The worst BCS conference maybe ever? I keed - but it's bad. Here are my predictions.
It won't be close. Everybody wants to talk about Bowden's annual choke job, but this team is too good for him to screw it up. The offensive line is generally issue #1 when talking about Clemson, but they have some inexperienced talent. They return 2 starters, and Jamarcus Grant and Cory Lambert were talented prospects who could show up. Give the ball to Davis and Spiller, and throw smart playaction passes. It's simple! Defensively, nobody will throw on Clemson. They return all 4 starters from the backfield that allowed only 188 yards per game. The front 4 is also stout - Sapp is the pressure end, and the tackles (Jackson and Scott) are very good. The only issue on the defense is at LB - 1 starter returns. Deandre McDaniel played a good amount last year, though, so he should be fine. The schedule is as easy as pie, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Clemson run the table or lose only 1 game.
The 2nd-4th spots in the division are all jumbled and any of the 3 could finish 2nd. I like FSU because their conference schedule is a little more manageable than Maryland's or Wake's. The new coaches from 2007 should start to make their presence known on the field this year. The skill positions are fine on offense, but the OL has 3 holes to fill. Defensively, the passing D needs to improve, whether through better coverage or more QB pressure from the line. I think with FSU's recruiting and 8 starters returning on D, we could see some vintage stout play from the unit. If FSU can steal a home game from VT or Clemson, they'll finish 2nd in the Atlantic.
Maryland and Wake are dead even in my mind, and I like the Terps because they get Wake in College Park. The offense is going to be very very good, and while they'll have to outscore some folks, that's fine with them. They have talent at QB and RB to go along with their proven WR and OL. If they can cut back on the sacks allowed and increase the ypc, they'll be a potent offense. Defensively, they should improve against the rush with 4 of the front 7 returning. The DBs need work, but Friedgen's secondaries always come through.
While VT lost a boatload of players to the NFL draft and graduation, the Coastal division isn't ready to take the top spot from the Hokies. While the losses at WR and RB aren't good, the offensive line makes things a bit easier - they return 4 starters. The RB position is stocked with talent, albeit unproven. Sean Glennon will start at QB, with Taylor possibly redshirting. I absolutely hate that idea, though, as a dual QB system works when you have such polar opposite players. The defense returns only 4 starters, but do you really worry about a Bud Foster D? And let me go on record as being the biggest Macho Harris fan outside of Blacksburg. The game at North Carolina will be a real fun one to watch.
I think the margin between the Canes and the Tarheels is paper thin, but UNC has to travel to Coral Gables, so I give Miami the #2 spot for that. Miami still has the talent on defense to be special, and Shannon will get them there. Offensively, they need to take advantage of returning a LT and a RT on the OL by using the speed of James and Cooper on outside runs. The C and Gs are new, so between the tackle rushing may be difficult. The talent is there for Miami to regain some of it's swagger, but they need to beat the Virginias and NC States. No excuses.
The Tarheels were -3 in close games and also have 17 returning starters. Butch Davis has started bringing in great high school talent. While 2008 might still be a year away from contending, they should make a bowl game. The Miami game will decide who finishes 2nd. They return 10 starters on O, but need TJ Yates to improve. If he doesn't, watch for Paulus. The running game needs to take advantage of the talents from Little and Houston. The OL returns 4 guys, but they only paved the way for 3.0 ypc last year. The defense has to replace 3 very good players in Balmer, Taylor, and Mapp, but by sheer numbers, they should be okay.
Duke fan? All 1 of you - leave feedback. Cutcliffe has his hands full, but watch what they do this year.