1. Virginia Tech Hokies
Projected Record: 11-1 (8-0)
Loss: at LSU (9/8)
Key Players: LB Vince Hall, LB Xavier Adibi, RB Branden Ore, WR Eddie Royal, WR Josh Morgan , T Duane Brown, CB Brandon Flowers, CB Macho Harris, DE Chris Ellis, QB Sean Glennon, DT Carlton Powell
Newcomer: OL Aaron Brown, redshirt freshman
Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech Hokies have all the pieces in place for a championship season: a strong run game, excellent special teams, and a stingy defense that was best in the nation in 2006 in both passing yards (128.2) and points (11.0) per game.
Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall could both be first-team All-Americans. The only question marks for the Hokies are the progression of junior quarterback Sean Glennon (or sophomore Ike Whitaker if Glennon can’t cut it) and a relatively young offensive line.
Tech will be tested early with a Week Two trip to LSU’s “Death Valley”—one of the most hostile environments in the country—to face a Tigers team that may be the best in the nation.
Final verdict: Ball-control offense combined with a stout D is a recipe for success. Look for the Hokies to be in the BCS Championship picture come December.
2. Miami Hurricanes
Projected Record: 9-3 (6-2)
Losses: at Oklahoma (9/8), at Florida State (10/20), at Virginia Tech (11/17)
Key Players: DE Calais Campbell, S Kenny Phillips, DE Eric Moncour, G Derrick Morse, WR Lance Leggett, RB Javarris James, WR Sam Shields, CB, Glenn Sharpe, DT Teraz McCray, QB Kyle Wright/Kirby Freeman
Newcomer: RB Graig Cooper
The best thing that ever happened to the Hurricanes was the departure of Larry Coker and his lax regime.
Former Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon has already brought a no-nonsense attitude to the head role. Structure is just what this talented team needs.
The Canes have experience on the offensive line and depth at running back with Javarris James, Charlie Jones, and Graig Cooper. They also return seven players on a defense that finished fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game (67.9).
Kenny Phillips continues the legacy of great safeties from “The U.” However, the quarterback position is still unsteady—and has been since the end of Ken Dorsey’s career.
Once a top-rated prospect, senior Kyle Wright has to make good decisions or the more athletic Kirby Freeman will take his job.
Final verdict: The Miami defense will keep them in most games, but three tough road matchups against strong defenses may prove to be too much for the improved 'Canes O.
3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-3)
Losses: at Notre Dame (9/1), Boston College (9/15), at Miami (10/13), Virginia Tech (11/1)
Key Players: RB Tashard Choice, QB Taylor Bennett, OG Andrew Gardner, S Jamal Lewis, P Durant Brooks, DE Adamm Oliver, LB Philip Wheeler, WR James Johnson, S Djay Jones
Newcomer: LB Anthony Barnes
Like several ACC teams, Georgia Tech will rely on a ground-oriented attack in 2007.
Senior Tashard Choice, a transfer from Oklahoma, led the ACC in rushing yards last year and looks to get even better with four of five O-linemen returning in front of him in 2007.
While Calvin Johnson’s departure certainly hurts the passing game, James Johnson more than adequately fills the role as Tech’s top receiver. QB Taylor Bennett is less experienced than some of his peers, but has performed well in his short time in the limelight.
Tech’s defense returns eight players, including standout middle linebacker and All-American candidate Philip Wheeler.
Final verdict: If the Yellow Jackets can get past Notre Dame and BC early in the season, their momentum could carry them a long way in the ACC.
4. Virginia Cavaliers
Projected Record: 7-5 (4-4)
Losses: Georgia Tech (9/22), Pittsburgh (9/29), at Maryland (10/20), at Miami (11/10), Virginia Tech (11/24)
Key Players: G Brandon Albert, DE Chris Long, RB Cedric Peerman, DE Jeffery Fitzgerald, CB Chris Cook, QB Jameel Sewell, C Jordy Lipsey, G Ian-Yates Cunningham, LB Jermaine Dias
Newcomer: RB Keith Payne
The loss of deep-threat WR Kevin Ogletree in spring practice hurts an already sputtering offense. To make matters worse, quarterback Jameel Sewell is still recovering from wrist surgery.
On the bright side, Virginia has 18 of 22 starters returning, including standout defensive end Chris Long.
Final verdict: The Cavaliers’ defense gives them a chance to be good, but they aren’t talented enough to play with the cream of the crop just yet. That said, expect an improvement on last year’s 5-7 record.
5. North Carolina Tar Heels
Projected record: 4-8 (2-6)
Wins: James Madison (9/1), at Eastern Carolina (9/8), at NC State (11/10), Duke (11/24)
Key Players: WR Hakeem Nicks, K Connor Barth, G Calvin Darity, RB Johnny White, LB Durrell Mapp, S Trimane Goddard, DE Hilee Taylor
Newcomer: DT Marvin Austin
New head coach Butch Davis brings promise to Chapel Hill, but his team is too inexperienced to make a splash this season. 11 of 22 starters are freshmen or sophomores.
