BOZICH | Monday Muse: ACC & SEC Football Picks to Click
By Rick Bozich
I’m kidding. It’s just four days in Atlanta.
On to the Monday Muse — with equal previews and projections for the ACC and SEC
1. Picks to Click (Teams)
ACC — Clemson. Florida State has changed coaches. Miami punctuated last season with three consecutive losses. Virginia Tech needs one more recruiting class. Everybody else is wishing, praying, hoping. Clemson has two of the five best defensive tackles in America and two of the 10 best defensive ends. The Bears and Chargers wish they had the Tigers’ talent. It’s not complicated.
SEC — Alabama. Alabama is the safe pick. Alabama is the smart pick. Alabama is the consensus pick. And although I think Kirby Smart is on the verge of doing great things at Georgia, the Crimson Tide simply have more talented pieces returning than Georgia. Nick Saban will turn 67 in October, and he’s as relentless as he’s ever been.
2. Picks to Click (Players)
ACC — The league of Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson is searching for its next star — and Boston College halfback A.J. Dillon is prepared to accept the invitation. Dillon, a sophomore, introduced himself with that 272-yard burst as BC upset Louisville last season. Over the Eagles’ final seven games, Dillon averaged 179 yards per game — and BC went 5-2. The Heisman has become a quarterback award, but Dillon can make his way to New York averaging 179 yards per game.
SEC — Drew Lock, Missouri quarterback. No reason to overthink this. Lock threw 44 touchdown passes and squeezed seven wins out of a team that started 1-5. No other SEC quarterback had more than 26 TD passes and only three (Lock; Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt and Jake Fromm, Georgia) threw as many as 20. The Tigers averaged 47 points in their final four SEC games. Kentucky did not score 47 points in a game last season.
3. Teams on the Rise
ACC — Virginia Tech. The reviews on Hokies’ coach Justin Fuente remained 5-star after he won 19 of 27 games in two seasons at Tech. Fuente was not interested in leaving Blacksburg for any of the higher profile jobs available last season because he knew he was close to having the best team in the ACC Coastal.
SEC — South Carolina. Will Muschamp was a convenient punching bag when he washed out at Florida. Maybe he wasn’t ready to be a head coach. Maybe the comparisons to Urban Meyer were suffocating. Maybe he had the wrong staff.
It’s working for Muschamp in Columbia. He has taken advantage of weaknesses at Tennessee, Florida and Missouri to vault the Gamecocks from 1-7 to 3-5 and 4-4 in two seasons. With Jake Bentley at quarterback, South Carolina will be a threat every Saturday. The Gamecocks host Georgia in Week Two. They call that a Show Me game.
4. Teams on Decline
ACC — You thought I was going to say, Louisville, which actually was the pick by Athlon Sports and Street & Smith’s. I considered it, but I went with North Carolina on the strength of the Tar Heels’ uninspiring 3-9 finish last season.
The Tar Heels played in the 2015 ACC title game but Miami and Virginia Tech have upgraded with solid coaching hires and UNC is sliding back into the Coastal pack. Regaining your mojo isn’t easy.
SEC — Honk if you remember when Ole Miss was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and pumping out NFL players like Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell. I hope the Rebels enjoyed the good times because they’re a consensus pick to finish last in the SEC West. At least the tailgating is always good in Oxford.
5. Meet The New Guys
ACC — Maybe it was one of those years or maybe it was reflective of the more persistent heat on coaches in the SEC but the only turnover in the ACC came when Jimbo Fisher left Florida State for Texas A&M.
It’s been a dazzling ride for Willie Taggart from Western Kentucky to South Florida to Oregon to FSU, but this time he’ll have to settle in and outwork Dabo Swinney and Clemson. The ACC will be watching.
SEC — You could say that 5 1/2 jobs turned over in the league because in addition to Chad Morris (Arkansas), Dan Mullen (Florida); Joe Moorhead (Mississippi State), Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M) and Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee), Matt Luke pulled the interim tag of his status at Ole Miss.
Nationally, all the chatter will be about Fisher and his $75 million deal. But in this area, Pruitt is more relevant because Kentucky overtook Tennessee in the SEC East last season. Getting the Volts back on top of UK and Vanderbilt will be Job One for Pruitt, who got the job after 1,817 people turned it down.
6. Coaches on the Hot Seat
ACC — Larry Fedora, North Carolina. Mack Brown made his name winning a national title at Texas but Brown’s best work was making UNC relevant. Fedora has not been able to do that. The Tar Heels slipped to 3-9 last season and got drilled by Georgia Tech 33-7 and Virginia Tech, 59-7. Their only league win was over Pitt by three.
SEC — Ed Orgeron, LSU. LSU dumped Les Miles, a coach with a national title on his resume, to close the gap between the Tigers and Alabama. Last season LSU and Orgeron lost to Bama by two touchdowns and now they’re picked by some (Phil Steele) to finish fifth in the SEC West as Orgeron is being squeezed to the East by Saban and the West by Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M). Patience and reason are not trademarks of LSU football.
7. Games of the Year
ACC — Clemson at Boston College Nov. 10. The Tigers have been great the last two seasons but not without throwing in a clunker. Last season it was a three-point loss at Syracuse. Two years ago it was a one-point loss to Pittsburgh. This season the Tigers have three road games where they will be vulnerable to a letdown — Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Boston College. Give me BC — on the weekend after the Tigers finish a run of North Carolina State, Florida State and Louisville.
SEC — Auburn at Georgia Nov. 10. Here’s another reason to favor Alabama in the SEC West. The Crimson Tide will play its divisional crossover games with Missouri and Tennessee. Neither is expected to contend for the SEC East title. Auburn, meanwhile, gets Tennessee and a trip to Athens. The Tigers beat the Bulldogs last season — in the regular season, not the SEC title game.
8. Local Forecasts
ACC — I’ve purchased four pre-season magazines and uncovered four predictions for the Cardinals, ranging from third place (Lindy’s) to sixth (Athlon) in the Atlantic Division. I’ll settle on fourth, behind Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina State. But beware Boston College and even Syracuse. They’ve improved.
SEC — The predictions are more consistent for the Wildcats — three fifth-place votes (Phil Steele; Athlon and Lindy’s) and one sixth (Street & Smith). Put me down for fifth, ahead of Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Until a quarterback stands and delivers, we’re guessing here.
9. Jerry Smith Update
As I wrote Saturday, former Louisville guard Jerry Smith is chasing a payoff of more than $100,000, his share of the winnings if Team ALS Challenge delivers the six victories required in The Basketball Tournament’s $2 million winner-take-all 72-team event.
Smith’s team won its opening games in Los Angeles last weekend. They’ll play a Sweet 16 game against a group of UCLA alums in Atlanta July 28. Smith had five points Saturday and did not score Saturday.
10. Poll Results
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