All twelve of the ACC’s teams get into action this weekend and from Massachusetts to Miami folks should have plenty to cheer about as the season kicks off. Five ACC schools open with FCS programs, Clemson jumps out against the Sun Belt’s Middle Tennessee and the rest of the league moves to take on BCS competition, including one season opening conference game. While the U and the Noles kickoff the season with a crucial ACC interdivisional battle the true ACC game of the week will be the Chic-Fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta between the reigning ACC champion Virginia Tech and Alabama from the SEC.
Georgia Tech vs Jacksonville State (1pm) Paul Johnson’s team beat Jacksonville State 41-14 a season ago in their option offense infancy. This year with two springs, two training camps and 18 returning starters expect the Jackets to be more efficient and thus more lethal against the Gamecocks. Georgia Tech 52 Jacksonville State 14
Boston College vs Northeastern (2pm)New coach Frank Spaziani has plenty of question marks at quarterback, especially with projected starter David Shinskie suffering from cracked ribs entering this week. The defense is missing their top four talents from a season ago but the Eagles have plenty for their semi-crosstown rivals. Boston College 28 Northeastern 7
Virginia vs William & Mary (6pm) Al Groh’s seat has never been hotter as he enters the 2009 season with three viable quarterback options and a revamped coaching staff. The Tribe is a disciplined group of FCS players who may keep it close against Virginia’s inexperienced linebacking core but the Wahoos will avoid a possible deathblow. Virginia 24 William & Mary 10
North Carolina vs The Citadel (6pm) Entering year three of the Butch Davis era the Tar Heel faithful will be reminded of last season’s opening game nightmare; a nail biter against McNeese State in Kenan. The Citadel is a similarly modeled team; quick passes to neutralize UNC’s girth up front but the Heels more experienced linebackers and secondary core won’t make the crowd sweat like they did a season ago. North Carolina 42 The Citadel 17
Duke vs Richmond (7pm) Cutcliffe’s number one goal since arriving in Durham has been to increase the Blue Devils team speed. This first game won’t offer quite the same test as their ACC slate but the Spiders are coming off an FCS title and return their dynamic quarterback Eric Ward. Duke must come out the gate hot to have a shot at reaching bowl eligibility. Duke 35 Richmond 17
Clemson vs Middle Tennessee (6 pm) New coach, new defense and a new quarterback mean that Clemson is somewhat in flux for Dabo’s first season. Middle Tennessee is a team that beat Maryland by ten the week before the Terps beat Cal. They’ve got talent at running back but the Tigers’ defense should definitely be up to shutting them down under new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. Clemson 38 Middle Tennessee 7
Baylor @ Wake Forest (ABC, 3:30pm) Dave Lamont, Shaun King - The Baylor Bears, with speedster quarterback Robert Griffin, are everyone’s vogue pick to be the surprise team in the Big XII. Meanwhile the Deacons have hung under the radar in the ACC, especially with the departure of four NFL draft picks. Replacing that type flight talent is no small task for any school, however the Deacons, with Jim Grobe’s redshirt system will truly be tested in fielding a stout defense.
Running back Joshua Adams must return to the 2007 form that won him ACC Rookie of the Year in order to help senior Riley Skinner beat the improving Bears in Waco. Wake’s defense will face plenty of obstacles and a world class athlete at quarterback is not the task that their rebuilding defense should be facing to open the 2009 campaign. Baylor 31 Wake Forest 27
Maryland @ California (ESPN2, 10pm) Terry Gannon, David Norrie - The Golden Bears are a preseason top 15 team and they look poised to challenge Southern Cal for the Pac 10 title, Maryland on the other hand looks to have questions across the board. The Terrapin defense will have their hands full chasing one of the nation’s elite running backs Jahvid Best.
