Saturday, July 31, 2010

NC State Preview: Can The Wolfpack Finally Break Through Under Tom O'Brien?

NC State fans were hoping for more success under Tom O’Brien than they have had in three seasons. But with one of the best QBs in the conference returning are results going to finally meet expectations?

I contacted Backing the Pack to get more info on the Wolfpack for the upcoming season.

Q: How much progress has Tom O'Brien made in three years? Is it enough?

A: To a certain extent it's tough to tell because of the ridiculous number of injuries to key players we've endured throughout his tenure. Seems like O'Brien is lucky if he has 70% of the roster at his disposal.

Looking at the program more generally, from a recruiting standpoint, from a coaching decision-making standpoint, I'm not sure there's much progress I can point to.

From a results standpoint, obviously, we're treading water. Going from 6-6 and a bowl game in 2008 to 5-7 in 2009 is not an encouraging sign. And that's definitely not enough.

The honeymoon's over here, and I suspect that if we fall short of a bowl game in 2010, Tom O'Brien is going to be feeling quite a bit of heat and frustration heading into 2011. 2011 may be his last chance to prove he and his staff can get it done here.

Q: What is QB Russell Wilson's status for next season? If he does not return how much confidence do State fans have in Mike Glennon?

A: Although Russell Wilson has signed a contract with the Colorado Rockies and is spending his summer in short-season A-ball, he maintains that he'll be back in August for football. He's never wavered on this issue and I've no reason to doubt him.

If for whatever reason he doesn't come back--or, yikes, gets hurt playing baseball--it will obviously be a disappointment, but I think most folks are confident that Glennon is good enough to avert disaster.

He's well positioned for success having gotten all of the work with the first team offense this spring.

Q: Who is the primary ball carrier going to be after the top two rushers from last year departed?

A: Curtis Underwood and Brandon Barnes were one and two on the depth chart heading into the spring, but both ended up missing the spring game with injuries. Barnes dislocated an ankle, which could prevent him from playing this season. Underwood (I think) will be fine and is probably the favorite at this point. But who knows.

There is sophomore James Washington, who got the first-team carries in the spring game being the only healthy scholarship RB. There is walk-on Travis Leggett, who had a huge spring game and could factor in somewhere. There is incoming juco athlete Tobais Palmer, who could end up at RB.

Q: Why do you think State does not have a difference making offensive line after O'Brien did so well with the unit at BC?

A: I think the main thing is that Chuck Amato left an enormous mess behind. The situation was so bad that Tom O'Brien once said he thought it might take five years to get the line where he wanted it.

We've seen progress here, though we're certainly far from the goal, but the reclamation project has been hampered by injuries (Which you could also say about the program in general).

I think the staff has turned a corner here, and while this year's line is going to take its lumps because it's young, I think we could turn another next season. Talents like RJ Mattes and Robert Crisp, luxuries we've not had in recent memory, should prove an excellent core around which to build.

Q: Are NC State fans excited about the arrival of Jon Tenuta as LB coach or his luster gone after the stint at Notre Dame?

A: The hire was well-received. It's probably led to folks daydreaming about defensive coordinator Mike Archer being shown the door and Tenuta being appointed his replacement.

Q: Who is going to step up on a defensive line that lost all four starters from a year ago?

A: Keep an eye on Michael Lemon at end and JR Sweezy at tackle.

Q: Explain the difference in having a healthy Nate Irving at LB.

A: If he's healthy? Huge. But he probably won't be able to get back to where he was before the accident.

Even so, his experience, his nose for the football, his sure tackling are going to help the defense. His ability to recognize what other teams are doing will put the other linebackers in successful spots more often and make them better players.

Q: What is going to be different about the secondary this year that was 9th in pass defense last season?

A: Ninth in the ACC? Hmm. Better than I thought. Right, uh...let's see. If the secondary is going to improve, having Rashard Smith's services for a full season is important. Earl Wolff, CJ Wilson, and Brandon Bishop were thrown into the fire in '09 and hopefully got the kind of experience that fast-forwards their development a bit.
Jarvis Byrd could provide a bigger impact assuming he's healthy. Everett Proctor and Tobais Palmer are wild cards. Palmer may not even end up on the defensive side of the ball.

Q: Who are some of the freshman that could see significant action this season?

A: Robert Crisp could be an immediate factor at offensive line. Denzelle Good and Sam Jones as well. Everett Proctor at safety, perhaps. There are a lot of opportunities on the defensive side making the shakedown hard to figure.

Q: What has it meant to State fans to beat Carolina three years in a row? How much does it make up for just one bowl bid?

A: That's always going to mean a lot to folks, even when the wins are marginalized by sub-.500 seasons. The wins in 2007 and 2008 were critical for post-season bids, though we came up short of that goal in '07.

Last year's win was anticlimactic because we were already out of bowl consideration, and it didn't do much for me under the circumstances.

How much does it make up for one bowl bid? As far as I'm concerned, not much. The wins haven't been meaningful in the grand scheme, and ultimately that's what I care about. I would've traded 2009s with Carolina in a heartbeat.

Q: Describe a successful season this year. Describe a disappointing one.

A: Considering there is only one game on the schedule I feel certain we'll win, I'd say that seven wins--O'Brien's first winning season here--would be a great success.

O'Brien really needs a winning season, something concrete he can point to and say, "the program is coming together and we're moving in the right direction."

A four or five win season would be a disappointment--it would hurt to squander another year of Russell Wilson like that--but not much of a surprise. Five wins is just more of the same old crap.

Four wins or less and it's liable to get really ugly in Raleigh.

Q: What is your prediction for the season?

Win for sure: Western Carolina
Scary but probable Wins: at Central Florida, at East Carolina, Wake Forest
???: Boston College, at Maryland, Florida State
Aw Nuts: Cincinnati, at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, at Clemson, at UNC

I'll say...5-7 (2-6). Prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong.

My take on NC State…
You can call me surprised at how much O’Brien has struggled at NC State, a program you thought it would be easier to win at than BC based on recruiting area.

I am beginning to think he is just not a good fit in Raleigh being a Midwestern guy who has coach in the Northeast.

I agree with Backing the Pack that State has to get more out of talent they have at QB.

