Head coach: Frank Spaziani (first season as a head coach).
2008 record: 9-5 (5-3 ACC).
Players to watch: RB Montel Harris (900 rushing yards, five touchdowns in 2008); WR Rich Gunnell (551 receiving yards, four touchdowns); C Matt Tennant.
Game of the year: Oct. 3 vs. Florida State. The Eagles face the team that was picked by ACC preseason media to win the division in a showdown that could quickly tell their fate.
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Spaziani says: “There are a lot of positive things even though the problems are always there. Winning minimizes the problems and losing magnifies them but the problems are always there. We have to manage them and we will do the best we can.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: This offseason has been quite unkind to the Eagles. First, there was the firing of former head coach Jeff Jagodzinski in January — after reports surfaced that he was interested in an NFL coaching vacancy. Then, in May, the team learned that it would be without heart-and-soul leader and tough-nosed linebacker Mark Herzlich due to cancer. While new head coach Frank Spaziani stresses that he doesn’t want the college football world to pity his team, it’s hard not to.
Schedule: Sept. 5 vs. Northeastern; Sept. 12 vs. Kent State; Sept. 19 at Clemson; Sept. 26 vs. Wake Forest; Oct. 3 vs. Florida State; Oct. 10 at Virginia Tech; Oct. 17 vs. North Carolina State; Oct. 24 at Notre Dame; Oct. 31 vs. Central Michigan; Nov. 14 at Virginia; Nov. 21 vs. North Carolina; Nov. 28 at Maryland.
Head coach: Dabo Swinney (4-3 in one season as interim head coach; entering first full season as head coach).
2008 record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC).
Players to watch: RB C.J. Spiller (629 rushing yards, seven touchdowns in 2008); QB Willy Korn (216 passing yards, 68.4 percent completion rating); WR Jacoby Ford (four touchdowns); LB Brandon Maye (87 total tackles).
Game of the year: Sept. 10 at Georgia Tech. The last time Clemson played at Georgia Tech, the Tigers lost. They’re also seeking revenge after dropping a close one to the Yellow Jackets in Death Valley last season. The 21-17 loss came in Swinney’s first game as interim head coach.
Swinney says: “We’ve got to sustain blocks better. And that’s not just inside, that’s out on the perimeter; everywhere. It’s everybody holding on to their block just a little bit longer. Because the thing is, you got a guy like Spiller, you ain’t got to block them long.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: In Swinney’s first full season, expect to see a much more exciting team. After complications with the midseason firing of former coach Tommy Bowden, as well as the season-opening loss to Alabama on national television at the Georgia Dome, the Tigers never jelled and had a disastrous season.
Schedule: Sept. 5 vs. Middle Tennessee; Sept at Georgia Tech; Sept. 19 vs. Boston College; Sept. 26 vs. TCU; Oct. 3 at Maryland; Oct. 17 vs. Wake Forest; Oct. 24 at Miami; Oct. 31 vs. Coastal Carolina; Nov. 7 vs. Florida State; Nov. 14 at North Carolina State; Nov. 21 vs. Virginia; Nov. 28 at South Carolina.
Head coach: Bobby Bowden (308-91-4 in 33 seasons at Florida State, 381-123-4 overall).
2008 record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC).
Players to watch: QB Christian Ponder (2,006 passing yards, 14 passing touchdowns, 423 rushing yards in 2008); RB Jermaine Thomas (482 rushing yards); LB Dekoda Watson (46 total tackles).
Game of the year: Nov. 28 at Florida. Depending on what Florida State’s record is entering its annual rivalry game, this year’s contest could take on much bigger meaning than it has in recent seasons. A victory over the Gators, and the Seminoles could increase stock significantly heading into the bowl schedule.
Bowden says: “Life goes on. We’re not the only university that has had something like this (academic fraud allegation) happen. It’ll happen with somebody the next year, and next year and next year. But life goes on. You just correct it and go to work.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: Past its season-opening date with Miami, a midseason clash with Georgia Tech and its season-finale at Florida, Florida State’s schedule sets up quite favorably. Overall, it should also be interesting to see how well Florida State plays amid all the controversy and its academic fraud allegations.
Schedule: Sept. 7 vs. Miami; Sept. 12 vs. Jacksonville State; Sept. 19 at BYU; Sept. 26 vs. South Florida; Oct. 3 at Boston College; Oct. 10 vs. Georgia Tech; Oct. 22 at North Carolina; Oct. 31 vs. North Carolina State; Nov. 7 at Clemson; Nov. 14 at Wake Forest; Nov. 21 vs. Maryland; Nov. 28 at Florida.
