Virginia Tech (7-1)
- Pass Defense (particularly on Passing Downs)
- Defensive Points Per Play
- Q4 Rushing Offense
- Rushing Defense
#1: Defensive 1st Down Passing S&P+
#1: Defensive 3rd Down Rushing S&P+
#1: Defensive 3rd Down Line Yards+
#2: Defensive Q1 S&P+, Defensive 2nd Down S&P+, Defensive 2nd Down Rushing S&P+
#106: Offensive Q3 S&P+
#93: Offensive 2nd Down Passing S&P+
#92: Defensive Q2 Line Yards+
#91: Offensive Q3 Rushing S&P+
With the program Frank Beamer has established at this point, and with the current status of the ACC, how far do you think Virginia Tech is capable of falling in a given year? However you answer that question, that's what you're predicting for the Hokies in '08, as they are damn near starting from scratch at many, many positions. Twelve starters are gone, including the top RB, four top receivers, sacks leader, and top three tacklers. Is Beamer Ball well-established enough that returning personnel doesn't really matter--they're going to win their division (or seriously threaten to) anyway?
We start on offense, where there's at least some continuity at QB...though you could make the case that there's a little too much continuity. Both Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor return. Combined, Syrod Glennlor went for 2700 passing yards, a 17-8 TD-INT ratio, and about 400 rushing yards. As long as harmony is maintained, this can be a pretty decent QB duo, but you always have to worry about clashing egos here. Meanwhile, 4 starting OL's return as well, including star guard Sergio Render, who has started 26 games in two years. VT only ranked #54 in the country in Line Yards+, and they gave up a ridiculous 54 sacks as well, so it's not like the line is going to be fabulous, but it will need to be much better to compensate for the dearth of ability and experience at the non-QB skill positions.
At RB, the Hokies are in the middle of a mind-boggling 6-way race for the starting job. Juniors Kenny Lewis and Jahre Cheeseman (and maybe RSFr Josh Oglesby) currently lead the battle to replace Branden Ore, who was dismissed in the spring, but was extremely overrated--read: 3.7 yards per carry in '07--anyway. None of the candidates have been very impressive, and you can't figure VT improves much in the rushing game. Meanwhile, the leading returning receiver (TE Sam Wheeler) had all of 15 catches a year ago. With the running game being only decent, it's going to be up to guys like sophomore Zach Luckett (UPDATE, 8/18: Luckett has been suspended indefinitely, so...strike that name, I guess), freshman Jarrett Boykin, converted QB Ike Whitaker, and RSFr Danny Coale catching passes, and somebody needs to turn into a big-play threat.
So with an offense in disrepair, VT will rely on its defense to stay competitive. Only, they have to replace three starters on the DL, two big-name LBs in Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall, and All-American CB Brandon Flowers. There's still some star power here--CB Macho Harris, safety Kam Chancellor, possibly DE Orion Martin--and it's impossible to imagine a Frank Beamer team being even only above-average on D--but depth could be an issue.
Verdict: Like I said at the top, what's your answer to "It's impossible to imagine a Frank Beamer team being worse than ___"? Because that's where they're going to finish this year. They're proven at QB, RG...and that's about it. But they're still going to have a chance at the Coastal Division title, because it's not like anybody else is going to run away with it.
- Passing Offense
- Non-Passing Downs Offense
- Pass Defense
- 2nd Down Offense
#3: Defensive Redzone Rushing S&P+
#8: Defensive Redzone S&P+
#12: Offensive Q1 S&P+
#13: Offensive Q1 Rushing S&P+
#125: Defensive Q2 Line Yards+
#122: Offensive Q3 Passing S&P+
#119: Offensive Q3 S&P+
#116: Defensive Q1 Line Yards+
A buddy of mine has named his Fantasy Football team "Smoke & Mirrors" every year this decade, ever since an insanely lucky winning streak he had during the 2000 season--it seemed every team he played scored a season low in points, and he won every game by 1. He had about the third-worst team in the league, and he was the #1 seed in the playoffs. It ended badly. The smoke eventually dissipates.
