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College Football Kickoffs: Maryland, U-Va., Va. Tech and the National Scene

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The Washington Post's Eric Prisbell previews the Maryland Terps game against the California Golden Bears. Video by Atkinson & Co.

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Steve Yanda, Eric Prisbell, Mark Viera and Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 3, 2009; 1:00 PM

Post college football writers Eric Prisbell, Steve Yanda, Mark Viera and Zach Berman were online Thursday, Sep. 3 at 1 p.m. to take your questions about this weekend's football season openers for Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech and all the biggest games on the national scene.

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The transcript follows.

Full coverage of the 2009 college football season.

All things Maryland -- including coverage of Saturday night's game at Cal and beat writer Eric Prisbell's Terrapins Insider blog.

The hub of The Post's Virginia Cavaliers coverage with beat writer Zach Berman.

Everything Hokies -- from Post beat writer Mark Viera.

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Eric Prisbell: Good afternoon, everyone. It‘s good to be back after a very long off-season, and on the brink of another season. Can‘t tell you how excited I am to get to some games tonight. I am also 17 hours away from boarding a plane for one of my favorite college football destinations: Berkeley, Calif. It has been a while since I have been there, so if anyone knows of the best restaurants, etc., to visit on campus, please chime in during this chat or email me at prisbelle@washpost.com. All college football-related questions are encouraged here, and if you can‘t help but asking a college basketball question, well, I certainly won‘t protest. Fire away!

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S. Rockville, Md.: Zach,

I'm concerned about the Cavaliers' kicking game. We're a long way away from Connor Hughes and Kurt Smith. Will we see more consistency from the kicking game this fall?

Zach Berman: Great question. Coach Al Groh has preached special teams. Ask a question about the new offense, he answers by discussing special teams. Groh says teams need three things to be successful: good quarterback play, good kicking and a good defense. Kicking was a point of emphasis during camp.

The answer to your question -- and I'm sorry for deflecting it -- is that no one knows, because Robert Randolph must prove he can successfully kick in a game. Randolph, a sophomore, won the job. He told me yesterday he has consistently hit up to 52 yards. The question is, can he do it consistently when fans are in the stands, opponents are rushing and he's under pressure to keep his job?

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Los Gatos, Calif.: Hello:

As a die hard Cal fan, how badly will my beloved Golden Bears beat the Terps on Saturday? Do you think Cal can win the Pac 10?

Eric Prisbell: I have a two-touchdown game. 35-21.

I really like Cal's team this season. The defense has eight guys back, and Thompson is a stud. Best is the closest thing that I have seen to Reggie Bush in recent years.

Another cross-town reporter suggested I may have over-hyped Mr. Best last season, but that wasn't the case. The dude is legit.

This could very well be the year Cal wins the Pac-10, but I still have a hard time picking against USC. I want to see what Kevin Riley and the passing game can do first.

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Tampa Bay, Fla.: What's the status of Mikell Simpson? Is he playing or not? If so, how much work does he figure to get?

Zach Berman: We'll find out Mikell Simpson's status around 7 p.m. tonight when the injury report is released. Sorry I can't provide more clarity -- Groh keeps quiet about injuries, and practices are closed for us to observe.

Whether he plays or not, here is what you need to know: Torrey Mack will play, and play a whole lot. He is almost like the Virginia version of Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams; the player who redshirted last season and his teammates can't stop praising him. If Virginia has a winning record this year, Mack will be one of the reasons why.

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Alexandria, Va.: Darren Evans is one hell of a tailback. He never ever fumbles and always gets positive yardage. Alas he is out for the season. Oglesby showed nothing last year. Wilson and Williams are shifty speed backs.

Should this Hokie fan be worried? Evans was pretty much the entire offensive production last year.

Mark Viera: The absence of Darren Evans is certainly cause for concern if you're a Hokies fan. As you pointed out, Evans was essentially Virginia Tech's offense last season, and the three running backs behind him have little or no experience. Despite the remaining options' potential, there is something to be said for that having a proven performer like Evans. Maybe Josh Oglesby, who is as strong as a horse, seizes his opportunity now that it's here. Maybe Ryan Williams, a scintillating runner, continues to perform as well as he has in spring and preseason scrimmages. Maybe David Wilson, with his electric speed, is as good as advertised when was one of the nation's top recruits last year. Remember that Evans was unknown last season before he assumed the starting role and became a star. But until the three remaining running backs prove it on the field this season, the Hokies will be unsettled at the position, and it could affect the entire offense, which has relied so heavily on the ground game. Don't just take it from me. Coach Frank Beamer has said so himself. On Aug. 26, he was asked if he was as confident in his team as he was when preseason practices started three weeks earlier. "No," Beamer said. "Three weeks ago we had Darren Evans."

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Rockville, Md.: Eric,

Another thing about Saturday's game time. Obviously the time change is a factor but I don't think it's too much of a factor. I mean aren't most college students up at a late hour on the weekends anyways especially, when Maryland has late games? I don't see the start time being too much of a factor even though there is a three-hour difference, and I think people are reading into too much. What are your thoughts on that?

