I don’t know about you, but I am like a kid in a candy shop, and I know the rest of the Walker-Sports crew feel the same way.
Why are we so excited?
We are less than four fortnights away from the kickoff of college football season, the greatest sporting season of all.
Earlier this week we began our college football previews with the ACC Coastal Division. Today, we will continue our look at the ACC by examining the ACC Atlantic division.
Personally I was not sure it was possible, but the Atlantic Division is actually weaker than the Coastal. For the time being, this will be a rough season for the ACC.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Key Games: Pittsburgh, at Virginia Tech, at Florida State
Last year I sat here and bashed the Wolfpack for having a bad team, but I also warned that head coach Tom O’Brien would resurrect the program and make them a contender sooner than later.
Little did I know that O’Brien would have his boys ready to play in the '09 season. The Wolfpack suffered through an up and down campaign last year that saw them finish on a four-game win streak and become bowl eligible. There is no doubt that this year’s team will build on that success.
North Carolina State will draw their strength from a very good offensive unit. The offense is led by Russell Wilson, who is without a doubt the ACC’s best quarterback.
Behind Russell there is a pair of seasoned running backs who will be more than capable of taking some pressure off the stud QB and keeping opposing defenses honest. This is a well-seasoned unit, and they will have no problem putting points up on the board.
One thing is for sure: When Tom O’Brien is coaching a team, they will be tough, and they are going to be gritty. That means the Wolfpack will be able to fight it out in the close games they encounter during their ACC schedule.
Florida State Seminoles
Key Games: at BYU, Georgia Tech
I never thought I would say this, but I actually feel sorry for a Florida State team.
Well, actually I feel sorry for FSU’s head coach, Bobby Bowden. It has been a while since the Seminoles have been relevant, but they were on cusp of reclaiming some of their past glory this season.
The offensive gurus Bowden brought in a few seasons ago were starting to show some promise. Florida State is returning seven offensive starters, including their quarterback Christian Ponder, and the entire offensive line is back. The Seminoles are going to need the experience of this unit to carry them throughout the season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Florida State is young. As usual, they lost some good talent to the NFL last season, and they just don’t have the coffers to restock like they used to.
Florida State will have some tremendous talent on their roster. In addition, they have the coaching staff in place to coach up the players.
The Florida State Seminoles ran into trouble with their off-field issues. The sanctions and NCAA probation placed against them will take their toll for sure. In addition, they also have the mess of Bowden trying to retain the victories that he has earned.
All in all, the distractions are just too much for the Seminoles to overcome. On another sad note, I believe the off the field issues will be too much for Bowden to handle, and he will actually retire after this season.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Key Games: North Carolina State, at Georgia Tech
Wake Forest is in the midst of the greatest run in the school’s history. However, the Demon Deacs will suffer a bit of a backslide this season.
Last year the Wake Forest offense was sketchy due to problems with the offensive line. All of those starters are returning for this season, and hopefully with a year under their belts, they will be able to hold off opposing defenses and give their backs some holes to run through.
Jim Grobe teams typically have a dangerous running game, but that is all contingent on how well the offensive line holds up.
Last season the Demon Deacons found success thanks to the efforts of their defense. Then again, what team would not have success with Aaron Curry anchoring their unit? Now Curry has moved on, and so have the rest of his running mates.
What the Wake Forest defense does have this year is talent; what they are lacking is game-time experience. The 2009 season will be a true test of Grobe’s philosophy of redshirting all freshmen and allowing them to mature. At the end of the day, a majority of the time the Demon Deacons will be playing 22-year-old men against 18-year-old boys.
Key Games: TCU, at Miami, at North Carolina State
Some people have running back C.J. Spiller pegged as the top running back in the country. Clemson Tiger fans should hope that Spiller is the best back in the country, as he will be the anchor of the Tigers' attack in the '09 season.
It should be interesting to see how Spiller transitions into the role of feature back. He has shared the spotlight the past two seasons with teammate James Davis.
The Tigers could have a bit of a battle for the starting quarterback with Willy Korn and Kyle Parker battling for reps all spring.
Korn stepped in last season to take some snaps when stud QB Cullen Harper apparently went off the reservation for a while.
Korn has the experience and the talent to be the Tigers' starting quarterback. Parker was a redshirt last season, and he is looking to figure into the mix this year. Parker is a strong-armed quarterback who is more than capable of stepping in if Korn should stumble.
The key for the Clemson Tigers will be getting off to a fast start. Football reigns supreme down in Death Valley, and the fans will turn on their team in a heartbeat if things fail to go their way.
Tommy Bowden discovered this last season when his highly regarded team dropped three of its first six games, including an embarrassing season opener against Alabama.
This is Dabo Swinney’s first full season as head coach. Last year he was able to get the fans behind him, and the Tigers found some success on the field.
He will need to make the most of his early schedule to keep the fans on his side, or else Swinney will find himself suffering the same fate his predecessor did last season.
Boston College Eagles
Key Games: at Notre Dame, at Virginia
Just a few years ago Boston College was one of the top teams in the country. Hell, they have played (and lost) in back-to-back ACC Championship games. It was a good run for the Eagles, but all of that will come to a crashing halt this year.
Boston College lost a lot of talent on the field and in their coaching staff during the last offseason. Frank Spaziani is a very loyal man, and Boston College rewarded him by naming him as head coach.
Unfortunately for Boston College, Spaziani is not head coach material, and the Eagles will suffer for it.
On the field Boston College has sported a strong defense the past few seasons, but many of their top players have moved on to the NFL, and there is no one left to fill the shoes of a B.J. Raji. College football is all about adjusting to change and dealing with turnovers in personnel.
Boston College does return 13 starters between their offense and defense. However, the players that are missing will leave too big of holes to plug.
Key Games: at Wake Forest, Virginia
It amazes me that year after year Ralph Friedgen continues to be employed. He, along with Virginia’s Al Groh, should sell his secret for keeping a job despite underachieving year after year. Friedgen will have to earn his paycheck this season, that is for sure.
Maryland lost 30 players to graduation this offseason, and they now feature 61 scholarship players who have at least three years of eligibility left. That means the Terrapins are young and inexperienced. Judging by the recent inconsistency with this program, a young team could prove to be wildly entertaining.
What Maryland does have going for themselves is a pretty good offense that ranked third in the ACC last season, averaging just over 350 yards a game.
The Terps lost Darrius Heyward-Bey to the NFL, and his speed will be missed. What the Terps do have is Chris Turner returning at quarterback, and he is a big game performer.
In addition, the Terps also have Da’Rel Scott at running back, who should be able to carry the load provided his offensive line can open some holes for him.