They draw a tough schedule from the Coastal facing Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina this season so it is hard to see a huge improvement on their win total.

For once, I am going to agree exactly with a blogger.

Prediction:
5-7, 6th in Atlantic Division


Thanks again to Backing The Pack for their answers.


Previous Previews:
Duke
Boston College
Virginia
Maryland

Friday, July 30, 2010

UNC Preview: Can Tar Heels Defense Bring Home An ACC Championship?

Switched up the schedule a little bit. I should NC State posted early next week.

Tar Heel fans have not been this excited about football season since Mack Brown was in Chapel Hill. With a defense that may be the best in the nation, head coach Butch Davis has his first legitimate chance to get UNC in the ACC title game.

To find out more about what we can expect from North Carolina, I contacted Michael Felder who is an avid Carolina fan and writer for In The Bleachers.

Q: UNC is getting a lot of preseason hype with some calling for the Tar Heels to win the ACC this year. How are the fans handling the expectations?

A: I think the fan reaction to expectations depends upon the "tier" of UNC fan that folks fall into.

The lower tier, the basketball front runners that we've all encountered, read the hype and assume, much like in basketball that everything is 100% true and we should have a walk to an ACC Title and BCS bowl. In a word, unrealistic.

The next tier of fans are the basketball only or basketball first folks who either don't care about football or just automatically assume we'll never be worth their time in football. Pessimistic and skeptical at best, cancerous at worst.

Lastly we arrive at the genuine UNC fan, folks who know the team's make up, read more than just headlines and are truly looking forward to September. We're taking it in stride; the hype is warranted as this is a BCS caliber group but expectations are tempered because the schedule is littered with toss up games that could go either way.

Q: Is QB TJ Yates ready to lead UNC to an ACC title after his struggles a year ago or could a backup unseat him?

A: Plenty of folks have been tooting the Brynn Renner horn, however it will be mid-season before Butch pulls a trigger of that magnitude. Davis was burned once by inserting a young, inexperienced quarterback too early (2008 Mike Paulus) and I doubt he'll risk losing a game while ruining a career in the process.

TJ Yates has already led; he's the same kid who set UNC freshman records for passing yards, completions and attempts, the same kid who was throwing bombs to Nicks and Tate just over a season ago.

As long as he's not on his back, concussed or under duress every play I'd say yeah, he's ready.

Q: Who needs to step on offense to improve this unit and help out the QB?

A: Less about a "person" and more about group; wide receivers to be specific. The WR's were very young a season ago and couldn't get open down field or comprehend the offensive scheme.
This year they should have a better understanding of the offensive concepts and become more reliable targets down field.

Q: Last year the offensive line was depleted by injuries. How is the unit shaping up this year?

A: This is going to be the best North Carolina offensive line since the Mack Brown era and I'm not afraid to say it. This group went through a trial by fire a season ago; injuries, shuffling of lineups and shifting of positions.

upright as well as paving the way for [Shawn] The 2010 Road Hogs will reap the benefits of last years tough times as eight players with significant playing or starting experience return to the group. Throw these seasoned veterans in with newcomer, five star tackle James Hurst, and they should do a better job of keeping TJDraughn and [Ryan] Houston.

Q: The defense is loaded with talent this year, but if there is a weak spot where do you think it is?

A: The secondary? Not because the group isn't among the nation's elite, they definitely are but rather because they lack the depth and top end talent that the defensive line and linebackers possesses.

The DL and LB groups are loaded with elite recruits, frequently rotate in and out while the defensive backs are largely a four-man unit.

This aggressive unit isn't built to play man to man every snap but this unit should be able to take advantage of mistakes and avoid covering receivers for an extended period of time thanks to the defensive line.

Q: Which of the freshman that could see significant playing time this year

A: James Hurst, Brandon Willis, Giovanni Bernard and Jared McAdoo. Hurst and Bernard can have instant impacts on the offensive side of the ball while McAdoo and Willis have the chance to be key spot contributors on defense.

Hurst is already penciled in to start at one of the tackle spots as Carl Gaskins attempts to return from an ACL injury. Bernard is the home run hitting running back that UNC has lacked for quite some time now. Look for him to be active in the screen game, jet sweeps and reverse action.

Due to UNC's loaded defense the young defenders will have a different impact on the game.

Look for Willis to be a player on passing downs from the defensive tackle position, a kid who is athletic and can rush the passer from the interior. McAdoo is a true defensive tackle and he'll push Tydreke Powell and Marvin Austin as he becomes a fixture, along with Jordan Nix, in the defensive tackle rotation.

Q: The Heels start the season off against SEC powerhouse LSU. What do you think UNC needs to do to pull off the win for the ACC?

A: First and foremost I don't think this is an upset scenario for the Heels. That being said I think the key to this game will be turnovers.

Between Jordan Jefferson and TJ Yates you've got two much maligned signal callers who need a solid game to gain their respective fanbase’s faith. Whichever of these quarterbacks can throw the ball to their same colored jerseys will emerge victorious in my estimation.

I'd give UNC the edge because while LSU has got tons of talent and, arguably, the best returning player in the nation in Patrick Peterson they also have plenty of inexperience on both sides of the ball.

Q: Next, North Carolina starts the ACC season after a bye with a home date against Georgia Tech looking to snap a nine game ACC opener losing streak. Will the outcome of this game define the Tar Heels ACC title hopes?

A: No, because as you stated we've lost nine ACC openers in a row so I think the team is capable of recovering. However, in a bigger sense I think having a bye week means that we should break that cycle and beat GT for the second time in a row in Chapel Hill.

The game is crucial because we've got to hold serve at home, Florida State and Miami on the road don't leave much wiggle room for home losses late or early in the season and GT off of a bye week is a must win for the Heels to stay in ACC title contention.

Q: NC State has won 3 games in a row vs UNC. Is this the most important game of the season?

A: For me, as a guy who openly and unabashedly hates North Carolina State, the State game is one that I circle preseason every year. Losing three in a row to the Wolfpack has been tough to digest and that is always an important rivalry game.

I wouldn't call the NC State game the most important game of the year though, unless losing to them keeps us out of the ACC Championship Game.