Head coach: Ralph Friedgen (64-36 in nine seasons at Maryland, 64-36 overall).
2008 record: 8-5 (4-4 ACC).
Players to watch: RB Da’Rel Scott (1,133 rushing yards, eight touchdowns in 2008); QB Chris Turner (2,516 passing yards, 13 passing touchdowns); RB Davin Meggett (457 rushing yards); LB Alex Wujciak (133 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss).
Game of the year: Nov. 21 at Florida State. With two weeks remaining on its schedule, Maryland likely will need a win over the Seminoles to salvage any hopes at winning the division. The matchup will feature a pair of prolific passing offenses and strong defenses.
Friedgen says: “I had our coaches rank our players on a scale of one to five on character. About 85 percent of our guys were fours and fives with five being the highest. My point in doing that was to tell the type of kids we have here and the fact that we have 58 out of our 84 scholarship kids that have three or four years eligibility.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: Last year, the Terrapins began to turn the corner and make a somewhat expected surge up the ladder. This season, with another young team, they are poised to streak to the top once again, with Turner and Scott leading the way.
Schedule: Sept. 5 at California; Sept. 12 vs. James Madison; Sept. 19 vs. Middle Tennessee; Sept. 26 vs. Rutgers; Oct. 3 vs. Clemson; Oct. 10 at Wake Forest; Oct. 17 vs. Virginia; Oct. 24 at Duke; Nov. 7 at North Carolina State; Nov. 14 vs. Virginia Tech; Nov. 21 at Florida State; Nov. 28 vs. Boston College.
Head coach: Tom O’Brien (11-14 in two seasons at North Carolina State, 86-59 overall).
2008 record:6-7 (4-4 ACC).
Players to watch: QB Russell Wilson (1,955 passing yards, 133.9 passer efficiency rating, 2,343 yards of total offense in 2008); WR Owen Spencer (691 receiving yards).
Game of the year: Oct. 31 at Florida State. In a midseason showdown, a Wolfpack win could make the division race testy going down the stretch. Facing Florida State’s stiff defense should be a test.
O’Brien says: “We don’t know what Russell’s baseball future is — he may be here a year, might be here two more years. If he’s here a senior it’s because his plans in baseball have fallen apart.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: Wilson can’t do it on his own, and neither can N.C. State’s offense for that matter. The Wolfpack defense has to remain strong all season. The future beyond this season is an uncertainty for the Wolfpack and their two-sport quarterback.
Schedule: Sept. 3 vs. South Carolina, Sept. 12 vs. Murray State, Sept. 19 vs. Gardner-Webb, Sept. 26 vs. Pitt, Oct. 3 at Wake Forest, Oct. 10 vs. Duke, Oct. 17 at Boston College, Oct. 31 at Florida State, Nov. 7 vs. Maryland, Nov. 14 vs. Clemson, Nov. 21 at Virginia Tech, Nov. 28 vs. North Carolina.
Head coach: Jim Grobe (54-44 in eight seasons at Wake Forest, 87-77-1 overall).
2008 record: 8-5, (4-4 ACC).
Players to watch: CB Brandon Ghee (seven pass breakups, four forced fumbles in 2008); QB Riley Skinner (2,491 total yards of offense, 13 passing touchdowns, 63.9 completion percentage).
Game of the year: Nov. 14 vs. Florida State. The Demon Deacons snatched a road win the last time, and that early-season showdown may have affected Florida State’s run for the division. This time around, expect another nail-biter like last year’s 12-3 finish.
Grobe says: “That’s usually your top concern coming back is to assess whether your quarterback has experience and whether he has good experience. So if you’ve got that one, it makes all the other decisions so much easier. In our case, we’ve got so many other positions to worry about, it’s nice not to have to worry about who the quarterback is going to be.”
Ledger-Enquirer says: Grobe is extremely enthusiastic about his offense. Skinner returns, along with a host of other skill position players, giving Wake Forest a chance to watch its scores climb. But the defense could give up a lot of points, as well, after losing some of the conference’s best players in Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith.
Schedule: Sept. 5 vs. Baylor, Sept. 12 vs. Stanford, Sept. 19 vs. Elon, Sept. 26 at Boston College, Oct. 3 vs. North Carolina State, Oct. 10 vs. Maryland, 10.17 at Clemson, Oct. 24 at Navy, Oct. 31 vs. Miami, Nov. 7 at Georgia Tech, Nov. 14 vs. Florida State, Nov. 28 at Duke.