Less than a month away from the start of the 2009 college football season, now is the perfect time in my mind to try to predict the upcoming season. We will start with a preview of the ACC.
We will take a look at each team in the conference and try to predict a reasonable record for each team. I will then make a solid pick of the teams that will play in the ACC Championship game and pick a winner.
As anyone who watches college football knows, the two hardest things to predict are rivalry games and the effect of injuries. We will do our best, and I'm sure we will have misses along the way.
We will study each team alphabetically and by division, with the Atlantic division coming first.
Boston College Eagles (Prediction: 6-6)
Since jumping ship from the Big East, and even while they were there, the Eagles have been a model of consistency. No one can argue with the fact that BC has gone to 11 straight bowl games.
That could all go out the window after this past offseason after a messy and very public dismissal of head coach Jeff Jagodzinski. He was fired for interviewing for—and not getting—the head coaching job with the New York Jets while he still was the head man at BC.
As if that was not enough, the Eagles lost projected starting quarterback Dominique Davis when he decided to transfer to another school. Then came the news that starting linebacker Mike McLaughlin went down with an Achilles injury.
Just when you thought things could not get any worse, reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma—a rare form of cancer that everyone hopes he makes a full recovery from.
Now, BC is left with Frank Spaziani, the long time assistant, getting his first shot at being the head guy. And this is coming in a year where most of the ACC could be better than years past.
Getting down to looking at the upcoming season, things do not look good for BC. While a trip to a bowl game is not out of the question, there is no room for error this season.
Aside from a non-conference trip to Notre Dame, the rest of BC's non-conference schedule against Northeastern, Kent State, and Central Michigan should all be wins. The trip to South Bend could go either way, depending on what kind of talent the Irish really have. Still, I think the Eagles' out-of-conference record will be 3-1.
In conference is where the problems will concentrated. There are sure fire losses against Florida State, Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech—unless the Eagles can pull an upset or two.
The rest of the schedule could go several ways. The season will hinge on games at Maryland, Virgina, and Clemson and a home game against North Carolina State.
For Boston College to make it to a 12th straight bowl game, it will have to win three of the four games above.
Look for an 8-4 season at best, and a 4-8 season at worst. More than likely, it will be a 6-6 season and hope for a bowl bid.
Clemson Tigers (Prediction: 6-6)
For the first time since 1999, the Tigers will start the season with a new head coach. After years of not living up to expectations, Clemson and head coach Tommy Bowden parted ways.
After a less than impressive start for a team that had BCS written on it, the Tigers finished 7-6 after Dabo Swinney righted the ship in the middle of the season when he was named the head coach.
In 2009, we will find out how good Swinney is at being the head man. Swinney made changes in the coaching staff but will see the same high expectations with all the talent playing for the Tigers.
Swinney will get a little room to move in his first full year as head coach. The expectations will still be high, but if there is a repeat of last season’s record, Swinney will not be shown the door.
Still, Tigers fans should not get too excited about this season. Clemson looks to be a .500 football team, and that is if it wins the games it should.
Looking at the schedule, there is a chance for a better than .500 record, but only if the Tigers play better than they did against the ACC big boys.
Out-of-conference play features some wins against Middle Tennessee and Costal Carolina, but a very good TCU team and a trip to South Carolina should leave Clemson with a 2-2 non-conference record.
In conference, the Tigers should get wins against BC, Maryland, NC State, and Virginia. Conference losses will come in the form of Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Florida St., and Miami.
That should leave the Tigers 6-6 and hoping for a bowl bid as well. The problem is any little hiccup, and Clemson’s season could go down in flames. The good thing is the Tigers could also win some games and finish with a very good record.
Welcome to the parody of the ACC, where no team seems to be too far ahead of any other teams in terms of talent and skill.
Florida State Seminoles (Prediction: 9-3)
Florida State could be a team in flux this season. While the talent is surly in place for FSU make a run at a conference title for the first time since 2005, off the field issues could taint this season for the ‘Noles.
With head coach Bobby Bowden in a race with Penn State’s Joe Paterno for most career wins in Division I history, a cheating scandal could do in Bowden. Not that he would ever be fired from FSU, but if he has to forfeit over 10 wins, he might not return for 2010.
The NCAA’s ruling on whether FSU can keep the wins could force Bowden’s hand, and a decision Florida State fans do not want to see just yet.
Not to mention, they are the distractions of off-the-field transgressions by players that could ruin this season by placing more focus off the field than on the field.
If FSU can keep its blinders on and only focus on the games in front of them, this could be a season that returns the Seminoles to the top of the ACC Atlantic division standings.
While this team is not a return back to the late 1980s to the mid-to-late 1990’s as far as the Seminoles being stacked with talent at every position, there is enough overall talent to make noise in the ACC.
