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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

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This whole Super League thing the ACC was shooting for was clearly designed to get Miami and Florida State together with something on the line in December (or is it a coincidence that the league title game is scheduled for Jacksonville, rather than a location more central to the league's other ten teams, or that the new divisional format was divided into geographically redundant Coastal and Atlantic rather than a more sensible North and South?), but Virginia Tech, rather than fading away into the middle of the pack in a stronger league, made itself the star of the show. Meanwhile, the league is left with a reeling FSU at the top of an Atlantic Division that could be won by any of four Coastal Division teams, which makes the REAL league championship game November 5 in Blacksburg.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH (As determined by this system)
1. Florida State
2. N.C. State
3. Maryland
4. Boston College
5. Clemson
6. Wake Forest
1. Virginia Tech
2. Miami
3. Virginia
4. Georgia Tech
5. North Carolina
6. Duke

Player his team can least afford to lose: Bad as he was in 2004, Clemson will be sunk without CHARLIE WHITEHURST, who at least has the potential to return to his 2003 form.
Most Likely to Prove SMQ Wrong: BOSTON COLLEGE has been putting together seven and eight-win (and last year, nine-win) seasons in the Big East consistently since 1998, and SMQ's prediction that the Eagles' bowl streak is over in the new league seems pretty precarious.
Most Likely to be Benched: DREW WEATHERFORD takes over for lyme-diseased Wyatt Sexton, but Bobby Bowden's been pretty quick on the QB trigger the past couple years, and Weatherford's no Chris Rix. Xavier Lee will see a lot of time, whether or not he wins the starting job outright.
Least Informed Prediction: Drew Weatherford is no Chris Rix. SMQ has no way of assessing Mr. Weatherford, who has yet to take a college snap and could be every bit as mediocre and erratic as his predecessor.
Surest Bet: Florida State will be upset by someone in its division. It's a yearly deal now with the 'Noles (North Carolina in '01, N.C. State in '02, Clemson in '03, Maryland last year).
Why All the Hype About: Yes, above SMQ says he could be wrong about B.C., but the Eagles are not a Top 25 team until they win a few league games.
Why is No One Talking About: SMQ was more impressed by Florida State middle linebacker BUSTER DAVIS than his more hyped, minor criminal 'backer mates Ernie Sims and A.J. Nicholson during FSU's televised games last year. Davis is big, always around the ball and knocks the crap out of people.
No One Will be Missed More Than: North Carolina's DARIAN DURANT, the only UNC player who might have been coveted by some of the league's upper-tier schools.
Put Up or Shut Up: Clemson once had such high hopes for TOMMY BOWDEN and CHARLIE WHITEHURST. Now the one-time wonder boys are looking at their last chance to fulfill all that potential - Whitehurst because he's auditioning for the NFL, and Bowden because he wants to keep his job. More mediocrity won't do.
SMQ Will be Watching: Miami at Florida State, to see if the 'Noles are in one piece after the hell that's been the offseason in Tallahassee, and Miami at Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division title...Marcus Vick, for obvious reasons...Boston College, to see if the Eagles handle their move as well as V-Tech did...Maryland and N.C. State, to see if those 5-6s were an aberration or the beginning of an extended slide for Friedgen and Amato.
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SMQ National Rank: #2 - 2004: 10-3 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: Cornerback Jimmy Williams, a big dude (converted safety) who got torched early on by Reggie Bush last year - big shock - in a game the Hokies otherwise controlled, and fairly dominated afterwards to make up for it - five INT, 14 PBU=bunch of preseason All-America teams.
Season Hinges On: Obviously, that guy who's not his brother, at least not yet. But if Marcus is anywhere close to Michael - or even to the end product Bryan Randall - the Hokies are going to roll, because the secondary is the only other question mark.
SMQ Likes: Plenty, namely: headliners Williams and Darryl Tapp on defense, who'll be joined by impressive-looking and much-hyped Xavier Adibi, an injury holdout last year; deep corps of running backs and young, fast receivers who showed a propensity for big plays (17.5 ypc, 8 TD altogether for Josh Hyman and Eddie Royal as freshmen, with Royal also showing some pop on returns) and steady tight end Jeff King. Vick's athletic ability makes him a huge potential weapon.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Vick's inexperience and possible immaturity (Oh Lord, the child has been exposed to the dope!) make him a potential liability, especially as a passer. The above-mentioned secondary, aside from Williams, is so thin converted running back/wide receiver/return man/team chaplain Justin Hamilton has been moved to safety. Also, Frank Beamer's skin graft (right).
Best-case: The running game is consistent, takes games out of Vick's hands and sets up big plays in the play-action game. For his part, Vick shows a hint of his big bro's elusiveness and clutch cool. The defense is one of the best four or five in the country vs. the run; against a schedule stuffed with iffy quarterbacks, the new guys in the secondary are never really challenged (really, unless Kyle Wright is special, the best Tech will face is Reggie Ball or Marques Haggans). The special teams do that Beamer Ball thing.
Worst-case: Vick is a bust, or is busted, or injured, and Sean Glennon is forced to take the reigns of a one-dimensional unit. The secondary never gels and struggles against receivers like Calvin Johnson or Lance Leggett. The Hokies haven't done exceptionally well with high expectations in the past, and there's bound to be a snake in the grass among N.C. State, West Virginia, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia. N.C. State especially, who won in Blacksburg last year, is a trap game in the opener.
Why They'll Win the ACC Again: Everything about this team, right down to the name on the quarterback's jersey, reminds SMQ of the 1999 Tech team that came within a superhuman show by Peter Warrick of winning the national title. They've got the athletic QB, the unheralded running back tandem, the big play wide outs, the kick ass front seven, and, best of all, the schedule: Miami's the only real big boy there, and Tech has taken two straight from the 'Canes. If they have the opportunistic, know-how-to-win-close-games thing going for them, too - not a given the past three years, even last year - there's no reason to think anyone on this schedule will beat the Hokies (yes, that's an 11-0 prediction).