Final verdict: North Carolina will be a force in the Atlantic Coast Conference...in 2008 or 2009.
6. Duke Blue Devils
Projected Record: 1-11 (0-8)
Wins: Connecticut (9/1),
Key Players: QB Thaddeus Lewis, WR Jomar Wright, LB Michael Tauiliili, FB Tielor Robinson, DE Patrick Bailey
Newcomer: TE Danny Parker
Duke reached a new low—even for a program as lowly as Duke—when it went 0-12 last year.
The team has some talent, especially at quarterback, but to predict more than two or three wins for these Blue Devils would be foolish.
Final verdict: Duke will win a game in 2007, which will at least be a step in the right direction.
Coastal Offensive MVP: RB Branden Ore, Virginia Tech
Coastal Defensive MVP: DE Calais Campbell, Miami
Coastal Newcomers of the Year: RB Graig Cooper, Miami; DT Marvin Austin, North Carolina
1. Florida State Seminoles
Projected Record: 10-2 (7-1)
Losses: at Virginia Tech (11/10), at Florida (11/24)
Key Players: WR Greg Carr, RB Antone Smith, DT Andre Fluellen, S Myron Rolle, QB Drew Weatherford/Xavier Lee, WR De’Cody Fagg, S Roger Williams, CB Tony Carter, LB Geno Hayes
Newcomer: DT Paul Griffin (JUCO)
After a season in which they finished 7-6 (3-5 in the ACC), the Seminoles needed to make a number of changes—especially on offense.
Bobby Bowden’s son Jeff resigned as FSU’s offensive coordinator and was replaced by LSU guru Jimbo Fisher, who will look to develop underachieving QBs Xavier Lee and Drew Weatherford and bolster a running game that ranked 103rd in the nation last year.
Although Florida State’s offensive line is inexperienced, they have plenty of playmakers: Antone Smith at running back; De’Cody Fagg and the 6’6” Greg Carr at receiver.
On the defensive side of the ball, Andre Fluellen anchors a deep and talented front line that specializes in stopping the run. In the secondary, Roger Williams and Myron Rolle will make things difficult for pass-happy opponents.
FSU’s only weakness may be in its linebacking corps, which will struggle to fill the voids left by Buster Davis and Lawrence Timmons.
Final verdict: Florida State has enough talent to go undefeated. If they avoid the wild inconsistency of 2006, the Seminoles should at least make it to the ACC Championship game.
2. Boston College Golden Eagles
Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Losses: at Virginia Tech (10/25), Florida State (11/3), Miami (11/24)
Key Players: QB Matt Ryan, WR Kevin Challenger, OL Gosder Cherilus, DT B.J. Raji, RB L.V. Whitworth, RB Andre Callender, LB Jolonn Dunbar, LB Brian Toal, CB DeJaun Tribble
Newcomer: TE Jordon McMichael
Tom O’Brien’s defection to NC State may have signaled trouble in BC country, but O’Brien certainly left an experienced program in the hands of first-year coach Jeff Jagodzinski.
16 starters return from last year’s 10-3 team, including nine on defense. BC’s proven passing attack—an exception in the ACC—is led by preseason All-ACC quarterback Matt Ryan.
Ryan has already shown poise and resiliency in his career, having played out a substantial part of the 2006 season with a broken foot. The BC offense should have no trouble scoring under his command.
The success of the Eagles’ defense will be somewhat contingent on the status of star LB Brian Toal, who’s nursing an injured shoulder. If Toal can’t go, though, BC has the depth to replace him.
Final verdict: Boston College took advantage of a down year in the ACC in 2006, but other teams are improving. While the team has the experience to beat the likes of Notre Dame, the Eagles may have trouble against athletic squads like Miami.
3. Clemson Tigers
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-3)
Losses: at Florida State (9/3), Virginia Tech (10/6), Boston College (11/17), at South Carolina (11/24)
Key Players: RB James Davis, RB C.J. Spiller, OL Barry Richardson, DE Ricky Sapp, QB Cullen Harper, LB Tramaine Billie, S Michael Hamlin, LB Nick Watkins
Newcomer: QB Willy Korn
Clemson returns just three of its offensive players, and will be starting an inexperienced quarterback. However, the Tigers also have the nation's best running back combo in the powerful James Davis and the elusive C.J. Spiller.
Even without an accomplished QB, those two will be hard to stop.
Cullen Harper is slated to be the starting signal caller, but highly-touted freshman Willy Korn is waiting in the wings. The defense returns six players, including Ricky Sapp, the heir apparent to Gaines Adams at defensive end.
Final verdict: It’s the same story every year for Tommy Bowden’s Tigers—they get off to a quick start before dropping important games down the stretch. Clemson is good, but I see them losing to BC and SC late in the season.
4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Projected Record: 7-5 (4-4)
Losses: at Boston College (9/1), Nebraska (9/8), Florida State (10/11), at Virginia (11/3), at Clemson (11/10)
Key Players: QB Riley Skinner, WR Kenneth Moore, RB Micah Andrews, K/P Sam Swank, CB Alphonso Smith, LB Aaron Curry, S Kevin Patterson, C Steve Justice
Newcomer: RB Josh Adams
Wake will run a more conventional offensive scheme this season, relying on a proven quarterback in Riley Skinner and a true tailback in Micah Andrews.
