• OverThePylon

    OTP covers Ball State University sports from the blog perspective in the most overzealous manner possible, proving that as long as there is someone with enough free time you can obsess over anything.
  • Connect to OTP

  • OTP Messageboard

  • OTPcast on Itunes

  • OTPcast on Stitcher

  • Help the Pylon

  • Donate to OTP

    A donation to OTP helps keep the site afloat and Cards fans connected. 50% of all donations sent to Cardinal Varsity Club as well. Help the Cards and your favorite blog in one fell swoop!

  • Join Our Network

Week One… with a Little Help from the Fab Four

Club_ID_by_BeatlesFanClubWith week one in the books, the football machine is now fully operational.  But if you haven’t noticed, this week is a landmark occasion in the music world.  The Beatles are set to release all their albums today, finally remastered on CD, as well as The Beatles: Rock Band video game.  I have had a chance to hear about half of the remastered albums (we rockers get early access to everything, or we find someone who does), and the results are nothing short of incredible.

But as I listened this weekend, a lot of the songs played as great soundtracks to the weekend of college football.  And once again, I did the work for you.  Here are some timeless Beatles songs and their connection to week one.

Here, There and Everywhere
Notre Dame was all over the field Saturday.  And for once, they weren’t being led around it.  They came out fast, and they stayed that way the entire game.  If they keep this up, maybe Crazy Lou was right.

Let It Be
Air Force did anything but let it be.  Demolishing Nicholls State 72-0 should show the rest of the Mountain West that Air Force should probably not be taken too lightly in 2009.

I’m Looking Through You
Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly almost seemed inside Rutgers’ head coach Greg Schiano’s head the entire game.  Taking a 47-15 beating from a fellow conference team is not a pretty way to start the season.

A Day in the Life
Leave it to Ohio State to make a close game out of a sure blowout.  Just another day in the life for Buckeye fans.

You Can’t Do That
LeGarrette Blount committed one of the worst acts of losing one’s temper that I have ever seen on national television.  Next to Ron Artest.  Needless to say, I fully agree with the year-long suspension, and it should serve as a reminder that as much as you want to lay out an opponent for talking shit, sucker-punches aren’t the answer.

Continue reading

Weekend Carnage Report

Football is back, ladies and gents, and with it brings the return of the Weekend Carnage Report, your Monday Must Read for football goings on. While the weekend was short on major earth shaking upsets, there was excitement to be found throughout the land. Blocked field goals, overtimes, sucker punches… and this was all week 1. It’s going to be a good year.

Ball State logoBall State Report: For the Cardinals, it was hardly worth rehashing. It was game 1, it was a learning experience, and we have an FCS team coming in on Saturday. Play like they did on Thursday and they’ll get beat again. Play like they’re capable of, and it’s an easy W. There are some that will tell you that the gap between non-BCS teams and excellent FCS teams isn’t all that large. I am not one of those people. The gap is there and this is a game BSU needs to win, and win big.

Kentucky LogoKentucky Report: What really can you say that hasn’t already been covered by A Sea of Blue? The Cats looked dominant, energetic, poised, and skilled. The things we thought would be troublesome, like pressure and skill from the defensive ends, or the offense picking up blitzing schemes was present, but that’s something teachable and nowhere near the problems that the Legion of Doom expected to be dealing with after game 1. The positives, like Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline, the offensive line’s dominance, and Trevard Lindley all looked extremely good. Yes, it was a MAC school… I get it. But a win like this builds confidence and swagger no matter who you beat… and that’s what this team needed. The most improvement usually occurs between games 1 and 2, and throw in a bye week and I’m feeling good about Big Blue.

On to the weekend…

The Good

  • Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish were lampooned early this season as a team exceptionally overrated and ranked to highly. Most pointed to their season opener against Nevada and their high octane offense as a potential upset for the Irish. After Saturday’s 35-0 shellacking, ND looks like a team to keep your eye on. Charlie Weis silenced some critics, the Irish certainly impressed some pollsters, and Jimmy Clausen finally looked like the Clausen he was expected to be out of high school.
  • Florida/Texas/USC: Three of the teams universally expected to compete for a national championship berth all came out and handled their business against lesser opponents. Impressive, dominating, and totally expected but good all the same.
  • Boise State/BYU: Two non-BCS conference programs that have catapulted themselves into the BCS conversation. Boise’s victory over Oregon was overshadowed by a sucker punch, and BYU’s upset of Oklahoma overshadowed by Sam Bradford’s shoulder injury, but both those wins will be worth their weight in gold come this week’s poll and for the hopes of both of those programs to crash the BCS party come January.
  • Kentucky/Tennessee: Two teams needing large wins to sort of ease the fears of fanbases in worry mode. Both did exactly what was needed as Kentucky took Miami behind the woodshed and Tennessee laid the smack down on Western Kentucky. Welcome to FBS, Toppers… now grab your ankles.

