Monday, August 31, 2009
1. Without naming names, a few teams seem to have popped up frequently on everyone's "overrated" lists in the preseason, so let's forget about them for the moment and concentrate on a different group: sleepers. Which currently unheralded team are you currently putting at least a few of your chips behind in the hopes that you'll be able to say "totally called that" once they've accomplished big things by the end of the season?
Dear Georgia fan, I pick Georgia Tech. That's disobeying the rules a bit, because being picked second in the Coastal Division only peripherally qualifies as "unheralded." Still, by a 78-9 margin, Virginia Tech is the overwhelming favorite in the division. 78 members of the media are wrong. Georgia Tech will be the ACC's Orange Bowl representative. Bank it. And outside of Georgia their OOC schedule is lame sauce, so a 10- or 11-win season could be in order.
2. In a similar vein, pick a sleeper player on your team whom nobody's talking about right now and tell us why we will be talking about them by December.
Well that shouldn't be hard. About the only player eliminated from contention by condition #1 is Vic Hall, because every so often, some national media guy goes, "Oh yeah, I heard about him once. Pretty good, isn't he?" I guess Dowling counts too, having been named to the preseason all-ACC team by the media, though Heather managed to leave him out of her 30-best list.
The answer, then, is Torrey Mack. With Mikell Simpson's status unknown, and he being fairly injury-prone to begin with, Mack looks more and more like option #1 at running back. Nobody's heard of him because he redshirted last year, but it's not for lack of talking about him by Al Groh. He's got all the skills and frankly even his name just screams "superstar running back." The question this year is what will be higher: "Mack Truck" references by fans and lazy color announcers, or his rushing yards.
3. Florida is about as big a consensus favorite as we've seen in recent years, but remember, USC got 62 out of 65 first-place votes in the AP's 2007 preseason poll and still managed to lose to Stanford. Given how difficult it is to go undefeated period these days, where do you think the Gators are most likely to stumble in the regular season?
Oh come on. Georgia fans should not be allowed to ask this. Florida's nonconference schedule consists of three complete jokes and Florida State in the Swamp, so you can rule out all non-SEC participants. TFSU called Florida daddy last year and that game was in Tallahassee, nothing's going to change in Gainesville. In fact you'd be crazy to pick any team playing Florida in Gainesville, so that rules out Tennessee (which is cruisin' for a bruisin' anyway after Lane Kiffin opened his flap), Arkansas, and Vanderbilt. Like you'd ever pick Vandy over Florida.
That leaves the Cocktail Party against Georgia and also their road trips, those being to LSU, Mississippi State, Kentucky, and South Carolina. Two of those aren't worth considering. South Carolina's always interesting because of the "Steve Spurrier" angle, but there's also the "South Carolina" angle, so, no. LSU has a tough stadium to play in, but LSU is so absurdly, wildly overrated this year and I refuse to pick them just on principle.
So by process of elimination, I bow to the questioner and pick Georgia. Consider it a make-up for picking GT in the first question.
4. Which regular-season game not involving your team or conference are you most looking forward to this year?
Let's pretend for a minute I'm not also Michigan fan and therefore not obviously looking forward to pretty much every Michigan game, especially Michigan State where we get the chance to put a sock in the mouths of the most irritating fanbase in all of football. You think you got annoying rivals, try having one that you beat seven times out of nine in the decade and they think the last one qualifies them as the all-time champions of everything.
Obviously Texas-Oklahoma carries all kinds of intrigue this year and will feature two of the country's most talented teams duking it out on the big stage, but everyone's gonna say that one except for the Big 12 guys who aren't supposed to. Nah, let's go with another semi-common one and pick Florida-Tennessee. Never liked Tennessee and watching them get curb-stomped by an irritated and too-talented Florida team should be good theater.
5. In honor of Georgia's opening-weekend opponent and their most prolific booster, let's say you somehow come into T. Boone Pickens money and can buy anything you want for your program -- facilities upgrades, an airplane for recruiting, buy out the contract of that coach you hate, you name it. Where does your first check go?
Easy. Indoor practice facility with all the shiny trimmings. Preferably within whatever boundaries exist of the Carl Smith Center so the "Carl Smith Center, Home of David A. Harrison III Field at Scott Stadium" can have another name tacked on there somewhere. Failing that, I guess they can put it near the current outdoor practice field somewhere. Also, I want the visitors locker room at the stadium ripped out and replaced with the shitty, mildewy, odorous locker room I change in at the gym. Complete with communal showers, not enough urinals, paper towel dispensers that don't dispense, stall doors that touch your knees when you sit on the john, benches that seesaw if you sit on the ends, scratchy postage-stamp-sized towels, and random naked old guys meandering through and bending over to rifle through their bag. Only the best for our guests.
- very cursory recruiting board update
- catching up with our recruits' senior (and junior!) seasons
- and finally, some extra credit reading on the ethics of journalism
So, recruiting board. I told you it would be cursory: the only major change is the removal of OT Gifford Timothy, who selected Clemson. This returns our O-line status to Robby Havenstein and Khamrone Kolb. I'm extremely confident one of them will commit to UVA. Our major competition for them is Penn State, and the thing is this: Penn State has openly told them they have room for one more, and then the door shuts. They've mentioned such in interviews. And they don't get recruited in a bubble; each surely knows about the other. If either one was really damn sure Penn State was the place for them, they'd call Paterno yesterday and beat the other to the punch. They haven't. They're both very much alike and I don't prefer one or the other, but if you held a gun to my head and made me pick I'd hope Havenstein committed to Penn State for the simple reason that Kolb's list is smaller, he's sent off slightly more favorable vibes, and would probably drop very soon for us shortly after the door closed at Penn State. Havenstein has laid out more options besides just us than Kolb has. But as for talent, ratings, offers, the stuff you evaluate recruits with? There's so little difference it's pointless.
OK, senior season stuff. Here's how our guys been doin':
TYLER BROSIUS: Much better game than last week. 265 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception on a half-ending Hail Mary. Game ended in a tie, and I'm a little annoyed on principle that Brosius's coach would have an ACC-caliber quarterback on his team and not take any chances with the ball and 1:55 to go. "'The last thing I wanted there at the end was for (Drummond) to get an interception and run it back,' Kiefer said." C'mon, man, show some faith in your quarterback.
ADRIAN GAMBLE: His Independence team won 56-12, but Gamble didn't score.
KEVIN PARKS: Tacked on three more touchdowns to his impressive total in a 33-6 win.
Soccer! The exhibition season went like tthhbbpppttt for the "other" football team, which I dunno, is that worrisome? I say probably not. Gelnovatch can afford to experiment in the exhibition season and experiment he did. Fans have been fretting about the absence of Chris Agorsor, but Jeff White calmed fears earlier this month and put them to rest entirely today. Agorsor is good to go on all fronts, though as White notes, he'll miss the trip to Oregon, not having practiced or played any lately.
There'll still be a planned hole in the lineup though. Brian Ownby will be off to Egypt later this month to compete in the U-20 World Cup. That'll cause him to miss six games, including three conference games - the Cup lasts til October 16, and the Tech game is the day after, so don't expect like he's gonna fly back in from the other hemisphere and play that one either.
All right now. This is where the rant begins. As you know, I'm the only one writing in this space, and that means I get to do what I want. Sometimes that means going off the reservation. As you also know, I'm a Michigan fan, and this was a much better weekend for every other 119 I-A football clubs than it was for Michigan. If foul language and non-Virginia content offend you, it's cool, this is your offramp. Nobody's gonna think any less of you. If you don't like the print media, the following paragraphs may be especially interesting.
As you know unless you went to Afghanistan for the weekend, Michigan got slammed - sucker-punched, you might say - with a laundry list of accusations and allegations regarding mandatory practice time by the Detroit Free Press, and it got picked up by ESPN, Yahoo, Rivals, and probably Us Weekly and TMZ the way things go around Rich Rodriguez these days. I'm not gonna usurp the excellent U-M blog coverage of this stuff, it'd take friggin' days and it's not going to interest you to sit there and have me pick it all apart. Which by the way is eminently doable, because the whole piece reads like something out of the Weekly World News.
So why am I going on about this? What I'm about to put down absolutely fucking disgusts me. It irritated me the first time I read the article and I got angrier and angrier the more I thought about it and realized what happened. By today, as reactions were coming in from all over, I was livid. Furious. Completely revolted. And I have a soapbox and damn if I'm not gonna use it.
At the risk of giving hits to the website, the offending article is here. It is written by Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. The article sources quite a few players (mostly former, I'd guess) and parents. As the article mentions,
The players and parents agreed to talk only if they were not identified because they said they feared repercussions from the coaching staff.Every source that speaks directly about Rodriguez's program is anonymous. Except for two.
At the school’s news media day, the Free Press asked freshman Brandin Hawthorne what winter conditioning was like. Hawthorne, a linebacker from Pahokee, Fla., enrolled in January.
“It’s crazy,” said Hawthorne, who was not complaining about his coaches and was apparently unaware of the time-limit rules. “I work out at 8. We’ll work out from, like, 8 to 10:30. We come back later, have one-on-ones, seven-on-sevens, a little passing. Then I’ll go watch a little film.”
The Free Press also asked freshman receiver Je’Ron Stokes about Michigan’s off-season program. Stokes, from Philadelphia, arrived at the Ann Arbor campus in June.
“Hooooo!” Stokes said. “A typical week is working from 8 a.m. in the morning to 6 or 7 at night, Monday through Saturday.”
And that was starting in June?
“Yes, sir,” Stokes said. “We do the weight room at least three times a week, and seven-on-sevens and one-on-ones. Speed and agility on the other days. Every day we have something new to get ready for the season. The coaches have done a great job of stressing the importance of getting us ready for the big season that we’re about to have.”
