Up until last year, I approached previewing the ACC football season in a rather strange way. I picked the winner of all 96 games. Of course, if you ever went back and actually graded my picks, I'm sure I'd fall below the Mendoza Line, but it gave me the chance to write about the thing that interested me about each team without being riveted to a specific format. And I always enjoyed seeing what records I came up with at the end.
I no longer have the time to do so, and I'm leaving to spend Labor Day weekend doing a pretty hellish run as soon as I finish this post. (Don't worry, the laptop comes along.) But there's no reason not to look at the first week of the schedule is there?
Let's get one thing out of the way at the start. D1-AA opponents are not worthy of our attention, unless UNC is involved or someone loses. So those nine (nine!) games will not be mentioned here. Come talk to us when you have a real team across the line of scrimmage from you.
Virginia Tech vs. Boise State: Far be it for me to say an ill word about Virginia Tech – I typically spill my ill words for them in bunches of 500 or more – but few teams have as many slow starts to the season as the Hokies. Their past two seasons have started with losses to Alabama (Respectable!) and East Carolina (Less so!), but the problem goes back further. They only put up 17 points in a 2007 win of ECU, barely squeaked by N.C. State in '05, and lost to Southern Cal to kick off '04. Now the recent losses have a one thing in common. Both years the Hokies were breaking in completely green running backs in Ryan Williams and Darrell Evans; this season both are back and experienced. Of course, they also have Tyrod Taylor, whose never been as good as everyone likes to think he is, a very inexperienced defense and a receiving corps that still pretty young, if not as young as UNC's. There's a reason VT is the lower ranked team here.
Navy at Maryland: This, oddly enough, maybe one of the most pivotal ACC non-conference games of the season. On one side you have the Terps, who hit rock bottom last season and if they want any chance of saving Ralph Friedgen's job need to contend and contend well this year. On the other Navy, in their third season removed from Paul Johnson and now shedding most of their Johnson-recruited players. That means all of their starting linebackers, starting running game, and most the offensive line. Maryland has a lot more coming back, but looks to be really weak in the secondary, and that's where they'll probably get burned. It won't be as bad as last season's opener against Cal, but I have to go with the Midshipmen.
North Carolina vs. LSU: Ah, the game everyone's putting off writing about, because no one has any clue who will be starting for UNC. Austin's out, which is a blow, but an expected one. He's been practicing with the second team, while his backup, presumably Jordan Nix, has taken the first team reps. That's a drop of 25 pounds and two years of experience, but it's not deadly against an LSU offensive line that was UNC-level awful last season. If the Heels are going to succeed on the offensive side, however, it will probably be on the ground, the side of the offense not affected by scandal. This game is going to come down to whether UNC can regroup from whatever personnel they're denied for this game or LSU can overcome their own youth. It's the preseason, when my Carolina optimism runs rampant; I'm going to pick the Heels to win, tutors, suspensions, and the Curse of Chick-Fil-A aside.