Eric Prisbell: I don't think it will be a factor either. It will be a big factor for reporters trying to get stories into the newspapers. No luck with that.

A 9 a.m. start for Cal last year was a bigger deal than a 10 p.m. start will be for Maryland. Ralph Friedgen really did a lot of research into how best to prepare his team for the time difference, etc. He talked with Phil Fulmer and others.

But i don't see it being a factor. A bigger issue is Maryland's offensive line, of course.

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So the Big East is down this year, right?: Woo-hoo! Huskies in a BCS bowl!

Um, see you in March?

Zach Berman: The Big East is the Rodney Dangerfield of BCS conferences, and for good reason. I'm down on U-Conn. this season and would be surprised if U-Conn. makes the BCS. Cincinnati was very impressive during the time I spent around their program at the Orange Bowl last season, although a new defensive coordinator, defensive system and almost entirely new starters might cause them to struggle. We'll see after they play Rutgers on Sept. 7.

It could be South Florida, Pitt, West Virginia in the BCS, too. The conference is wide open?

And what happened to Louisville? They were once the Big East's hope for an elite program.

Eric Prisbell: I also think the Big East is wide open. Rutgers has a chance if the quarterback can come through.

I think the ACC is so much more fun to follow than the Big East. I have never seen a conference with as much parity as last season's ACC. I hope it continues.

But I became a real fan of the shootouts in the Big 12 last season and may actually go to Oklahoma State-Texas as a fan during Maryland's open date.

Steve Yanda: Don't tell South Florida Coach Jim Leavitt that the Big East is down this year. He put four Big East teams in his preseason top 25 coaches poll ballot. And then he said he could have made it five or six if he'd wanted to.

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Big Ten: How much dissent is in the Michigan locker room - will it affect the team play? How long do you give RichRod if it's another losing season?

Steve Yanda: In terms of exactly how much dissent exists in the Michigan locker room, I have no idea. Too far removed from the situation. But in a Detroit Free Press story this week, multiple players made off-the-record claims that, at the very least, suggest some level of dissent exists. If players are willing to complain about their coaches to the media, that's not a good sign at all. Will it affect the team? I don't think it will decide whether it wins or loses this week's game (the Wolverines host Western Michigan), but this is the type of thing that can fester and become a serious problem down the line.

RichRod has a lot of issues on his plate right now, only some of which concern the team he puts on the field. If off-the-field distractions continue to pop up and the Wolverines finish below .500, this could be his last season in Ann Arbor.

Eric Prisbell: I always felt Rodriguez should have remained at West Virginia, where he could have been king (well, if he figured out how to beat a Pittsburgh team to go to the national title game).

What surprised me most about what has been reported was not the allegations about practice time but the fact that so many players were even willing to voice their displeasure with Rodriguez without giving their names. It certainly appears that there is a divide in the locker room, to say nothing of the feelings of boosters and fans nationwide.

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Rockville, Md.: Eric,

My question is about the Maryland offensive line. Obviously, they tried a number of different things this spring and summer camp but my concern is now that they have released the depth chart and decided on starters, have gelled together? I figure you might have seen them in action in recent scrimmages or practices or you could give us your individual thoughts on the players and what you've seen. This is going to be the biggest thing on Saturday with Cal having a very good defense. Thanks for whatever insight you can provide.

Side note - I wouldn't put too much stock into Vegas lines the first week just because it is the first week and they're going off of previous seasons and guesses even though they have "experts." Though I do like the motivation behind it and prefer being the underdog.

Eric Prisbell: Thanks for the question. I have only seen the line in limited action because only the first 30 minutes of practice is open to the media and the final scrimmage was closed to the media.

I did not like what i saw at all from the first scrimmage. They could not block a ham sandwich. That changed a bit by the second scrimmage.

I think the line will be fine -- later in the season. It takes cohesion. I would be quite surprised if the line performs well Saturday night. Cal returns its entire defensive line, including the stud Tyson Alualu.

The line will be a work in progress.

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Can Virginia Tech score on Alabama's defense? If so (because I have my doubts), who needs to have the big game from VT's offense? Talk me off the ledge here ...

A concerned Hokie.

Eric Prisbell: Yes, I do think Virginia Tech will score a few points.

A few. Six to 10.

Steve Yanda: I wouldn't expect a shootout, but the Hokies certainly should be able to put some points on the board. Aside from Tyrod Taylor, either Josh Oglesby or Ryan Williams needs to establish a presence. Oh, and Matt Waldron. A good performance from the place kicker could come in handy for the Hokies on Saturday night.

Zach Berman: Virginia Tech will score two touchdowns, although they might not both be on offense. Aside from Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Williams needs a big day. When I covered the Hokies last year, all I kept hearing about was how good Williams can be. On Saturday, he can prove it to a national audience.

Mark Viera: I also think Virginia Tech will score against Alabama, but it won't be much. As for who needs to have a big game, I would say it is the Hokies' offensive line. It all starts up front. Alabama's front seven is, in a word, scary. But all summer, the Hokies have talked about their revamped offensive line. Now is their time to walk the walk. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor can make plays when he has time. And with an inexperienced backfield, open running lanes will be all the more important to get Virginia Tech's offense moving in the right direction. If the linemen have success getting a push, I think Virginia Tech will be able to take small bites down field and score. But as Zach mentioned, I also wouldn't be surprised to see Virginia Tech's defense put some points on the board.

