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Features & Blogs
"Life in the UK"
• Sideline: Yes, Non–Conference Games DO Count
• NCAA Preview 2009
• Sideline: Time For The Talking To Stop
• Sideline: In Memory of Air McNair
• Sideline: Will Goodell Hand Out Hard Time?
• Sideline: Marshall's Not Joshing
• NFL Draft: No Rush To Judgment
• NFL Draft Analysis 2009 (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts
• Sideline: Will Play For Food
• Sideline: Wonderlic Scores
• Sideline: Manning and Sanchez
• Sideline: 2010 Leagues Sci–fi, or Fantasy? / March Madness
• Sideline: Break Out The Brackets
• Sideline: LaDainian Tomlinson On The Record
• Sideline: The Incredible Sulk Continues
• Sideline: Guildford Heat Fired Up
• Sideline: Super Bowl thoughts from the Valley of the Sun
• Sideline: I know I came in here for something
• Sideline: College Football National Signing Day
• Sideline: 27 Points — 27 Super Bowl thoughts
• Sideline: An Epic QB Matchup?
• Sideline: Appreciating Arizona for What They Were
• Sideline: NFL Divisional Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Bowl Season Hangover
• Sideline: Six weeks Later
• Sideline: Wildcard Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Santa's Sackings
• Sideline: A Weis Decision ...for Now
• Sideline: Eye on the Ticker
• Sideline: Lions — An Anagram of Losin
• Sideline: Ready for the Turkey
• Sideline: Making it to the Big Dance
• Sideline: Brighter Days Ahead for Chargers?
• Sideline: Unnecessary Hits To The Pocket / Upset: BYU
• Sideline: Romo's Pause / Seattle Seahawks
• Sideline: Weekend Prep: Red River and More
• Sideline: College Football's 'Crossroads' Weekend
• Sideline: Gramatical Error
• Sideline: Turning The Page
• Sideline: So Cal 'Quizzed
• Sideline: 3rd Tuesday Panic / Forté Yard Dash
• Sideline: Two and Oh; Oh and Two
• Sideline: No More NCAAffeine
• Sideline: Week 1 College Football
• Sideline: How To Spell Heisman / Chad Ocho Cinco
• Sideline: A Second Slice
• Sideline: The Favre story STILL won't go away
• Sideline: Olympic Notes / Ricky's Still Relevant
• Sideline: Committee Meetings
• Sideline: Let the QB Battles Begin
• Sideline: Slinging The Slinger — More Favre
• Interview: Clint Dempsey
• Sideline: Welcome to the 2008 season
• Sideline: Plus One
• 2008 NFL Draft Review
• Sideline: Draft: The Morning After
• Sideline: Draft: Thinking the Unthinkable
• Sideline: Draft: Ready For The Long Haul
• Sideline: Sofa–bound Sport
• Sideline: Post–Winter Wonderland
• Sideline: Six Impossible Things
• Sideline: Brady's Misdirection Play
• Sideline: Colorful Language
• Sideline: Let the Romo–bashing begin
• Sideline: Bowl Bites: The Wrap
• Sideline: All About The Coaches
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 3
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 2
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 1
• Sideline: Coach Situations Vacant
• Sideline: For Some, The Playoffs Are Now
• Sideline: A Certain Lack Of Welcome
• Sideline: Unrelated Notes
• Sideline: Two Thanksgiving thoughts
• Sideline: Halftime: NFC
• Sideline: Halftime: AFC
• Sideline: London / A Tale of Two Chads / Intimidation
• Sideline: Damp Squib / Other London Notes
• Sideline: Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em / Dolphins – The Aftermath
• Sideline: The Dolphins Did What?
• Sideline: Notes on the Defenses
• Sideline: Habits to be Broken
• Sideline: Overtime
• Sideline: This Week's Starters
• Sideline: USF: Covering The Spread / Fantastic Football
• Sideline: Grossman: The Final Act? / McNabb, the Epilogue
• Sideline: Eagles QB in Slight Controversy
• Sideline: Leftwich's Parting Gift / Boos cruise
• Sideline: Notre Dame M.I.A.