The Bad

  • Virginia: It’s hard to say what’s worse… the fact that UVA lost to FCS William & Mary or the fact that no one seems to really be talking about it. Is that because of the other stories happening? Or because UVA is just expected to be awful. Probably a little of both.
  • The MidAmerican Conference: Some were lauding the MAC as a conference on the rise and in a position to get back some of the prestige lost when Marshall and Miami stopped dominating. The first weekend was hardly anything to warrant celebration as the MAC went 3-10 and the universally thought stronger MAC West went 0-6. The most damaging losses? Ball State’s to North Texas and Temple to Villanova. WMU looked dreadful against Michigan.
  • Maryland: Many were expecting the Terps to be contenders in an ACC devoid of overwhelming talent and skill. After the thorough decimation at the hands of Cal, Terp fans have got to be concerned. The Golden Bears ran absolutely roughshod over the Terp defense, didn’t allow the offense to flourish, and simply dominated.

The Ugly

  • Iowa: In what was nearly the largest upset of the weekend, Northern Iowa played Iowa closer than nearly every expert expected. So much so that the Hawkeyes needed two blocked field goals in the final seconds to seal a win. Iowa has had a ton of injuries but this is a game they have to win… largely… impressively… going away.
  • Ohio State: The Buckeyes were one pass away from a tie game with under three minutes to go Saturday. I’m certainly a fan of not running the score up in any fashion against a service academy, but playing like this next week against the Trojans is going to be an ass whipping waiting to happen.
  • Indiana: Not surprisingly, IU ends up on this list again. But at least this time it isn’t in the bad! Congrats! After a lackluster performance against Eastern Kentucky, it’s looking like it’s going to be a long year for the Hoosiers and their fans.

OTP Helmet Stickers
From Alan

  • WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame: 4 rec, 189 yards, 3 TDs in an impressive win against Nevada, announcing to the fans that ND may in fact, be ready to lay claim to a BCS berth with hopefully different results.
  • RB Ralph Bolden, Purdue: Sure, it was against Toledo. But when you throw up 234 yards and 2 TDs, that gets you some OTP love. Now… do that against Penn State and the Buckeyes, and you’re getting invited to New York for a bronze stiff-arming trophy.
  • QB Max Hall, BYU: 26-38 329 yards and 2 TDs in a shocking upset of Oklahoma. Hall commandeered an offensive unit that was far from dominant, but he got the job done. And that’s all anyone can ever ask for.

From Edge

  • Arizona State LB Mike Nixon hauled in an impressive three interceptions and even took one to the house.  Granted it was against Idaho State, it was still a great effort, and he’s clearly someone to watch this year.
  • Tony Pike threw for a personal best 362 yards and three touchdowns in Cincinnati’s rout of Rutgers on Monday.  One hell of a performance from one surprisingly good team, at least from week one’s showing.
  • Purdue’s RB Ralph Bolden accumulated 234 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 carries against Toledo.  And I thought Ball State’s rushing defense was poor on Thursday… jeebus.

09 Homer Preview: The Terrapins Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of James Bond, yes… his actual name. This is second Homer Preview for OTP, and 007 is not simply a famous Maryland alum and ardent Terp supporter, he’s also a lawyer who inevitably will save our ass whenever we need it. Hopefully with a passionate “Boom!! LAWYERED!” Giggity.

Homer Preview: Maryland Terrapins
Terps-Logo

What You Need to Know
Last year for Maryland saw some great wins, some bad losses, but an overall positive year for the Terps who finished 8-5, 4-4 in conference, and with a final win on the Smurf Turf at the Humanitarian Bowl. Four of those wins were against ranked opponents, but the Terps had some bad losses, including a winless UVA at that time in the season, and to both BC and FSU to end their regular season.

Speaking of losses, the Terps said goodbye to a large senior class (30) where 23 started at least one game, and 13 are currently on NFL rosters, most notably Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was picked 7th overall by Oakland in this year’s draft. To counter this dearth of experience, the Terps bring its best recruiting class in 4 years, ranked 26th by Rivals.com. Four of the 24 fresh faces are all Americans, while a host of others rank well in their positions.

Coach Ralph Friedgen returns as the eighth winningest coach in ACC history, with his newly named heir-apparent James Franklin as the Offensive Coordinator. A new Defensive Coordinator Don Brown, who while head coach at Umass Amherst had a 70% win percentage over 5 years, brings with him a 4-3 defense the players seemed to have responded well to. Another new face on the sidelines will be special teams/tight ends coach Charles Bankins from the University of Richmond.

Who You Need to Know and Their 08 Stats
Maryland has quality players returning to both sides of the ball, especially on offense. Quarterback Chris Turner is in his 3rd year as a starter, throwing for more than 2,500 (5th best in school history) yards last season and almost 4500 in his career (7th best so far). Behind him, lies Maryland’s greatest threat: an extremely deep backfield. Leading the crew is last year’s all conference running back Da-Rel Scott, a Doak Walker candidate for the second straight year. Scott ran for 1133 yards last season, 174 of which came in the Humanitarian Bowl where he was named MVP. With him in the back field are Morgan Green, Davin Meggett, and Corey Jackson, a strong senior fullback who will help make holes for his tailbacks. Meggett rushed for almost 500 yards as a backup. Maryland is known for its 1-2 punch at running back, and there are a lot of different looks they can give you with this crew.