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S. Rockville, Md.: Zach,

How about a two-part follow-up on the punting game? Is Howell improved over last year? What does it say if Vic Hall is going to be returning punts, or is that just Groh blowing smoke a' la Bill Parcells?

Zach Berman: Thanks for the follow-up, S. Rockville. Howell should be improved over last year. Interestingly, Virginia is keeping the same formation on punts as last season even though Ron Prince didn't use it at Kansas State. Howell averaged 39 yards per punt this season and his a big leg, so you'll see an even better year. In speaking to him a few weeks ago, he mentioned how Prince has emphasized the mental part of punting. We'll see if it works. (And if there's any doubt Groh likes big, tall players, Howell is 6 feet 6, 238 pounds!)

As for the second part of your question, Groh might be blowing smoke, but I think Hall will return some punts this season. You might see someone such as Javaris Brown or Javanti Sparrow back there later in the season, though. As for Hall, I still think he'll start -- even though Groh hasn't said anything -- but expect Jameel Sewell to play. Perhaps it will be on a few plays after punt returns.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Unless you are close to the team, reporters or fans cannot predict the first game or season. Watch for two losses this season, but I'd take Md. by 2, with a field goal by the freshman.

Eric Prisbell: Well, Nick Ferrara can kick it from as far as 57 yards, so that would be quite an ending.

I am really curious to see what Maryland's new defense can do. It should be fun to watch. I see a lot of big plays both ways, turnovers and an overall wild game that will give a handful of East Coast deadline-battling reporters hives and ulcers long into the chilled night.

Steve Yanda: The game very well could be decided along the front line, specifically when Maryland has the ball. By now, most Maryland followers are well aware that the offensive line is a gigantic question mark. And Cal's defensive line is pretty solid. If the Terps can hold their ground and not get pushed back off the line of scrimmage, they've got a shot. But if the o-line doesn't hold up, no Nick Ferrara field goal will save them.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Who are your picks for surprise teams this year on the national scene?

Zach Berman: I'm assuming all of us will pitch in on this question, so I'll take the first crack.

Depends what you mean by surprise. Here are two teams for three categories:

Teams with losing records in '08 that will be much improved in '09: Baylor, Arkansas

Teams in the low-to-mid top 25 that could emerge as national title contenders: Oregon, Florida State

Mid-Major teams that no one wants to play: TCU, Houston

Eric Prisbell: Oregon???

The Ducks will take a dive on the blue turf tonight.

I see Boise running the table.

I see Georgia Tech as a potential BCS team.

I could see Cal getting into the national title conversation, as could Oklahoma State. I have a close eye on BYU and what it can do against Oklahoma and Florida State.

Miami should take a step forward, but that opening month of games is a nightmare.

Steve Yanda: If Oklahoma State was in any other conference (heck, if they somehow could convince the Big 12 to redistribute them into the conference's north division), they might have a shot at being a national title contender. Dez Bryant is a phenomenal talent at wide receiver and Kendall Hunter is a pretty darn good tailback. The Cowboys have a solid quarterback, too, in Zac Robinson. But Oklahoma State has two main problems: 1) Its defense in recent seasons has been rather, um, attrocious, and 2) The Cowboys reside in the same conference as Texas and Oklahoma.

I also like Berman's choice of Houston. Though I don't have a long rant to explain why on this one.

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Fairfax, VA: I figured out why so many people hate Boston College. Notre Dame hates them because B.C. keeps getting lucky on the field. The Big East hates B.C. because they left. The ACC hates them because they were supposed to be a doormat and not hold hostage places in the bowls and the NCAA Tournament. Coaches elsewhere hate them because B.C. does well academically and wins games with underrated recruits who don't get cars to drive. Do I have this about right?

Steve Yanda: Unless B.C. can find a suitable quarterback to replace Dominique Davis, a lot more teams might start liking the Eagles this season.

Your choices right now are a former minor league baseball player who recently cracked a rib (David Shinskie) or a redshirt freshman (Justin Tuggle). Who's your pick?

Zach Berman: Interesting perspective. I'm sure Prisbell and Yanda can both agree that Al Skinner does wonders with that basketball team.

Certainly, Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo took a unique approach to Jeff Jagodzinski at the end of last season. When I read the reports about Jagodzinski this morning, that was the first thing I thought. In December, he took BC to its second consecutive ACC championship appearance. Now, he's unemployed.

Eric Prisbell: Both of the teams up at BC have been well coached in recent years and very difficult to play against. I am not sure I would agree that everyone hates them. I do think that unfortunately they get overshadowed in a conference that is so North Carolina-centric.

I still shake my head at the memory of the respected Patrick Stevens not voting for Tyler Hansbrough on first-team all-ACC one year and the ACC saying Hansbrough was a unanimous pick. That type of thing just feeds into the perception in the ACC that many things are designed to benefit Duke and UNC. The whole idea that Duke gets all the calls, etc. I also think the ACC as a whole needs to promote itself a little better. I have felt that way ever since the Missouri Valley put on a full-court press of a PR campaign while the ACC did not. And both conferences wound up having the same number of bids in the ACC tournament.

