Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

Miami and North Carolina headline another monster year for the



 
 

Feb. 12, 2008

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com

 

ERIC SORENSON
Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball.
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Once again, it could be argued that the ACC had more high-profile teams than anyone else in the country last season. But only one ACC team made it to Omaha, unlike the four that made the trek in 2006. The bottom of the conference is beginning to pull itself up by the bootstraps and the top dogs are still going to be stalking a national championship. North Carolina's major influx of talent keeps it firmly at the No. 1 spot for now. But Miami's bash-boys are primed and Brian O'Connor's charges at Virginia aren't going to be far behind as a trip to middle America in mid-June is the only thing that will satiate the ravenous appetite of the ACC kingpins. Is it time for an ACC team to finally get the brass ring for the first time since 1955? The magic 8-ball, the Ouija Board, the tarot cards and the law of averages say "yes."

 

Favorites: North Carolina, Miami, Virginia

Contenders: Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State

Darkhorse: Wake Forest

 

Atlantic Division

 

Boston College (24-27-1, 12-17)

 

The Good News:

It all starts with senior pitchers like RHP Terry Doyle (4-5, 5.87) and RHP Ted Ratliff (6-3, 3.96), who will give BC a chance at Ws each time out. 3B Eric Campbell (.350-4-41), C Tony Sanchez (.318) and 1B Michael Belfiore (.297) will emerge as new leaders and carry the lineup.

 

The Bad News:

There's a lot of bad news, including the loss of Kevin Boggan and Nate Jeanes in the rotation and six of the nine starters. All three starting outfielders and the all-important middle infield spots need to find able bodies. Look for numerous amounts of freshmen to be utilized.

 

The Intangible:

(Sorry to plagiarize here) If You Build It They Will Come.

 

Coach Aoki has been assured that step one in the campus-wide rebuilding program will be a new stadium for the baseball team. Though it is still a few years off, it will apparently be a first-class facility with all the whistles and bells.

 

Schedule Note:

The ACC is to be commended here. They factored in BC's geography and climate and scheduled them to stay at home for the month of May, with visits from Maryland and Wake Forest. Nice work people.

 

Clemson (41-23, 18-12)

 

The Good News:

Coach Jack Leggett has recruited a lot of quality depth and this team will still be a major player in the ACC race. C Doug Hogan (.350-13-46) and SS Stan Widmann (.310 in '06, injured last year) both spurned the pro draft and returned for their senior year and will be team leaders. OF Addison Johnson (.286) is a talent that can cover a lot of ground. RHP D.J. Mitchell (5-0, 3.27) and LHP Ryan Hinson (6-2, 2.74) lead a hard-throwing pitching staff, where 90 mph fast balls are considered slow.

 

The Bad News:

If the Tigers were going to stalk the national title, the last two years seem like the ones they would've gotten that done. Now fire-arms Daniel Moskos (1st round pick) and David Kopp (2nd round pick) are gone, along with Brad Chalk, Andy D'Alessio, Taylor Harbin and Marquez Smith, who brought great bats, speed, power, gloves, leadership, you name it.

 

The Intangible:

Home field disadvantage.

 

When it came time for the Super Regional host sites to be announced, Mississippi State got the nod over Clemson last June. Sure, the NCAA had to love the 13,000-plus at Dudy Noble, but I still think if the Tigers would've hosted, they'd been the ones playing in Omaha. May the chips fall in their favor this time around.

 

Schedule Note:

Not that any of these places are quite like Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, but in non-conference action this season, the Tigers will play at College of Charleston, South Carolina, Georgia and three at UCF to close out the season.

 

Florida State (49-13, 24-6)

 

The Good News:

FSU got a lot of pub for the program last year by spending a good number of weeks at No. 1 in the country. Standout catcher Buster Posey (.382), OF Jack Rye (.372-10-61) and 3B Jason Stidham (.366-6-48) are All-ACC and All-American types. RHP Ryan Strauss (10-3, 3.40) is a building block for the pitching staff. Huge shots in the arm came in the form of transfers like SS Tony Delmonico (.325-9-49, 10 SBs at Tennessee) and RHP Elih Villanueva (109 Ks at Miami-Dade CC).

 

The Bad News:

The pitching staff took a huge hit with the exit of Bryan Henry and Michael Hyde, amongst others. The middle infield combo of Tony Thomas and Mark Hallberg was the heart and soul of the team. OF Rye broke his thumb and will miss the first 4-to-6 weeks of the season. And the stigma of coming up short of Omaha in the post-season once again can't be sitting well with the Animals of Section B.

