NCF Nation: ACC championship

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

TAMPA, Fla. -- Hello from Raymond James Stadium, where the one word that comes to mind is quiet. There's not a lot of traffic around the stadium, but the good news is that unlike in Jacksonville, there aren't giant tarps covering sections of the stadium. It's about 65 degrees and sunny this morning, a perfect day for a game.

It's hard not to think how much more of a buzz there would be if Miami and Florida State were playing in this game. It's the perfect location for it, and it's just what this championship game needs to inject some excitement into it. By the time the game moves to Charlotte in 2010, Miami and FSU will probably be playing in it, if it doesn't happen next year.

There's no question, though, that Virginia Tech and Boston College earned their way here today. They did it behind their defenses and with solid coaching. Both teams lack superstar playmakers, but that doesn't mean there aren't talented players worth keeping an eye on today. Here are a few of the best:

BC No. 94 LB Mark Herzlich -- He has six interceptions this season, the fifth highest total in the country. Only one other linebacker in the nation -- Baylor's Joe Pawelek -- has as many as six picks. Herzlich is the Eagles' leading tackler with 98, and he has seven pass breakups, three sacks for 14 yards, and 10 total tackles for loss.

BC No. 41 RB Montel Harris -- He has broken the school freshman rushing record with 798 yards on 155 attempts.

VT No. 1 CB Victor "Macho" Harris -- He is second in the country with six interceptions, and has returned two for touchdowns. He has 42 tackles, eight catches for 63 yards, and is averaging over 10 yards per punt return. Not bad for a full day's work.

VT No. 5 QB Tyrod Taylor -- He needs 179 rushing yards to establish a single-season record for a Tech quarterback. The Hokies will need his feet in this game against a run defense that has held each of its past five opponents under 100 yards rushing. He is the team's second leading rusher at 66.1 yards per game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Rematch is the wrong word for this game, considering it's a different season and Virginia Tech and Boston College are completely different teams than they were a year ago. Here are a few things to keep an eye on in Saturday's ACC championship game:

1. Special teams and non-offensive touchdowns. Virginia Tech's last three touchdowns against the Eagles have all come from interception returns, and the Hokies have blocked seven kicks during their series with Boston College. The Eagles have scored eight non-offensive touchdowns this season, including receiver Rich Gunnell's punt return for a touchdown in the Eagles' 28-23 regular-season win on Oct. 18.

2. Virginia Tech's young receivers. Boston College defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani said the Hokies look different from the team they played on Oct. 18 and that's because he said they're not as one-dimensional. The Hokies can thank their rookie receivers for that. Danny Coale caught a career-best five passes last weekend against Virginia and Jarrett Boykin had six. They'll go against a defense that leads the nation in interceptions with 25.

3. Spaziani vs. Bud Foster. This will be a defensive struggle from the start. The Eagles will do their best to try and contain shifty quarterback Tyrod Taylor and stop the run, and the Hokies will look to rattle rookie quarterback Dominique Davis, who will be making his second career start. Foster's name was in the news more this season because he interviewed for the head job at Clemson, but Spaziani has been equally invaluable on the Eagles' sideline.

4. Attendance. There are various reasons why Raymond James Stadium is unlikely to be filled on Saturday, starting with the troubled economy, but regardless of why there might be empty seats, it will be hard not to notice. ACC officials went to great lengths to make sure Tampa provided a better atmosphere than Jacksonville did, but only kickoff will tell if their efforts paid off.

5. The battles up front. With an offensive line that averages 6-foot-5, the Eagles are unusually tall up front -- the tallest in the ACC -- while the Hokies have been rather inconsistent. BC defensive tackles Ron Brace and B.J. Raji have combined for 54 tackles. Raji leads the team with 11 tackles for a loss of 62 yards and seven sacks. Virginia Tech has been dependent upon the run, while the Eagles have held each of their past five opponents to under 100 yards rushing.

ACC championship prediction

December, 4, 2008
12/04/08
12:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Good morning, ACC fans! Only two days, three hours, two minutes and 50, 49, 48 ... seconds left until the ACC championship game, the only pick of the week. I finished the regular season strong last week at 6-2, including Georgia Tech's win over Georgia. That put me at 65-31 this season (67.7 percent).

Here's one more shot at figuring out this unpredictable league:

Boston College 21, Virginia Tech 17: First, let's look at the stats. The Hokies are averaging 18.9 points per game against conference opponents, and the Eagles average 25.8. (Throw a non-offensive touchdown in there for both teams for good measure.)

The Hokies' scoring defense hasn't been kind to ACC teams, holding them to 17.2 points per game. Boston College, though, will win this game up front. If the Hokies can't run, they can't win, and BC's front seven has produced the best run defense in the ACC, holding conference opponents to just 85 yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry. It's the No. 7 rushing defense in the country. Teams ahead of them include Texas, Alabama and Southern Cal. Not bad company.

There's one more major factor that went into this pick -- the fact that BC was here last year and didn't get it done. In talking to the players this week, they're determined to change that, while the sentiment out of Blacksburg seems to be thankful to be here.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Florida State isn't gonna look like the program it used to, dadgummit, and unless Bernie Kosar suddenly found an extra year of eligibility, either will Miami.

Doesn't matter -- at least not this year.

The spotlight is on Clemson, and deservedly so. The entire league can stake its reputation on the Tigers this year, but they must deliver with a win in the Orange Bowl if the ACC is going to start chipping away at its embarrassing 1-9 record in BCS games. If Clemson can win on the national stage, then Tommy Bowden should receive thank-you notes from 11 other coaches -- the first one coming priority mail from his "daddy" for diverting some of the attention off another mediocre 7-5 season in Tallahassee.

