Aug. 31, 2010
By Wes Durham
Finally, it’s opening week in the ACC. The conference that has spent the last two September’s rebuilding its national reputation, is once again trying to turn the tide and convince the country that it is ready for prime time in the upper echelon of college football.
The ACC has the numbers overall to make some claims, but they need something else…wins…and wins over quality teams in the early season make all the difference in the world.
With two games already in the books, here is our first breakdown of the year:
Samford at Florida State, 12 noon (ESPNU)
Jimbo Fisher, here’s the steering wheel, and this time it is ALL yours. Fisher becomes the first guy not named Bowden to take control of the Seminoles for the first time since 1975. Last year, the `Noles opened with Miami, this fall a lot less drama in the opener against Southern Conference foe, Samford.
FSU should be pretty good on offense, especially if Christian Ponder can return to his prime form of a year ago. I don’t know if he’s “Heisman good”, but I think he’s the difference in whether the Seminoles reach their potential or if they just continue to be ordinary, which is not what FSU fans want.
This should be a tune-up for next week’s test…at Oklahoma.
WeberState at Boston College, 1 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
The “quiet contender” in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, Boston College has gotten some love in the pre-season, but nowhere near the amount FSU and Clemson have received. The Eagles opening two-games should be ones where Frank Spaziani gets the kinks worked out before an “open date” (September 18), then get down to business with the rest of the season.
WeberState from the Big Sky makes the trip east, under former Utah head coach Ron McBride. Two years ago they were 10-4 and conference champs. BC needs TB Montel Harris cranked up behind their staunch offensive line. In some ways, its like the Eagles have a two-game pre-season, then get cranked up with the Hokies.
At least that’s what they hope will happen…
North Texasat Clemson, 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
The defending Atlantic Division champs open up with the “Mean Green” of North Texas. The Tigers have 15 returning starters, including the good fortune of getting QB Kyle Parker back from the baseball draft. Behind Parker is where things will get spelled out early. Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper are slated to be the feature backs.
Defensively, the Tigers should be a handful again with DeAndre McDaniel (11 career interceptions) and D’Quan Bowers headlining that unit.
North Texasis just 5-31 under Todd Dodge and hasn’t been much of a threat in the Sun Belt, which means that are not a big threat at Frank Howard Field on Saturday.
Western Carolinaat NC State, 6 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
Another baseball player that got drafted returns at quarterback in Russell Wilson. The ACC’s top percentage passer the last two-years, Wilson accounted for 35 touchdowns last season, but the `Pack needs to get things going early this year.
There are post-season hopes in West Raleigh, but a lot of that promise will fall on the defense, where LB Nate Irving returns. One of the top tacklers in the ACC, Irving missed all of last year after being involved in a serious car accident.
State needs to be more like the team that rallied and beat Pittsburgh last year, not the team that lost games at Wake Forest, vs. Duke and at Boston College midway through last fall.
3 of their 7 losses last fall were by 6-points or less. They shouldn’t need that stat on Saturday.
Richmondat Virginia, 6 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
New Cavalier coach Mike London gets to look in the mirror on opening night. His old team faces his new team. There will not be a lot of pre-game motivation for London, because Virginia lost their season opener last year to William & Mary.
The energy and attitude of London, along with 14 returning starters should help the Cavaliers on Saturday against the Spiders, who advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs last year.
Personnel wise, Virginia should be in good shape. Marc Verica returns at QB, after a back-up role to Jameel Sewell last fall. Verica was steady in 2008 (9 starts, 2,000+ yards). The void is in the run game where Torrey Mack (73 yards) is the leading returning rusher.
Richmondshouldn’t be taken lightly. Former Virginia assistant Latrell Scott takes over for London, and at 35 years old, is the youngest head coach in Division-1 football. There last meeting was 2008, when the Wahoos won 16-0 at Scott Stadium.
Elon at Duke, 7 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
David Cutcliffe’s third year at Duke starts with last year’s Southern Conference runner-up, Elon. The Blue Devils have tapped Sean Renfree as their new QB. Renfree, who tore his ACL against Georgia Tech last year in Durham, has made a remarkable recovery and is expected to keep the same tempo as Thaddeus Lewis did the last two seasons in Durham. On defense, six starters are back, including safety Matt Daniels who has 13 career starts, including all 12 a year ago.