Stokes was not complaining. Like Hawthorne, he apparently was unaware of the rules.
Placing the article in further context, which would start to get pretty bulky so you'll just have to read it, will reveal that passage to be one of the highlights of the entire argument. It's one of the two crucial pieces to the whole thing, that being We Work Really Long Days. (The other one being They Were Mandatory And They Shouldn't Have Been. Take either leg out of the argument and there is nothing to talk about.)
Je'Ron Stokes and Brandin Hawthorne were interviewed, as it says, at media day for the team, and were asked innocuous questions about their workout regimen. Pretty obviously, they were never told what article they were interviewing for. Now they are the star witnesses in an exposé that was considered so damaging, all the other sources would only agree to speak anonymously to protect them from "repercussions." And the Free Press agreed to give everyone their anonymity - except for the most vulnerable of the sources, the 18-year-old kids who are potentially in the most direct line of fire for repercussions.
They answered these questions respectfully and honestly. And their reward? Shoved under the bus with the rest of the program. Disgusting.
And I'm not the only one angry about it. Stokes's dad's not too pleased either. The senior editor of the New Republic thinks Rosenberg should be fired, in part for:
(filling) his article with quotes from Michigan players describing how hard they work. It's meaningless. It's as if he set out to expose an epidemic of rape, and came back with an article mainly describing the conjugal relations of happily married couples.Journalists and aspiring journalists, if you ever write a piece like that and treat your sources that way, you are an ethics-devoid scum-sucking piece of shit. Period. Fortunately, there's a happy ending as Rodriguez sticks up for his blindsided players:
When I have two young freshmen that come into my office yesterday upset, saying, "Coach, what did I do? What did we do? We just said we worked hard, and it was harder than it was in high school and we were committed to helping win a championship." I said, "You didn't do nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong."Bravo, coach.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
9/26: @ Boston College
10/3: NC State
10/17: @ Clemson
10/24: @ Navy
11/7: @ Georgia Tech
11/14: Florida State
11/28: @ Duke
Skip: Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
QB: Riley Skinner (5Sr.)
RB: Brandon Pendergrass (rSo.)
FB: Mike Rinfrette (5Sr.)
WR: Marshall Williams (rJr.)
WR: Devon Brown (rSo.)
TE: Ben Wooster (5Sr.)
LT: Chris DeGeare (5Sr.)
LG: Barrett McMillin (5Sr.)
C: Russ Nenon (rJr.)
RG: Jeff Griffin (5Sr.)
RT: Joe Birdsong (5Sr.)
DE: Tristan Dorty (rSo.)
DT: Boo Robinson (5Sr.)
DT: John Russell (5Sr.)
DE: Kyle Wilber (rSo.)
SLB: Jonathan Jones (5Sr.)
MLB: Matt Woodlief (rJr.)
WLB: Hunter Haynes (rJr.)
CB: Brandon Ghee (5Sr.)
CB: Josh Bush (rSo.)
FS: Alex Frye (rJr.)
SS: Cyhl Quarles (rSo.)
K: Shane Popham (rSo.)
P: Shane Popham (rSo.)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Coach: Jim Grobe (9th season )
2008 1st team: WR D.J. Boldin, LB Aaron Curry, CB Alphonso Smith
2008 2nd team: none
2008 HM: QB Riley Skinner, DT Boo Robinson
2009 preseason: none
Media prediction: 4th, Atlantic Division
A few years back, Wake Forest won an ACC championship and instantly changed national perceptions. Once viewed alongside Duke as a basketball school that only plays football because Daddy expects them to but they don’t really like it and they’ll drop it just as soon as they don’t have to work at his company any more, Wake Forest is now sort of expected to at the very least provide a hurdle for would-be champions to get past, ifnot actually contend. The problem is, the talent is having a hard time matching the expectations.
As with NC State, Wake Forest convinced a few of the loonier writers covering the ACC to vote for them for division champions. If you ask those writers why, they’d probably answer, “Riley Skinner.” An experienced and talented quarterback is always a leg up on the competition, and Wake will be pinning their hopes on Skinner this year. There isn’t much behind him, so they’d better keep him healthy. Skinner is deadly accurate, owning a career completion percentage of 67.3% - if he maintains that, he’ll knock off Matt Schaub’s ACC record in that category.
He’ll need to find a go-to receiver, though. Schaub had Billy McMullen, and Heath Miller stepped up for his senior season. Skinner’s favorite target was D.J. Boldin, who’s since graduated, and the Deacs will look first at Marshall Williams to step up and help Skinner out. Tight end Ben Wooster has plenty of experience and should also be a very dependable target.
The offense as a whole is very experienced, and a lot of that is due to the offensive line. Injuries and academic problems (Chris DeGeare fortunately had a redshirt season to burn last year, because he wasn’t academically eligible, and can return as the starting left tackle) caused a lot of shuffling and rotation, with the result that the starters are a little bit interchangeable and there’s a lot of experience in the two-deep as well. Wake will be hoping last year was a little bit of a sacrificial year, because it didn’t go well for the line. They allowed almost two and a half sacks per game in 2008 and only managed just over three yards a carry on the ground – good for 107th in the nation, and yes, that was worse than we were. The Deacons went with tailback by committee and nobody was effective. So the experience and depth on the line is a plus, but they absolutely must improve both pass- and run-blocking, or it’ll be a long season.
Trouble. No other way to put it. With seven new starters, and last year’s top five tacklers gone, Wake Forest’s defense is going to have to grow up in a hurry. The entire linebacking corps is brand new, as is most of the secondary, so any defensive success is going to have to start up front. Most of Wake’s pass rush actually remains intact, and tackles Boo Robinson and John Russell will be the anchors of the defense this year. End Kyle Wilber also returns. Those three accounted for most of Wake’s sacks last year, although the other end, Tristan Dorty, is a greenhorn. The Deacons are going to lean heavily on the line to help keep offenses honest.
All three of their best linebackers, though, graduated, and they were so good their backups rarely saw the field. Sound familiar? Even the fifth-year senior, Sam backer Jonathan Jones, has been almost exclusively a special teams contributor for most of his career. Look to weakside starter Hunter Haynes for most of the playmaking; Haynes was the only one not stuck behind an NFL draft pick and so got a lot more time as an actual linebacker than the other two.
The secondary isn’t much better looking. Brandon Ghee is the only returning starter, and as such he’ll need to step up his production after intercepting just one pass last year. Ghee is entering his third year as a starter, so he’ll also need to be a steadying influence as this is also the youngest unit on the defense. Alex Frye is the only returning player with an interception besides Ghee and Boo Robinson(!).
Shane Popham is the returning punter and inherits the kicking job as well. This isn’t good news for Wake fans; Popham was 7 for 12 last year in relief of Sam Swank.
Wake Forest looks like the team least likely to live up to expectations this year, and it’s not like they’re super high to begin with. With a quarterback as good as Skinner, you always have a chance if your defense can keep it close, but Wake’s ability to do that is going to be called into question. The saving grace is the schedule. The first three ACC games are extremely winnable, and if they find themselves teetering on the edge of bowl eligibility, Duke awaits in the season finale. The first two games will be an excellent litmus test. Baylor and their defense-shredding quarterback Robert Griffin await in the opener, and that could be a real upset alert. Perennial doormat Stanford is starting to get uppity too, so if the Deacons get past these opponents, the season outlook will be much improved. Bowl eligibility likely hinges on those first two games. A loss in either one would expose Wake Forest as a pretender. Either way, however, this looks like a team whose postseason ambitions should be limited.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
9/5: Alabama (@ Atlanta)
10/3: @ Duke
10/10: Boston College
10/17: @ Georgia Tech
10/29: North Carolina (Thu.)
11/5: @ East Carolina (Thu.)
11/14: @ Maryland
11/21: NC State
11/28: @ Virginia
Skip: Wake Forest, Florida State, Clemson
QB: Tyrod Taylor (Jr.)
RB: Josh Oglesby (rSo.)
FB: Kenny Jefferson (5Sr.)
WR: Danny Coale (rSo.)
WR: Jarrett Boykin (So.)
TE: Greg Boone (5Sr.)
LT: Ed Wang (5Sr.)
LG: Sergio Render (Sr.)
C: Beau Warren (rJr.)
RG: Jaymes Brooks (rSo.)
RT: Blake DeChristopher (rSo.)
DE: Jason Worilds (rJr.)
DT: John Graves (rJr.)
DT: Cordarrow Thompson (5Sr.)
WH: Cody Grimm (5Sr.)
MLB: Barquell Rivers (rSo.)
OLB: Jake Johnson (So.)
CB: Stephen Virgil (Sr.)
CB: Rashad Carmichael (rJr.)
FS: Kam Chancellor (Sr.)
R: Dorian Porch (5Sr.)
K: Matt Waldron (5Sr.)
P: Brent Bowden (5Sr.)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Coach: Frank Beamer, 23rd season)
2008 1st team: CB Macho Harris
2008 2nd team: RB Darren Evans, G Sergio Render, DE Orion Martin, DE Jason Worilds
2008 HM: G Nick Marshman, C Ryan Shuman, K Dustin Keys
2009 preseason: TE Greg Boone, G Sergio Render, DE Jason Worilds, S Kam Chancellor
(Italics indicated departed player.)
Media prediction: 1st , Coastal Division, ACC champion
As usual, these bastards won’t go away. Most of the talent that comprised their representation on last year’s all-conference teams won’t be there this year (including tailback Darren Evans) but VPISU is still pretty much the overwhelming favorite for conference champion. Question is, is that because they really are the best team by that wide a margin, or because the media’s just formed a bad habit and doesn’t know how to break it?
