Clemson and Wake Forest look to be the class of the division. The Tigers come into 2008 loaded, with 18 starters returning. They have 3 offensive players who were named to the Preseason All-ACC team in quarterback Cullen Harper, running back James Davis, and receiver Aaron Kelly. The Demon Deacons come into the season ranked 23rd in the country and a three game stretch against Clemson at home and road games against Maryland and Miami should determine whether or not they’re for real. The returning combo of quarterback Riley Skinner and running back Josh Adams, last year’s ACC rookie or the year, should fuel a potent offense and have Wake Forest playing in a bowl again.
The rest of the division is in a state of flux. Boston College has a talented front seven on defense, but almost every other position on the team is being turned over. Maryland still hasn’t settled on a quarterback, and Jordan Steffey, Chris Turner, and freshman Josh Portis will probably all see playing time this year. Florida St. has only two returning offensive lineman on a team that already had problems moving the ball. Drew Weatherford will be the starter, but Christian Ponder and EJ Manuel will also see time behind center. North Carolina St. has five players who could conceivably see time at quarterback this season, and only return 4 players on the defensive side of the ball. However, considering that the defense gave up 186 yards per game on the ground a year ago, that probably isn’t a bad thing.
The Virgina Tech Hokies are the reigning champion of the ACC, and a weak Coastal Division means that they’re likely to at least make it back to the championship game, but they aren’t without chinks in their armor. Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor have been battling for the quarterback position, but neither have distinguished themselves enough to claim the job. North Carolina lost 8 games last year, but 6 of those were by 7 points or less, and their conference schedule is so soft it borders on absurd. They run into a few problems out of conference, but if they can find a way to beat Virgina Tech there’s a chance that Butch Davis could have this team playing for an ACC title.
Duke and Georgia Tech are breaking in new coaches and new systems, as David Cutcliffe and Paul Johnson take over the reigns. Expect Cutcliffe to have quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and receiver Eron Riley putting up gaudy numbers, but not enough to overcome Duke’s severe lack of talent. Johnson is trying to install the option in Atlanta, but right now it’s a lot like fitting square pegs into round holes and a brutal schedule isn’t doing them any favors. The Miami Hurricanes have a fantastic recruting class coming in for coach Randy Shannon, and you should expect a lot of them to see playing time this season as they try to rebound from last year’s disastrous 5-7 campaign. Virgina was already in rebuilding mode before a rash of off the field incidents gutted the roster, expect this season to be a very long one for Al Groh and the Cavaliers.
There’s a good chance that the annual Border War between Missouri and Kansas will end up deciding the North’s representative in the Big 12 championship game. The Tigers schedule lines up perfectly, with games against Texas and Kansas being the only real stumbling blocks for a team that returns Heisman candidate Chase Daniel and receiver Jeremy Maclin. The Jayhawks return 9 players from a very good defense, but their schedule might be more than they can overcome. After a start which should see them go 6-0, Kansas must navigate games at Oklahoma, vs. Texas Tech, vs Kansas St, at Nebraska, vs Texas, and then the Border War to close out the year.
Kansas St. should be an interesting team to watch. Freshman quarterback Josh Freeman threw for 3,353 yards and 18 touchdowns last year as a freshman, but a lack of weapons at running back and receiver might make things tougher for him this year. At Colorado Dan Hawkins has emphasized physicality and conditioning, which should help the Buffaloes improve, but the real story in Boulder is freshman running back Darrell Scott. Remember the name, because he has a chance to be this season’s break out star, not only because of his running ability, but because he’s also a gifted kicker who may take the field as a punter. The Nebraska Cornhuskers gave up 476.8 yards per game last year, so Bo Pelini’s first order of business has to be finding a way to improve the once proud blackshirts. Gene Chizik is looking to improve things in Ames, as Iowa St. has gone 9-27 in their last three seasons, but it looks as though any real improvement is years down the road.
The Big 12 South, home of juggernauts Oklahoma, Texas, and…..Texas Tech?!?! If coach Mike Leach and the Red Raiders are ever going to make the jump from national curiosity to national power this is the year. Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree will be up for Heisman consideration, and a defense that improved by leaps and bounds last season is mostly intact. Oklahoma’s defense will rely on what might be the best defensive line in the country. Sam Bradford returns at quarterback and looks to put up even more gaudy numbers behind an offensive line that features 5 seniors. Texas has as much talent as anyone in the country, but a defense that finished 56th nationally has to improve if the Longhorns hope to challenge Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Look for sophomore John Chiles to get some snaps in place of Colt McCoy as Texas tries to maximize its talent.
At Texas A&M Mike Sherman is bringing a Pro Style offense to College Station, which should allow quarterback Stephen McGee to show off an arm he rarely got a chance to display in the previous two seasons. Former Alabama defensive coordinator Joe Kines will also bring a more aggressive style of defense to the Aggies. Oklahoma St. is very similar to Nebraska. They have a high powered offense lead by Zac Robinson that is coupled with an absolutely atrocious defense. If the Cowboy defense can improve the Cowboys offense is good enough to get 7-8 wins. Art Briles comes to Baylor from a Houston program that he led to back to back bowl appearances. He’ll need to be a miracle worker if he expects to build Baylor into anything other than an afterthought.
In 1996 the South Florida Bulls didn’t exist. In 2008 they’re expected to contend for the Big East title and a BCS berth. That’s a pretty amazing rise, and coach Jim Leavitt deserves most of the credit. Matt Grothe needs to improve on his 14 touchdown, 14 interception performance from last year, but running back Matt Ford and stifling defense should help. Pat White and Noel Devine are the sole reason that West Virginia is the favorite to win the Big East this year. New coach Bill Stewart led the team to a victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl last season, but the team loses seven defensive starters and star running back Steve Slaton, so nothing is certain. Most people don’t remember that the Connecticut Huskies shared the Big East title with West Virginia last season, but 8 returning defensive starters, quarterback Tyler Lorenzen, and talented running backs Donald Brown should insure that they’re in place to challenge for the title again.
Pittsburgh’s LeSean McCoy is one of the most dynamic and exciting players in the nation, and linebacker Scott McKillop returns after recording 151 tackles last year to lead one of the better defenses in the country. If quarterback Bill Stull and receiver Derek Kinder can develop into enough of a threat to take some pressure off of the talented McCoy, then Pittsburgh could end up challenging for the league title. Cincinnati went 10-3 last season, but that was behind quarterback Ben Mauk, who recently lost an appeal for a 6th year of eligibility. The Bearcats look to rely on their defense to carry them into the postseason. Rutgers looks to be in a rebulding year after losing Ray Rice to the NFL, but a good defense and quarterback Mike Teel look to have the Scarlet Knights back in the upper half of the Big East. It’s not easy to think of a scenario where this isn’t Greg Robinson’s last season as the head coach for the Syracuse Orange. The team ranked poorly in just about every statistical category, and there doesn’t look to be any help coming. Louisville is installing a new offense, new quarterback, new coordinators on both sides of the ball, and is turning over almost every position on defense, so don’t expect them to improve on last year’s 6-6 record.
Posted originally: 2008-08-17 09:53:22