WEEK 1: Atlantic Division Preview

A quick look around the Atlantic Division as week one begins Thursday night with Wake Forest at Syracuse.

SEPT. 5 - MIAMI AT MARYLAND: Maryland's Sept. 5 opener at home on national television seems like the perfect launching pad for the Randy Edsall Era in College Park. A lot of eyes will be focused on the Monday night match-up, and the Terrapins were hoping to ride that buzz to great word of mouth, increased ticket sales, and a quick start in ACC play with a win over Miami.

But there's just not much media or fan focus on the game right now, not with Miami engulfed in a booster benefits scandal that threatens to sideline as many as 12 players -- call it another kind of Hurricane Evacuation -- for the opener.

Edsall, who inherited a 9-win Terrapin team and some high expectations, hasn't lost his focus. He's not raising any more cain about the 'Canes.

"That's not our issue," Edsall said. "Our issue is us and trying to be the best we can be. We can't control anything going on at the University of Miami. But what we can control is how good we want to be through our preparation."


Maryland QB Danny O'Brien was the 2010 ACC Freshman of the Year. (Getty Images)
Edsall is 74-70 in 12 years as a head coach, building the Connecticut program from the ground up. His last four UConn teams went 33-19, and each played in bowl games. He wasn't the sexy pick for the Maryland job when Ralph Friedgen was shown the door last December, but he's still got that national stage to make a strong first impression. (Mike Leach, who is still unemployed, by the way, was the sexy pick for the job.)

Edsall branched off the Tom Coughlin coaching tree (he worked for him at Boston College and in the NFL with Jacksonville) and is already legendary for his attention to detail and his preparation for games. The Terrapins should be ready when they charge out on Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium in one of their new 32 uniform combinations no matter who suits up for Miami.

The offense, with ACC Freshman of the Year Danny O'Brien at quarterback and operating in new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton's state-of-the-art system, looks solid. The defense, adjusting under new coordinator Todd Bradford, has been behind the offense all along since last spring.

"The defense was better in this last scrimmage than it was in the first," said Edsall. "There are some guys that have moved up the depth chart but we're still trying to figure out who some of the backup safeties are going to be; in terms of the receiver rotation, who is going to be in on that; and then also at the Star (hybrid linebacker) position, the backups there."

Count on Edsall having all those answers before the Hurricanes hit town. That, he can control.


SEPT. 3 - LOUISIANA-MONROE AT FLORIDA STATE: High expectations? Bring it on, say the Seminoles.

The No. 5-ranked 'Noles have the attention they've coveted for several years. That spot in the preseason coaches' poll brings heightened expectations, but also puts FSU in position to accomplish its national title goals.

Among the fans, the players and within the program, there is a feeling that has not existed in more than a decade. It has translated into significant increase in season ticket sales and booster donations.

All for a team that has not been to a BCS bowl since 2005 and has not won the ACC title in the same span. But FSU was an overwhelming pick at the ACC Kickoff on July 25 to win the ACC Atlantic Division and go on to win the league title over Virginia Tech.

"It's great to be there," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "It does signify that people are taking notice of your program. You can say it doesn't mean anything, but it does at the same time. And that's where you want to be. If you're going to be good you have to embrace it."

"We were a couple of drives away from that last year. It's very capable. That's our goal. You have to have a winning season, you want to be the state champion, we want to be the Atlantic Division champion, we want to be the ACC champion, end up in a BCS bowl and hopefully a national championship. That's the things in which we do. I'm anxious to see how our team takes that challenge."

Perception around the Seminoles is fueled by two solid recruiting classes that Fisher has assembled and the 10-4 record his team attained last year.

"That's why you come to Florida State," said quarterback E.J. Manuel.


SEPT. 3 - NORTHWESTERN AT BOSTON COLLEGE - A potentially difficult early schedule appeared to become even more difficult as Boston College kept losing players in a difficult preseason.

In short, the Eagles, who open at home against Northwestern this week and then visit Central Florida in Week 2, were short, especially in the two backfields.

