ACC Game of
9:15 PM ESPN ACC Saturday, September 8
(0-1) at Boston College
at Georgia Tech
(1-0) 1:30 PM
Why to Watch: This is the non-conference game we've been waiting eight months for. It's a battle between two of the best defenses in America and two BCS Championship caliber teams in a game that'll go a long way to shaping the national title race. Virginia Tech has to show that the sluggish 17-7 win over East Carolina had more to do with the weight and emotion of the outside circumstances than the potential problems on offense, while the Tigers are looking for the type of early season victory that would cement them in the top two as long as they keep winning. The defenses will be flying around and doing lots and lots of hitting in what should be a heavyweight war for a full sixty minutes. It's a who's who of star defensive players from LSU's Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, to Virginia Tech's Vince Hall, Xavier Adibi and Brandon Flowers, and it should be your dream come true if you like low scoring slugfests. It's also a dream come true for everyone looking for great games.
Why Virginia Tech Might Win: As long as the Hokies can win the turnover battle, they have a shot. Mississippi State didn't play all that poorly against LSU, considering it was a 45-0 blowout, but it couldn't hang on to the ball and it allowed the Tiger offense to fire away from close range. The LSU attack still needs to prove it can be consistent, and if the Hokies don't screw up, play ball control offense, and force LSU to go on long drives, this will be close throughout. Punter Brent Bowden had a good opening day and should do his part to pin the Tigers deep.
Why LSU Might Win: The Virginia Tech offensive line struggled against East Carolina's defensive front, and LSU's is far better. The Hokie formula has been to play great defense, win the special teams battle, and run effectively, but LSU is all but certain to take RB Branden Ore out of the equation and make QB Sean Glennon try to win the game. Glennon can be effective if he gets time, but the LSU pass rush could be too much for a Hokie line that gave up four sacks last week.
Who to Watch: Call this a validation game for two controversial figures. Glennon started off his season by throwing his first pass for an interception, and then went 22 of 33 for 245 yards and a touchdown against East Carolina. While he's been good at times, he hasn't been consistent, and many see him as the one piece of the puzzle that's holding the Hokies back and keeping them from being a true national title contender. He needs to be razor sharp in his decision making, and he has to be absolutely sure on his throws against a lightning fast Tiger D. For LSU, new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton has to prove to the Tiger faithful that his attack can generate points against a top flight defense. While the Tigers put up 45 points on Mississippi State, the offense was hardly smooth and was helped by a D that forced seven turnovers. Virginia Tech's defense is good at making offenses look bad, but if Crowton is the elite coach he's supposed to be, the LSU offense should still produce.
What Will Happen: The Hokies won 26-8 in Blacksburg in the first and only meeting in 2002, but the Tiger program has progressed by leaps and bounds since then. The Tigers are a little better on defense, and a lot better on offense, so as long as they're patient and don't give the Hokies any big breaks, they'll come up with a tough, somewhat ugly win.
CFN Prediction: LSU 20 ... Virginia Tech 13 ... Line: LSU -8
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 5
Why to Watch: Forget the fact that Boston College can sprint to a 2-0 lead on the way to a possible ACC Atlantic Division title, this one is all about the return of former Eagles coach Tom O’Brien to his old stomping grounds. O’Brien, who directed BC to six straight bowl wins before abdicating last year for what he considered a better opportunity in Raleigh, must find a way to make sure his Wolfpack doesn’t stagger out of the blocks as it did in a 25-23 loss to Central Florida last Saturday. BC, meanwhile, is on a high after overcoming some early troubles of its own to whip Wake Forest.
Why North Carolina State Might Win: Who knows BC better than O’Brien? The former coach will have his team as prepared as anyone will be for the Eagles all year. This week, he had to make a big call. Instead of going with Daniel Evans, who showed excellent decision making but limited arm strength during the pre-season and broke BC’s heart last year with a game-winning touchdown pass as time ran out, O’Brien is giving the starting nod to Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck, who threw for 207 yards and two scores last week. Beck may not be as judicious as Evans, but he has the arm strength to stretch the field. BC was sharp in the passing game last week, with QB Matt Ryan throwing for 408 yards and five scores, but the ‘Pack allowed just 93 yards passing against UCF, so it might be able to keep the air-happy Eagles grounded somewhat.
