Atlantic Coast Conference capsules
Are the Seminoles finally ready to reclaim elite status? Maybe. Beating Miami in the Labor Day night opener could be a challenge, and winning at BYU will also be a test. But coach Bobby Bowden has talent everywhere, especially on offense, where QB Christian Ponder and the entire offensive line return. If the Seminoles can win shootout games, they will be fine.
The Tigers were classic underachievers under former coach Tommy Bowden. Dabo Swinney, 39, begins his first season as head coach with a crew led by running back C.J. Spiller and an experienced offensive line. If the defense can do its job, the Tigers can claw their way higher in the standings.
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The defense will have to be rebuilt, and so will the kicking game. You don’t lose players like Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry at linebacker and kicker Sam Swank and not blink. But coach Jim Grobe knows how to rebuild, and senior QB Riley Skinner and eight other starters return on offense, so the Demon Deacons could be a factor if everyone stays healthy, particularly Skinner.
Coach Ralph Friedgen lost 100 pounds over the past year, which will make him feel better. He also lost 30 players, including eight starters on defense and six on offense, which won’t. Matching last year’s eight wins will be a challenge, and senior QB Chris Turner will have to lead the way along with All-ACC running back Da’Rel Scott.
The Hokies have a tough opener against Alabama, but then it gets easier, much easier. If QB Tyrod Taylor can stay healthy, the Hokies should be able to overcome the loss of running back Darren Evans (knee) for the season and make it to a BCS bowl. With 15 starters returning, the Hokies are primed.
Butch Davis knows how to build programs. With QB T.J. Yates and a veteran defense (nine starters return), the Tar Heels will be handful for everyone. If they beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Oct. 29, they could wind up in the Orange Bowl.
The Hurricanes are ready to break loose. Randy Shannon gave the offensive controls to new coordinator Mark Whipple, and that will mean trouble for Hurricane bashers. Whipple has talent here he never had at UMass. Watch how QB Jacory Harris plays in the opener against Florida State. This defense might be as talented as any ’Canes unit in the last seven years. The schedule at the start is a killer - FSU, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma. But if the ’Canes come out 3-1, watch out.
Paul Johnson’s first season of throwing the option offense at the ACC was a big success. With 17 starters - including ACC Offensive Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer - returning, more of the same should be in the offing. But we think the Yellow Jackets will drop off a bit. Road games at Miami and Florida State could be a challenge, and meeting Clemson in Atlanta in Week 2 will be a test.
David Cutcliffe has done a remarkable job rebuilding the Blue Devils. There’s an outside chance at the elusive six-win season, which could give Duke its first bowl appearance since 1994. The key will be senior QB Thaddeus Lewis, who might be the second-best quarterback in the ACC. Throw in running back Re’quan Boyette, who is coming off a knee injury, an adequate defense, and a nonconference schedule that’s not too taxing, and the Blue Devils should be competitive in every game.
Solid defense, sporadic offense, no big-time playmakers. Welcome to Virginia football. The Cavaliers were poised for a bowl run last season, but then lost their last four to finish 5-7, their second late-season collapse in three years under Al Groh. The Cavs are counting on senior QB Jameel Sewell, who was outstanding in 2007 but missed last season because of academic difficulties.