CFN: ACC Fearless Predictions, Sept. 1

CFN's John Harris examines the first week of ACC football.

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ACC Week One Predictions


ACC Saturday, September 1

Georgia Tech at Notre Dame 3:30 PM NBC
Why to Watch:  There might be bigger games in week one with national title implications and chances to throw the top 25 into a tizzy, but this might be the most intriguing matchup of the weekend. Who is Notre Dame? Is it a program that can simply reload after losing almost everyone worthy of note on offense, or is this a rebuilding year on the way to bigger and better things down the road? What will happen if the Irish have to spend the first half of the season taking a few lumps against a brutal, BRUTAL, schedule? Is Georgia Tech the real deal? Within an eyelash, and decent quarterback play, of a truly special season, complete with an ACC title and a trip to the Orange Bowl wiped away with a loss to an inferior Wake Forest team. Somewhat quietly, Chan Gailey has put together his best team yet in Atlanta. If Tech really wants to be a player, and it can be a national threat this year, it has to pull off it's first win in South Bend since 1959. For the Irish, with road games at Penn State and Michigan coming up, a loss will likely mean an 0-3 start.
Why Georgia Tech Might Win:  Georgia Tech's defense should keep the Irish quarterback on his back all game long. No matter who the Irish starter turns out to be, the Tech defensive front should be able to dominate a Notre Dame front five that almost got Brady Quinn killed last year and will likely struggle over the first half of this year. This is not the defense to break in new skill players against, while the Tech offensive line should dominate the Irish defensive front. It'll be a shock if Tashard Choice and the Tech running game doesn't control the tempo.
Why Notre Dame Might Win:  Georgia Tech had the better team last year, including Calvin Johnson, and Notre Dame still found a way to win on the road. Even though everyone has jumped off the Irish bandwagon, this is still a team under Charlie Weis that's only lost to one team that didn't end up in (or play in) the BCS, and that was the shootout against Michigan State two years ago. This is a fantastically coached team that should have plenty of wrinkles, bells and whistles on both sides of the ball for a Tech team that'll lack an explosive pop and might not have the receiving corps in place to take advantage of the mediocre Irish secondary.
Who to Watch: Apparently a matter of national security, Weis has refused to name his starting quarterback between Evan Sharpley, Jimmy Clausen and Demetrius Jones. Tech has had to prepare for an athletic runner in Jones, a all-around game of Sharpley, and the prototype passer in Clausen. On the other side, Tech's Taylor Bennett is considered an upgrade over Reggie Ball, who won plenty of games but was wildly inconsistent. Bennett threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns in the Gator Bowl loss against West Virginia, and if he gets a little bit of time and doesn't force his throws, he should be able to carve up the Irish secondary and take the spotlight away from whoever's under center for the Irish.
What Will Happen: Georgia Tech should win this game in a walk, but the coaching of Weis, and the surprisingly steady play of all the new starters on the Irish offense, will keep this close. In the end, the Tech defense will prove too stout, while Choice and the running game will control the fourth quarter.
CFN Prediction: Georgia Tech 23 ... Notre Dame 16   Line: Notre Dame -2
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 4
Final Score: 

