It’s hard to believe, but college football is back! Within 36 hours people across the country (but especially those in Madison and Raleigh) will be posted up on the couch watching Russell Wilson and the Badgers trample UNLV Thursday night on ESPN.
After the longest offseason in the history of the sport, I’m not sure I’ve ever been more ready/excited for a season to begin. On that note, I figured I’d take a quick peek at who ACC teams play this week and make some predictions. There aren’t a ton of noteworthy games, but there are certainly (sniff) some intriguing match ups would could be better than people think. Let’s jump right in.
Western Carolina vs. Georgia Tech (7:30 p.m., ESPN3)
Will the Catamounts score on the first drive of the game like they did in Raleigh last year? Will Durham Hillside product Vad Lee see any action? Will Paul Johnson wear purple socks (he graduated from WCU in 1979)? I’m interested to see how junior quarterback Tevin Washington performs after struggling late in 2010. If senior A-back Roddy Jones is healthy, expect him to be the feature back in Tech’s “three yards in a cloud of dust” attack.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 38, Western Carolina 14
Wake Forest @ Syracuse (8:00 p.m., ESPN3)
A bottom of the barrel ACC team against a middle of the road Big East squad. This should be ridiculously exciting. Can we put something meaningful on this game? Maybe the winning team’s conference will be the one that survives the next tectonic shift in college football conference alignment.
Prediction: Syracuse 27, Wake Forest 23
Northwestern @ Boston College (12 p.m., ESPNU)
Can’t believe I forgot to include this game initially. My apologies to the Eagles. This could very easily be the best game of the weekend for any conference team, especially if Boston College can win its eighth straight season opener. Senior running back Montel Harris won’t be available, so it’ll be the Chase Rettig/Andre Williams/Bobby Swaggert show in week one. Oh yeah, don’t forget about tackling machine Luke Kuechly. Northwestern is an experienced group (18 returning starters), but will it be enough on the road against a BC group that I think is sneaky good?
Prediction: Boston College 20, Northwestern 17
App. State @ Virginia Tech (12:30 p.m., ACC Network)
My brain says that Virginia Tech won’t repeat last year’s 1-AA debacle, but a sliver of my heart believes App. State is going to relive some Big House magic in Lane Stadium. The Hokies are breaking in a lot of new faces, including sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas, who replaces Tyrod Taylor. Tech is going for its eighth straight season with 10 wins or more. Saturday should be a step in the right direction.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 49, App. State 17
James Madison @ North Carolina (3:30 p.m., RSN)
Despite all of the offseason hullabaloo, there are considerable expectations for the 2011 Tar Heels. Carolina is strong on both the offensive and defensive lines, and that’s always a good start. If Bryn Renner can play somewhat like T.J. Yates did last year and get the ball to Dwight Jones on the outside, the Heels should be just fine in week one. Aside from fans in Corral Gables, there may not be a fan base more ready for actual games than those who will be making the trek to Chapel Hill Saturday.
Prediction: North Carolina 35, James Madison 20
Troy @ Clemson (3:30 p.m., ESPN3)
Can Clemson’s new offense — led by new starter Tajh Boyd and new coordinator Chad Morris — run as smoothly as people in South Carolina think it will? Morris had Tulsa in the top 15 in rushing and passing last year, and lots of folks are buying that he can do that in Tiger town as well. I’m skeptical. Andre Ellington staying healthy for an entire year would certainly help.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Troy 17
ULM @ Florida State (3:30 p.m., ESPNU)
This game should be the most lopsided of the entire opening weekend. That said, I’m intrigued to see how E.J. Manuel plays. He was a preseason All-ACC selection despite throwing six touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his entire career. If FSU is going to live up to the preseason hype, Manuel is going to have to be WAY better than he’s been in any of his previous appearances. Playing Louisiana-Monroe should make Manuel look other-worldly.
Prediction: FSU 52, ULM 10
Liberty @ NC State (6 p.m., ESPN3)
The Mike Glennon era officially begins Saturday evening against Liberty, and for the sanity of every NC State fan who will have watched Russell Wilson two nights earlier, I hope he lights it up against Liberty. NC State will win this game, but there are some interesting things to watch. How will the defensive front look without J.R. Sweezy? What about the wide receivers on offense? Can they catch? It should be interesting to see how Liberty quarterback Mike Brown, a dual-threat guy, tests the NC State defense. Also, sadly, I won’t get to see Liberty’s 380-pound nose guard. He was suspended indefinitely.
Prediction: NC State 31, Liberty 13
William & Mary @ Virginia (6 p.m., ESPN3)
A scary game for Mike London and company. Williams & Mary is led by former UNC quarterback Mike Paulus and is a power at the FCS level. The Tribe beat Virginia the last time the two teams met, in 2009. Meanwhile, Virginia had a heated competition by up to four quarterbacks in fall camp. Sophomore Sean Rocco gets the nod, but if the Cavaliers struggle don’t be surprised to see Ross Metheny or even freshman David Watford in the game. Somehow, Virginia squeezes out a win.
Prediction: Virginia 24, Williams & Mary 21
Richmond @ Duke (7 p.m., ESPN3)
Much like the game above, this is a game either team could win. Richmond beat Duke 24-16 two year ago and if the Blue Devils don’t come with their A-game Saturday, it could very well happen again. The saving grace for Cutcliffe and Duke is that Richmond, in some ways, is dealing with a situation similar to what is going on in Chapel Hill. Interim head coach Wayne Lineburg took over at Richmond last week after head coach Latrell Scott resigned Aug. 23. Hopefully Sean Renfree and company can take advantage.
Prediction: Duke 30, Richmond 14
Miami @ Maryland (8 p.m., ESPN in 3-D)
Randy Edsall doesn’t even want to play this game. Miami will come to College Park without eight or nine major contributors, including seven starters. Miami head coach Al Golden got the best of Edsall last season when Temple beat UCONN 30-16, but something tells me the roles could be reversed Monday. Miami’s defense will be missing too much to hold up against Danny O’Brien and company. The biggest question I have at this point is what jerseys Maryland will choose. I’m hoping for the all yellow with the black helmet.
Prediction: Maryland 20, Miami 17
Thoughts on the picks? What would yours look like and what are you looking to see this weekend from your favorite team? Also, as bonus pick, I like Wisconsin to beat UNLV by at least 30.