The Defensive front seven is the youngest and weakest link on the team. Only Phil Ivey and Jared Harrell return to the front line as main contributors from last season. Luckily they will have Alex Wujciak, the ACC’s second leading tackler last season behind them at middle linebacker and the very active Adrian Moten (74 tackles, 7 sacks) at the Sam. Wujciak is a Bednarik hopeful, and on the preseason all conference team, so listen for his name a lot this season. Maryland’s got depth in the secondary

Joining Wujcaik on the preseason All-ACC team is last year’s all-conference punter Travis Baltz. Baltz is also a Guy hopeful. Another special team standout returning from last year is Torrey Smith, the conference’s best returner.

Game to Watch
The past couple of seasons, the Terps have been in the hunt for the ACC championship game, and they’ve folded against BC or FSU or both. I expect this year to be no different. The Terps should be fighting for a decent bowl game by the end of the season, so I look at the final three games against tough schools (VT, FSU, and BC) to be the hardest for them. They could be 7-2 or better going into those games, so VT is the one I have as the key matchup. Friedgen and Beamer are old friends, but Beamer has had bragging rights of late. Luckily, the Fridge gets this one at home.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the offensive line gives Turner time to throw the ball! Is that de ja vu? I said the same thing last year, except now, only Phil Costa and Bruce Campbell are returning starters. Phil Costa has emerged as the leader of the o-line, and Bruce Campbell is a freak left tackle that will be playing on Sundays if he can stay healthy. The receiving corps, while young, has talent. Expect the gifted returner Torrey Smith to also be the primary recipient of Turner’s passes. If Turner goes down with injury, they are in a world of hurt because there’s only one true backup who was inconsistent in the spring and has yet to play in a game, and two new recruits.

Season Outlook
The good news: The Terps play 5 of their first seven games at home. If they start strong like they did last year, then the world is their oyster. The bad news: eight of the teams that they line up against played in bowl games last year (5 won), and one was in the FCS playoffs. As the offensive line goes, so goes the season, because the Terps have the talent in the backfield and at QB. Turner gets to start the season close to his home at Cal, then he comes to his new home to play 4 winnable games. The Terps seem to always have a hiccup in the middle of the season against a team they should beat (like UVA last year) which is the first sign of trouble. I anticipate that game being either WFU or NCSU this year. They also tend to fold at the end of the regular season, losing to either BC or FSU or both. This year, they lose to Rutgers, VT, and FSU, plus one more, going 8-4, missing 2-3 ACC games. They’ll be in a fun bowl game.

09 Homer Preview: The Tar Heel Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of David Poindexter, a lifelong sports fan with a special affliction for the UNC Tar Heels and a hatred of Duke that rivals even that of the most passionate Kentucky fans.

Homer Preview: UNC Tar Heels
unc logo

What You Need to Know
In recent years, the UNC Tar Heels have not made the list of great, or even very good, football teams. Moving forward, fall in Chapel Hill will mean more than waiting a few months until basketball season. As Coach Davis improves the football program at Carolina, the expectations for the once unspectacular team are growing by the minute. This is the third year for the Tar Heels under the Butch Davis regime in Chapel Hill. Usually in college football the third year is difficult because of the ongoing rebuilding process. However, Coach Davis is ahead of schedule with rebuilding the UNC football program. Fans will now have more to cheer for than hoops and March madness. The Heels made a big jump last year in the wins column, winning 8 games. Four of their losses were by a total of 9 points.

This year marks the third year of the Butch Davis regime in Chapel Hill. Last year UNC achieved an 8-4 record and a narrow one-point defeat to West Virginia in their bowl game. This is a marked improvement over their 4-8 record in Butch’s first year. This year expectations have grown. Gone are the days where 6-6 is considered a decent season. The Tar Heels are looking to win big. Not many years ago, losing to Miami by “only” 21 was a moral victory for the Heels. Butch has put Carolina football back on the map, and created a team that can keep up with their competition. With a relatively down ACC and an up and coming UNC team, an ACC championship and a BCS berth are not out of the question. Fans cannot forget that the team is only three years removed from the John Bunting era. A BCS bowl seems like an outlandish statement and could only be made by a fan using their Carolina blue glasses. However, if things can break their way, an ACC championship is an attainable goal that would come with an automatic BCS bid.

UNC returns an experienced and hungry defense, led at the linebacker spot by Quan Sturdivant. Another impact player at linebacker is Bruce Carter, who blocked 5 kicks last season. The D-Line boasts the most talent since a guy named Julius Peppers was wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. The Defensive line is anchored by junior Marvin Austin. The offensive side of the ball is left with a few more question marks. UNC lost 3 wide receivers to the NFL. To say we are inexperienced at this spot is an understatement. The Heels will be moving Greg Little to wideout for the full season this year. Little has taken snaps at RB and WR over the course of his career. Additionally, Dwight Jones and Todd Harrelson have staked their claim on the 2nd and 3rd receiver spots. Another vulnerable position is the O-Line. UNC has talent at all of the O-Line spots, but the depth is very thin here. Earlier this month, Kevin Bryant, a tackle, left the program. Carl Gaskins is also lost for the season due to a torn ACL and MCL. The running back tandem of Shaun Draughn (who played cornerback until last season) and Ryan Houston is ready to take the ACC by storm once again. Unfortunately, this season Draughn won’t be able to use the element of surprise to sneak up on defenses. The brightest spot for the offense may be the return of our starting QB TJ Yates. Yates was having a stellar showing last year until a season ending injury occurred during the 2nd half against Virginia Tech.