Why Boston College Might Win: The Eagles will be able to load up against Beck, because top Wolfpack tailback Toney Baker suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Knights. Not that Baker was a revelation against UCF, since he and his fellow State backs were limited to minus-14 yards rushing in the first half last Saturday. And when Beck does pass, he’ll have to deal with senior corner DeJuan Tribble, who picked off three passes last week as the leader of a strong Eagle back seven. The Eagles weren’t a ground juggernaut against the Deacons, but the expected return of tailback L.V. Whitworth should fortify their running attack.
Whom to Watch: Ryan may not be on anybody’s Heisman short list quite yet, but his opening salvo last week against the Demon Deacons certainly caught the eyes of NFL scouts, who are considering him for first-round status come April. Ryan did throw two picks against Wake, but he completed 61.5% of his passes and showed the kind of versatile skills and leadership necessary to be a big-time prospect and winner at this level. This is his team, and if he’s the star he’s supposed to be, he won’t let the Eagles lose to a mediocre team like State.
What Will Happen: Beck should do well statistically, but with no ground game to speak of, he won’t have much time and will make some shaky throws. BC, meanwhile, will continue its fast start on the arm of Ryan.
CFN Prediction: Boston College 38 ... NC State 20 ... Line: Boston College -16.5
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 2
UL Monroe (0-1) at Clemson (1-0) 1:00 PM GamePlan
Why to Watch: If you liked what you saw in the first half of Clemson’s 24-18 win over Florida State in the Bowden Bowl, then you should be tickled Saturday. The Tigers may suffer a bit of a letdown, and if UL Monroe plays like it did last year in the oh-so-close 42-40 loss to Kentucky, and catches a big break or five, this could be closer than expected. The Tiger speed is something to behold, and the blitzing defense can be hellish, provided there is some discipline among its members, but ULM can run, too.
Why UL Monroe Might Win: The Warhawks ran the ball well last week against Tulsa, and in tailback Calvin Dawson (150 yards vs. the Golden Hurricane), they have a proven ballcarrier with more than 2,000 career yards and nine 100-yard games. The Warhawks also held a 17-14 halftime lead against Tulsa, so they have the potential to scare a better opponent, provided they can sustain the success and get the running game going. If this gets close, ULM has a weapon in kicker Cole Wilson, who has made 12 straight field goals.
Why Clemson Might Win: If the team that held FSU to a mere 62 total yards in the first half shows up, en route to a 24-3 halftime lead, there is no “might” here. Clemson will win by 50. But the Tigers have to be focused and can’t let down. The blitzing Tiger D that forced the ‘Noles into eight first-half punts and an 0-for-9 success rate on third down, and which registered five sacks, should be stout enough to shut down Dawson. ULM QB Kinsmon Lancaster threw for just 66 yards against Tulsa and isn’t likely to turn it up a notch against the speedy Tiger secondary.
Who to Watch: Clemson QB Cullen Harper had a solid debut and certainly silenced the people who were clamoring for an early unveiling of true freshman Willy Korn. Harper completed 14-of-24 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t make too many bad decisions and was in charge of the offense. He even overcame some adversity when guards Thomas Austin and Brandon Pilgrim had to leave the game with injuries. While he isn’t going to wow too many people, that’s not his job. As long as he doesn’t turn it over and lets the star running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller do their jobs, the Tigers will roll.
What Will Happen: The Warhawks may be able to stick around for a while, because Clemson is coming off an emotional game and a short week, but there’s a big difference between scaring Tulsa for a half in front of 22,000 in Monroe and hanging with the Tigers before 83,000 in Death Valley.
