Around the ACC: August 31, 2009

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The summer is over, and college football is here. The season kicks off in
prime time on Thursday night with a big ACC-SEC battle, and continues on
Saturday with an even bigger battle between the two leagues. ACC teams will also
be facing foes from the Pac-10 and Big 12 during the opening week of the season.

This is the year when the ACC is finally supposed to start getting better.
There should be better quarterback and offensive line play across the
conference. The opening week of the season:

Schedule, Week One
Date Game Time TV

Sept. 3

South Carolina at NC State

Sept. 5

Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech

Sept. 5

Northeastern at Boston College

Sept. 5

Baylor at Wake Forest

Sept. 5

Middle Tennessee at Clemson

Sept. 5

The Citadel at UNC

Sept. 5

William & Mary at Virginia

Sept. 5

Richmond at Duke

Sept. 5

Virginia Tech vs. Alabama

Sept. 5

Maryland at Cal

Sept. 7

Miami at Florida State

While five ACC teams are facing off against 1-AA opponents, there are some big
games, including the first conference game of the season on Monday night.

Boston College vs. Northeastern

Boston College kicks off the Frank Spaziani era by hosting Northeastern on
Saturday afternoon. BC isn’t expected to have a great season, but they should
have no trouble getting by Northeastern.

The biggest question for the Eagles is quarterback. BC lost Matt Ryan
following the 2007 season, and then Chris Crane departed after the 2008 season.
Sophomore Dominique Davis was set to take over the reins full-time, but he
transferred in the offseason.

Right now, r-freshman Justin Tuggle looks like he will start the opener
against Northeastern. However, Spaziani has indicated that he could play as many
as three different quarterbacks in the opening game. It appears the quarterback
competition is far from over.

Pick: Boston College


Clemson vs. Middle Tennessee

The Clemson Tigers begin their season on Saturday evening against Middle
Tennessee, who is no pushover. They knocked off Maryland 24-14 last season, and
lost to Virginia by just two points in 2007. They are used to playing ACC teams
close, and Middle Tennessee also returns 16 starters this year.

Clemson will be breaking in a new quarterback, r-freshman Kyle Parker. It has
been 64 years since a freshman quarterback started a season opener for Clemson.
The Tigers are breaking in two new starters at wide receiver, so Parker will
have to rely on C.J. Spiller and hope his offensive line has improved.

This game could be closer than the experts think. Clemson plays Georgia Tech
on a Thursday night, just five days after playing Middle Tennessee. Clemson
could be looking ahead.

Pick: Clemson


Duke vs. Richmond

Duke is hoping to make a bowl game in 2009, but they’ll start out the season
with a challenging 1-AA opponent: the defending National Champions, the Richmond
Spiders. Richmond returns most of their starters this year, and they’ll be
looking to knock off an ACC team in their first game of the season.

Duke faced 1-AA power James Madison in their season opener last year, and
they walked away with a 31-7 victory. The Blue Devils have the reliable Thad
Lewis at quarterback. However, their secondary is a question mark, and their
offensive line is breaking in a lot of new starters.

Pick: Duke


Florida State vs. Miami

This is the first big conference clash of the season, and it will be on
Monday, Sept. 7 at 8pm on ESPN. Both Miami and Florida State expect to contend
for the ACC Championship this year, but one of them will fall a game behind
following the first game of the season.

Miami will start true sophomore Jacory Harris at quarterback, and he’ll have
a talented young group of wide receivers around him. Florida State will start
r-junior Christian Ponder, and he also has a group of young, talented wideouts.

This game is hard-hitting every year, and it hasn’t been well-played
recently. Florida State dominated the young ‘Canes last year, and then tried to
give the game back thanks to turnovers. In 2007 it was a very bad Miami team
that rallied in the second half to win, thanks to turnovers.

Whoever loses this game will be in a hole early, and whoever wins it will get
a nice confidence boost to start the season.

Pick: Miami


Georgia Tech vs. Jacksonville State

Georgia Tech shouldn’t have much trouble in this one. The only thing they
need to do is keep quarterback Josh Nesbitt healthy. Backup Jaybo Shaw will miss
at least half the season thanks to a broken collarbone. The Yellow Jackets can’t
afford to lose Nesbitt early in the season, when they are facing Clemson, Miami
and UNC in three consecutive weeks.

