An early look at ACC football in ’08
Column by Scott German
It’s 2008, and officially the Atlantic Coast Conference is 0-2 in football play, thanks to the Old Dominion’s two ACC entries dropping games earlier this month. (See Gator and Orange Bowl results) The conference known better (OK, totally) for its basketball presence know faces the continued challenge of improving its gridiron reputation.
The league that gambled on expansion to jumpstart an anemic national perception in football is still collectively waiting on those much-anticipated results. To date the fruits of expansion has not been reaped, and the cash cow that is the ACC Championship Game has been a downright disaster with the game an attendance embarrassment in Jacksonville and now prematurely heading across the sunshine state to Tampa for the 2008 affair.
Image is everything in big time college athletics, and right now the football image of the ACC is poor. The three schools (Boston College, Virginia Tech, Miami) that were brought to the conference to expand television markets and elevate on field play have had mixed results.
While Tech’s admission to the ACC is a completely different topic, the Hokies have the most success on the field, while Miami is only a shadow of the their former selves. BC, while climbing to as high as number two in the polls last season with All-American quarterback Matt Ryan, will face a rebuilding season in 2008 and could possibly go from first to last. And league officials are quickly learning that BC’s coveted Northeast TV market is not really a college market.(see Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins)
If the conference is to change course in perception and take a seat at the table with the Southeastern Conference, then ACC teams must make positive steps in 2008 that clearly did not happen in 2007. The league took a step backward this season on numerous occasions. A poor record against higher-profile teams in non conference games, a bad bowl mark (2-6) and a mass exodus of players leaving teams for the NFL draft will not help.
The Atlantic Coast Conference took a hit to its pride in 2007, and the powers-that-be in Greensboro can only look ahead to 2008 which may provide some opportunities to regain some luster with non-league success. Can the teams respond positive? The opportunities await. Can the Hokies rebound from an humiliation at Louisiana State in 2007 when they make the trip to Lincoln to face the Cornhuskers? Virginia opens the 08′ campaign in Scott Stadium against the University of Southern California, while Clemson goes against Alabama. But theses games will be of no value without success, and only success will bring the conference some respectability.
For many years, the league’s regular season race was simply a battle for second place behind Florida State. No longer. The Seminoles have fallen upon hard times in recent years, and instead of the rest of the conference catching up to the Noles, FSU has taken a step back to mere mediocrity. Miami’s tightened discipline policy, meanwhile, has at least temporarily made the Hurricanes average at best.
Another question is can teams generate enough interest to give reason for their fans a reason to be excited on fall Saturdays? Or is football in the Atlantic Coast Conference just something to get ready for basketball? If not the ‘it’s a basketball league” image may never change.
2008 ACC Projections
1. Clemson – The Tigers return a wealth of starters on both sides of the ball, and an extended contract to head coachTommy Bowden may provide the spark to propel Clemson to the ACC title game.
2. Florida State – The defense may be the best in the conference, while quarterback play should be good. The academic scandal at the end of the season may still have severe ramifications.
3. Wake Forest – It starts with QB Riley Skinner and a running back Josh Adams. The Deacs’ biggest offseason bonus was retaining head coachJim Grobe, perhaps the conference’s best. WF proved their league title in 2006 was not a fluke with a solid 9-4 mark in 07. Wake may be for real.
4. N.C. State – Injuries plagued the Wolfpack in 2007. The Packs’ top running backs, Toney Baker and Andre Brown, missed plenty of action in ’07, but if healthy they should provide Tom O’Brien with added options to run his offense.
5.Boston College – From first to last? Well, maybe not, but BC suffers plenty of losses headlined by the departure of All-American signal caller Matt Ryan. But the Eagles also lose running back Andre Callender and plenty of linemen on both sides of the ball. BC has recruited well, but it may not help next season.
6.Maryland – The Terps were the tough-luck team in 2007, losing seven games by fewer than eight points. Quarterback play was inconsistent at best for Maryland last season. If the Terps are to be respectable in ’08, then quarterback Chris Turner will have to improve. Maryland has also been mediocre in recruiting the past few years.
1. Virginia – Yes, the Cavaliers do lose All-American Chris Long on defense; however, that’s about all on the defensive side. Look for Jeffrey Fitzgerald to pick the slack up for UVa. on defense. The offense should be much improved. With the exception of center Gordy Lipsky and tight ends Jonathan Stupar and Tom Santi, the rest of an improved offense returns in 2008. Running back Cedric Peerman should be healthy again after missing the final six games this season. Mickell Simpson who busted on the scene after Peerman’s injury may be the conference’s best backfield.
2. Virginia Tech – Second place may be a stretch in 2008 for the Hokies. Graduations and early departures have depleted Virginia Tech of nine defensive starters. Returning offensive linemen will be a key for the Hokies as offense may have to carry them early on. The quarterback situation of Gannon-Taylor may have be decided as the two-platoon system was ineffective. Gannon’s decison to return to Blacksburg for his senior season may have not been what Hokie coaches wanted
3. North Carolina – After a 4-8 mark in 2007, the Tar Heels’ may be poised for a significant improvement under Butch Davis. UNC was in just about every game last season, losing six games by fewer than seven points. The Carolina defense returns nine players, while the offense should see an improvement as well. Davis is known as a solid recruiter, so an injection of talent may pay off for the Heels’ soon.
4. Georgia Tech – A new coach, and a new look for the Yellow Jackets. Paul Johnson will bring a run-oriented offense to Atlanta. Georgia Tech was inconsistent under Chan Gaily and was simply awful in their loss to Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl. With Johnson, everyone’s position will be up for grabs.
5. Miami – This is certainly not what the ACC’s powers-that-be expected. (or wanted) The Hurricanes not in sight of the title game? Second-year coach Randy Shannon will be fighting for his job in ’08, and will do so with only one scholarship quarterback on his roster. The good news (or bad) is that 12 starters return from a team that went 1-6 down the stretch.
6.Duke – New coach David Cutliffe does inherit a talented quarterback in Thaddeus Lewis. The Devils are 13-90 since 1999, which explains the program’s struggles. Duke finished last in both scoring offense and scoring defense in 2007, with a slew of starters returning those numbers should improve, just not enough to really matter. No doubt about it without its basketball program the Blue Devils would have long been shown the door.
Scott German is a regular contributor to The SportsDominion.