CFN Prediction: Clemson 45 ... UL Monroe 10 ... Line: Clemson -23
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 2
Duke (0-1) at Virginia (0-1)
Why to Watch: The two most inept ACC teams last week, with each coming off humiliating losses, need to do something positive very, very quickly. Duke managed but 169 total yards in a 45-14 loss to Connecticut, but that looked like an old Oklahoma wishbone juggernaut performance compared to what Virginia managed in the 23-3 loss to Wyoming. The Cavaliers were able to muster but 110 yards in the loss, the team’s lowest total since 1980. UVA had just over 19 minutes of possession, had five first downs and only seven yards rushing. As the old cliché goes, “Something’s got to give.”
Why Duke Might Win: The Blue Devils have lost 20 in a row, and has only beaten one FBS team in their last 31 games, but they have a shot if the defense, which played well enough in the first three quarters of the game against Connecticut, can pitch 60 minutes against the Cavaliers. Given UVA’s offensive woes, that’s a distinct possibility. Linebacker Vincent Rey is the who can quickly kickstart the D and the one who needs to be the main man against the run after making 17 tackles in his first ever start.
Why Virginia Might Win: The Blue Devils went on an 80-yard touchdown drive on their first possession against UConn, and managed 89 yards the rest of the way. They’re not likely to put 50 on the board. For the Virginia offense, they are sticking with starter Jameel Sewell this Saturday even after putting in Peter Lalich to try to get things going. Sewell completed just 11-of-23 passes for 87 yards, but he was strong at the end of last year and has the talent to carry the game by himself. What he needs is some consistency, and to get the ball more to freshman Staton Jobe, who averaged 13.5 yards on his two catches against the Cowboys. The Virginia defense may have given up 471 total yards to Wyoming, but that’s what happens when the offense leaves you on the field all day. This is a better unit than that, and the shaky Duke defense gives it a chance to make up for last Saturday’s statistical meltdown. The Cavs will also get a field position edge thanks to Duke’s shaky punting game. The Blue Devils punted seven times last week, with the longest a 35-yarder.
Whom to Watch: Sewell is a run-pass type who led the team in rushing and throwing yardage in ’06 and has the potential to be a spread-attack monster. What he must do against Duke is resist the temptation to do everything himself and trust his ground game. When he does throw, he has to be sharper, since the Cavaliers do have a bunch of targets at his disposal. Sewell is just a sophomore, so his best days are well ahead of him, but at 6-3, 219, with a strong arm and good legs, he can make plays.
What Will Happen: At home, the Cavaliers should get somewhat healthy against the hapless Blue Devils, who have problems on both sides of the ball and lack the depth to hang tough for four full quarters. Virginia isn’t exactly a juggernaut, but it has more talent than Duke.
CFN Prediction: Virginia 28 ... Duke 16 ... Line: Virginia -16
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 2
UAB (0-1) at Florida State (0-1) 5:00 PM ESPNU
Why to Watch: This one can be instructional if only to see whether FSU can rebound after a lousy outing, at least for around three quarters, in the 24-18 Bowden Bowl loss to Clemson. The ‘Noles fell into a 24-3 halftime hole, and though they fought back late, they couldn’t get all the way out. Most disconcerting were the myriad errors made on both sides of the ball. Mental mistakes, lack of discipline, dropped passes and missed tackles all contributed to the shaky debut. As for UAB, its fans are wondering what in the world happened at Michigan State, even though this is supposed to be a rebuilding year in every way. Early in the second quarter, the Spartans held a 35-0 lead and were on their way to a laugher. New coach Neil Callaway could use a breather, and he isn’t going to get it with a visit to Tallahassee against a mad team.
Why UAB Might Win: The only hope to keep this close is if FSU is a bit cashed after a short week. The Blazers looked awful against Michigan State, and it will take a dramatic turnaround to hang in. Some good news came from quarterback Sam Hunt, who threw for 214 yards and a score, but the UAB ground attack must improve, after managing just 13 yards on 25 carries. That was bad, but so were the 298 yards and five TDs amassed by the Spartans against the Blazers. FSU’s front offensive wall is shaky, so UAB has a chance to get better against the run.
