2009 ACC Fearless Predictions - Week 1
Bama WR Julio Jones & VT QB Tyrod Taylor
Bama WR Julio Jones & VT QB Tyrod Taylor
Posted Aug 31, 2009

And away we go. Virginia Tech and Alabama square off in one of the biggest games of the season, while the ACC also features the Miami showdown against FSU and a Thursday night opener with NC State battling South Carolina. Check out the ACC Fearless Predictions as we roll out the game previews throughout the week.

2009 ACC Fearless Predictions

Week 1 ... Sept. 6 Games

- Boston College | Clemson | Florida State | Maryland | NC State | Wake Forest

- Duke | Georgia Tech | Miami | North Carolina | Virginia | Virginia Tech

ACC Fearless Predictions

- Week 1, Part 2 (Miami vs. Florida State, and More)

Game of the Week

Alabama (0-0) vs. Virginia Tech (0-0)
8:00 EST,ABC, Saturday, September 5

Why to watch: There are statement games, and then there are battles with the potential to change and redefine the perception of established powerhouse programs, and possibly a conference. Last season, Clemson was coming into the opener in Atlanta against Alabama with a veteran-loaded team and national title aspirations. The Tide came up with a dominant performance in a 34-10 romp that set the tone for a breakthrough season under head coach Nick Saban and set the ACC back another year in terms of national perception. Bama, at the time, wasn't supposed to be special, the program was supposed to be a year away from true greatness, while Clemson was expected to have a coming out party. This year, there won't be any major surprises considering both teams are ranked in the top seven (Bama No. 5 and Virginia Tech No. 7), and the stakes are even higher.

If Alabama can pull this off there will be smooth sailing for a few weeks (with FIU, North Texas, Arkansas, and Kentucky to follow) before dealing with Ole Miss on the road in one of the season's biggest SEC showdowns. While a win would erase many of the memories of a rough final five quarters of the 2008 season (completed with a steamrolling by Tim Tebow and the Gators in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship and the jaw-dropper from Utah in the Sugar Bowl), more importantly, it would cement the team in the top five and put it on the short list of true national title contenders.

For Virginia Tech, it could be argued that a win would be the biggest and most important since the program announced its arrival on a national scale with a 28-10 win over Texas in the 1995 Sugar Bowl. Oh sure, there have been some terrific moments under Frank Beamer, including the Michael Vick era and last season's Orange Bowl win over Cincinnati, but a win over the Tide would bring more national respect than any of his previous teams were able to gain. Being an ACC superpower is nice, but being in the hunt for the national title with one of the highest-profile national non-conference wins of the season could take Tech and its conference to a whole other level.

Why Virginia Tech might win: Can the Tide handle the pressure generated by the Virginia Tech front seven? In the Sugar Bowl, Utah provided a blueprint for how to disrupt the Alabama offense by sending players from all angles and at odd times (LB Steven Sylvester had three sacks and corner Sean Smith had one of the team's eight), and Virginia Tech has even more speed and athleticism. Bama has to hope the rebuilt O line is ready from the opening snap, even though it could use a tune-up game, and new starting quarterback Greg McElroy has to get his feet wet. The junior might be smart and might know the offense, but he isn't likely to be comfortable early on. Also, there have also been a slew of major distractions for the Tide to deal with from possible NCAA violations surrounding star WR Julio Jones and starting RB Mark Ingram and their involvement in a fishing trip, to top DT Terrence Cody and No. 2 WR Marquis Maze having the flu, to a slew of various injuries and personnel losses over the last few weeks.
Why Alabama might win: This was a bad matchup for the Hokies before their star running back, Darren Evans, was lost for the year to a knee injury, and now it's even worse. Of course it's a new year with several new players taking over in key spots, but it's not like Virginia Tech is going to suddenly start to wing the ball around all over the field. The Hokies might not be as bad throwing it as they were last year, when they finished 111th in the nation in passing and 98th in passing efficiency, they can't win if they don't run effectively. Even with Cody getting over the flu, Alabama should have one of the nation's five best run defenses coming into the season. The Tide has the linebackers to swarm over Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor if he isn't getting any help from his backs.
Who to watch: Running backs, running backs, running backs. It's this easy: the team that runs better will win. Controversy and all, Alabama will have Ingram ready to go as the thunderous No. 1 option, but super-recruit Trent Richardson will get a little bit of work and veterans Terry Grant and Roy Upchurch are expected to seen enough carries to throw different looks at the Hokie front four. On the other side, with Evans gone, Hokie sophomore Josh Oglesby will try to make the most of his playing time and will try to finally shake the injury bug. The hard-luck back should be the team's most reliable runner, outside of Taylor, but he has been struggling to get and stay healthy, most notably being limited by a bad hamstring. Oglesby's issues will allow redshirt freshman Ryan Williams to be in the spotlight early on, while true freshman David Wilson has been strong enough in practices to see at least ten carries sprinkled throughout the game.
What will happen: This won't be a shootout in any form. Both defenses will tee off on the other team's running game, but the Hokie offensive line will have more problems with the Bama front four than the Tide O line will have with the Tech defensive front. Each team will have problems doing what they'd like to, but Bama will get just enough of a passing game going to offset some big plays from the Hokie special teams. Expect a little razzle dazzle from Beamer to try to jump-start his offense, but it won't be enough..
CFN Prediction: Alabama 23 ... Virginia Tech 13 ... Line: Alabama -6
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) … 5 ... Free Expert Football Predictions