This season’s schedule has some challenging games at home against FSU and away the next week at Virginia Tech. Carolina will also face in-state rivals NC State and East Carolina. Georgia Tech and Miami will undoubtedly be difficult conference foes. This season will hopefully mark the last season that two FBS teams are on the schedule with The Citadel and Georgia Southern coming to Chapel Hill. Carolina fans have a lot to look forward to this year. The talent, leadership and experience should all make for an exciting season for UNC Tar Heel fans!

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB TJ Yates: 81-135, 1168 yards, 11 TDs, 4 INTs (injured in 3rd game of season in ’08)
RB Shaun Draughn: 198 attempts, 866 yards, 3 TDs
LB Quan Sturdivant: 122 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 for a Touchdown

Game to Watch
Everyone with ESPN will be watching the Tar Heels on October 29th when they travel to Blacksburg VA., for a Thursday night showdown with Virginia Tech. Last season the game against Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill ended in a 20-17 win by the Hokies. Also in that game Carolina lost their starting Quarterback, TJ Yates, for the season. This game may not only be the game to watch this season, it may also be the most important football game for Carolina in over a decade, since the Mack Brown era.

They’ll Do Well If…
…one of their young receivers steps up and becomes a number one option. After losing 3 receivers to April’s NFL Draft, WR has to be the biggest question mark heading into Butch Davis’ third year at Carolina. If either Greg Little or Dwight Jones can achieve their potential they left high school with, Carolina will have this question mark answered. Two freshmen may be worth watching here in Jheranie Boyd and Josh Adams. Boyd is arguably the most ready to play freshman receiver in the ACC, and Josh Adams is a great route runner much in the mold of former Tar Heel Brandon Tate who was drafted in the 3rd Round by the NE Patriots.

Also, they will do well if they can stay relatively healthy on the O-line. The O-Line this season is very talented but depth may be an issue if there are any injuries. They have some strong true freshman O-Lineman, but as we all know, on the college level true freshman are not immediate playmakers, especially on the O-Line.

Their defense can play up to potential. The Heels front seven may be one of the top 15 in the country. The majority of the defense is upper classmen, so this could be put up or shut up time.

Season Outlook
If Carolina can keep progressing at the rate they have under Coach Davis, it is entirely possible that Carolina will be representing the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship game. They have a really tough 2 week stretch where they play Florida State and Virginia Tech on back to back Thursday nights. Beating VT would be huge, but winning both could signify a rather special season for the Heels. I would call it a successful season by finishing with 9 wins and a Peach Bowl Victory. I still think that an ACC Title and BCS conversation should be had next season. However you should never bet against Coach Davis to be ahead of schedule, as he has been so far in Chapel Hill.

Conference Preview: The ACC

crystalballIn an effort to address all the teams and conferences that make the fall so exciting, OTP’s All-Star Editorial staff is putting on their prognosticatin’ hats and taking a stab at each of the conferences and all of the teams in FBS. Alan and Edge are giving you the conference’s order of finish, the records, the superlatives for offense and defense, and the biggest surprise for each conference. At the conclusion of our series, we’ll have the Bowl Projections for all 34 Bowl Games.

OTP Conference Preview: The ACC

acc_logoFor the ACC, parity has been the term of recent memory. Year in and year out, teams will begin to distance themselves from the pack only to be pulled back down to Earth by a crushing defeat or a monumental upset. The ACC is loaded with talent and great coaching, and with the expansion of Big East teams Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, the ACC has moved to a divisional system.

This season, the Coastal shapes up to be the premier of the two, as Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina all have a chance at the BCS. The Atlantic will provide fans ridiculous closeness and parity to beat the band… great for the fans of the schools that do well and not so exciting for the teams that don’t.

Last 5 Conference Champions:
2008: Virginia Tech
2007: Virginia Tech
2006: Wake Forest
2005: Florida State
2004: Virginia Tech

Bowl Tie Ins:
The Atlantic Coast Conference has nine bowl tie-ins.
#1– Bowl Championship Series. The winner of the ACC Championship Game receives an automatic berth to a BCS bowl game, most always the FedEx Orange Bowl.
#2– The Chick-fil-A Bowl receives the second choice of ACC teams.
#3– The Gator Bowl receives the third choice of ACC teams.
#4– The Champs Sports Bowl receives the fourth choice of ACC teams.
#5-7– The Music City Bowl, Meineke Car Care Bowl, and Emerald Bowl reach mutual agreement on which teams each will take with the fifth, sixth, and seventh selections. If mutual agreement cannot be reached, they receive the selection preference in the order given. The loser of the ACC Championship game is guaranteed to fall no lower than the Music City Bowl.
#8– The EagleBank Bowl receives the eighth choice of ACC teams.
#9– The GMAC Bowl receives the ninth choice of ACC teams.

