Picking Splinters: Pigskin Prognostication

The college football season kicks off this week, announcing the end of summer and the start of several familiar refrains.

Every year around this time I hear a slew of talking heads spouting the same storylines.  Notre Dame is a top 25 team, and we shouldn’t count the Irish out. Texas football is back! (Seriously, where did Texas football ever go?) And did you know that Virginia Tech has really, really good special teams? No, really! If national championships were decided by blocking field goals and returning punts in pre-season practice, well Frank Beamer would have his own wing in the hall of fame by now.

So instead of adding to the noise, let’s take three oft-heard pre-season party lines and see how these common perceptions stack up.

1.) Virginia Tech is the team to beat in the ACC

History tells us that backing the Hokies is a smart play. Since joining the ACC, Va. Tech has won three conference titles in six seasons, including back-to-back titles in 2007 and ’08. Georgia Tech spoiled the three-peat last season. The Hokies enter 2010 as the top-ranked team in the conference and welcome back RBs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, but can that tandem help remedy Va. Tech’s chronic Achilles Heel?

The Hokies have been great defensively the past five seasons – no worse than 12th nationally in scoring defense since 2007 and ninth last year. But Beamer’s boys are so good at keeping points off the scoreboard they’ve sometimes forgotten to put them up in their own column. This season, that could change.

They ranked 24th in the category last season – up from 90th in ’08 -and a relentless run game should keep the clock friendly for the Hokies. That makes Tech seem as formidable as ever, but they’re not alone in the ACC.

Miami returns its top QB and top two RBs, WRs and pass rushers, while UNC’s defensive roster accounts for something like 120 percent of Mel Kiper’s Big Board … or so it seems. Still, the Hokies have been there before. The ‘Canes have yet to regain their full swagger and UNC could face issues related to an investigation of possible NCAA violations. Add in an X factor – Have you seen this team play special teams?!?! – and this recurring ACC assessment seems on the mark again. If the Hokies want to take it higher – cue the national title talk – they’ll need to top Boise State in Monday’s season opener.

2.) Notre Dame will be reborn this year

No Jimmy Clausen. No Golden Tate. No Charlie Weiss. Okay, so that last absence could be a good thing. Still the Irish somehow scored a spot in ESPN The Magazine‘s pre-season Top 25. I tell you, that luck just never runs out … well, except against Navy … and UConn.

But it is a new season (I mentioned that Charlie Weiss was gone, right?) and new coach Brian Kelly brings in a high-octane attack that should make WR Michael Floyd a top draft choice if he declares. The team’s main challenge will be to stop the run though.

Irish fans watched one soul-crushing drive after another last season as Notre Dame’s D ranked 89th against the run. Sophomore LB Manti Te’o should help on that front, as will a change to a 3-4 defensive scheme, which should help hide ND’s deficiencies up front. Still, it’s hard to see this team winning more than eight games. They’ll be bowl eligible, but let’s quiet the “reborn” talk until they’re BCS-worthy again.

3.) Boise State has no chance whatsoever of making the BCS Title game

This one doesn’t require much explanation. The Broncos are always cast aside as BCS title contenders largely because one-loss teams always sneak past undefeated teams outside the big six (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pac-10) for a title shot. This year? It could be different.

The Broncs start this season No. 3 in the AP poll and face a fairly easy schedule after that date with Va. Tech. Top Tech, upset Oregon State then run through the WAC and there’s no way Boise State doesn’t score a spot in the top two for both polls.

Amid all these rehashed storylines to start the season- raise your hand if your favorite pundit predicted a Big Ten-SEC BCS title game – that would be a very refreshing finish.