I had to laugh, really. Evans’ injury caused a lot of media types and message board posters to suddenly question the coronation of VT as conference champs. Evans racked up a lot of yards last year, sure, but he needed a lot of carries to do it, and his YPC was decent but a little bit pedestrian. They’ve got a lot of talent behind Evans. Josh Oglesby will get the early nod mainly based on seniority, but my thinking is he’ll quickly be overtaken by Ryan Williams or David Wilson, one of whom (or both) will be the featured back not too long from now.
No, the guy the Hokies need to keep under lock and key is Tyrod Taylor. There are still a lot of legitimate questions about his throwing ability, but there’s no Sean Glennon to kick around any more. Taylor’s it. After that is a guy named Ju-Ju (get ready for months of “bad juju” jokes should Taylor get hurt) and a true freshman they’d prefer to redshirt. Taylor can run, and between him and the tailbacks the offense should have no problem moving the ball on the ground, but Taylor’s got to demonstrate he can throw the ball further than five yards or so. He’ll have help on the other end of his passes. Wide receiver was a huge question mark last year after Tech graduated damn near everyone who’d ever caught a pass, but Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin proved dependable if not exciting. The scariest guy out there is actually tackle-sized tight end Greg Boone, a major player as a blocker and a pass-catcher, and athletic enough to take some snaps as a running quarterback.
Of course, the run game could grind to a halt too if Beau Warren isn’t up to the task at center. On the left side the Hokies are very well positioned with Ed Wang and Sergio Render. Run-blocking starts in the middle, though, and Warren has very little actual game experience. He’ll be thrown into the fire early – the Alabama game will be an excellent litmus test to see if he can handle a line like North Carolina’s.
As usual, the calling card, and how VT will win most of their games. There are some holes, most notably a lack of depth at defensive end and a lack of experience at linebacker, but there’s talent enough to cover it up. As long as Jason Worilds doesn’t get hurt, they’ll have a pass rush, though Worilds will see plenty of double teams until Nekos Brown proves himself on the other side. The tackles are not playmakers – they didn’t have to be last year and probably won’t have to this year; again, unless Brown is ineffective. But they do open up the pass rush nicely for the ends.
Cody Grimm was not technically a starter at linebacker last year, but badly outperformed the actual starter, Cam Martin. Both will see time on the outside, but it’s Grimm you should watch out for. Unfortunately for Tech (so actually not that unfortunate at all) most of their experience is piled up at that one position. Jake Johnson was a special-teamer last year and didn’t play linebacker at all. Barquell Rivers has a little more experience at his middle linebacker spot, but he was backing up a 6th-year senior last year, so didn’t get in very much. Lot of inexperience to overcome here.
Not so much in the secondary. Rashad Carmichael is new to the starting role, but has already spent plenty of time in the rotation at cornerback and should fit pretty seamlessly into the job. Macho Harris got all the publicity last year, but Stephen Virgil intercepted just as many passes, making this a pretty dangerous bunch to throw against. Kam Chancellor has been a versatile player, starting at a new position every year, but he’s found a home at free safety, and he’ll be a more dangerous player now that he’s found a little stability.
Solid punting new kicker blah blah blah. Tech has other problems on their hands, like how to regain the special teams domination that TV announcers love so much. Last year they had more of their own punts blocked than they blocked opponents punts, one of them being that ECU gamebreaker. Their punt coverage was crummy too, allowing opponents more than 12 yards per return. The kickoff coverage was a lot better, but then, so was their opponents’. Tech was actually worse than we were at returning kicks, and that was a pretty lame part of our game last year.
The song remains the same here. VPISU slappies spend as much time crucifying their offensive coordinator as they do drooling over their defensive coordinator. There’s a reason for that. Sure, the defense has question marks, but Bud Foster usually manages to integrate new personnel into the defense pretty easily. Any game Tech loses this year will probably be pinned on the offense. I think the key is the two guys who get the ball first: Warren and Taylor. If the new center Warren can run-block and Taylor can throw, then the kooky national title aspirations the Hokies carry have a sliver of a chance. If neither happens, the division will go to UNC or GT instead and VT will have to content themselves with 9-3 and a trip to a non-New Year’s bowl.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
That said, here goes.
As you may know, the basketball schedule is out. There's so much to like about it. When the coaching search was going on, I opined in a lot of capital letters that this season ought to be NCAA Tournament or bust. I reasoned there's enough talent on this team to get to the NIT, which I expected Dave Leitao to be able to do. If you're going to fire a coach that's been just four years on the job and just two years removed from a regular-season ACC title, you'd better be looking for immediate improvement. How do you improve on the NIT? The answer is obvious. And I think this schedule is the near-perfect path to help us get there. It's just what we needed.
First, the nonconference portion. It's missing something that's been there in years past - namely, a halfway decent opponent. This year, there's just Stanford and maybe Kentucky, and Oral Roberts for a little mid-major danger. (And ORU took a major, major graduation hit.) It's a cupcakey joyride.
The upside, of course, is, we should breeze through it and hoard wins like cats in a crazy old lady's house. There are but two road games, two neutral-site games, and nine home games. We got a great draw in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and we get that game at home. There's a five-game homestand in December stretching into January that bring some of the most putrid teams in all the land to Charlottesville for the slaughter. We could have a minimum of 10 or 11 wins piled up by the beginning of the ACC gauntlet.
Now for the conference part of the schedule. Always since the expansion, you double up with five opponents and the other six, you play just once. We double up with NC State, Maryland, Wake, VT, and Miami. Duke, we play just once. UNC, just once. If that's not favorable I don't know what is. NC State is freefalling. VT lost Vassallo and isn't going to be good. Maryland is absurdly unpredictable. Wake loses their top two scorers, Teague and Johnson, and isn't going to repeat their 11-5 performance. Miami lost eight seniors and is all set to plummet to the cellar.
So the nonconference schedule is a cakewalk and the conference schedule is as close as it gets in the ACC. Are there eight or nine wins to be found in ACC play? Absolutely. Especially if Tony Bennett really is the X's and O's mastermind of repute, and hey, he turned Washington State into a four seed, so I'm inclined to believe he is.
Now, most fans (as well as bracketologists) are disappointed to see a parade of the NJITs, Texas-Pan Ams, and Longwoods of the world, and no Syracuse, Xavier, Arizona, etc. that's been there in the past. 9 times out of 10, I agree. Not this year. Not when we need to be seen winning games. Tony Bennett needs to establish himself as a major threat right away in order to maintain needed recruiting momentum, and that's not going to happen when Xavier is blowing us out by 40. Strength of schedule of course plays a huge role in tournament selection and we'll be woefully lacking in that category. Don't care. We need momentum and we need wins more than we need a fancy number in the strength of schedule column. And if the wins are there in ACC play like I think they are, it'll all take care of itself.
Obviously, this is all moot if the talent is really as bad as it looked last year. I say it's not. These aren't two-star, low-rent hacks. There's work to be done, clearly. Jeff Jones seems to have forgotten how to shoot. Jamil Tucker seems to have forgotten how to do everything but shoot. Assane Sene needs to learn how to do something beyond just be really tall and block shots - consistent rebounding would be a good start. Sammy Zeglinski needs to reverse the bass-ackwards developmental curve he was on last year, in which he looked like a junior at the beginning and a true freshman at the end. So it's obviously incumbent on the coaching staff to get these guys playing basketball and not just playin' ball. But the talent is there. These guys were all pretty highly recruited. Sylven Landesberg is still Sylven Landesberg, and the incoming freshmen are more talented than the outgoing seniors. There's plenty to work with here.
So yeah, look at me funny. But don't say you weren't warned when late February rolls around and we're living the hectic life of a bubble team: watching the other bubble results around the nation, fretting about whether our nonconference wins are strong enough, comparing our resume to random other teams in random other conferences, and insisting as always that the ACC is too obviously the world's best conference and ACC bubble teams should get automatic preference over lesser leagues like the SEC and A-10. I think the selection show will hold a lot of interest for us.
Time for some linkage. This one is about a week old but stuff just kept getting in the way so I couldn't find the right excuse to slide it in. It's still perfectly relevant, anyway: The ACCSJ tackles four questions surrounding UVA football, three of which have been asked every day since January or so.
Rivals ranks the top 15 b-ball recruiting classes for 2010. We're 11th. And just fifth in the ACC, which goes to show you: tough crowd. We should get a really nice bump, too, if we can snag Trae Golden and/or James Johnson. I like to see the ACC so well represented, though: 6 teams in the top 15. The Big Ten has four - impressive as well. Where is your god now, Big East? Failing to put more than one team in the top 15 is not how you challenge the ACC for hoops supremacy.
Brian of MGoBlog fame tackles the ACC quarterback carnage in a TSB post. Ugly, and that probably doesn't even cover the half of it; even though quarterbacks are dropping like flies all over the conference, Maryland is still stuck with Chris Turner.
The indispensible Jeff White reports that Robert Randolph has won the placekicking job. Comes as little surprise since he was the first off the bench when Reyering was hurt-slash-ineffective last year, but that's one of the training camp battles wrapped up. Also of note: Groh is being his usual cantankerous self when discussing Mikell Simpson and the protective boot he's wearing.
Hey look - another hurricane headed my way. The last one missed, but it was by and large predicted to. This one, uh, is not. So once again, if all of a sudden I don't seem to be posting anything, blame a hurricane with a really lame name.
Monday, August 24, 2009
So let's get back to talking Virginia. P.S. - enjoy it, because if you've been following along, you noticed the pattern in the season previews and you can probably figure out what's next. Ewwww.
Starting with a recruiting board update. I've been adding stars as they come along, but that obviously isn't the big deal in this go-around.
- The big deal is Rijo Walker moving from blue to beautiful orange. We'd been kind of a long time in between commitments, something like six weeks. And we'd been a really long time - measurable in years, not weeks - in between commitments from actual, no-shit cornerbacks who play cornerback in high school and are being recruited as cornerbacks to play cornerback at UVA. So that's nice.
