2009 ACC Fearless Predictions
Week 4 ... Sept. 26 Games, Part 2
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Week 4, Part 1
Rutgers (2-1) at Maryland (1-2),3:30 EST, Saturday, September 26
Why to watch: Neither Rutgers nor Maryland has started the season the way it had hoped, which means the loser of this game could dig a ditch that it never escapes. The only reason the Scarlet Knights are over .500 is soft scheduling. After getting swamped by Cincinnati in the opener, they may have gained a false sense of security at the expense of Howard and Florida International. A trip down to College Park will begin to answer just how far this team has evolved since the Labor Day lambasting. The Terps are flat-lining with no sign of a pulse in sight. Young and abundantly mistake-prone, they've sandwiched brutal losses to Cal and Middle Tennessee State around an overtime escape of James Madison. Not only might this be Ralph Friedgen's worst Maryland team, but fewer and fewer fans are showing up at Byrd Stadium.
Why Rutgers might win: One date with Maryland might be all the Scarlet Knights need to fix its offensive woes. The Terrapins have been dreadful through three games, allowing an average of 39 points while getting ransacked on the ground. Look for Rutgers to get back to basics, especially considering its issues with pass protection. It'll dish out a double-dose of Joe Martinek and Jourdan Brooks, wearing out the overmatched Terps and setting up QB Tom Savage to find receivers Tim Brown and Mohamed Sanu.
Why Maryland might win: The last time Rutgers faced an opponent from a major conference, it was gutted by Cincinnati for 47 points and well over 500 yards. Now, the Terps aren't the Bearcats, but they have scored 69 points over the last two weeks, a cooperative effort from QB Chris Turner, RB Da'Rel Scott, and WR Torrey Smith. A Scarlet Knight defense that's light on the inside and vulnerable through the air will out quickly that Maryland has better athletes than the ones at Howard and Florida International.
Who to watch: Maryland has moved the ball the last two weeks in spite of a very flimsy offensive line that misses injured Bruce Campbell. It may not be so fortunate this weekend. George Johnson and Jonathan Freeny bring outstanding speed off the edge for Rutgers, which is going to be a persistent problem for Turner. At 6-3 and 250 pounds, Freeny moves like an outside linebacker, collecting a pair of sacks in each of the last two games.
What will happen: Although this game won't generate interest outside the region, it is a huge one for two schools seeking a turning point. About the only sure thing in this one is that sloppiness and poor execution will be an on-going theme. After allowing 324 yards passing to Middle Tennessee State's Dwight Dasher, there's no telling how far the Maryland D will plummet. Rutgers will try to find out, bludgeoning the Terps with its 230-pound backs and getting an efficient day out of Savage.
CFN Prediction: Rutgers 28 … Maryland 24 ... Line: Rutgers -2.5
Must See Rating: (I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell 5 … Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself 1) … 2
-Free Expert Football Predictions
Pitt (3-0) at NC State (2-1),3:30 EST, ESPNU, Saturday, September 26
Why to watch: After three games, NC State remains a pack of mysteries. Is this the team that couldn't score a touchdown in an opening night loss to South Carolina or the one that's ripped through grossly overmatched FCS teams the last two weekends? If Tom O'Brien's kids have truly evolved since the beginning of the month, they'll need to prove it against stronger competition. Pittsburgh, for instance. The Panthers have reached 3-0 for the first time since 2000, beating Youngstown, Buffalo, and Navy by at least 13 points. This will also be a step up in weight class for Pitt, which has yet to play a school from a major conference. A win here could propel the program into the Top 25 and improve its profile as a Big East contender.
Why Pittsburgh might win: The last time NC State faced a quality defense, it managed three points and 133 total yards. The Panthers are capable of putting the Pack in a similar choke hold. The defense has been outstanding, racking up 15 sacks in three games and clamping down in run defense. Even Navy could only muster 129 yards and less than three yards a carry last Saturday. DE Greg Romeus, DT Mick Williams, and LB Adam Gunn head a fantastic and ferocious front seven that's capable of flushing Russell Wilson from the pocket and making him pay when he heads downfield. And now true freshman LB Dan Mason has already been named Big East Defensive Player of the Week after replacing an injured Gunn for the Middie game.
Why NC State might win: Sure, a lot of the yards came against the prevent, but Buffalo may have exposed a weakness in the Pitt D, its secondary. The Panthers gave up 433 yards and four touchdowns on that day, picking off just one pass. Wilson doesn't make mistakes, and both he and his teammates have gained confidence and valuable snaps in the last two blowouts. He's thrown four touchdown passes each of the last two weekends, as RB Toney Baker has officially shaken off all of the rust from his nearly two years on the IR. He's gone for 145 yards and four scores on 22 carries since the opener, flashing the power and speed that has the staff excited.
Who to watch: It's no secret that QB Bill Stull is one of Pitt's key figures for 2009, so when he starts fast, everyone becomes cautiously optimistic. While he doesn't have a high ceiling, he's been managing the game better, completing more than 70% of his passes, and not turning the ball over. If he can continue to be well-protected and occasionally get the ball downfield to Jonathan Baldwin, the Panthers' hopes for a conference title increase exponentially.
What will happen: This is one of those show-me games for both programs, so plenty is at stake for Pitt and NC State. The single best unit at Carter-Finley Stadium will be the Panther D, which will prove to be the difference in a close, low-scoring affair. Pittsburgh will toy with a bad Wolfpack interior, keeping Wilson and Baker from making many plays, while RB Dion Lewis does just enough on the ground to get the team over the hump.
