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Too early for college football picks

With local baseball at sunset this time of year, high school football still non-contact in T-shirts and the summer doldrums for the pros coming before the start of NFL training camps, that can only mean one thing:

College football prediction-time is here.

My crystal ball is as fuzzy as it can get: I predicted Florida State would repeat as national champions despite the new Final-Four format, and at least they made it that far.

This year, based on the police blotter, the Seminoles may not make it out of the ACC.

But before I crown Georgia Tech, witness the resurrection of Virginia Tech, and declare Pitt running back James Conner as a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate despite the Panthers’ lackluster schedule (and, no, I haven’t forgotten that Notre Dame’s Everett Golson has transferred to FSU) – I want to tell you who I think will be the top-dog among the Big-Four (delete Wake, insert ECU).

Looking at the way last season ended and taking into account the returning offensive talent at State and Carolina, the balance of power in the ol’ North State could be shifting once more.

Duke’s been the top dog the last two years, even though the Devils slipped a bit last year. Duke won’t play N.C. State this season and for the first time in years, ECU won’t be in a scheduling position to humiliate its ACC in-state brethren (you may exhale now Carolina fans).

If you believe in the ‘BigMo’, and that momentum carries over then clap for the Wolf man. No one closed out 2014 hotter than N.C. State; and this was a team that hadn’t even won an ACC game under second year coach Dave Doeren until they bumped off Syracuse, and they didn’t do that until the leaves had fallen in November.  Still, State went 4-1 beginning with the win over the Orange, and finished 8-5.  Sure they had blowout wins over South Florida and Presbyterian, but a strong finish is a strong finish.

State’s 35-7 win at Carolina – repeat, ‘AT’ Carolina – might have been proof enough, but then the Pack won the Bitcoin Bowl (the what??) over a Central Florida team that had just stunned ECU in Greenville with a Hail Mary on Senior Night that denied the Pirates the All-American Conference title their rookie season in the league.

Maybe it was a hangover effect, but the Bucs let Florida off the hook in the Birmingham Bowl; Duke absorbed the Sun Bowl loss from Arizona State and Carolina wound up a losing overall record – 6-7 – after its bowl fiasco in Blue Heaven-friendly Charlotte against Rutgers (who??).

The Heels’ defense should be better under Gene Chizik.  He does have a national championship under his belt from Auburn thanks to Cam Newton.

Meanwhile, on the offensive side, both State’s Jacoby Brissett and UNC’s Marquise Williams have to be the top returning quarterbacks since there’ll be new starters at both Duke and ECU; and the Pirates will be breaking in some more offensive body parts.

Our ACC trio probably won’t be challenging any of the league’s heavyweights: not the Heels and Duke against the likes of Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Division; and I’ll say ditto for the Wolfpack on the Coastal side against Clemson, or Florida State and maybe even longshot, Miami.

Over in the AAC, despite a reasonably solid defense, the ECU newcomers on offense – including their coordinator now that Lincoln Riley’s off to Oklahoma to be on Bob Stoops’ staff  – have me picking the Pirates no better than third behind Central Florida and Cincinnati in their division.  I am, however, looking forward to seeing what they do down at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville when they play Florida Sept.12.  Will the Bucs have memories of the Gators from Birmingham last January.  Remember, when the boys from G-Vegas went down there in ’83, they almost came home with a win.

But these are our state favorites, and they’ll do plenty before the leaves leave the trees to keep us pumped, anticipating, nervous, worried, and excited.

That’s what you have to love about predicting winners at this time of year.  I know people who had the Sooners winning it all last year at this time and Oklahoma ended up finishing 8-5 with a 40-6 loss to Clemson in the Citrus Bowl.

As for me, I was rolling with the Crimson Tide. Instead, I ended up Deacon Blues; that last reference being for you Steely Dan fans from back in the day.

So this year I pick……

Uhm, could you just give me until the first of August, okay!?!

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer with Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.