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Cigars & Football – A Simple Blend


The entire Coastal Division is composed of undefeated teams and coaches whose jobs are secure. There are new coaches, new schemes, and transfers, so it’s a pretty standard pre-season situation. Here are CigarSmokinFootball’s picks.

1. Georgia Tech– will have an offense that is going to be extremely hard to stop. Besides the fact that they play the Triple Option, which is difficult244-2 enough, the entire O-line returns along with QB Justin Thomas. Last year Thomas struggled a bit at the start, but when the light bulb clicked on for him, the rest of the nation saw it. The Jackets’ offense became a juggernaut. They have to replace three of their running backs but the backups last year plenty of playing time and shouldn’t struggle very much as starters. Passing the football does not rate high with the Yellow Jackets, but they have worked on improving this in the spring. Last year’s receivers are back and they know how to block, – everybody blocks in this offense, – but they should be more familiar in an actual aerial game this year. Don’t get me wrong, they’re going to block most of the time. Once GT scores, however, that’s when the questions surface. Defense. Dadgum Defense.Even Head Coach Paul Johnson said, “We weren’t very good,” when asked about the “D”. They gave up 25.7 points per game and a whopping 411 yards per game. The good news is that the front seven lost only one player and they have Defensive End Hunt-Day coming back this year after being academically ineligible last year. Not only did he study and bring his grades up, but he ate and worked out….a lot. He now comes in at 295lbs and is expected to make a big impact. The secondary will be solid with playmakers all over field. If the defense can improve just a couple of touchdowns from last year, the Yellow Jackets will be the team to beat in the Coastal. That sounds a lot like hope, and hope is never a course of action. Ask any soldier.

IMG_78482. Pittsburgh– Of all the teams that have new head coaches, the Panthers might be in the best position with the best new head coach. Pat Narduzzi brings his toughness from Michigan State, where he ran a very formable defense. As in, they were the best in the nation for the past couple of years. (Being an Alabama fan and having to write that, hurts) There is no question that the Panthers are going to be tougher. Narduzzi doesn’t put up with guys who don’t like to hit. He walked into a pretty good situation in Pittsburgh. RB James Conner will be the focal point. Last year he ran for 1,765 yards and scored 26 touchdowns. Look for him to be in New York at the end of the season in the Heisman presentation. He is a load and he is fast. The Panthers just can’t over-use him. Toward the end of last season he was worn down. The other star on offense is WR Tyler Boyd, who became the first player to garner over a 1,000 yards receiving in both his freshman and sophomore years. That’s darn good! Sounds like QB Chad Voytik has everything he needs. Hand off the ball to one and throw to the other. But Voytik needs to start the season better than he did last year. He was not very consistent at the start but turned it around for the final six games. If the coaches had stayed the same he’d be expected to continue that climb. Now, he has a new OC in Jim Chaney who just happened to have coached Drew Brees a few years ago and turned Arkansas’s offense around last year. So the offense’s success will depend on how well they adapt to the OC and his scheme. The defense was not like Michigan State’s, nor are they going to be this year either. But everyone and their uncle knows that Narduzzi is going to have a good defense. So expect the Panthers to be better. They don’t have any returning superstars on defense but they do have good returning starters. Most of the line returns and they played well and kept Pitt in most of its games. With a new DC and a defensive minded Head Coach it all depends on how the players respond. Since Pitt has a blue collar mentally and these new coaches have the same mind-set, CSF is betting these kids catch on pretty quick, so much so that it would not be a surprise to see them win the division. BUT, CSF has had high hopes for Pitt in the past and they let us down.

3. Duke– The Blue Devils have become legit contenders in the ACC. There are plenty of naysayer’s who are picking the Devils to fall this year withDuke no clear cut QB going into summer camp. But the talent level across the board has improved under Coach Cutcliffe and, let’s face it, what he’s done here has been freakin’ fantastic. They need to replace their QB, and Jr. Thomas Sirk indicated that he wants to be the one to do that. He needs to improve his passing skills but as long as he can hand the ball off, the Blue Devils should be fine. They have three backs, Duncan (thunder), Wilson (lighting), and Powell (hybrid), who like to run the ball, and they’re good at it. They did lose a couple of highly talented offensive linemen but they, the coaches, believe they have recruited very talented replacements. If they’re able to open up some holes for these running backs, look for Duke to use this running game the majority of the time. The Devils are downright obstinate in their pass defense and this year will be no exception, as the entire secondary returns for another round. They are all “Hawkish” and they plan on forcing more turnovers this year. The D-line needs to improve, as they are mostly undersized compared to the rest of the league. They’re good, and they can play with the big boys, they just don’t force a whole lot of 3 and outs. They need to eat more while they study. Duke football success has resulted in renovations to the stadium and plans for more improvements. Look for them to continue their winning ways.

