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By BJ Bennett
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Members of the Staff release their 2008 predictions for the ACC.

By the Staff

Members of the Staff release their 2008 predictions for the ACC.



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Atlantic Division

1. Clemson – Expectations are at a championship level for the Tigers, who have peaked as high as the top five in major pre-season polls.  Anything less than a trip to Tampa, maybe even a conference championship, would be a major disappointment. 

The top three finishers in the ACC Player of the Year voting at ACC media days were Cullen Harper, James Davis and C.J. Spiller.  Throw in receivers Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham and you have arguably the top collection of skill position talent in college football.  That’s not hyperbole either, it’s fact.  Harper, who threw 27 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions, has emerged as an elite signal caller.  Davis and Spiller have combined for 3,957 rushing yards and 40 rushing touchdowns the past two seasons.  The pressure is on a young offensive line.  Only center Thomas Austin returns as a starter.  None of the projected starters are seniors. 

Defensively, the Tigers have a unit built on speed.  The Clemson secondary is loaded with talent and experience.  All four starters return, most notably pre-season first-team All-ACC selection Michael Hamlin.  The corners are solid with Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler.  Quarterback pressure should be a constant theme here as ends Ricky Sapp and Da’Quan Bowers are prototypical edge rushers.  Though young, these two will help serve as catalysts on an aggressive, attacking defense.  Inside, Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson (recently injured) provide solid senior leadership.  The Tigers are in need of playmakers at linebacker. 

Both kicker Mark Bucholz and punter Jimmy Maners return as experienced specialists.  Bucholz is very accurate from inside 40 yards.  Spiller is an especially dangerous return man. 

Offensive MVP – James Davis, RB
Defensive MVP – Michael Hamlin, FS
Rising Star – Ricky Sapp, DE
Key Game – at Wake Forest, October 9th

2. Wake Forest – The Demon Deacons have perhaps their most experienced and most talented team in school history.  Fresh off 20 wins the past two seasons, Jim Grobe and company have become a leading name in the ACC. 

Quarterback Riley Skinner led the NCAA in completion percentage last season, converting on 72.4% of his attempts.  He is the leader offensively and has an ACC Championship on his resume.  Josh Adams had an impressive freshman season and should top the 1,000 yard mark in 2008.  Adams proved especially valuable in the redzone, scoring 11 touchdowns last year.  There are questions at receiver and along offensive line.  Chip Brinkman and D.J. Boldin must assume larger roles in the passing game.  Boldin, the younger brother of Anquan Boldin of the NFL, has had a solid off-season.  Up front, three starters must be replaced. 

The defense has the potential to be one of the ACC’s best.  The secondary is incredibly talented.  Seniors Alphonso Smith at corner and Chip Vaughn at strong safety are legitimate All-American candidates.  Smith is the premier cover corner in the league.  All four starters return.  Senior Aaron Curry is the leader at linebacker.  A pre-season first-team all-league selection, Curry is a playmaker in the middle of the field.  Veteran Matt Robinson has overcome multiple injuries at defensive end. 

Sam Swank is a playmaker as the Deacons’ kicker and punter.  He is an All-American candidate and has proven that he can win games with his efforts.  He is one of the ACC’s best in a long time. 

Offensive MVP – Riley Skinner, QB
Defensive MVP – Alphonso Smith, CB
Rising Star – Ben Wooster, TE
Key Game – Clemson, October 9th

3. Florida State – The Seminoles are continuing their rebuilding efforts with a veteran team that has a manageable schedule.  Early season suspensions may dampen the ‘Noles charge.

The FSU offense enters year two of the Jimbo Fisher era.  Senior quarterback Drew Weatherford improved his decision-making last year, but will face a challenge from sophomore Christian Ponder.  The problem for whoever lines up under center may prove to be the youngest offensive line in school history.  Until recently (when the team added late JUCO transfer Joe Tonga), the Seminoles didn’t have a single upperclassman on their roster.  There is talent, but depth and experience is very slim.  As usual, the ‘Noles have great talent at the skill positions with guys like Greg Carr, Preston Parker and Antone Smith. 

Florida State has plenty of athletes on defense.  End Everette Brown and safety Myron Rolle were recently named pre-season first-team All-ACC selections.  Brown is the next star edge rusher in Tallahassee.  The linebackers are led by senior Derek Nicholson.  True freshman Nigel Bradham is expected to make an impact.  The secondary has a couple of stars.  In addition to Rolle, corners Jamie Robinson and Tony Carter should compete for all-league honors. 