South Carolina (0-0) at NC State (0-0), 7:00 EST, ESPN, Thursday, September 3

Why to watch: Steve Spurrier vs. Tom O'Brien on opening night? It's not the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta, but you could do a lot worse for a mid-week offering. After straddling the .500 mark throughout 2008, both programs are hoping to use this game as a launching pad for an eight or nine-win season. In four years, South Carolina hasn't broken through as expected under Spurrier, averaging just seven wins and failing to seriously join the SEC title race. A new season brings new hope and an equal number of question marks for a team at a crossroads. North Carolina State enters 2009 with considerable optimism after finishing last year with four straight regular season wins. With two seasons in Raleigh now behind him and QB Russell Wilson fresh off an All-ACC debut, O'Brien believes he has the Pack on the brink of a breakthrough year.
Why South Carolina might win: The one thing the Gamecocks have consistently been able to do in the Spurrier era is play defense. Even with some losses and a very young secondary, they'll be a swarming bunch that's led by All-SEC LB Eric Norwood. Coordinator Ellis Johnson has a month to prepare for a flimsy Wolfpack offensive line, which is bad news for the home team. He'll throw everything he's got at the unit, forcing Wilson out of his comfort zone. Now that Stephen Garcia is being given a chance to pilot the offense, he'll like what he sees on the other side of the field. NC State struggles mightily in pass defense, which will open things up for WR Moe Brown and TE Weslye Saunders.
Why NC State might win: Wilson. He's the reason the Wolfpack will have a shot in every game this season. Mature beyond his years and able to make plays with his arm and his legs, he has a knack for making everyone around him better and energizing the crowd. Now, the Gamecock D is perennially feisty, but that secondary is going to be a work-in-progress. With three new starters and freshmen playing an uncomfortably large role, WR Owen Spencer and TE George Bryan could both have big nights on the receiving ends of Wilson's throws.
Who to watch: The South Carolina offensive line. Rarely a group that overachieves, this unit needs to give Garcia time and open up some running room for the untested Gamecock backs. That won't come without a challenge. North Carolina State sports a terrific tandem up front that'll bring heat from Willie Young and Alan-Michael Cash on the outside and inside, respectively. If forced from the pocket, Garcia will make costly errors.
What will happen: While Spurrier isn't at the level he used to be in Gainesville, you still don't want to give him or his staff too much time to prepare for an opponent. He's unbeaten in openers with the Gamecocks, including last year's 34-0 shellacking of the Pack. Sure, State has improved greatly since then, but the middling SEC team always rates an edge over the middling ACC team. The defense, specifically Norwood, will be the key for South Carolina, dominating that Wolfpack O-line and winning the turnover battle. While style points will come at a premium, the ‘Cocks will do just enough offensively to get out of Carter-Finley with a win.
CFN Prediction: South Carolina 17 ... NC State 13 ... Line: South Carolina -3.5
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) ... 3.5 Free Expert Football Predictions

Northeastern (0-0) at Boston College (0-0), 2:00 EST, ESPN360.com, Saturday, September 5

