Can Virginia Tech beat Alabama? Is Georgia Tech just getting started?

As you can tell from the questions above, there is a lot that we know and we don’t know about the ACC’s Coastal Division. Today we complete our look at the SEC and ACC heading into Spring practice, 2009.

Virginia Tech has been the ACC’s best program since it joined the league in 2004. Alabama has returned to national prominence under Nick Saban. They will meet at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 5 in the second Chick-fil-A Kickoff. Should be fun.

Georgia Tech was the surprise team of the ACC a year ago as it won nine games. What does Paul Johnson do for an encore?


We address these questions and many more today as we look at the ACC Coastal.


DUKE (4-8, practice started March 9, ends April 18)

 What we know:  No starting lineup in the ACC was hammered quite as badly as Duke’s which lost six starters on each side of the ball. The Blue Devils are really going to miss LB Michael Tauiliili, who led the ACC in tackles and was third in the nation with 11.7 per game. His loss is eased by the return of senior LB Vincent Rey, who had 108 tackles and two fumble returns for touchdowns last season. The Duke defense got a tough break on March 18 when senior DT Vince Oghobaase suffered a stress fracture in his foot and is out for the rest of the spring. He is expected to return in the fall.

What we don’t know:  Can QB Thaddeus Lewis keep it going without WR Eron Riley? Lewis, who has thrown for 6,735 yards and 47 touchdowns in 34 career starts, returns for his senior season. But he will be without his primary weapon in Riley, the Savannah native who was fourth in the ACC in receptions (61 for 693 yards and 8 touchdowns). Rising sophomore WRs Johnny Williams and Donovan Varner combined for 51 catches last season. Will Duke’s rushing offense, which was 11th in the ACC (106.2 ypg) last season, be helped by the return of Re’quan Boyette? Boyette ran for 1,072 yards in his first three seasons and was the projected starter for 2008 but missed the entire season with a knee injury.


GEORGIA TECH (practice starts today, ends April 18)

What we know: The OL will be fine. Yes, the Yellow Jackets lose a great offensive tackle in Andrew Gardner (48 career starts) and another OT in David Brown who started eight games.  But remember that Gardner missed the last five games of the 2008 season after shoulder surgery. There is depth up front and the unit as a whole will be better. The Yellow Jackets are just getting started on offense. Tech returns the ACC Player of the Year in running back Jonathan Dwyer (1,395 yards) and another big-time runner in Roddy Jones (8.5 ypc). But to that group coach Paul Johnson will add Anthony Allen, who sat out last season as a transfer from Louisville. I sense that Johnson has many fun things in his playbook that he hasn’t shown us yet.

What we don’t know: Did anybody lose more muscle on its defensive front than Georgia Tech?  DE Michael Johnson, DT Vance Walker, and DT Darryl Richard combined for 87 career starts and were a big reason why the Yellow Jackets were third in the ACC against the rush (120.3 ypg). Johnson was third in the league in quarterback sacks (9) nine and  tackles for loss (17.5). Can Josh Nesbitt stay healthy? Nesbitt, a rising junior from Greene County, picked up and executed Johnson’s offense far better than I thought he could in the first year. He averaged 71.7 yards rushing in ACC games last season. The QB in this offense makes a lot of plays but he also takes a lot of hits. Jaybo Shaw was a smart, efficient backup when Nesbitt was dinged up. But the offense is totally different and more explosive when Nesbitt is pulling the trigger.



MIAMI (7-6, practice started Feb. 24, ends March 28)

What we know: The Miami offense is going to be better—a lot better—because head coach Randy Shannon made two important decisions. No. 1, he said goodbye to Patrick Nix and hired Mark Whipple as his offensive coordinator. Whipple won a Division I-AA national championship at UMass and then went to the NFL to tutor Donovan McNabb of the Eagles.  The second big decision was deciding once and for all that Jacory Harris was his starting quarterback. The inconsistent Robert Marve has transferred and Harris, the sophomore, will thrive under Whipple, who has been given the freedom by Shannon to be much more creative on offense. Another reason to be optimistic about the offense: True freshmen were responsible for 17 Miami touchdowns last season.

