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ACC football preview
By Sam Draut
Louisville transitions to the fourteen team Atlantic Coast Conference this season, which is a substantial upgrade from the Cardinal’s one-year stint in the American Athletic Conference.
The ACC enters the 2014 college football season with three teams ranked in the AP Top 25. Florida State, the reigning national champion, sits atop the poll while Clemson and North Carolina are ranked 16 and 23 respectively. The ACC is split into two divisions: the Atlantic and the Coastal. U of L will be competing in the Atlantic. Atlantic Division
Offense- The Seminoles return seven starters on offense, headlined by reigning Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Jameis Winston. Despite offseason mishaps and off the field drama, the sophomore quarterback will be the top player in the conference and looking to equal Archie Griffin as the only two time Heisman winners.
Beyond Winston, Florida State has elite talent at the skill position. Senior running back Karlos Williams ran for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, while senior wide receiver Rashad Greene hauled in 76 receptions for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. A veteran offensive line made up of five seniors returns with 114 career starts.
Defense-The Seminole defense that gave up just 12 points per game last season returns six starters. Florida State lost their three leading tacklers from the 2013 season, but they still return a core group of talent led by junior linebacker Terrance Smith. Three starters return in their front seven, while both starting cornerbacks PJ Williams and Ronald Darby Jr. return in the secondary.
Special Teams- Sophomore kicker Roberto Aguayo set the NCAA record for points by a kicker last season on route to winning the Lou Groza Award.
Overview- Florida State is the class of the ACC and defending national champions. The Seminoles are the clear cut favorite for the league, but they will face a tough non-conference schedule including Oklahoma State in Arlington, Notre Dame and in-state rival Florida.
Offense- Five starters return from the Tigers 11-2 year last season, but gone are QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins, two of the more explosive athletes in the ACC the previous few seasons.
Senior Cole Stoudt will take the reins from Boyd. The six-foot-five QB appeared in eight games last year, completing 47 of 59 passes for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Against South Carolina State last year, he was 19 of 20 for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
Beyond Watkins, the wide receiving core lost Martavis Bryant who was the team’s second leading receiver with 42 receptions for 828 yards. But, receivers Adam Humphries and Mike Williams along with tight-end Stanton Seckinger combined for 1,043 yards on 82 receptions last year. The offensive line returns three starters from last year.
Defense-The defense returns seven starters from last year’s unit that held teams to 22 points per game. All Conference linebacker Stephone Anthony returns for his senior year after recording 131 tackles last season. The defensive line is led by senior standouts Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett. The two combined for 127 tackles and 15 sacks last season.
Special Teams- Ammon Lakip replaces Chandler Catazaro as the placekicker, but Bradley Pinion retains the punting duties. Last year, he averaged 39.4 yards per punt, knocking 24 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Overview- The Tigers will have another successful season, but replacing elite skills players can be difficult. Additionally, beginning and ending the year with SEC opponents Georgia and in-state rival South Carolina adds even more pressure after facing a tough ACC schedule.
Offense- In their first year in the ACC, the Orange finished 7-6 capped off with a 21-17 victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. Eight starters on the offensive side of the ball return including junior quarterback Terrel Hunt. Hunt passed for 1,638 yards while gaining 500 yards on the ground. His two top receivers return this season, Ashton Broyld and Jarrod West. The offensive line returns four starters, but the experienced unit did face injuries in the spring.
Defense- Seven starters return from a defense that struggled against the conference’s heavyweights last season, giving up 48 points or more on four separate occasions. But, five of the team’s top leading tacklers from a year ago return, including linebackers Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis.
Special teams- Ross Krautman and Riley Dixon assume the kicking and punting duties. Last season, Dixon averaged 42.2 yards per punt, landing 21 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Overview- The Orange are a few notches below the top teams in the ACC, but they should be able to compete in the conference. A third consecutive trip to a bowl game will be seen as a successful season.
Offense- The Wolfpack struggled last season, limping to a 3-9 year and were winless in the ACC. An offense that averaged just 23 points per game could see a boost from Jacoby Brissett, a transfer quarterback from Florida. The mobile signal caller appeared in 13 games while in Gainesville. Seven starters return on offense, including last season’s leading rusher Shadrach Thornton. The junior running back ran for 768 yards and four touchdowns last year.
Defense- A defense that gave up 30 points a game a year ago returns seven starters but lost their top three tacklers from last season. Thomas Teal and Art Norman make up a strong tandem on the defensive line. The two seniors combined for 70 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 12.5 tackles for a loss last season.
Special Teams- Niklas Sade returns as the place kicker, he was 19-23 last year. Additionally, punter Wil Baumann returns.
Overview- With a light non-conference schedule that includes Georgia Southern, Old Dominion and Presbyterian, the Wolfpack should be able to pick up wins early in the year, but quarterback play from Brissett will determine their success in ACC play.
Offense-In his first year, Steve Addazio led the Eagles to their first bowl game since 2010, but the second year head coach will have his work cut out this season, returning just three starters on offense. Addazio looks to replace quarterback Chase Rettig, their top four receivers from a year ago, and the nation’s top running back Andre Williams. The offensive line returns three starters from last season that helped pave the way for Williams’ 2,233 yard rushing campaign.
Defense- Six starters return from a unit that gave up 29 points per game last year. The Eagles secondary returns all four starters, led by Manuel Asprilla who recorded 68 tackles and two interceptions last season.
Special Teams-Mike Knoll heads the responsibilities as place kicker. The freshman was an All-Ohio selection out of high school.
Overview- The Eagles’ biggest challenge will be replacing the experienced skill positions that carried them to a bowl berth last season. Addazio took over a Boston College team last year that had finished 2-10 the previous year, so staying competitive and winning games isn’t out of the question with his younger group.
Offense- Despite only averaging 16 points per game last year, the Demon Deacons were competitive during a disappointing 4-8 campaign. Five starters return on offense, including three on the offensive line.
Defense- Five starters return on defense, including safety Ryan Janvion and linebacker Brandon Chubb. Janvion led the team with 95 tackles, while Chubb finished second with 88 tackles. The defense gave up 24 points per game last season.
Special Teams- Juniors Chad Hedlund and Alex Kinal return as the place kicker and punter.
Overview- The Demon Deacons play a light non-conference schedule that should boost their win total early in the year. They were a few plays away from winning games last season, so closing out a few this season could send them to their first bowl appearance since 2011.
Offense- Larry Fedora’s offense took off last year after Marquise Williams took over the quarterback position seven games into the year. The Tar Heels finished the year 6-1 including a 39-17 Belk Bowl victory over Cincinnati. Williams returns after throwing for 1,698 yards and 15 touchdowns while running for another 536 yards and six scores. Williams fits Fedora’s offensive system well and the team could improve upon their 33 points per game average from last season. The unit returns eight starters including wide receiver Quinshad Davis who pulled in 48 receptions for 730 yards and ten touchdowns last season.
Defense-Carolina has talent on the defensive side of the ball and returns seven starters from a year ago. Senior pass rusher Norkeithus Otis headlines the group after recording seven-and-a-half sacks and five-and-a-half tackles for a loss last year. The linebackers are made up of three seniors and a junior which is one of the more experienced units in the conference.
Special teams- Thomas Moore was 14-19 last season and returns as the Tar Heel place kicker while Tommy Hibbard continues his punting duties after averaging 43 yards a kick last season.
Overview-The Tar Heels are a favorite in the Coastal Division while also avoiding Florida State and Louisville in the Atlantic Division. A road trip to Notre Dame in early October is a good test for a veteran team looking to take the next step in the third year of the Larry Fedora era.
Offense- Nine starters return from an offense that averaged just 23 points per game last season. Sophomore running back Trey Edmunds ran for 675 yards and ten touchdowns a year ago. The Hokies top three wide receivers return too, led by Willie Byrn who hauled in 51 catches and 660 yards last season.
Defense- Entering into his 28th season as head coach of Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer has built the program on the defensive side of the ball. His defense held opponents to 19 points a contest last year as five starters return from that unit. Once again, the defensive-line is strong, led by senior defensive tackle Luther Maddy. He finished with 55 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and seven tackles for a loss last season. Kendall Fuller is a standout cornerback who pulled in six interceptions as a freshman last year.
Special teams- AJ Hughes returns for his junior season after averaging 44.1 yards per punt last season.
Overview- the Hokies will be a top team in the Coastal Division and should compete with North Carolina for the bid to the Conference Championship game. But, after reeling off three consecutive double-digit win seasons, “Beamer ball” has slowed the past two years, finishing 7-6 and 8-5.
Offense- Although the quarterback position is in flux, Miami returns their top three rushers from a year ago. Junior running back Duke Johnson ran for 920 yards and six touchdowns last season while his primary back up Dallas Crawford ran for 558 yards and 12 touchdowns. Seven starters return from an offense that averaged 34 points a game last season in route to a 9-4 mark.