- Removed safeties Ed Reynolds and Andre Simmons. I was thinking maybe we'd hear some small something even though we got full up at safety with Latimer and Alvarez, but nope. Nada. As in, nada peep. Unless Nick Dew shocks the world, we're done at safety.
- Added OT Gifford Timothy to blue. That's three OT's up there, and we probably won't need any more than one, so we're in great shape.
- Shuffled the reds and yellows a bit, with LB Quayshawn Nealy and CB James Scales moving down to red, and CB Louis Young moving up to yellow.
- Added '09 commit Cody Wallace, now a teammate of Morgan Moses at Fork Union, to the list, up near the top there.
On the OT recruiting: As I said, it's my guess we only get one of the three. Moses and Wallace count in this class now, which basically means along with Conner Davis, we have four linemen, which is about right for the small class size this is going to be. I suppose the coaches would take two, but three, no. Khamrone Kolb very publicly cut his list to three, and hell you might as well read about Robby Havenstein while you're at it, and Penn State is probably the #1 competition for both.
Next up, time for the return of a favorite feature of mine. Mondays, I dig up the results of our recruits' high school football games and keep you up to speed on what they've been doing. This was fun last year because we got to find out things like whether Tim Smith would score two, three, or four touchdowns that week. This year, Kevin Parks is going to be the guy putting up the numbers. I swear if he could see over Perry Jones's head without standing on tiptoes, he'd be a high four-star and everyone from Florida to Oklahoma to Alabama would come calling. Fortunately, he's five-foot-not-much, and he's a Hoo.
KEVIN PARKS: This week was opening week in North Carolina, and Parks went batshit. Try 226 yards and five touchdowns on 17 carries. We probably won't see that much domination all year because West Rowan is really good and their opponent this week (Central Cabarrus) is really bad. Still. The final score, if you're wondering, was 54-0 and that was with a running clock in the second half and oh yeah the game ended with 10 minutes to go because of lightning. Central would have done better to punt on first down, having gained a total of -37 yards on offense.
Parks now has well over 100 touchdowns in his high school career and could very easily have 130, maybe 140 if things go well, by the time he's done. See why I can't wait for him to be the feature back at UVA?
- TYLER BROSIUS didn't fare as well. Tuscola was upset in their opener, and Brosius was 15 of 27 for 196 yards, 2 TDs, and three picks.
- Don't forget about ADRIAN GAMBLE, who's on board for 2011. He chipped in a touchdown in a 42-41 squeaker. Gamble has "incredible speed" according to the Observer, "running past Mallard Creek defenders like a prep version of Usain Bolt." OK, he's probably not that damn fast, but still - sweet.
- Pablo Alvarez's season starts next weekend, but damn if they don't have some pretty sweet unis (remember which other team I'm a fan of) and yo, look who headlines their football page.
North Carolina is the only place we have recruits playing this week, but like I said, we can check in on Florida next week, as well as Virginia, and Maryland in the first week of September.
OK, next couple weeks go like this. I need to squeeze in eight more season previews (VPISU and Wake, four nonconference opponents, and our own offense and defense) before next Thursday. Not gonna lie - the nonconference opponents might get dropped. Because there's also Rijo Walker to profile, another round of high school games to get to next Monday, and this weekend I will get the last baseball video posted on YouTube, dammit, or die trying.
Then, the season schedule is pretty routine:
- Thursday, up goes the week's game preview. I take a look at what we can do to win, what we can do to lose, and the week's other ACC games as well.
- Friday and Saturday are my "weekends" and I generally don't post, unless Stuff Goes Down.
- Sunday, you get your preliminary look at my Blogpoll ballot, and if all goes well, my plan is to have the game highlights up on YouTube also. If we win.
- Monday is the Weekend Review post. Recruiting board gets updated, you get filled in on the high school games, and we check out the bloggers' takes on how their team did. That's always amusing, especially when they lost: bloggers always get really emo when their team loses, and I'm no different. Generally there's a little bit of soccer stuff thrown in here, too.
- Tuesday and Wednesday are Whatever.
Gawd I can't wait.
9/3: South Carolina (Thu.)
9/12: Murray State
10/3: @ Wake Forest
10/17: @ Boston College
10/31: @ Florida State
11/21: @ Virginia Tech
11/28: North Carolina
Skip: Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami
QB: Russell Wilson (rSo.)
RB: Jamelle Eugene (5Sr.)
RB: Toney Baker (5Sr.)
WR: Owen Spencer (Jr.)
WR: Jarvis Williams (rJr.)
TE: George Bryan (rSo.)
LT: Jake Vermiglio (Jr.)
LG: Julian Williams (5Sr.)
C: Ted Larsen (5Sr.)
RG: Andy Barbee (5Sr.)
RT: Jeraill McCuller (5Sr.)
DE: Shea McKeen (Sr.)
DT: Alan-Michael Cash (5Sr.)
DT: Leroy Burgess (Sr.)
DE: Willie Young (5Sr.)
SLB: Audie Cole (rSo.)
MLB: Ray Michel (5Sr.)
WLB: Dwayne Maddox (So.)
CB: DeAndre Morgan (rJr.)
CB: Koyal George (5Sr.)
FS: Justin Byers (rSo.)
SS: Clem Johnson (Sr.)
K: Josh Czajkowski (rJr.)
P: Jeff Ruiz (rJr.)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Coach: Tom O’Brien (3rd season)
2008 1st team: QB Russell Wilson
2008 2nd team: none
2008 HM: DE Willie Young, LB Nate Irving, KR T.J. Graham
2009 preseason: QB Russell Wilson, DE Willie Young
(Italics indicate departed player.)
Media prediction: 3rd, Atlantic Division
NC State’s 2008 season looked absolutely lost eight games in. They turned in a stinkfest in the very first game of the college football season against South Carolina, and snoozed their way to a 2-6 record by mid-October. Then they learned about the magic of defense, and rallied to a bowl game, along the way securing the mythical North Carolina championship by defeating all four other I-A teams in the state. Next up on the list of goals is a winning season, something they’ve only achieved once since 2003.
The list of NC State all-ACC players in 2008 starts and ends with Russell Wilson, but having the first-team quarterback is about as valuable as it gets. Wilson got the start last year against Clemson as the Wolfpack wasted the first few games of the season trying to figure out who would be their quarterback. He threw an interception in his first game as a starter. It was the last one he threw all season. Nine starts later, the season was over and Wilson had 17 touchdowns on the stat sheet and just that one pick. That’ll be a nigh-impossible feat to reproduce this season, and his accuracy could stand an improvement as well, but Wilson is a dangerous runner as well as an efficient passer and deservedly called the best quarterback in the conference right now.
Wilson gets all his favorite targets back, too. Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams are both juniors, and neither are eye-popping receivers, but Spencer has major-league big-play potential, averaging a seriously large 22.3 yards per catch last season. If he gets over the dropsies he’ll be one of the better receivers in the conference. The Pack running backs are also receiving threats. They’ll split the load this year between Jamelle Eugene and the finally-healthy Toney Baker, who has missed two seasons with a bad knee. Eugene and Baker can both catch the ball out of the backfield and are solid if unspectacular runners.
The line shouldn’t be a major weakness, but it is a bit hodgepodge. Julian Williams finds himself Wally Pipped over to left guard after getting hurt last year and giving way to Jake Vermiglio at tackle. Vermiglio has the following blurb in his official here’s-why-he’s-awesome writeup for 2007: “… Graded out at 85% against vaunted Virginia tackle Chris Long, Long had just one sack in the contest and it wasn’t against Vermiglio.” (It was probably Williams which is part of why he’s not the tackle any more.) RG Andy Barbee used to be a center and center Ted Larsen used to be a defensive tackle, so Tom O’Brien is going a little bit of the offensive-line-by-merry-go-round route. There aren’t any greenhorns here, though, and the end result should be solid as long as they gel in the early part of the season.
Up front there is just a ton of experience. All four starters are seniors, although two – Shea McKeen and Leroy Burgess – are juco transfers and the senior label is a bit misleading. Still, it’s hard to find a more experienced group in the whole conference, and end Willie Young is a pass-rushing terror and will likely see more than his share of double-teams this year.
NC State thought they would have an experienced set of starters at linebacker too, until Nate Irving’s car accident in June. He’ll miss the season, leaving middle linebacker Ray Michel the only upperclassman likely to even see the field at linebacker this year. Michel was the leading tackler in 2008, though, and the players on either side of him will benefit from his experience quarterbacking the defense. Dwayne Maddox will step in for Irving, and the coaching staff thought highly enough of him to start him as a true freshman last year when Irving was hurt.
The front seven will have to be stout all year, because the secondary is a huge problem. Two players left the program over the summer, leaving a starting cornerback gig to a former walk-on wide receiver, Koyal George. DeAndre Morgan at the other corner is a decent player, but the complete lack of depth will force a few freshmen into action here, possibly redshirt freshman Gary Grant or ’09 recruiting class headliner Jarvis Byrd. The same is likely true at safety, where of the eight players listed on the roster, four are freshmen. Clem Johnson and Justin Byers both have a fair amount of starting experience, but behind them the cupboard is empty.
Josh Czajkowski is a dependable kicker who missed just three field goals in 19 tries last year, but the punting job remains unsettled.