What we don’t know: It’s time for Miami’s defense to grow up. Will they? When Shannon was the coordinator, defense was the backbone of the Miami football team. But in John Lovett, formerly of Auburn and Clemson, Miami has its fourth defensive coordinator in the span of 28 months. Miami finished 11th in the ACC in scoring defense (24.2 ppg) last season but played a bunch first-year people like LB Sean Spence, who was a freshman All-America. Eight starters return, including six of the front seven. Miami should also be helped by the return DE Eric Moncur, S Randy Phillips, an LB Colin McCarthy, who missed almost all of last season with injuries.



NORTH CAROLINA (8-5, practice started March 4, ends March 28)

What we know: If T.J. Yates can go the distance, the Tar Heel offense will be pretty good. The Marietta native (Pope H.S.) threw for a school-record 2,655 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2007. He had to recover from shoulder surgery to get ready for the 2008 season and then missed six games with an ankle injury. Still, Yates completed 60 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and only four interceptions. The defense has to be better. The Tar Heels finished 11th in the ACC in total defense last season (365.4 ypg) but nine starters return including six of the front seven. Look for those numbers to improve with the return of players like DT Marvin Austin and LB Bruce Carter (68 tackles).

What we don’t know:  Who is going to catch the ball? For a while last season the Tar Heels had the best receiving duo in the ACC in  Hakeem Nicks (who led the ACC in receiving with 1,222 yards) and Brandon Tate, the ACC’s all-purpose yardage leader  who suffered a career-ending knee injury in the middle of last season. All total, North Carolina lost players accounting for 17 of its 21 touchdowns receiving a year ago. Greg Little was a tailback in 2008 but has moved back to WR to provide help. A couple of sophomores, Rashad Mason and Dwight Jones, are going to have to step up.


VIRGINIA (5-7, practice started March 21, ends April 18)

What we know:  There is some work to do on defense. Five players who combined for 175 career starts are gone including OLB Clint Sintim, who was second only to Florida State’s Everette Brown in ACC quarterback sacks with 11. The offense, which finished dead last in the league (299.8 ypg) in 2008, has to improve under new OC Gregg Brandon, who lit up the MAC scoreboards when he was the head coach at Bowling Green. In four of his six seasons as a head coach Brandon’s offenses averaged over 400 yards per game. Brandon was elevated to head coach at Bowling Green in when Urban Meyer left for Utah in 2003. He was dismissed after six seasons with a record of 44-30.

What we don’t know:  Can Jameel Sewell regain the quarterback position? Sewell had 22 consecutive starts and 3,997 yards of total offense when he was placed on academic suspension and missed the entire 2008 season.  That set off a chain reaction of quarterback problems in Charlottesville. At the end of the season the Cavaliers turned to Vic Hall, who had 24 starts at cornerback. Sewell is back and Hall is working exclusively at quarterback this spring. Mark Verica, who started seven games last season, is also in the mix of what will be an interesting quarterback battle. Can RB Mikell Simpson stay healthy? Simpson missed the last three games of 2008 with a broken collarbone. Simpson ran for 570 yards on 113 carries as a sophomore in 2007 and then dropped off with the rest of the Virginia offense last season. Still, he has averaged 4.0 yards per carry in his career and should fare well in the new offense.



VIRGINIA TECH (10-4, practice starts April 1, ends April 25)

What we know: Bud Foster’s defense will be very good again. The Hokies’ defense was supposed to be in a rebuilding mode in 2008 but when the season ended Virginia Tech was second in the league in total defense (279.4 ypg) and first in scoring defense (16.7 ppg). Seven starters return but the losses were significant. Victor “Macho” Harris started 40 games at cornerback. Foster also has to find a couple of inside linebackers. According the figures recently released by the school, in the last five seasons combined, Virginia Tech has had the nation’s best defense (263.06 ypg). There is no reason to think that will change in 2009.

What we don’t know: Can QB Tyrod Taylor and RB Darren Evans keep it going? If so, the Hokies are going to be hard to handle on offense. Taylor, a rising junior, was dinged up a lot last season but still managed to record 1,774 yards of total offense (1,036 passing, 738 running) in 12 games. Evans set an ACC record for the most yards rushing by a freshman (1,265) last season. Virginia Tech has won the ACC championship in three of the five years (2004, 2007, 2008) it has been a member and played for the ACC championship (losing to Florida State) in 2005. The Hokies may be the closest thing the ACC has to a Top 10 team in 2009. Do they have a chance to upset Alabama in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 5?



