Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Ah, it’s make or break time for the ACC blogger. You guys asked me all summer who was going to win this game and that, and I usually hedged my way around it one way or another. Well, not today. Thursdays are our prediction days on ESPN.com, so it’s time to own up. Last year I fared pretty well, and then got crushed during bowl season. (I wound up giving the conference too much credit.)
Here’s to starting 2009 better than we finished ’08 – that goes for me AND the ACC.
NC State 21, South Carolina 17: Both teams are going to run the ball, but the Wolfpack have the edge at quarterback, and that will be the difference in the game. Russell Wilson picks up in the midst of a school-record streak of 249 passes without an interception. NC State trailed 3-0 at halftime last year before Wilson suffered a concussion. They’re 10-3-1 against the Gamecocks at home.
Georgia Tech 42, Jacksonville State 7: Jacksonville State returns 19 starters from last year’s 8-3 team and is ranked No. 19 among FCS schools. This should be a good warm-up before facing Clemson five days later, but if the Jackets get caught looking ahead, it could turn into a Gardner-Webb scare. Doubtful, though, without suspended quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.
Boston College 28, Northeastern 7: Northeastern finished 2-10 last year, and, like BC, is breaking in a new quarterback. Still, the Eagles have enough pieces in place on the offensive line, at running back, wide receiver and in the secondary to keep this a textbook opener. Plus, with Frank Spaziani coaching, you know you’ll get the most out of the defense, even if some of it is in a rebuilding mode.
Wake Forest 24, Baylor 21: Yes, the Bears will be a better team than they were a year ago now that versatile quarterback Robert Griffin is more seasoned and in the second year under coach Art Briles. But Jim Grobe and his staff will have his players prepared. Wake’s offense could be one of the best in the ACC, and if the defensive players stick to their roles, a group effort will get the job done.
Clemson 31, Middle Tennessee 17: The Blue Raiders have nine coaches or staff members with some connection to Clemson, so that should keep the sideline game interesting. But the Tigers have the athletes, and that will be the difference. Unless, of course, Clemson pulls a Maryland.
North Carolina 38, The Citadel 7: UNC has outscored the Bulldogs 109-21 in three series games, and this year shouldn’t be too much different, considering the Heels’ stifling defense. The Citadel’s roster includes tight end B.J. Phillips, who transferred from UNC after last season.
Virginia 28, William & Mary 17: The Tribe, ranked 14th nationally in both preseason FCS polls, returns 17 starters from last season’s 7-4 team. Virginia has enough experience at quarterback and on the offensive line to offset the growing pains of the new offense in this game.
Duke 24, Richmond 17: Mike London’s 2008 FCS national championship team is not to be taken lightly, and this could be a trap game for the Blue Devils. In 2006, when they last met, Richmond won 13-0. This is obviously a different Duke team under David Cutcliffe, but Richmond won’t back down.
Alabama 13, Virginia Tech 10: Considering Alabama is breaking in a new quarterback and a revamped offensive line, and the Hokies are breaking in new running backs, both teams should rely heavily on their nationally-acclaimed defenses. As good as a coach Frank Beamer is, I’m giving Nick Saban the nod on this one.
Cal 35, Maryland 27: Ok, so I had a little fun with this one and flipped he score from last year, but it’s not far-fetched. With veteran quarterback Chris Turner returning to his home state, he should perform well, but the Bears have a tough defense and will be more than Maryland's new offensive line can handle.
Miami 35, Florida State 28: The Canes have a greater sense of urgency and understand the importance of starting off their mini four-game season with a win. Both defenses have questions to answer, but the combination of Jacory Harris and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple will expose FSU’s defensive holes first.