Why to watch: After enduring an unusually trying offseason, Boston College, more than most schools, can't wait to start creating some on-field headlines. There was the well-publicized divorce with former coach Jeff Jagodzinski, the loss of all-everything LB Mark Herzlich, and the transfer of presumed starting QB Dominique Davis. When's kickoff? More than at any point in the past decade, the Eagles' run of 10 straight bowl games could be in serious jeopardy. A visit from Northeastern out of the Colonial Athletic Association gives them an equivalent of a scrimmage and four quarters to try and sort out the two-deep. The Huskies are a second-tier FCS program, coming off a 2-10 season that included a lopsided loss to Ball State and a close call with Syracuse.
Why Northeastern might win: If you're going to knock off a Boston College program in transition, it'll help to face it in the opener, before it's had time to find a rhythm. The Eagles will be breaking in a new quarterback, who doesn't have a shred of experience at this level and will be prone to opening day jitters. The Huskies, on the hand, showed signs of life on offense toward the end of last year, specifically RB John Griffin, and should be able to take advantage of a retooled middle of the BC defense.
Why Boston College might win: Hammer time. The one thing the Eagles will be able to do without question in 2009 is pound the football, as if Tom O'Brien was still on the Heights. They have the one-two punch of Montel Harris and Josh Haden, who'll be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the ACC. With Anthony Castonzo, Matt Tennant, and Thomas Claiborne blowing the Huskies off the ball, Boston College will eat up the clock and keep untested redshirt freshman quarterback Justin Tuggle from having to do too much.
Who to watch: On a team that is searching for new leadership, Boston College desperately needs LB Mike McLaughlin to be close to 100% following an Achilles tear suffered earlier in the year. Last year's second-leading tackler and emotional sparkplug, he'll be counted on to pick up some of the slack left by the absence of Herzlich. While the Eagles won't need him for the win, even his presence on the sidelines could provide the kind of boost that lingers for some time.
What will happen: The Eagles won't be tested by a Huskie team that's clearly fighting in the wrong weight class. The key for the home team in Frank Spaziani's debut as the head coach will be to develop some continuity for the upcoming games and get a better grasp of the quarterback's limitations. More than nabbing a W, this weekend is about laying a brick of stability after such a tumultuous offseason.
CFN Prediction: Boston College 38 ... Northeastern 3 ... Line: ?????
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) ... 1... Free Expert Football Predictions

Middle Tennessee (0-0) at Clemson (0-0) , 6:00 EST, ESPN360.com, Saturday, September 5

Why to watch: So exactly where does Clemson stack up in the ACC this season? The opener will begin to provide some answers. Last year was a whirlwind in Death Valley, with the Tigers beginning No. 9 nationally, firing Tommy Bowden after a disappointing start, and getting hot late under Dabo Swinney. Back for his first full season on the sidelines, the coach has a Heisman contender in RB C.J. Spiller and enough talent on both sides of the ball to push for a league crown. All eyes will be on Kyle Parker, who won one of the country's closest quarterback battles. After going 5-7 in successive seasons, Middle Tennessee State is hoping to turn the corner in 2009 and make a push for the postseason. What better way for a group of underrated skill position players to get noticed than by shocking a name-brand opponent on the road?
Why Middle Tennessee might win: Whatever problems the Blue Raiders had on offense last year could be a distant memory in 2009. Dwight Dasher is a sprightly playmaker at quarterback, who's surrounded by most of last season's top producer. Leading rusher Phillip Tanner returns, as do most of last year's top receivers and six linemen with starting experience. If Tony Franklin's spread offense gets digested quickly, Middle Tennessee State will cause problems with this group.
Why Clemson might win: The Blue Raiders have problems containing Sun Belt offenses, which does not bode well for this match up. Five starters return to a Tiger offensive line that feels it has something to prove after last season's debacle. It'll dominate an undersized opponent at the point of attack, springing Spiller and Jamie Harper, and allowing Parker the time needed to locate top receivers Jacoby Ford and Xavier Dye. Middle Tennessee State better have that new playbook down cold because this Clemson D is one of the stingiest ones it'll face all year.
Who to watch: NFL scouts have already begun drooling over the futures of the Clemson defensive ends, senior Ricky Sapp and sophomore Da'Quan Bowers, yet their production was modest a year ago. In fact, the Tigers were last in the ACC in sacks, a head-scratcher that cannot continue this fall. New coordinator Kevin Steele needs his two edge guys to create much more pressure. Hunting down a jackrabbit, like Dasher, will be good practice for the next 11 games.
What will happen: Expect a buzz of excitement and anticipation to fill the air as Clemson begins its quest for a title in the wide-open ACC. All eyes in the stadium will be fixed on the young quarterbacks, Parker and Willy Korn, who'll both play and hold the key to success for the program in 2009. The Tigers will feed off the energy inside the stadium, getting a huge day from the defense and Spiller in his debut as the feature back.
CFN Prediction: Clemson 34 … Middle Tennessee 10 ... Line: -18.5
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) … 1.5... Free Expert Football Predictions