85 comments Add your comment


March 23rd, 2009
8:57 am

Hokies Roll bama back to tuscaloser!

Roll Tide around the bowl and down the hole, roll tide roll!!!


March 23rd, 2009
8:58 am


Great article as usual. I do have one small nitpick though, Roddy Jones is not a backup. He is a starter at A-Back. The battle for the starting A-Back opposite Roddy will be one of the more interesting things to watch this spring. The incumbent, Lucas Cox, was really forced to play out of position last season due to lack of depth. Sophomores Marcus Wright, Embry Peeples, and true freshman Jemea Thomas will be in the mix this Spring.


March 23rd, 2009
9:23 am


Tide owns Tiger Stadium


March 23rd, 2009
9:34 am

The Hokies won’t beat the Tide…


March 23rd, 2009
9:37 am

Tech is just getting started.

Tony Barnhart

March 23rd, 2009
9:38 am

Of course you are right about Roddy White. I will fix that.

Kid Ray

March 23rd, 2009
9:46 am

I think the second time around the league proves to be more difficult for GT’s option attack (similar to a pitcher going round a lineup the second time)
Also, I think the U makes the leap this year and doesn’t look back. They should be strong for the foreseeable future. Too much talent for the rest of the league.


March 23rd, 2009
9:47 am

VT like everyone else will be lucky to score ten points against Bama this year.

Saint Nick

March 23rd, 2009
9:48 am

ACC= Almost Competitive Conference!!!!!!

Josh H

March 23rd, 2009
9:56 am

I do agree partially with Kid Ray. Tech is going to have to form a passing game this year. I’m not saying 30-40 attempts per game. The main problem is that the O-line did a horrible job in pass protection. Its hard to ever get into a rhythm passing the ball if you can never set your feet.

As far as defense, you can’t deny that Tech lost NFL caliber athletes on the D-line. I think we’ll be fine there because we’ve recruited defensive line very well. The play of the defense will hinge on the linebackers. They did not play well last year.

Saint Nick

March 23rd, 2009
10:16 am

Yeah VT will have a decent defense, BUT, Bama will have a GREAT defense!!!! VT or anyone for that matter run on this defense. Scott moving to DB will help sure up the secondary, the front seven will be the best in the country. RTR!!!!!!


March 23rd, 2009
10:35 am

Roddy White…..Roddy Jones…..Roddy Piper…..all the same to me.

Atlanta Native

March 23rd, 2009
11:15 am

Georgia Tech is Georgia Tech. They had a 9 win season and thought they were at the top. They were – of their potential.

It will be back down to a 6 or 7 win season for them this year.

With the new coaches in their 2nd or 3rd year at Duke, NCS, UNC, and Miami – the Tech program has nowhere to go but down.

If Virginia and Miami do not pick it up a little, look for thw Ole River Boat Gambler from Auburn to be courted. Phil Fulmer might end up at one of those schools too.


March 23rd, 2009
11:17 am

Yes Virginia Tech can upset Alabama but I don’t think they will.It really depends if Alabama shows up and brings their A-game, if that happens Virginia Tech won’t have much of a chance.This is a game that is a good first test for Alabama to see how good this year’s team can be plus it helps prepare the team to play in a bowl/Championship type atmosphere.Roll Tide!

Got 12?

March 23rd, 2009
11:27 am

Once again, by scheduling the marquee matchup of college football’s opening weekend, Bama has already won. This game is about national exposure, branding, and recruiting. One a side note, we will beat Virgina Tech.

Look for us to play a Big 12 team in New Orleans to open next season.


March 23rd, 2009
11:30 am

Virginia Tech does not fare well in games like this. Their record against top 25 teams from OOC is less than impressive, and that’s being generous. I think they are one of the most overrated programs in the nation.


