ACC Preseason Media Poll
All-ACC Preseason Team
A look at the computer's (about the computer) ACC forecast reveals some eye-popping predictions, and glaring weaknesses from top to bottom.
The conference wasn't impressive on a national level last year with a 2-6 record in bowl games, and its members must now deal with the loss of 33 players who were taken in the NFL draft in April, 7 of whom went in the first round.
The computer's 2008 forecast ranks the ACC last among the BCS conferences, and the Coastal Division ranks behind the Mountain West conference. Weak scheduling plays a big role in those numbers as three ACC teams - Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State - each have two FCS (formerly 1-AA) schools on their schedule. In all, the conference's twelve teams face more FCS members than any other conference with a total of 14 such games (the Big 12 ranks second with 10).
That overall conference weakness holds Wake Forest to a No. 7 national ranking, despite being undefeated heading into the ACC Championship. There, the computer takes Virginia Tech over the Demon Deacons by the fractional margin of 0.22 points to likely eliminate Wake from a BCS bid.
The Hokies and Deacs are both noted for defense, and it was defense that won the battle for the ACC last year when Virginia Tech overcame Matt Ryan and Boston College in the
conference championship game at Jacksonville.
The only team stopping the Hokies from achieving an unbeaten season is Boston College (+3.19). The Eagles have been Virginia Tech's recent nemesis with three wins in their last four regular season matches with the Hokies, and it was Boston College's unfathomable comeback win in Blacksburg last year that ultimately ended Virginia Tech's shot at a national championship.
The forecast of a repeat ACC title for Virginia Tech is quite surprising given that USC is the only school that had more players taken in the NFL draft than the eight that were plucked from the Hokies.
Nonetheless, Virginia Tech is favored by at least 9.04 points in each of their games versus divisional foes. And aside from the close spread at Boston College, the only conference swing game comes in a cross-divisional match at Florida State where the Hokies have a modest 2.75-point cushion. Further illustrating the weakness of the ACC, Virginia Tech is favored by a mere 3.27 points over East Carolina in the season opener at Bank of America stadium in Charlotte.
To claim the Atlantic division crown, Wake Forest will have to stave off stiff challenges from Boston College and Clemson. The Deacs are narrow favorites at home over the Eagles (-2.59) and Tigers (-3.09), and on visits to FSU (-2.53) and Maryland (-2.42).
Clemson was pegged as the favorite to win the ACC title in preseason publications by Lindy's, Athlon's, The Sporting News and Phil Steele. The computer would have echoed that opinion if the Tigers were playing Wake Forest (+3.09) and Boston College (+3.50) in Death Valley, instead of on the road.
Despite the loss of QB Matt Ryan, the NFL's No. 3 overall draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons, Boston College would have been at the top of the division forecast if it simply had Wake Forest at home.
The computer puts N.C. State over 16 power points behind the other five schools in the division, and even gives second-year head coach Tom O'Brien a loss to Duke (+1.42).
Maryland and Florida State, however, begin the year just over 6 power points behind the leading trio and could have an impact on the Atlantic division title chase.
Florida State will have to overcome some major obstacles of its own. The Seminoles lost 35-28 to Kentucky in last year's Music City Bowl while playing without 36 team members who were left behind due to injury or suspension. Most were being disciplined for their involvement in an academic cheating scandal. More than a dozen will continue to serve up to three-game suspensions at the start of this season.
The Seminoles are projected to lose six games, but the spread on five of those affairs is under 3-1/2 points. FSU is a narrow underdog at home to Wake Forest (+2.53), Virginia Tech (+2.75), Clemson (+2.44) and Boston College (+2.94). The 'Noles are a slim road dog at Maryland (+3.11).
A pair of FCS schools (Western Carolina and UT-Chattanooga) lead-off the Florida State schedule, so we won't get any sense of the team until it hosts Wake Forest on September 20. The Seminoles won't have their full compliment of players until they face Colorado on September 27 in Jacksonville.
If the computer's 6-6 forecast holds true, Bobby Bowden may be looking to hand over the reigns to head coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher sooner
Maryland's 7-5 projection includes two wins and two losses with spreads of no more than 3.11. At home, the Terrapins are favored over California (-2.12) and Florida State (-3.11), and are underdogs to Wake Forest (+2.42). On the road, they are on the wrong end of the spread to Virginia (+2.60).
