Another down year for the ACC

The Best Seat in the House column by Chris Graham

No, I wasn’t the guy who gave Virginia a first-place vote. So you can quelch that rumor right here and now.

Not that I think the Cavs are going to finish fifth in the Coastal Division of the ACC in 2008, either. In fact, I’m probably going to go down in history for what I said on yesterday’s “Online with Jim Bresnahan” when asked my pick for a surprise team in the ACC.

“Uh, you know, Virginia,” I said, or something to that effect. Because I like the ‘Hoos better this year than I did last, which isn’t to say that I’m expecting nine wins and another top-second-tier bowl game in ’08-’09, mainly because the schedule is a mite bit tougher this go-around. But Virginia will clearly be better at QB (likely Peter Lalich, whose presence has Al Groh dusting off his Matt Schaub playbook), at running back (with two established #1 guys in Cedric Peerman and Mikell Simpson), at wide receiver (with the return of speedster Kevin Ogletree), and … you’re going to kill me on this, but on defense.

Yes, I realize that Virginia lost Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald from the D-line. I haven’t been under a rock the past six months. But Groh has three starters back at linebacker (Clint Sintim, Antonio Appleby and Jon Copper) and some talent at that fourth spot (probably Rockbridge product Aaron Clark) to anchor a defense that, you have to remember, is designed to have the ‘backers making the big plays. Which is to say, if any D can withstand the losses of studs like Long and Fitzgerald, it will be this one.

Which gets us to Virginia Tech, which is going to struggle for a while getting used to playing without Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall, two guys who seemed to have been around Blacksburg since the Michael Vick era as the anchors for Bud Foster’s lunchpail crew, and acclimating 13 new starters overall. And then there’s the ongoing quarterback controversy involving Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor that will have fans clamoring for one or the other pretty much all year long. Frank Beamer is Frank Beamer, but I think this year’s Hokies are only going to look good in the Coastal by default, if even that.

Over on the other side of the conference, we have everybody and their brother talking about how Clemson is just looking so good, with Culllen Harper at quarterback entering ’08 as the preseason player of the year, one of the stranger awards that we media types get asked to vote on, considering that we’re just guessing who we think might be good at the end of a three-month season that will take about six or seven twists and turns per team before all is said and done. And we can guess how some of those twists and turns are going to go for Clemson, which has been in this position under Tommy Bowden, oh, about three or four times before, and has yet to do anything with the accolades expect fail to live up to them.

Clemson teams tend to do better when they’re permitted to fly under the radar. They don’t play that good from ahead. I’m reaching here, sure, but my bet in the Atlantic is on Wake Forest, under the solid Jim Grobe, who has junior Riley Skinner back at QB to complete 70-plus percent of those five-yard passes that Grobe likes to throw to keep the clock moving and his defense rested and ready to do damage.

So I have a we-only-look-good-because-we-play-in-the-Coastal team in Virginia Tech on one side of the ACC Championship Game, and a we’re-here-because-Clemson-choked-again team in Wake Forest on the other side.

Needless to say, we’re not going to be making any dents in the national-title picture in ’08. Making that, what, 100 years of irrelevance and counting?

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