Alan’s ACC Predictions
Order of Finish:
Coastal:
Virginia Tech: 11-1 (8-0)
Georgia Tech: 10-2 (7-1)
North Carolina: 9-3 (5-3)
Miami: 7-5 (4-4)
Virginia: 3-9 (1-7)
Duke: 3-9 (0-8)

Atlantic:
Clemson: 8-4 (5-3)
Florida State: 7-5 (5-3)
Maryland: 7-5 (4-4)
Wake Forest: 8-4 (4-4)
Boston College: 6-6 (3-5)
NC State: 5-7 (2-6)

Championship Game: Virginia Tech defeats Clemson

League MVP: Jonathon Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech
Offensive MVP: Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech
Defensive MVP: Jason Worilds, DE, Virginia Tech

Biggest Surprise This Season: North Carolina State drops their last three games and finishes 5-7, just one win short of Bowl Eligibility.

Edge’s ACC Predictions
Order of Finish:
Coastal:
Virginia Tech: 10-2 (8-0)
Georgia Tech: 7-5 (5-3)
Miami: 7-5 (4-4)
North Carolina: 5-7 (2-6)
Virginia: 4-8 (1-7)
Duke: 3-9 (0-8)

Atlantic:
Florida State: 10-2 (7-1)
Clemson: 8-4 (6-2)
North Carolina St: 7-5 (5-3)
Wake Forest: 7-5 (4-4)
Boston College: 7-5 (4-4)
Maryland: 5-7 (2-6)

Championship Game: Virginia Tech defeats Florida State

League MVP: Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech
Offensive MVP: CJ Spiller, RB, Clemson
Defensive MVP: Morgan Burnett, SS, Georgia Tech

Biggest Surprise This Season: Clemson shocks Florida State in Week 10.

Prelude to a Season: #10

10.) Virginia Tech Hokies

Virginia TechWhat You Should Know
For Virginia Tech, it has been an amazing decade of success. After playing for a national title in 1999, Tech has continued its run of success and prosperity, even if the extra large hardware has eluded them. Five straight years of 10 wins or more, a conference that is ripe for the taking, and 16 returning starters all make for more continued success for Virginia Tech.

Entering his 23rd season, Frank Beamer sits at 177-89-2, and with a reputation of hard-nosed defensive teams that do just well enough on offense to win games, and plenty of them. This season, the Hokies are gunning for their 3rd consecutive ACC title and their 4th BCS Bowl game in 6 years. The Hokies joined the ACC in 2004, and have not finished below #19 in the final poll since moving. That’s an impressive feat, and one the Hokies are in a great position to add to this season.

Last year, the Hokie offense was a two-headed attack with senior Sean Glennon and sophomore Tyrod Taylor splitting time and largely proving somewhat ineffective. The lone stability was freshman Darren Evans, who ran roughshod over the ACC on his way to an exceptionally impressive first season, including a Bowl record 158 yards for the Hokies in an upset of Big East champ Cincinnati. This season, nearly everyone returns on the offensive side for the Hokies, with the exception of two offensive linemen (C Ryan Shuman and LG Nick Marshman). Replacing those two will be easy for the Hokies as they are a deep and talented roster of agile, athletic offensive linemen capable of playing whatever position is needed. At quarterback, Taylor gets the reins of the offense, and with it, the ability to lead the team for the entirety of drives and games. No longer splitting time with Glennon, though, Taylor must prove accurate and capable in the passing game, an aspect he has struggled with in his first two seasons. Evans returns with a season under his belt and very capable of setting himself up to be the leading rusher in school history his junior season of 2010 with a season like last year. The receiving corp for the Hokies is deep and talented, with no player a clear cut stand out, but all capable of excellent route running and pass catching.

Virginia Tech has long been known for their defense, and the 2009 version of the Hokies will be no different. They return 7 starters, but need to replace 2nd Team All American Macho Harris and 2nd Team All ACC DE Orion Martin. Also gone for the Hokies are two key inside linebackers in Purnell Sturdivant and Brett Warren, Virgina Tech’s top two tacklers from 2008. Despite the losses, this is still a defensive force to be reckoned with, as the Hokies start 9 seniors or juniors. Additionally, the Virginia Tech hallmark through the years has been a frenetic defense capable or replacing losses easily and never missing a beat. For this defense, they play in a conference where there are no overpowering offenses, and they should be even better than last year’s unit which gave up 16.7 points per game, as well as allowed over 100 yards rushing for the first time since 2004.

For the Hokies, their schedule is surprisingly challenging. Their 4 non-conference games are Marshall and Nebraska at home as well as a late season road contest against East Carolina along with a season opening battle against Alabama in Atlanta. For the Hokies, a loss to Bama drops them out of national title contention essentially in week 1, while a large win propels them as a very realistic darkhorse for the national title. In ACC play, Virginia Tech’s Atlantic Division opponents are Maryland, NC State, and Boston College, with only the Terps on the road. Their Coastal Division foes shake out unfavorably for the home schedule, with Duke, Georgia Tech, and Virginia all on the road and Miami and North Carolina at home in Lane Stadium. No game is totally unwinnable, and the Hokies have a good chance at something special because of their challenging schedule and resulting computer love given victories.