SMQ National Rank: #6 - 2004: 9-3 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: OT Eric Winston, a former tight end who missed all of last year with an injury but will be a top ten pick next April.
Season Hinges On: Okay, this is going to be a running theme over the next couple days, so pay attention: the play of [highly recruited but totally inexperienced quarterback], who was highly recruited but totally inexperienced. Here, it's Kyle Wright. The 'Canes have a few youngsters from whom they'll need big performances to be MIAMI.
SMQ Likes: Ooh, these guys are big and really fast...
SMQ Doesn't Like: ...but they haven't all played very much. The team's best two players are probably Winston and WR Ryan Moore, both of whom missed just about all of last year with injuries. Larry Coker doesn't particularly impress SMQ, and it's not just that his team has lost progressively more games each year (0, 1, 2, 3...) and quite a bit of swagger, but even the relatively lame, Scott Covington Miami teams of the mid-to-late nineties wouldn't have lost in back-to-back weeks to Clemson and North Carolina. Should have lost to Louisville, too, and ceded the league crown and "team to beat" title to Virginia Tech, all at home.
Best-case: The passing game works - Wright was the top recruit in the country in 2002, for whatever it's worth, and he has A LOT of good receivers to throw to; all the better if one, like Moore or Lance Leggett, emerges as a go-to guy. Tyrone Moss needs to look more like non-hospitalized Frank Gore than like Jarrett Payton. The defense looks awesome and should play like it, or at least show the mid-season collapse last year was the aberration. The more Devin Hester touches the ball, the better.
Worst-case: One tough game - Florida State - and two potentially tricky ones - Colorado and Clemson - to open the year don't give an inexperienced offense much time to get its feet wet; the 'Canes could conceivably drop any of those, and who knows what kind of tailspin could ensue if they do. The secondary looks very good, but there could be big trouble if the front seven loses its wits against the run again.
Why They'll be Back in the BCS: Speed kills. Take care of FSU in the opener, when the 'Noles should be reeling, and there's a fairly clear path to V-Tech and the de facto Coastal Division championship game. Beat who they're supposed to, which is everybody but Tech, and it's five years out of six in one of the roped-off January affairs.