The smoke is likely going to dissipate for Virginia this year as well. They ranked in the Top 25 in 13 categories in '07--mostly regarding redzone defense, rushing defense, and first half rushing offense--and ranked in the bottom 25 in 13 categories--mostly offensive Line Yards, defensive Line Yards, and second half offense. In other words, they were bad in as many areas as they were good, and they somehow won 9 games anyway. They were 6-2 in games decided by a TD or less (thank you, redzone defense!), and...yeah, that's not going to happen again. They could go from competing with VT for the division title one year to trying to avoid finishing below Duke the next.
On offense, we'll start with the strength: RB. Cedric Peerman and Mikell Simpson return--they combined for 1550+ yards rushing/receiving, 17 TDs, and 5.1 yards per carry in 2007. They were running behind an experienced O-line in '07--including 1st round draft pick Branden Albert--and that's certainly not the case this year (they return only two starters on the line), but they're still solid. Also possibly solid: WR Kevin Ogletree, who was good in '06 before being sidelined by injury for all of '07.
Now for the bad: the aforementioned O-line only returns two starters, QB Jameel Sewell was deemed academically ineligible, and none of the three candidates (senior Scott Deke, sophomore Marc Verica, or highly-touted sophomore Peter Lalich) have seized the reins just yet. And beyond Ogletree, there's not much big-play potential at WR either.
So the UVa offense isn't going to be too hot, but it wasn't last year either, averaging just 331 yards per game. It will once again be up to the defense to make some timely stops, and that's going to be a lot harder to do in '08. The D-line is starting from scratch without DEs Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald and DT Allen Billyk. However, the silver lining might be fact that they ranked so low at Defensive Line Yards+ in '07. That suggests that a lot of their success in stopping the run (2.9 yards per carry) was due to the LBs. And UVa has a stout LB corps in blitzing stud Clint Sintim, Jon Copper and Antonio Appleby. The loss of the DEs will significantly hurt the pass rush, obviously, but they may still be decent against the run. The secondary is decent, but the passing numbers will likely regress due simply to the lack of a pass rush. The UVa defense thrived in making stops in the redzone, and though they should be decent in that regard once again, I do figure that that was also due somewhat to the D-line, so expect regression there.
Verdict: So they'll be decent running the ball, pretty good at stopping the run...and that's about it. Plus, in-game luck likely won't be on their side again, especially without clutch kicker Chris Gould. UVa was more like a 7-win team than a 9-win team in '07, and with so many uncertainties they should regress to about a 3- or 4- or 5-win team in '08 despite a great LB corps.
Georgia Tech (4-4)
- Defensive Points Per Play
- Rushing Offense (particularly Q1, particularly Line Yards)
- 2nd Down Offense
- 2nd Down Defense
#2: Offensive Q3 Line Yards+
#6: Offensive 3rd Down Line Yards+
#6: Offensive Q3 Rushing S&P+
#12: Offensive Line Yards+
#125: Offensive Q2 Passing S&P+
#122: Defensive Redzone Rushing S&P+
#118: Offensive Q2 S&P+
#104: Defensive Q2 Rushing S&P+
I really want Paul Johnson to succeed in Atlanta. I love that a BCS program took a chance on a triple-option specialist, and I want it to work out. Johnson's Georgia Southern teams were Appalachian State before Appalachian State was Appalachian State, and his Navy teams averaged 8.8 wins per season over his last four years there. He is a master of this offensive system, and anything that brings college football back to the '80s is lovely to me.
And honestly, this would seem like a pretty good place to experiment. Sophomore QB Josh Nesbitt was solid in the "substitute in a running QB from time to time" role, and the O-line was great at run-blocking in '07. Meanwhile, the GT has been stout for a while. One problem: the O-line has to replace 2.5 starters (and learn a new system), and the defense has to replace its top four tacklers and its defensive coordinator. But still, Nesbitt should be good at running this system, and Jonathan Dwyer is a potential stud at RB. And they should be able to run behind a great LT in Andrew Gardner. So there's a starting point for the offense despite what will be a drastic system change there.
