<
>

Week 1 ACC Upset Watch: Can Virginia Tech knock off Ohio State?

17h
Marquise Williams and North Carolina kick off their season against South Carolina on Thursday night. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

For those who read the ACC upset watch on a consistent basis (thank you!), you know this space is usually reserved for ACC teams in danger of being upset.

In Week 1, we are going to flip the script a little bit. We are going with the top-3 games in which an ACC team can pull the upset. That's how confident I am that every ACC team will win the games in which they are favored. (Note to Pitt: This means not another loss to Youngstown State).

Here goes, in order of likeliest upset.

1. North Carolina vs. South Carolina, Thursday, 6 p.m., ESPN. Line: South Carolina by 2.5. The last time these two teams met, South Carolina won easily. But headed into this game, all signs are pointing to North Carolina. First, the Tar Heels return 99.5 percent of their total offense from a year ago. That includes veteran quarterback Marquise Williams, the only returning quarterback in the ACC with 35 total touchdowns last year. North Carolina is also one of eight schools to return all its starters on the offensive line. Now granted, all these returners helped contribute to a 6-7 record a year ago, but the belief is the offense will be more consistent and better now that everybody is back. The bigger concerns is the defense, which was atrocious a year ago. New coordinator Gene Chizik has brought in a 4-3 alignment and a new attitude. The Tar Heels might just be average on defense, but that would be a step up. South Carolina, meanwhile, has a new starter at quarterback and just as many questions as UNC. I predict the Tar Heels win a shootout.

2. Louisville vs. Auburn, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS. Line: Auburn by 10.5. Auburn has become a trendy preseason pick to make the College Football Playoff, what with defensive guru Will Muschamp now in charge of revamping an average group. But let's not forget: The Tigers only return four offensive starters and will have a new starter in quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Auburn can't be called a sure thing at this point in the season, not after going 8-5 a year ago. On the flip side, Louisville has big questions of its own at offensive line, receiver and in the secondary. But whether Reggie Bonnafon or Will Gardner starts at quarterback, the Cards have the experience edge there. Both have started and won big games. Louisville's front seven should be fierce with Sheldon Rankins, James Burgess and Keith Kelsey anchoring the group. Expect an always aggressive Todd Grantham defense to continue with that philosophy against a young Auburn offense. Bobby Petrino and Grantham are no strangers to the SEC, either. And by the way, Petrino is 10-0 in season openers.

3. No. 1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech, 8 p.m., Monday, ESPN. Line: Ohio State by 12. This game deserves to be on the list because of what happened last year, when the Buckeyes were prohibitive favorites at home and lost. The Hokies return many of the same players who had a huge part in that win, including quarterback Michael Brewer and 14 other starters. Of course, Ohio State returns its key players off the team that bounced back from that loss and ended up winning a national championship. Whether J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones starts is irrelevant. Bud Foster is preparing for both. His scheme last year kept the Buckeyes off balance. With eight starters back on defense, the goal is to do the same ... and hope an improved offense does enough to win. Just like last year.

While I don't think Virginia has a better than 50-50 chance to upset UCLA, do not be surprised if the Hoos at least cover. UCLA is a 19.5-point favorite now, but here is what I believe is working in UVa's favor: UCLA is starting a true freshman at quarterback in Josh Rosen. Expect the Hoos to come after him with their front; Starting UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams' status is in doubt after his arrest this week on robbery charges; and Virginia played UCLA close last year, losing 28-20. Without all those pick-6s, who knows what happens.