WR/RB/PR Kenneth Moore is back as well, but the Demon Deacons lost several key players, including OL Steve Vallos, LB Jon Abbate, and DB Josh Gattis.
Like BC, Wake benefited from a depleted conference in 2006. Unlike BC, though, the team is less experienced in 2007.
It’s hard to imagine Wake Forest beating Florida State again—but if the Deacons beat Nebraska on national TV, anything’s possible.
Final verdict: The dream season of 2006 has passed. Wake Forest will be competitive—and could have one of the best offenses in the ACC—but I don’t see an Orange Bowl appearance again this year.
5. Maryland Terrapins
Projected Record: 4-8 (2-6)
Wins: Villanova (9/1), at Florida International (9/8), Virginia (10/20), at North Carolina (11/3)
Key Players: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, G Andrew Crummey, C Edwin Williams, TE Joey Haynos, LB Erin Henderson, RB Lance Ball, RB Keon Lattimore, S Christian Varner
Newcomer: QB Josh Portis (Florida transfer)
Ralph Friedgen was on the hot seat after consecutive 5-6 seasons, but redeemed himself last year with a 9-4 record—good for second place in the ACC Atlantic.
This year, the Terrapins face a tough non-conference schedule (including West Virginia and Rutgers) with a few gaping holes in their lineup.
Competition has emerged between Jordan Steffy and Josh Portis for the quarterback position, but neither of them have performed particularly well in camp. Whoever starts will get to throw to sophomore Darrius Heyward-Bey, one of the best receivers in the ACC, and should benefit from a ground game led by two senior running backs.
The front seven on defense was atrocious against the run in 2006, finishing 96th in the nation. Middle linebacker Wesley Jefferson left early—to be a state trooper, not an NFL player—but weakside backer Erin Henderson remains as a steady force.
Final verdict: Having a poor run defense and facing running backs like Steve Slaton, Pat White, Ray Rice, Tashard Choice, James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Antone Smith, Andre Brown, Toney Baker, and L.V. Whitworth is an unfortunate combination. Friedgen will be back on the hot seat by December.
6. NC State Wolfpack
Projected Record: 4-8 (1-7)
Wins: UCF (9/1), Wofford (9/15), at East Carolina (10/20), Maryland (11/24)
Key Players: WR/KR Darrell Blackman, RB Toney Baker, RB Andre Brown, TE Anthony Hill, DT DeMario Pressley, S Miguel Scott, QB Daniel Evans, OL Curtis Crouch
Newcomer: QB Harrison Beck (Nebraska transfer)
Tom O’Brien’s strict regime should pay dividends for the Wolfpack down the road.
O’Brien is known for getting the most out of his players—and NC State has a lot of potential.
Darrell Blackman is an excellent return man who could improve as a receiver (he made the switch from running back two years ago). Andre Brown and Toney Baker could quietly form one of the best RB duos around, and former high school All-Americans DeMario Pressley and Harrison Beck are still developing.
Tight end Anthony Hill was due for a promising season until reconstructive knee surgery put him out for the year.
Final verdict: Potential doesn’t always translate into wins. Give O’Brien a year or two to implement his system and recruit his type of guys. Until then, expect the Wolfpack to play tough—just don’t expect them to win.
Atlantic Offensive MVP: QB Matt Ryan, Boston College
Atlantic Defensive MVP: S Myron Rolle, Florida State
Atlantic Newcomer of the Year: QB Willy Korn, Clemson
ACC Championship Game Prediction
Virginia Tech over Florida State
QB – Matt Ryan, Sr., Boston College
RB – Brandon Ore, Jr., Virginia Tech
RB – Tashard Choice, Sr., Georgia Tech
RB – James Davis, Jr., Clemson
WR – Darrius Heyward-Bey, So., Maryland
WR – Greg Carr, Jr., Florida State
OL – Gosder Cherilus, Sr., Boston College
OL – Barry Richardson, Sr., Clemson
OL – Andrew Crummey, Sr. Maryland
OL – Duane Brown, Sr., Virginia Tech
OL – Derrick Morse, Sr., Miami
DE – Calais Campbell, Jr., Miami
DT – Andre Fluellen, Sr., Florida State
DT – DeMario Pressley, Sr., NC State
DE – Chris Long, Sr., Virginia
LB – Vince Hall, Sr., Virginia Tech
LB – Phillip Wheeler, Sr., Georgia Tech
LB – Xavier Adibi, Sr., Virginia Tech
CB – Brandon Flowers, Jr., Virginia Tech
CB – Macho Harris, Jr., Virginia Tech
S – Kenny Phillips, Jr., Miami
S – Myron Rolle, So., Florida State
K – Connor Barth, Jr., North Carolina
P – Sam Swank, Jr., Wake Forest
KR – Darrell Blackman, Sr., NC State