Graham Gano is the top punter in the ACC.  He will likely take over kicking duties as well.  The ‘Noles have a number of capable return men. 

Offensive MVP – Preston Parker, WR
Defensive MVP – Everette Brown, DE
Rising Star – Nigel Bradham, LB
Key Game – Wake Forest, September 20th

4. Maryland – Ralph Friedgen might have his best team since 2003 when the Terrapins won ten games.  After not winning more than two games in a row last season, developing consistency will be key. 

The quarterback position is a big question mark.  Senior Jordan Steffy was recently named the starter over junior incumbent Chris Turner and junior Josh Portis, a former Florida transfer.  The ‘Terps need a leader to emerge.  Experience is plenty at receiver, which should help the quarterback.  Darius Heyward-Bey is a big play threat and an All-ACC talent.  There will be new faces in the backfield where sophomores Morgan Green and Da’Rel Scott take over.  Both showed the ability to make plays in the spring.  The offensive line is the ACC’s best.  Senior center Edwin Williams leads a mammoth, veteran group.

The Terrapins should have a strong front seven, where five out of the seven starters are seniors.  Up front, Jeremy Navarre is a force.  Trey Covington is another experienced playmaker.  Moise Fokou, Adrian Moten and Dave Philistin, an All-ACC candidate, form a very good linebacker unit.  Running on Maryland will not be easy.  Senior Kevin Barnes is the leader of a secondary that will feature some new faces.  Barnes is an all-league candidate and credible lead cover corner.  Free safety Antwine Perez is a USC transfer. 

Senior Obi Egekeze had a strong year in 2007, converting on 17 of 23 field goal tries.  Travis Baltz is back at punter. 

Offensive MVP – Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
Defensive MVP – Dave Philistin, LB
Rising Star – Morgan Green, RB
Key Game – at Boston College, November 29th

5. Boston College – After making a run to the ACC Championship Game and peaking as high as second nationally in 2007, the Eagles now have some big names to replace.  Jeff Jagodzinski begins his second year, his first without Matt Ryan.

The offense won’t resemble last season’s unit much at all.  Senior Chris Crane takes over for Ryan under center.  True freshman Josh Haden takes over for Andre Callander and L.V. Whitworth at running back.  Boston College has zero experience in the backfield, meaning Haden, and converted safety Dan Mulrooney will carry the load.  There are major playmakers at receiver.  Rich Gunnell, Brandon Robinson and Clarence Megwa combined for 150 receptions and tight end Ryan Purvis, 54 receptions, is an All-American candidate.  The Eagle front should be typically strong.  Tackle Anthony Castonzo is an emerging star. 

The Boston College defense will be quite fierce.  The unit will receive a boost from the return of senior B.J. Raji at tackle and senior linebacker Brian Toal from injury.  Both players are All-ACC caliber defenders.  With stars Ron Brace and Raji, a combined 650 pounds, in the middle, end Alex Albright should have opportunities to rush the passer.  Toal will join Mike McLaughlin and Mark Herzlich, yet another all-league type defender, at linebacker.  Senior Paul Anderson is the lone returning starter in a defensive backfield that lost some stars. 

Senior kicker Steve Aponavicius has gone 20-29 the last two seasons combined.  Freshman Ryan Quigley takes over at punter. 

Offensive MVP – Rich Gunnell, WR
Defensive MVP – Ron Brace, DT
Rising Star – Josh Haden, RB
Key Game – Georgia Tech, September 6th

6. NC State – The Wolfpack enter their second season under former Boston College coach Tom O’Brien.  State won four games the middle of last season, but return the fewest lettermen of any team in the ACC. 

Senior Daniel Evans threw 12 touchdown passes last season, but needs to cut down on his mistakes.  He will likely be challenged by Russell Wilson and Harrison Beck.  True freshman Sean Glennon may figure into the mix as well.  Justin Burke recently transfered to Louisville.  Running back is a definite position of strength for the Wolfpack.  Senior Andre Brown and junior Toney Baker are now healthy and will join Jamelle Euguene to form a tremendous trio.  Donald Bowens had an impressive sophomore season, 41 catches, and is the top wideout option.  Tight end Anthony Hill is back from injury and has tremendous size and athleticism.  He was 2nd team All-ACC in 2006.  Led by three seniors, the offensive line should be better. 

NC State has produced a line of talented defensive linemen and this fall should be no different.  End Willie Young had six sacks last season and should build on those numbers.  Tackle Alan-Michael Cash is a very active interior lineman.  There will be many new faces at linebacker where all three starters are gone.  Sophomore Nate Irving is a player to watch.  DeAndre Morgan and Jeremy Gray are a solid one-two combination at cornerback.  Morgan had eight pass break ups as a freshman. 