Q: What would make this a good season? What would make it a bad season?

A: For the Heels to have a good season there needs to be some improvement including a winning record in the ACC (5-3) and a bowl win in a game not in Charlotte after three straight losses at that site.

I'm thinking 9-3 is acceptable as long as one of the three is not to UVA or North Carolina State the Heels two biggest rivals who are both struggling.

A bad season would be a regression on the Heels' part. That means 7-5 or worse, dropping games to both UVA and NC State, again, and dropping below .500 in the ACC.

Q: What is your prediction for the season?

A: The Heels should go 9-3 this season with a shot at “Sakerlina” in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Years Eve in their second trip to Atlanta.

Wins over Rutgers, ECU, UVA, William & Mary, NC State and Duke. Then going at least 3-3 against the likes of LSU, GT, VT, FSU, Clemson and Miami.

The bad thing about UNC's schedule is there are no "certain" losses however at least half of schedule are the dreaded "toss up" games that UNC will have to play their A-game to come out victorious.

My take on UNC…
This is the season Tar Heel fans have waited for over a decade. The defense should be lights out and the best in the ACC.

However, I think their season will ultimately hinge on the play of Yates at QB and those crucial toss up games Michael mentioned.

Having a bye week after LSU and before Georgia Tech is huge. The Heels will be beat up after playing the Tigers and an extra week always helps against a spread option attack.

As great of a recruiter as Butch Davis is, I am not sold on him as a gameday coach. His ACC record in his first three seasons is the same as the last three for the man he replaced, John Bunting.

North Carolina may very well be the favorite if they played in the Atlantic Division, but they play in arguably the toughest division in the country this season.

I see UNC’s offense letting them down in a game or two and getting out coached in another.

Prediction: 8-4, 4th in Coastal Division

Thanks again to Michael for his insight. Check him out at In The Bleachers.

Previous Previews:
Duke
Boston College
Virginia
Maryland

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Maryland Preview: Can The Terps Bounce Back From Last Year’s Debacle?

Maryland football fans want to forget 2009 and hope 2010 is much better. This may be a difficult task considering the Terrapins are coming off two win season a year ago, have a coach on the hot seat, and a new AD.

To better figure out what is going on in College Park, I contacted the guys at Turtle Droppings for their insight.

Q: What is the mood around the Maryland program heading into this season coming off a 2-10 record a year ago?

A: Ahh, the mood. Needless to say it’s not good, but at the same time, I don’t think it is as bad as it could be considering the record.

Last year was weird. I felt like they weren’t as a bad as a 2-10 team, yet they were an OT win against a 1AA team, and couple of missed Clemson FG’s away from being 0-12.

At the same time they were in some games late they could have squeaked out a couple more wins.

With all that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they found a way to squeak out 6 wins. That may be a bit optimistic, but you never know. There are some reasons to feel better about this year’s team.

Q: Do you think this is Ralph Friedgen's last year regardless of his record this year?

A: With the news of AD Debbie Yow heading to NCST, I honestly don’t know what to think.

I think before she left, it was likely Friedgen’s last season. With her gone, and only an interim AD in place, he may have a stay of execution until a permanent AD and new President of the school are in place.

I can only imagine, a new AD wanting to start fresh in football given the downward trend of the football team.

Q: How excited are you about the Head Coach In Waiting James Franklin?

A: Again this may not even happen due to Debbie Yow’s departure.

I am mixed on Franklin. I have not been overly impressed by his OC duties. He came in with a lot of bravado, and it has been mediocre at best in my opinion.

A lot of that has to do with the fact the line has been really bad, and Chris Turner was injured as well, and not really the type of QB Franklins offense needs.

Where I do like Franklin, is his energy and enthusiasm. Couple that with his recruiting ability, and he could be the type of guy that could be successful. I just don’t know about his game management yet.

Q: Who are the candidates to replace QB Chris Turner? Does one have the job locked down after Spring?

A: After Turner got hurt last year, then sophomore Jamar Robinson took over. He came in with virtually zero experience, and did a pretty decent job. He brings a dimension to the offense the Terps haven’t had since Scott McBrien, with his ability to scramble.

With the line as poor as it has been, he is going to be running for his life. He appears to have beaten red shirt freshman Danny O’Brien for the job after the spring. With a full spring under his belt, Robinson, could be a nice surprise this season.

Let’s put it this way, if the Terps want to sniff the 6 wins I say they could get, he is going to have to be a difference maker.

Q: Friedgen was a lineman at Maryland. How is the line looking this year? How much can they improve on 106 ypg?

A: The line is really going to be a key for the offense, and in all honesty, my expectations are not high for them.

Bruce Campbell has gone to the NFL (though he was injured much of last year). It gets worse. The most talented (not the necessarily the best) lineman, Lamar Young sat out the spring for academic reasons, and has transferred.

There is a lot of inexperience on the line, and with reserve tackle Paul Pinegar moving to starting Center; you can see the cause for concern. Throw in the fact that four year starter at FB Cory Jackson has graduated, and you can really question if the rushing numbers will improve.

Just for fun, the projected starter at FB, Taylor Watson, was injured during spring practice, and may miss the season, or at least a good portion of it.

That doesn’t sound like a recipe for an improved rushing attack.

Q: The defense was the worst in the ACC last year. Where is the unit most improved?

A: I am not sure if there is one unit that is more improved let alone the entire unit. The linebackers should be the best unit. Alex Wujciak, Adrain Moten, and Demetrius Hartsfield, make for a really good starting group, and there are some guys behind them that can play as well.

The secondary should be good at safety with Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez back there. Cam Chism played well at times filling in for Nolan Carroll last year at corner.

The question will be if the line can generate any pressure on the QB. Don Brown is in his second season as the DC, and familiarity should help.

The problem is his whole philosophy is predicated on pressure, something the Terps haven’t been able to consistently do since Shawne Merriman was wreaking havoc in College Park.

Q: Which of the freshman could make a big impact this season?

A: You have to look at lineman. The depth chart is thin at best on both sides of the ball. Any injury to a starter and it is almost a lock you will see a freshman getting time. Pete White, and Pete DeSouza (both redshirt Freshman) come to mind on offense.