 

The Intangible:

Schedule-up boys.

 

FSU was No. 1 a good portion of last season, but the RPI was only No. 12. The weak schedule was a crusher as the `Noles were eliminated by an SEC team in the Regionals. This year, FSU has non-conference dates with Auburn, Georgia, Florida, and Stetson. So their strength of schedule should be better.

 

Schedule Note:

As noted, this slate shouldn't cost them as much as last year's did. But just like in '07, the Seminoles will ease into ACC play too, with Maryland, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech as the first three weekends.

 

Maryland (26-30, 7-23)

 

The Good News:

Last year the Terps roared out to an 18-5 start including a series win over Clemson. The offense/defense should be outstanding as eight starters return, led by Freshman All-American OF A.J. Casario (.331), 3B Mike Murphy (.309-5-38), UTL Dan Benick (.299) and what every coach loves, a four-year starter at Catcher in Chad Durakis (.295).

 

The Bad News:

After Georgia Tech made a huge 9th-inning comeback on a Friday night, the Terps went 8-25 the rest of the way. Most of the quality pitching has taken off, including school saves leader Brett Cecil and two weekend starters in Ryan Moorer and Casey Baron.

 

The Intangible:

Keep playing disciplined ball.

 

In 2007, the pitching staff threw just 169 walks. New ace Scott Swinson (5-6, 3.97 at George Washington in '07) and set-up man Brad Taylor (1-0, 1.77) will need to help set that precedent.

 

Schedule Note:

For a team that needs to build confidence, things lay out pretty well for Terry Rupp's charges as four of their ACC roadies come against Virginia Tech, Duke, Wake Forest and Boston College. All winnable.

 

North Carolina State (38-23, 16-14)

 

The Good News:

Coach Elliott Avent has a good nucleus returning. It all starts at the top of the stat-sheet where 2B Dallas Poulk (.394), OF Ryan Pond (.326-7-41), OF Marcus Jones (.321-4-33) and OF Pat Ferguson (.319) are the top four batters from last year and all return. Staff ace Eric Surkamp (4-5, 3.47) is back. But the best news of all is that Eryk McConnell (3-2, 1.72, 11 svs), who pitched in the Cape and for Team USA last summer, decided to return despite being an 11th round pick of the Orioles.

 

The Bad News:

Six-foot-11 slinger Andrew Brackman has gone to the pros. And Mike Roskopf, the best power source on the team (13HRs), and Nake Karns, an eight-time starter on the mound, both transferred out in the off-season. SS Ramon Corona, one of the more dynamic fielders in college baseball, also must be replaced.

 

The Intangible:

The Pac 10 frontcourt.

 

A pair of transfers could play a big part in the Pack's pitching corps this year - and both are basketball built. Six-foot-eight Jason Zinser is a transfer from UCLA, but was named the No. 5 prospect in the California Coastal League. Six-foot-four Alex Sogard is a transfer from Oregon State and also threw well in the Cal Coastal League too.

 

Schedule Note:

In an 11-day stretch at the end of March, the Wolf Pack will play three games at Clemson, three at North Carolina and a mid-weeker at East Carolina. They'll also play eight of their last nine regular season games on the road.

 

Wake Forest (34-29, 14-16)

 

The Good News:

Last year, the Deacons made their first NCAA appearance since the 2002 season. Every field starter returns, led by one of the top power hitters in the country in 1B Allen Dykstra (.310-18-60). Leading bat Willy Fox (.332-5-42) adds some pop as well and OFs Brett Linnenkohl (.292-8-29) and Evan Ocheltree (.282-7-35) are steady. On the mound, Ben Hunter (8-6, 4.07, 2svs) is joined by Brad Kledzik (4-4, 5.01) and Garrett Bullock (4-3, 5.12).

 

The Bad News:

The two best pitchers (ERA-wise) on the staff are gone in Eric Nieson, who won six games, and Josh Ellis, who had nine saves. Despite all the returnees, Fox and Dykstra were the only two .300+ hitters. The .965 fielding percentage should improve.

 

The Intangible:

The white-knuckle factor.

 

Wake played in an incredible 24 one-run games last season, going 10-14 in them. So just a note to the faint of heart, the elderly or those fans on medication that plan on going to some Deacon games this season: You could be in for more of the same.