In the Coastal Division, the computer offers up another surprise by projecting Virginia to finish second to Virginia Tech. But the forecast isn't all that rosy for the Wahoos who are expected to go 7-5, keeping them in line with their recent trend of mediocre seasons. Since taking over as head coach in Charlottesville in 2001, Al Groh has a 7-year record of 51-37 with two sub-.500 campaigns, and just two seasons that have produced fewer than five losses (8-4 in 2004, and 9-4 last year).
Virginia will have to navigate through their schedule without stellar defensive end Chris Long, the NFL's No. 2 overall NFL draft pick by the St. Louis Rams, while frequent starting QB Jameel Sewell was declared academically ineligible.
Cavalier wins over Maryland (-2.60) and East Carolina (-0.24) would not be forecasted if they were playing those teams on the road. However, the expected losses at Connecticut (+6.40), and at home to Clemson (+2.73), are swing games that could help Virginia improve the win total.
At North Carolina, Butch Davis' second team is expected to improve from 4-8 in 2007 to 6-6 this year, giving the Tar Heels their first non-losing season since 2004. Three forecasted victories have spreads of less than 7 points - the road trip to Miami (-0.57), and home games against Notre Dame (-5.28) and Georgia Tech (-6.35). The margin on the predicted home loss to UConn is 6.76.
The big shock in the Coastal division forecast is the 3-9 record pinned on 5-time national champion Miami. In Randy Shannon's first year as head coach, the Hurricanes went 5-7 for their first losing season since 1997 when Butch Davis was steering them through NCAA probation. This year, Miami will have to deal with a new stadium, a difficult schedule, a second-year head coach, and the loss of half of its' starters.
Miami's last home game in the Orange Bowl was a humiliating 48-0 loss to Virginia - an unbelievable contrast to the 58-game winning streak that the Hurricanes enjoyed at the stadium from 1985-1994. Perhaps, the 'Canes are thankful that they won't have to revisit the scene of that debacle as demolition of the landmark began in March, but Miami still lacks an on-campus stadium and will now have to commute some 20 miles north to play their home games at Dolphin Stadium.
The schedule includes road trips to Florida (+27.17), Texas A&M (+8.80) and Virginia (+12.92). Home games include both of the forecasted division champions - Wake Forest (+12.74) and Virginia Tech (+12.96). The "U" also entertains state rival Florida State (+7.22). But can the 'Canes really be an underdog to Central Florida (+7.72)?
The chances of the computer's Miami forecast becoming reality are far from impossible, but Randy Shannon's days as head coach will be numbered on a short calendar if it happens.
The other two schools in the Coastal Division - Georgia Tech and Duke - embark on the 2008 campaigns with new head coaches.
Paul Johnson stepped down from Navy to replace Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech. Prior to Johnson's arrival in Annapolis, the Naval Academy had never appeared in more than two consecutive bowl games. He took the team to five straight bowls with a high-powered running game that also helped secure five straight Commander-In-Chief's Trophies as winners of their annual round-robin competition with Army and Air Force.
Johnson's predecessor in Atlanta could hardly be called a failure. Gailey's teams were 44-32 in six seasons and went bowling every year. His ACC record of 28-21 included an ACC Championship game loss to Wake Forest in 2006. The Yellow Jackets finished the 2007 season at 7-5 overall, 4-4 in the ACC.
The Ramblin' Wreck will also have to deal without the services of defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta who bolted for Notre Dame.
Still, Georgia Tech should be competitive. The 4-8 projection includes close home losses to Mississippi State (+7.42), Virginia (+6.71) and Florida Sate (+7). The forecasted defeat at North Carolina is by 6.35 points.
David Cutcliffe replaces Ted Roof at Duke which has lost 25 consecutive ACC games. Roof took over as interim head coach seven games into the 2003 season and guided the Blue Devils to a 2-3 record with two conference wins. He was then officially hired as head coach, but a meager four wins over the next four years included just one ACC victory.
Cutcliffe was Eli Manning's head coach at Ole Miss where he compiled a 44-29 record in six seasons before spending the past two years as offensive coordinator at Tennessee.
Regardless of the coaching change, Duke's forecasted finish of a 2-10 season falls in line with its recent history. The bright spot is a predicted end to the ACC victory drought when the Blue Devils host N.C. State (-1.46) on November 8. By that time, the string would have reached 31 games.
NOTES: The ACC Championship game moves from Jacksonville to Tampa for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. It will be played in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2010 and 2011.
Last year, Virginia Tech was ranked No. 1 in the nation by the BCS computer components with an 11-2 record after winning the ACC Championship.