Wake Forest at Boston College 3:30 PM ABC
Why to Watch:  For Wake Forest, this is a prove it game. Yeah, last season was great, but was it fluke? Yes, these are the defending ACC champion Demon Deacons, and Jim Grobe’s squad doesn’t appear to be a one-hit wonder with a slew of returning talent. While the hope is for the same formula to work two years in a row, the ACC is much better overall and now, everyone will be gunning for the champ.  For Boston College, this is a shot to show that the program can still roll on without Tom O’Brien. New head coach Jeff Jagodzinski will have to hit the ground running with team that’s good enough to win the league championship and get to the BCS.  While the ACC Atlantic Division won’t be won on Saturday, the loser will be fighting an uphill battle all season long with no margin for error.
Why Wake Forest Might Win:  The Deacon offense, led by quarterback Riley Skinner, confounds defenses with misdirection and counter-action, and while there’s plenty of deception, it’s all in the execution. With its experience, there shouldn’t be any lag time considering it’s the first game of the year.  Skinner and the attack down turn the ball over and should keep BC star QB Matt Ryan and the Eagle offense on the sidelines throughout the game; at least that’s the idea.  On defense, the Deacons are a quick, penetrating unit that frustrates zone blocking schemes, like the one that Boston College runs under Jagodzinski.
Why Boston College Might Win:  The fact that Ryan is still taking snaps gives the Eagles a chance, not to mention the fact that he’s 100% healthy, something that he wasn’t throughout a strong junior campaign.  If Ryan gets a solid performance from his running game, the Eagle signal caller should have plenty of throwing lanes against a bend-but-not-break Deacon defense. BC has the defensive front, led by future NFL DT B.J. Raji, to gum up the works even with all-star center Steve Justice and guard Chris DeGeare back on the inside for Wake.
Who to Watch:  The Quarterbacks.  The dearth of big time quarterbacks in the conference is disconcerting, but not here.  Wake Forest’s Skinner doesn’t have an arm and is hardly flashy, but he drives the Deacon offense and won’t force anything that isn’t there.  He’s the consummate game manager, even if he only throws 15 times a game.  On the other hand, Ryan, who threw for 402 yards in last year’s loss, is the preseason ACC player of the year for a reason.  He’s the unquestioned leader of the new BC offense and has been given the autonomy afforded only the most cerebral of signal callers.  The two stars won’t line up against one another, but it’s perhaps the best tête-à-tête in the ACC this weekend.
What Will Happen: The last time these two teed it up in Chestnut Hill, Ryan led a last minute comeback to defeat the Deacons 35-30.  It won’t be that thrilling, but it should be a third straight good game in the series with the running games each trying to take control. The Eagle backs should pile up more than 200+ yards, while Ryan and the BC passing attack has a big advantage over Skinner.
CFN Prediction: Boston College 24 … Wake Forest 17   Line: Boston College -6.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 3.5
Final Score: 

Villanova at Maryland 6:00 PM
Why to Watch:  Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen has another solid, if unspectacular, squad that should be able to compete for the ACC Atlantic Division title. The Wildcats shouldn’t provide much resistance, but the Terps have suffered a number of injuries throughout camp, not to mention the loss of hulking tackle Jared Gaither to the NFL.  They still need a sure-thing starting quarterback to emerge, and this game needs to go a long way in finding one.  Over the past few years, Fridge’s Terps have been lackluster, even in victories, so this one might not be a high scoring blowout.
Why Villanova Might Win:  Maryland won’t score enough points to blow out the Wildcats, so Villanova is going to be one big play away from staying in the game.  Quarterback Antwon Young is an athletic signal caller who can frustrate the Terps with his ability to move in the pocket and make plays downfield.  The Terps are going to be doing plenty of experimenting and could be anything but smooth the first time out.
Why Maryland Might Win:  Speed.  Lots of speed.  The Terps are as fast as any team in the ACC led by wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, although he’s been nursing a foot injury during camp.   Villanova doesn’t have the offensive playmakers to keep up in any sort of shootout, while the defense, which was abysmal against the pass last year, has to make a night-and-day turnaround to keep the UM QB Jordan Steffy from looking like Peyton Manning.
Who to Watch: Steffy … or Josh Portis. It’ll be Steffy to start, and needs to come out sharp, or else there might be more tinkering to be done against Florida International next week before the showdown with West Virginia. He’ll be under a little bit of pressure from a Wildcat defense that’ll take plenty of chances to disrupt things, but he needs to make the right reads and the right decisions in a hurry to get the ball to his potentially explosive corps.
What Will Happen:
Steffy will make one key play blowing open a close game in the second half after the ground game has loosened things up.  The running tandem of Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore should then control much of the second half.
CFN Prediction: Maryland 31 … Villanova 10  Line: N/A
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 1
Final Score: 