 

Schedule Note:

That three-game lidlifter at Pepperdine is a beauty. Wake doesn't let up on themselves much either, going to Troy the following weekend. May ends with Duke and BC on the ACC docket.

 

Coastal Division

 

Duke (29-25, 8-22)

 

The Good News:

Any winning season is a good season in Durham. With the loss of only four lettermen off last year's team, 2008 could be a big year. 1B Nate Freiman (.369-7-48) and C Matt Williams (.308) pace an offense that hit .302. Sophomore pitchers Michael Ness (4-3, 4.97) and Michael Seander (0-2, 1.61, 9svs) are great options out of the `pen.

 

The Bad News:

Eight conference wins is still just eight conference wins. And the 5-14 road record must be addressed. Former top pitcher Tony Bajoczky (9-3), was the Devils best chance for a W each and every weekend. The .962 fielding percentage was the worst in the ACC.

 

The Intangible:

Starting arms.

 

The biggest key to Duke's hopes of a 30-win season rest with returning starting pitchers Alexander Hassan (2-6, 5.80) and Andrew Wolcott (4-3, 6.10). If they post better numbers and can go deeper into games, Duke's win column will flourish.

 

Schedule Note:

Home cookin'. The Blue Devils will play their first 21 games at Jack Coombs Field. The first road game doesn't happen until a trip to Georgia Tech on March 21st.

 

Georgia Tech (32-25, 15-14)

 

The Good News:

Usually known for its brutal offense, the Jackets might just become more pitching based in 2008. A pair of drafted 6-foot-8 strappers turned down the pros to return to Tech in Friday flinger David Duncan (7-4, 3.72, 23rd round pick of Nationals) and RHP Eddie Burns (3-3, 3.58, 16th round pick) as his Saturday mate. RHP Brad Rulon (2-3, 5.49, 3 svs) returns to the `pen and should post better numbers. 2B/3B Patrick Long (.299-5-31, 14 SBs) and DH Luke Murton (.239-9-43) will carry the offense.

 

The Bad News:

Oh the talents the Ramblin' Wreck lost, including two-way threats Danny Payne and Matt Wieters and cannon-armed RF Wally Crancer among others. All four of the .300+ hitters have left the team for 2008. The non-ACC schedule still isn't strong enough to pull some RPI weight

 

The Intangible:

Three key things:

1- Tech must win more than 15 ACC games to curry more favor with the selection committee.

2- Need new bats to emerge and carry on the Tech bashing tradition.

3- Rulon simply needs to throw more strikes when he comes out of the `pen.

 

Schedule Note:

Another weekend visit from Rutgers (seems like every year... so when's the return trip?) and a good three-gamer with Coastal Carolina in early May will carry a lot of weight.

 

Miami (37-24, 17-13)

 

The Good News:

We all know a "down" cycle in the Miami program never lasts for long. They should bludgeon their way through the doldrums with an offense that not even Godzilla could stop. The infield could be the nation's best, led by 1B Yonder Alonso (.376-18-74), 2B Jemile Weeks (.298-5-27) and 3B Mark Sobolewski (.345-8-54, 14 SBs), all wielding some mighty aluminum. Don't forget about CF Blake Tekotte (.333, 15 SBs), a quality leadoff hitter. Pitchers Eric Erickson (10-4, 2.50) was a frosh All-American and teams with Enrique Garcia (8-4, 3.82) as a solid one-two punch every weekend. RHP Carlos Gutierrez returns as the team's closer after sitting out '07 with an injury.

 

The Bad News:

Even with all this talent, the `Canes couldn't get out of the Columbia Regional. Some very good arms will be missing this year, like starters Scott Maine, Manny Miguelez and top reliever Danny Gil. It's no great understatement to say that the bullpen must play better than last year. Roger Tomas was a reliable SS.

 

The Intangible:

Big sticks - Bad pitches - Base on balls.

 

Considering all the weapons in the Miami arsenal, you have to wonder if they will ever see a good pitch all season long. Look for a possible NCAA record in walks from the Hurricanes this year.

 

Schedule Note:

`Canes play only 18 road games all season and just three until a trip to Duke on March 28th. They'll host North Carolina in the last week of the regular season in what could be a series for the ACC title.