Sophomore Josh Czajkowski takes over at kicker.  Bradley Pierson returns at punter.  Darrell Blackman and his dynamic ability is now gone leaving a void in the return game. 

Offensive MVP – Andre Brown, RB
Defensive MVP – Willie Young, DE
Rising Star – Nate Irving, LB
Key Game – Boston College, October 4th

Coastal Division

1. Virginia Tech – Just ten starters return from a team that won the ACC Championship and went 11-3, but the Hokies have gotten to the point where they simply reload talent.  This team must replace some major names, however.

The best players on offense are both at the quarterback position.  Steady veteran Sean Glennon and dynamic sophomore Tyrod Taylor combined for 24 total touchdowns last year.  Glennon, the starter, is a team leader.  He and Taylor have made the two-quarterback system work.  The offensive line should be much better and be one of the conference’s better units.  Four starters return, most notably guard Sergio Render who was named a pre-season first-team All-ACC selection.  Then comes the uncertainty.  Junior Ike Whitaker returns as the Hokies’ most experienced receiver with three receptions last year.  Corner Victor Harris may be used here.  Injuries and the departure of Brandon Ore from the team have left VT thin at running back.  A redshirt freshmen, Darren Evans, will carry the load early.  Watch for true freshman Ryan Williams. 

Just four starters return on defense, but expect new playmakers to develop.  The secondary may be the unit’s top subset.  Harris is a first-team All-ACC defender and an All-American candidate.  He had five interceptions and eleven pass break-ups in 2007.  Free safety Kam Chancellor is the team’s leading returning tackler with 79.  Up front, senior Orion Martin, 6.5 sacks, is ready to shine.  Linebacker Cam Martin is another soon-to-be household name.  A number of players in the front seven will have to adjust from part-time roles to full-time roles.  As always, this unit will be quite effective.

Punter Brent Bowden is one of the best in the league.  Sophomore Matt Woldron takes over at kicker.  Harris is an exciting return man.  You have to assume the Hokies will block some kicks this fall.

Offensive MVP – Sean Glennon, QB
Defensive MVP – Victor Harris, CB
Rising Star – Ike Whitaker, WR
Key Game – at North Carolina, September 20th    

2. North Carolina – Year two of the Butch Davis era in Chapel Hill may be one of contention.  The Tar Heels have been the trendy pick in this league this pre-season. 

The Tar Heels should have very good balance offensively.  Quarterback T.J. Yates is ready to move forward in his progression after throwing 14 touchdowns as a freshman.  He has great weapons in receivers Hakeem Nicks, first-team All-ACC this pre-season, Brandon Tate, Brooks Foster and tight end Zack Pianalto.  Former receiver Greg Little settled in at running back last season and rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the season finale against Duke.  Johnny White and Anthony Elzy are capable runners as well.  Capping things off is an offensive line that returns four starters.  All five starters will be upperclassmen. 

Eight starters return to a defense that should be much improved in 2008.  Leading the way up front will be active tackle Marvin Austin, a former five-star recruit.  He and end E.J. Wilson, five sacks, are difference-makers up front.  Senior Chase Rice and Quan Sturdivant return at linebacker.  The secondary could be the defense’s best facet.  All four starters return to a unit that made major strides last fall.  Senior safety Trimane Goddard is the team’s leading returning tackler with 59.  His backfield partner Deunta Williams had three interceptions. 

Freshman Jay Wooten takes away for Connor Barth at kicker.  Terrence Brown returns at punter.  Brandon Tate is a star in the return game and an All-ACC talent.   

Offensive MVP – Hakeem Nicks, WR
Defensive MVP – Marvin Austin, DT
Rising Star – Greg Little, RB
Key Game – Virginia Tech, September 20th

3. Miami – The Hurricanes dropped to 5-7 in 2007, a recent low for one of college football’s proudest programs.  Randy Shannon’s second season promises improvement. 

The most glaring issue on offense is the quarterback position, where the Hurricanes have two freshmen competing for the starting job.  Redshirt freshman Robert Marve has the inside track over true freshman Jacori Harris.  Marve has a strong, live arm but his inexperience is well noted.  No quarterback on the Miami roster has ever taken a live college snap.  The ‘Canes do have great depth at running back where Javarris James and Craig Cooper form a tremendous tailback tandem.  Both players are big plays waiting to happen.  The receiver rotation needs to shake out, though junior Sam Shields looks like the top option.  Up front, both tackles return but new faces line the interior. 