Why Florida State Might Win: There’s no possible way the Seminoles can be as inept as they were against Clemson, is there? The first half alone was a disgrace: 62 yards of total offense, eight punts and no success in nine third-down conversion attempts. Blame part of it on nerves, since the team was clearly tight playing in coordinator Jimbo Fisher’s new attack. You can credit an offensive line that had a true freshman, redshirt frosh and sophomore among its starters. But FSU wasn’t buttoned down on either side of the ball, and you can’t blame youth on captains De’Cody Fagg and Greg Carr, each of whom dropped two passes that would have been first-down conversions. So, FSU will be looser and more focused, and the defense that missed so many tackles will be more disciplined. That’s why UAB is the perfect opponent. The Blazers look to be extremely overmatched, something which should give the Seminoles confidence. Even though QB Drew Weatherford wasn’t spectacular (17-of-34, 142 yards), he did complete 10-of-18 after intermission for 114 yards and two scores. And the defense that looked rotten in the first half, pitched a shutout and allowed just 82 total yards in the second.
Who to Watch: It’s all about Fisher, who was advertised as the man who would fix the FSU offense. There is still time for that to happen, but he had better make sure this team doesn’t have the same mental lapses it did against Clemson. Players lined up in the wrong spots. Assignments were missed. Passes were dropped. Fisher brings a new creativity to the offense, but he had better make sure there is sufficient discipline, too, because the ‘Noles don’t have the pure talent on that side of the ball to overcome mistakes.
What Will Happen: It’s all about Florida State’s mood. If it comes out focused and fired up, it’ll roll with ease. More than likely, this will be a workmanlike performance by Florida State with a few big plays sprinkled in here and there to get the Nole fans happy for a little while.
CFN Prediction: Florida State 45 ... UAB 10 ... Line: FSU -34
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 1.5
Why to Watch: Hey, if Appalachian State can bump off Michigan, then maybe Samford can do in the Yellow Jackets. Yeah, we’ll hear that for the rest of the year every time an FCS team lines up against one of the big boys, but that’s about the only reason why this thing might be competitive. That, and to see the stats Georgia Tech can pile up after destroying Notre Dame 33-3 last week. Tech running back Tashard Choice has a streak of eight consecutive 100-yard rushing days and figures to get a bunch of carries early on against a porous Samford run defense.
Why Samford Might Win: First-year Samford coach Pat Sullivan was the boss at TCU and has extensive I-A assistant experience, so he at least understands what must go into an upset of this magnitude. Beyond that, it’s going to fall on the balanced Bulldog offense, which produced 380 yards in its 23-21 opening-game win over West Alabama. Freshman running back Alex Barnett had 80 yards on the ground and looked solid, while senior QB Jefferson Adcock threw for 240 yards and two scores, despite completing only 16-of-38 passes.
Why Georgia Tech Might Win: Even though the GT passing attack sputtered some in the win over Notre Dame, and will be without top receiver James Johnson with a knee and back problem, the Jackets have plenty on the ground. He gained 196 yards on just 26 carries against the Irish and should feast on a Samford front seven that allowed 260 yards rushing in its opener. On the other side of the ball, a defense that collected nine sacks and held ND to minus-8 yards rushing should be able to throttle Samford and keep the Bulldogs off the scoreboard for much of the game.
Who to Watch: Choice has been on fire of late, but he likely won’t get too much work with Boston College coming up next week. This will be a game for QB Taylor Bennett. While the new starter isn’t going to throw the ball 50 times, Tech won’t want to rub it in; he has to fine-tune his arm after missing several open receivers last week. If he had been on, against the Irish, the Yellow Jackets would’ve hung 50 on the board. Basically, he has to tune up for BC.