• Sideline: Looking Beyond NFL Wk. 1
• Sideline: Best Hope For Heisman
• Sideline: Coaching Hot Seats / AP Poll Feeling ’Appy
• Sideline: The NFL’s Prime Cuts
• Sideline: Michigan Falls to Killer Apps
• Sideline: Look Out Couch / The Taint's On You, Bud
NCAA Preview 2009
Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale
Atlantic Coast Conference
The Coastal Division is where it's at in the ACC, with Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech vying for a run at a National Championship berth. If only somebody had a passer, ponders Richard L Gale.
First a few words on the sanction that would take away wins from Bobby Bowden's record, because this story niggles me. Firstly, when there's more outcry about a statistic than a loss of scholarships, that bothers me. Secondly, as I'm sure I've opined before, the definition of 'win' by which Coach Bowden was placed one game behind Penn State's Joe Paterno is bogus. And thirdly, with both coaches having a career win tally in the 380s, a difference of a dozen or so games hardly seems to matter.
However, if the situation sends Florida State players out onto the field with a chip on their shoulder — with the desire to punish the world for this sleight against a great ball coach — then watch out ACC. FSU were already a contender in the Atlantic Division, but a little bit of extra fire wouldn't hurt when it comes to pushing them over the top, because while many people seem to be assuming the Seminoles' resurgence as a given, there's a lot of 'unproven' areas here.
With DE Everette Brown in the NFL, a new pass–rushing force must be found. Four defensive starters return, with only one at linebacker (quick–hitting Dekoda Watson) and in the secondary (NFL–destined CB Patrick Robinson). That's not necessarily a disaster — this being FSU, the talent of youngsters such as LB Nigel Bradnam and DT Jacobbi McDaniels heralds plug'n'play ferocity. The question is, with Miami, a visit to BYU and then South Florida on September's slate, might the Seminoles blow their national relevance before the units gel? Early kinks aside, FSU could still hit their stride for the conference clashes that follow.
Offensively, a line packed with freshmen and sophomores a year ago returns experienced and intact, and while RB Antone Smith is gone, the backfield combination of Jermaine Thomas and Tavares Pressley could be explosively special. But to earn a berth in the ACC Championship game, the passing game — especially quarterback Christian Ponder — is going to have to provide more threat for conference foes.
There's a lot of projection required to see the Seminoles as ACC Championship contenders, but season previews — this one included — could be setting up Coach Bowden for a fall. The team has every reason to come out snarling. If all these young players don't step up to the challenge, we might have to ask if Coach Bowden's statistical resumé is becoming a little irrelevant.
If Clemson are going to claim the Atlantic Division, the overarched theme will be pressuring opposing passers. A more aggressive philosophy, bringing ends Da'Quan Bowers and Ricky Sapp on the charge relies on tackling prowess that evidenced last season, when LB Brandon Maye emerged alongside DeAndre McDaniel. The big difference this season is that McDaniel moves back to his preferred position of strong safety, creating a potentially fearsome secondary. Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor, already consummate corners, can only benefit from more pressure up front, while McDaniel and senior Sedat Chambers prowl centerfield. In theory, new coordinator Kevin Steele should replicate some of the success he had at Alabama the last couple of years. My only doubt is whether Clemson has the same depth of talent that Alabama had when it comes to keeping the tempo high through four or more quarters. The answer: very nearly.
On offense, Clemson is less set. While last year's starters on the line return , there'll be a bit of a shuffle — including a new center — they'll have two new starters at receiver, a new starting running back and a completely fresh quarterback. That's hardly a recipe for 'favorite' status in your own division, but when the ascending RB is the multi–purpose CJ Spiller, things aren't that bad. Spiller has provided 2,335 yards on the ground and over 900 receiving over the past three years, and while he's never reached his apparent potential, James Davis' departure gives Spiller the opportunity to make his case for a pro career.
The new QB is redshirt freshman Kyle Parker. Jacoby Ford will be his top target, having caught 55 balls last season, with TE Michael Palmer the next most productive returning target (other than Spiller, 34 catches) with just 12. After Cullen Harper's ho–hum senior season, the drop–off in production from the passing game shouldn't be precipitous, if Parker can avoid too many mistakes. If the mistakes do mount, last year's No.2, the Willy Korn could steady the ship; Korn is expected to take some snaps in every game.