Defensively, I guess it depends on how much you believe GT's recent run of success was due to the personnel and how much was due to the coaching. GT had unique schemes under Jon Tenuta, and I do think a lot of their success was due to him. Moving to a new DC and new system will result in a dropoff in and of itself. From a personnel standpoint, though, there's still potential here. Both DTs return, including total stud Vance walker. They do have to replace both starting DEs, but the unit has talent and athleticism in the likes of sophomore Derrick Morgan, RSFr Jason Peters, and 6'7 senior Michael Johnson. The LB corps has to be rebuilt, as does the secondary, but there's at least some star power in the likes of senior CB Jahi Word-Daniels. In the end, GT should be decent against the run but regress against the pass.
Verdict: While I'm optimistic and hopeful about the Paul Johnson era as a whole, you have to figure the personnel losses and the change in scheme will prevent GT from playing a major role in what should be an interesting race for the division title in '08.
North Carolina (3-5)
- Q1 Defense
- Overall Offense (close games)
- 1st Down Defense (particularly line yards)
- Pass Offense
#7: Defensive Redzone Passing S&P+
#10: Offensive Q3 Passing S&P+, Offensive 1st Down Passing S&P+
#12: Defensive Q2 Passing S&P+
#13: Defensive Passing Downs Passing S&P+, Offensive Q1 Line Yards+
#126: Offensive Q3 Rushing S&P+
#124: Offensive Redzone Rushing S&P+
#124: Defensive Q2 Line Yards+
#122: Defensive 1st Down Line Yards+
One good thing about starting a ton of youth in a coach's first year at the helm is that, even though you probably won't be good in that first year, you could possibly make a quick leap in the second year. North Carolina returns its starting QB, top four RBs, every receiving threat, 4.5 O-line starters, and 8 starters on defense. And their coach was responsible for Miami's resurgence in the late '90s. Oh yeah, and they lost 6 games by a TD or less in 2007. Things could turn around quickly for the Fighting Butch Davises.
We start on offense, where a few extreme underclassmen are still playing major roles. Sophomore QB TJ Yates set the world on first early in his freshman campaign until shoulder problems caused his numbers to tumble down the stretch. Still, he managed 2655 passing yards, 59.7% completion rate, and 14 TDs (and, ahem, 18 INTs), and big things are expected from him this year. At RB, sophomores Anthony Elzy and Greg Little assume the starting position after last year's leading rusher, Johnny White, moves to the secondary. They combined for 621 yards, 7 TDs, and 4.2 ypc in '07. At WR, Hakeem Nicks (74 catches in '07) is a great go-to guy, and Brandon Tate (19.2 yards per catch) is a legitimate deep threat. Yates has some weapons at his disposal if he can avoid a sophomore slump.
And honestly, a junior slump is more likely from Yates, as the O-line has three senior starters in '08. Next year the line could take a step backwards, but for now there's a lot to work with here.
On defense, star LB Durell Mapp is gone, as are two starting DL's (including sacks leader Hilee Taylor), but there is a ton of potential star power here. Sophomore DT Marvin Austin could be tremendous, safeties Trimane Goddard and Deunta Williams are rock-solid, and the LB corps is deep. This won't be the best unit in the conference, but if the offense is moving the ball, the defense should be able to make leads stand up.
Verdict: The time is now for this young team. Butch Davis will continue to build depth over the coming years, and the 2009-2010 UNC teams could be better than the 2008 version, but Va Tech and Miami will also be better in 2009 and 2010. The Coastal Division is ripe for the taking right now, and UNC better take advantage.