On the defensive side De’Onte Arnett (redshirt freshman) could play himself into a starting role at tackle.

As far as true freshman, I don’t think Maryland signed any immediate impact players. That doesn’t mean someone won’t play due to injury, but I just don’t see anyone going into camp.

Q: What is keeping Maryland from competing again in Atlantic Division?

A: Where do I begin? Truthfully it starts with the line play on both sides of the ball.

Maryland has the backfield, and wide receivers to be able to put points on the board. It just needs someone to open holes for the backs, or give time for the receivers to get open.

Defensively, for Don Brown, it all starts with pressuring the QB, and the D line needs to do that; pretty simple.

Q: What game early on will tell us if Maryland is on the road back or not?

A: The opener against Navy will be a big eye opener. Navy shouldn’t be as good as they have been in the past, and if Maryland is really improved, they should win.

The good news is they have all of August to prepare for the Middies vaunted rushing attack. There is no way around it, this game is huge.

Q: What would be considered a good season? What would be considered a bad season?

A: I guess you have to look at this from the standpoint that after last year a 6-6 or 7-5 would be considered a huge success. Is that something to be proud of? No, but there is no doubt I would live with that for a year.

As far a bad season goes, well, anything less than 6 wins, would be bad.

This football program can’t survive on losing seasons. There are too many other options for people to do in the DC metro area than to go to watch a bad Maryland team play. Winning football brings them to Byrd, plain and simple.

Q: What is your prediction for the Terrapins this year?

A: They should have a legit shot of beating Navy, Morgan State, and FIU.

They will likely lose to WVU on the road. So let’s say 3-1 nonconference (I am feeling optimistic today, if you ask me some other day, I would say Navy is a toss up).

In conference, Duke and Wake at home should be wins. Losses - I would say FSU, Miami, Clemson, and at BC are loses. NCST and at UVA are my toss-ups.

So at best if all goes well they could be 7-5 winning the toss-ups and one head scratcher (see Clemson 2009).

My gut says 5-7, and my heart says 6-6. I will go with 5-7 if you held me at gunpoint. My heart has been broken too many times.

That being said, a repeat of last year is not out of the question.

My take on Maryland…
At the beginning of this decade Maryland was at the top of the ACC with who was thought to be one of the best offensive minds in college football leading their program.

Now Maryland has returned to the where they were before Friedgen became head coach. It is baffling how this QB guru has not had a difference maker at the position for a long time now.

The Terps still have some game breakers they have been known for even in their down years but still need improved QB and line play to get to 6 wins this year.

I agree with they guys at Turtle Droppings in regards to the significance of the Navy game. The players want to get the bad taste of last year’s season out of their mouths and a win over a good Middie squad could set them on the right path. A loss however could start a snowball effect big enough to knock over Friedgen.

I see Maryland being favored in five games this season with a few toss games as well at Virginia and home versus Wake Forest. The Terps had four losses by a touchdown or less last season so their luck could turn around this year.

If Jamar Robinson can be a consistence difference maker on offense, Maryland could even squeak into a bowl game.

Opposing Coach Quote from Athlon Magazine:
“Poor quarterback play has really hurt them, which you would never expect to see from one of Friedgen’s teams”

Prediction:
5-7, 4th in Atlantic Division

Thanks again to Turtle Droppings for their insight.

Next Up: NC State

Previous Previews:
Duke
Boston College
Virginia

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Virginia Season Preview: Can Mike London Turn UVA Around?

Virginia enters a new era with first year head coach Mike London taking over the program after leading Richmond to a FCS title two years ago.

ACC fans will see a new offense, new defense, and a new attitude in Charlottesville. To get a better look at UVA I contacted From Old Virginia for their take on the Cavaliers this season.

Q: How has the hiring of former UVA assistant Mike London been received?

A: With something just shy of euphoria. Some are pleased to have a name they already knew and trusted and who "knows how to win at Virginia." I don't buy this much, since these same people are usually some of Al Groh's loudest critics, and it's almost like they forgot who London served as DC under.

Some see AD Craig Littlepage's track record of hiring younger, talented coaches (O'Connor for baseball, Vigilante for track, etc.) who've conducted remarkable turnarounds, and see the same in London.

Nearly everyone loves his creativity and improved focus on recruiting the state of Virginia. Many different reasons, but what it boils down to is that it couldn't be plainer that everyone in the UVA fan base has found something to love in Mike London. He'll have an extensive grace period to work with.

Q: Virginia really struggled on offense last year. What kind of system is London going to implement?

A: London has ditched the spread offense almost entirely and is working with a pro-style (whatever that means to you) offense, spearheaded by Bill Lazor, whose experience is almost entirely in the NFL ranks. No more five-receiver sets and plenty of two-back and two-TE formations to replace them.

Q: Is Marc Verica the starter at QB or could a dark horse emerge?

A: Verica hasn't locked down the job yet, but he holds the lead going into fall camp. If the offense sputters and the team falls out of contention early, he'll probably be replaced, but I fully expect Verica to be under center on September 4.

Q: The skill positions were really lacking in game breaking ability last year. Is there a back or receiver who can step up this year?

A: We know almost nothing about our running backs. None of them have been a regular starter at the college level, and frankly the upperclassmen have already shown what they are, and there is not a game breaker.

Most of them appear to have the ability. Groh used to rave about Torrey Mack but unfortunately he couldn't pass-block well enough to stay in the lineup last year.

Dominique Wallace looked promising in 2009 until he broke his foot. K.P. Parks had a stellar high school career but will be a true freshman. Someone should be able to step up, but we don't know who yet.

As for the receivers, if anyone is going to break out it'll have to be Tim Smith. Kris Burd is a solid, quality pass catcher but not a #1 guy. The only one with that ability is Smith. He'll be one of the single most important players on the team this year that makes or breaks the season.

Q: One area UVA has usually been strong is the offensive line. How does this unit look heading into fall?

A: Like a huge question mark, and young. Starting center Jack Shields quit football in the spring, leaving us with an open spot right in the middle.

There is also a new starting right tackle in sophomore Oday Aboushi and the left tackle spot is still really shaky, as it was all last year - shaky enough that if he's in shape and ready to go, you could see true freshman Morgan Moses manning the spot by the end of the year.

