After a brief hurricantasic interruption, I'm back previewing the ACC football season.
October brings us the meat of the schedule, with five weeks and 31 games, all but seven being conference games. Florida State has a bye in the first week, followed by Duke and Virginia in the second, and Boston College and N.C. State in the third. The last two weeks are all hands on deck, with six conference games a week. After all of this, here's what we'll know:
If Boston College Is a Contender: The Eagles struggled early last season, falling to 2-5 before turning things around with five straight wins. A lot of that was deciding on a quarterback, now-sophomore Chase Rettig, but for the most part the offense went through running back Montel Harris. Harris will miss the first couple of games, but BC has a pretty soft September schedule; October is the month where we'll test the Eagles' mettle. They face Wake and Clemson in the first two weeks, and Virginia Tech and Maryland after the bye. All of these are winnable games, but all except Wake are on the road. Going .500 through this stretch would be an accomplishment.
If Miami Is a Smoking Crater: The Hurricanes got off rather lightly when it comes to player suspensions for the entire Nevin Shapiro scandal. Eight players will miss playing time, but five, including possible starting QB Jacory Harris, will only miss one. Two more will return for the Virginia Tech game on October 8th, and the last two weeks after that. All and all, it's less than what befell UNC last season.
So Miami will enter October a pretty unknown quantity. Losing the first game of the season the Maryland shorthanded as they are won't tell us much, and neither will a non-conference slate headed by equally scandal-plagued Ohio State. But beginning October 8th, the Hurricanes faces every possible Coastal Division contender in four straight games – VT and Carolina on the road and Georgia Tech and Virginia at home. With a new coach and a decent number of returning players, the U do as the Tar Heels did last year and pull out a successful season. They may not do any better than 2-2 in this particular stretch through.
Who Will Join FSU in the Atlantic Race: The Seminoles will almost certainly finish October with at most two losses overall, with only one possibly coming in ACC play. They may just be undefeated. Two of their fellow division teams will have more difficult paths, however. Clemson and Maryland are the only two ACC teams on FSU's schedule through October with any hope of beating the Seminoles. Should Clemson manage it the last week of September at home, they may still be out of the running a month later – they have a five game stretch of VT, Boston College, Maryland, UNC, and Georgia Tech. If the Tigers come out of this even with or a game behind FSU, it'll be impressive. Also unlikely, but what can you do?
If not Clemson, how about Maryland? Up one game already should they beat Miami in the opening week, they have a similar four game stretch of Georgia Tech, Clemson, FSU and Boston College. That's not as rough as the Tigers have it, but the final three games will pretty much define the Terps chances of competing for the Atlantic division.
And if neither of these teams, or BC, comes through, by default that will leave State, of who we will know nothing about. They'll have only faced three ACC teams at this point – Virginia, Wake and Georgia Tech. That's only one more than the number of teams outside of D1-A they'll have played. We'll have to wait to learn something about them.
And finally, Whether UNC Will Contend for Anything: The Heels knock off the rest of their non-conference schedule, at ECU and against Louisville, before three ACC games against Miami, Clemson, and Wake Forest. Look for Clemson to the most difficult of the three, coming on the road, although the Tigers could be worn down by the four ACC games before UNC. Carolina has a very favorable schedule, but are an unknown quantity right now. They could go undefeated – I'd expect them to drop at least one game though – and still falter badly down the stretch. But if they collapse in October, look for it to be a long season.
Predicted Record on October 31st: