By Steven Lassan and Mitch Light
ACC Week 1 Game Previews and Predictions
It's the first week of college football. Athlon will be breaking down each conference game. Here's the ACC.
Western Carolina at Georgia Tech – Thursday, Sept. 1
After a disappointing 6-7 campaign last year, Georgia Tech will be looking to get out to a fast start on Thursday night. The Yellow Jackets should face little resistance against Western Carolina, who finished 2-9 last year. The Catamounts lost their only matchup against a FBS foe last year – 48-7 to NC State – and lost their final six games of 2010. With a revamped stable of running backs, this game will be the first opportunity for players like David Sims and Orwin Smith to shoulder the bulk of the workload for the Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech 48, Western Carolina 7
Wake Forest at Syracuse – Thursday, Sept. 1
Surprisingly, there’s a lot riding on this opener for both teams. The Demon Deacons limped to a 3-9 finish last year, but a lot of underclassmen saw significant playing time. Syracuse is a contender for the Big East title and needs to find the winning recipe at home, after posting only two victories in the Carrier Dome last season. The Orange suffered through a rash of injuries in fall camp, but should have their core intact for Thursday night. Wake Forest’s defense needs to find a way to slow down Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib and running back Antwon Bailey or it could be a long night. The Demon Deacons will counter on offense with rising star Josh Harris, who rushed for 720 yards last season. The Orange defense will be breaking in two new starters on the interior, so if Harris can have a big game, Wake Forest will have a chance for the road upset.
Syracuse 31, Wake Forest 20
Northwestern at Boston College – Saturday, Sept. 3
It’s an intriguing Week 1 matchup between two programs that don’t get a ton of buzz nationally but continue to win games on a consistent basis. Northwestern is thrilled to have Dan Persa back at quarterback. The Wildcats went 0–3 with Persa sidelined with a torn Achilles late last year, losing to Illinois 48–27, Wisconsin 70–23 and Texas Tech 45–38. Boston College, on the other hand, will be without its best offensive player. Tailback Montel Harris is out for the first few weeks with a knee injury, leaving capable backup Andre Williams to handle the rushing load. This is a big swing game for both teams.
Northwestern 28, Boston College 21
Appalachian State at Virginia Tech – Saturday, Sept. 3
After last year’s surprising defeat to James Madison, the Hokies will have to be on upset watch once again. The Mountaineers are one of the top FCS teams this season, led by dynamic quarterback DeAndre Presley. He posted 3,670 yards of total offense and 34 scores last season. Logan Thomas will be making his first start at quarterback for Virginia Tech, but expect to see junior running back David Wilson with a heavy workload. The Mountaineers may hang around for a half, but Wilson’s running, along with the Hokies depth, should result in a comfortable win for Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech 38, Appalachian State 13
UL Monroe at Florida State – Saturday, Sept. 3
Florida State likely has one eye on the Sept. 17 date against Oklahoma, but has tune-ups against UL Monroe and Charleston Southern to navigate first. The Warhawks lost their three games against BCS foes by a combined score of 134-10 last year, but return 14 starters from last season’s team. The ULM offense is led by talented sophomore quarterback Kolton Browning, who passed for 2,552 yards and 18 scores last season. However, Browning will be in for a long afternoon against Florida State’s secondary, which is one of the best in college football. The Seminoles should be a threat to win the national title and will cruise to an easy victory in Week 1.
Florida State 48, UL Monroe 10
Troy at Clemson – Saturday, Sept. 3
After a disappointing record last year, there’s a lot of urgency surrounding Clemson in 2011. The Tigers could be a sleeper in the ACC race, but need to settle in quickly on offense with a new scheme and quarterback. The Trojans are a dangerous Week 1 opponent, as they nearly beat Oklahoma State last year and won’t be intimidated against a BCS foe. Troy’s passing attack, led by sophomore quarterback Corey Robinson, will test a Clemson secondary with two new starters stepping in. Tajh Boyd is the Tigers’ new triggerman on offense and faces a Troy secondary that ranked 100th nationally in stopping the pass last year. The Tigers have more talent, but the Trojans will stick around for a while.
Clemson 38, Troy 24
James Madison at North Carolina – Saturday, Sept. 3
After an tumultuous offseason, the Tar Heels have to be glad to push the attention back to the field. New coach Everett Withers should have no trouble getting his Tar Heels ready to play, especially considering James Madison defeated Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last season. Although the Dukes knocked off the Hokies, they only finished 6-5 and enter this matchup with significant question marks on offense. This matchup will be a showcase game for new North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner, as he looks to get settled into the starting role.
North Carolina 31, James Madison 10
William & Mary at Virginia – Saturday, Sept. 3
The Cavaliers are on upset alert this Saturday. William & Mary is a dangerous FCS foe, ranking No. 2 in Athlon’s preseason FCS poll. Running back Jonathan Grimes is a dangerous all-around weapon, and quarterback Mike Paulus is a transfer from North Carolina. The Tribe barely lost to North Carolina last year and beat Virginia in 2009. The Cavaliers finished fall practice with ongoing quarterback battle between true freshman David Watford and Michael Rocco. The Tribe ranked No. 6 among FCS teams in scoring defense last year and could give both quarterbacks fits on Saturday night.
Virginia 27, William & Mary 24
Liberty at NC State – Saturday, Sept. 3
All eyes in Raleigh will be on junior quarterback Mike Glennon. After Russell Wilson was released from his scholarship, Tom O’Brien handed the keys to the NC State offense to Glennon, and Saturday marks his first appearance in the starting lineup. How fast Glennon develops could hold the key to NC State’s ability to contend for the ACC Atlantic title. Liberty is coached by former Virginia assistant Danny Rocco and ranks No. 20 in Athlon’s preseason FCS poll. The Flames are led by quarterback Mike Brown, who collected 346.4 yards per game of total offense.
NC State 40, Liberty 17
Richmond at Duke – Saturday, Sept. 3
If the Blue Devils want to get to a bowl game, winning the opener against a FCS opponent is a must. The Spiders have been a pesky matchup against Duke recently, winning the last two games between these two teams. However, Richmond coach Latrell Scott resigned during fall camp, after an arrest for driving while intoxicated. Wayne Lineburg will serve as the interim coach this season. The Spiders have some new faces on defense, which should be susceptible to Duke’s passing attack, led by junior quarterback Sean Renfree. However, the Blue Devils will have their hands full on defense, as Richmond brings USC transfer Aaron Corp at quarterback and standout receiver Tre Gray to Durham.
Duke 34, Richmond 20
Miami (Fla.) at Maryland – Monday, Sept. 5
The Hurricanes will take to the field for the first time since Nevin Shapiro became a household name in the world of collegiate sports. We’re not quite sure what the Miami lineup will look like on Labor Day night due to possible suspensions. Senior Jacory Harris, who was battling Stephen Morris for the start at quarterback, is reportedly one of eight Hurricanes who have been ruled ineligible — for now. There is a chance Harris could be back, but there is no guarantee he would even start if he is declared eligible. There are no such issues at Maryland, where 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O’Brien will lead the Terps’ offense in Randy Edsall’s first games as the boss of the Terrapins.
Maryland 24, Miami 14