March 23rd, 2009
11:35 am

Tech will have depth this year. Last year the lack of depth on offense was a major problem…resulting in Nesbitt having to play hurt. Jaybo couldn’t run the offense effectively because of the make-shift offensive line. This year Tech will have depth on offense and have more of the offensive package installed. The future at Tech is so bright we will all have to wear shades. And the most important thing is….Thank God and Greyhound that Chan Gailey, the worst coach in the history of the world, is gone FOREVER. He sucked, and anyone that ever supported him still sucks.


March 23rd, 2009
11:36 am

Tech’a offense will be productive. They will miss that defense from last year. VT will give BAMA a run for their money, maybe even beat them. Bama will have hard time replacing John Parker Wilson. Look for bama to have a ok season 9/4 10/3

Saint Nick

March 23rd, 2009
11:39 am


How many more pitch and draw plays can you come up with???? What you saw last year is what you will get every year!!!!!!!


March 23rd, 2009
11:43 am

GT will be the most overrated team this year. Option offense is not a long term offensive strategy. Once a team gets it figured out, it’s not hard to shut down. I predict, at most 6 wins for GT this year.

GT 2009

March 23rd, 2009
11:46 am

Right-on Tony about GT’s OL being just fine in ‘09!

Once the OL got Nick Claytor & Austin Barrick in the mix as starters (last 5 games as you noted), the running game starting clicking. Uzzi should add quality depth to the OL in ‘09 – if he doesn’t win a starting spot.

Now add RBs Anthony Allen & Richard Watson to the mix, and the depth chart is suddenly full at B-Back to spell Dwyer. A-back loaded too. If anyone needs proof when I say that Anthony Allen is every bit as good as Dwyer (if not better) then go down and watch a couple practices to see for yourself.

To the bloggers on here thinking Tech’s O while have problems vs. teams the second time around…. you do know that the offensive unit is only getting better & more efficient at running this O, and more plays will be added in 2009, so it’s kind of a point, counter-point argument.

If the 2009 Jackets do what the previous PJ teams have done …. drastically improve in the fumbles category, then expect good things this season.

And on D, with who all the Jackets have stepping in to go along with their best D-lineman anyway (Derrick Morgan), I believe the D-line is not going to miss Walker, Richards, and Johnson as much most people think.

The only thing I’m concerned about in ‘09 is not having an off week until late November. But there’s a silver lining in that; it should mean the Jackets will be well rested when the dogs come to town!


March 23rd, 2009
11:55 am

I tend to agree that what you see is what you get out of the Tech offense, especially as long as Nesbitt is the quarterback. He’s just not a very good thrower. Never has been. Never will be.

“…. you do know that the offensive unit is only getting better & more efficient at running this O”

No, I don’t know that. Did you watch the bowl game?

gotta love those third quarters,

March 23rd, 2009
12:19 pm

Tech did/does not need to pass to beat a dog!


March 23rd, 2009
12:32 pm

Despite PJ’s track record, people continue to underestimate him. A good coach is a good coach. Randy Shannon is not a good head coach, so I don’t look for the U to win over 8 games max. As far as Tech goes, what impressed me most was PJ was executing a running offense last year without an O-Line. Once Gardner quit on us, there was nothing left. And we still ran up 450 yards on the mighty dawgs. I don’t argue with the logic of the offense being suspect. But I know good coaches and they find a way to win.

Jay Poole

March 23rd, 2009
12:46 pm

My Auburn uncle tells me that Alabama’s offense will not be good early. Bad news for the Crimson Tide, because Virginia Tech’s defense will be better than many SEC fans will admit. Virginia Tech wins close, unlike the last time when the two teams play when Tech blew Alabama out of Nashville.


March 23rd, 2009
12:53 pm

i love seeing all these people talking about how GT will win 6 or 7 games….When has paul johnson ever not improved in his second year? Paul Johnson will have this team playing hard and this team believes it can win. WIth that combination, I believe that GT will be a force next year. As for VT vs Alabama….UTAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! lol. VT can beat bama, and dont think that 12 championships or the past can change that. This is the present and I look for a good game between VT and Bama.


March 23rd, 2009
12:53 pm

i still think it’s funny that people think the option-based offense can be figured out after one year and suddenly shutdown. with that logic, wouldn’t any team be able to figure out another team’s pass-based offense and easily shut it down every time?