The Miami defense has some retooling to do but there is talent all over the depth chart.  Solid depth is developing in the defensive secondary where cornerbacks DeMarcus Van Dyke and Bruce Johnson will team with safeties Lavon Ponder and Randy Phillips.  Senior Anthony Reddick is finally healthy and is a player to key an eye on as well.  The ‘Canes boast two returning starters at linebacker, including Colin McCarthy, who had 12.5 tackles for loss.  A handful of true freshman, including Arthur Brown, could play right away.  Up front Eric Moncur had six sacks at end last year.  Allen Bailey is an exciting sophomore across the line.  Inside, senior Antonio Dixon has great size and strength.  True freshman Marcus Forston could start.

True freshman Jake Wieclaw is the new kicker.  Matt Bosher returns at punter.  A number of speedy players could return kicks and punts. 

Offensive MVP – Javarris James, RB
Defensive MVP – Colin McCarthy, LB
Rising Star – Allen Bailey, DE
Key Game – Florida State, October 4th

4. Georgia Tech – Paul Johnson brings his option attack to Atlanta with the hopes of turning the Yellow Jackets into annual contenders.  The Yellow Jackets will be very young with only 14 seniors on the team and learning a new offensive system may take some time to perfect.

Much like the rest of the team, the Yellow Jackets are young on offense, especially at the skill positions.  Sophomore quarterback Josh Nesbitt appears to be the frontrunner to win the starting job.  The quarterback will be the key to ensuring the triple option attack is successful and Nesbitt appears to have all the tools.  Sophomore B-back Jonathan Dwyer should shine in this system as the feature back.  A-backs Greg Smith and Roddy Jones provide good speed and freshmen Marcus Wright or Embry Peeples could see significant playing time.  Receiver Demaryius Thomas is the best of a very young group.  The offensive line is loaded with upperclassmen, however, only All-ACC tackle Andrew Gardner has made more than 8 career starts.

The Yellow Jacket defense is also young but very stout up front.  All-America tackle Vance Walker teams with fellow senior tackle Darryl Richard on a defensive line that returns 17 sacks from a year ago.  Defensive end Michael Johnson has been projected as a top five NFL draft pick.  The Linebacker are young but talented.  Sophomore Brad Jefferson gets the nod at middle linebacker.  Sophomore Anthony Barnes appears to have a starting spot on the weak side. Freshman Kyle Jackson will battle Shane Bowen for the final spot.  The secondary is led by senior cornerback Jahi Word-Daniels.  Mario Butler and Michael Peterson will compete at the other corner.  Sophomore safety Morgan Burnett returns from a stellar freshman season and appears ready for a breakout season.  VT transfer Mario Edwards recently received permission to play this season and should start opposite Burnett.

The Yellow Jackets must replace kicker Travis Bell and All-American punter Durant Brooks. Sophomore Scott Blair appears to be the leader to handle all the kicking duties.  A number of player are being looked at in the return game.

Offensive MVP – Jonathan Dwyer, BB
Defensive MVP – Michael Johnson, DE
Rising Star – Morgan Burnett, S
Key Game – at Boston College, September 6th

5. Virginia – The Cavaliers must do some retooling as just 11 starters return from a team that went 9-4 and made it to the Gator Bowl last season.  A strong and savvy linebacker unit will look to lead the way for a team that lost two players in the first 15 picks of the NFL Draft.

Gone is Jameel Sewell at quarterback, meaning the reigns now belong to sophomore Peter Lalich.  As a freshman, Lalich attempted 61 passes.  Now the highly-touted recruit will be calling the shots full time.  He will likely turn and hand the football off often as the Cavaliers have a handful of extremely talented tailbacks.  Senior Cedric Peerman was leading the ACC in rushing before succumbing to injury last fall.  Junior Mikell Simpson had 170 yards rushing and two total touchdowns in the Gator Bowl.  He also led the team in receptions with 43.  The return of junior Kevin Ogletree at wide receiver will give Lalich a proven downfield option.  He had 52 receptions in 2006.  All-ACC candidate Eugene Monroe leads a offensive line that must replace three starters. 

Defensive focus will shift from the front line to the linebackers.  All four starters return, most notably senior Clint Sintim.  Last season, Sintim had the most sacks of any linebacker in college football with nine.  He is a force off the edge.  Senior Jon Copper returns as the team’s leading tackler with 109 stops.  As a whole, the linebackers are the best in the ACC and give coordinator Mike London many options.  Junior Vic Hall is an emerging talent at cover corner.  Senior Byron Glaspy returns at free safety.  All three starters along the defensive line will be new.  Replacing the production of Chris Long will be very difficult. 