I'm going off on a tangent here, but, anyway, i also feel BC is overshadowed in its own market because of all the professional teams.

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Washington, D.C.: How much will Darius Heyward-Bey be missed at Maryland this year? You can't just replace the seventh overall pick, right?

Eric Prisbell: You can with nine talented receivers. Adrian Cannon should have a big year.

Remember, they also had trouble getting DHB the ball last season, which was a shame.

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Arlington, Va.: What do you think about Penn State this year? Their schedule sure sets up well for a run to the national title game: Their non-conference is all cup-cakes at home and their two toughest opponents (OSU and Iowa) visit Happy Valley. The only other game I can see them possibly losing is their game at Michigan State at the end.

Mark Viera: I covered Penn State before my current gig covering Virginia Tech, so I'll give this one a crack.

I like the Nittany Lions skill players. Quarterback Daryll Clark has perhaps the best leadership presence of any player I've closely covered. And Evan Royster, of Fairfax, could be a Heisman Trophy candidate by the time he graduates. I also agree that the Nittany Lions' embarrassingly soft schedule sets them up nicely. But to earn a national title bid out of the Big Ten, it might take an undefeated record. I don't see that happened for Penn State. To get in with one loss, it would probably take a strong non-conference showing, an opportunity Penn State doesn't have because of it opens with walkover games. I think it will lose once, maybe twice, along the way mainly because of its weakness in the trenches. It's not sexy, but that's where you win football games. Penn State's defensive line under Larry Johnson is always strong, but its offensive line is thin after losing A.Q. Shipley, Rich Ohrnberger and Gerald Cadogan. That said, I think Penn State has the pieces in place to compete for the Big Ten title, and thus a spot in a Bowl Championship Series game. The Nittany Lions' meeting with Ohio State on Nov. 7 could be the de facto conference championship game.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you think that since the Sooners have only one starter on the offensive line returning this year they will lose to BYU? (hint: Sooners don't rebuild, they reload).

Steve Yanda: BYU had a mediocre run defense, a sub-par passing defense and ranked No. 73 in the nation in sacks last season. So no, I don't think Oklahoma's inexperienced offensive line will cause the Sooners to lose the season opener.

Eric Prisbell: I think the game will be fascinating. But I am not ready to predict BYU will win or even keep it close, for that matter. I like Max Hall a lot, but the Sooners still have Sam Bradford. The offense won't put up basketball scores this season. But averaging, say, 40 points should still work, right??

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Washington, D.C.: Yet again, I'm hearing the oft used phrase of "Little Wake Forest" to describe my alma mater. Yes, we're a small school, but what chances do you guys give this year's senior class to graduate never having lost in football to the mighty Seminoles?

Eric Prisbell: It will be difficult for Wake to beat FSU this season. You want to buy stock in FSU this season -- even with Bowden taking afternoon naps and all -- and sell stock in Wake.

You won't find a better coached team than Wake. Jim Grobe year after year gets so much out of his team even when most people think they won't be much. But they lost so much on defense. I still see at least a .500 season in the ACC. But, then again, most teams will be around .500 in the ACC. The separation among teams is very small.

Zach Berman: Agree with Prisbell on all accounts, including buying on FSU, selling on Wake and the praise for Grobe.

Your alma mater might have a tough season, beginning with the home opener against Baylor. Robert Griffin is something special to watch, and it might take time for Demon Deacons to replace Curry and Smith. But if there's anyone who can figure out how to get something out of his talent, it's Grobe. He is to ACC football what Al Skinner is to ACC basketball.

Steve Yanda: Even if Grobe does an outstanding job rebuilding the defense and even if the Demon Deacons manage to get off to a decent start to the season, the layout of their schedule might hurt their chances of knocking off Florida State the most. Here are the two games that precede Wake's Nov. 14 home date against FSU: vs. Miami and at Georgia Tech. The Hurricanes should be much improved this season and Georgia Tech could turn into a national title contender. After facing those squads, it's going to be tough for Wake to ramp up one more time to face a talented Seminoles bunch.

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Annandale, Va.: Why don't you cover Navy football as well? There are certainly many fans in the area and depending on the season, the team can be quite good.

washingtonpost.com: Mids Insider (Washington Post)

Eric Prisbell: That's our new blog for Navy football.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why is Wilbon always so negative about Va. Tech? Does he have some sort of personal axe to grind?

Steve Yanda: Unfortunately, Wilbon is the only Post college football writer that isn't answering questions on this chat today, so your question will have to wait.

Eric Prisbell: From my experience, he has been as fair as they come.

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Mclean, Va.: Mark -

Since you've been close to the Hokies during the preseason and have had time to interview the coaches, players, etc., what is your take on their "readiness" to take on Alabama, both mentally and physically? How do you see this game going?

Mark Viera: I think Virginia Tech is as ready as it can.

