The ACC and the Big East will be intertwined for a while....just due to the fact that they are the two easternmost conferences and that the ACC pillaged the Big East for Miami, V-Tech and Boston College....and the legal issues that jumped from that. So, fitting that I decided to preview them together.
I also have the Big Ten in there...with possible preseason #1 Ohio State
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
THE ELITE: When the ACC expanded a few years ago, it was designed to have a Miami-Florida State championship game. Well, Miami didn't get to the first ACC title tilt...but should be the favorite to get there this year. Florida State got there and used it as a vault to a great Orange Bowl game and bigger possibilities this year. FSU plays host to both Boston College and Clemson, making a division title all the more likely. Virginia Tech will be right there in Miami's ear again and seem to have the Canes number. But they are trying to find a QB to replace Marcus Vick. Still, they have good backs and a good receiving corps that makes them a team to watch in the ACC.
BOWL WORTHY: Clemson is many people's hot team in the ACC. They have the ability to win the Atlantic Division...but have their two toughest division games [FSU, BC] on the road. Boston College is a bowl team, but has a tough schedule...with FSU, Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech on their schedule. North Carolina has a bowl worthy team...but their schedule is just too tough. Nine teams on their schedule went bowling last year. And Notre Dame is on there. They will have to pull off a surprise or two to get to a bowl.
SURPRISE TEAM?: Georgia Tech has a blistering defense and still have Calvin Johnson, one of the best WRs you've never heard of. But they have a non-con sked that includes Notre Dame andGeorgia. If they can get solid QB play from Reggie Ball, this team could be a team to watch out for. Don't get it messed up....they are a bowl lock. But they could sneak into the ACC title game.
DISAPPOINTMENT?: NC State. This team did win 5 of their last 6 games last year...but only the upset in Talahassee was even remotely impressive. They lost the NFL's #1 pick Mario Williams and a bunch of others off their defense. The non conference schedule is a cupcake fest...which should inflate their record.
YOU SUCK!: Maryland could surprise some. They have a senior QB and are well coached. They were 4-2 before losing 4 of their last 5 games last season...but two were close games at FSU and NC State. Wake Forest will be an also ran again. The Deacs are a great rushing team...but just can't get much of a passing attack going [which hurts them when they fall behind]. Virginia isn't much better. The defense lost their best guys [and not just to graduation]. And when your final three games are FSU, Miami and V-Tech....ouch! And Duke always sucks....which means their season breaks down to smaller victories...like beating rival UNC.
HOT SEAT: Chuck D'Amato [NC State] could be run out of Raleigh just a few years after being the toast of the town. His Wolfpack have disappointed the last couple of years and it shouldn't get much better soon.
TOUGHEST SKED: There are tough schedules everywhere...but Maryland's could be the toughest. They have to go to West Virginia, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Boston College....and face both Miami and FSU in College Park.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Sure, the Miami-FSU opener is great...but those guys still may have to face off in Jacksonville for a title. It is the big games that determine who plays in the ACC title game. So, again, the Virginia Tech-Miamigame on November 4th in Miami should be the game that determines the Coastal Division winner.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: It only seems that Calvin Johnson has been in Georgia Tech for 5 years. And he's only a junior! He's the best skill player in the league and if QB Reggie Ball gets consistent...watch out!
OVERVIEW: The new ACC is much better than the old one. Sure the Miami-FSU gets the pub, but there are so many other great games in the season that determines the division and conference champion. Last year's ACC champ Florida State lost to dormat Virgina, for example. The season could go two ways: One with Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech hogging the spotlight....or one with Clemson, Georgia Tech and Boston College stealing it from them. There is no legit National Championship contender in the mix....but there are several really good teams. Florida State wins the Atlantic Division and then defends their ACC title.
BIG EAST CONFERENCE
THE ELITE: West Virginia showed everyone [including me] that the Big East was still a good conference by beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl this past January. Most of that team returns and is poised to be not only the Big East elite....but elite on the national scene as well. Louisville still has the talent to win the Big East...they just need to put it all together. Nine times this offense put up at least 41 points last year...with four times at least 56 pts....three times in the 60s.