IMG_78084. Virginia Tech– The past couple of seasons has generated a lot of talk about whether or not Frank Beamer has reached the end of his run with the Hokies. If he wants to silence those voices there is no better time than the present. Last year the Hokes had to deal with a plethora of injuries on Offense. This year it’s put up or shut up. The running backs return and are healthy, the receivers return from injuries and appear to be up to speed. The biggest question marks are at quarterback and with the offensive line. First the line, they have one dominant player returning, the rest are all going to be new. They have little time to gel because right out of the gate is defending Champions Ohio State, and, trust me the Buckeyes are looking for revenge. Texas Tech transfer QB Brewer reminds me a lot of Bo Wallace, when he was at Ole Miss. Wallace was either really good or really bad. Brewer has talent, and when he is on, he can be really good, but when he struggles, or tries to force the ball, he shoots the entire team right in the foot. Along with a new offensive line, Brewer does not give CSF confidence going into the 2015 season. Defense has been a staple in Blacksburg, VA. That is not going to change this year. The line has four returning starters, all who have won recognition in the ACC. They also have two ends that will be very disruptive and will make opposing QB’s have nightmares. Running against this line is going to be a chore. The secondary is going through some changes, but not big ones, and the replacements should fit right in. If the Hokies want to send a statement, they need to upset Ohio State again. Really not sure how they pulled that off last year but it was fun to watch. If this team upsets the Buckeyes, they could still not have a great season if Brewer takes the Bo Wallace road.

5. North Carolina– CSF is picking UNC over Miami only because they are more stable and Head Coach Larry Fedora is not on the hot seat…yet. 452The Tar Heels meet South Carolina for their first game of the season in Charlotte, NC. Even though USC-South is not what it has been, this will show the Heels have to offer. The offense has been working on improving its time of possession, since they rated last in Division 1. Either they were scoring “way too” quickly, or getting stopped way too much. The running game will be key to this improvement. UNC has four running backs returning with game experience. If they can average past 4.0 ypc they should be alright. The Offensive line, which was hit with injuries and just couldn’t get it together in 2014, will have 8 lineman with considerable game experience. They need to figure out who’s going to be where and find that winning formula that every O-line needs. QB Marquise Williams will be a big factor. Last year he improved his passing to 63% completions but he’s going to have to do even better than that. He needs to decide if he wants to be a running back or a quarterback, too many times last year he pulled the ball down to run before giving the receivers a chance to run their routes. Maybe he didn’t know their routes. He’s not that dynamic and concentrating on “running the ball” instead of throwing cost his team. On the Defensive side the Tar Heels brought in Gene Chizik to turn things around. He’ll switch them from a 4-2-5 to a more manageable 4-3. If he’s able to improve the “D” from awful to just average, the team should do better. Not sure he’s going to be able to do that in just one season. Besides, he coached at Auburn, so I have absolutely no affinity for him what-so-ever, but that’s my bias showing through. Oh, he won a National Championship? Bah! Humbug!

6. Miami– The Hurricanes have a problem. They can win the tune-up games, and they can even beat teams ranked in the middle of the Miamiconference, but they just don’t play very well when they play the good teams. The “U” is not very tough and they haven’t been for awhile. Head Coach Al Golden is on the Hot Seat, no doubt about it. The Canes have ACC Rookie of the Year Brad Kaaya coming back at quarterback. He needs to keep getting better, especially getting better in making decisions. He did well last year, rookie of the year, but needs help. He’ll need his running backs, and replacing Duke Johnson (1,652 yards) will be hard to do. They have three backs who got game time but none of them were close to Johnson’s caliber. These fellows need to step it up. Last year the line lost two starters to season-ending injuries, they’re back. With one other returning starter, they’ve got a good nucleus. The defense was middle of the pack last year. They had a good front seven who liked to stop the run, but they lost four of them. The Hurricanes have a redshirt freshman nose tackle, at 6-5 and 302 who turned coaches’ heads in the spring. Pass defense is in good hands as they have three stars returning for a secondary that was very good. The spring showed that the replacements were fitting right in and improving. The Hurricane fans want this team to return to the glory days of the 90’s. Right, I understand. But, … it ain’t going to happen this year.

IMG_78427. Virginia– For a team that has their coach sitting on the hottest seat of them all, the Wahoos don’t ease into this season. Their first five games are;- at UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary, Boise State, at Pittsburgh. Last year UVA should have beaten UCLA, the Bruins only scored when the Cavs turned the ball over, which was at least four times. To take on ND, Boise State and then Pitt with only W&M in between does not bode well for a team seeking a winner identity. UVA wants to have a power running team, but in their last three games they gained a total of 22, 37 and 38 yards rushing. Maybe they know something we don’t. They’ve got three backs returning that have game experience, but, is that a good thing, seeing their production in 2014? Both QB’s that started last year are battling it out to be the signal-caller, neither has secured it. The O-line was banged up in ’14. They started more than 10 lineman, seven of them return. They were better at pass blocking then at moving the big uglies to open holes for their backs. In the entire ACC, UVA is the only team to lose all three of their Linebackers. The secondary may be good, but passes will be completed against them. Coach Landon needs for this squad to make it to a bowl game to hang onto his job. Good luck, Coach, it was nice knowing you. Really, I like Landon, wish I could help.

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