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ACC (projected order of finish and records)
North Carolina State Wolfpack (9-3)
So far, Tom O’Brien’s two years in Raleigh have been mediocre, but in what is always a wide-open conference the Wolfpack have caught my eye as a trendy pick this season. They could have the makings of a conference champion. Their laurels rest on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson, who flourished last year under center. The season will be a success if NC State can build upon their 6-6 campaign from a year ago and perform reasonably well in the non-conference portion of their schedule.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-4)
In what everyone called a transition year, the Yellow Jackets went 9-4 last year. It is thus very likely this team’s cohesion will be that much better in year two under Paul Johnson. This is a team that returns 17 starters, which is a lot in a young conference. This number includes running back Jonathan Dwyer, who NFL scouts have been drooling over. Ten wins isn’t a stretch for Georgia Tech, but their hopes of reaching the ACC championship game probably lie in the result of their October 17th date with Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4)
A Hokie team that has won three of the last five conference titles isn’t the hands-down pick to complete that feat again but, as always, the boys from Blacksburg will be a competitive team. After a lengthy period of cloudiness at quarterback dating back to the Vick years, Beamer has settled on Tyrod Taylor to lead his team in the right direction. Their ACC schedule isn’t very daunting, but their non-conference slate has a few rough ones. It will be interesting to see how they fare against a big time SEC opponent to start the season.
Florida State Seminoles (7-5)
Getting to 9-4 and winning a bowl was a step in the right direction for the ‘Noles after several years marred by scandal, and Bobby Bowden will try to rekindle the glory of the program’s past with a talented group in Tallahassee. This season will be an extreme success if FSU wins the Atlantic Division, which is a distinct possibility at this point. Even with question marks on both sides of the ball, there won’t be any good excuses if this team isn’t ranked for most of the season and in contention for the ACC crown.
Clemson Tigers (7-5)
North Carolina Tar Heels (7-5)
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (7-5)
Boston College Eagles (6-6)
Miami (FL) Hurricanes (6-6)
Maryland Terrapins (5-7)
Virginia Cavaliers (4-8)
Duke Blue Devils (3-9)
Big East (projected order of finish and records)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (8-4)
A program on the rise enters 2009 with a good head of steam but there still are questions in Piscataway about a mercurial program that started 1-5 last year (that went on to win its last seven games). No more Teel, Britt, or Underwood means uncertainty and newcomers at the offensive skill positions, but the Scarlet Knights have a tremendous offensive line, which should help development under center. Schiano’s kids can win nine or maybe even 10 by beating up on their pillow-soft non-conference slate, but eight wins should be a sure bet.
South Florida Bulls (8-4)
Remember that team that skyrocketed to No. 2 in the nation in the middle of 2007? Yeah, that’s South Florida: They’re 10-9 since then. They seem to have hit a wall, but it’s hard not to believe in this team because of all of their veteran presences. USF is clearly a program on solid footing, with what should be a top-ten pick at defensive end in George Selvie and the best offensive player in the history of the school, quarterback Matt Grothe. The most talented team in the conference, the Bulls will be in the mix for the title.
Pittsburgh Panthers (7-5)
After three seasons of mediocrity and late-season collapses, Pittsburgh has finally captured some momentum by posting nine wins and appearing in a respectable bowl game last year. Only one win away from a Big East title last year, Dave Wannstedt is certainly making progress in Western Pennsylvania—but it’s hard to replicate a successful season if you lose one of the best running backs in the nation. There’s hope and a real possibility of contention for this team in what is perennially a disappointing conference.
West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5)
I’m reluctant to give West Virginia only seven wins because of their soft schedule outside of the conference and the explosiveness of quarterback Jarrett Brown and running back Noel Devine...but there is sure to be an adjustment period with Pat White in Morgantown. They aren’t the heavy favorite to win the conference—as they have been over the past few years—but WVU certainly isn’t a pushover with a modified cast of characters. Who’s to say they won’t climb back to the top of the Big East? But I just don’t see dominance this year.