As of this moment, Virginia Tech is physically ready. There are not new injuries to report. Obviously, if you're a Hokies fan, you'd love to have Darren Evans in the backfield. You probably would also feel more comfortable if Josh Oglesby and David Wilson were able to make it through preseason practices completely healthy. But both have had a week of practice to get their legs back under them and both have said they are ready to play.

Mentally, I get the sense that players and coaches are sick of hearing about Alabama. They want to play Alabama. So in that vein, I would say, yes, they are eager to play. You've got to remember, talk about this game has persisted since the Orange Bowl. That's an awful long time to hear about and thinking about one team. In fact, some players declined interview requests this week because they were so tired of talking about Alabama. At practice this week, the coaches did hitting drills on Monday, earlier than normal, to get the team in the right mind-set for what promises to be a physical game.

I see this as a close, low-scoring game. I think the outcome might be decided by a play on defense or special teams, both of which are strong suits for these teams.

That said, I ultimately don't see Virginia Tech beating Alabama. I think the Crimson Tide's defense is overwhelming, and that starts up front with nose guard Terrence Cody. He alone makes Alabama's 3-4 defense difficult. But when you have linebackers like Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower, now you're looking at serious trouble for the Hokies' offensive line. Although I think Virginia Tech will probably put together one scoring drive -- Ryan Williams has been impressive in intrasquad scrimmages, so I would look for him to gain some attention -- I think the Hokies' offense will struggle to gain serious traction. I also think Alabama has an edge in special teams. That might seem hard to believe because of Virginia Tech's tradition of strong special teams. But with dynamic punt returner Javier Arenas, Alabama has a gamebreaker who could make a difference in a split second.

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Denver: Hi,

We are going to the Va. Tech vs. Alabama game on Saturday. We love going to the out of conference and meeting the other fans. My question is, how do you think Va. Tech will fare in this game? I am thankful that the Hokies have an experienced quarterback that has performed well in big games -- in fact he scored the only touchdown in the LSU game a few years back.

Mark Viera: Ah, this is the $64,000 question for Hokies fans these day. I think Virginia Tech will fare well in the game. Whether the Hokies will win is another question.

These teams are very similar on paper: strong defense, solid special teams, developing offenses. A play on defense or on special teams could make the difference.

If I were a Hokies' fan I would be concerned about the Crimson Tide's punt returner, Javier Arenas, who is one of the nation's most dangerous playmakers. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has not been secretive about its hope to rattle Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, a first-time starter playing behind an offensive line with only two returning from last year's unit, and force him to turn the ball over. I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of blitzes, especially early on.

As you might expect, I predict a physical, low-scoring affair. It should be fun.

Eric Prisbell: So much pressure on the Virginia Tech passing game, I think. Alabama's defense should be better than it was last season. I don't think Virginia Tech is a true national title contender.

For the ACC, it would be great if Tech won, but I see Tech losing in a respectable performance.

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Rockville, Md.: Eric,

Has Maryland's line had time to gel considering they just made the depth chart last week and they were trying to figure out who would fill in for the three open spots? I'm really concerned with the right side but thankfully that's not Turner's blind side.

Eric Prisbell: Yes, you should be concerned with the right side. But Ralph Friedgen met with right tackle Paul Pinegar the other day and encouraged him to play his best Saturday. Pinegar will have his hands full. Ralph said if he does his best he will be pleased with the outcome.

Like Ralph says, I do think fans need to be a little patient with the entire team.

The talent is there, but the amount of youth is quite astounding.

I also have told myself on several occasions already that I should not overreact in my game story to what I see on the field Saturday night. I want to exercise caution with what I write, even if the score and margin gets out of control. On the other hand, maybe Maryland wins the game.

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Quillsville, Mass.: Oh dearest Zachary, has that Douglas fellow up in Salt City of that Knickerbocker State dispossessed himself of his cognizance, phrenic percipience and marbles? Moons ago in the interval of the eighth month, this sculptor's imaging transponder squawked the scoop: That old azure follower of Mephistopheles, GP-2, will inaugurate this fine pigskin juncture as High Chieftain of the 2009 edition of the Saltine Warriors. A moon later, in that wondrous hour before the rooster crows and the foghorn blows, my municipal scandal sheet disembarked upon my doorstep - splat! - and promulgated the prior missives. Oh, the doltishness!

washingtonpost.com: Editor's Note: We've run this by everyone, and we have no idea what it means. If Zach does, well, he's a special character

Eric Prisbell: Much like former Post writer Adam Kilgore, Zach has quite a fan club.

Zach Berman: Much like Adam Kilgore, I attended a school in the Salt City, so I assume I know what team's fans sent those to Adam and this to me. I can't decipher this one, but I assume it's about Doug Marrone and Syracuse and involves Greg Paulus.

Paulus starting at QB after four years of ACC basketball is an interesting storyline, although nobody can say they have any idea how he'll do. But having covered Paulus through the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament last season, I was impressed by the way he handled his benching at Duke and his overall maturity. That might not translate onto the football field, but if nothing else, it'll make Syracuse something to watch for more reasons than the past four seasons.

Steve Yanda: I have no idea what this guy is talking about, so I must be part of the "doltishness" to which he's referring.