Gone is reliable Chris Gould at kicker.  Enter redshirt freshman Chris Hinkebein.  Senior John Thornton, a walk-on, takes over for Ryan Weigland at punter.  Hall is an exciting return man.   

Offensive MVP – Eugene Monroe, OT
Defensive MVP – Clint Sintim, LB
Rising Star – Vic Hall, CB
Key Game – October 25th, at Georgia Tech

6. Duke – Former Ole Miss head coach and Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutlciffe brings optimism to college football’s most downtrodden program.  With 17 returning starters, improvement could be in store.

You have to recognize the talent Duke has at quarterback and wide receiver.  Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who threw 21 touchdowns compared to just ten interceptions, is a true star.  He will contend for all-conference honors.  Lewis is a playmaker, much like wide receiver Eron Riley.  He averaged a league-high 20.8 yards per reception and scored nine touchdowns.  Re’Quan Boyette returns at tailback and my be challenged by converted safety Tony Jackson.  Improvement is needed from the offenisve line, which returns three starters including senior tackle Cameron Goldberg. 

Duke has some All-ACC caliber defenders on defense, the first being tackle Vince Obhobaasse.  The junior recorded 12 tackles for loss last season and brings 310 pounds of muscle to the Duke front line.  Senior Michael Tauiliili has been amongst the league leaders in tackles the last two years.  Junior Vincent Rey, who paced the squad in 2007, is actually the league’s second leading returning tackler with 111.  Three secondary starters return.  Depth is a concern at many places. 

Joe Surgan returns at kicker after struggling last season.  Punter Kevin Jones is back as well.  The Blue Devils need better production from their specialists.  Return man Jabarai Marshall is exciting and had a 100-yard return against UConn last year.

Offensive MVP – Thaddeus Lewis, QB
Defensive MVP – Michael Tauiliili, LB
Rising Star – Tony Jackson, RB
Key Game – Virginia, September 27th

ACC Championship Game
Clemson over Virginia Tech, 27-17

First Team All-ACC
QB – Cullen Harper, Clemson
RB – James Davis, Clemson
RB – Josh Adams, Wake Forest
WR – Aaron Kelly, Clemson
WR – Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
WR – Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland
TE – Ryan Purvis, Boston College
OT – Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech
OG – Rodney Hudson, Florida State
C – Edwin Williams, Maryland
OG – Sergio Render, Virginia Tech
OT – Eugene Monroe, Virginia

DE – Everette Brown, Florida State
DT – Vance Walker, Georgia Tech
DT – Ron Brace, Boston College
DE – Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
LB – Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
LB – Clint Sintim, Virginia
LB – Brian Toal, Boston College
LB – Derek Nicholson, Florida State
CB – Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
S – Michael Hamlin, Clemson
S – Chip Vaughn, Wake Forest
CB – Victor Harris, Virginia Tech

K – Sam Swank, Wake Forest
P – Graham Gano, Florida State
RS – Brandon Tate, North Carolina
AP – C.J. Spiller, Clemson

Second Team All-ACC
QB – Riley Skinner, Wake Forest
RB – Antone Smith, Florida State
RB – C.J. Spiller, Clemson
WR – Preston Parker, Florida State
WR – Greg Carr, Florida State
WR – Rich Gunnell, Boston College
TE – Anthony Hill, NC State
OT – Garrett Reynolds, North Carolina
OG – Curtis Crouch, NC State
C – Thomas Austin, Clemson
OG – Calvin Darity, North Carolina
OT – Reggie Youngblood, Miami

DE – Ricky Sapp, Clemson
DT – Vince Oghobaasse, Duke
DT – Marvin Austin, North Carolina
DE – Willie Young, NC State
LB – Dave Philistin, Maryland
LB – Mark Herzlich, Boston College
LB – Michael Tauiliili, Duke
LB – Colin McCarthy, Miami
CB – Patrick Robinson, Florida State
S – Myron Rolle, Florida State
S – Chris Clemons, Clemson
CB – Tony Carter, Florida State

K – Obi Egekeze, Maryland
P – Brent Bowden, Virginia Tech
RS – Jabari Marshall, Duke
AP – Craig Cooper, Miami


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BJ Bennett – B.J. Bennett is’s founder and publisher. He is the co-host of “Three & Out” with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the “Southern Pigskin Radio Network”. Email: [email protected] / Twitter: @BJBennettSports

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