Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: 5 predictions on ACC season

Tyrod Taylor will be your ACC player of the year.

That's prediction No. 1 for the 2010 ACC season, and it's probably the easiest of the five I'm going to make today.

The Virginia Tech quarterback's evolution from solid, respected player to bona fide ACC star will begin on Labor Day. Folks will tune in to see if Boise State is for real, or to watch those Tech tailbacks they've been hearing so much about, and all of a sudden they will notice something: This guy under center for the Hokies looks fantastic.

Taylor already has a strong resume. He enters the season No. 3 on the active list for wins by Division I-A quarterback (23). He led the ACC in passing efficiency last year. He owns a YouTube magic moment: the drive against Nebraska last year.

Still, all of that couldn't get him on the cover of this year's college football special section, which we've published today.

Tailbacks Ryan Williams and Darren Evans got that nod, and they deserve it. But in any other year, a senior quarterback with Taylor's credentials would be an obvious pick.

So you could argue that the guy is being overlooked everywhere -- including Tech's own back yard. But he won't be by the end of the season. When it comes time to vote, Taylor will be akin to a coach whose team wins eight games after being predicted to win three. He'll own the advantage of having exceeded expectations.

Taylor won't put up blinding yardage totals because this offense isn't designed for a quarterback to do so. But he will play well, and he will win, and the more people ask coach Frank Beamer about his offense, the more he will shovel credit on Taylor.

As the tailbacks soften defenses with relentless rushing, Taylor will strike with poise and accuracy. And ultimately, he'll be the choice over Florida State's Christian Ponder.

More on Ponder in a bit. First, though, prediction No. 2:

2. Virginia will win at least four games. I know that sounds like a flimsy forecast, but look around: There are a ton of people scribbling goose eggs in that conference win total for the rebuilding Cavaliers. Assuming a loss to USC, that would leave the Cavaliers with just three victories (or fewer), the same amount they got last year.

They'll get at least one more. It's most likely to come at home against Maryland, but if not then, sometime. Who knows? With UNC embroiled in NCAA issues, the Cavs might even be able to extend their winning streak against the Tar Heels to five.

3. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen will not save his job. I'm a Ralph guy. Always have been. But in talking to him at ACC media days last month, he didn't exactly exude confidence.

Maryland's quarterback play should be a little more consistent than it was last year, but that's not saying much. The Terrapins have a pretty easy schedule -- Duke, Wake Forest and N.C. State all come to College Park -- but that will only make it all the more disappointing when they finish sub-.500 again.

If that happens, don't expect a firing as much as a "parting of ways." The ultra-competitive Friedgen can't handle much more of this, either.

4. Georgia Tech will take a step back. We keep waiting for the league to catch up to coach Paul Johnson's spread option attack, and that might not happen again this year (the ever-confident Johnson certainly doesn't think it will).

Still, not only did the Yellow Jackets lose 2008 ACC player of the year Jonathan Dwyer, but they're really going to feel the absence of wideout Demaryius Thomas. Some tend to forget how often quarterback Josh Nesbitt just fired it up there when he got in trouble. That helped Thomas break an ACC record with an average of 25.1 receiving yards on his 46 catches.

Can they find an reasonable facsimile of Thomas? Doubtful. And they need one.

5. Florida State will win the conference crown. The Seminoles offense is built from the inside out, with loads of experience on the offensive line. That should make Ponder quite comfortable.

All those yards Taylor isn't getting? Ponder will.

Meanwhile, the defense -- which finally uses playbooks -- will be improved thanks to greater discipline instilled by the new coaching staff.

There is next to no resistance in the Atlantic Division. The most formidable division opponent, Clemson, must come to Tallahassee. FSU doesn't have to play the Hokies in the regular season.

However, potential nonconference losses loom with Oklahoma and Florida. That Gators-Seminoles matchup on Nov. 27 will be a high-profile affair that happens to be the last thing ACC voters will see before they submit their player of the year ballots.

The ones with Tyrod Taylor's name filled in on top.

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