Of the 16 scholarship linemen on the roster, 11 are underclassmen. Any assessment of the offense has to begin and end with "if the offensive line."

Q: London has a defensive background and is switching from Al Groh's 3-4 to a 4-3. Which players does this benefit the most? Where could the transition cause issues?

A: I think the two guys who'll get the biggest boost are DE Cam Johnson and MLB Steve Greer. Johnson has always been a little bit of a man without a position: too small to play DE in the 3-4 and too big for the every-down OLB responsibilities.

Groh was a huge Cam Johnson fan and tried to get him on the field, but mostly as a pass-rushing OLB. At DE in the 4-3, Johnson can better use his freakish athleticism and be an every-down player; he's already used to playing with a hand on the ground.

Greer is not a big guy, but he's a really smart one and he'll flourish in the middle without having to take the play-after-play beating that a 3-4 ILB has to take.

As you might expect, switching to the 4-3 means suddenly you don't have enough linemen, and the main deal is we really don't have a proper DT on the roster, especially a three-technique guy. That will be completely new.

Right now the DT corps is almost entirely made up of former DE's moved inside, along with a couple NTs who have to get used to doing something other than just clogging up the middle.

My biggest concern, though, is that London has moved a lot of players a slot closer to the line of scrimmage in an effort to make the defense faster as a whole. This is in keeping with what London wants to do on defense but the nasty side effect is a secondary that's absurdly thin.

One or two injuries, that's all it'll take and walk-ons are going to start making appearances on the depth chart.

Q: Virginia has not recruited well the past few seasons and it showed last year. How is London changing the recruiting style to close the gap in the state of Virginia?

A: Well hey now. I wouldn't say we've done that badly. The '09 and '07 classes were really solid. Seems like even years have been pretty weak though…disastrous, maybe even.

But London has had a lot of work to do in the state. Groh could be pretty prickly, and London & Pals hit the road hard early in the year to sell the new and improved UVA to high school coaches around the state. And in DC and Maryland, too, London sees those areas as "in-state" for recruiting purposes.

Then there was that open scrimmage at ODU that had VT fans a little bit green with envy that Beamer didn't think of that first. The results have been that out of 19 recruits that have given their commitment to London for 2011 (two more committed earlier to Groh), all but one are from VA, DC, or MD - and that one is the most recent, from Pittsburgh.

Q: Who are some freshman that could see significant playing time this season?

A: First, if Verica falters in fall camp or if he loses the job mid season, it'll be a freshman stepping in - most likely either red shirt Ross Metheny or true frosh and early enrollee Michael Strauss.

Running back is a fantastic opportunity for a freshman right now, with the aforementioned Wallace (RS) and Parks (true) likely to see carries. Morgan Moses might well have the talent (though we'll see about the conditioning and polish) to play left tackle right now.

RS freshman Jeremiah Mathis came out of the spring listed on the two-deep at DE - if he stays there, he definitely gets his share of snaps, and the DT lineup is thin enough that Brent Urban ought to get time as well.

Q: How do you think Groh will do as Defensive Coordinator at Georgia Tech this year? Is there any bad blood on either side from his exit?

A: Bad blood? Hmmm...well, maybe a little. Well, some. Quite a bit, actually. Loads and loads and loads, now you mention it.

Groh departed by grumpily taking a few questions at the post-VT press conference and then reading a poem called "The Man in the Glass" that was basically his way of saying he was cool with himself and all the critics, his boss included, could get stuffed.

Then he signed a contract with GT that still left UVA on the hook for most of his buyout.

Lttlepage didn't exactly go out of his way to support Groh during his last couple years - in fact, he undermined Groh rather heavily by booting Peter Lalich off the team when Groh thought he was done with that particular bit of discipline. Groh's still pissed about that one.

You didn't see it come out in the papers or anything, but something tells me Groh and Littlepage aren't planning on exchanging Christmas cards any time soon.

For the fans' part, Groh hadn't been a real popular guy beforehand and his acrimonious departure gave his haters a lot of vindication, and turned a lot of other fans against him to boot.

There's a lot of bitterness, bubbling over to the point where it can get pretty shameful and obnoxious. You won't hear me badmouth Groh, but the fan base at large was happy to see the backside of him.

As far as how he'll do as GT's DC? Brilliantly. Without having to deal with pesky distractions like "the offense" and "the media," he can focus on what he knows best, and he's a really outstanding defensive mind.

It might be a little rough in year 1 as they go from a standard 4-3 to Groh's 3-4, but left to his own devices to coach nothing but defense, Groh will have a lot of surprises for Georgia Tech's opponents.

Q: Describe a successful season in Charlottesville this year. Describe a disappointing one.

A: I'm not sure there is such a thing as a disappointing season, not in the first year of the tenure of a head coach who's immensely popular.

Nobody expects this team to do real well (although if there's one thing that ever plagues the average UVA fan, it is a propensity to wildly overrate the team's talent, especially if that talent is Virginia-born.)

2-10 would be an ugly season, though, not outside the realm of possibility at all, and opening the season with a loss to Richmond would bring things crashing down to reality in a hurry.

But if you close your eyes and imagine everything going perfectly, you can find six or seven wins on the schedule. If that happened - especially if one of them happened to be in Lane Stadium - it'd justifiably set off fireworks of wild expectations for 2011.

Q: What is your prediction for the season?

A: Likely wins: EMU, VMI, Maryland, and oh, hell, Richmond, though it's kinda scary.

Likely losses: USC, FSU, Miami, VT, GT.

Tossups: UNC, Duke, BC. But there are different flavors of toss-up, and these aren't the could-go-either-way type - more like the kind that we're still not really likely to win but it wouldn't be the upset of the century either. Best guess is they're all losses, and I'd set the over-under for win at 4.

4-8 would still be an improvement over last year, but it still makes for a long football season.

My take of Virginia…
I thought the UVA program made the right move in hiring Mike London. He knows the state of Virginia and has won in the state of Virginia.

Groh’s record while not stellar was not terrible and not much different than many of his predecessors. Where he failed miserably was in beating rival Virginia Tech. You can draw some comparisons between him and Chan Gailey.