What Will Happen: Unless Tech is still basking in the glow of humiliating the Fighting Irish, it should come out and tear through Samford from the start. Sullivan had a nice season-opening win, but this is quite a step up in class from West Alabama, and his Bulldogs will feel it. Expect to see Choice getting plenty of work, but don’t be surprised if Bennett goes downfield, should Samford sell out to stop the run. Adcock had success last week, but the aggressive, experienced GT defense will harass him most of the day.
CFN Prediction: Georgia Tech 45 ... Samford 6 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 1
Maryland (1-0) at Florida International (0-1) 7:00 PM
Why to Watch: The Terps were impressive in their victory over Villanova last week, but that was Villanova. At least FIU is an FBS team … but barely. Bombed last week by Penn State 59-0, it’s going to take a while for the program to be competitive against any decent team, as it still tries to come back from 2006’s disaster. For Maryland, the continued development of QB Jordan Steffy is the key this week. The junior beat out Josh Portis in the summer and had a solid start against the Wildcats. He had better be good, because Portis is gone for the year thanks to an “academic issue.” FIU, meanwhile, is trying to take a stride or two under new coach Mario Cristobal, and the Terps are a little less formidable than Penn State.
Why Maryland Might Win: The Terps beat up on an FCS team, but there were some signs of progress which should carry over. Steffy was 19-of-24 for 174 yards and showed good mobility with 47 yards, and he should use his running ability to keep the FIU defense on its heels. Keon Lattimore ran for 106 yards and three scores. That balanced attack should be enough to overcome an FIU team that surrendered 549 total yards to PSU. If that isn’t enough, the revamped Maryland defensive front tallied four sacks, which is noteworthy considering the Terps managed just 20 all last year. Look out for Dre Moore and Carlos Feliciano, the starting tackles, to create some havoc.
Why Florida International Might Win: The Panthers hope their new spread attack will put enough pressure on the Terps to create some big plays. Trouble is, redshirt freshman quarterback Wayne Younger struggled last week, completing 12-of-25 passes for 117 yards and couldn’t get the offense moving. Then again, it was Penn State. In Happy Valley. FIU averaged just 9.6 points per game last year, so Cristobal is trying to open things up and will take plenty of chances. Maryland isn’t likely to take this game too seriously and could come out with a rocky, unfocused start.
Who to Watch: When Steffy was carted off the Bryd Stadium field last Saturday, Terp fans no doubt figured the season was over. After all, Portis was gone, and there was Steffy, unable to walk. The good news was that he had a cramp and was able to return. The better news was that he had an efficient game, showed the ability to run and pass and has one more game to get comfortable before West Virginia shows up on the schedule. Steffy isn’t a dynamo, but he has waited his turn and has the potential to be a strong leader. He also has the benefit of Lattimore and some solid targets to work with.
What Will Happen: It may take Maryland a little while to get going offensively, since Steffy is starting his first road tilt, but the Terps should be flexing their muscles by halftime. Look for Lattimore to get a lot of work early on, with Steffy moving to the forefront in selected situations. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen isn’t going to show too much before WVU and the start of the conference season, so don’t expect a whitewash. But FIU is outclassed here and can only hope to keep this from being a laugher.
CFN Prediction: Maryland 35 ... FIU 9 ... Line: Maryland -25
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 1.5
Nebraska (1-0) at Wake Forest (0-1) 12:00 PM ESPN
Why to Watch: It’s news enough that the Cornhuskers are coming to little Groves Stadium to take on the Deacons, but this one has gone from a Nebraska layup when the contract was signed a couple years ago to an intriguing intersectional matchup after Wake Forest stunned the world with an ACC title, and looked awfully good in a 38-28 loss to Boston College last week. Nebraska has been pointing toward this season for a while and hopes to return to preeminence now that coach Bill Callahan has had three years to put his system into place. Meanwhile, the Deacons will try to rebound from last week’s tough loss, and will look to avoid a three-game losing streak without quarterback Riley Skinner (separated shoulder).