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Blacksburg, Va.: So excited for Saturday ... but do you have any tips on stopping Julio Jones that I could pass along to Coach Beamer? Thanks

Mark Viera: Sure. Tell him to make sure all of his defensive backs are 6 feet 4 and can run with 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash. And tell him to make sure they are playing in triple coverage. That should do the trick.

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Washington, D.C.: 21.5 point spread for the U-Md. vs Cal game, do you really think Cal will be able to beat the Terps by that large of a margin?

Eric Prisbell: No, I don't. The spread is a bit much. Every year, fans seem to fall in love with some teams. And they sometimes don't live up to expectations.

All I need to do is mention 2007 in Berkeley and fans will flinch.

That said, I do think this Cal team is BCS-game capable. But I also think maryland is a 7-5 team that will get better as the season goes on.

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Takoma Park, Md.: What's your prediction for Maryland against my beloved California Golden Bears? Unfortunately, Berkeley doesn't have protesters living in trees next to the stadium anymore to annoy Brent Musberger, but I think that the Bears will win given that this year's game is not starting at 9 a.m. West Coast time.

Eric Prisbell: 35-21, California.

I see Maryland putting up a fight, but California is the better team.

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Washington, D.C.: Syracuse this season:

Bad? Miserable? Horrible? D2 in 2010?

Steve Yanda: Well, D2 is somewhat of a stretch. I mean, they'd at least first drop down to 1-AA, no?

Syracuse's schedule doesn't do the Orange any favors. The should beat Maine. They could beat Akron. They might beat Northwestern. And even if they did all that, they'd still end up with the same number of wins as they did last season.

Zach Berman: All depends on Paulus. I'm going 2 or 3 wins, with a cap of 4 if Paulus surpasses expectations. But fans there need to be patient with Doug Marrone; he didn't exactly take over Pete Carroll's roster, even if that was the plan to emulate four years ago.

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Chantilly Va.: Guys:

Florida, 13-0?

I am a big Gator fan, but this year's team looks to be by far their best. Their backup quarterback John Brantley would start at most BCS schools. The defense returns the entire two-deep roster. Even the special teams, often a weak link at UF, are solid.

I realize they "could" lose a game, but should they lose any? Of course not. And I don't think St. Urban I will allow them any letdowns. After all, he's trying to top Billy Donovan in national championships won.

Eric Prisbell: Yes, I think Florida will play in the national title game. The schedule is favorable, the roster is loaded. This could be the strongest team in college football since the USC team of four years ago or so, which actually lost the Rose Bowl to Texas.

I'm hoping for Florida-Boise State in the Rose Bowl. I know it's a long stretch, if not impossible, and Florida-Texas would be great, as well.

Steve Yanda: Eric is kidding. He's actually hoping for Boise State-Fresno State in the Rose Bowl.

Seriously though, Florida certainly seems like a sure bet to be one half of the national title game. The main issue for the Gators will be their wide receivers. They lost Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, and neither will be easily replaced. Aaron Hernandez should have a breakout season, but you can only throw to the tight end so often. Do David Nelson and Riley Cooper scare anybody? Florida has a lot of young wideouts and a few of them will need to emerge if the Gators hope to win their third national title in four years.

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Washington, D.C.: Colin Cowheard said on the radio he will not vote for Penn State to play for the national champ game if they go undefeated because of their week schedule. Would you vote them in the game if they win them all?

Eric Prisbell: I am glad I don't play a role in helping to determine who plays for the national title.

And I am hesitant to say, before any games are played, that Penn State has not chance because of a fluff non-conference schedule. But i would certainly take it into consideration, and if a one-loss team had a couple good out-of-league wins, i could see that team leapfrogging an undefeated Penn State team.

Zach Berman: I couldn't agree more with Eric; it's a hard job finding the two best teams in college football if there's no playoff. Penn State will be good this year, but remember Iowa last season? You slip up once in the Big Ten, it's hard to play on the season's final day.

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Time for your overly optimistic Notre Dame prediction again: Yeah, it's me, the same guy that tweaks you fellers about your Notre Dame pick every year. So let's have it. (By the way, I see five wins for Coach Stomach Staple.)

Eric Prisbell: Eight wins.

Steve Yanda: Seven wins.

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Great Falls, Va.: Can the Wahoos surprise people this year? Who will be the unforseen stars?

Zach Berman: Virginia will make a bowl if they can beat either Texas Christian or Southern Mississippi. Both games are difficult, but making a bowl would be close to a surprise considering the outside expectations of the team. Somewhere between five wins and seven wins is most likely, although you never know. If the Cavaliers lose to TCU and S. Miss and begin the season 1-2, there will be much unrest entering the ACC.

Unforseen stars? Look out for safety Rodney McCleod, a DeMatha alum. He's all over the ball and could have a big season. I mentioned Torrey Mack earlier. He and Simpson will give U-Va. a surprise running game. And Ras-I Dowling, who is first-team all-ACC, could emerge as one of the nation's finest CBs. Those three are names to watch. Unfortunately for Virginia fans, none of those names are WRs.