Running back Montel Harris, the preseason ACC Player of the Year, suffered a knee injury (and his second surgery in nine months) that was to keep him out of at least the first two games. Remember, the young man on the precipice of being BC's all-time leading rusher missed the last two games of last season with a different knee injury.


Preseason ACC Player of the Year Montel Harris will miss at least the first two games of the 2011 season. (Getty Images)
To make things tougher, Andre Williams, Harris' talented backup, sprained an ankle in camp. He was hoping to be ready for the opener.

Now, on the other side of the ball, starting safety Okechukwu Okoroha was kicked off the team for disciplinary reason. On top of that, cornerback Donnie Fletcher had back issues, true freshman Spenser Rositano suffered a concussion and backup senior Dominick LeGrande, who has played a lot on special teams, left the team to transfer.

Fletcher was listed as a starter for the opener.

The problems weren't limited to the backfields. Defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey, one of the sure things on a rebuilding defensive line, was out with a shoulder injury and there were assorted other aches and pains.

The Eagles enter the season looking for the program's 13th straight bowl bid, rallying at the end of last season with five straight wins before losing to Nevada in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

Chase Rettig, who started much of his true freshman season and showed signs of being a quality college quarterback, had a lot of growing to do entering his second season and his performance in the preseason scrimmages indicated he had indeed taken the next step. There's a new offensive coordinator and a new plan of attack, but these guys need both Harris and Williams to continue playing "BC football."

"There's a huge difference now," says coach Frank Spaziani. "He's making tremendous progress mentally. Ever since he started playing in high school he's been on track. Now he is getting the chance. He's doing all of the things necessary to get himself in position to get a base hit. Now he has to get the hit."

On defense, linebacker Luke Kuechly finished third in the preseason Player of the Year vote and is simply one of the best players in the country. He leads a defense loaded at linebacker but loaded with questions both in front and behind of the LBs.


SEPT. 3 - LIBERTY AT N.C. STATE: N.C. State is intent on building on its past season, when it finished ranked No. 25 nationally. There's no room for error, though, as the 2010 season was the first to end with a winning record in four seasons under coach Tom O'Brien.

Now as the Wolfpack enters another season observers are trying to figure out how it's going to all come together. The foundation is there, especially on the defensive side.

O'Brien took a risk when he essentially pushed aside three-year starter Russell Wilson, who's commitment to the team had been fractured by his dabbling as a professional baseball player. Wilson has landed at Wisconsin for his final season of football eligibility.

For the Wolfpack, O'Brien has been fully comfortable with the development of quarterback Mike Glennon, who finally receives his shot to run the show.


Mike Glennon makes his first start of his college career Saturday for N.C. State. (Getty Images)
Glennon could take advantage of an early schedule that might create an ideal confidence booster. But with Wilson playing elsewhere, Glennon will be under constant scrutiny to see how he stacks up.

"Each and every season I've come in preparing like I was going to be the starter," he said. "I think I've stepped up and been more of a leader out here. I think the guys around me are looking upon me to do something."


SEPT. 1 - WAKE FOREST AT SYRACUSE: Coach Jim Grobe has become a coach with a different outlook than many of his colleagues in the weeks leading to the opener at Syracuse, constantly heaping praise on his team.

This might be a matter of confidence building after his team was scarred by a nine-game losing streak last year. So Grobe hasn't shied away from pointing out the positives connected to his team.

"I think our talent level is better," Grobe said. "Our attitude is better."

Whether the Demon Deacons are better remains to be seen.

"This year is a new year and we're ready to get back to old ways," said senior tight end Andrew Parker, who was part of a bowl team as a freshman before back-to-back losing seasons.

Grobe sounds like a believer, figuring that there could be a payoff from all the growing pains that the Demon Deacons endured during their 3-9 season in 2010.

Still, the Demon Deacons enter the season with their share of flaws. While those are being addressed, Grobe is promoting the positives as well.

"There's something happening right now," Grobe said.

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