Based on the experience on this team and the emergence of Russell Wilson, NC State is expected to continue to be on the upswing. Ten writers even got carried away and picked the Wolfpack to make the ACCCG, and two even thought they’d win it. Let’s not go crazy now. I’m going to channel my inner Phil Steele here and point at the turnover margin, which tilted way in NC State’s favor last year. On the surface, it appeared they took very good care of the ball, losing just six fumbles all season. Total turnover margin: +8, helped greatly by the fact that they stopped having interception problems when they handed the ball to Wilson. It doesn’t stand up to closer inspection, though: NC State actually fumbled 28 times. I’m of the school that says that while you can learn to fumble less, fumble recoveries are more or less pure luck, and they’re not likely to get that kind of friendly turnover margin again. Wilson will also probably throw more picks – one in 275 passes is inhuman and if he does it again he ought to be on some Heisman ballots. There is talent enough at the skill positions and on the defensive line to prevent any major embarrassments, but the secondary is shaping up to be a disaster and the defense overall is under-talented. NC State has a favorable enough early schedule and should at the very least have a winning record going into their bye week, but the last half of the season is murderous and could knock them right out of bowl contention. The ACC season preview sunnily claims 8 or 9 wins is “certainly a possibility”; I’ll be surprised if they top seven.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
9/5: The Citadel
9/12: @ Connecticut
9/19: East Carolina
9/26: @ Georgia Tech
10/10: Georgia Southern
10/22: Florida State (Thu.)
10/29: @ Virginia Tech
11/21: @ Boston College
11/28: @ NC State
Skip: Maryland, Clemson, Wake Forest
QB: T.J. Yates (Jr.)
RB: Shaun Draughn (Jr.)
FB: Anthony Elzy (Jr.)
WR: Greg Little (Jr.)
WR: Dwight Jones (So.)
TE: Zack Pianalto (Jr.)
LT: Kyle Jolly (5Sr.)
LG: Jonathan Cooper (rFr.)
C: Lowell Dyer (Sr.)
RG: Alan Pelc (Jr.)
RT: Mike Ingersoll (Jr.)
DE: E.J. Wilson (Sr.)
DT: Marvin Austin (Jr.)
DT: Cam Thomas (Sr.)
DE: Robert Quinn (So.)
SLB: Bruce Carter (Jr.)
MLB: Quan Sturdivant (Jr.)
WLB: Zach Brown (So.)
CB: Kendric Burney (Jr.)
CB: Jordan Hemby (Sr.)
FS: Deunta Williams (Jr.)
SS: Da’Norris Searcy (Jr.)
K: Casey Barth (So.)
P: Grant Schallock (Jr.)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Coach: Butch Davis (3rd season)
2008 1st team: WR Hakeem Nicks, S Trimane Goddard
2008 2nd team: OT Garrett Reynolds, LB Mark Paschal, CB Kendric Burney
2008 HM: OG Calvin Darity, KR Brandon Tate
2009 preseason: LB Quan Sturdivant, DT Marvin Austin, CB Kendric Burney
(Italics indicate departed player.)
Media prediction: 3rd, Coastal Division
UNC announced its return to the ranks of the relevant last year after a fairly long and miserable decade. They won eight games in the regular season and might have had more had they not been hit with injuries to key players on the offense. They finally have talent and a coach who knows how to use it, but for the first time in a while this year, they also have something they haven’t had to deal with for many years: expectations.
There’s no getting around it: T.J. Yates is going to have to perform in order for UNC to maximize their potential. Cameron Sexton isn’t around any more to save the Heels if Yates gets hurt or plays inconsistently. Yates has shown flashes of excellence over the past two seasons, but a sprained ankle last year sapped his consistency and stunted his development. Yates can and should play well, but if he gets hurt again, the Heels will have to turn to Mike Paulus, who played horribly in his short time on the field in 2008. Another Yates injury, in fact, could cause a quarterback controversy between Paulus and true freshman Bryn Renner, likely a nightmare scenario despite Renner’s many-starred ratings as an ’09 recruit.
The other reason the offense hinges on Yates is because all the playmaking wide receivers that made UNC’s offense so dangerous last year are gone. Dwight Jones has some big-play potential, but his production isn’t going to match Hakeem Nicks, and starting opposite him is converted tailback Greg Little. Senior tight end Zack Pianalto will also need to be a steadying force and ramp up his production in order to help Yates out.
The reason UNC has the luxury of moving Little to receiver is Shaun Draughn. Draughn is a classic Big Ten back: his bullrushing style and the ability to put the running game on his shoulders and grind out the yards will be a huge asset to UNC as they try and protect their quarterback. Likewise, Draughn can be protected in short-yardage situations when the Heels hand the ball to big, 240-pound Ryan Houston for three yards whenever they need two. The only dimension the rushing attack lacks is a quicker, more athletic back, and for that reason, don’t be surprised if not all of Little’s snaps come at receiver.
The offensive line should be solid if it’s healthy. There isn’t much depth, but the line is at its best at the two most important positions. Veteran starter Kyle Jolly locks down the left tackle position, and center Lowell Dyer has worked his way from walk-on to Rimington Trophy watch-list. The line has a few question marks, but overall it should be good enough to keep the offense moving.
The offense may need to exceed expectations for UNC to be a top-ranked ACC contender, but they’re a guaranteed bowl team on the strength of their defense alone. Though two of their best players graduated, the team returns nine starters, including leading tackler Quan Sturdivant (122 tackles) and leading pass rusher Bruce Carter (5 sacks), both linebackers. The entire defensive line returns intact as well. The media is looking for a breakout year from Marvin Austin, naming him to the preseason all-ACC squad, and teams might consider double-teaming him except that would leave his 330-pound linemate Cam Thomas one-on-one. It’s a dilemma and it’s going to result in a lot of mismatches for this defensive line.
The secondary will miss Trimane Goddard and his seven picks, but fellow safety Deunta Williams added three of his own, and the Heels have excellent depth at corner. Kendric Burney is the best of the three that UNC has and the Tar Heels’ only returning member of the all-ACC teams from last year. Jordan Hemby will be pressed for playing on the other side by last year’s nickel back, Charles Brown, and the trio will be among the ACC’s best at cornerback.
Sophomore Casey Barth is the kicker, and while he was perfect on PAT’s last year, UNC will be looking for a little more consistency on field goals as he hit on just 10 of 15. Walk-on Grant Schallock was the punter by default in the spring, but true freshman C.J. Feagles has the scholarship and the bloodline (pretty sure his dad Jeff is one of only two players in Tecmo Super Bowl and still playing in the NFL) and could take the job.
UNC is a near-lock for a bowl game – the defense will see to that. (The really lame scheduling will also help – two I-AA teams show up on the docket and they’re both kinda crappy even in their own division.) The defensive line in particular will give offensive coordinators nightmares. But North Carolina hasn’t left the state for a bowl game since 2001 when they went to the Peach Bowl, and another bowl game in Charlotte would likely be a major disappointment. Unfortunately for them they’re in the wrong division and have to deal with the ACC’s top two teams in front of them. Defense is a great equalizer, though, and UNC has it in spades. If Yates finds some consistency and stays healthy, UNC has at least an outside shot at the ACCCG.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
1. I submit a preliminary ballot, due on Monday morning. I'm no longer a college student with a six-day weekend, which means I work Monday morning, which means you usually get to read my ballot before the NFL kicks off on Sundays. It's kind of a fun Sunday morning routine: wake up, fix breakfast, submit Blogpoll ballot.
2. After that, it's your turn. Yes, you. One of the really great things about the Blogpoll is that you, the readers and fans, get actual influence on this thing. CBS puts the preliminary poll up on Mondays around noonish, but the final poll doesn't go up until Wednesday noonish. In the interim - for this blog, you generally have from Sunday when the first ballot is posted until Tuesday night - your comments, especially ones pointing out where I have jacked this up all to hell, are not only tolerated but encouraged. You are supposed to tell me what I did wrong. That includes this ballot, of course. I change the ballot if what you say makes better sense than what I was thinking to begin with.
3. CBS then posts the revised poll on Wednesdays, along with commentary. Last year's can be found here. The commentary is also fun. Awards are handed out, bloggers are praised or chided depending on the wisdom or wackness of their ballot. Those who vote their teams too high are tarred, feathered, and paraded about town. (This was not an issue for me last year.)
The format here is as follows: I post the ballot, I write about the ballot. It's so Japaneasy. Watch:
Now, I explain what I've done:
- Florida. No need to buck the conventional wisdom here. They're the defending national champs, they still have El Tebow Loco, and they really didn't get hit too hard by departures. Until they do something silly, they're basically it.
- Utah? Well, yeah - they finished about that high last season, and yeah they lost a quarterback, but they're more intact than a lot of teams. They have an early season game with Oregon - if they lose, fine, I'll call it a mistake and put them back where Mountain West teams usually belong. If they win, they're probably a solid candidate for the top ten for most of the season. This is admittedly much higher than a lot of people are going to vote them, but still.
- Georgia Tech??? I happen to think they're the best team in a pretty deep ACC. Deal with it. They've got some D-line issues, but the rest of their team is top-notch and nobody's been able figure out how to stop that offense consistently yet.
- LSU. I'm not done whipping on them. Last year's readers may remember that I stubbornly refused to rank them in the ballot because they fucking sucked, the one time I did rank them they went and laid a giant stinky egg against Georgia or someone, and I usually devoted a paragraph explaining why everyone else is an idiot for ranking them so high. They finished the regular season 7-5 and I felt vindicated. LSU is inexplicably 9th in the coaches' poll, and so I suspect "LSU is ridiculously, stupidly overrated" will once again be a running theme of this feature unless they can prove me wrong. They have a basically new quarterback and they lost their only defender worth a shit to the NFL, along with about five other starters. The fact that they're even ranked at all is a function of the ass-whipping they laid on Georgia Tech in their bowl game last year. I don't care that the game is in Seattle: if they fail to treat Washington in the opening game like the 0-12 team they were last year, it's on.
- If a team is lower in this ballot than they are in most other polls, chances are good it's because their offensive line is comprised of a bunch of people who didn't start last year. See: Oklahoma. An inexperienced offensive line is the proven best way to fall short of expectations. Just ask Tommy Bowden.
