CFN: Fearless ACC Predictions

It's opening day of the college football season, and the most interesting games are in the ACC where Georgia Tech kicks off the Paul Johnson era, NC State takes on South Carolina, Wake Forest plays Baylor, and Jarvarris James and Miami tries to turn things around starting tonight against Charleston Southern.

- ACC Week One Predictions, Part 2

ACC Game of the Week

Alabama vs. Clemson (in Atlanta),
8:00 EST, ABC
Why to watch: Depending on where you call home, this is arguably the most intriguing game of the opening weekend, and for the ACC, it could be the league's make-or-break date. Alabama and Clemson meet in the Georgia Dome in a game that’ll have all of the electricity of a BCS bowl game, or an SEC title tilt, and while the Tide is expected to be improved enough to pull off the win, Clemson, considered the class of the ACC by far, has to win for its league to get any semblance of national respect. Plenty more is at stake for both schools. It’s been years since the Tigers began the season with so many expectations and so much established talent, not to mention legitimate national title aspirations. A top 10 team and the consensus favorite to win the ACC, this is the type of must-win game to shake the perennial underachiever tag. ‘Bama begins its second campaign under Nick Saban with heightened expectations of its own. Forget last year’s 7-6 record and second-half collapse, Tide fans are thinking big again after Saban assembled one of the nation’s premier recruiting classes. Although the program is still a year away from being a legit contender for an SEC crown, a high-profile upset of Clemson could shake up the timetable.   
Why Alabama might win: Depending on how well QB John Parker Wilson plays, the Tide offense has a chance to be real good in Jim McElwain’s first season as the coordinator. It all starts up front with an outstanding line that features stars in LT Andre Smith and C Antoine Caldwell. The front five should be good enough to neutralize the tremendous Clemson defensive front, while giving Wilson the time needed to expose the unproven Tiger linebackers on intermediate routes. Glen Coffee and Terry Grant form a nice one-two punch in the running game that’ll keep the chains moving, and the Clemson offense off the field.
Why Clemson might win: At least in the first month, the Tigers’ Achilles’ heel will be the rebuilt offensive line. Alabama, however, doesn’t have the linemen to take advantage. Even if it’s a stalemate at the line of scrimmage, Clemson will still be able to turn loose it’s wide array of weapons. Bama's offensive stars are young and unproven, while the Tigers skill guys should be in NFL camps right now. On the ground, James Davis and C.J. Spiller form the best backfield tandem in America. Through the air, Cullen Harper is a top talent surrounded by a fantastic collection of receivers. Saban's boys will get there, but he doesn’t have quite enough stoppers on defense to contain an offense with so many different options.
Who to watch
: Two of the nation’s five best recruits of 2008 will be in the Georgia Dome playing important roles for their respective schools. Bama WR Julio Jones has an amazing blend of size and speed, fortifying a corps that lost its top three receivers to graduation, and he's expected to show off all his skills right away in what could be a national coming out party. Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers already looks the part, participating and promptly dominating in his first spring out of high school. Neither will waste any time showing the nation why every major university wanted their signature.            
What will happen: Alabama has an edge on the sidelines. After that, it’s all Clemson. The Tide will always be dangerous with Saban, but the Tigers are as loaded as they’ve ever been under Bowden. The concerns about the offensive line won’t materialize enough to be a death blow, but they'll be a problem. The issues at linebacker will be erased by a front four and back four that’s among the best in the ACC. The difference in a tight game will be the running of Davis and Spiller, who’ll combine for more than 200 yards on the ground.
CFN Prediction: Clemson 23 ... Alabama 10 ... Line: Clemson -5.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 4.5