- Overall Defense
- Non-Passing Downs Offense
- Overall Offense
- 2nd Down Rushing Offense
#2: Defensive Q2 S&P+
#5: Defensive Redzone S&P+
#7: Defensive Q2 Line Yards+
#10: Defensive Q2 Passing S&P+
#125: Offensive Q2 Rushing S&P+
#125: Offensive 1st Down Passing S&P+
#123: Offensive 3rd Down Rushing S&P+
#120: Offensive Q2 Line Yards+
Two questions: 1) How quickly can an insanely good recruiting class turn around a bad team, and 2) Is Randy Shannon actually a good coach? If the answers are positive for Miami, we might find out this year. If they're negative, it might take a while to figure out.
Miami stood at 5-3 last year after a road upset of Florida State, but an OT home loss to lowly NC State began one helluva free fall. The 'Canes lost their last three games by a combined 120-28 (including a 48-0 loss to UVa in the last ever game at the Orange Bowl); granted, that's not as bad as the way Mizzou's 1999 season ended (last three games: Opponents 154, Mizzou 14), but...well, this is Miami. Bigger things are expected than "Hey, at least their collapse wasn't as bad as 1999 Missouri's!"
Immediate help is on the way (in the form of stud recruits) at every position for Miami, and boy do they need it. There is no experience at QB, only one of their top three WRs returns (and he's a character concern), and they have to replace 4 starters on OL. They also have to replace their top 4 tacklers overall, including 2.5 starters on DL, their top LB, and their top two safeties.
There are some strengths, however. On offense, RBs Graig Cooper and Javarris James are solid, and Cooper in particular has a lot of upside (5.5 ypc as a freshman). Meanwhile, Reggie Youngblood and Jason Fox are a strong pair of OTs. Unfortunately either a freshman (Cannon Smith or Jacory Harris) or RSFr (Robert Marve) will likely be the starting QB, the WR corps is--while fast--completely and totally unproven, and there is a bit too much new blood on the OL.
Defensively, there's certainly potential here, but it's relatively unproven. A rash of injuries on the line ended up getting quite a few players some experience, and guys like DE Eric Moncur and DT Joe Joseph benefitted from that. LBs Colin McCarthy and Darryl Sharpton are big-play guys, and CBs DeMarcus Van Dyke and Bruce Johnson should be solid. The good news is, where there are deficiencies in experience, there are multiple blue-chip recruits looking to fill in the gaps. The freshman class is deep and talented at DL and LB (and WR, and QB), so there's a decent chance this defense will be better than last year's. It just always makes you a bit shaky basing your prediction on the performance of true freshmen, does it not?
Verdict: Too many question marks. As I've made perfectly clear, the Coastal Division is up for grabs, but I just cannot imagine Miami jumping past both VT and UNC this year. The 2009 recruiting class is looking just as good as the 2008 class, though, so if 2008's not the year, 2009 or 2010 will be.
- Passing Downs Offense
- Offensive Points Per Play
- Q2 Offense
- 2nd Down Defense
#12: Offensive Q1 Passing S&P+
#26: Defensive Line Yards+
#28: Defensive Q1 Line Yards+
#33: Offensive 3rd Down Passing S&P+
#126: Offensive 1st Down Line Yards+
#126: Defensive Rushing EqPts+, Offensive Rushing EqPts+
#126: Defensive 1st Down Passing S&P+
#125: Offensive Line Yards+ (close games)
Even though I (naturally) hate Duke Basketball as much as anybody, it's impossible not to root for Duke Football. I mean...good god, they've won two games or fewer in 7 of 8 seasons. They're so cute and hopeless.
But here's the thing: they possibly have a real, honest-to-god coach now, in David Cutcliffe. And possibly a real, honest-to-god starting QB in Thaddeus Lewis. And a downright solid defensive line. And RB Re'quan Boyette is pretty decent. And WR Eron Riley is a genuine big-play threat (20.8 yards per catch, 9 TDs in '07). That's more key weapons than the Blue Devils are used to having, no? Unfortunately, that's about where the good news ends. As the numbers show, the OL was pretty pathetic last year, plus they have to replace three starters (which may or may not be a bad thing). Plus, beyond Riley there's no big play capability whatsoever on offense. Still, though, Cutcliffe is a pretty good offensive coach, and most key weapons return from what was (sadly) Duke's best offense in a while last year.