So there it is. Comments are encouraged, and the ballot will be linked on the side so you can find it real easy.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
This seems a very apropos post for pointing out a potential disruption in your normally scheduled blog-viewing activities:
Despite pictorial appearances, that's not a gumdrop rainbow taking aim at the northeastern end of the continent where hurricanes don't normally take up residence. I live in the red circle that I amateurishly drew on the NHC's pretty picture, so I think it's unlikely I'll see much more than a stiff breeze and a darkish gray sky, but if I'm inexplicably offline for a few days starting Sunday, you've been forewarned as to why.
Anyway, I am supposed to have my preseason Blogpoll ballot up sometime before Monday. So to make sure I don't go delinquent on my duties just because of a li'l ol' cyclone, and because voters are supposed to be presenting their ballots for recalibration by the masses, that will happen tomorrow. At some point soon I'll have to get around to a more informative update on Rijo Walker, the newest '10 commitment, but that'll happen when it happens, basically. Maybe this weekend, maybe next week. My early reaction, just to give you a sneak peek: yay, a frickin cornerback FINALLY.
Anyway, this is supposed to be about Hurricanes, not hurricanes, so here: Miami.
9/7: @ Florida State (Mon.)
9/17: Georgia Tech (Thu.)
9/26: @ Virginia Tech
10/10: Florida A&M
10/17: @ Central Florida
10/31: @ Wake Forest
11/14: @ North Carolina
11/28: @ South Florida
Skip: Maryland, Boston College, NC State
QB: Jacory Harris (So.)
RB: Graig Cooper (Jr.)
FB: Patrick Hill (Sr.)
WR: Aldarius Johnson (So.)
WR: Travis Benjamin (So.)
TE: Dedrick Epps (Sr.)
LT: Jason Fox (Sr.)
LG: Orlando Franklin (Jr.)
C: A.J. Trump (5Sr.)
RG: Joel Figueroa (rJr.)
RT: Matt Pipho (5Sr.)
DE: Eric Moncur (6Sr.)
DT: Joe Joseph (5Sr.)
DT: Allen Bailey (Jr.)
DE: Marcus Robinson (So.)
SLB: Colin McCarthy (rJr.)
MLB: Darryl Sharpton (5Sr.)
WLB: Sean Spence (So.)
CB: Brandon Harris (So.)
CB: Chavez Grant (Sr.)
FS: Vaughn Telemaque (rFr.)
SS: Randy Phillips (5Sr.)
K: Matt Bosher (rJr.)
P: Matt Bosher (rJr.)
(Italics indicate new starters.)
Coach: Randy Shannon (3rd season)
2008 1st team: None
2008 2nd team: K/P Matt Bosher
2008 HM: S Anthony Reddick
2009 preseason: OT Jason Fox, K Matt Bosher
(Italics indicate departed player.)
Media prediction: 4th, Coastal Division
Randy Shannon has managed to do something once believed unthinkable: make Miami anonymous. It’s not that they’re not good, although they’re a shadow of the dominant program they once were. But look at the list of all-ACC performers from last season. First team – zero. Second team – the kicker. Only one non-special-teamer even got any votes. To follow it up, Miami’s been voted a very run-of-the-mill fourth in the division, and it almost seems as if by default.
It’s not that there isn’t any talent. Actually most of these players are quite good, and the offense, if not handcuffed by playcalling (Miami felt their offensive troubles stemmed from the booth last year, and dismissed their offensive coordinator), should be productive. For starters, there will be no quarterback platoon this year. It was painfully obvious that Jacory Harris was the more productive quarterback of the pair, and with Robert Marve off to Purdue, Harris is the undisputed ringleader this year. And he’s got help. Miami’s stable of wide receivers looks a lot like ours in the age department, only they played a lot more last year. Nobody stepped up as a true go-to player, and that needs to change if Miami is to take their offense to the next level. But there are plenty of candidates to do so, starting on the outside with Aldarius Johnson, the team’s leading receiver last year. Also look out for Travis Benjamin, who moonlights as the primary kick returner and led the team in yards per catch. Thearon Collier isn’t going to grab many headlines but he’ll be another favored target, along with senior tight end Dedrick Epps, who tends to gather the kind of stats you typically get out of a prototypical dependable tight end.
Miami has a few options in the running game too. Graig Cooper figures to carry the load at running back, but don’t sleep on Javarris James. James’s career has been trending downwards ever since a breakout freshman year, to the point where he averaged just five carries a game last year. But this is his senior year, and last chances have a way of jolting people into gear. And don’t forget about Harris either – he was less the running threat than Marve was last year and is a pass-first quarterback, but he’s an above-scrambler and also will occasionally be the target of a trick pass.
The offensive line features three new starters on the right side and at center, but it’s not as dire as it sounds. First off, LT Jason Fox is a preseason all-ACC pick and has his eyes on the NFL after this year. As for the new starters, center A.J. Trump might be starting at a new position but he spent most of last year starting at right guard, so he knows his way around a football field. This move makes way for Joel Figueroa to step in at right guard after frequently rotating in off the bench in 2008. Matt Pipho moves to right tackle from the kick protection unit and could prove the line’s weak link, but he’s gotten his four years’ worth of coaching, which is always worth something.
Up front, the Hurricanes are very deep, but once you get past the defensive line, it starts to thin out. Miami rotated a lot of players on the line in and out last year and gets the added benefit of a sixth year for Eric Moncur. They can put two 300-pound behemoth defensive tackles up front in Joe Joseph and Marcus Forston, and when one or the other needs a spell they have their 2008 sack leader, Allen Bailey, to line up. Forston earned all sorts of freshman all-American honors last year, and he was joined in that by Moncur’s other bookend, Marcus Robinson.
The linebacking unit is led by the 2008 ACC defensive ROY, Sean Spence. Spence was all over the field last year, especially opposing backfields, and proved to be a real asset in pass coverage as well. Opposite Spence, Colin McCarthy is an experienced player in his third year as the designated starter on the strong side, but missed most of last year with a shoulder injury. If he doesn’t miss a beat and plays as well as he did in 2007, he and Spence will be one of the top OLB duos in the country. Along with Darryl Sharpton, a linebacking nomad who’s played all three LB positions and this year is in the middle, these are the only linebackers on the roster with any real experience. Staying healthy will be critical.
As for the secondary, it’s a decided weakness. The ACC season preview for Miami claims the secondary had four interceptions last year, which by itself is a terrible number, but it’s bullshit – they had two. Spence and Moncur provided the other two. That’s right – Miami picked off all of four passes last year. Chavez Grant didn’t get any from his cornerback spot, but he broke up seven passes – a decent number, but it led the team. Five was second-best, and it wasn’t even a defensive back who did that. Yup – Spence again. Safety Anthony Reddick – the only non-special-teams player to garner a single vote in 2008 all-ACC voting – departs, leaving the secondary even thinner. He’ll be replaced by Vaughn Telemaque, who the Hurricane have high hopes for. If the secondary doesn’t improve, though, there will be several talented true freshmen pushing for playing time, especially super-recruit Ray Ray Armstrong and early enrollee Brandon McGee.
Matt Bosher does everything. He was 18 for 20 on field goals – basically automatic in the college game – and averaged 40 yards on his punts, including a long of 76 yards. Miami should have no worries here.
Talented team, if a bit generic. But we have yet to mention the number one factor affecting Miami’s success this year: THE SCHEDULE. And yes, everyone’s already mentioned the absolute gauntlet Miami must run in order to get to October. In case you lost count, that’s the three best teams in the ACC just to start the season and then, you know, Oklahoma, and oh yeah they get to visit both Doak Campbell and Lame Stadium. Coming out of there 1-3 should be considered a success. They likely won’t, which means they’ll have to win six of eight to get bowl eligible. What people don’t always mention is that they get to skip all the shitty teams in the Atlantic and play all the good ones, and frankly a 2-6 conference record would not be a complete and total shock. It would also doom them to bowl ineligibility, because they’re not beating Oklahoma. Despite the talent on this team, they should probably consider themselves lucky to get out of this hellhole schedule with six or seven wins. 8-4 would be a major shot across the ACC’s bow for 2010.
Monday, August 17, 2009
1. Will your team be better than last year, why or why not? Will it show in the record, why or why not?
I think I will be surprised if the answers to these questions aren't a unanimous yes, except for maybe from the reigning ACC champs. It's that time of year. Yes, we will be better, and it has everything to do with the offensive side of the ball. We have a new coordinator who is almost guaranteed to be an improvement because the old one couldn't have been much worse. We have two (semi-)new quarterbacks, practically a whole new set of receivers, a new playbook with a new system, and hopefully a new and improved Mikell Simpson to carry the ball.
But what's new isn't half of why I'm looking forward to seeing the offense. It has more to do with what's older, and more experienced: the offensive line. A new and inexperienced line is a surefire formula for underachieving; ours spent nearly all of last season learning to play together and gelling as a unit, and four of five starters return. There's the right mix of new blood and experience on this offense to really open some eyes this year.
2. The ACC has been racked hard by injuries in the off-season, which guys did your team lose and how will you replace them if you can? On the flip side, who are the newcomers expected to step up, if any? Also include academic casualties.
Oh God - this question is here just for the sake of jinxing things, I just know it. Hopefully the football gods are not listening right at this moment, but Virginia hasn't had any significant, season-ending health issues - yet. Transfers and academic losses include defensive ends Andrew Devlin (formerly a tight end) and Kevin Crawford, tight end Rod Wheeler, and safety Rico Bell. There's also two freshman offensive linemen who didn't make it to the fall: Cody Wallace and Morgan Moses.