The first year will be tough for London though because the cupboard is not exactly full, especially on the offensive side. The switch to a new defensive will have some bumps too. But I think London will have the UVA program on the right track by year two or three.

Though the team will be better, I am not sure how much better the record will be because of how tough the Coastal Division is this year. Road trips include Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the division. From the Atlantic they draw two of the top teams in FSU and BC.

If the Wahoos want to become bowl eligible they have to steal two wins by keeping their home winning streak against UNC alive and beating Duke on the road.

Prediction:
4-8, 6th in Coastal Division

Thanks again to From Old Virginia for their insight.

Next Up: Maryland

Previous Previews:
Duke
Boston College

Chat With The College Baseball Blog For Cape Cod League All Star Game

Its summer and you may think college baseball is long over, but many of the players from around the country play in summer league including the Cape Cog league. You can expect to see many players from the ACC and SEC using their off season to hone their skills in this storied league.

The College Baseball Blog is hosting a live chat for the All Star game tonight at 6PM.



Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Boston College Preview: Is BC Ready to Compete For An ACC Title?

Boston College enters season two under head coach Frank Spaziani with hopes of returning to a third ACC Championship Game in four years. To get a better look at the Eagles, I contacted Soaring to Glory to find out what we can expect from BC this season.

Q: BC is a program that has won at least 8 games the last 5 seasons and had double-digit wins in 2 of those seasons. Do you think they get the respect they should in the ACC and nationally? If not, why?

A: No respect I tell ya, no respect at all. On the ACC side, while I feel fans of many of the teams have accepted over the course of the last few years that we're a member of the conference now, there is still the perception of our school being as too far away from the center of the ACC and therefore we're less relevant.

Nationally, I think all you have to do is read Heather Dinich on ESPN to find out what is thought of us. If it weren't for basketball guys like Andy Katz and Jeff Goodman, I don't think we'd get much of any respect at all.

We're just not part of that college sports "in" crowd, though honestly, it doesn't keep me up at night.

We've got a consistent program that tends to outperform expectations on a yearly basis (partially because the talking heads in the media set the bar pretty damn low). Andre Ware (another ESPN know-it-all) predicted BC would win 2 or 3 games last year and other columnists and bloggers didn't think too much better.

I think we're perceived as usually being good but not good enough and we're not one of "those" schools that people instantly recognize as a college football power.

Respect must be earned, I understand that, but BC has had 9 straight years of at least 8 wins -- winning 7 bowl games in that time -- and no losing seasons since 1998. You'd think we'd be a little more than an underdog every year or the pesky team that doesn't go away.

This is a good program that brings in talented players.

Q: What does Mark Herzlich's return from a battle with cancer mean to this team on and off the field?

A: Mark means a tremendous amount to the football team, the program, and Boston College. As I've said on my own site, he is the embodiment of the kind of character we like at BC: he held his head up high and didn't quit even when the odds were long. How he has fought and defeated that disease is truly an inspiration to us all.

Last season, he was on the sidelines with the team every week motivating the guys and wearing Coach Spaziani's towel (when Spaziani was the DC, he would always be seen wearing a towel around his neck - last year, he bestowed it upon Herzlich as a sign of honor).

I don't pretend to know anyone on the football team but I can only guess that his being there was a big morale boost, not to mention, he was still of help as a de facto member of the coaching staff.

Now, we simply don't know what we're going to get when he steps back on the field. We want him to succeed and have things be like old times, but we have to keep in mind what he's been through. Optimistically, however, I'd like to think that if Herzlich can stare down cancer and win, then surely he can make an impact on the field once more.

Q: QB Dave Shinskie had his ups and down in his first year. Does he have the job locked down? And if not, who is pushing him?

A: It depends on who you ask; I am of the opinion that he does not. Shinskie was quite inconsistent last year but we put up with it because it was his freshman year.

Now we expect to see some improvement -- but in what little we've seen this year, the spring game, he was terrible. I know it's a small sample size and we've still got a long way to go until the season starts, but nobody was impressed with what they saw of him in April. He was making the same old mistakes and had poor body language, and if that's how he looks in the fall, he will not be the starter for long.

Keep in mind, however, that unlike most college sophomores, he's 26. He's closing in on his developmental peak already so he may not improve much more on top of where he already is.

His most likely replacement would be Mike Marscovetra. Mike is also a sophomore but has had limited playing time. Almost everybody liked what they saw of him in the spring game, however. He just seemed to manage the game better and not make the stupid repetitive mistakes that Shinskie does.

Of course we don't how things would play out in a real game situation, but if Shinskie crumbles again, I would be comfortable with going to the bench for Marscovetra.

Q: Is it safe to say as goes RB Montel Harris, so goes BC's offense?

A: Yes, to an extent. Montel is certainly one of the most important parts of the offense but, of course, there are so many other components to make things work.

I need to go back to another topic for a moment: last year, in BC's losses, a common thread was lousy QB play, though Montel did not shine in a few of those, either. If Montel has another solid season that will surely make the offense that much better, but at the same time, I know that we're only going as far as Uncle Dave (or Marscovetra) takes us offensively, and by that I mean not making a lot of back-breaking mistakes.

Montel is the star, no doubt, but the quarterback also wields quite a lot of influence on BC's offensive fate. I would, then, amend your statement to say that "as go Montel Harris and Dave Shinskie, so goes BC's offense."

Q: The Eagles line has had 12 NFL draft picks over the last 14 years and return nine of their top 10 from a year ago. Where does this line compare with recent ones?

A: The offensive line is still a strength this year despite losing Matt Tennant, and on par with some of our recent successful lines. Despite not being one of the top of the top schools like USC or Texas that produces gobs of NFL talent every year, we know that at BC, we'll always turn out solid pro offensive linemen.

This year, the guy everyone is looking at is LT Anthony Castonzo. He has proven himself already (All-ACC first team) and, with a solid 2010, will have his name called at Radio City next April.

Our other starting linemen are Rich Lapham, Thomas Claiborne, Emmett Cleary, and Nathan Richman, who is the center replacing Tennant. All of these guys are veterans, but Richman is sliding over one spot from left guard (and Cleary, formerly a tackle, will be the new LG).