Looking at the ‘Noles' schedule, I only see two losses in the out-of-conference games. Those two games are against BYU and Florida, and both are on the road. The other two non-conference games against Jacksonville State and South Florida should be wins.
In conference, FSU should only have to worry about four games tripping them up on their road to an Atlantic division title: Miami, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Wake Forest.
If Florida State can split those four games, or win three of the four, the Seminoles should win the Atlantic. I believe Florida State will finish with an 8-4 or 9-3 season.
I still believe that Florida State will represent the Atlantic in the ACC Championship Game.
Maryland Terrapins (Prediction: 5-7)
Maryland has always been a tricky team to predict. Every year, they win games they should not but lose games they should win.
Take last season, where the Terps beat a good California team and a preseason favorite Clemson team, but they later lost to a bad Virginia team and to Middle Tennessee.
Ralph Friedgen is entering his ninth year has head coach at Maryland, and he will always have this team ready to play. But this season might harder to win when about half of the offense and defense from last year’s team is moving on to other things.
The cupboard is not bare, as far as talent goes. There are still good players suiting up for Maryland, but the only problem is breaking in new starters on both sides of the ball.
Still, my gut tells me this could be a long season for the fans of the Terrapins. I just do not see too many surefire wins. Nobody can ever be completely sure about predictions when looking at a team in the preseason before the start of college football.
The non-conference slate should include wins against James Madison, Middle Tennessee (hopefully), and Rutgers. The only non-conference loss should come from California to leave Maryland 4-1 to start the season.
After that the only other wins could come against Virginia and North Carolina State. Maryland could get a win against Duke and lose to NC State, or it could lose both.
In conference, Clemson, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Boston College should all be losses for Maryland.
The best the Terps could end up is 6-6, but look for a 5-7 season or worse.
North Carolina State Wolf Pack (Prediction: 5-7)
Maybe I am just skeptical of the Wolf Pack after last season. If not for a late season run, the Pack would not have even gone bowling.
I'm not saying that Tom O’Brien has done a bad job with NC State, but I am just not sold this year on the Pack making it to a bowl game.
In fact, I think there could be more to cheer about in Maryland than in the state of North Carolina. I could be wrong about this, but I just don’t see a major turnaround.
The other thing is: I am not really sure which NC State team will show up this season with all the injuries from last season. One has to wonder if a couple of injures could derail the 2009 season as well.
The schedule in the out-of-conference stacks up pretty well for the Wolf Pack. The first four games are not conference games, and they are at home.
NC State should get non-conference wins against Murray State and Gardner-Webb. I think that Pittsburgh will be a win, but that could go either way. I do think that South Carolina will be a loss, so the Pack could start out 3-1.
In conference, wins could come against Duke and Boston College. There could also be wins against Maryland, Clemson, and North Carolina, but more than likely, they will be losses.
The Wolf Pack doesn’t stand a chance against Florida State or Virginia Tech.
There is hope this season for NC State, but don’t look for it. A 5-7 record this season looks possible for the 2009 season.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (Prediction: 9-3)
One thing lost last season was the fact that Wake Forest beat Ole Miss in the final seconds at home. We all can remember what the Rebels went on to do last season.
While the defense will have to be reworked this season, for some reason, I am high on Riley Skinner, the Demon Deacons' starting quarterback. If Skinner can manage games and Wake can find a running game, this team could be really good.
I am sure the defense will be the weak spot of this team at the beginning of the year, but the schedule sets up for the team to find its way defensively. The first three games are all non-conference games, and they will all be at home.
First up is Baylor, a team most in the country thinks will be good. Not this guy. I think the Bears will be better, but they will not win at Wake. Then, Stanford comes to town. This could help the national image of the ACC if it can win against some of the Pac-10 teams it is playing.
After a 2-0 start, Elon is a surefire way to start the year off at 3-0, with a late-season trip to Navy for another win.
Conference play should be good for Wake Forest. Wins should come in bunches this season over Boston College, NC State, Maryland, and Clemson.
I see a late season slide for the Demon Deacons, with losses against Miami, Georgia Tech, and Florida State, but a return to their winning ways in the final game of the season against Duke.
Wake Forest has had a great run since Jim Grobe, who is entering his ninth season, took over a lowly program and has took it to a BCS game. While the run might be coming to an end, I see one last great season for the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest will be in a dogfight with Florida State for the Atlantic title. I give the edge to FSU, but if the Seminoles slip, watch out for Wake. I predict a 9-3 season for Wake Forest, but any slip by FSU could make it a special season.
The top two teams in the Atlantic will be Florida State and Wake Forest. Close, but not yet ready for prime time, will be Boston College and Clemson.
Still working for the future will be Maryland and North Carolina State. While anything can happen in college football over a season, this is how I see it playing out early.
While Florida State will lead the Atlantic division into the ACC title game, wait until we break down the ACC Coastal division. There will be a surprise pick for who will be meeting FSU with a BCS berth on the line.