BOWL WORTHY: Pitt is young and still making the transition to a West Coast offense. However, they are good enough to get to a bowl if they can navigate thru some land mines. South Florida's defense is one of thefastest in the nation and keeps them in games. UConn has a cupcake non-conference skeddie.
SURPRISE TEAM?: Rutgers made it's first bowl appearance since 1978 in the Insight Bowl last season. They run a pro style offense and, at times, has a stingy defense. They also have Buffalo, Navy and Howard on the schedule....meaning that with some luck, and maybe an upset, could be challenging for the top spots in the conference.
DISAPPOINTMENT?: How can Syracuse be one of the worst programs in the nation?? Their lone win last year was over Buffalo, maybe the worst DI-A teams. And they are running the West Coast offense?? Geez!
YOU SUCK!: Again, Cincinnati will be at or near the bottom of the Big East standings. The team is really young and has a brutal schedule to navigate thru.
HOT SEAT: Really, everyone in the conference has a reason to smile...except Cincy and Syracuse. Cincy is trying to transition the team from C-USA. What is Syracuse's excuse? Greg Robinson's attempt to modernize the Orange could be cut short if the team has another 1-win season.
TOUGHEST SKED: The Cincinnati Bearcats must go to Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Louisville and West Virginia. Yikes! Especially when everyone else in the conference is better than you.
GAME OF THE YEAR: West Virginia at Louisville on Thursday, November 2. National TV and should be a banner day for the conference. Last year, this game went to triple overtime before a winner was determined.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: L'ville's Brian Brohm was the #2 rated returning passer in the nation last year. That Cardinals' offense is still stacked and he could be in the conversation of a Heisman if the....cards....fall in their favor.
OVERVIEW: The conference race comes down to Louisville and West Virginia...and that November 2nd game is huge. Pitt, Rutgers, UConn and South Florida all could pull an upset on one of those schools...but they aren't contenders. That game will be the defacto Big East Championship game....and Louisville is just too tough at home. L'ville wins the Big East and goes to the BCS.
THE BIG TEN
THE ELITE: Ohio State is the class of the league and maybe the nation. Ohio State does have to bring in nearly a new starting defense...but the Buckeyes just plug 'em in. The offense will be more expansive as well...as the team will try to utilize Troy Smith's talents. Right in their rear view mirror is Iowa. The Hawkeyes are a well coached as anyone in the league and gets more out of their team than anyone. And they have a QB in Drew Tate has as much talent as any QB in the Big Ten. Penn State will be in the hunt again after their Big Ten title last year. That great freshmen WR corps are now sophs. Oh, but they are breaking in a brand new QB. Michigan was my pick to be in the BCS game last year. Oops. They still have most of that talent returning...but they also have a beast of a schedule.
BOWL WORTHY: Purdue has been notoriously streaky the past two seasons...and had their 8 year bowl run end last year. They lost 6 straight in the middle of the year before beating up on the three worst conference teams. They also avoid OSU. So does Wisconsin, who will not have Barry Alvarez on the sidelines anymore. The Badgers solid run attack has always brought the conference to it's knees. Both Minnesota and Michigan State will probably be around that 6-6 mark and at a bottom tier bowl.
SURPRISE TEAM?: Northwestern. This team was a bowl team last year who had a crazy offense that put up a ton of points. The defense allowed a bunch too. But the underlying theme of the season will be the passing of head coach Randy Walker, who died just a month ago. I feel this team will be strong and challenge for a bowl.
DISAPPOINTMENT?: Illinois was very bad last year. They lost to Ohio State 40-2 one week...then lost 37-3 to Purdue the next week. It isn't a very good team and Ron Zook must pray that everyone has a little patience.
YOU SUCK!: Indiana continues to suck. After a 3-0 start, the Hoosiers won just 1 of their last 8 [over Illinois] and their defense couldn't stop anyone. And they return just two starters from their front seven.
HOT SEAT: Michigan State's John L Smith completely lost this team last year. They wowed everyone with three blowout wins plus winning at Notre Dame to start 4-0. Then the bottom dropped. A close loss to Michigan and that rant Smith made at halftime of the Ohio State game snowballed into 6 losses in the last 7 games. If the team can't recover...Smith may be shown the door.