Richman, I think, is the key. If he can succeed at center, I think this offensive line will once again be very good. What I've heard and seen about his performance so far has been good, so I have some confidence that he will.

Q: BC has had a very stout rush defense the last few years. But can this unit generate a pass rush to improve on the 10th rated pass defense in the ACC?

A: I can see the pass rush (or lack thereof) being a problem once again in 2010 without certain key players stepping up.

The primary defensive ends, Brad Newman and Alex Albright, have got to do a better job than they did last year. Ifeanyi Momah, a former offensive player, will also be plugged into the defense for just this reason, but he could contribute if he gets settled in.

I want to believe in this group but I do have my doubts. Let it be said, however, that BC's defense two years ago (and these guys were here at that time) did, in fact, generate pressure on the QB. I guess we'll find out in the fall if 2009 was a fluke.

On run defense, I see it continuing to be very good. BC will have some nice players up the middle, particularly Damik Scafe and Dillon Quinn. Scafe is the kind of guy who might get drafted in April 2011 with a good season and I've heard nothing but great things about Quinn, who is a red shirt freshman. Both are big, explosive, and fast.

Teams won't be able to run on this unit very well, which makes an improved pass defense all the more important.

Q: How did Luke Kuechly, the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, do in his move to MLB in the Spring?

A: Kuechly was, as expected, still a force to be reckoned with. In watching the spring game, two things I heard an awful lot were "tackle made by Kuechly" and "tackle made by Pierre-Louis." It would seem to me that he hasn't missed a beat.

Now it would be hard for him to top his breakout freshman year, and I want to temper my expectations a little bit, but I think he's the real deal.

Q: Boston College lost both returners and their placekicker. How do the replacements look for special teams?

A: The new faces are old faces so to speak. The new apparent kick returner is DeLeon Gause and the kicker is Ryan Quigley, the punter. Quigley has made some steady progress as a punter, but as a kicker, apparently he hasn't tried putting one through the uprights since high school.

Our last kicker wasn't even a football player when he got the job, so that doesn't worry me too much. If he's not careful, however, RS freshman Nate Freese could take over the kicking duties, which I could see happening down the road anyway.

Gause only got his feet wet as a returner in the past but he does have speed. I think the replacements will end up being alright.

Q: Which freshman could see significant playing time this season?

A: A freshman you will start hearing a lot about is Kevin Pierre-Louis on defense. As a true freshman, he made the two-deep spring roster and many feel that he's an impressive young player. He may or may not start, but he will get on the field.

The aforementioned Dillon Quinn is another name to look at. He is a defensive tackle who came to BC with high regard. He is going to start this year and could have a breakout season.

Freshman WR Shakim Phillips is not at the top of the depth chart but he was a solid recruit who, in time, will see significant playing time and could probably contribute in some way right off the bat if given the chance. We'll see.

Q: Despite not being a conference affair, is Notre Dame the most important game on BC's schedule? And why is the series not continuing after this year?

A: I won't flatter Notre Dame by saying that it is. Honestly, despite all the hype and the obviously rich rivalry between these two schools, it's not the most important game.

Last year I called it the most meaningful meaningless game on the schedule, and it's true -- our conference games are far more important to us now than an out-of-conference matchup.

BC/ND is big for the fans and the boosters, perhaps more so than any other game on the schedule, but in terms of the impact it has on BC's season, it's basically just for bragging rights. If you ask me, the game against Florida State looks far more crucial.

The series was very recently extended until 2019, so there will be more BC-ND games to come.

Q: Describe a successful year in Chestnut Hill. Describe a disappointing one.

A: A successful year is getting to a bowl game and winning it, however I should say that BC has been close to making the BCS several times in the last few years but never getting over the hump. Getting into a BCS bowl (via winning the ACC) would also definitely be considered a successful season, win or lose. Winning the Atlantic Division but losing in the title game for the 3rd time out of 3 would piss a lot of fans off.

A disappointing one would be having a year as bad as the national media typically thinks we'll have. Considering our schedule, I think 6-6 would itself be very disappointing, and anything worse than that would be a complete disaster.

Q: What is your prediction for the season?

A: Many have suggested that this is BC's easiest schedule in years and I don't disagree. So long as they don't have regular meltdowns from the QB position like last year, right now I would put them at a 9-3 regular season.

I don't think they'll do any worse than 8-4 and probably no better than 10-2. I believe BC will finish either 1st or 2nd in the ACC Atlantic, though there are three legitimate contenders for the division (the others being Clemson and FSU). I'm not bold enough to predict individual games except to say that Weber State and Kent State will be in the win column.

My take on Boston College…

I was very interested in what the answer to the first question would be on the respect the BC program gets. The amount of success they have had over the last 5 years despite all the coaching changes is remarkable in my opinion.

I think many fans look at BC and don’t see the 4 and 5 star recruits and think they can out run them. But where BC is so strong has been on the line of scrimmage where games are won and lost (and where people don’t pay attention to recruiting).

You wouldn’t ever think it by their crowds, but Boston College has one of the best home field advantages statistically in the ACC.

Their four conference home games are all winnable, including Va Tech whom they have beaten in the regular season before. The away games are against NC State, Wake, Duke, and FSU so three road wins here is attainable.

If Shinskie can just play Trent Dilfer and not screw up that game, BC has a good chance at 8 or 9 wins and an Atlantic Division title.

Prediction:

8-4, 2nd in Atlantic Division

Thanks again to Soaring to Glory for their insight.

What are your thoughts on Boston College this year?

Previous Previews:

Duke

Up Next: Virginia

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Duke Football Preview: Blue Devils Making Strides Under David Cutcliffe

This is the first of a series of previews in collaboration with bloggers from around the ACC. First up is Duke...

Mike Kline from Bleacher Report has graciously answered questions on the upcoming season for the Blue Devils. He is Duke's featured columnist on the site. Please check out his work.

Q: Duke has won 9 games over the last two years. Describe how David Cutcliffe has changed the program from one that won 10 games in the 8 previous seasons

A: Cutcliffe has definitely brought a winners mentality back to Duke Football. Duke as a university had made it clear football was not a priority. The previous coaches were young which allowed the school to pay them little money that matched their level of experience. Cutcliffe represented a major paradigm shift. He was an experienced coach with a winning track record who had strong roots in the best football conference in America.