March 23rd, 2009
12:56 pm

woah woah inveniojacket dont throw out the “l” word here. These people dont take kindly to that kind of speech. lol


March 23rd, 2009
1:15 pm

Georgia Tech has question marks? Tony, are we talking about the same Georgia Tech team? The Georgia Tech team that I know won an unprecedented 9 games, finished 2nd in the ACC Coastal, and limited Georgia to 42 points en route to a three point thrashing. These guys are a machine. Their biggest challenge this spring will be maintaining the level of sheer dominance that we saw at the end of last season and avoiding injuries. Other than that there isn’t much work to do.


March 23rd, 2009
1:36 pm

It is time for any ACC team to step up and be the team to beat because the ACC is probably the most balanced conference there is.But what ACC team is gonna step up and say we are the best in the ACC?Many thought it would be Clemson last season but it was’nt.I thought it would be Wake Forest.


March 23rd, 2009
1:42 pm

Bob, did you watch the bowl game? GT ran up comparable offensive stats to all their games, but had a fumbled punt, a poor decision to fake a punt, a dropped TD pass.

GT’s biggest issue will be shoring up the special teams play. PJ’s offense has worked wherever he’s gone, for many years. No reason to think things will suddenly be different.

The D will be fine. We started a lot of underclassmen in the secondary and LB. Got some good talent coming in for D line.

VT and Bama will be interesting but since VT has Tyrod back and Bama will be starting a new QB, the nod goes to VT.

The question about the rest of the ACC Coastal is whether Duke and Carolina improve. VT , Miami and UVA will be about the same.

Ramblin Wrecker

March 23rd, 2009
1:43 pm

GT 2009,

I love your enthusiasm, but I think saying Anthony Allen is better than Dwyer is a serious reach. I’m sure Allen is very good. But Dwyer could possibly be one of the top 5 running backs in the nation. The dude runs over linebackers and then proceeds to outrun defensive backs. The guy is a freak. Allen will be a nice complimentary piece to both spell Dwyer and add a triple threat to the already awesome tandem of Dwyer and Roddy White on the field at the same time. But if he were a talent like Dwyer he would not have had any reason to leave Louisville because he would have been the starter there already. Let’s stick to realistic assessments and leave the overblown conjecture to the UGA fans.

Saint Nick

March 23rd, 2009
1:46 pm

It’s funny that an Aubbie says Bamas offense won’t be good…… I am sure that they remember last year’s backup driving down for 2 TD’s!!!! I know one thing, i wanna check out that new italion restaraunt in Auburn “Chiznik and Malzohn’s”

Saint Nick

March 23rd, 2009
1:48 pm

LONGLIVE THE BLACKOUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Adam The Great

March 23rd, 2009
2:03 pm

Bama is going to roll up Va Tech like a cheap suit..LOL, LOL, LOL


March 23rd, 2009
2:16 pm

Look for VT to field its best team since ‘99. 3 big question marks remain: Will the O-line improve? will VT have a more balanced offensive attack? and how does Ryan Williams fit into the mix and what kind of effect will he have on the offense? Either way, the Chick-fil-a kickoff in ATL will be a close game (with VT winning, of course). Whoever loses will still have a good chance at making another BCS bowl appearance.

VT in the NCG in 2009? Not out of the question, especially if they pull wins out against BAMA and the Huskers.


March 23rd, 2009
2:18 pm

VT has NO chance against the Tide! GT had NO defense last year, and played a soft schedule. The offense had better score a lot of points…. The schedule gets tougher this year, it will be interesting to see it play out….


March 23rd, 2009
2:26 pm

LONG LIVE THE UTES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


March 23rd, 2009
2:28 pm

12 National Titles, 21 SEC Titles

Stealing from a post I read about 6 months ago – I would like to see GT back in the SEC.

Could make this happen 2 ways:

1. So Carolina join the ACC – they will be more relevent in football – and this would bolster their rivalry with Clemson – and natural rivals with the Carolina schools.

2. SEC picks up GT.
– Arkansas goes to B12 (natural fit and huge rivalry with Texas)
– Iowa State to B10 (natural fit and rivalry with Iowa – striking distance to MN, IL, WI and NW) – gives B10 twelve teams for conf champion game.
– Syracuse, West Va, or Uconn to ACC.

