4 states, 13 teams
This is a region that plays high quality football but remains somewhat overlooked nationally. Two programs from these 4 states were in BCS Bowls last season & I expect could match that total again in 2008. This time however it's a team from the Carolina's that should lead the way with as many as 4 or 5 of the programs likely to finish the top 25 nationally as well. This poll will also include what most consider the top 2 teams from the ranks of the FCS (D1aa) that have combined to win the last 4 National Championships.
1. Clemson (9-4 in 2007) Loaded with 16 returning starters including a star QB & a couple RB's. Clemson always seems to choke along the way before Bowden comes up with a big upset (or 3) to save his job. This year feels different. If their offensive line can step up they could be a legitimate national title contender.
2. West Virginia(11-2 in 2007) A new coach & offense are causes of some concern, but Stewart did a fine job in the dismantling of Oklahoma in the BCS bowl. This is a very talented team despite heavy losses, including some top notch players. They have to remain the favorite to win the Big East again if White stays healthy.
3.Virginia Tech (11-3 in 2007) The losses are heavy with only 10 returning starters, but it's hard to bet against Beamer. VT just reloads & don't expect this year to be much different. The talent is still there & a Senior QB & should help settle things especially early on an offense that could be asked to carry more of it's weight than normal with so many new faces on defense.
4. South Carolina (6-6 in 2007) This is a team that looked like a national title contender mid season before injuries caught up with them & the wheels came off. With 17 returning starters having learned from that collapse & Spurrier I don't see the same kind of collapse again this season. This is a team could make some serious noise in this poll.
5. Wake Forest(9-4 in 2007) Wake proved the ACC championship wasn't a fluke by following it up with another solid season. 14 starters return including a now very experienced QB to go along with a solid defense. Jim Grobe has put together one of the best coaching jobs nationally the last 2 years.
6. East Carolina (8-5 in 2007) ECU will have to replace a 1st round draft pick at RB this season but return 17 starters as well as much of the 2 deep from a team that finished strong beating a ranked Boise State team in the Hawaii Bowl.
7. North Carolina (4-8 in 2007) The tar heels return 18 starters this season from a team that was more competitive than their record would indicate. Butch Davis's second team should have much better results than his first.
8. NC State(5-7 in 2007) NC State only returns 10 starters this season & lost much of their 2 deep. The good news is they do return a Sr QB & a couple of very talented RB's as well as get back their top rusher & receiver from 2006 who medically redshirted last season.
9. Virginia (9-4 in 2007) UVA was the first team in NCAA history to win 5 games by 2 points or less. With only 11 returning starters from a team that could have easily have been 4-9 their good fortunes of pulling out the tight ones is probably over especially replacing a 2 year starting QB & a force like Chris Long.
10. Appalachian St(13-2 in 2007) Obviously everyone knows about the Michigan upset but they also had some setbacks last season to Wofford & a rebuilding GSU as well. This season only return 10 starters after some summer academic casualties. They do have a big opportunity the first game of the season to play well vs LSU & make a statement about 2008.
11. Marshall(3-9 in 2007) Marshall is a team that returns 17 starters as well as the CUSA defensive POY from 2 seasons ago who was injured & sat out last season. There is talent on this team & could have their 1st winning season since 2003.
12. Duke(1-11 in 2007) Duke could be the surprise team this year, & may actually not finish in the cellar with 17 returning starters & a proven coach that has won in a difficult job in the SEC. Until they show otherwise however the near cellar is reserved.
13. James Madison(8-4 in 2007) JMU had App St on the ropes in the playoffs before fumbling. Their first game of the year is vs Duke, an important game for both programs.
Check back as teams will be ranked week to week on the overall body of work but there are enough head to head meetings we should have some good standings of which we will also track & use to compare these teams of this region against each other.
Head to Head games
West Virginia ..2