THE ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
Conference Champ: Virginia Tech vs. Florida St.: The Boston College Eagles could give the Noles a run for their money, but Bobby Bowden and his reconfigured staff get the nod over first year headman Jeff Jagodzinski, setting up a rematch in the Conference Championship game from two years ago when FSU upset Tech. Florida St. is always stocked with talent and Virginia Tech has as much speed as anyone in the ACC. Both teams have question marks at the quarterback position and need their respective offensive lines to step up after mediocre seasons a year ago. They are each chockfull of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball with speedy linebacking corps leading the way.
The Sleeper: Clemson: I am a sucker for the Clemson Tigers…I don’t know whether it is the paw on the side of their helmets or the way they run down the hill to touch “Howard’s Rock” as they get ready to take the field in Death Valley. Clemson underachieved last season, not a first under Tommy Bowden, and lost their best player in Gaines Adams, but what they could have is the top running back tandem in James Davis and C.J. Spiller, an improved passing attack and a future NFL left tackle in Barry Richardson. Furthermore, with the return of Tramaine Billie from injury and Ricky Sapp stepping up as the “Bandit” -- the defense could actually be better. Did I mention they host to FSU to start the season? In the Coastal Division, Georgia Tech may survive the first year after CJ.
Offensive Player of the Year: Matt Ryan (BC) vs. Brandon Ore (Va. Tech): While James Davis and C.J. Spiller will have to split carries, as well as accolades, Ore is the man in Blacksburg and with the Hokies as the team to beat he will not be overlooked in the race for OPY. Stepping in as a starter for the first time, Ore ran for 1137 yards and 16 TDs as a sophomore, numbers that will go up if the O-Line plays with more consistency. Consistency is exactly what the Eagles are expecting from Ryan. The BC quarterback threw for 2942 yards and 15 TDs (10 INTs) while completing 61.6 percent despite foot injuries that vastly limited his practice time as a junior. He should flourish in his final season in Chestnut Hill.
Defensive Player of the Year: Calais Campbell (UM) vs. Kenny Phillips (UM): While the Canes are no longer the Canes, they still have some 5-star talent in Campbell and Phillips, a pair of potential top ten picks in the NFL draft. Phillips is a stud and is worthy of being the next in line of Miami’s continuous rotation of star safeties. He has speed, knows how to play the ball and packs a wallop. While Phillips is intimidating receivers and looking into the quarterback’s eyes, Campbell’s job is to make sure the quarterback does not see him coming or get the ball off. As a sophomore, Campbell recorded 10.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries, potentially the most disruptive lineman in the nation.
Breakout Seasons: Myron Rolle (FSU), Ricky Sapp (CL) & Michael Johnson (Ga. Tech): Rolle was among the most highly touted prospects last season and did not disappoint, contributing 77 tackles, 5.5 of which came for a loss. Now it is time for him to take the next step as an impact player, which should not be a problem considering his size (6’2”/218), speed and playmaking potential. While Sapp must make up for lack of girth at defensive end (6’4”/220) he does want for upside. He picked up four sacks in a backup role as a true freshman and could very well reach double digits in his first season as starter. Johnson also was a backup last season and while the Yellow Jackets return both of their ends, it will be impossible to keep this Rambling Wreck off the field. Johnson stands at 6’7” and the converted tight end is ready to blossom as a threat off the edge.
Best Pro Prospect: Calais Campbell (UM): This is a tough one, but considering the premium placed on pass rushers and the fact he is NFL ready in terms of size (6’8”/282), Campbell beats out safeties Phillips and Rolle. With a big junior campaign, this athletic man-child could be the first defender off the board in April of 2008.
College Football Insiders Picks:
Conference Champion: Virginia Tech: The Hokies have the defense, the special teams and the running game to ride Beamer-ball all the way to the BCS.
Offensive Player of the Year: Matt Ryan, Boston College: Ryan displayed last season just how tough he is. Now healthy, he will have his best season yet.
Defensive Player of the Year: Calais Campbell, Miami: Randy Shannon cannot say Larry Coker left the cupboard bare, with Campbell as a building block.
Check back tomorrow for Part II: The Big East