Week 1 Fearless Predictions - ACC Thu/Fri

Posted Aug 29, 2013

Week 1 Fearless Predictions & Analysis - ACC, Thursday and Friday

North Carolina (0-0) at South Carolina (0-0) Aug. 29, 6:00, ESPN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: The battle of the Carolinas kicks off the 2013 season in style, with an interesting interstate matchup at Williams-Brice Stadium.

South Carolina is enjoying heady times these days, authoring back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time in school history. The upcoming season begins with similar optimism—and a No. 6 AP ranking—the product of deft recruiting and the coaching of Steve Spurrier and his staff. Still, the Gamecocks have loftier, yet-to-be-reached goals, such as earning a BCS bowl berth and winning a conference championship for the first time since 1969.

North Carolina has a little extra bounce in its step as the season approaches as well. The Tar Heels are no longer adapting to life with a new coaching staff, nor are they facing a postseason ban any longer. Second-year head man Larry Fedora brings energy and optimism to Chapel Hill, along with an offense that could be the envy of the ACC. Carolina is beginning to dream big now that the shackles of the NCAA are gradually loosening.

Why North Carolina Might Win: RB Gio Bernard and OG Jonathan Cooper sure will be missed, but Fedora's Heels still have pop on offense. They've also got the best quarterback in this game, poised senior Bryn Renner. Renner won't make mistakes, even when he's under pressure. He'll still have an excellent supporting cast that includes thunder and lightning backs A.J. Blue and Romar Morris, emerging WR Quinshad Davis, TE Eric Ebron and all-star LT James Hurst. Columbia on opening night is an enormous challenge, but one that the Carolina offense just might be up to.

Why South Carolina Might Win: Defense still wins big games. And the Gamecocks are considerably stingier than the Tar Heels. Obviously, DE Jadeveon Clowney will command maximum attention for his ability to take a game over. But the junior isn't a solo act, getting plenty of help from DT Kelcy Quarles, DE Chaz Sutton and a very feisty defensive backfield. Carolina, on the other hand, will be a little soft up the middle, a major problem when facing an assertive South Carolina O-line that averages well over 300 pounds.

Who To Watch Out For: Gamecocks' RB Mike Davis is an emergent star. He should see wide running lanes on Thursday night, because the Heels lack the girth to move the line of scrimmage.

- Renner is very good. He'll have to be very great to engineer an upset of South Carolina in Columbia … at night.

- The Gamecocks will struggle to move the ball through the air. WR Ace Sanders is no longer around for Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, and the secondary will be the strongest unit of the Carolina defense this fall.

- South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has hinted that Clowney doesn't give 100% 100% of the time. With a national audience in attendance, bank on No. 7 bringing it on every down.

- The Gamecocks have struggled with speed rushers in the past. Kareem Martin is Carolina's best pass rusher, but not necessarily its fastest. The Heels will want to turn loose Norkeithus Otis, their 240-pound hard-charging "Bandit".

What Will Happen: North Carolina is a solid football team, one with a shot of winning the ACC Coastal Division. The ACC Coastal, though, is not the SEC East. And South Carolina doesn't often lose at home. The Gamecocks will outmuscle the Tar Heels on Thursday, winning the game at the line of scrimmage. With Davis starring on offense and Clowney dominating on D, South Carolina will survive a challenging opener by double-digits.
Prediction: South Carolina 30 … North Carolina 17
Line: South Carolina -12.5 o/u: 57
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 4

Presbyterian (0-0) at Wake Forest (0-0) Aug. 29, 6:30, ESPN3.com

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Might this be Jim Grobe's final season opener in Winston-Salem? Wake Forest has struggled under its head coach after peaking a few years back. Is this Deacons team going to appear in a bowl game and knock off a few ACC squads this year or it will be a struggle? Wake couldn't even field a team during the spring, and if that was any indication of the depth issues, it might only spell disaster once November rolls around. The Deacons need to stay healthy and gain momentum, and there is no better way than hanging a whooping on an inferior opponent on opening night.