All I have to say is welcome back to the SEC GT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Living in Atlanta – would LOVE to see this – can’t make all the games in Tuscaloosa – but would go down to Historic Grant Field to watch TN/GT, AUB/GT, LSU/GT, Florida/GT.

Tech can compete – just ask Auburn!!!! Speaking of which – the atmosphere at Jordan-Hare and Bobby Dodd stadium both insanely electric when the SCHOOLS did the home and home a few years ago.


I VOTE YES!!!!!!

Tony – what are your thoughts about GT rejoining the SEC!!!!!!!

Saint Nick

March 23rd, 2009
2:29 pm

LONG LIVE 31-0 AT THE HALF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


March 23rd, 2009
2:32 pm

12 National Titles – 21 SEC Titles

Bama – VA Tech game will be hard fought.

Beamer will be ready – but I see Bama winning this one in the 4th as we continue to wear down a very good VT defense.

Atmosphere will be fantastic!!



March 23rd, 2009
2:33 pm

Bama’s D will be one of the best in the nation, better than last years. The offense will be just fine with Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Julio Jones, Roy Upchurch, and Marquis Mazes all capable of taking it to the house on any given touch. McElroy will start at QB with Star seeing some shotgun spread snaps every once in awhile to throw D’s off. If Bama shows up to play against VT, and I have faith they will, it will get ugly. If you think Bama will be a 9-3 team this year you are delusional. They will continue to get better every year, with the Freshmen and Sophomores being top recruiting classes in the nation. It will be Bama-Florida in Atlanta for the ’ship.

GT 2009

March 23rd, 2009
2:36 pm

Ramblin Wrecker …

Just like I said in my post …. go to some practices and see it for yourself, just how good Anthony Allen is. Now, mayber he’ll be different come game day, but go a check him out in practice and/or the spring game.

It’s a no-brainer ….. in the last 5 games of the season, that offensive unit, will be returning ALL 11 starters. And in 2009 it gets to add more DEPTH (i.e. A. Allen, R. Watson, O. Uzzi, and S. Hill). Seriously, it’s a no-brainer that they will get better & more efficient.

GT 2009

March 23rd, 2009
2:38 pm

And Ramblin Wrecker ….

It’s Roddy JONES (not White). Roddy White plays for the Falcons.


March 23rd, 2009
2:43 pm

Bama will be on a roll….3 losses in a row. War Eagle!!!!!!!


March 23rd, 2009
2:46 pm

What I notice is how large the SEC has gotten. It use to be the speed that killed you now it is the speed and size. The ACC can match the skill positions fairly well but they have no answer for a Cody or those monsters I saw at LSU. I couldn’t help notice LSU trotting out this 400 pound offensive tackle as a captain in the pregame at the Chickfilla Bowl. They knew they had a size advantage and wanted to make a statement from the very beginning of the game. The assistant coach and trainers walking on the field with him looked like elephant trainers at a circus. As for Tech not doing as well the second time around, if that was true with all the film a superior athletic team like Georgia should have beaten us at their place in the last game of the year. No Tech is just starting and will be more wide open next year.


March 23rd, 2009
2:51 pm

LONG LIVE 21-0 AT THE END OF THE 1ST QUARTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


March 23rd, 2009
2:53 pm

Tech going back to the SEC makes some sense. Lord knows they can’t play basketball anymore and they are getting better in football. They would fill that stadium up with Auburn, Tenn. and a few more natural rivals. Football is king at the flats.


March 23rd, 2009
2:54 pm

Saint Nick – thanks for the recognition!!!!!!!

I retired the half time score as it was wearing thin on some of our fellow Bama fans!!! At any rate – I’m with you buddy!!!!



March 23rd, 2009
3:07 pm

GT – thanks for replying to my post.

Agree – Football is king on the Flats. Yes, you got stomped by LSU – but you put a number on UGA. And Tech could compete today – no doubt about it. It would also help your recruiting both in state and in Florida.

Would love to see it – my UGA neighbors and UGA co-workers would love to see it too.

Tech would have finished 2nd in the SEC East in 2008 – would have played Michigan State in the CapOne bowl.