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Mishawaka, Ind.: After the war with USC in October, should Charlie Weis rest Clausen et. al. and let the backups get some time against B.C.? Or is it more important to let the first-teamers drop 60 on the Eagles so the pollsters are impressed?

Steve Yanda: Your question makes several assumptions that need to be addressed. First of all, using the term "war" implies the game against USC will be close. I know the Fighting Irish are supposed to be much improved this season, but I could still see the Trojans handing it to Weis's bunch by a couple of touchdowns. Secondly, B.C. is expected to have a down year, but to think the Eagles are going to fall by 60 to Notre Dame (even if Weis plays Clausen et. al.) is a joke. With Weis's job security and apparently his popularity among the alumni (anyone checked out the billboards in South Bend lately?) in question, he should do everything he can to impress the pollsters and anyone else who is paying attention to his team as much as possible. And that certainly should include playing Clausen and the starters against B.C.

Eric Prisbell: Yeah, I'm not sure about the term "war."

I mean, I think USC will put up a fight and may make it close. (just kidding)

I covered that epic game in South Bend in 2005, and maybe Charlie's can actually beat the Trojans this season. But that remains to be seen. And i'm not ready to say by any stretch that Notre Dame can walk over Boston College.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: How bad is Michigan going to be this year, really? Don't sweet talk me, I really want to know.

Eric Prisbell: No sweet talk from me, maybe from some of the others.

I can see Michigan finishing around .500 and reaching some fourth-tier bowl.

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Washington, D.C., Cleveland Park: Not to hate but ...

I hate living in ACC country. The Georgia/Oklahoma State game is not being televised. Instead, we get Baylor vs. Wake Forest on ABC and Western Michigan vs. Michigan on espn2. This stinks.

Eric Prisbell: That does stink. I like to watch that Oklahoma State team.

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Michigan fan;: As a fan I've been following the story, and a sports writer for the Detroit Free Press went on National Radio saying that they talked to two current Michgian players, both freshman. Rich Rodriguez said two freshman apologized to them and claim they were asked to compare college workouts to high school ones and were pretty upset. Players parents are pretty upset, saying the players are being misrepresented nationally.

Granted, I am a fan, but this story is just plain fishy to me. I know Michigan fans have been pretty divided on Rich Rod, but everyone I've heard from is pretty ticked about that article and is standing behind Rich Rod for now. I bet that changes if Michigan doesn't win on Saturday, though.

Eric Prisbell: It's interesting. I read the story very closely when it came out, but I would prefer not to comment about the specific reporting because I'm not involved in the situation. I will say that I know both writers and have a lot of respect for both, have been a fan of their work for some time.

I will say, having done my share of investigative stories this decade, that these 5000-word pieces do have a way of galvanizing the base, if you will. Even with the three-part Maryland series Steve Yanda and I wrote last winter, the stories rallied the fan base behind Gary Williams.

That was neither our intent nor our care, to be honest, but it happened. The team also rallied, and Gary not only kept his job but he authored one of the finest coaching jobs of his career. Now he has a chance to win the ACC this coming season.

So the team, and the fans, can go that way. Or everyone can go into the tank and mayhem ensues. Too early to tell. App State isn't on the sked, right?

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Raleigh, N.C.: I love our chances this year. We start off beating Spurrier at home. Wake and Pittsburgh are both down, and we get to pad stats against Boston College before the season really starts on Halloween against FSU. We get them, Virginia Tech and U-N.C. at the end, but a 7-0 start will put us in great position for that stretch.

Eric Prisbell: State is a trendy pick this year, and for good reason. I am hesitant to get too high on them, especially after losing Nate on defense for the season. There is no quarterback in the ACC I would rather watch than Russell Wilson. I also have concerns about the secondary. Late last season, this was a team no one wanted to play. I am not sure they can re-capture that momentum. I think State will win tonight, but I see maybe a 5-3 season in the ACC. No division title, at least in my view.

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Washington, D.C.: Speaking about Wake: Why is Grobe a "genious" again? Take a close look at his win/loss record without Riley Skinner playing quarterback, and he's not very good at all. Without Skinner at qb, Wake and Grobe have done nothing. Joe Gibs was a genious because he won with several qbs. I would not crown Grobe a genious until he wins with someone else under center.

Eric Prisbell: i think Grobe is a very good coach. I don't think i said genius. Good coach.

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Arlington, Va.: Mark,

How worried should U-Md./U-Va./Va.-Tech. fans be about the potential recruiting impact that may result from Penn State playing at Fed Ex Field next year? Will it simply underscore the fact that Penn State has recruited the area extraordinarily well in the past few years, or could it open the floodgates even more?

Mark Viera: Interesting question. Penn State has done extraordinarily well recruiting in the Washington area. Larry Johnson, its defensive line coach, has ties to the area and he has been able to steal away some of its best recruits. Should fans from the local schools be worried about the Nittany Lions' visit to FedEx Field? I think so. I do think this will give Penn State another platform to market itself to prospects in this area. In the high-stakes recruiting game, every advantage you can get is welcomed. I can only help Penn State's cause for a bunch of kids from the region to see Penn State (probably) beat down Indiana in front of 90,000 thousand fans wearing mainly blue and white. That said, one of Penn State's biggest attractions to recruits is home atmosphere, Beaver Stadium, so that campus feel is lost in a neutral-site environment. So I would view the game in Washington as a chance for more exposure. I don't think it will create an exodus from the Washington region to Happy Valley like the one that happened with the 2006 recruiting class.