Cincinnati Bearcats (6-6)
Connecticut Huskies (6-6)
Louisville Cardinals (5-7)
Syracuse Orange (3-9)
Big Ten (projected order of finish and records)
Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1)
After losses to Florida and LSU in national title games and a lambasting at the hands of USC last year, the cool thing to do is rip on Ohio State. Yet, somehow, they always manage to find their way into a BCS bowl game. Tressel’s crew is the real thing this year and should be able to repay the favor to a Trojan team that’s down a little bit. If Terrelle Pryor develops into the McNabb/Culpepper mold this year, this team should run the table in the Big Ten and be in contention for the national title. I like the Buckeyes to win the Big Ten’s two-horse race in 2009.
Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2)
Penn State looks to be Ohio State’s only competition for the Big Ten title this year, but after winning the conference last season they really aren’t the challenger. Only seven programs have better winning percentages over the past few years than PSU, a team that has done a nice job rebounding after a period of languishment. The season will be a success if Paterno’s team, led by standout quarterback Daryll Clark, can win ten or eleven and reach the BCS again. Circle November 7th if you like college football, as OSU takes on PSU in University Park.
Illinois Fighting Illini (8-4)
The Illini didn’t exactly stay consistent after a trip to the Rose Bowl in 2007 and going only 5-7 last year, but the Big Ten is a shell of its former self. Anything can happen with the lethal quarterback-wide receiver combination of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. This year’s Illinois team is loaded with experience and, even though the non-conference schedule might be a little daunting, Zook and Co. should have the wherewithal to compete and be rather successful with a lack of good teams in the Big Ten, hoping for eight or nine wins.
Michigan State Spartans (8-4)
Michigan State has seemed to float everywhere around the Big Ten with the exception of getting to the top, but they have been a good enough team to reach bowl games in the recent past. They won’t have that monster running attack with departed back Javon Ringer, but in a weak conference with a mediocre non-conference schedule the Spartans should bring some success to East Lansing. Their football program won’t have the level of success as the basketball team, but the Spartans are good enough to reach a bowl.
Wisconsin Badgers (8-4)
Michigan Wolverines (7-5)
Iowa Hawkeyes (6-6)
Northwestern Wildcats (6-6)
Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-7)
Purdue Boilermakers (5-7)
Indiana Hoosiers (4-8)
ACC's Top 10 Players
1) Russell Wilson, QB - North Carolina State, So.
2) Jonathan Dwyer, RB - Georgia Tech, Jr.
3) Jason Worilds, DE - Virginia Tech, Jr.
4) C.J. Spiller, RB - Clemson, Sr.
5) Morgan Burnett, S - Georgia Tech, Jr.
6) Quan Sturdivant, LB - North Carolina, Jr.
7) Rodney Hudson, OG - Florida State, Jr.
8) Marvin Austin, DT - North Carolina, Jr.
9) Vince Oghobaase, DT - Duke, Sr.
10) Patrick Robinson, CB - Florida State, Sr.
Big East's Top 10 Players
1) George Selvie, DE - South Florida, Sr.
2) Greg Romeus, DE - Pittsburgh, Jr.
3) Arthur Jones, DT - Syracuse, Sr.
4) Anthony Davis, OT - Rutgers, Jr.
5) Marty Gilyard, WR - Cincinnati, Sr.
6) Noel Devine, RB - West Virginia, Jr.
7) Scott Lutrus, LB - Connecticut, Jr.
8) Victor Anderson, RB - Louisville, So.
9) Jerome Murphy, CB - South Florida, Sr.
10) Ryan D'Imperio, LB - Rutgers, Sr.
Big Ten's Top 10 Players
1) Daryll Clark, QB - Penn State, Sr.
2) Terrelle Pryor, QB - Ohio State, So.
3) Arrelious Benn, WR - Illinois, Jr.
4) Navorro Bowman, LB - Penn State, Jr.
5) Brandon Graham, DE - Michigan, Sr.
6) Greg Jones, LB - Michigan State, Jr.
7) Sean Lee, LB - Penn State, Sr.
8) Evan Royster, RB - Penn State, Jr.
9) Juice Williams, QB - Illinois, Sr.
10) Bryan Bulaga, OT - Iowa, Jr.