On defense, it all revolves around the D-line. The DTs go four-deep with Vince Oghobaase, Ayanga Okpokowuruk (easy for you to say), Clifford Respress and Kinney Rucker. The DEs aren't too strong (last year's 2-sacks-per-game average was a significant improvement, but it's still not good), and combined with a weak secondary, I'm not filled with confidence that the Devils will improve on their '244 yards per game, 64% completion rate' numbers of 2007. But they'll be decent up the middle, as the LB corps, led by Mike Tauiliili, is relatively strong.
Verdict: I don't expect David Cutcliffe to be able to do much at Duke beyond what, say, Bobby Johnson has done at Vandy--build better depth, put together some decent skill-position talent, and occasionally threaten for 6 wins (and no better). But there's at least hope for that in Durham, which is something. They've gone a combined 0-24 in conference the last three years, but they lost two games by a TD or less last year, and I do expect them to knock off somebody this year. It's just a shame that Cutcliffe only gets two years with Lewis, who really is a decent player.
BALANCE OF POWER
- North Carolina
- Virginia Tech
- Georgia Tech
Likely Wins (8): The Citadel, NC State, SC State, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Duke, @ Virginia, South Carolina
Likely Losses: none
Tossups (4): vs Alabama, @ Wake Forest, @ Boston College, @ Florida State
Prediction: As I said yesterday, I don't see Clemson as having advanced enough to win all the tossups. I believe I already picked 'Bama to upset them (and I'm having severe second thoughts there), and I'll go ahead and say they lose to FSU as well, while beating Wake and BC. 10-2 (7-1).
Likely Wins (5): Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Colorado, @ NC State, Boston College
Likely Losses: none
Tossups (7): Wake Forest, @ Miami-FL, Virginia Tech, @ Georgia Tech, Clemson, @ Maryland, Florida
Prediction: With seven tossups, you see that FSU's season could go any which way. They've had random slip-ups at home each of the last few seasons, and I expect the same at some point in '08. We'll say it's a 3rd straight loss to Wake. They'll lose to the Gators as well. I say they beat VT, @GT, Clemson, and Maryland and lose once again to Miami. 9-3 (6-2).
Likely Wins (6): @ Baylor, Navy, Duke, Virginia, Boston College, Vanderbilt
Likely Losses: none
Tossups (6): Ole Miss, @ Florida State, Clemson, @ Maryland, @ Miami-FL, @ NC State
Prediction: I believe I predicted Ole Miss upsetting Wake, and I already picked Wake to win in Tallahassee and lose to Clemson as well. So that leaves three conference road games. I say they lose to Maryland and Miami, and beat NC State. 8-4 (5-3).
Likely Wins (4): Delaware, @ Middle Tennessee, Eastern Michigan, NC State
Likely Losses (2): @ Clemson, @ Virginia Tech
Tossups (6): California, @ Virginia, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Florida State, @ Boston College
Prediction: Lose to Cal, Florida State and UNC. Beat UVa, Wake, and BC. 7-5 (4-4).
Likely Wins (3): vs Kent State, Central Florida, Rhode Island
Likely Losses (3): @ North Carolina, @ Florida State, @ Wake Forest
Tossups (6): Georgia Tech, @ NC State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Notre Dame, Maryland.
Prediction: Beat GT (it's early enough in the season, and BC's good enough on D that they should win this), beat NC State, lose the rest. Their schedule is favorable in as many tossups that they get at home, but...I'm not sure they're good enough to beat VT or Clemson, and...well, I've already had Notre Dame losing quite a few, and ND's going to beat somebody. 5-7 (2-6).