SMQ National Rank: #10 - 2004: 9-3 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: Of those remaining, running back Leon Washington averaged almost seven yards a pop and came up just shy of 1,000 despite getting fewer carries than also very good but slightly less effective teammate Lorenzo Booker.
Season Hinges On: Merely keeping the only remotely experienced quarterback away from deer ticks and delusions of grandeur in the street following a travelling music-and-salvia festival...um, too late.
SMQ Likes: These guys are awful big and fast, too, especially the linebackers, who dadgum rule. Washington and Booker - sounds like a little college in Maryland somewhere - are a good running back combo.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Well, the head coach says, "It may come down to flipping a coin as to who starts the season" at quarterback, and the offensive coordinator says, "I don't want to deal with the running game. I'm not going to sit here wondering why we're not blocking this guy or that guy," (thanks, EDSBS) and these two gentlemen share a blood line. Two defensive All-Americans have pled no contest to assault charges and blown out their ACL, respectively. Even the mascot is under attack.
Best-case: Probably that Xavier Lee wins the coin flip over Drew Weatherford and is the physical freak he's touted to be. Either way, the running game in which Jeff Bowden is totally uninterested needs to click big time, because there are no proven receivers even if a decent QB comes forward. The defense, legal troubles aside, keeps scores low and creates good situations for the offense.
Worst-case: The quarterbacks are flakes, the team is in chaos entering the opener with Miami and gets buried, creating a downward spiral that takes half a season to climb out of. If you want to get really worst-case, there's a chance the chips could fall totally wrong (like losing to N.C. State, Clemson and Maryland, instead of just one of them, like the last three years) and FSU could actually miss a bowl game. But that's not really conceivable...is it?
Why They'll Win the Atlantic Division Anyway: SMQ still sees too much talent here and not enough elsewhere in the division to pick against the 'Noles. But as far as taking the league title when it gets the chance, FSU might as well reserve its return bus tickets to Jacksonville for New Year's Day now.

SMQ National Rank: #23 - 2004: 8-4 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: MLB Ahmad Brooks, on everybody's all-everything list, and still only a junior.
Season Hinges On: D'Brickashaw! Well, only a little, but SMQ delights in typing this large gentlemen's name, and in speaking it aloud as he does so. Really, the Cavs have to show up in big games - they were rocked by FSU, Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004, though great elsewhere.
SMQ Likes: D'Brickashaw! Also, Brooks and a pretty stout defense and versatile running back Wali Lundy. QB Marques Haggans is a very good runner. Those recruiting classes should begin paying off pretty soon too, no?
SMQ Doesn't Like: As a passer, Haggans is a former wide receiver. Which is to say, sometimes he hits his mark, and sometimes he doesn't, which isn't what you want to hear about your QB. The Cavs didn't come within ten points of any of the league's Big Three in 2004.
Best-case: Probably another 8-3 season and a trip to the [insert random computer or tire company's name here] Bowl. If the Cavs can drop FSU in mid-October (there's reason to think they can, though they lost by 33 to the 'Noles last year and haven't beaten them in a decade) and Haggans shows some consistency, the Cavs could enter the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech-Miami run at the bottom of the schedule undefeated.
Worst-case: Haggans doesn't scare anyone with his arm and teams load up to stop Lundy and Michael Robinson. The Cavs could miss out on the postseason entirely if they drop all of their swing games - Maryland, Boston College, Georgia Tech.
Why They'll Settle for Another Second-Tier Bowl: UVA is an ultimate "in-between team": good enough to beat mediocre teams regularly, but not quite ready to handle the best.

SMQ National Rank: #27 - 2004: 5-6 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: DE Mario Williams
Season Hinges On: Better QB play. Marcus Stone and Jay Davis were, well, let's say they weren't Philip Rivers and leave it.
SMQ Likes: The defense, especially the line, which has been lauded plenty enough already. Tramain Hall has been making plays at a variety of offensive positions for what seems like a very long time.
SMQ Doesn't Like: T.A. McLendon is gone early, which may reduce the team's hospital bill but won't help it score points - something it wasn't all that good at last year to begin with. The quarterback situation was awful after four years with the uber-consistent Rivers. The secondary that led the nation in pass efficiency D is entirely gone.
Best-case: The one-year droop, Chuck Amato's first losing season in five, proves to be only a short aberrtion. The Pack is probably better off with the heavily-recruited Stone beating out Jay Davis. The defense keeps games close. An early upset of V-Tech in the opener - the Pack won in Blacksburg last year - would be huge. None of the other games are unwinnable; the division title is in reach.
Worst-case: The quarterback situation doesn't solve itself and the lack of offensive firepower keeps the whole team in limbo throughout the tough midseason stretch (Georgia Tech, Clemson, Wake Forest, Southern Miss, Florida State, Boston College, all in a row). A losing record against those six would probably mean missing out on the postseason again.
Why They'll Challenge for the Atlantic Title: For now, it seems more likely that the winners Amato put out in his first four years are the rule, but another bad year would be evidence that Rivers was the biggest cog in the machine.