CFN Prediction: Pitt 20… NC State 17 ... Line: NC State -1
Must See Rating: (I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell 5 … Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself 1) … 2.5
-Free Expert Football Predictions
TCU (2-0) at Clemson (2-1),3:30 EST, ESPN360, Saturday, September 26
Why to watch: The first meeting between Clemson and TCU in 44 years will have significant meaning to both programs. Now that BYU and Utah lost in the span of a few hours, the 14th-ranked Horned Frogs are left carrying the banner in the Mountain West's bid for a second straight BCS bowl berth. After easily beating Virginia and Texas State, this will be their first of just two or three opportunities to impress those unenlightened voters, who've never seen them in action. The Tigers would desperately like to make a push toward the Top 25 after drifting away with a narrow loss at Georgia Tech two weeks ago. Clemson did bounce back last Saturday with a 25-7 stuffing of Boston College and could build a head of steam with a win over a ranked visitor.
Why TCU might win: Clemson had trouble with the Boston College defense last weekend, failing to score an offensive touchdown and repeatedly stalling in the red zone. No one on the staff was happy that Richard Jackson 6-of-6 on field goal attempts. Life won't get any easier this Saturday afternoon. The Horned Frogs boast a ferocious, attacking defense that leads the nation in sacks, bagging eight in its first game with an ACC opponent. DE Jerry Hughes is the ringleader, often requiring multiple blockers and constant attention. On offense, TCU is running the ball well behind Joseph Turner and, in Andy Dalton, sports a far more experienced hurler than Tiger freshman Kyle Parker.
Why Clemson might win: Will TCU be ready for the sudden spike in the competition level? While the Frogs were toying with overmatched opponents, the Tigers have already played at Georgia Tech on a Thursday night. The defense has far more speed than the Frogs have seen this year, which will be a particular problem for Dalton. Clemson has picked off eight passes and has a defensive line that features speedy rush ends Ricky Sapp and Da'Quan Bowers. On offense, C.J. Spiller got a little dinged in the Boston College game, but is expected back to wreak havoc out of the backfield and on special teams. While few have completely stopped Hughes, the Tigers have the veterans up front to keep him from imposing his will on the game.
Who to watch: It's no surprise that Clemson has played exceptionally well in pass defense, especially with the added support from the pass rush. The starting unit is comprised of four upperclassmen, seniors Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler at corner and juniors DeAndre McDaniel and Marcus Gilchrist at safety. All four are physical in pass defense and not bashful about stepping up and supporting the run. Dalton's desire to get WR Jimmy Young more involved in the offense might have to go on hold for a week.
What will happen: If you like hard-hitting defenses, pull up a chair and get comfortable for three hours. Clemson and TCU are going to bounce each other around for four quarters. In a very tight, conservative game, the Tigers will have an advantage on special teams. Jackson will outkick Ross Evans, but the Horned Frog defense will shut down Spiller and the Clemson backfield.
CFN Prediction: TCU 23 … Clemson 13 ... Line: Clemson -2.5
Must See Rating: (I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell 5 … Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself 1) … 3.5
-Free Expert Football Predictions
North Carolina Central (0-3) at Duke (1-2),7:00 EST, Saturday, September 26
Why to watch: After taking its best shot at Kansas in Lawrence, Duke returns back home for a far more achievable goal, like beating a team from the FCS. The Blue Devils failed in that quest in the opener, losing to Richmond, but should find this week's hurdle significantly smaller. Even at 2-2, they'll need to raise the level of their play to have a realistic crack at bowl eligibility. North Carolina Central is off to a predictably difficult start, losing three straight to Hampton, Liberty, and Morehead State, the last one by a field goal in overtime. In just their third year as a member of the FCS, the Eagles still have a large mountain to climb under head coach Mose Rison.
Why North Carolina Central might win: Sure, the Eagles are still building, but they've got a veteran program that brings back 18 starters from a year ago. The receivers, in particular, are going to cause problems for a Duke secondary that got toasted a week ago and has no lockdown corners. Geovonie Irvine, Earthan Ward, and Will Scott have all caught at least 10 passes, helping along the maturation of sophomore QB Michael Johnson.
Why Duke might win: For a change, Duke will get a chance to be the bully when it has the ball. The North Carolina Central defense has no business being on the same field with any ACC program. The Eagles gave up more than 30 points to Hampton and Liberty, which does not bode well for this week trip to Durham. Bank on the Blue Devils being able to move the ball at will, finally getting RB Re'quan Boyette out of the blocks and getting days from quarterbacks Thaddeus Lewis and Sean Renfree. The hurlers have access to an ensemble of young receivers, like Austin Kelly and Johnny Williams, which is getting better with each passing week.
Who to watch: No matter how maligned the Duke defense becomes, LB Vincent Rey remains one of the constants in the middle of it. A sure-tackler with outstanding range, he already has 32 stops, which is 13th nationally and tops in the ACC. He's also an instinctive pass defender, which won't go to waste against this week's opponent.
What will happen: With a rare chance to flex its muscles, Duke will revel in an opportunity to move a weaker team off the ball and not have to play from behind. Lewis, his grip on the starting job now tenuous, will have his best game of the season, throwing touchdown passes to three different receivers before giving way to Renfree.
CFN Prediction: Duke 48 … North Carolina Central 9 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell 5 … Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself 1) … 1
-Free Expert Football Predictions
Week 4, Part 1