The realistic coaches in the league -- like NC State's Tom O'Brien -- know that until they start knocking off some storied non-conference programs, the ACC can't be considered among the best in the BCS.

"We haven't proven we can go on the national scene and win games, and until we do that, I don't think you have any leg to stand on to dispute that claim," said O'Brien, whose young team won't have it easy against South Carolina, East Carolina and South Florida before October. "You have to go out and you have to win those nonconference games if you're going to be considered as the top conference in the country."

That means Virginia Tech has to beat Nebraska, Clemson should beat Alabama, Miami needs to beat Florida, and Georgia Tech and Boston College better handle a new-and-improved Notre Dame. Wake Forest also has two SEC opponents on its schedule in Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Only Miami, though, can help the league's 2-17 record against non-conference opponents ranked in the top 10 over the past four years. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, they have to beat the team picked to win the SEC to do it. With a freshman quarterback.

Not going to happen.

Here are a few preseason predictions, though, that might:

* Somebody at Miami will win Rookie of the Year.

But ... somebody else will be ineligible or in trouble.

* Paul Johnson will call more passing plays than he did at Navy.

But ... Georgia Tech will fumble the ball better than anyone and practices quickly close to the

public.

* North Carolina will live up to the hype of a legitimate contender for the ACC title.

But ...

* Maryland will be the conference darkhorse and the Atlantic Division will be a tighter race between Clemson, Wake Forest and the Terps than most people think.
But ...

* Clemson will lose to Wake Forest, win the Atlantic Division, and beat Virginia Tech for its first conference crown since 1991. And then proceed to blow it in the Orange Bowl.

But ...

* The rest of the ACC teams should win enough of their bowl games to improve upon last year's 2-6 record in the postseason. Especially since Ralph Friedgen hired an assistant right off of the Oregon State staff he lost to in the Emerald Bowl.

* There will be a better turnout for the ACC championship in Tampa than there was in Jacksonville because it's a smaller stadium with a broader alumni base.

Speaking of NFL venues, here are a few things that probably won't happen this season in the ACC:

* Miami fans won't like the move to Dolphin Stadium, save for the beer.

- Nobody's going to get fired, but the algrohmustgo web site makes a faster comeback than Florida State and Miami.

* Nine ACC teams won't be bowl eligible, which means the Congressional Bowl reps will have to settle for Navy (if the Midshipmen even qualify) and a MAC team.

* Cullen Harper won't win the Heisman.

* Chris Crane won't make you forget Matt Ryan, and Jeff Jagodzinski won't make Eagles fans forget Tom O'Brien.

* Tyrod Taylor won't redshirt, and Virginia Tech isn't going to miss Branden Ore -- or his lack of discipline -- now that Jahre Cheeseman and Kenny Lewis Jr. are healthy.

* Duke doesn't win more than three games. Hey, that's still triple last year's win total. Let's not push it.

Overall, just about every team in the conference should show improvement this year. The teams in the Triangle are taking the necessary steps to build their programs, and Wake Forest has the staff stability and player potential to build upon its most successful period in school history. What the conference is starving for, though, is a national contender, and right now, that burden falls on the Tigers.

And as Bobby Bowden so eloquently pointed out, his son Tommy, "ain't won nothin' yet."

This year, he's got no excuse not to win.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Good morning from Annapolis, Md. No, Paul Johnson is not here, but I still call this place home.

Not that I'm here that often during the season. One of the better trips this year will be to Tampa, for the ACC Championship. Anything has got to be better than the half-empty stadium in Jacksonville, and ACC officials all but promised it will be. The key will be a smaller venue, bigger city and cheaper tickets. More ACC alumni, too. But you know the No. 1 rule in real estate - location, location, location.

So far the rule seems to apply to ACC football, too -- more than half of the seats there are already sold.

Want one? Check out their web site.

In addition to talking up Tampa on Tuesday, ACC commissioner John Swofford gave his take on the state of the ACC yesterday, so that's where much of the news came from. And yes, he is pleased with the way things are going.

Even in the face of numbers like these.

Also addressed on Tuesday in the final day of the ACC football kickoff was the new rule changes. Here's a more in-depth look at the clock change for this season.

Swofford and SEC commissioner Mike Slive are ready for a change in the BCS, but believe it or not, some coaches are OK with the status quo. The coaches in the Triangle don't mind it so much, either.

Speaking of coaches in the Triangle, somebody else noticed how Butch Davis dressed on Monday, too. And David Cutcliffe and Jenny Craig in the same sentence? More on how the Blue Devils slimmed down to shape up.

And more on food -- Gregg Doyel says recruiting at Wake Forest is like is like visiting a seven-course buffet and being allowed to pick only from the salad bowl.

Despite the high hopes for the Carolina schools, Clemson is obviously the best team this year. If the Tigers are going to win it all, though, quarterback Cullen Harper said they will need a little luck.

It appears Florida State has the speed. Who's the fastest at FSU? Redshirt freshman Brandon Paul is ready for a "race-off" to find out.

Elsewhere in Florida, former Miami coach Larry Coker is gearing up for his second season as a TV analyst for ESPN but hasn't ruled out returning to the sidelines. Click here for his take on that and the Hurricanes' move to Dolphin Stadium.

Back to the BCS -- remember that excuse for not going with the plus-one, that whole thing about academics?

Well, how about playing in the Congressional Bowl the same day you've got a final exam? Given its locale, Maryland would be a natural fit for this game. Given its potential, it won't have to worry about it.

The bigger question is who -- if anyone -- will qualify for it.

SPONSORED HEADLINES