Richmond (0-0) at Duke (0-0) , 7:00 EST, Saturday, September 5

Why to watch: Duke begins Year 2 under David Cutcliffe, with an eye on improving in all areas and taking another step toward that first bowl game since 1994. Last season's four wins may not seem like much to some, but for the Blue Devils, it equaled their victory total in the previous four years combined. With a tough final leg of the schedule, Duke needs to gobble up wins in September to have a realistic shot at the postseason. Richmond is not your typical challenge from a lower-division program. The Spiders are the defending FCS champions, going 13-3 and bringing back many veterans from that title-winning team. Head coach Mike London knows the Blue Devils and the ACC landscape from his days as an assistant at Virginia.
Why Richmond might win: This is a battle-tested Spider team that finished last season with nine straight wins, including the final three on the road to win a national championship. They will not be frazzled by a trip to Durham. Back behind center is fourth-year starter Eric Ward, who's thrown 17 touchdown passes in each of the last two seasons and has a tremendous group of receivers led by Kevin Grayson and Tre Gray. The senior will have success against a Duke secondary that's flimsy and prone to yielding the long ball.
Why Duke might win: Graduation took a bite out of the Richmond offensive line. The Blue Devils will take advantage with DT Vince Oghobaase, DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk, LB Vincent Rey, and an underrated front seven. If they can generate pressure, it'll take some pressure off that beatable secondary. Keep in mind that when the Spiders traveled to Virginia last September, they didn't score a point. Duke has a talented senior at quarterback, Thaddeus Lewis, as well, and enough budding receivers to offset the loss of star Eron Riley.
Who to watch: In order to reach their 2009 goals, the Blue Devils have to improve their running game, which was 103rd nationally a year ago. The staff is banking on the return of Requan Boyette to provide a lift. The powerful fifth-year senior led the school in rushing in 2007, but didn't play a down last fall. This will be his first appearance since tearing a knee ligament over a year ago. If he can recapture his old form, the rest of the offense will be the beneficiary.
What will happen: Forget the fact that one team resides in the ACC and the other plays in the Colonial Athletic Conference. The gap separating these two schools isn't as wide as some might think. Richmond has the talent and veteran experience to walk out of Wallace Wade Stadium with a meaningful win. The difference, however, will be Lewis, who'll do his part to avoid the upset, throwing a couple of touchdown passes and outplaying Ward down the stretch.
CFN Prediction: Duke 28 ... Richmond 19 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) ... 1.5... Free Expert Football Predictions

Jacksonville State (0-0) at Georgia Tech (0-0) , 1:00 EST, ESPN360.com, Saturday, September 5

Why to watch: Georgia Tech gets its first opportunity to back up expectations that seemed to soar throughout the offseason. Not much was expected of the Yellow Jackets in 2008, Paul Johnson's first in Atlanta, yet they wound up winning nine games and darn near taking the Coastal Division. With 17 many starters returning and the triple-option no longer Latin to the players, it's no wonder many consider this program the strongest possibility to keep Virginia Tech from a third straight ACC title. Jacksonville State is home to one of the most recognizable FCS players in the country, former LSU and future NFL QB Ryan Perrilloux, but he'll be serving a suspension. No one-man gang, fortunately, the Gamecocks are coming off an impressive 9-3 campaign, and will be vying for supremacy in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Why Jacksonville State might win: Yeah, Perrilloux is the centerpiece of this program, but he has a dangerous backup, Marques Ivory, who shows good poise for a young player. The Gamecocks have a balanced, and at times explosive, offense that can beat opponents through the air on the ground. They'll be catching a Yellow Jacket D that's adapting to the loss of three all-star defensive linemen and has shown cracks in their red zone armor.
Why Georgia Tech might win: If there's one thing that makes Tech salivate, it's opposing teams that can't stop the run. Jacksonville State has a sieve for a run defense, which should earn this game an NC-17 rating. Few schools in the country can keep the chains moving on the ground as well as Georgia Tech, which features Heisman-contending B-back Jonathan Dwyer, QB Josh Nesbitt, and big-play A-back Roddy Jones. The offensive line could be an Achilles' heel for the offense in 2009, but you won't know it against an undersized and overmatched Gamecock front wall.
Who to watch: Down early and forced to abandon the run, Jacksonville State will be in plenty of obvious passing situations. That's music to the ears of Georgia Tech S Morgan Burnett, one of the nation's premier defenders and an underpublicized star outside the conference. He does a little bit of everything for the Jacket D, and will have multiple opportunities to add to his two-year total of 10 interceptions.
What will happen: While Jacksonville State has enough offensive players to land some early punches, it won't be enough to compete with Georgia Tech's machine-like ground game or ball-hawking defense. Behind the running of Dwyer and a couple of play-action bombs from Nesbitt to Demaryius Thomas, the Jackets will pull away after the first 15 minutes and never get challenged.
CFN Prediction: Georgia Tech 47 ... Jacksonville State 13 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) ... 1.5 ... Free Expert Football Predictions

- Week 1, Part 2 (Miami vs. Florida State, and More)