Thursday, August 28

Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech, 7:30 EST
Why to watch: For a game between a team from the Ohio Valley Conference and a rebuilding ACC squad, this opener is loaded with a number of juicy storylines. The Paul Johnson era begins kicks off at Georgia Tech with a considerable amount of anticipation and curiosity. A runaway success at Georgia Southern and Navy, he’s bringing the triple-option to Atlanta in an attempt to get the Yellow Jackets out of their recent rut of hovering around .500 and losing to rival Georgia. While Johnson’s track record is impeccable, it’s going to take time before his system is fully digested and run with consistency. On May 14, Jacksonville State won the Ryan Perrilloux sweepstakes, landing the former LSU quarterback with next level skills. The Gamecocks instantly went from an OVC favorite to a contender for an FCS national championship. Head coach Jack Crowe should get maximum effort and cooperation from his star recruit, who realizes he can parlay his year in Alabama into NFL riches.  
Why Jacksonville State might win: The Gamecocks have a feisty and fast defense that’ll be especially good at stopping the run. They get to the ball in a hurry and rarely miss tackles. They’ll cause problems for a Georgia Tech offense that’s still working out the wrinkles in the new offense. If the running game stalls, QB Josh Nesbitt doesn’t have the polished arm or receivers to make him pay through the air. There’s no overstating how much Perrilloux’s presence means to this program. He has the tools and the big game experience to exploit an iffy Tech secondary.
Why Georgia Tech might win: The Jackets will dominate on the lines. On defense, tackles Vance Walker and Darryl Richard, and end Michael Johnson, will toy with the Gamecock blockers, blowing up plays before they can develop. On offense, all-star Andrew Gardner is the leader of a group that’ll create enough holes for Nesbitt and B-back Jonathan Dwyer to keep the chains moving on the ground. On a hot night in Atlanta, this is one of those games that Tech will simply wear out a lesser opponent with its superior size and depth.
Who to watch: Perrilloux’s salary drive is officially underway. No one doubts he has the size and fastball of a future first-round pick, but his decisions away from the field have clouded his future. A big effort against an ACC opponent will give some NFL scouts a short memory. If given time to throw, hardly a guarantee, he’ll make the Yellow Jackets wish he was still in Baton Rouge.
What will happen: Johnson might want to force his kids to watch a tape of last year’s game between Appalachian State and Michigan. Jacksonville State is a dangerous school out of the second division. The Gamecocks will keep things tight before running out of gas in the second half. Tech will rush for 250 yards, but it won’t be vintage triple-option results under Johnson.

CFN Prediction: Georgia Tech 34 ... Jacksonville State 3 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 1

Charleston Southern at Miami, 7:30 EST
Why to watch: The Hurricanes will take their first steps toward digging out of last year’s unexpected 5-7 hole, while kicking off a new era at Dolphins Stadium. Randy Shannon is trying to change the culture at Miami, recruiting players who are both gifted and passionate about restoring the glory at the program. Many of the freshmen from February’s banner class will be on display, including, QB Jacory Harris, WR Aldarius Johnson, DT Marcus Forston, and LBs Arthur Brown and Sean Spence. Shannon plans to use a two-quarterback system, with Harris and Robert Marve both getting snaps. Charleston Southern is a lower-rung team out of the Big South, trying to improve on last year’s 5-6 mark. In the Buccaneers’ only game against an FCS opponent last year, they were spanked by Hawaii 66-10.
Why Charleston Southern might win: The Bucs return most of the key parts of a passing game that led the Big South a year ago. Former Clemson QB Tribble Reese represents a major upgrade at the position, and three of the team’s top wide receivers are back in Charleston. Dee Brown, who exploded for 69 catches and nine touchdowns, will test a Miami secondary that’s still searching for a genuine lockdown cornerback. The Reese to Brown hook-up could happen as many as 10 times.
Why Miami might win: No matter how many players the Bucs stack in the box, it won’t slow down ‘Cane backs Javarris James and Graig Cooper. Cooper is a gamebreaker and James is healthy and focused on a monster junior season. Miami’s youth at quarterback will cost it at times this fall, but not against a Charleston Southern defense that’s lacking in size and speed. The Hurricane front wall, led by Eric Moncur on the outside and Antonio Dixon on the inside, will get a consistent push that disrupts plays before they have a chance to develop.
Who to watch: If Miami is going to get more from its passing game, it needs Sam Shields to stay out of Shannon’s doghouse and starts fulfilling all of his potential. He has blazing speed and tremendous athleticism, but has yet to bust out. A few big plays in the opener, regardless of the opponent, would provide a confidence boost that could carry through the season.
What will happen: Miami will get a chance to flex its muscles in front of the home crowd, get some much-needed reps for the young quarterbacks, and empty the sidelines after halftime. James and Cooper will roll early and head to the bench before breaking a sweat. Both will need to be healthy for next week’s trip to Gainesville. 
CFN Prediction: Miami 52 ... Charleston Southern 7 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 1