UCF at North Carolina State 6:00 PM
Why to Watch:  These two teams are quickly looking to bounce back after subpar 2006 seasons. Every team is looking to make a statement in week one, but this game might speak more to how the respective seasons will go considering how close each program appears to be to coming up with a big year.  The Wolfpack leaves the Chuck Amato era behind as taskmaster Tom O’Brien takes over a program in bad need of discipline, organization and consistent wins. A loss to a Conference USA team would potentially be devastating with the road trip to Boston College coming up next week.  UCF’s George O’Leary has plenty of talent at his doorstep to make the Wolfpack nervous, and a win here could jump-start the program. It might sound cliché, but the confidence from a great performance really could show the Golden Knights could be a player in the C-USA race. 
Why UCF Might Win:  State will face its share of big time running backs this year, but it gets a huge test in the opener against Kevin Smith.  The Knights will be physical at the point of attack and give the Wolfpack defensive front, minus former star DeMarcus “Tank” Tyler, a headache.  If UCF dominates the ball for 35 minutes, and gets consistent play on third downs from the passing game, State could be in serious trouble. The offense isn’t explosive enough to take away the momentum if it’s lost, but …
Why North Carolina State Might Win:  … State’s running game may be the best unit that UCF faces this year and should control the game.  Toney Baker and Andre Brown form a punishing 1-2 combination and will pound out drives against the mediocre UCF defensive front seven.  As long as they don’t turn the ball over, State should pile up 200+ yards rushing and keep Smith out of the game.
Who to Watch: UCF receiver Rocky Ross returns after a solid sophomore season and is quarterback Kyle Israel’s go-to guy.  If Smith picks up chunks of yards in the running game, then Ross is going to get single coverage downfield.  Advantage Ross. More than anything else, he has to make plays on third downs. UCF has to control the clock from the start, and there will be plenty of third and fives.
What Will Happen: The State defense will keep eight in the box to halt Smith and hope that Ross doesn’t do any damage deep downfield.  If the Wolfpack defense keeps the UCF passing game in check, Baker and Brown will run for 275+ and give O’Brien a win in his first game. At BC, O’Brien would never lose a game like this.
CFN Prediction: NC State 24 … UCF 16  Line: NC State -10
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

James Madison at North Carolina 6:00 PM 
Why to Watch:  Butch Davis back on the sideline is intrigue enough for this matchup, but even more so is what type of team he’ll have in Chapel Hill.  Eventually. His team has talent, but most of it is young and inexperienced, making a game like this vital for the program’s development, even if it is the season opener.  James Madison may be an FCS team, but it won’t play like one.  Head coach Mickey Matthews’ bunch is one of the strongest non-top level teams and has the talent and potential to ruin Davis’ debut in Kenan Stadium. This is a sound team with good playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Why James Madison Might Win:  The Dukes’ balance on offense will present problems for the North Carolina defense that doesn’t have a ton of experience in the front seven.  That group needs to get JMU off the field, but don’t expect the Dukes to go three and out throughout the game.  The more confidence quarterback Rodney Landers and company get, the more difficult it’ll be to keep Cinderella from dancing in the fourth quarter. Also making things interesting will be the JMU pass rush. The last thing the developing UNC passing game needs is to be pressured play in and play out.
Why North Carolina Might Win: The opening game of the Butch Davis era?  Against an FCS opponent?  Davis and his staff will coach this like it’s the national championship game to ensure that the Heels start 1-0.  Not to mention the fact that the Heels can always throw the ball to receiver Hakeem Nicks against a JMU secondary that will give up the long ball.  UNC should get several more big plays than the Dukes.  
Who to Watch: North Carolina quarterbacks.  Redshirt freshman T.J. Yates snatched the job away from sophomore Cam Sexton, but that doesn’t mean that the quarterback situation is settled by any means.  If Yates has a few three and outs early and JMU jumps to an early lead, will we see Sexton?  Yates has to make a statement early to maintain his hold on this job.
What Will Happen: Pesky JMU won’t go away.  This will be a ballgame into the fourth quarter, but the depth of Carolina’s defense and talent at receiver will eventually take over late in the game.  If Yates is cool under pressure, the Heels offense will wear out the Duke secondary.  No, not that Duke.
CFN Prediction: North Carolina 31 … James Madison 20 Line: No Line
Must See Rating:
(5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 1.5
Final Score: 

ACC Week One Predictions


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