Who You Need Know & Their 08 Stats
RB Darren Evans: 287 att, 1265 yds, 11 TDs
QB Tyrod Taylor: 147 att, 738 yds, 7 TDs, 99-173, 1036 yds, 2 TDs, 7 INTs
DE Jason Worilds: 62 tkls, 8 sacks, 10.5 TFL

Game to Watch
The two most challenging games for Virginia Tech are their season opener against Alabama (9/5) and their late season showdown with Georgia Tech (10/17). Both those contests take the Hokies away from a tremendous home field, and both will prove the key matchups to achieving their goals of national excellence and ACC dominance.

They’ll Do Well If…
… Taylor figures out how to pass the ball accurately without turning it over. The defense has far more losses, but the system in place ensures a competitive unit with little to no learning curve. Offensively, Taylor now finds himself the man in charge of a team in need of leadership and offensive skill to make life easier for Darren Evans.

Season Outlook
For the Hokies, anything short of an ACC Championship and subsequent BCS appearance would have to be let down. Luckily for them, they have the schedule, the talent, and the coaching to do just that. In toss up games against Georgia Tech and Alabama, the Hokies will go 1-1, and will stumble at least once in the parity-laden ACC. Regardless of those losses, 10-2 puts the Hokies in control of the ACC Coastal and given victories against both Alabama and Georgia Tech, and outside contender for the national title.

Prelude to a Season: #17

17.) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Georgia TechWhat You Need to Know
For many schools, a new coach, a tricky new system, and only 9 returning starters would prove to be a difficult, if not impossible, hurdle to climb. For the Yellow Jackets, 2008 proved to be successful beyond belief as they continued their 14-year record of .500 or better in conference play, finished 9-4 overall, and closed the regular season ranked #14. It was quite the season for new head coach Paul Johnson, as his spread option offense ranked #1 in the ACC and he defeated cross-state rival Georgia for the first time in 7 seasons.

As 2009 dawns, Johnson finds his team primed for greatness, as they have a year under the new system, most of their toughest games at home, and a great chance at a conference title and the BCS payday that comes with it. Offensively, Johnson’s bread and butter, the Jackets return 10 starters, and lose only LT Andrew Gardner who was 1st Team All ACC and RT David Brown. Both were lost to injury mid-year last year, and the 5 offensive linemen who started the last 4 games together all return.

Nearly as important as an offensive line capable of dominating the line of scrimmage and driving the offense down the field are talented skill players capable of taking advantage of the holes opened. GT certainly returns its fair share of skill players, as their leading passer, top 8 receivers, and 95% of their rushing yards from last year all return. Junior QB Josh Nesbitt is the man at the helm of Johnson’s tricky attack, and if he remains healthy and injury-free this season, GT’s attack will improve. Junior RB Jonathon Dwyer, the 2008 ACC Player of the Year, averaged over 7 yards per carry last season and has much improved talent around him with Louisville transfer Anthony Allen waiting in the wings. The receiving corps, though not the featured unit in Johnson’s scheme (averaging 99 yards per game last season), is talented, fast, and capable when called on to burn opponents deep.

Defensively for the Jackets, that’s where the questions begin to creep in. GT returns effectively 8 starters, but their losses are tremendous and entirely on the defensive line. 1st Team All American DE Michael Johnson, 1st Team All ACC DT Vance Walker, and 2nd Team All ACC DT Darryl Richard all graduated, and the players filling those positions are talented, but young and inexperienced. Aside from the front 4, the Yellow Jackets return all their starters from a unit that gave up 20.3 points and 314 yards per game, led by 3rd Team All American junior safety Morgan Burnett. Defensively, Georgia Tech need not be dominating, they simply need to play good enough to not put enormous burdens on an offense that is exceptionally capable of scoring, but not capable of scoring exceptionally quickly.

In terms of the ACC, Georgia Tech finds themselves in a conference where parity is certainly the order of the day. In the Coastal Division, they have road contests against Miami, Virginia, and Duke while North Carolina and Virginia Tech come to Atlanta. Their cross-divisional opponents on the schedule are Clemson, Florida State, and Wake Forest with the Seminoles on the road. Out of conference games against Jacksonville State, @ Mississippi State, and @ Vandy all appear along with their season finale against Georgia at home.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
RB Jonathon Dwyer: 200 att, 1395 yds, 12 TDs
QB Josh Nesbitt: 54-123, 808 yds, 2 TDs, 5 INTs, 172 rush att, 693 yds, 7 TDs
S Morgan Burnett: 93 tkls, 7 TFL, 8 PBU, 7 INTs

Game to Watch
To gain a spot in the ACC Championship, the Jackets must first win the ACC Coastal. Standing in their way for that is Virginia Tech, whom Georgia Tech gets at home on October 17th for Homecoming. Pending the outcome of that game, their games @ Miami (9/17) and against North Carolina (9/26) become gigantic.

They’ll Do Well If…
…the new defensive line starters find a way to succeed. No one expects the front 4 to be as dominating as last season’s talented unit, but penetration, run stopping, and pass pressure are all needed for Georgia Tech to be successful.