Why Nebraska Might Win: The I backs weren’t dashing across the plains as in days of old, but any time you pile up 413 yards rushing, you’re doing something right. Give credit to tailback Marlon Lucky (233 yards), but more hosannas should ring down on the Nebraska offensive line, which is leaner and faster this season after years of not being up to Husker snuff. The front five paved the way for 625 yards of total offense in the rout of Nevada. And while new starter (and Arizona State transfer) Sam Keller was average in his debut (14-of-25, 193 yards), he’ll face a Wake defense that surrendered 408 yards and five scores to BC’s Matt Ryan. Meanwhile, the Nebraska front seven will face a Wake ground attack that produced a mere four yards last week. If the Huskers don’t make mega-mistakes, they’ll win.
Why Wake Forest Might Win: Could the Huskers be looking ahead to USC? Their heads might be back in Lincoln worrying about next weekend's epic clash with the nation's best team. This week, t Deacons will likely be without Skinner, but redshirt freshman Brett Hodges showed a good command of the offense under tough circumstances. If the short passing game crackling, the Cornhusker secondary may find itself in one-on-one matchups that it might not win; the Wake receivers are better than given credit for. Defensively, the Deacons must force Nebraska into passing by crowding the box and forcing Keller to make plays. Possibly a bit rusty still, Keller is more likely to make mistakes than the Husker running backs will.
Whom to Watch: Hodges has a bit of an advantage heading into this game since Nebraska won’t have a lot of film on him, as they would have had on Skinner. That said, coming into a relief situation is one thing; starting against a nationally-ranked club is quite another. Hodges needs to trust the system, be precise with his throws and get rid of the ball quickly. If he does that, Wake will have a chance. If not, it could get uglier than a Phyllis Diller marathon.
What Will Happen: Wake’s home field energy will keep it close for a while, but in the end, Nebraska will wear down the lighter, thinner Deacons.
CFN Prediction: Nebraska 31 ... Wake Forest 20 ... Line: Nebraska -7.5
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 4
Miami (1-0) at Oklahoma (1-0) 12:00 PM ABC
Why to Watch: This would have been an absolute screamer about three years ago, and this was a stop-the-world type of game in the mid-to-late 1980s, but Miami’s recent slide takes some of the luster off. Who cares? It’s MIAMI vs. OKLAHOMA. There are still two monster programs that can still play a little, and will want to use this as a springboard to a potentially huge season. It’s a great opportunity for the ‘Canes to show whether things are already different under new coach Randy Shannon, or whether there the long road back to the elite ranks will take a while longer. As for Oklahoma, the Sooners must prove their offense can continue to click, after a 79-10 romp over helpless North Texas last week. Can OU QB Sam Bradford and RB DeMarco Murray really be that good? This could be their national coming out party.
Why Miami Might Win: The Hurricane defense played like its typical national title-caliber self in the 31-3 season-opening win over Marshall, piling up six sacks and picking off four passes. Two of the steals set up short-field situations for the Miami offense, masking yet another mediocre day from the other side of the ball. The Hurricane ground attack should pose problems for the Sooners, who have six new starters among their front seven and weren’t exactly tested by North Texas. The dynamic duo of powerful Javarris James and sleek Graig Cooper gives Miami an opportunity to control the game and keep the explosive OU offense off the field.
Why Oklahoma Might Win: Sure, the Hurricanes can run the ball, but QB Kirby Freeman completed just 9-of-21 passes for 81 yards against Marshall and failed to inspire and sort of confidence in the downfield passing game. Even if suspended wideout Sam Shields is back, the Sooners should be able to push up close to the line and dare Miami to pass, provided they account for Lance Leggett, the ‘Canes’ only breakaway threat. That’s not a problem, considering OU has one of the nation’s five best secondaries, if it’s not the best overall. As for that formidable Miami front four, particularly DE Calais Campbell, who had an interception last week, they’ll be facing Oklahoma’s stout offensive line that, like the secondary, is in the discussion among the nation’s best.