Why Presbyterian Might Win: Because the game still has to played and crazy things have happened on weekday games, even if it is the opener. The Blue Hose went just 2-9 last season, but this program has played with the big boys before. Wake Forest labored on offense a year ago, and it wasn't much better on D.

Why Wake Forest Might Win: They may win this opener at home, because they are favored to by five-plus touchdowns. Plus, Wake has its star back, Josh Harris, for the opener after many thought he would be suspended. Harris alone can outgain the Blue Hose, aided by the presence of other leaders in QB Tanner Price and WR Michael Campanaro should only lead to more of a one-sided obliteration.

Who To Watch Out For: Nikita Whitlock. Whitlock is Wake's best pro prospect and singlehandedly he should be able to harass the backfield of the Blue Hose. He is undersized at 5-11 and 260 pounds, but the senior is as strong as an ox.

What Will Happen: The Blue Hose fell by a combined score of 117-3 versus Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt last year, a staggering disparity. While Presbyterian will score a few points in this one, it'll also struggle to keep the Deacons under 50. With a rare chance to flex its muscles, Wake Forest will coast to an easy win.

Prediction: Wake Forest 59 … Presbyterian 7
Line: Wake Forest -30
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 1

Florida Atlantic (0-0) at Miami (0-0) Aug. 30, 8:00, ESPNU

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Miami is getting closer … closer to the end the messy NCAA saga, and closer to being a serious contender in the ACC Coastal Division.

It's been a rocky two years for Canes' head coach Al Golden, who has done all he can to keep Miami from regressing on and off the field. He's closer to having enough talent, especially on offense, to rise above the six or seven-win threshold. But it remains to be seen if the program is eligible for the postseason. It'd be a shame if the Canes are again denied, because this veteran team is geared for a breakthrough in 2013.

Florida Atlantic begins its second year under Carl Pelini with elevated hopes. The new staff laid the ground floor in Boca Raton in 2012, playing more competitively as the season unfolded. Sure, there's plenty of heavy lifting still left to be done, but the Owls begin life as a member of Conference USA with a sense of increased confidence and optimism.

Why Florida Atlantic Might Win: The Owls possess the parts to be markedly improved on offense from a year ago. And facing a troubled Miami D will only help Florida Atlantic's offensive progress. Pelini has improved his situation at quarterback the last two years with the additions of JUCO transfers Jaquez Johnson and Melvin German. And whoever gets the start at Sun Life Stadium will delight in teaming up with top rusher Jonathan Wallace, leading receiver William Dukes and playmaking TE Nexon Dorvilus.
Why Miami Might Win: Florida Atlantic has weapons on offense. Miami has an artillery. The Hurricanes boast one of the country's best backfield combinations in next-level QB Stephen Morris and dynamite RB Duke Johnson. On the outside, Phillip Dorsett is blazing fast leader of the receiving corps. The Owls, while competent at linebacker, don't have the big bodies up front to get a push or get a hand on Johnson before he bolts into the second level.

Who To Watch Out For: With five starters back, including a couple with a shot of playing on Sundays, this will be Miami's most assertive O-line in many years. Florida Atlantic doesn't have a prayer of holding up at the point of attack.

- All eyes must remain on a Miami D that freefell to 116th nationally a season ago. Who plans to step up and become a much-needed for the Hurricanes this fall?

- German was working with the wide receivers in practice a few days ago, an indication that either Johnson or rookie Greg Hankerson might be piloting the Owls' offense for the opener.

- Desperate for D-line depth, Miami has gotten a veteran infusion during the offseason. DE David Gilbert (Wisconsin), DT Justin Renfrow (Virginia) and DE Ufomba Kamalu (JUCO) might all get snaps on Friday. Gilbert is by far the most intriguing of the trio.

What Will Happen: The Miami offense against the Florida Atlantic D is a mismatch that'll be especially evident at the line of scrimmage. The Hurricanes will move the ball at will behind the balance of Morris' throws and Johnson's sprint, jumping out to a big lead before resting the regulars in anticipation of next week's Florida visit.

Prediction: Miami 45 … Florida Atlantic 13
Line: Miami -32.5 o/u: 53.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 1.5