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Monday, July 21, 2008

Pack picked to finish DFL in Atlantic

Pssh. Media. What do they know.

Well, we all saw this one coming. State was chosen to finish in 6th place in the Atlantic Division this season by the writers present at Operation Football this week.

1. Clemson (59) 1. Virginia Tech (58)
2. Wake Forest (5) 2. North Carolina (4)
3. Florida State (1) 3. Miami (1)
4. Boston College 4. Georgia Tech (1)
5. Maryland 5. Virginia (1)
6. N.C. State 6. Duke

This falls in line with all the chatter we've been hearing from the local media leading up to the event. The Pack is squarely in the midst of rebuilding year #2, and no one seems sold on State improving at the quarterback position, given that Daniel Evans will likely be the starter again come August.

But call me crazy, I don't think there's any way this team finishes in last place in the Atlantic again. One of the areas Tom O'Brien has clearly focused a lot of attention over the offseason is in building depth along the offensive line. He moved two defensive linemen, John Bedics and Ted Larsen, over to the offensive side. Jake Vermiglio is a young talent that will be a star along this line before his career is over.

And I'm of the mentality that everything--EVERYTHING--begins and ends with the offensive line. When you can run the ball at will and block your quarterback effectively, you:

- put more points on the board
- keep the ball out of the opposing teams hands
- eat more clock, limiting possessions by the other team
- keep your defense fresh
- demoralize your opponent

If O'Brien can develop a solid two-deep along the offensive line that stays healthy for the bulk of the season, his reputation as OL guru will grow. But more importantly, it will give our QB--whoever that may be--a fighting chance to sneak a conference win or two that others don't expect.

So if I'm so gung-ho on State not finishing DFL, it begs the question as to who finishes behind us.

The three most likely candidates are:
- Maryland
- BC

1. Maryland: Maryland faces two big hurdles this season: One, a quarterback controversy, and two, a schedule that offers no respite once conference play begins.

The two-headed monster in College Park this year features Jordan Steffey battling Chris Turner. Steffey began last season as the #1 option, but when he fell to injury, Turner came in and played well. Steffey's now back, and playing better than ever according to Maryland fans. It may take the Terps a while to settle into a definite starter, and if it takes too long, it may cost them a game or two in conference play.

Speaking of conference play, Maryland gets no breaks in its conference schedule this year. The Terps get all four of their out-of-conference games out of the way by the end of September, when they start an eight-straight-conference-game stretch in Death Valley. The final four games--@Va. Tech, North Carolina, Florida State and a chilly road trip to Boston College--will be challenging if fatigue has set in.

Bottom line: Maryland does catch a break, schedule-wise, in a two-week rest before Wake Forest comes to town. If the Terps maximize their efforts in the off week, they could sneak up on the Deacs and steal a win. That would ensure them not finishing at the bottom of the division.

2. Boston College: No Matt Ryan. No Matt Ryan, no Matt Ryan, no Matt Ryan.

Whereas Maryland has two serviceable quarterbacks to choose from, BC has none at this point. At least not one with any meaningful game experience. I know Jeff Jags hated answering question after question about Matt Ryan's departure--TFB. The media knows a storyline when it presents itself. And if our recent history is any predictor of BC's future results, then they can expect a rocky few years trying to climb out of the shadow of a great QB.

BC's wildcard? They've got a hell of a QB coach up there at Chestnut Hill--Steve Logan. The man who turned ECU into a football name in the 90's knows a thing or two about molding high school kids into top-notch quarterbacks, and he's no fool. I have all ideas that he spent the better part of last season--when Ryan was tearing it up on gameday--grooming Chris Crane into Ryan's successor.

But a noob QB is still a noob QB, and it'll be the better part of half a year before Crane has his QB legs under him. The Eagles open the conference schedule against a dangerous Georgia Tech team. A loss in the conference season opener could set the table for struggles in the league down the road.

Bottom line: BC travels to Raleigh for their second conference game of the year. If they enter Raleigh having lost to the Jackets AND lose to the Pack, I predict they finish in last in the Atlantic. And it couldn't happen to a better sack of horse manure like their bitter fanbase.

3. FSU: Whah!?! The Once Mighty Noles? Finishing dead last in a division that the ACC Powers-That-Be hand selected during expansion as the Noles' kingdom to rule over? So it ain't so!

Well, it probably won't happen. As much as the Noles HAVE fallen off in recent years, it's a bit ridiculous to think they could fall all the way to last with all the talent they continue to get through the doors at Tallahassee.

But looking at their schedule, you can see how it MIGHT happen if the rest of the Atlantic bunches up into a tight cluster where tie-breakers decide one or more final positions in the standings. They play their three toughest games of the year--Wake, Clemson and Virginia Tech--at home this year but Wake wasn't afraid to smack FSU around in Doak two years ago, Clemson and Tommy always seems to get a gift from daddy Bobby, and Frank Beamer's been around long enough to minimize the environment's impact on his team. All three games are loseable.

The road games pose a challenge, as well. FSU's first trip to Dolphin Stadium/Pro Player/Joe Robbie/The Place With The Big Round Stairwells At All Four Corners is a crapshoot. Carter-Finley hasn't been the most inviting place for Bobby Bowden since this decade began, and either of the Georgia Tech or Maryland games on the road could be lost.

Bottom Line: The Noles finished 4-4 in the league last year. State and Maryland both finished 3-5. A scenario could play out this year where all three (or four if you throw BC in the mix) end up with the same record, creating a logjam that requires some advanced math to settle. If the Noles lose 4 or 5 to the wrong teams, they could find themselves--yes--at the bottom of the heap in the Atlantic.

My guess: I think the team that will supplant State at the bottom of the division will be Boston College. Maryland's got issues and things could go horribly awry at the end of Bobby Bowden's career in Tallahassee, but I think BC faces the biggest challenge in replacing Matt Ryan at the QB position. I think Steve Logan is the best in the business at what he does but I'm not sold on Jags as a head coach. I think Crane will look solid behild center but will make enough mistakes over the course of the year against a tough conference slate to put the Eagles in DFL.

Another wildcard: Of the three teams I listed above, none of them face Duke this season and only one faces Virginia--Maryland. State by contrast gets Duke for the first time in ages during the first year of the Cutcliffe era. The Pack always seems to struggle against Duke for some reason, and I'm sure Cutcliffe will add plenty of new wrinkles and enthusiasm to a squad with one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Still, Duke is Duke, and what should be an easy win for State is one more reason why I don't foresee us finishing at the bottom of the Atlantic standings.

1 comment:

  1. when's the last time we were picked to finish last in both football and basketball? probably not as long ago as i'd like to think...