Season Outlook
For the Yellow Jackets, their biggest challenge for greatness is simply getting through the ACC season relatively unscathed which in recent years has proven difficult for many teams. For the Yellow Jackets, their out of conference schedule at worst will put them at 3-1, with the Georgia game a toss-up and far from a certain loss. In conference, games against VT, UNC, and Miami will be challenging, but winnable. The Jackets will stumble once amongst those teams, and potentially one other conference opponent, putting their final record for 2009 no worse than 9-3. Realistically, the Jackets are looking at 10-2, with a great chance at an ACC Coastal crown and a great shot at a BCS berth.

Prelude to a Season: #22

22.) Florida State Seminoles

Florida StateWhat You Need to Know
It’s been an interesting journey for the Seminoles over the last several years. While certainly no slouches in the past 8 seasons, having a winning record each year, it was the unbelievable success the Noles were used to before then that has made this somewhat down decade even harder to swallow. 2001 was the first year in 15 seasons where the Seminoles didn’t finish the year in the Top 5, and they haven’t come close since then.

The offseason was tumultuous as well, as it saw FSU and its administrators wrangle with the NCAA over wins they may or may not need to vacate, which will impact head coach Bobby Bowden’s standings as the potential winningest coach of all time. Suffice to say that Bowden, the players, and the fans are looking forward to this football season if for no other reason to shift focus back to the gridiron instead of what goes on off it.

This season, the Noles are hoping to improve on last season’s 9-4 campaign, and there is certainly reason to believe they will be the front-runner for the ACC’s Atlantic Division crown and berth in the ACC title game. Tempering that sort of belief and what gives non-believers pause are the losses felt on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, the Noles haven’t lost a lot in terms of quantity, but certainly lost more than their fair share in terms of quality. Losing only 3 starters is usually a recipe for success, especially when you return your starting QB and all of your offensive line, however, FSU loses their main threats and weapons. RB Antoine Smith and WRs Greg Carr and Preston Parker are taking with them their combined 1900 yards of offense and 22 touchdowns. Returning is their junior signal caller Christian Ponder, who struggled in his first year as a starter, but still managed a 2000-yard season. Ponder’s year of experience will serve him well, and he is responsible now for using a slew of new skill position players as best he can.

Defensively, the Noles are chock full of holes. Returning only 5 starters, and losing 4 of their top 6 tacklers means there are new faces left and right. Benefiting FSU is the fact that they, like other programs, are long on talent throughout their roster. It is simply a matter of whether that talent can perform despite their inexperience. The Seminoles find themselves replacing 2 of 4 defensive linemen, 2 of 3 linebackers, and 2 of 4 secondary players. The returning senior LB Dekoda Watson will be the primary impact player of the unit. In a very un-FSU-like 2008, the defense gave up an average of 133 yards per game on the ground. That number must get better for this defense to give FSU a chance in ball games.

Florida State plays in the ACC, a conference with no stand outs, and known for parity and upsets week in and week out. Absent from their conference schedule is consensus top 10 team Virginia Tech, and that will bode well for the Noles improving on their 5-3 conference record from last season.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Christian Ponder 177-318, 2006 yds, 14 TDs, 13 INTs
RB Jermaine Thomas 69 att, 482 yds, 3 TDs
LB Dekoda Watson 46 tkls, 8 TFL, 1 INT

Game to Watch
Out of conference, the Noles’ schedule is certainly admirable. Aside from an early season contest against Jacksonville State, they battle in-state rivals South Florida (9/26) and @ Florida (11/28) with the potential of ruining a perfect season a shot at a national title for the Gators. Additionally, the Noles travel for a game at BYU on September 19. In conference, the Noles’ toughest competition for the ACC Atlantic will come @ Clemson (11/7) and @ Boston College (10/3).

They’ll Do Well If…
… the defense is even a shell of former defenses that FSU teams relied on for defensive intensity to win games. While it is a given that the offense will be improved, it is the defensive performance that will dictate just how “improved” the offense needs to be.

Season Outlook
FSU may have to wait another year to see if they return to the Top 5, as it is a longshot for the 2009 season, but Noles fans should feel confident that they will be convincingly improved from recent years in skill and performance if not record. Even though the only sure-fire loss on the schedule for the Seminoles is their season finale at Florida, they have  out of conference coin flip games against South Florida and @ BYU, and then the ACC season begins, and the parity of the ACC makes for several losses. Our prediction of 9-3 for the Seminoles would be a great season, and a virtual guarantee of an ACC title game berth.

Prelude to a Season: #24

24.) Clemson Tigers

ClemsonWhat You Need to Know
Oh, Clemson… how you ruined our Preseason Top 25 last year. The 08 edition of the Tigers saw remarkable talent, a fairly weak conference, and a talented coach in Tommy Bowden totally misdirect those in the know. We, as just about everyone else, looked to Clemson to run roughshod through the ACC and have an outside shot at a national title. That clearly was overshooting the Tiger runway, as Clemson finished 7-6, lost the Gator Bowl to Nebraska, and Tommy Bowden suddenly needed a new job. From game 1 last season, a 34-10 thrashing at the hands of Alabama, Clemson was on the ropes, and their season, Bowden’s legacy, and the hopes and dreams of Clemson faithful died in Atlanta before September even began.