SMQ National Rank: #29 - 2004: 5-6 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: MLB D'Qwell Jackson, whose been topping the ACC tackle charts for the last two years.
Season Hinges On: Scoring in double digits in league games, something the Terps barely did three times last year.
SMQ Likes: Ralph Friedgen. He proved in his first three years he could do more with less than he has to work with now.
SMQ Doesn't Like: The Terps' point totals last year against teams with winning records: 23, 16, 7, 7, 20, 0, 6, and that doesn't include the 3 against N.C. State or 13 against Wake Forest. This year's offensive personnel is basically the same.
Best-case: Win a couple tough games - Clemson, West Virginia - early, get a little momentum, pull an upset later on, maybe get a Peach Bowl nod.
Worst-case: Conceivably, the Terps could not score a point all year. The schedule offers only one lock-solid guaranteed win (Temple) so if things go badly early on, it could be a long, long, loooooong year. The potential exists for something like 3-8.
Why They'll be Back - Sort Of: Barring a miraculous turn of events on offense, there's no hope of seriously competing for the division title. But SMQ thinks Friedgen has built a program too strong to suffer two straight losing years.

SMQ National Rank: #31 - 2004: 7-5 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: WR Calvin Johnson, regarded by almost everyone as one of the top five wide outs in the country in this weak year for receivers.
Season Hinges On: More consistency from QB Reggie Ball.
SMQ Likes: There's some pretty good talent around, with Johnson and running back P.J. Daniels, d-end Eric Henderson, linebacker Gerris Wilkinson, safety Dawan Landry. All four members of the secondary are back.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Despite the firepower of Daniels and Johnson, the offense had some trouble. Against good teams, especially: Tech didn't average even two touchdowns in losses to Miami, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Georgia. Ball only completed about 50 percent of his passes (just under, actually) and threw more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (16).
Best-case: The Jackets upset highly-touted Auburn early in 2003 and would get a big boost if they turned that trick again. If it closes the gap against Miami, V-Tech, UVA and Georgia, and maybe beats one - and avoids games like the 34-13 loss to North Carolina - Tech could come up with nine wins.
Worst-case: Tech remains well behind the league's best and drops a game or two it shouldn't, which could easily knock it from bowl contention. Daniels' injury troubles could return and keep him out of the mix.
Why They Won't Move Forward: Ball hasn't shown a lot of progress in two years, and neither has the team. What about this group, after back-to-back-to-back seven-win seasons in Chan Gailey's first three years, would indicate it's going to be any better?

SMQ National Rank: #53 - 2004: 9-3 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: DE Matthias Kiwanuka, a wrecking ball pass rusher, leaper and kick blocker and unanimous first-team All-American.
Season Hinges On: How well the Eagles adjust to a tougher league - is there enough to talent to continue the recent success?
SMQ Likes: There's Kiwanuka and some really solid linebackers, plus a good running back trio and the entire returning starting offensive line. The new QB is the same as the old one, Quinton Porter, who started before being benched in favor of Paul Peterson last year. Mainly, SMQ respects that the Eagles have had some consistent success and know how to win.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Porter was benched, and receiver is so thin cornerback Will Blackmon might be moved. The Eagles never won big in the Big East, and couldn't finish the job of taking home the watered-down league title when it had the chance last year; it's bound to struggle in a tougher league.
Best-case: The running game and defense have their usual success, and the Eagles continue to win with discipline and without much flair. The schedule offers a chance for a really nice start - all the better if BC has a good showing against Florida State in its first ACC game. A trip back to the Continental Tire Bowl wouldn't be so bad.
Worst-case: The Eagles are swallowed up by deeper, more talented squads on a weekly basis. If the FSU game goes badly, it could damage the team's mindset and create a sort of inferiority complex that keeps the Eagles out of a seventh straight bowl.
Why the Bowl Streak is Over: It's not that BC won't be able to compete, because it should be on the level of the league's other middle-of-the-road teams. There's just a lot of competition, and the new kid will have to prove himself before moving up in the line.