Likely Wins (1): William & Mary
Likely Losses (5): @ South Carolina, @ Clemson, Florida State, @ Maryland, @ North Carolina
Tossups (6): East Carolina, South Florida, Boston College, @ Duke, Wake Forest, Miami-FL
Prediction: Like BC, most of NC State's tossups are at home, but you see from this schedule that NC State could stay the same or improve, and their record won't reflect it. This is a rough slate. I say they beat ECU and upset USF, lose to BC, Duke, and Wake...and upset Miami. 4-8 (1-7).
Likely Wins (5): McNeese State, UConn, Boston College, NC State, @ Duke
Likely Losses: none
Tossups (7): @ Rutgers, Virginia Tech, @ Miami-FL, Notre Dame, @ Virginia, Georgia Tech, @ Maryland
Prediction: UNC went 0-6 on the road last year, and while they won't go winless again, that could be their biggest obstacle in the chase for the division title. At home, they'll beat VT and GT and lose to Notre Dame. On the road, they lose to Rutgers, Miami and Virginia (upset!) but beat Maryland. 8-4 (6-2).
Likely Wins (6): East Carolina, Furman, Western Kentucky, Maryland, Duke, Virginia
Likely Losses: none
Tossups (6): Georgia Tech, @ North Carolina, @ Nebraska, @ BC, @ Florida State, @ Miami-FL
Prediction: UNC does well to catch VT early in the year. I say VT wins the home tossup against GT but then loses @ UNC and @ NU. Beat BC, lose to FSU, beat Miami. An overall easy schedule prevents a shaky VT team from falling too far. 9-3 (6-2).
Likely Wins (2): Charleston Southern, Central Florida
Likely Losses (1): @ Florida
Tossups: @ Texas A&M, North Carolina, Florida State, @ Duke, Wake Forest, @ Virginia, Virginia Tech, @ Georgia Tech, @ NC State
Prediction: NINE tossups. A new record. Anything could happen with Miami in '08. So let's navigate. Lose to ATM, beat UNC, beat FSU, beat Duke (barely), beat Wake, beat Virginia, lose to VT, lose to GT, lose to NC State. 7-5 (5-3).
Likely Wins (4): Jacksonville State, Duke, Gardner-Webb, Virginia
Likely Losses (2): @ Clemson, @ Georgia
Tossups (6): @ BC, @ Virginia Tech, Mississippi State, Florida State, @ UNC, Miami-FL
Prediction: Lose to BC, lose to VT, lose to MSU, lose to FSU, lose to UNC, beat Miami. The new system makes winning tossups difficult. 5-7 (3-5).
Likely Wins (1): Richmond
Likely Losses (5): USC, @ Georgia Tech, @ Wake Forest, Clemson, @ Virginia Tech
Tossups (6): @ UConn, @ Duke, Maryland, East Carolina, North Carolina, Miami-FL
Prediction: This is a pretty rough schedule. UVa played a ton of close games in '07, and '08 should be the same...only UVa doesn't have Chris Long, Jameel Sewell, or their clutch kicker to carry them. Lose to UConn, lose to Duke, lose to Maryland, beat ECU, beat UNC, lose to Miami. 3-9 (1-7).
Likely Wins (2): James Madison, Navy
Likely Losses (6): @ Georgia Tech, @ Vandy, @ Wake Forest, @ Clemson, @ Virginia Tech, North Carolina
Tossups (4): Northwestern, Virginia, Miami-FL, NC State
Prediction: Lose to NW'ern and Miami, but beat Virginia and NC State. Four wins for Duke!! 4-8 (2-6).
Florida State (6-2)
Wake Forest (5-3)
Boston College (2-6)
NC State (1-7)
North Carolina (6-2)
Virginia Tech (6-2)
Georgia Tech (3-5)
ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Clemson > North Carolina
Orange Bowl: Clemson (11-2)
Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Florida State (9-3)
Gator Bowl: Virginia Tech (9-3)
Champs Sports Bowl: North Carolina (8-5)
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Wake Forest (8-4)
Music City Bowl: Miami-FL (7-5)
Emerald Bowl: Maryland (7-5)