As the Tigers limped through the season, it became evident that despite having talented skill players like Cullen Harper, CJ Spiller, and James Davis, the Tigers lacked a dominant O-line, shut down defense, or any semblance of team chemistry and togetherness. The proof of that team discourse was evident when Bowden was relieved of his duties on October 13th and QB Cullen Harper said, “It’s what he deserved.”

Picking up the pieces of the then-.500 Clemson Tigers was Dabo Swinney, who rode a 4-2 close to the season to a Bowl berth and a removal of the “interim” tag. Swinney now finds himself in charge of a program that is one of the nation’s most notorious underachievers and hasn’t won an ACC Title since 1990. This season, however, is almost the inverse of last.

2008 saw high talent, deep skill positions, but very little trench veterans for the Tigers. Additionally, the expectations and buzz was tremendous and certainly made fans expect far better than what the Tigers could deliver. This year, the Tigers find themselves significantly better and more experienced on the offensive and defensive lines, virtually no preseason buzz, and the benefactors of the same ACC Atlantic without a highly dominant team to compete with for a divisional title.

Offensively, the Tigers lose only 4 starters, but they are all skill positions. They lose their starting QB, leading rusher, and leading receiver, but return all of their offensive line which allowed 5.7 yards per carry as well as only 15 sacks. Sophomore Willy Korn will be the man under center and leading this offense as the season begins, but with freshmen Kyle Parker and Tajh Boyd on the roster, Korn will be pushed to be effective. Senior CJ Spiller now becomes a one man show where a former two-headed monster with him and James Davis used to exist. The largest weakness for the Tigers is a receiving corps that is exceptionally untested and unproven and must replace significant losses.

Defensively, the Tigers return 8 starters from a unit that was not outstanding but serviceable last season. Clemson offers a strong front 7, and a defensive backfield that is finally well stocked, despite replacing FS Chris Clemons and SS Mike Hamlin, due to moving DeAndre McDaniel back to his natural position of strong safety after an experiment at linebacker last season. Leading the Clemson defense will be LB Kavell Conner, a senior who racked up 125 tackles and 5 TFL last season.

For Swinney and the Tigers, the schedule is much different than last year, opening not against a major opponent on a neutral field, but rather against Middle Tennessee State at home in Death Valley. The ACC is challenging but not impossible, and of the two divisions, the Atlantic is the easier to win.

Overall, it will be a much different sort of season for the Tigers, as Swinney and co. take the field with plenty of good things like virtually no expected fanfare or presumed success. There is no momentum killer to start the year, and the Tigers are strongest at some of the most important positions on the field. The Tigers have consistently faltered when much was expected… now they can try the other side of that coin.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Willy Korn: 26-38, 216 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
RB CJ Spiller: 116 att., 668 yds, 7 TD, 34 rec., 436 yds, 3 TD
DE Da’Quan Bowers: 47 tackles, 1 sack, 7 TFL, 3 PBU

Game to Watch
Clemson’s toughest competition in winning the ACC Atlantic will be Florida State. They get the Noles at home on November 7th. Out of conference games against TCU (9/26) and @ South Carolina (11/28) will prove to be tough tests for the Tigers as well.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the offense finds a rhythm and Willy Korn limits turnovers. With CJ Spiller, Korn doesn’t have to be an All-Star, he simply has to be good enough to not cost his team games.

Season Outlook
For Clemson, they find themselves in a conference void of real power teams, but with unbelievable parity. Of great benefit for the Tigers is the absence of Virginia Tech, arguably the ACC’s best, from their schedule. The Tigers have two road games in their first 5 contests, @ Georgia Tech and @ Maryland, both exceptionally tough. Losing one of those two, in addition to a hiccup against at least one of their non-conference foes, with one additional loss in conference leaves the Tigers looking at 9-3 as an extremely successful season. More realistic is 8-4 with an outside chance of competing for the ACC Atlantic, pending how their conference foes fare in league play.

GMAC Bowl Drops CUSA, Adds ACC

From all accounts and reports, the quickest way to find financial ruin is to receive an invite and play in Boise, ID at the Humanitarian Bowl. When Ball State was debating whether or not it would be wise to play in that game, the main reason I opposed it was the money involved. For the ACC, that won’t be a trouble spot any longer.

On Friday, the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, where Ball State met Tulsa last season, announced that the ACC #9 will be the participant against a MAC foe, meaning get your popcorn ready for Buffalo-Maryland! Huzzah! And yes, that’s sarcasm. The Humanitarian Bowl will no longer be a pre-determined destination for an ACC Bowl eligible team.

The GMAC Bowl, along with the other lower tier Bowl Games, all sort of fall into the same bucket of who cares. It’s great for the program, great for the players, and certainly great for those of us who need our football fix in the winter. However, in much the same way that they give trophies in Little League to everyone, this is a much larger problem with having too many Bowl Games to begin with.

Name me any other sport where over 50% of the teams in competition go to post season play. For the NCAA Basketball tournament, it’s 64 out of roughly 300. Last year, we wrote in this space of Kentucky’s trip to the Liberty Bowl. A Kentucky team that finished 6-6 with a win over a 1-AA school. That’s Bowl worthy? Hardly.

This is good news in some respects, though, as the MAC now has an opportunity to at least play and potentially beat a BCS conference opponent. So congrats, I guess, to the GMAC Bowl and the ACC.