SMQ National Rank: #57 - 2004: 6-5 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: CB Tye Hill, one of the nation's top passes-broken-up guys.
Season Hinges On: Charlie Whitehurst. What are we going to see from him, the rising star of 2003 or the guy who had a 7-17 TD-INT ratio last year?
SMQ Likes: Well, Whitehurst has potential, and the usual bunch of good wide outs. Tommy Bowden's offense has never had a lot of problems moving the ball.
SMQ Doesn't Like: The team is schizo to begin with - four-game losing streak followed by four-game win streak, capped by a win over Miami and ended by a loss to Duke a week later - and is a guy who threw 17 picks the right one to give more decision-making control to, as new offensive coordinator Rob Spence is going to do with Whitehurst? There are no stars on either side of the ball.
Best-case: Whitehurst blossoms, finally, under Spence, and the team looks more like the one that beat Maryland, N.C. State, Miami and South Carolina. Considering the competition, a low-level bowl game would be doing pretty well.
Worst-case: More inconsistency, more holidays off. The schedule is tough and front-loaded (Texas A&M, Maryland, Miami, Boston College and N.C. State by mid-October), and the wheels could fall off fast.
Why Tommy Will Be Shown the Door: Bowden's avoided the reaper by pulling the odd upset (FSU in '03, Miami in '04) and putting together mini-win streaks, but, close as he looked five years ago, he's never put out the team he was hired to put out; on paper, this looks like it will be his lowest-achieving effort, and the seven wins it will probably require to keep the job look pretty far out of reach.

SMQ National Rank: #65 - 2004: 6-6 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: Uuuummmm...guard Kyle Ralph? By season's end, it could very well be LSU transfer Barrington Edwards.
Season Hinges On: Finding a steady quarterback who's not going to lose games.
SMQ Likes: Not much. Edwards' arrival means the running backs will probably be pretty good again, and receivers Jawarski Pollock and Jesse Holley are back. Six of the back seven on defense, and all the linebackers, are back. John Bunting's mustache is always a highlight.
SMQ Doesn't Like: QB Darian Durant was the main reason UNC slipped into the postseason last year, and there's no solid replacement. The run defense last year was TERRIBLE, and legal troubles cost the Heels their top two defensive tackles.
Best-case: Matt Baker emerges as a QB that at least won't make mistakes, and the offense controls the clock with a tough running game. Making a bowl game would also require some serious opportunism from the defense and the special teams, which should be pretty good.
Worst-case: It's conceivable - not likely, but conceivable - that the Heels could go 1-10: the schedule is horriffic, including as it does Louisville, Utah and Wisconsin outside the league and Boston College, N.C. State and Maryland from the Atlantic Division. The only team the Heels are likely to be favored to beat is Duke, in late November.
Why They Should Start Basketball Early: John Bunting's teams seem to have a knack for beating better teams at weird times, and typically emerge looking better than they have any right to, but this schedule offers no mirth whatsoever to a team in transition.

SMQ National Rank: #71 - 2004: 4-7 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: Probably punter Ryan Plackemeier, but that's a bit glib. SMQ will go with Chris Barclay, one of those underrated scat types who's run for more yards than any other back currently in the league, and yet has no NFL future.
Season Hinges On: Establishing a starting quarterback between Cory Randolph and Ben Mauk.
SMQ Likes: Jim Grobe's offense maximizes Wake's minimum talent by controlling the clock, involving a lot of players and keeping defenses off-balance. Barclay has been a solid, consistent leader at running back.
SMQ Doesn't Like: The talent level is too far below ACC standards, especially on defense, where the Deacs get run over with regularity.
Best-case: If there's any shot, even the slimmest glimmer of hope at a bowl game, Wake will have to upset either Maryland or Clemson early and get on some kind of roll. Mauk has a bigger upside than Randolph, but either one will have to be efficient and mistake-free.
Worst-case: There are no breaks in the league schedule, which might mean a repeat of last year's 1-7 record.
Why They'll Find the Atlantic Cellar: Grobe's teams are better than the sum of their parts, but still too far behind to join the division's middle-of-the-pack squads. Virtually no hope of a postseason berth here.

SMQ National Rank: #111 - 2004: 2-9 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: DE Phil Alexander missed all of 2004 with a broken leg, but he should still be one of the Devils' few bright spots.
Season Hinges On:
SMQ Likes: Nothing, really.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Anything. The Devils are firing squirt pistols at rifles and cannons.
Best-case: A couple upsets could be a step forward, to, say, four wins?
Worst-case: The Devils could easily go winless in the league, and if things go really bad, winless altogether.
Why They'll Win a Game: There's always VMI.
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11:55 AM

Nice to see we're not the only ones going to hell for making fun of Beamer's skin graft.
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And don't let the name fool ya - second guessing the phenomenal athletic feats and split-second decisions of college kids under extreme physical duress is for every day of the week.

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