an opponent like East Carolina; are they a breather or a make-or-break game in terms of bowl contention? Nonetheless, after the certain loss to the Trojans in the opener, the next eight games can all be won without raising many eyebrows (just as they could all be lost, aside from the Richmond meeting I would hope). The problem is the final three matchups - the aforementioned clashes with the Tigers and Hokies, along with a trip to Wake Forest just prior. The Cavaliers almost certainly need to enter that final stretch at 6-3 for any real shot at a bowl bid, and I'm having a tough time seeing how they pull that off. But that's why the play the games. Of note, Boston College, Florida State and N.C. State are off the slate in this year's scheduling rotation.
Projected Wins: Richmond, @Duke, East Carolina
Projected Losses: USC, Maryland, @Wake Forest, @Virginia Tech
Toss-Ups: @Connecticut, North Carolina, @Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson

Primo Cavalier Blogs: The Good Ol' Blog, From Old Virginia

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Florida State Preview

2008 Schedule
Sept. 6
Sept. 27Colorado (in Jacksonville)
Oct. 4@Miami
Oct. 16@N.C. State
Nov. 1@Georgia Tech
Nov. 22@Maryland

2007 Results: 7-6 overall, 4-4 ACC (4th Atlantic Division); lost to Kentucky 35-28 in the Music City Bowl

Offense: Just as it has over the last three seasons, it begins and ends with the offensive line. Drew Weatherford may really be just a mediocre quarterback, but when he has less than a few seconds every snap to make reads and deliver the ball before he gets clotheslined, it's tough to accurately gauge what he might do with simply adequate protection. Ditto for the running backs, chiefly Antone Smith. When he gets so few holes to hit, and when he consistently has to break tackles in the backfield, it's difficult to tell how he'd perform with a simply average line. And so it goes with the receivers....very few times lately have you see a Seminole wideout take a beautiful toss in stride down the sideline or on a pretty post pattern; there's never been enough time for the QB to deliver those kinds of passes. Last year's line was the worst of the Bobby Bowden era, with poorly developed players learning a new scheme, mixed with inexperienced young talent. And it certainly didn't help that injuries depleted the OL depth chart to just seven roster players at one point last season. The 2008 line is still a work in progress, but the best players from last year's unit are back and have bought into OL coach Rick Trickett's proven style. Regardless of the line, one player is sure to sparkle this season and that is Preston Parker, a poor-man's Percy Harvin. Whether at wideout, running back (304 yards last season in place of the injured Smith) or punt returner, he can score every time. And lest I forget...Weatherford by no means has secured the QB position. Sophomores Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson both stepped up in the spring while Weatherford was recuperating from knee problems. Ponder has a better arm and Richardson has excellent scrambling ability. It's now a question of whether Weatherford's experience is too much of an asset (33 starts and a number of big wins) or a liability (just 20-13 as a starter, and he's conditioned to the awful protection and will scramble early or hurry throws unnecessarily). OC Jimbo Fisher's first big personnel decision since the succession plan announcement (see "Coaching" below) will be scrutinized aplenty.

: By FSU standards, last year's defense was an abomination, ranking 42nd nationally in total and a stunning 85th in pass defense (against the generally lame ACC offenses to boot). Part of the reason for that was a dip in overall talent, but much of it had to do with the lack of depth the Noles have so often used to their advantage over the years. The good news is that some of the weak links have departed, but more importantly a horde of talent returns from the injury bug which should resolve some of the depth concerns. The line should be back to usual Seminole standards as DE Everette Brown is killing people in practice and earning comparisons to some of the best ever linemen in Tallahassee. The LB corps loses mouthy Geno Hayes but returns a deep pool of talent and brought in the nation's best linebacker recruit in Nigel Bradham. The secondary looks to have returned to the usual standards as corners Patrick Robinson (6 picks in just 5 starts last year) and Tony Carter return, along with junior rover Myron Rolle, who after a stellar freshman year in 2006 was unfocused last season due to - and this may be the only time you'll ever read this in a major football preview - an overemphasis on academics (he's already earned his degree and is a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship). His talent is undeniable, he's stepped up his offseason conditioning and has shined in practice.

Special Teams
: What looked solid and stable just two days ago now appears very murky. Punter Graham Gano (43.4 yds per boot in '07) was injured the other day in practice and will miss the first month of the season. And to add salt to the wound, he was also slated for kickoffs and as Gary Cismesia's replacement at placekicker. I have no idea who takes over now. The return game is set with Parker back for another year on punts and Micheal Ray Garvin handling kickoffs for the third straight season.