Duke was a win away from being bowl-eligible last year, and knows the value of games like this one. Last year, they lost the opener to Richmond, and at the end of the day, proved pretty costly.
Elon was 9-3 last year, including a 35-7 loss at Wake Forest. The Phoenix of Pete Lembo return a veteran core on offense, including QB Scott Riddle. He threw for 3,345 yards and 23 touchdowns last fall. If Duke can’t establish a run game or defend the pass better than a year ago, this could get interesting on Saturday night.
For Cutcliffe’s sake, let’s hope not.
Carolinav. LSU, “Chick-Fil-A Kickoff”, Georgia Dome, 8 p.m. (ABC)
They have been talking about a lot of things in Chapel Hill the last month, and not much of it has involved on-field football. One thing Butch Davis cleared up this week was who his starter would be on Saturday night. T.J. Yates held off the pre-season challenge of Bryn Renner and will take the field with the offense. Who else goes out with him and on defense is the question.
It is very likely, we will not know who is and who isn’t involved in all of the academic and agent investigations at Carolina until after one series with each unit against the Tigers. That’s a lot to stomach if you are a Tar Heel fan, but unfortunately, it’s the reality of where this is for them and their head coach.
On paper, the Heels have 19-starters back from their 8-win team last fall. But whoever plays on offense, they need to be more efficient, in a lot of areas. By year’s end they need more than 14 rushing touchdowns and 14 passing touchdowns. To put that in perspective, Joshua Nesbitt accounted for 31 touchdowns by himself.
Defensively, it’s a bit of a guessing game because of the investigations, but if its only 2-3 starters down, they could still be formidable. More than that, and it’s a significant dent into a unit that could be the nation’s best.
LSU will be looking to keep Carolina off the field on offense. CB Patrick Peterson is one of the nation’s best. It’s a big game for them too.
For the Heels, they finally have some football to talk about after Saturday. Hopefully for them, it’s a win.
Monday, September 6
Marylandv. Navy, “Crab Bowl Classic”, M&T Bank Stadium, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Here’s a game that the ACC needs to win. Maryland struggled mightily in 2009, winning just 2-games. The Terps return just 12-starters from a season ago, which could be a good thing. Jamarr Robinson takes over at quarterback. Last year in limited duty, he hit 54% of his passes, but showed flashes that have Terp fans optimistic.
Ralph Friedgen’s defense needs to be a difference maker against Navy and others this season. Alex Wujciak (LB) posted 131 tackles last year and is the most experienced of all the Terps coming back this fall.
For Navy, it might be business as usual. The Mids went 10-4 last year and were last seen blowing out Missouri (35-13) in the Texas Bowl. Douglasville’s Ricky Dobbs returns at quarterback and while considered a “long shot” for the Heisman Trophy, Dobbs has more than enough savvy and skill to win this game.
It’s a big game for “The Fridge”, and perhaps bigger for the ACC.
Virginia Tech v. Boise State, FedEx Field, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
I can’t remember a bigger game for the ACC on a national stage in the opening weekend, than perhaps this one. Not because both teams are ranked in the pre-season top 10 of most publications, but because there is so much connected to the outcome of this game.
For the ACC, it could very well be a defining moment in the national respect of the conference itself. It also could be the pre-cursor to the conference potentially delivering two teams into the BCS discussion.
For the Hokies, a defense that is being rebuilt on five returning starters (headed by tackle John Graves), faces one of the best QB’s in the country. Kellen Moore is 26-1 as a starter, and last year threw 39 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions.
Virginia Tech’s offense revolves around two components. QB Tyrod Taylor has 28 career starts, and has won big games for Frank Beamer. The combination running game of Darren Evans and Ryan Williams could be a huge factor in the game. Their ability to run the ball and keep Boise off the field, could ultimately be the difference in the game.
A win by Virginia Tech does a lot of things. It helps them and the ACC on a national stage, but its also could be lethal to the BCS hopes of the Broncos as well.