- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2012

FIVE GAMES OF INFLUENCE

1. Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, Sept. 3. The top two bowl-eligible candidates for the Coastal Division title meet Labor Day evening. It will be an early preview of whether the Hokies’ losses on the offensive line will emerge as a significant factor this season.

2. Clemson at Florida State, Sept. 22. The Atlantic Division favorites face each other in September again. The home team has won nine of the past 10 meetings, including Clemson’s 35-30 victory in Death Valley a year ago.

3. Virginia Tech at Clemson, Oct. 20. The teams’ third meeting in a little more than a year also could function as an ACC title game preview again. The Tigers dominated the two games last year, outscoring the Hokies 61-13.

4. N.C. State at North Carolina, Oct. 27. The Triangle rivals have played 101 times since 1894, and never have the Wolfpack won six in a row. That soon could change. Coach Tom O’Brien is 5-0 against the Tar Heels since coming to N.C. State.

5. Florida State at Virginia Tech, Nov. 8. The preseason picks to claim their respective divisions, the Seminoles and Hokies meet in the regular season for the first time since 2008. As a bonus for the ACC, it’s a Thursday night game in Blacksburg, which is usually a treat.

FIVE POSSIBLE UPSETS

1. North Carolina at Wake Forest, Sept. 8. In most years, Wake Forest will surprise some one. It’s been Florida State a lot over the past half-dozen years, but the Tar Heels could be candidates for a stunner early on.

2. Clemson at Boston College, Sept. 29. Since the Eagles joined the ACC, they’ve beaten the Tigers in two of three meetings in Chestnut Hill and lost the third game (in 2008) by a touchdown. Look for the Eagles to provide a tougher-than-anticipated test.

3. Maryland at Virginia, Oct. 13. The road team has won five of the past six in the series, and the Cavaliers still are young enough to carry the possibility of erratic play. Maryland will be hard-pressed to win many games, but this could be a surprise outcome.

4. Florida State at Miami, Oct. 20. This still is a rivalry game, even though the balance of power in recruiting has swung sharply in favor of the Seminoles in recent years. Though depleted, the Hurricanes could have one big game in them. This might be it.

5. Miami at Duke, Nov. 24. Maybe it wouldn’t be an upset, but if the Hurricanes straggle into Durham facing either a bowl ban (possible with looming NCAA sanctions) or, worse, an already assured losing season, the Blue Devils could provide an exclamation point to a tough season.

FIVE CRUCIAL NEWCOMERS

1. Mario Edwards, Florida State DE. The son of the former Seminoles defensive back of the same name (a 1999 all-ACC selection), Edwards is one of the nation’s most touted recruits and should find his way into Florida State’s rotation up front.

2. Larry Fedora, North Carolina coach. The Tar Heels get a fresh start after the scandals of the Butch Davis years and last season’s Everett Withers interregnum. The boisterous Fedora was 34-19 at Southern Mississippi.

3. Duke Johnson, Miami RB. Lamar Miller bolted for the NFL after last season, and holdover Mike James averaged 3.8 yards a carry. Johnson, a Miami native, could earn a large role early for the Hurricanes.

4. Brent Venables, Clemson defensive coordinator. The Tigers sent ex-coordinator Kevin Steele packing after an unremarkable defensive season punctuated by West Virginia’s 70-point outing in the Orange Bowl. Venables worked at Oklahoma from 1999 until last season.

5. Stefon Diggs, Maryland WR. How much of an impact Diggs makes on the Terrapins remains to be seen, though he is the rare high-profile recruit to sign with Maryland. A role in the return game is all but certain.

FIVE ON THE SPOT

1. Frank Spaziani, Boston College coach. After steadily diminishing returns, Spaziani might need a return to the postseason to secure his job for a fifth season.

2. Michael Rocco, Virginia QB. So, what’s the reward for the fourth-best passing season in school history? For Rocco, it might be a lot of looking over the shoulder at Alabama transfer Phillip Sims.

3. Virginia Tech offensive line. Four starters — and a whopping 151 career starts — departed from last year’s offensive line. Center Andrew Miller is the lone holdover in an inexperienced unit.

4. Mike Locksley, Maryland offensive coordinator. It wasn’t going to be easy to craft an offense after last year’s starting tackles transferred out. The loss of quarterback C.J. Brown (ACL) makes Locksley’s return to College Park even more challenging.

5. Tanner Price, Wake Forest QB. The junior will have a mostly new line protecting him, and the Demon Deacons also replace their top rusher and wideout. Price will need to carry Wake’s offense, at least initially.

BOWL PROJECTIONS

1. Orange: Florida State. The Seminoles are primed for their first BCS bid since 2005.

2. Chick-fil-A: Clemson. Tigers will thrive thanks to a potent offense and solid fan base.

3. Russell Athletic: Virginia Tech. Even if Hokies are a bit down, they’ll get a nice bowl landing spot.

4. Sun: N.C. State. Wolfpack would be a good foil for a Pac-12 team in a shootout in El Paso.

5. Belk: Virginia. Has it really been nine years since the Cavaliers played in the then-Tire Bowl?

6. Music City: Georgia Tech. Yellow Jackets have played in eight different bowls in eight years, but never in Nashville.

7. Independence: Wake Forest. A return to the site of Bill Dooley’s last stand 20 years later? It’s possible.