The season could start fitfully for Clemson. A visit to Georgia Tech's secondary September 10 won't be easy on Parker, and they host TCU before the month is out. Thereafter, divisional rivals Wake Forest and Florida State visit, and if they could down the Seminoles, the following week's visit to NC State could be for the divisional crown.
100–Word Dash: North Carolina State
Russell Wilson may be a sophomore, but he could be graduated and in the MLB draft next year. The Wolfpack better make the most of the QB who provided 21 scores and only one pick last year. He has his starting trio of receivers back, though two new guards. Defensively, NC State was patchy last year (putting it mildly), and while there's greater maturity — seven senior starters — rising star LB Nate Irving broke his leg in a June car accident. He seems likely to miss at least part of the season. They'll be competitive, but ACC title dreams seem wild.
100–Word Dash: Wake Forest
I understand, this being QB Riley Skinner's swansong, and having his entire line back, the career's supposed to end on a high note. But when you lose CB Alphonso Smith and DE Aaron Curry from your defense, you'd better expect a setback. Two excellent tackles should protect a learning linebacking corps, but if anything happens to NT Boo Robinson, the defense could fold like origami, especially when they come to face Navy, Miami, Georgia Tech and Florida State in an October–November four–week stretch. Another bowl is feasible, but with these ever–lengthening college schedules, the question of depth tempers my enthusiasm.
100–Word Dash: Maryland
This offseason, Ralph Friedgen lost over 100lbs. He also lost most of the two–deep on the offensive line, his three top receivers, and his starting linebackers. In all, 10 starters return from both sides of the ball. However, Maryland won't be gone for long: while the O–line will take its lumps with some redshirt freshman, they should be able to use their size to spring RBs Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett. QB Chris Turner isn't much of a threat, though. A senior secondary and exciting WR/KR Torrey Smith could help sneak Maryland into a bowl game with an even record.
100–Word Dash: Boston College
What does it take to drop a team from first to last? Try this:
• Firing your coach for interviewing for another job
• Finding out your defensive player of the year has cancer
• Having 1st rounder BJ Raji and 2nd rounder Ron Brace graduate from defensive tackle
• Seeing your starting QB transfer after being suspended
• Losing one of your top LBs to a significant Achilles injury.
The offensive line is largely intact as is the secondary, but with the losses from the front seven, and featuring a small D–Line, opponents could blow holes in the Eagles.
Virginia Tech are viewed by many as a dark horse for a National Championship Game appearance. But before the Hokies can think about January bowls, they need to get past the opening weekend, when they face Alabama in Atlanta. It's a little early in the season for an epic of that magnitude, but there it is: probably Virginia Tech's most challenging game of the year right up front. If they could win that…
But wait, there's a couple of things VT have to prove right there in Atlanta before they can dream of what lies beyond. One of those is the play at quarterback, where Tyrod Taylor remains a much–hyped heap of potential with his sweet feet (740 yards, 7 TDs) but wobbly passing stats (just over 1000 yards, just 2 TDs and 7 picks). Rather than becoming more of a passer in 2008, he seemed to regress, and while he is the latest in a tradition of fleet QBs at Virginia Tech, the combination of 'Beamerball' defense, special teams and dual–threat passers has yet to break through for the big prize that often seems tantalizingly within reach.
But hold up — there's more to this offense than Taylor. If Taylor is to progress in year three it will happen because last year's freshmen receiver Jarrett Boykin has a better idea of what he's doing opposite Danny Coale, who lead the team with 36 catches last season. The backfield returns Darren Evans, who had 11 TDs last season, and adds Ryan Williams as a breakaway mix–in threat. Three–fifths of the line returns.
The other mainstay of Frank Beamer's squads is special teams play, but the reputation took a battering last year when their coverage leaked punt return TDs, and they lost a squeaker against East Carolina on blocked punt. The defense, however, remains a force, and never seems to be without a corner worth crowing about, in this case Stephan Virgil who had six picks last season. Both safeties also return, and spring practice suggested the defensive tradition continues, though DE Jason Worild's shoulder appeared still to be ailing from last season.
The September schedule is far from easy, but they do host Nebraska and Miami (who they will be expected to beat) and don't travel to anybody dangerous until Georgia Tech, October 17. Alabama victory or not, once past that, it should be downhill to an ACC title, at least.