TOUGHEST SKED: Michigan gets to face Iowa, Ohio State and Penn State...with the last two on the road. They also have to go to Notre Dame.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Nope it isn't the OSU-Michigan game at the end of the year....it will be Ohio State-Iowa at the end of September [30th] that could determine the conference champion. For the Buckeyes, they will have just played Texas and Penn State in a 3-week period while Iowa had played nothing but cupcakes up until that point. Iowa City should be rockin'!
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Troy Smith has the talent and the team to make it happen. Ohio State should be a national media darling and Smith is their star. He also has the Big Ten's best stable of WRs to toss it to.
OVERVIEW: Ohio State is the best team in the conference, bar none. There is talent all over that roster and they are very well coached. But I don't think they win the National Championship. Trips to Texas and Iowa may end up with a trip up. Still, everyone else in the Big Ten will have at least one conference loss...and if the Buckeyes can get past a busy September without an "L", they could go undefeated.
BIG XII CONFERENCE
THE ELITE: Well, Texas is the defending champion...so let's start there. Despite losing Vince Young, the Horns still has talent all over the place...especially on defense. The hope will be that one of their inexperienced QBs come up big. Speaking of QBs, Oklahoma will have to do without Rhett Bomar, who was kicked off the team. This puts a big question mark on a team that finished with 4 losses last year. Still, Heisman frontrunner Adrian Peterson is still there...which could force the Sooners to be more of a ball control team. I know they aren't "elite" but Nebraska fits into this equation as well. But being in the softer North Division helps them have a crack at the Big XII title game. Will "Cornhuskers" and "West Coast Offense" finally click??
BOWL WORTHY: Texas Tech is always tough...and they've found their niche of being the best of the next rung [the one below OU and UT] in the Big XII. They can score with anybody...well except against Alabama....and their defense is pretty good too. Iowa State is a good team too...but has a hard Big XII skeddie which sends them to Texas,Oklahoma and Colorado....and a non-con game at Iowa. Still, they can threaten the Huskers for the North title. Texas A&M has a cake non-con schedule [Citadel, La-Lafayette, Army, La Tech] and gets Nebraska at home.
SURPRISE TEAM?: When you have a solid defense like Kansas does, you can stay in games and have chances to win. They do have to face North division foes Nebraska, Iowa State and Missouri all on the road. Still, all those teams have flaws too and the Jayhawks could find themselves knocking on the Big XII title game door.
DISAPPOINTMENT?: Missouri is always a threat to make a bowl...and this year is no different. Sure, they are breaking in a new QB...but he played well in the times he saw the field last year [just ask Iowa State fans]. They have a cupcake non-con schedule....but do have Tx Tech, A&M, Nebraska and Iowa State all on the road.
YOU SUCK!: Baylor won it's first road Big XII game last year, so I guess they are improving. Oh, and roadies at Colorado, Texas, Tx Tech and Oklahoma. Wow. Oklahoma State was manhandled in the conference last year and should see the same thing. Colorado will have a bad season, too. The program is trying to recover from the Gary Barnett era...but have former Boise coach Dan Hawkins leading them. This team was outscored 100-6 in their final two conference games last year.
HOT SEAT: Is any seat hotter than Nebraska's Bill Callahan? He was toast after getting run by Missouri and Kansas and watched his offense struggle again....an offense that guts the entire image of Cornhusker football. Then he goes out and blows out rival Colorado in Boulder and beats Michigan in a fabulous Alamo Bowl.
TOUGHEST SKED: I vote for Texas. The Horns get Ohio State and Oklahoma...two top 10 teams. They also have to go to Nebraska and Texas Tech...very toughplaces to play.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Well, the Ohio State-Texas game is the biggest on the whole slate....but I'm just doing conference games here. That would have to be the Red River rivalry....Texas-Oklahoma. Duh.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson could be holding the Heisman after the season.
OVERVIEW: Just like the ACC, this becomes a battle of Texas and Oklahoma with the winner trying to stop an upset by Nebraska/Iowa State/Kansas. Texas has the talent and the mojo right now.