He immediately brought in a new attitude where settling for mediocrity was no longer acceptable. He started first with the players by making them football players whose conditioning and attitude would allow them to compete in the ACC and for bowl eligibility.

He got strong commitments from the university to improve the archaic facilities which are still in the works. He has worked hard to get a fan base dedicated to basketball to start to take notice of football. Hard to do at a small private school but that isn't stopping him from trying.

Q: What does it say about the Duke program when Cutcliffe turned down the job at Tennessee to stay in Durham?

A: It was an incredibly hard thing for him to do I can imagine. Tennessee was home for him. He knew the school, knew all the people and had been a long-time Volunteer. However, being the loyal guy he is he knew the job at Duke was not done. It was a surprising move given that Duke will never be the level that Tennessee has been.

What it means in the short term is that Duke continues to build confidence, recruit better and build better facilities. What the long term goal should be to sustain a level of competitiveness that will allow them to compete for bowl berths and the occasional conference championships, although those will be less of a frequent occurrence.

Q: Will QB Sean Renfree be ready to go at the start of the season after tearing his ACL at the end of last year?

A: Renfree will be ready to go or he won't play. Cutcliffe being a quarterback guru will have Renfree mentally ready. That being said, missing out on most of the spring practices will put him behind physically. He will have to readjust to the speed.

The first game again Elon an FCS school might seem like a good tune up but the Phoenix aren't a team you can over look. Duke got beat by Richmond in last year's opener. Duke's offense will need a bigger contribution from the running game to assist Renfree especially early. This would allow for a more balanced attack that would take the pressure off of Renfree.

Q: How much of a drop off will there be (if any) at the QB position after losing 4 year starter Thad Lewis?

A: There will be a bit of a drop off no doubt. Lewis is arguably the best quarterback in Duke's history. That includes some pretty good quarterbacks, although those names have been lost in the Blue Devils long streak of mediocrity.

Renfree showed glimpses in early action. He threw for a couple touchdowns in the win against Army. Early on he traded snaps with Lewis, as Lewis recovered from preseason injuries. He does lack game experience and that will always show early on. It won't be easy so don't expect him to put up similar numbers to Lewis.

Q: Four starters return on the offensive line, but has is the depth for this group?

A: Depth will be an issue at Duke for at least the next two to three years. Cutcliffe is recruiting like a mad man but he is going to be forced to either redshirt players who aren't quite ready or play them.

My guess is he will follow the method of Jim Grobe down the road at Wake. He will have his experience guys take some lumps for another year or two before adding to the depth. That isn't to say in critical cases like with the D-line this year he won't play freshman a lot.

Q: Duke’s defensive coordinator left to take a head job elsewhere. What are the two new coordinators going to bring different to improve on a unit that ranked 9th in the ACC in total yards allowed?

A: This is going to be a bit of a challenge. It is never good to lose your D-coordinator and I'm not sure how two of them will work out. Much like the two quarterback systems they typically fail. Marion Hobby and Jim Knowles will be working together, how well they do so remains to be seen. Hobby is returning and knows the players. Knowles is coming off being a head coach.

How will they mesh or will they mesh with a very young and inexperienced group? More questions than answers right now. However it has to be a good sign for the program when you start loosing coordinators to head coaching jobs.

Q: Who are some true freshman that could get early playing time? What about the redshirt freshman we may have forgotten?

A: Duke will definitely play some freshman. Some names that might not get immediate or lots of playing time but who could figure in prominently are Josh Snead. The speedy freshman could get some time in the backfield or special teams.

Brandon Connette, the California quarterback had a good spring and could compete for the back up job if he isn't redshirted. Laken Tomlinson could see some time on the O-line while freshmen ends Jamal Wallace and Desmond Johnson could be forced into early action on the D-line.

Q: What game are Duke fans looking forward to the most this season and why?

A: Without a doubt it has to be the Alabama game. It is a measuring stick. Granted most fans aren't realistically expecting a 'W' but they are excited to be hosting the defending champs and Heisman winner. Duke fans hope for a competitive game to give them some hope for continued future success.

It is reminiscent of how the basketball team is perceived when they play other schools. They are happy to get a shot at one of the premier teams in the country even if the outcome probably won't look very pretty.

Q: What would be considered a successful season for Duke this year? What would be disappointing?

A: Success would be 6 wins or more and bowl eligibility. Less than that would clearly be disappointing but shouldn't be surprising. Duke has to replace some key components on both sides of the ball. They will have to rely on a lot of freshman, especially on defense and that could be costly. So a drop off or failure to win 5 or more games could be a reality but doesn't spell long-term bad news for Duke.

They have a huge hole to grow out of but with improvements come greater expectations and a lot of fans are starting to take notice and expect a bowl season.

Q: What is the biggest hurdle to Duke making a bowl game this year?

A: Duke has started to win the games they should win but now they have to knock some teams off that they probably shouldn't. This comes in conference play. They have to knock off a team like North Carolina, or Georgia Tech, or even Clemson. They have to win the games they should win but will have to steal some as well to get the 6 games they need for a bowl.

Q: Do you have a prediction for the season?

A: Right now with so many question marks I see Duke going at best 6-6 but I feel like another 5-7 or 4-8 season is more than a likely possibility. For them to go 6-6 or better they will have to win at least three games that are toss ups or expected losses.

My take on Duke...
Cutcliffe is the program's best coach since Steve Spurrier was in Durham. However, his coaching ability is still not enough to make up for lack the talent and depth necessary to compete for a division title. What you can say Cutcliffe has done is make Duke more competitive and give fans the hope of a bowl game.

The out of conference schedule is a little more difficult this year though with defending national champion Alabama coming to town and a road trip to Navy. In the ACC, the Devils have a fairly favorable draw from the Atlantic, but unfortunately have to play in what may be the toughest division the ACC has seen this year in the Coastal. A bowl bid will be determined by a several toss games at Wake Forest, at Maryland, and home vs Virginia.

I see Duke falling just short this year of post season play.

Prediction
4-8, 5th in ACC Coastal

Thanks again to Mike for his insight. Please visit his site on Bleacher Report.