None were expected to start this year, and several of those wouldn't even have been on the two-deep. The depth at defensive end took a major hit though, and there will be some true freshmen who have to step up. Will Hill, our lone early enrollee, will be one, and there will probably be others. Most of the above losses are losses for good - these aren't like Jameel Sewell who had to spend a year getting eligible. The exceptions are Wallace and Moses, the freshmen. Wallace is probably a longshot at best to return, but Moses will begin his prep school career shortly and Virginia fans will be following it closely because Moses is three-hundred-thirty-twelve pounds of major-league talent.
As far as newcomers go, as with any team there will be plenty of former backups moving into a starting role. But there are three freshmen expected to make a major impact. WR Tim Smith is a tremendous talent as well as a true freshman and will be on the field from Day 1. In the backfield, redshirt frosh Torrey Mack is expected to share the load at running back, and classmate Steve Greer is a projected starter at inside linebacker. If you had to name three UVA freshmen to watch out for, it's far and away those three.
3. Which existing player (or group of players) must step their game up in order for your team to over-achieve?
I'll take this to mean, which player was a regular last year and needs to improve his game? Imaginary players are well-known to be fatal to coaching careers, and anyway we have basically an entire linebacking corps that is new to the starting gig. But new starters always need to step it up. Two players come to mind. On defense, there's DE Matt Conrath. He showed a lot of promise last year as a freshman and played very well as freshmen go. But the brand-new linebacking corps needs help from both front and back if they're going to be successful. With Clint Sintim gone, we need a pass rush threat, and Conrath is the guy everyone's looking at to consistently provide it. The defensive line needs to be huge to take pressure off the linebackers, and it starts with Conrath.
On offense, Mikell Simpson had a terrific 2007 - just ask Maryland. But he was having a really awful 2008 until it was cut short by a broken collarbone. He's now in an offense tailor-made to his talents. He's always been at his best in space, and excels when he's the target of screen passes and such. The offense will get him the ball with room to run - he must take advantage.
Friday, August 14, 2009
As promised, the blogroll and links are updated for the new season. Encouraging additions are a pair of Miami blogs, a team which wasn't represented last year. Duke blogs are like the tachyons of the blogging universe: theoretically possible, but not known to exist. An "ACCR" next to the blog name indicates a member of the ACC Roundtable, a College Game Balls initiative that brings ACC blogs together to speak of ACC topics. Look for those to spin up at times this season.
On to the Maryland preview, where I even manage to say some nice things about them. Try not to Ralph.
9/5: @ California
9/12: James Madison
9/19: Middle Tennessee
10/10: @ Wake Forest
10/24: @ Duke
11/7: @ NC State
11/14: Virginia Tech
11/21: @ Florida State
11/28: Boston College
Skip: North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami
QB: Chris Turner (5Sr.)
RB: Da’Rel Scott (rJr.)
FB: Cory Jackson (Sr.)
WR: Torrey Smith (rSo.)
WR: Ronnie Tyler (rSo.)
TE: Lansford Watson (rJr.)
LT: Bruce Campbell (Jr.)
LG: Andrew Gonnella (rSo.)
C: Phil Costa (Sr.)
RG: Justin Lewis (rFr.)
RT: Paul Pinegar (rJr.)
DE: Derek Drummond (rSo.)
NT: A.J. Francis (rFr.)
DT: Travis Ivey (5Sr.)
DE: Jared Harrell (5Sr.)
SLB: Adrian Moten (rJr.)
MLB: Alex Wujciak (rJr.)
WLB: Demetrius Hartsfield (rFr.)
CB: Anthony Wiseman (5Sr.)
CB: Nolan Carroll (5Sr.)
FS: Terrell Skinner (5Sr.)
SS: Jamari McCullough (Sr.)
K: Mike Barbour (So.)
P: Travis Baltz (Sr.)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Coach: Ralph Friedgen (9th season)
2008 1st team: RB Da’Rel Scott, C Edwin Williams, P Travis Baltz
2008 2nd team: LB Alex Wujciak
2008 HM: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, TE Dan Gronkowski, OT Scott Burley, OG Jamie Thomas, DT Jeremy Navarre
2009 preseason: LB Alex Wujciak, P Travis Baltz
Media prediction: 5th, Atlantic Division
If Ralph Friedgen seems like only three-quarters the coach he was last season, it’s because he literally is. Tipping the scales at 400 pounds last season, Friedgen has dropped over 100 pounds through a combination of a medically-approved diet and no longer eating players who don’t make it through end-of-practice gassers. I still hate Maryland, but recognize a good effort when I see it – Friedgen is very noticeably slimmer – and will thus retire the nickname Plutoid Ralph.
Why do I bring this up? It may be the highlight of Maryland’s season. The Terrapins were ridiculously inconsistent last season. If told they would go 1-1 in the games against California and Middle Tennessee with the win being a blowout, 100% of people would have chalked up the Cal game as a loss. The Terps had two separate teams last season and apparently flipped a coin to decide whether they would send Good Maryland or Completely Incompetent Maryland on the field each Saturday. Despite the roller-coaster season, it may be that their fans wish they could have 2008 back when 2009 is done.
Maryland actually has one of the most experienced starting quarterbacks in the entire conference – Chris Turner is second only to Wake’s Riley Skinner in that department. Turner is a mediocre quarterback, but you can’t dismiss experience, and a three-year starter at quarterback is almost always a plus, unless your quarterback is Reggie Ball. The difference is that Turner will be far more in charge of his team’s fortunes than he has been in the past. Whether Maryland won or lost last year was seemingly independent of whether Turner had a good game. With so many new starters on the depth chart, though, Turner may not always be able to win a game with quality play, but he will definitely lose the game if he plays poorly.
The Terps will also pin their hopes on senior running back Da’Rel Scott, one of the few ACC first-teamers last year to return to his team. Scott piled up a 1,000 yard season last year, and the Terrapins’ running attack is bolstered as well by Davin Meggett, another quality back who runs like a bowling ball. The top two receivers are gone, but Torrey Smith and Ronnie Tyler were enough a regular part of the passing game last year that they should be able to make for an almost-seamless transition. Tight end will be a little different – Maryland leaned so heavily on Dan Gronkowski that his backups very rarely saw the field. There’ll be a competition at that position that may stretch into the regular season.
Unfortunately, none of the skill-teamers will be able to make the impact they’re capable of if the offensive line doesn’t gel. It’s a very inexperienced line, and that could be enough to sink the season. Last year at the beginning of the season, every starter was a 5th-year senior. Phil Costa ascended to a starting job early in the season, but it was at right guard – because he’s the most experienced (and has played a little center in the past) he moves to the middle this year. The rest of the line is more or less brand-new to this whole starting thing, and some positions are still up in the air. More than likely, these guys will have to exceed expectations in order to make opposing teams worry about Maryland’s offense.
The story’s very similar here. The defensive line isn’t exactly inexperienced, but they’ll need time to gel as a unit because every starter last year was a senior, and this year’s cast still needs seasoning and lacks starting time. They have good players behind them though: Alex Wujciak is a playmaker at middle linebacker, and Adrian Moten is a quality player on the outside who’s getting his turn to shine after backing up a player two years his senior. Demetrius Hartsfield will be raw, but Maryland clearly has high hopes for him as he’s leapfrogged a fifth-year senior on the depth chart. The linebackers should be the strength of this defense. Maryland lost two excellent starters here but should find themselves able to replace them without much difficulty.
The secondary is good too. Jamari McCullough is new to the starting gig, but regardless, he was the team interception leader last year with four. Fellow cornerback Anthony Wiseman did not intercept a single pass but broke up ten. They’re both seniors, as are safeties Nolan Carroll and Terrell Skinner. This is the only unit on the whole team that didn’t get hit hard with departures, and they’re not spectacular but they’re respectable and will keep passing offenses honest.
Travis Baltz is an all-conference punter and booted ten punts 50 yards or more. No worries there. A new kicker steps into the spotlight for Maryland, and though I like to say new kickers give fans more heartburn than any other position, Maryland fans can rest assured that Mike Barbour will be an improvement on onside kicks if nothing else.
Maryland’s got the skill players, especially at running back and linebacker, to prevent a total meltdown, but the uncertainty on the lines will be extremely difficult to overcome. Offensive line in particular looks shaky, and could – nay, will –make or break the offense. Maryland has some pieces to the puzzle, but this looks like a transition year, and an unlikely one to make a bowl in. Though they manage to avoid two of the better Coastal teams, they may not win a game in their own division until the very last one of the season.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
First, a little fluff on John Phillips and Kevin Ogletree from the Cowboys' official site. Should be good news that the official site writer is putting stuff out there on these guys, right? And speaking of Cavalier wide receivers, Billy McMullen has been released by Seattle, and signed with the Lions yesterday. This probably is not significant - the Lions basically need warm bodies to run receiver drills with so many of them out, and McMullen is a long, long shot to make the roster. I mention this mainly just because it's cool as a Lions fan that McMullen's onboard, however long it lasts. Hey, you never know. Detroit's had good luck with UVA receivers in the past.
And speaking of early departures, Matt Packer has decided to join that club. This surprises me, frankly. Packer was picked in the 32nd round and I figured a good senior season would cut that draft round in half or so. All is quiet on the Tyler Cannon front; Cannon has four more days to sign if he's going to do so.
That makes three very reliable arms we have to replace instead of two, but Jeff White has your answer to that, as Branden Kline has turned down sixth-round money from the Red Sox to come to UVA. Outstanding. Kline has the usual sick and twisted stats of a kid who's obviously too good for high school - in his case, a 0.66 ERA and two strikeouts an inning - and should come in ready to contribute. Based on limited but highly effective summer league stints, Will Roberts and Justin Thompson could be ready to assume a larger role, and we should also be able to lean more heavily on Shane Halley. So fear not friends - the pitching is poised to get better, not worse.
I told you K.T. Harrell wasn't done moving up ESPN's list. He checks in now at #86 on the ESPNU 100 with a ranking of 93, a nice boost from the 90 he had before he committed. Regan and Harris don't make it, and neither does Trae Golden, but a few of our other targets are there: Kyrie Irving at #6 (!), James Johnson at #69, Michael Cobbins at #85.