Defense- All ACC linebacker Denzel Perryman led the defense last season with 108 tackles and returns for his senior season. After starting the season 7-0, the Hurricane defense gave up 37 points per game in their final six games in 2013. Along with Perryman, Miami returns six other starters from a year ago.
Special teams- Matt Goudis will cover the place kicking and punting duties this season after hitting 13-17 field goals last year.
Overview- In Al Golden’s fourth year as head coach, he has the most talented roster yet, but still lacks a proven quarterback and faces a tough schedule with road games at Louisville, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech.
Offense- The Panther offense returns James Conner and Isaac Bennett, the two top running backs from last year. Conner ran for 799 yards and eight touchdowns while Bennett ran for 797 yards and seven touchdowns. Tyler Boyd is a big play wide receiver who hauled in 85 catches for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns last season. The offensive line returns for starters from a year ago, but the group struggled during the year protecting the pocket.
Defense- The Panther defense returns five starters from a unit that gave up 27 points per game last season leading to a 7-6 mark. Senior safety Ray Vinopal finished with 83 tackles while linebackers Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas combined for 151 tackles.
Special teams- Chris Blewitt hit 14-18 field goals last year and returns to the place kicking duties.
Overview- Pitt should compete in the ACC and contend for a bowl bid.
Offense- Paul Johnson’s option offense loses its top runners from a year ago, but return Zach Laskey who ran for 485 yards and seven touchdowns and quarterback Justin Thomas who added 234 rushing yards to go along with 131 passing yards. Three starters return on the offensive line.
Defense- Georgia Tech’s defense returns four starters from a group that gave up 23 points per game last season. Senior Quayshawn Nealy leads the linebacker core after collecting 66 tackles last season.
Special teams- Harrison Butker hit ten field goals last season, connecting with a 49-yarder.
Overview- Georgia Tech can compete in the open Coastal Division.
Offense- Offense returns eight starters from a unit that averaged 33 points in route to a ten win season. Senior quarterback Anthony Boone threw for 2,260 yards and 13 touchdowns, he also ran for 214 yards and five touchdowns. Josh Snead returns after running for 651 yards and two touchdowns. The senior running back reached the 100 yard mark three times last season. WR Jamison Crowder pulled in 108 receptions and 1,360 yards last season.
Defense- Six starters return from last season’s defense that gave up 27 points per game. The Blue Devils three leading tacklers from last year all return, linebackers David Helton, Kelby Brown and safety Jeremy Cash.
Special teams- Ross Martin and Will Monday resume the kicking and punting duties.
Overview- Duke won’t see Florida State, Clemson, or Louisville on their schedule this year, additionally a soft non-conference schedule will help them return to their third consecutive bowl.
Offense- The Cavalier offense struggled last year, scoring just 20 points per game, but return eight starters from the group. Senior running back Kevin Parks returns after running for 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Both quarterbacks, David Watford and Greyson Lambert come back after facing ups and downs last season.
Defense- Eight of last year’s nine leading tacklers return, including all of Virginia’s starting linebackers and secondary. Senior linebacker Henry Coley led the bunch with 91 tackles a year ago.
Special teams-Ian Frye and Alec Vozenilek return as place kicker and punter.
Overview- Virginia has just two wins in the ACC over the past two years, but a veteran group of players could help to turn the team around. Regardless, Virginia faces a tough schedule with UCLA, Louisville, at BYU and at Florida State.
Notre Dame plays a promised four ACC games a season, but are still considered an independent of any conference in football. Notre Dame is a full time member of the ACC in every other sport.
Offense- Everett Golson returns to the starting quarterback position after being suspended last season. The junior QB threw for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdown passes during Notre Dame’s run to the National Championship game in 2012. Six other starters return for the Irish team that finished 9-4 last season.
Defense-The Irish lost a few big play makers on defense, but they return five starters including sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith who ended with 67 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss last season.
Special teams- Kyle Brindza covers both the place kicking and punting duties this year after hitting 20 field goals and averaging 41.1 yards per punt last season.
Overview- The Irish face a difficult schedule, all but one opponent went to a bowl game last season. Tough road games loom in the second half of the year, including Florida State, Arizona State, and USC. Notre Dame is a better team than they were a year ago, but a tough schedule leaves little margin for error if they want to return to a big bowl.