The Atlantic division doesn't have a team that can stand up to Virginia, but before the Hokies can book their ticket for a BCS bowl, they need to take care of Georgia Tech in their own division. As far as the path to perfection is concerned, Georgia Tech have every reason to think this could be a very special year indeed. The away games, while including Miami and Florida State, includes no team they can't defeat, while Clemson, Virginia Tech and Georgia all visit. If the Yellow Jackets are as good as some feel they are, there enough beatable yet respectable material on the schedule to give them an outside shot at the National Championship game.
As in 2008, Georgia Tech will seek to run over opponents. Fullback Lucas Cox — himself a bruising runner who had almost 8 yards a pop and 4 scores last season — will block for Jonathan Dwyer, who ran for 12 TDs and almost 1400 yards last year. If anything happened to Dwyer, backup Roddy Jones wouldn't be as tough to bring down as the aforementioned two, but he's more elusive and averaged 8.5 yards a carry last season. As if that wasn't enough, Anthony Allen arrives from Louisville, and he too is start quality.
The line in front of them loses both starting tackles, but their replacements are no greenhorns having excelled as injury stand–ins last season. The only problem on offense is that in Coach Paul Johnson's option attack, quarterback Josh Nesbitt looks more like an unnecessary fifth back than he does a passer, with seven scores on the ground and just 2 through the air as a sophomore. It's hard to imagine that the Yellow Jackets can go undefeated without both Nesbitt becoming more of an arm, and kicker Scott Blair becoming a much more accurate kicker. This team won by a single score over Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and (yikes!) Gardner–Webb last season, so it's a team with tight margins for error.
Of course, it helps win tight ones when the turnover battle goes in your favor, and the Yellow Jackets safeties were devastating last season, Dominique Reese with 3 interceptions, Morgan Burnett with 7, and Cooper Taylor (in spot duty last year, but part of a 5–man secondary for 2009) with a game–saving forced fumble against FSU. Whether they can out–Beamerball Frank Beamer's Hokies has yet to be proved.
100–Word Dash: North Carolina
NFL receivers Brandon Tate and Hakeem Nicks are gone, but rusher Shaun Draughn, goal–line ram Ryan Houston, and key parts of the line remain. Quarterback TJ Yates' numbers are solid even if he's fragile. However, NC is all about the tackling: a big D–line is back, LBs Bruce Carter, Quan Sturdivant and Zach Brown will star, and the tackling theme extends to fine special teams. A susceptible secondary is also back, however. With a schedule that sees them at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, they're more likely be watching Miami in the rear view mirror than challenging for Division honors.
100–Word Dash: Miami (FL)
Miami might be feeling the in–state squeeze of younger programs nibbling at their recruits, but eventually the Hurricanes will rise up. Is it this year or next? The defense is ever–ready, and the linebackers — seniors Colin McCarthy and Darryl Sharpton plus super soph Sean Spence the best of them — should be good enough to aid an unsure but deep front. Coaches are excited about the sky–high potential of their young receivers, but right now potential's all it is, and Jacory Harris is an untested quarterback standing behind a in–progress line. The Yellow Jackets and Hokies don't need to fret ...yet.
100–Word Dash: Virginia
Virginia is riddled with inexperience. Half of Virginia's starters this season could be underclassmen. However, most of both lines return, as does RB Mikell Simpson, and both corners have started before. The areas of mystery include linebacker and receiver, which are near–total do–overs. As for quarterback, at time of writing the choices were cornerback convert Vic Hall (one start) or '07 starter Jameel Sewell. Frankly they need Sewell's comparatively veteran savvy, but Hall's athletics are tempting. I'm excited about where this team is in a couple of years. For now, they can just hope to be at sixes and sevens.
100–Word Dash: Duke
His top receivers are gone, but QB Thaddeus Lewis is back for his fourth season. He's no superstar, but he's tidy, and this year's passing will be counterbalanced by RB Re'quan Boyette, who should be a 1000 yard back if the loss of three starters on the line doesn't drag things to a halt. The defense — starring the 'O–men' line of Okpokowuruk, Oghobaase, Oglesby and O'Hatcher (okay it's Hatcher, I invented the O') — will be predominantly upperclassmen, and more than half seniors. They'll dream of the GMAC Bowl, but those dreams will have to carry over; it's likely 4–8 again.