Lastly we have - recruiting board! Yes! Actually boo. As with previous weeks, more names are dropping off than jumping on board. I have only two addition: LB Quayshawn Nealy, who we offered, and CB Louis Young, who's already decommitted twice from Stanford. Young claims to be a soft verbal to Stanford, but: riiiiiiight.
And the cuts are coming hard and heavy. CB Urell Johnson surprise-committed elsewhere, after, in reverse order: talking about taking all year to decide, decommitting from Southern Miss, surprise-committing to Southern Miss, and talking about taking all year to decide. So as a "verbal", he's off, for now, and would it surprise anyone to see him back at some point? Also gone are: LB Khairi Fortt, QB Munchie Legaux, DE Kareem Martin, and DT Bruce Gaston, all of whom came out with top threes or fives or sixes or whatever and didn't say Virginia when they did it. Fortt actually probably eliminated us a long time ago. Legaux has done all manner of mind-changing throughout his recruitment, but I think we were more of a novelty than anything there anyway. Martin is a little bit surprising; Gaston less so, but disappointing nonetheless - we need a DT in this class and Gaston was one of three we're focusing on. I'm getting antsy for a commitment here - it's been about five weeks.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
So this makes two days in a row with non-UVA content. Actually, technically it's one day with no content at all and then one day bookended by season preview. Sorry about that, but you see it was trivia night at O'Brien's last night, and I dominate at trivia. I would bet most good college football bloggers would be formidable bar trivia opponents.
Anyway, I do have a couple things for you. Last week I promised you a second Q&A session as hosted by another blogger - this one is at The ACC & SEC Blog, and rather more extensive as well than last week's. As with before, think of this as some sneak peeks into my head while you wait ever so patiently for the UVA blog to actually season preview UVA. In this we touch on many of the standard topics: who's going to step up at various important offensive positions, how's Al Groh's seat these days, and sundry other items.
The second item is this: Sometimes I find out about Things On The Web because they link to me and then people click the link. Such is the case here. I don't know how long this site has been around, but whether it's two years or two months or it just showed up this morning (it didn't) I am thoroughly shamed for not having found it earlier. It is frapping fantastic, and it is called hoosfootball.com. You want media guides? They got 'em. You want the stats and the history? There they are. Picayune details about all the uniforms we've worn since 1990? Check. Pictures? For the love of all that is good, holy, and beautiful, there are pictures, pictures, pictures in sweet, full-color glory. Sometime this month I plan on refreshing the links on the side of the page - there are new blogs, blogs that have gone out of business, what have you. This will obviously be on the list, quite possibly eight different times.
OK, done gushing, and I've got a change of pants all lined up, so sit back and read up on Georgia Tech. You'll want to know all about them.
9/5: Jacksonville State
9/10: Clemson (Thu.)
9/17: @ Miami (Thu.)
9/26: North Carolina
10/3: @ Mississippi State
10/10: @ Florida State
10/17: Virginia Tech
10/24: @ Virginia
10/31: @ Vanderbilt
11/7: Wake Forest
11/14: @ Duke
Skip: Maryland, NC State, Boston College
QB: Josh Nesbitt (Jr.)
BB: Jonathan Dwyer (Jr.)
AB: Roddy Jones (rSo.)
AB: Anthony Allen (rJr.)
WR: Demaryius Thomas (rJr.)
WR: Tyler Melton (So.)
LT: Nick Claytor (rSo.)
LG: Joseph Gilbert (rSo.)
C: Dan Voss (5Sr.)
RG: Cord Howard (5Sr.)
RT: Austin Barrick (rJr.)
DE: Derrick Morgan (Jr.)
DT: Jason Peters (rSo.)
DT: Ben Anderson (rJr.)
DE: Robert Hall (rJr.)
ILB: Brad Jefferson (Jr.)
OLB: Sedric Griffin (Sr.)
R: Cooper Taylor (So.)
CB: Mario Butler (Jr.)
CB: Rashaad Reid (So.)
S: Morgan Burnett (Jr.)
S: Dominique Reese (rJr.)
K: Scott Blair (Jr.)
P: Scott Blair (Jr.)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Coach: Paul Johnson (2nd season)
2008 1st team: RB Jonathan Dwyer, OT Andrew Gardner, DE Michael Johnson, DT Vance Walker
2008 2nd team: OG Cord Howard, DT Darryl Richard, S Morgan Burnett
2008 HM: DE Derrick Morgan
2009 preseason: RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Demaryius Thomas, S Morgan Burnett
Media prediction: 2nd, Coastal Division
Georgia Tech had about forty zillion questions coming out of the 2007 offseason, but they all boiled down to the same thing: Is this shizwack offense really a good idea? The answer was a resounding hell yes, and the reward was a win for the Jackets over hated rival Georgia in Athens and a bowl game in their own backyard. This year, the novelty is off and ACC defensive coordinators have all the tapes.
Plenty of talent here, and if the ACC isn’t going to be caught off-guard by Paul Johnson’s offense, it’s offset by the return of most key players, who now have a year’s experience in the system. That’s especially important at quarterback, because this may be the one offense in the league where quarterback comfort and experience in the system is more important than any other. And GT’s got a good one in Josh Nesbitt. He’s a big guy at 220 pounds and he knows what he’s doing. But the real story is at B-back (despite the labels A and B used for the backs in this offense, B-back is actually the feature back) and at wide receiver. Jonathan Dwyer will carry the ball more times than he can stand, and it’s not too nutty to think a 1,500 yard season is in the works. Seven yards per carry and 200 carries in 2008 is astounding, and it’s why he’s the favorite for ACC POY, especially if he’s able to at the same time increase his receiving presence. When you have Demaryius Thomas, though, it’s hard to imagine throwing anywhere else. Thomas has 1,000 yard potential on any other team, and people wondered if he’d appreciate playing in an offense that throws the ball once every other ice age or so. Thomas took to it like Charlie Weis to the donut buffet** and ended up with a very respectable 627 receiving yards. Even more importantly, his blocking is absolutely essential to the success of this offense and he does it very well. Standing 6’3” is great for catching footballs and even better for ensuring the 5’10” cornerback goes nowhere near the ballcarrier.
We also shouldn’t forget Roddy Jones. The A-back is sort of a combination fullback/tight end/slot receiver/tailback and Jones is very good at it. By design, Tech has extraordinary depth at this position – Lucas Cox and Anthony Allen are going to be dangerous – but Jones is the trickiest of all. His eight point five yards per carry last season made life that much more miserable for defensive coordinators trying to figure out where to focus their efforts.
Rounding it off, there’s plenty of experience at O-line. The best, and sometimes only, way to stop this offense is to blow it up at the line, but guard Cord Howard was second-team all-conference last year, and most of these guys have starting experience either thanks to injury or because it was their job to begin with. Add all this up and it’s my opinion Georgia Tech has the scariest offense in the league this year.
Every single one of Tech’s defensive linemen last year received all-conference votes, but only one returns. That in a nutshell is Tech’s biggest issue going into 2009. Derrick Morgan is going to draw double-teams all day until his new linemates prove they can make their own plays. This is a lot like our own linebacker situation: Tech’s linemen were so good last year that their backups rarely got in the game. Their “season highlights” in their official roster profiles have lines like “made a tackle for no gain against Boston College.” Yippee. Georgia Tech runs a 4-2-5 defense most of the time, so these guys really will have to step up to the plate if they don’t want teams to stuff the ball down their throat 40 times a game.
In that respect they’ll have help from the linebackers, both of whom were regulars on the field last year. The quasi-nickel look all the time means the linebackers are a little freer to help in run support, and Sedric Griffin was fourth on the team in tackles and added eight TFL last season. Brad Jefferson was hurt quite a bit last season, but enters this year healthy.
The secondary is the undisputed strength of the defense. S Morgan Burnett is another of the “big four” defensive players in the ACC, and the defense will get a big boost with him shouting orders. Burnett picked off seven passes last year, and fellow safety Dominique Reese added three more, as did cornerback Rashaad Reid. And then there’s Cooper Taylor. Taylor plays the position that turns a standard 4-3 into a 4-2-5: GT calls it the “wolf”, the standard word is “rover”, it’s basically a linebacker/safety hybrid, and from that position Taylor stopped 69 ballcarriers last season, second only to Burnett. The sum and gist here is that Tech will be miserable to try and pass the ball against, especially if the defensive line gets heat on the quarterback.
This is a little bit of a trouble spot. Scott Blair handles both the kicking and the punting, and neither especially well. Punting average last year was below 39 yards. Placekicking was uglier – Blair missed two extra points and was 0-for-6 from 40 yards or beyond. It’s a real handicap if your scoring from outside the 23-yard line is big play or bust.
I voted Georgia Tech for ACC champs in Gobbler Country’s poll. Unless I’m absolutely blown away by the talent when I embark on the season previews for UNC or VT, I’m sticking with it. GT looks scary on offense. Really scary. Even scarier for 2010 when you realize how few of these players are seniors. The only sticking point is that they play all the good teams and none of the sucky teams in the cross-divisional games. They got a really awful draw in that department. But if they’re the best team in the ACC like I think they are, it shouldn’t matter. Paul Johnson’s offense was crazy fun to watch when he was coaching Navy, and now that he’s got BCS talent in charge of it, it’ll be even more fun, except on October 24. Even if the defensive line is merely mediocre, the Yellow Jackets should represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl. If they’re actually good? Look out.
**Normally I like to keep my jokes ACC-centric, but Ralph Friedgen is no longer a valid target for fat jokes. On the plus side, Maryland fans will no longer brag about whose coach can eat whose, which was always sort of an inexplicable thing to boast about.