NC State at South Carolina, 8:00 EST, ESPN
Why to watch: After three seasons of mediocrity, South Carolina has its best team yet since Steve Spurrier arrived. At least that's the hope for antsy Gamecock fans, and while the big goal is to come up with a huge year in the SEC East, a loss to NC State would hardly sit well. Although the talent has been upgraded, the school is just 21-16 under the ball coach, collapsing down the stretch last year after raising expectations with a 6-1 start. Ironically, considering who the head man is, it’s been the play of the quarterback that’s hamstrung the program’s ability to get over the hump. Facing a crossroads season, the Gamecocks are giving the ball to untested junior Tommy Beecher, at least for the time being, who’s thrown all of two dozen career passes. NC State is entering its second season with Tom O’Brien at the helm as it looks to take another step closer to stability. The Pack has a long way to go before narrowing the talent gap to be a major national player, so the staff will continue preaching fundamentals and limiting unforced errors to try to make some noise in a down year for the ACC. State is a year or two away from contention, or at least until it produce more plays from the quarterback spot, but a win in Columbia might kickstart the expectations for a big season.
Why NC State might win: The Pack will keep things cozy by controlling the line of scrimmage when South Carolina has the ball. State enjoys an edge in the trenches, turning loose DE Willie Young and DT Alan Michael Cash on a flimsy Gamecock front that underachieved in pass protection all throughout last year. South Carolina’s attempt to supercharge the offense will fail if Beecher has no time to throw and the running game doesn’t get rolling.
Why South Carolina might win: The Gamecock defense is going to be nasty, especially now that LB Jasper Brinkley and DT Nathan Pepper are back from season-ending injuries. With the uncertainty NC State is facing at quarterback, South Carolina can use most of its resources to stack the line and stop Jamelle Eugene, Andre Brown, and Toney Baker. Facing constant pressure, newly anointed starting QB Russell Wilson will have no chance of navigating an aggressive ‘Cock secondary that’s anchored by CB Captain Munnerlyn and SS Emanuel Cook.
Who to watch: Brinkley instantly makes the South Carolina defense far better than it was when he was sidelined last fall. He’s an impact defender with tremendous instincts and the ferocity to create turnovers. With the Wolfpack determined to stay conservative and work the area between the tackles, he’ll make a statement return with at least 10 tackles and a couple of bone-jarring sticks if he's able to fight through ankle and foot problems that kept him at less than 100% this off-season. 
What will happen
: The Gamecocks might be vulnerable if they were opening against a team with a pulse on offense. The Wolfpack, however, are one-dimensional, which will make it tough to score into the double-digits. South Carolina will pick up its first victory, but the lingering questions about the offense and the quarterback play will remain unanswered.       

CFN Prediction: South Carolina 23 ... NC State 10 ... Line: South Carolina -11.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 3 