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Arlington, Va.: The Post's recent coverage of Georgetown football is wholely inadequate. What are the paper's plans to cover the Hoyas this fall?

Eric Prisbell: Thank you for the comment and question. I will alert my editors regarding your concern about Georgetown's coverage.

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Kingstowne, Va.: A lot is being said in what I read, about how many players are returning from the previous season. Is there really a correlation between how many return players there are to how well the team will perform?

Steve Yanda: At the beginning of the season, it's all the prognosticators have to go on. It's much easier to predict how guys who've played will do than guys who haven't been seen yet. After the first few weeks, all the talk of returning starters will fade away.

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RE: Wilbon: I believe Wilbon's wife is a U-Va. alum, and I have noticed he does seem to have some sort of distate for Va.-Tech. Whatever, I couldn't care less what a U-Va. fan thinks about Va.-Tech football.

Steve Yanda: I'm not really sure where this is coming from. As Eric said earlier, Wilbon is pretty fair in his assessments across the board.

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Washington, D.C.: With all these wispers around Michigan, could Rich Rodriguez be in trouble if Michigan misses a bowl game again?

Eric Prisbell: Sure, his chair is warming as we type...

Zach Berman: I think Michigan makes a bowl, and I'm not just saying that to suck up to one of my bosses in the office, who is a Michigan fan. Rich Rodriguez needed his players, his system. He's still not there yet, but some are buying in and others are speaking out -- anonymously, that is. RichRod will get the athletes he needs and he'll win big. If I recall, Bo wasn't a "Michigan Man" when he first took over. Winning is the best cure for this stuff.

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Annapolis, Md.: What the heck? No Navy-Ohio State in the title of this chat? Come on, I always knew Post coverage of Navy was awful, but this is ridiculous. What a shame.

Mark Viera: I would check out Camille Powell's blog, Mids Insider, for your Navy fix. She does an excellent job covering the academy.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/mids-insider/

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Madison, Wisc.: Guys

No one from the Big Ten ranked higher than ninth? What's up with that?

Zach Berman: The Big Ten has been embarrassed recently, and until they prove otherwise, they'll fall behind the SEC, Big 12 -- and even the ACC and Pac-10 -- when it comes to national respect. Viera would be able to answer who to look out for in the Big Ten, but I don't think this is the year they emerge into national respectability.

Mark Viera: I agree with Zach's assessment. If you look at some of the Big Ten's recent bowl performances, they all fell flat. Last season, Penn State was embarrassed by Southern California in the Rose Bowl. In 2007 and 2008, Ohio State was blown out in Bowl Championship Series games. When the Big Ten's best fall flat in high-profile games like that, it reflects poorly on the the other 11 teams because the conference has essentially been dominated by one or two teams in recent years. When a conference doesn't have depth, yet its top programs fail to perform nationally, it leaves a black mark. The ACC, for example, does not have a championship-caliber team but at least it is competitive throughout. The Pac-10 has a consistent horse in USC. If either Ohio State or Penn State can assert themselves this season -- a Buckeyes' win over the Trojans on Sept. 12 would help -- the Big Ten will regain some respectability. Until then, the perception will favor the SEC and Big 12.

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Quillsville, Mass.: A query for the scribes, namely that Berman fellow:

In two days time, that perspicacious disciple of Krzyzewski and whiz-bang, pass-tossing schoolboy from the shores of Lake Onondaga with a smirk that could liquefy embankments of snow will mark the inception of his pigskin play with that Orangemen outfit of Syracuse. What, pray tell, have the sporting gods conspired for this former cager? Could this be some hornswoggle plotted to shepherd pupils to that domed structure where the ghost of Schwartzwalder has recurrently been squashed so?

Steve Yanda: Good thing that Berman fellow is bright.

Mark Viera: Berman's got a fan club, eh? Quillsville, you seem to be quite a wordsmith yourself.

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Austin, Texas: How does Va.-Tech's offensive line look like it will shape up? Last year before the season it was touted as a strong point of the team, but it really was the weak link that crippled the offense all year.

Do we hope for improvement this time around?

Zach Berman: I think Virginia Tech's line will be better. It struggled early last year because DeChristopher was hurt, but it got going once he returned. It's hard to lose a starting tackle.

I don't think the line will be the problem this season. It comes down to Tyrod. Can he make plays, can he stay healthy? If so, the Hokies will likely be back in Tampa. If not, it could be a down year.

Zach Berman: On that note, should make for an interesting season. Thanks for all your questions. Feel free to e-mail any questions to bermanz@washpost.com.

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Mark Viera: Thanks for all the questions. If you have any other comments or questions about the Hokies, or college football in general, feel free to drop me a line at vieram@washpost.com. Enjoy Saturday's games. Take care.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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