Tying up some loose ends here as the first Saturday of college football is finally here. First up: A prediction for every ACC team; the first two were initially tweeted out on Thursday (and one doesn’t look so great after a performance that night).
1. Josh Harris will become the first Wake Forest rusher to crack the 1,000-yard plateau since Chris Barclay in 2005.
Harris rushed for 66 yards the other night against Syracuse, so he’s a bit behind pace after the first week. Yet he also had a 240-yard game against Virginia Tech last season as a freshman, so it’s not a stretch to believe he’ll have a few strong days with a more mature bunch of teammates this year. One thing that could slow him down is whether quarterback Tanner Price is sidelined with because of a leg injury suffered Thursday for an extended period.
2. Georgia Tech will use multiple starting quarterbacks and might be as likely as any ACC team to start three QBs over the course of the season.
Well, Tevin Washington looked completely up to the task Thursday, throwing for 271 yards and three touchdowns as the Yellow Jackets ripped Western Carolina. But he also has a capable backup (Synjyn Days) and a touted freshman (Vad Lee) behind him. Injury is always a threat when quarterbacks run the option, and Washington isn’t an entrenched starter (hardly an uncommon spot in the ACC). Here’s guessing it isn’t his job for whatever reason for a game or two along the way.
3. Montel Harris will not set the ACC career rushing record.
Harris enters the season needing 1,003 yards to break Ted Brown‘s career mark. Harris will also miss the Eagles’ season opener with a knee injury. Boston College seems less likely to ignore the forward pass this fall than the last few years, and there isn’t great incentive to give Harris a massive workload immediately upon returning. Plus, BC lost both its starting offensive tackles, so there could be regression in the running game, anyway. Harris has produced an amazing career, and he’ll still land in the top five in conference history. But Brown’s mark will probably be safe for a while longer.
4. Virginia Tech won’t run the table (though it will escape September without a loss).
The schedule just couldn’t be any friendlier for the Hokies, who don’t play a game away from Blacksburg against a team that finished last season with a winning record (Georgia Tech and East Carolina were 6-7 after their bowl losses). Few programs are as steady as Virginia Tech, and a 10-win season is basically a fait accompli. But it’s still a team with a new quarterback, maybe a few questions up front defensively and not necessarily an unquestioned talent edge over its beleaguered Coastal Division rivals. There will be one trip-up (think Nov. 10 at Georgia Tech) in an otherwise impressive season.
5. Clemson will win nine games (including the postseason).
Yes, this is a bit of a gamble. The Tigers were 6-7 last season, and trying to figure out what they’ll do from one year to another is always a bit of a headache. That’s Clemsonliness for you. But there’s also the matter that few programs collect athleticism quite like Dabo Swinney and Co. Yes, there’s a new quarterback (Tajh Boyd) and a real chance the Tigers rely heavily on freshmen wideouts. But they’ll also bring a full-fledged spread offense to the ACC and should produce another capable defense under coordinator Kevin Steele (even if the defensive line isn’t as scary as last year). An 8-4 record plus a bowl win should satisfy folks this fall in Tigertown.
6. E.J. Manuel will win the ACC’s player of the year award.
Voters love star players on teams that roll up wins. Considering Florida State will probably go with a backfield committee, it means Manuel (in his first full year as the starting quarterback) will probably be the biggest name to emerge for the Seminoles. Florida State’s schedule is conducive to a run to a division crown (Duke and Virginia are both on tap, with Miami coming to Tallahassee to complete the cross-division games), and it’s talent base continues to soar. The talk of playing for a national title seems just a little premature —- more on that in the next post —- but Manuel could haul home the Seminoles’ first conference player of the year award since 2000.
7. North Carolina will meander its way to eight wins, but it won’t keep interim coach Everett Withers around in 2012.
Withers is in an unenviable spot, but he appears to have handled things as smoothly as possible since Butch Davis‘ firing a little more than a week before camp starts. But if you’re North Carolina, you’re probably looking outside of Davis’ staff to find his long-term successor. Still, an 8-4 season would certainly enhance the former defensive coordinator’s reputation. There’s plenty of talent on defense to carry the day on many occasions, and new quarterback Bryn Renner inherits one of the ACC’s top deep threats (Dwight Jones). In short, there will be very Davis-like results even though he’s no longer around.
8. N.C. State’s transformation into a mid-Aughts Boston College team will be complete.
The Wolfpack already have the hallmarks of a traditional Tom O’Brien team: Limited turnovers, few penalties, a commitment to stopping the run and success against a notable rival. This year, N.C. State could be one of the nation’s more anonymous eight-win teams. Mike Glennon is a known name simply because he isn’t Russell Wilson, but quick: Name a Wolfpack running back. Or a receiver. They’re not the most familiar names, but they’ll wind up being successful enough to ensure there’s never any doubt the Wolfpack will head to a bowl game.
9. Virginia won’t make a bowl game, but it will make progress.
Sorry, Hoos fans. The bowl drought will continue for another season. That’s the price of almost complete inexperience at quarterback and a few tricky nonconference games. But things are getting better in Charlottesville, and Virginia will probably wind up knocking off someone they have no business defeating (as was the case last season with Miami). Here’s thinking a five-win season and slim bowl hopes heading into the finale against Virginia Tech, a game that will end as the Commonwealth Cup typically has for the last decade.
10. Duke produces a pair of 900-yard receivers.
It might not get the Blue Devils to a bowl game, but Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner will both benefit from the maturation of quarterback Sean Renfree. Coach and quarterback whisperer David Cutcliffe‘s profound influence will be evident from the opener, and Renfree will cut down on his attempts per interception, even if the raw number doesn’t decrease much as the Blue Devils take to the air some more. Renfree ranks second among active conference QBs in starts, and he’s the best bet to lead the league in passing yardage. Just like last year, Vernon and Varner will be his favorite targets.
11. Actual football remains an afterthought at Miami all season.
Even though the NCAA hammer was softer than anticipated in connection with player suspensions, the possibility of harsh penalties for the program will hover throughout the season. Besides perhaps the Jacory Harris/Stephen Morris competition, the Hurricanes’ on-field exploits won’t draw nearly the amount of attention as the slow wheels of NCAA justice. That’s a shame for this team, which had the look of a possible conference contender with a veteran-laden bunch before the Yahoo Sports investigation was published last month.
12. Maryland will be the league’s most unpredictable team.
Maybe the best thing the Terrapins have going for them (besides deploying Danny O’Brien at quarterback) is that they are solid across the board. Besides some depth issues at a handful of positions (notably linebacker), there aren’t exactly a lot of questions about a team that went 9-4 last season. There’s also no way to know for sure what Maryland will look like after an offseason of secrecy. The Terps will have some head-scratching moments along the way, and ultimately spit out eight wins (including the postseason) despite dealing with myriad issues over the last eight months.
—- Patrick Stevens