Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.
2. Wake Forest
3. Florida State
4. Boston College
6. North Carolina State
1. Virginia Tech
2. Miami (FL)
3. North Carolina
4. Georgia Tech
TOP FIVE STORYLINES IN THE ACC
David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe is a rare find for a Duke program that has gone with unproven head coaching commodities such as Barry Wilson, Fred Goldsmith, Carl Franks, and Ted Roof since Steve Spurrier walked out the door in 1989. Only Goldsmith has taken this team to the postseason, and that was apparently a colossal fluke. Cutcliffe, who did many, many good things as head coach at Mississippi, gives Duke something they haven't had in years: A chance. He won't turn it around this year, but with Eron Riley and Thaddeus Lewis (assuming he is reinstated) to lead the offense, he has tools to work with. The Blue Devils need to field a more competitive defense this season, and co-coordinators Mike MacIntyre and Marion Hobby both have NFL experience. They also have ten starters back from last year's dreadful unit.
Resurgence in the Carolinas? While neither Butch Davis nor Tom O'Brien took their respective teams to a bowl game last year, teams at North Carolina and North Carolina State should be improved again this season. Showing how bare the cupboard at UNC was, Davis chose to play an astounding number of underclassmen, including a bunch of his own recruits from the 2007 class. As SMQB notes, it was a bold move that bodes well for the future. The Heels have a sophomore QB in Tyler Yates who played well last year, but also played like a freshman a lot of the time (18 picks). Sophomores Greg Little and Ryan Houston will improve a running game that only topped 150 yards in a game twice (Miami and Duke). At NC State, O'Brien appears to have set his program up for the long haul, playing the upperclassmen last year and then watching 25 of 53 letterwinners depart. If senior QB Daniel Evans can play the way O'Brien and Chuck Amato both thought he would, the Wolfpack might have a chance to crack the bowl lineup this year.
Randy Shannon leading Miami back. After last year's Orange Bowl-closing 48-0 loss to Virginia, it became clear the Hurricanes weren't going to sink much farther. Losses on the road to Virginia Tech and Boston College cemented the first non-bowl season for Miami since 1997. It isn't likely to happen again this year, as the Hurricanes have loaded up on young talent, and also found a young QB who should excel. Kyle Wright never established himself as a star, and he leaves to make room for Robert Marve, a redshirt freshman. The running game will be stellar, the offensive line should show great improvement, and Shannon has a boatload of seniors projected to start on defense. If Miami survives early-season trips to Florida and Texas A&M without losing confidence, Shannon will take them back to the postseason.
Clemson is a contender. Tommy Bowden has a loaded roaster. Cullen Harper developed nicely as the starting QB. James Davis and C.J. Spiller return in the backfield. Eight starters, including hulking DTs Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson, return. Expectations are high, and the early-season schedule is favorable. After a neutral-site game against Alabama, the Tigers host The Citadel, NC State, South Carolina State, and Maryland in back-to-back weeks. The October 9 date with Wake Forest looms huge for both teams, as well as the Atlantic Division title.
The turmoil at Florida State. As many as six starters will miss games in the early part of the season, the result of suspensions for academic problems that erupted last year and affected FSU's roster for the bowl game against Kentucky. Bobby Bowden coaches his 33rd season at FSU this year, but offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher has been installed as the "head coach in waiting". Fisher's impact on the team last year wasn't as great as many thought it would be, as the Seminoles enjoyed only marginal increases in their yardage totals, and actually scored fewer points per game than the previous season. With an experienced QB, experienced RB, and solid senior receiver in Greg Carr, Fisher needs to get more out of his skill players this season.
BEST OF THE REST
Wake Forest should be primed to make some big-time noise this year, thanks to smart coaches, a two-year starting QB in Riley Skinner (right), oodles of talent in the offensive backfield, and nine starters on defense. Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen gave up the play-calling duties, and hopes new coordinator James Franklin can jump-start a unit that struggled to run the ball the last four years. It's likely that Boston College lost too much talent to be a serious contender this season, though they should be a solid postseason contender. A quarterback rotation was the key to Virginia Tech's season last year, and the Hokies hope it can help them follow up on last year's 11 wins. Only four starters return on defense, including star cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris. Duke isn't the only program to make a solid coaching hire, as Georgia Tech brought Paul Johnson in from Navy. Johnson is an extremely intelligent coach who will bring results to Tech, but probably not right away because of the necessary transition to a new offense. Struggles could be all over the place at Virginia this year. Chris Long carried the defense, and there are still a ton of questions on offense.
PRESEASON AWARDS AND NOTABLES
Offensive Player of the Year: James Davis, RB, Clemson
Defensive Player of the Year: Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest
Coach of the Year: Randy Shannon, Miami
Coach on the Hot Seat: Ralph Friedgen, Maryland
Best Non-Conference Game: Virginia Tech at Nebraska, September 27
Worst Non-Conference Game: Western Carolina/Chattanooga at Florida State, September 6 and 13