The Road to Charlotte: Clemson, Maryland, UF

In the final installment of The Road to Charlotte we look at the final 3 games on Florida State's schedule, and determine if they'll make the ACC Championship game.

The final 3 weeks of the season has 2 tough games in Clemson and Florida, and an away game against a struggling Maryland program. NoleDigest runs down the final 3 games, and gives their prediction on FSU's chances to make the ACC Championship Game.

CLEMSON:

Offensively the season turned positive when quarterback Kyle Parker decided to come back this fall. Clemson was all but ready to start the Taj Boyd era, but that will have to wait as Parker will lead on offense stacked with talented running backs and some big-play receivers.

As we've seen throughout these previews the running back position is stacked in the ACC, and Clemson has a talented duo in Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington. Ellington fits the C.J. Spiller mold as he is the quick and shifty back that can create havoc coming out of the backfield in passing downs.

Xavier Dye and Terrence Ashe are back and they must step up and replace the production Jacoby Ford brought to the table. Dye has shown flashes but hasn't been consistent over the past few years. Look for Dwyane Allen and Victor Beasley to contribute.

4 offensive linemen return so there is experience up front on offense. The thing the coaches are looking for heading into the season is depth.

Defensively Clemson returns several players who have NFL talent. Coach Steele has done a great job with his defense as last year they ranked among the top 20 or so defenses in the country.

Up front Brandon Thompson, Da'Quan Bowers and Jarvis Jenkins return. The secondary stars All-American safety DeAndre McDaniel. There ware question marks at linebacker heading into the season.

MARYLAND:

Maryland returns 12 starters from a team that finished 2-10 in 2009. Maryland is looking to get back to bowl contention as is it seems Ralph Friedgen is not firmly entrenched on the hot-seat.

While Jamarr Robinson returns at quarterback this is an area of concern for the Terrapins. Robinson is a dual threat guy with a strong arm, but he's struggled with his decision making. Look for the coaches to get Robinson out of the pocket and use his legs more this season.

Da'Rel Scott returns this season after missing 5 games in 2009 with a broken arm. He must return to the All-ACC form from 2 years ago if Maryland wants to have success on that side of the ball.

There is some talent on defense in linebacker Alex Wujciak, Christopher Chism and Adrian Moten. Wujciak was an All-ACC performer and set the school record for interception yards, and Chism led the team in picks last year. The team's top 10 tacklers return so this unit should be strong in 2010.

FLORIDA:

The Florida-FSU series has been one sided over the past 6 years. The heated rivalry has started to pick up as the spirit and excitement has increased under the Jimbo Fisher era at FSU.

FSU is looking to end the losing streak to their arch-rival. 2010 looks to be an opportune time for that to happen as Florida is replacing Tim Tebow and several starters on the defense.

Florida fans are quick to pint out the talent that John Brantley brings to the table at quarterback. Under Brantley the spread attack will have a more traditional look as Brantley doesn't have the mobility Tebow had. The offense is going to have to adjust with the new signal caller.

Florida has a trio of running backs they'll look to to take the carries Tebow had over the past few years. Jeff Demps is a speed back. One move and he is up field. Chris Rainey is more of a slot guy who lines up in the backfield, but he too can break it at any minute. Emmanuel Moody has not lived up to the billing he had coming out of high school, but he has the size that this team needs when it comes to getting those tough yards. Tebow has led this team in rushing, so who takes over there?

There are questions at wide receiver. There is raw talent, but most of it hasn't done a lot on the collegiate level. Deonte Thompson is the team's leading returning receiver with 24 catches for 343 yards and 4 scores. Carl Moore needs to step up for this segment to excel. Andre Debose is a wildcard. He missed last year because of a hamstring injury. He has elite talent when healthy.

The Gators are potent along the offensive line led by Mike Pouncey. The injuries to Xavier Nixon and Matt Patchan leave a hole at left tackle. Carl Johnson and Marcus Gilbert are NFL quality linemen that will anchor this unit.

Florida's defense lost coordinator Charlie Strong along with several NFL picks like Joe Haden, Brandon Spikes and Carlos Dunlap. Again there will be some changes on this side of the ball, but Florida has done a good enough job recruiting to stay among one of the SEC's best.

Those close to the program feel a big year is coming from defensive tackle Jaye Howard. He'll need to shore up the middle as the Gators lost their 2 top ends from last year. Justin Trattou will start at end; he has underachieved so far at UF, thus there are some that think the underclassmen will come in and compete right away.

The linebackers will look different as the team lost 3 major contributors. A.J. Jones enters his 3rd year as a starter and will lead this unit. Sophomore Jelani Jenkins is primed for a break-out year, and sophomore Jon Bostic has the Gator faithful excited. It's hard to say if they'll have the success of previous years as there isn't a lot of game experience among this group.

That can't be said about the defensive backs, though. Florida returns an experienced and talented secondary. Senior Ahmad Black and juniors Will Hill and Janoris Jenkins return. Jenkins is special and has been great his first 2 years. Freshmen Matt Elam and Josh Shaw are competing for playing time.

NoleDigest way to early prediction:

Clemson @ FSU: FSU will need to play better defensively and not turn the ball over in this contest. This series has gone back and forth recently but Clemson has arguably been the better team. This year should be different as FSU's defense will be ready for Parker and the passing attack. Christian Ponder won't have another 4 turnover game this year, either. Right now this is a coin flip.

FSU 31 Clemson 27 FSU @ Maryland: This is a potential trap game as it is between Clemson and UF. Maryland's defense will be strong, but there isn't enough on offense for the Terrapins this year.

FSU 41 Maryland 21 Florida @ FSU: FSU has the athletes now to compete on offense, but the defensive line isn't ready yet. This game will be closer than it has been over the past 3 years.

Florida 31 FSU 28

Final prediction: 10-2, 7-1 in ACC play

*Look for FSU to play in the ACC Championship game against Virginia Tech, losing a close contest 26-24 to a Hokie team that has too much experience to overcome.


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