Coaching: Last December's announcement of the "Head Coach in Waiting" plan has at least given Seminole faithful a timetable as to when the purgatory of the final Bobby Bowden years will end (2010 at the latest). Whether offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher is the right man for the job remains to be seen, although several schools over the last few years sure seemed willing to give him a shot (most recently West Virginia last December). Fisher's offense was less than impressive last season, but with what he inherited from the failed Jeff Bowden experiment, it wasn't much of a surprise. From a recruiting standpoint, the coaching plan has sparked a renaissance of sorts; the Noles had a great class this winter and have stockpiled a lot of talent so far in the early-commit stage this summer. On paper, the succession plan looks like a winner; in practice, who the hell knows?

Odds & Ends: Guess who led the nation in "pass-interception avoidance" (yes, that's a real stat) in 2007? That would be Weatherford, with just three picks in 318 attempts.....Over the last five seasons the Seminoles have been underdogs just twelve times, but four of those came in the final five contests last year.....Bowden has gone 38-36-1 against Top 10 opposition in his 32 years at FSU; Joe Paterno's record against Top 10 opposition in his career is 31-40

Schedule Analysis: About as generous as the Noles could hope for. FSU smartly set up the first two games with 1-AA opponents in order to minimize the damage from the dozen-plus three-game suspensions levied by the school over last year's academic fraud case. The problem is that the ACC designated the third opponent as Wake Forest and the Deacons have been able to defeat full-strength FSU squads two years running. The season could easily hinge on that game, as an FSU upset could lead to a possible 6-0 start (and perhaps 8-0 if Virginia Tech has the off year I think they'll have). On a more general note, the two bye-weeks don't offer much help (the first is opening weekend, the second before a Thursday-nighter with N.C. State), but the four road games are spread out nicely and all four are winnable. November is the toughest part of the slate, with Clemson, BC and Florida coming to Tallahassee while a trip to Maryland (the Noles have lost two straight in College Park) looms before the showdown with the Gators. Duke, North Carolina and Virginia are off the schedule in this year's rotation.
Projected Wins: Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Colorado, @N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Boston College
Projected Losses: Wake Forest, Florida
Toss-Ups: @Miami, @Georgia Tech, Clemson, @Maryland

Primo Seminole Blogs: Chant Rant, Scalp 'Em, Tomahawk Nation

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

North Carolina Preview

2008 Schedule
Sept. 11@Rutgers
Sept. 27@Miami
Oct. 18@Virginia
Nov. 15@Maryland
Nov. 22N.C. STATE
Nov. 29@Duke

2007 Results: 4-8 overall, 3-5 ACC (4th Coastal Division)

Offense: It's not a stretch to say that this unit may develop into the most potent attack in the ACC after Clemson, which probably says more about the general mediocrity of offensive football in the league than it does about Carolina. Nonetheless, the skill positions are set heading into the season, with sophomore quarterback T.J. Yates returning from a solid freshman campaign in which he was thrown to the wolves with scant assistance from the running game. He was impressive early in the year but his performance slipped as the season wore on, when defenses started dropping back more and his shoulder started disintegrating (he had successful offseason surgery but missed spring ball). Much needed help in the run game was found last year, albeit late (week 11) and his name is Greg Little, who moved over from receiver and rushed for 247 yards in the last two games of the 2007 season. And Little was able to permanently move over to running back because the Heels are stocked with talent at receiver, led by junior Hakeem Nicks (958 yards, 5 TDs last year). The entire receiving corps from last season is back, aside from converted QB Joe Dailey (and his whopping two catches in '07). The offensive line looks to be better in 2008, as all but one from last year's two-deep returns and they now have a year of experience with the Butch Davis/John Shoop system.