Wake Forest at Baylor, 8:00 EST
Why to watch: No longer able to sneak up on anyone, Wake Forest is locked and loaded for a run at a second ACC crown in the last three years. While concerns on the offensive line need to be addressed, the Deacons return one of the league’s best backfields and will be downright demonic on defense. Head coach Jim Grobe has the program expecting bowl games and title contention, and this season is no exception. Of course, another winning season means Wake will be forced to hold its breath as bigger programs court its architect in December. Baylor’s never-ending quest for success in the Big 12 enters a new chapter as Art Briles begins his first season in Waco. He brings a new attitude and a pass-happy offense that’ll put up numbers through the air once the right parts are in place. His first really big decision was to pick a quarterback, and that hasn’t really been done yet with a few of the options expected to see time.
Why Wake Forest might win
: The Baylor D will have issues against the run, which is a problem against the physical Demon Deacon ground attack. Wake will pound away with ACC Rookie of the Year Josh Adams, occasionally mixing in explosive Brandon Pendergrass, a well-kept secret who’s ready to bust out. When the Bears begin to pinch up closer to the line, veteran QB Riley Skinner should be able to play-action his way to a big play down the middle of the field. Led by LB Aaron Curry and CB Alphonso Smith, the Deacon D is among the fastest and most opportunistic in the country and will make life tough on the new BU passing game.
Why Baylor might win: The Wake Forest secondary has plenty of talent, but it is prone to jumping the route and yielding long pass plays. The Bears will take advantage with improved play at quarterback and a deep corps of receivers led by up-and-coming Thomas White. The Deacons’ desire to generate more edge pressure will be stifled by the underrated tackle tandem of seniors Jason Smith and Dan Gay, who’ll give the quarterbacks the time needed to work.
Who to watch: As defensive playmakers go, Smith is one of the most accomplished in the country. Yeah, he’ll get toasted from time to time, but he compensates with a bunch of picks and the speed to take them back for six. Baylor is still finding its way under Briles, a recipe for Smith to parlay a couple of errant passes into drive-ending turnovers.
What will happen: As opening day match ups go, this is a bad one for Briles and Baylor. Wake Forest is a physical, well-coached group of veterans who rarely make mistakes. It’ll methodically pick apart the Bears, grinding it out between the tackles and running away with the turnover battle. If this Deacon defense can get pressure without having to blitz, it has a chance to be the gold standard in the ACC.
CFN Prediction: Wake Forest 34 ... Baylor 24 ... Line: Wake Forest -12.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 2.5

Saturday, August 30

Virginia Tech at East Carolina, 12:00 EST, ESPN
Why to watch: The defending ACC champion Hokies will need to plug a bunch of holes on both sides of the ball to remain on top. The Hokies have been gutted by graduations, dismissals, and injuries, especially at the skills positions and front seven. The backs and receivers might have to wear tags in the early going just to make things a little easier on anointed starting quarterback Sean Glennon, who’ll be under more scrutiny than ever with Tyrod Taylor about to redshirt. Yeah, this is still “Vah Tech” and the Coastal Division is there for the taking, but help will be needed from plenty of first-time starters. On the other side, fresh off a newly signed contract, East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz has led the way to back-to-back winning seasons as he has inched the program back to the glory days. The next step for the Pirates is to win the Conference USA title, which slipped through their grasp last November. Holtz has more depth than he’s ever had in Greenville, and beating Virginia Tech in Charlotte would be the type of landmark win that creates national exposure.
Why Virginia Tech might win: Even with the turnover on defense, the Hokies still boast a fast, high-effort unit capable of overwhelming the Pirates. Orion Martin and Jason Worilds will be tough to contain off the edge, and the Macho Harris-led secondary will keep the ECU passing game in check. The Pirates have issues of their own in a post-Chris Johnson world, searching for playmakers capable of stretching quality defenses. Their issues in pass protection are going to get exposed by defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who’ll make sure Patrick Pinkney feels the heat in the pocket.
Why East Carolina might win: Where is the Virginia Tech offense going to come from? Sure, Glennon is a good veteran, but his supporting
cast has almost no experience collectively. Injuries have made replacing leading rusher Branden Ore a chore and the receiving corps is paper-thin after the tight ends. Plus, the inconsistent Hokie offensive line will have its hands full with a Pirate front loaded with returning starters and super-sized interior linemen. If ends C.J. Wilson and Zack Slate can create some havoc in the backfield, Tech will help from other places to get on the board. 
Who to watch: Until a reliable rotation is developed at wide receiver, Glennon will spend plenty of time looking for full-figured TE Greg Boone. Surprisingly agile at 6-3 and 290 pounds, he’ll lumber like wrecking ball through the undersized East Carolina back seven. Pencil him in for a touchdown reception and a few broken tackles Saturday afternoon.
What will happen: After nearly knocking off Tech in Blacksburg last September, East Carolina won’t be intimidated, especially at a neutral site. The Pirates’ upset bid will be foiled by a lack of execution on offense and too many turnovers. The Hokies will play it safe, leaning on the ground game and defense to escape with a win.

CFN Prediction: Virginia Tech 20 ... East Carolina 13 ... Line: Virginia Tech -10
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 3

ACC Week One Predictions, Part 2 Top Stories