Who to Watch: Even though Bradford comes into the game with gaudier stats, completing 21 of 23 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns, don’t throw dirt on Freeman quite yet; he might be able to thrive in a big game like this. The Hurricanes had several dropped passes against Marshall, and Shields’ absence meant the Thundering Herd was able to focus on Leggett and not let him loose, particularly on the many short slants and screens thrown his way. With Shields back and the many youngsters who were baptized against Marshall a little more comfortable, Freeman could well be more successful. Don’t expect 300 yards, but look for more success than he had last week. For OU, all eyes will be on Murray, who ran for five touchdowns against UNT. Certain to be a marked man, it might be time to ramp up the Heisman talk if he comes up with another big game. He’s that good.
What Will Happen: The Hurricanes are on the right path under Shannon’s tougher ways, but winning in Norman against a more talented Oklahoma team is asking too much. OU is at another level right now that Miami will get back to soon enough.
CFN Prediction: Oklahoma 24 ... Miami 13... Line: Oklahoma -10
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 4.5
North Carolina (1-0) at East Carolina (0-1) 6:00 PM CSTV
Why to watch: The Butch Davis era in Chapel Hill got off to a nice start with a shipshape 37-14 defeat of James Madison. That’s called progress for a program that labored to beat I-AA Furman and William & Mary in recent years, and hasn’t had a winning season since 2001. With Davis has come a new energy and a slew of talented underclassmen that dot the Tar Heel two-deep. Chief among those fresh faces is redshirt freshman QB T.J. Yates, who debuted by going 13-of-18 for 218 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. If North Carolina can keep rolling against East Carolina, enthusiasm for the football team will reach its highest point since Mack Brown was on the sidelines a decade ago. The Pirates stepped into an impossible situation in Blacksburg last Saturday, and handled themselves rather well. Faced with being the other team as Virginia Tech, and much of the nation, honored its slain students, ECU came close to pulling off a Herculean upset. Once the non-conference portion of the schedule ends, the Pirates are good enough to win Conference USA and represent the league in the Liberty Bowl.
Why North Carolina might win: East Carolina lacks the playmakers on offense to take advantage of a Tar Heel defense that’s very green in the secondary and about to replace one its few veterans, injured LB Chase Rice, with true freshman Bruce Carter. The fact that the Pirates managed only 261 yards and one score last week was not just because the Hokies were the opponent. QB Patrick Pinkney wouldn’t be getting his first career start if Rob Kass hadn’t been arrested for a DUI, and the Pirate receivers are a pedestrian bunch.
Why East Carolina might win: The Pirate defensive line vs. the Tar Heel offensive line shapes up as a potential mismatch that’ll force Yates into mistakes in the first road game of his career. While ECU was clamping down on a very good Hokie running game last weekend, North Carolina was struggling at the point of attack to create space against James Madison. Things don’t get any easier for the Tar Heel blockers in this week’s trip to Greenville.
Who to watch: Lightly recruited out of high school, LB Quentin Cotton has emerged in two seasons as a real find for Skip Holtz’s defense. A sure tackler from the weakside, he was everywhere in the loss to Tech, making 14 tackles and two tackles for loss, and forcing a fumble. With the Tar Heels likely to play it conservative Saturday, No. 50 will be around the ball a lot again this week.
What will happen: While North Carolina is clearly heading north, it’ll struggle to move the chains this week against a physical, well-coached East Carolina defense. The Pirates will get a couple of big plays on offense from mercurial RB Chris Johnson to make it close, but there won't be enough offense to win.
CFN Prediction: North Carolina 20 ... East Carolina 13... Line: East Carolina -7
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 2.5
ACC Game of the Week
9:15 PM ESPN
ACC Saturday, September 8
(0-1) at Boston College
at Georgia Tech
(1-0) 1:30 PM