: A mixed bag, starting with the new defensive coordinator (see "Coaching" below). The Heels lose some good individual players from last year's defensive unit, but as a whole the further away they get from all remnants of John Bunting's awful defenses, the better. The defensive line should be the best UNC has seen since the Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims days earlier this decade. Five players with starting experience are back, led by behemoth tackle Marvin Austin. Four of UNC's top five recruits this winter were D-linemen, so expect a few of them to see playing time as well. The linebacking unit still has a ways to go, and the loss of Durrell Mapp and his team leading 132 tackles from last year does not help (the second leading tackler on UNC's defense last year had 59) . The LB starting rotation last year was a turnstile and probably will be again early this year, and depth is still a concern. The secondary is in much better shape, as both corners and both safeties from last year's 27th-ranked pass defense return. Sophomore safety Deunta Williams is a star in the making as he led the team in picks in 2007 and was the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Special Teams: The graduation of Connor Barth (19 for 22 on FGs last year) is a huge loss and his replacement has yet to be named as of this posting. The good news is that return specialist Brandon Tate is back (9.4yds and 24.1yds on punt and KO returns respectively in '07) along with punter Terrence Brown and his 41.4 yards per boot from last season.

: For the better part of the last 20 years, North Carolina has been labeled a sleeping giant in college football circles and except for the glorious run in 1996-1997 (21-3 record, two Top 10 finishes), the Heels have almost purposely refused to awaken. How in the world did John Bunting get as long as he did? Ditto Carl Torbush? Hell, how did those two even get hired? But that's in the past, and the Heels now have a bonafide builder and winner in Butch Davis. If he decides to settle in Chapel Hill (and that's no guarantee), that proverbial giant is likely to jump the hell out of bed and roust about for a long, long time. That certainly has a lot to do with Davis' ability as a college coach and administrator, but in the short-term it also has plenty to do with the current jumbled mess that is the Coastal Division. That said, the first potential kink in Davis' construction project appears to be his whiskey-tango-foxtrot hire of Everett Withers as defensive coordinator, replacing last year's DC Chuck Pagano who bolted for the Baltimore Ravens this offseason. That's the Everett Withers who was Minnesota's DC last year. The Minnesota that ranked 119th in total defense. Yes, there's more to the Withers/Minnesota story than simple stats (the Tim Brewster hire was a debacle, and Withers had a nice six year run as DB coach with the Tennessee Titans prior), but jeez-a-loo this is a massive leap of faith on Davis' part.

Odds & Ends: Six of UNC's eight losses last year were by 7 points or less; the other two defeats were twin 37-10 drubbings by Wake Forest and USF.....the Heels' victory over James Madison in last season's opener was just their third opening day win since 1997.....Carolina hasn't finished on the positive side in turnover margin since the 1999 season

Schedule Analysis: It ain't a cakewalk, but it's not exactly grueling either. Every game on the schedule is winnable. The most glaring aspect of the slate is the fortuitous absence of Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State from the Atlantic Division rotation. The Tar Heels substitute last year's 0-3 mark against non-conference foes East Carolina, USF and South Carolina with UConn, Rutgers and Notre Dame this fall; 2-1 should be the worst Carolina goes against that trio. The home and away games are nicely spaced out, with no back-to-back road trips. In short, this is a schedule that can get the Heels to the ACC Championship Game if Davis and crew have this team ready from week one.
Projected Wins: McNeese State, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Boston College, Georgia Tech, @Duke
Projected Losses: @Rutgers, @Maryland
Toss-Ups: Virginia Tech, @Miami, @Virginia, N.C. State

Tar Heel Blogs
: Carolina March, Tar Heel Fan, Heels Blog

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

N.C. State Preview

2008 Schedule
Aug. 28@South Carolina
Sept. 13@Clemson
Sept. 27USF
Oct. 25@Maryland
Nov. 8@Duke
Nov. 22@North Carolina
Nov. 29MIAMI

2007 Results: 5-7 overall, 3-5 ACC (T-5th Atlantic Division)

Offense: Ugh. That was the collective grunt uttered by Pack fans after the punch-in-the-gut news that stud wideout Donald Bowens was recently lost for the season with a fractured back. That means that the four top receivers from last year's team will not be back for the '08 campaign, leaving this sector of the offense the thinnest and least experienced in the league (depending on how well TE Anthony Hill returns from missing '07 due to a blown ACL). The running game is a mystery as uber-talented backs Toney Baker and Andre Brown are still recovering from injuries sustained last season (sense a pattern here?), although junior Jamelle Eugene filled in admirably (667 yards, 5 TDs rushing in '07) and will probably be the starter in the opener. The huge offensive line is decent with several players having starting experience, although (aside from guard Curtis Crouch) there doesn't appear to be much all-ACC caliber talent in the bunch. And looks like another year with highly inconsistent senior Daniel Evans, who is capable of almost single-handedly winning games himself (see: BC and FSU '06, UVA '07), but also has the habit of turning the ball over in voluminous quantities at the worst times. Freshmen Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon will likely see time under center as well, although expect O'Brien to try and save one of them for the long-term future while the other gets battered about this season.