B-Back Jonathan Dwyer shouldn’t have trouble finding running room in this
game, and it should be over by halftime.

Pick: Georgia Tech


Maryland at Cal

Maryland beat Cal in College Park last season. It was a noon game, and Cal
had to travel three time zones to play. This year the roles are reversed, with
the Terps traveling to Berkley. Maryland lost big chunks of their offensive and
defensive lines since last year, and they also wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Meanwhile, Cal returns 15 starters, including Jahvid Best, who is probably
the best running back on the west coast. The Bears are more talented than
Maryland, they have home field advantage, and they have the time zone advantage.
Cal is favored by three touchdowns in this game.

Pick: Cal


North Carolina vs. The Citadel

UNC hopes to contend for the Coastal Division title this year, and they’ll
get an easy start to the season when they face The Citadel. Things will start to
heat up later in the month, when the Tar Heels take on UConn, East Carolina and
Georgia Tech.

Butch Davis’ team lost three playmaking wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks,
Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate. They are very inexperienced at that position in
2009. Tate played in just six games because of an injury, and his 16 receptions
was still good enough to finish third on the team.

We won’t be able to learn much about this UNC team in the opening week, but
the rest of the month will be different.

Pick: UNC


NC State vs. South Carolina

The Wolfpack begin their season by hosting South Carolina on Thursday night.
NCSU began last season by traveling to South Carolina for a Thursday night game,
and they were handed a 34-0 loss. Though NC State recovered and went to a bowl
game, they can’t start this season off like that.

They return their First Team All-ACC quarterback in Russell Wilson, and
they’ll be facing a South Carolina team that lost a lot of starters, including
their quarterback. Steven Garcia hasn’t been very good in the past in spot
action for the Gamecocks, and he’ll be making a tough start in a hostile

South Carolina has also suspended starting defensive end Clifton Geathers
because of an arrest, and he’ll be unavailable.

Pick: NC State


Virginia vs. William & Mary

Virginia will start the season off against 1-AA foe William & Mary. The
Hoos will be breaking in a new offense that offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon
brought with him from Bowling Green. They have been working three quarterbacks
during preseason camp, but converted cornerback Vic Hall is expected to get the
first snaps against William & Mary.

UVA struggled to beat Richmond last year, so William & Mary could present
a challenge. However, the Hoos’ talent and depth should win out in the end.
Their big early season challenges will come in their next two games, against TCU
and Southern Miss.

Pick: UVA


Virginia Tech vs. Alabama (Atlanta, GA)

#7 Virginia Tech opens the season against #5 Alabama in the Georgia Dome.
This will be the biggest game of the weekend in college football. Only three
other games feature two teams ranked in the Top 25, and none of them feature two
Top 10 teams. The Tech-Alabama game is one of the most anticipated
non-conference games of the year.

The Hokies will be testing out on an offensive line that has looked good in
the preseason against the best front seven they will face all year. Alabama is
very difficult to move off the line of scrimmage, and Nick Saban will bring a
variety of blitzes that Tech could have trouble picking up.

On the other hand, Alabama’s offensive line is the weak spot of their
offense, and they’ll be breaking in a new quarterback behind that line. Bud
Foster will want to pressure Greg McElroy into some mistakes.

If Virginia Tech can win this game, the ACC will finally have some bragging
rights against the SEC.

Pick: Coming Wednesday


Baylor at Wake Forest

Most casual observers would pick Wake Forest to win this game, based on
recent history. However, this game could be the upset special of the week in the
ACC. Wake Forest lost all three starting linebackers, including first round pick
Aaron Curry. In the secondary, they also lost two NFL draft selections. Their
weakness on defense is the back seven.

Baylor’s offense should be very potent this year behind sophomore quarterback
Robert Griffin. As a true freshman last season, Griffin threw for over 2,000
yards while completing 60% of his passes. He threw 15 touchdown passes and just
three interceptions, and rushed for 843 yards. He is the Russell Wilson of the
Big 12, but he’s more mobile.

Baylor returns experienced wide receivers, and all three starters on the
interior offensive line. They also bring back eight starters on defense. Robert
Griffin and the underrated Baylor offense will challenge the brand new Wake
Forest back seven, and they stand a good chance to leave Winston-Salem with an
upset victory.

Pick: Baylor

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