The ACC’s football season finally begins tonight, with South Carolina paying a visit to N.C. State.
And that means the picks at the wire begins anew as well.
There’s 11 games to get to, so here we go. All games Saturday unless otherwise noted:
* South Carolina at N.C. State (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN): Wolfpack 27-21. This is a rematch of last year’s opener, which the Gamecocks won 34-0 while knocking out Russell Wilson. This time around, Wilson will make it to the end —- and lead the Wolfpack to an opening-week victory.
* Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech (1, ESPN360): Yellow Jackets 45-3. On paper, the ACC should sweep the two Gamecocks it will line up against this weekend. Jacksonville State suspended starting quarterback Ryan Perrilloux for this one, so don’t expect Georgia Tech to yield much on defense.
* Northeastern at Boston College (2, ESPN360): Eagles 24-7. It has a chance to be a long year in Chestnut Hill. But a crosstown game against a school coming off five straight losing seasons should at least lead to a welcome start. It won’t matter this week who plays QB for BC.
* Baylor at Wake Forest (3:30, ABC regional): Demon Deacons 27-24. This is a gem of a game, and it’s a shame only 9 percent of the country will get to see it (the Baltimore and D.C. markets are included in that). Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin is one of the country’s most exciting players, but give the edge to a stout Wake coaching staff that’s had an entire offseason to prepare for the Bears.
* Middle Tennessee at Clemson (6, ESPN360): Tigers 31-10. The Kyle Parker era begins in Death Valley, where Clemson doesn’t start this season with nearly the same hype as a year ago. Middle Tennessee is dangerous —- just ask Maryland —- and it’ll be interesting to see if the Tigers opt to unleash C.J. Spiller as much as the school’s Heisman campaign might suggest they will.
* The Citadel at North Carolina (6, ESPN360): Tar Heels 38-3. There’s going to somehow be even more light blue than usual in Kenan Stadium thanks to the visiting team. On the field, this is a great opportunity for Carolina’s young receivers to acclimate to game conditions before things get dicier the next three weeks.
* William & Mary at Virginia (6, ESPN360): Cavaliers 21-17. The great wild card in the conference is Virginia’s spread offense. Will it galvanize the Cavaliers, or will it just be the same old plodding team in Charlottesville. One thing’s for sure: The Tribe are not the best team to try to fine-tune things against. This could be a tight one.
* Richmond at Duke (7): Blue Devils 31-21. David Cutcliffe is optimistic about his second Duke team, and the presence of Thaddeus Lewis at quarterback sure helps. Facing a defending national champ in the opener doesn’t, but the Blue Devils should be even better than last year and survive this one.
* Alabama vs. Virginia Tech in Atlanta (8, ABC): Crimson Tide 20-6. Really, the over/under in this game should be about 18. It will not be a day for offense, which really isn’t surprising given the Hokies’ problems in that department over recent years. This is the showcase nonconference game for the ACC, and it just doesn’t appear likely things will go any better than when Alabama crushed Clemson last year. The Hokies will still have a good season, but that undercurrent of national title talk should be gone by midnight.
* Maryland at California (10, ESPN2): Golden Bears 31-14. Here’s what we know. California is imposing on its defensive line and in its secondary. Maryland still doesn’t quite know how good its offensive line is going to be. This smells like a legitimate chance for sacks, punts and turnovers. Now, the Terps’ defense should be better than last year —- but even an aggressive scheme can only do so much against a team that might have the ball much of the night. Maryland will have its moments this year, but this seems the most unlikely of games to swing the Terps’ way.
* Miami at Florida State (Monday, 8, ESPN): Hurricanes 20-17. On a Florida State missed field goal at the end. Wide right, of course. The truth of the matter is Miami probably needs a win this weekend as much as any team in the country, given its brutal looming schedule. Toss in the tumult of two quarterbacks transferring and the mild pressure built in after going 12-13 in coach Randy Shannon‘s first two seasons, and this has the look of a mild upset on Labor Day night.
Last year’s record: 68-39 (28-20 conference)
—- Patrick Stevens