Defense: Another ugh. Five of the top six tacklers are gone, and projected starting FS Clem Johnson was just lost for the year due to...yes, injury. As for the line, the dropoff from the 2005 level of Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo is staggering - but not unexpected. This year's DL has decent size and bits of starting experience here and there, but certainly no stars yet. The linebacking corps is a major question mark, as all three starters from last year's squad have gone to the private sector, and projected starting WLB Audie Cole is a converted QB. The secondary is the strong suit of this unit, even with the loss of Johnson to injury and the departure of stud safety DaJuan Morgan. All the starters have significant game experience and will anchor the defense for most of the year. Still, as a whole, the Wolfpack defense is very much a work in progress and is probably middle-of-the road at best in the ACC.

Special Teams: Ugh again. Punt and kickoff return specialist Darrell Blackman (56 combined returns last year) has departed, and now with the injury to Bowens (20 KO returns in '07), the return game is a complete mystery. The very underrated Steven Hauschka (perfect in PATs, 16 of 18 FGs in 2007) is also gone after just one season. The reliable if unspectacular Bradley Pierson is back for punting duties and he might very well be the offensive MVP early in the season.

: Tom O'Brien probably did not envision this big of a rebuilding job when he departed Boston for Raleigh 20 months ago, nor did he likely figure on the bad luck (injury epidemic) that's befallen the program since his arrival. It appears that things will likely get worse before they get better and it helps that O'Brien has some reliable old standbys with him, chief among them being OC Dana Bible. They may appear boring to you and me, but let's not forget that they were responsible for bringing in the talent you saw at Boston College last year (Matt Ryan, Andre Callender, Ryan Purvis to name a few). State will prove easier to sell to recruits than Chestnut Hill if O'Brien gets the ship righted and then talk of competing for ACC titles can commence. But for now, in 2008, it's about staying out of the league basement and finding the right players for 2009 and beyond.

Odds & Ends: Last year's 37-0 defeat to Maryland in the season finale was the Pack's first shutout loss since a 14-0 setback to Baylor in 1995.....State ranked 116th nationally last year in turnover margin (-17); it was the third time in the last four seasons that they ranked below 110 in that category.....the Wolfpack went 3-0 vs. Coastal Division opponents in 2007, but 0-5 against their Atlantic Division rivals

Schedule Analysis: Aside from the week two meeting with William & Mary, this slate is completely devoid of any breathers, with the two bye weeks being relatively unhelpful (a shortened one before a Thursday-nighter with FSU, and the second one pre-Duke). This is the wrong year to open up with a toughie on the road, and the wrong year to face the conference favorite in week three - also on the road. The only bright spot is a four-game homestand in late September-early October. This schedule, combined with the ongoing rehab job in Raleigh, spells another losing season. If O'Brien can somehow get this team to six wins, ACC Coach of the Year honors should (but probably won't) follow. Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Virginia Tech are off the rotation on this year's slate.
Projected Wins: William & Mary, Miami
Projected Losses: @South Carolina, @Clemson, USF, Florida State, @Maryland, @Wake Forest
Toss-Ups: East Carolina, Boston College, @Duke, @North Carolina

Wolfpack Blogs
: State Fans Nation, Section Six

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Duke Preview

2008 Schedule
Sept. 13NAVY
Oct. 4@Georgia Tech
Oct. 18MIAMI
Oct. 25@Vanderbilt
Nov. 1@Wake Forest
Nov. 8N.C. STATE
Nov. 15@Clemson
Nov. 22@Virginia Tech

2007 Results: 1-11 overall, 0-8 ACC (6th Coastal Division)

Offense: One thing is certain - the Devils will finish higher than their 2007 rank of 117th in total offense. The hiring of David Cutcliffe as head coach all but assures that, but the returns of QB Thaddeus Lewis, top rusher Re'quan Boyette, and top receiver Eron Riley make that a sure-fire lock. Cutcliffe has compared Lewis to his Tennessee pupil Tee Martin, but without a solid offensive line to block for him, Lewis might be closer to Steve Martin in terms of production and efficiency. Last year's line was sucktacular, allowing 45 sacks and just 2 yards per rush - and that was with a seasoned group. This year's OL is coming off an arduous conditioning program instituted by Cutcliffe in the spring and they should improve upon last year's numbers even by accident. As far as the running attack is concerned, Boyette averaged 4 yards per carry on his 104 rushes last season and the senior could be a darkhorse all-ACC candidate if the new Devil OL meshes quickly and if he doesn't lose playing time to any of Cutcliffe's RB recruits. The receiving corps is pretty green after Riley, but should be better as a whole given the assumed improvements on the OL and another year of seasoning (along with some better coaching this offseason) under Lewis' belt.