 

North Carolina (57-16, 21-9)

 

The Good News:

Mike Fox has ramped things up to such a high level in Chapel Hill that even when good players leave, you get Freshmen All-Americans like Dustin Ackley (.402-10-74, 11 SBs and the No. 3 hitter in the lineup) and RHP Alex White (6-7, 4.94) to fill in. Not bad. Lots of familiar names still around to make another title run, including C Tim Federowicz (.333), 2B Kyle Seager (.308), SS Garrett Gore (.324) and OF Tim Fedroff (.344) are part of seven returning starters. Then there's also RHP Adam Warren (12-0, 2.17) and RHP Rob Wooten (6-1, 2.35), who are merely All-ACC candidates once again.

 

The Bad News:

Unless you're some kind of perverse Duke basketball fan, you have to feel bad for coach Fox and his two straight near-national titles. Losing All-World pitchers Andrew Carignan and Robert Woodard (the UNC all-time winner) and leaders like Reid Fronk and Josh Horton is still a lot to overcome. The schedule is a bit more of a grind, especially with that target so big on their backs.

 

The Intangible:

Oh to be young and naive again.

 

Lots of North Carolina upper-classmen need to revert back to their freshman and sophomore forms for this team to keep its monster status in '08. 3B Chad Flack (.247-7-46), OF Mike Cavasinni (.231) and OF Seth Williams (.293-9-42) have all posted way better numbers in the past. However, Cavasinni's season may be over before it starts as it has been reported that he recently had ACL surgery.

 

Schedule Note:

For starters, the trip to FAU and the weekend at the Winthrop tournament are the kinds of trips that Carolina hasn't made in a while. So kudos there. In ACC play the Heels get a lot of breaks with Duke, Virginia Tech and Maryland as the first three weekends. They'll also be playing their home games in Cary, N.C. at the Team USA complex while the Bosh is rebuilt in Chapel Hill.

 

Virginia (45-16, 19-9)

 

The Good News:

We've all seen this coming for a while and after talking with his former mentor, Paul Mainieri, it's no surprise that Brian O'Connor has this program at an upper tier level now. There may be no two better middle infield/top-of-the-order guys in the country than SS Greg Miclat (.376, 32 SBs) and 2B David Adams (.372, 10 SBs), who are pure adrenalin. Coach O'Connor is a pitching guru and will have fun with-All American Friday starter Jacob Thompson (11-0, 1.50, 101 Ks) and seniors like Pat McAnaney (2-0, 3.34) and Michael Schwimer (3-1, 2.77). But both will step up in their responsibilities.

 

The Bad News:

The Cavs need to go ahead and finally make a serious run to Omaha, before people think of them as flash-in-the-pans every June - which, by the way, I don't subscribe to. Not getting in the same regional with Oregon State will help. Sean Doolittle was Sean Do-it-all the last two years and has moved on to pro ball, as did ace closer Casey Lambert.

 

The Intangible:

Turn on the ignition switch.

 

UVa led the ACC in stolen bases (128) last season. With less power and more speed in the lineup for 2008, look for that number to be topped in fewer games. The outfield will be all new blood, but some faster wheels too.

 

Schedule Note:

This is way too cushy for a Top 10 ranked team. Not much challenge in the non-conference portion and from Tax Day on, the Wahoos will play only three road games the rest of the regular season (at Miami in late April). That 45 win mark should be toppled.

 

Virginia Tech (23-31, 7-23)

 

The Good News:

Tech hopes to emulate last year's 12-6 start, which included a series win at Georgia Tech. Lots of experienced pitchers are back including weekend starter Andrew Wells (4-4, 4.62), top ERA man David Cross (1-2, 2.89) and Rhett Ballard (6-2, 4.48). 1B Sean O'Brien (.327) was the top bat and will have to carry the offense.

 

The Bad News:

Get off to a better start. Not just on the season, but in games too, since VaTech was outscored by 41 runs in the 1st and 2nd innings combined last year. Wow. Three of the top four hitters have moved on and the league-worst pitching ERA of 5.85 needs to come down for Tech to be competitive in the ACC.

 

The Intangible:

One last time with the mid-semester transfers.

 

Tech took advantage of some last minute changes of mind by welcoming in Pepperdine pitcher Danny Ferris (went 2-1, 4.38 in 20 appearances) and infielder Michael Seaborn from Kentucky (was a redshirt, but hit .350 in the New York Collegiate League last summer).

 

Schedule Note:

Ouch. The Gobblers drew with the short straw on ACC road assignments, having to travel to North Carolina, Virginia and Clemson.

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