Last season the Terps shocked a drowsy California team in a game with a noon east coast game that didn’t see the Golden Bears wake up until the fourth quarter. This year expect Cal to be ready and Maryland will get a dose of the cross coast blues; kicking off at ten. California 38 Maryland 14
South Carolina @ North Carolina State (ESPN, 7pm) Sean McDonough, Jesse Palmer, Craig James, Erin Andrews - The return of Erin Andrews sees the tables turned in a rematch of last season’s major college football opener. This year NC State has answers to their question marks while South Carolina’s quarterback, receiving core and offensive line are veritable unknowns going into the game in Raleigh. Russell Wilson is arguably the ACC’s best quarterback and with the return of mega recruit Toney Baker to the lineup the Pack should have a lethal one, two punch in the backfield.
On defense look for the Pack to replace injured backer Nate Irving with sophomore Audie Cole, a physical specimen in his own right who should prove adequate in the Pack’s stout front seven. Willie Young is the unquestioned leader and the Pack front should stop the run and put a ton of pressure on Stephen Garcia.
Stephen Garcia is a redshirt sophomore, however thanks to a little trouble 2009 was the talented quarterback’s first spring practice on campus. The Gamecocks lost their top two receivers to graduation, they look to start an inexperienced tailback and have holes along the offensive line. On defense the front seven is stout but, as they showed a season ago, prone to late game collapses due to the offenses ineptitude and frequent three and outs. NC State 27 South Carolina 17
Miami @ Florida State (ESPN, 8pm) Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge - The Canes and the Noles are both on the rebuilding path for the 2009 season but Bobby Bowden’s squad looks to be leading the race to redemption. Shannon’s team has a brutal four game stretch and this trip to Tallahassee is the opening leg of the relay. For the FSU defense the questions revolve around the departure of sack man Everett Brown and defensive leader Myron Rolle.
For these two teams this game is a crucial contest that can get them off to the right start for the season. The Hurricanes get linebacker Colin McCarthy back from injury to bolster their front seven and in facing the talented Seminole offensive line the addition will be crucial. Offensively the Canes have a true starter in Jacory Harris and this season his group of talented wide outs should be ready to snag the lanky quarterbacks passes out of the sky.
Bobby Bowden’s team has got a redshirt junior at the helm for the first time since the Weinke era and the addition of Jimbo Fisher should begin to pay dividends in year three. Ponder’s receiving core was in flux for much of the offseason however the bulk of the talent returns to catch footballs while Jermaine Thomas, a quality back up to now departed Antone Smith, will carry the rushing load and keep defenses honest. Florida State 31 Miami 24
Alabama v. Virginia Tech (ABC, 8pm) Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit, Lisa Salters - The Chic-Fil-A Kickoff Game should make every ACC fans stomach turn after last season’s debacle. Aside from the 2007 BCS Title game where Florida trounced and outclassed Ohio State no game in recent memory cast more dispersions on a team and conference than last season’s 34-13 Alabama mud hole stomping of Clemson. Enter 2009’s Virginia Tech Hokies, and while they can’t redeem Bowden’s punchless Tigers of a year ago the Hokies do have the capability of resurrecting the ACC in the public eye.
The Hokies are everything the Tigers were not; they’re plain where the Tigers were flashy, they’re gritty where the Tigers were pretty and they stomp where the Tigers danced. Pair the "bring your lunch pail" mentality personified by Beamers squad with the "roll your sleeves up and get dirty" nature of Nick Saban’s Tide and you’ve got an old fashioned, hand in the dirt, "hit me and I’ll hit you back", head cracking battle in the ATL.
With the recent Darren Evans injury it looked as it the Hokies were in trouble heading down to Atlanta. However in the past week Alabama has seen Mount Cody saddled with the swine flu, Mark Ingram and Julio Jones possibly being suspended for a fishing trip and defensive end Brandon Deaderick involved in a shooting. Deaderick is ok, but along with the other incidents there are distractions galore around Nick Saban’s normally tightly ran ship. While Tyrod is inconsistent he’s at least got a body of work to judge, what this game boils down to for me is Greg McElroy versus Bud Foster’s defense. Virginia Tech 17 Alabama 10