Defense: Good news - 10 starters are back. Bad news - those starters finished 92nd in total defense last year, against the anemic offenses of the ACC and the likes of Notre Dame. Sure, a lot the yardage and points were due to depth issues, but that's still a problem for 2008. Nonetheless, an extra year of experience for the starters and returning back-ups, combined with better offseason conditioning and coaching should yield much better results this season. The only loss among the full-time starters is safety Chris Davis (70 tackles, 1 pick last year). The front seven are as good as I've ever seen at Duke, led by LBs Vincent Rey and Michael Tauiliili, and DT Vince Oghobaase. With 15 of the top 17 tacklers from back, look for this unit to climb a few dozen spots in the national rankings this season.

Special Teams: This is one of those instances when returning much of last year's cogs may not be such a good thing. The Blue Devils attempted just 10 field goals last year, made only three of them, and that was with two kickers (Nick Maggio and Joe Surgan). Heralded (for Duke) recruit Paul Asack is likely to handle FG and extra point duties from game one. The Devils return punter Kevin Jones as well, along with his paltry 33.6yds per punt average; that's unacceptable given the enormous number of times he was called upon last season (75 if you're keeping score). The return game is just OK, but struggled as the '07 season wound down.

Coaching: David Cutcliffe (44-29 as head coach at Ole Miss from 1999-2004, along with being a heralded two-term OC at Tennessee) takes the reins in Durham and has reunited much of his Rebel staff. His co-offensive coordinators (Kurt Roper and Matt Luke) follow him from his second stint in Knoxville while his co-defensive coordinators (Mike MacIntyre and Marion Hobby) were position coaches in the NFL for the last few years. For a program like Duke, this is a home-run staff. I'm not wild about the "co-" OC and DC setups (too many chefs in the kitchen), but that will likely shake itself out over the season and beyond - if it works, someone will get hired away and if it doesn't work, someone will get demoted or canned. Recruiting will always be a challenge at Duke and while Cutcliffe is not exactly a walking recruit magnet, the last two Super Bowl MVPs have credited him with much of their development. That alone will get Duke coaches in the door with kids that wouldn't have picked up the phone for the Blue Devils in the past. The NFL seasoning among some of the coaching staff is also an obvious plus. If Cutcliffe and Co. can't get things turned around at Duke, then it likely won't ever happen for the Blue Devils in the current ACC & Division 1-A/FBS setup. And by "turned around", I merely mean about .500 overall over several seasons. Duke will never be a powerhouse - much less another Wake Forest - but being bowl-eligible every other year is not out of the question. And if Cutcliffe hangs around long enough, that should happen.

Odds & Ends: Duke has been a favorite just once in their last 66 games; they hold a 5-61 straight-up record in those contests.....the Blue Devils are just 1-17 against arch-rival North Carolina post-Steve Spurrier.....David Cutcliffe guided Ole Miss to five bowl games in his six seasons in Oxford; Duke has just two bowl appearances since the JFK administration

Schedule Analysis: A 3-1 record is a distinct possibility heading into October. The first four games are all at home and none of the opponents are likely to go bowling this season. In fact, the Devils don't face a sure-fire bowl team until November, and then schedule becomes a very dark place in which the season could go to hell (Wake, Clemson and Virginia Tech all on the road, with NC State and UNC at home - and no bye weeks). Still, that hypothetical 3-1 start could provide enough momentum to steal two or three more games down the line and then we could be talking bowl bid. But I'm not gutsy enough to call that, not this year, not with this program. But four wins is certainly do-able and anything less should be cause for major gloom among the Devil fanbase (both of them).
Projected Wins: James Madison, Navy
Projected Losses: Virginia, @Georgia Tech, Miami, @Wake Forest, @Clemson, @Virginia Tech, North Carolina
Toss-Ups: Northwestern, @Vanderbilt, N.C. State

Primo Blue Devil Blogs: DudeSpin (sort of)

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