ACC preview: Doing it with defense

Terry Bowden
ACC predictions
Atlantic Division
1. Florida State
2. Clemson
3. Boston College
4. Maryland
5. N.C. State
6. Wake Forest
Coastal Division
1. Miami
2. Virginia Tech
3. Georgia Tech
4. North Carolina
5. Virginia
6. Duke
ACC championship game
Miami over Florida State

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There may be some debate over which is the best conference in college football, but there should be little doubt as to which has the most talent. Last April the ACC had 51 players drafted by the NFL, 10 more than the next closest conference. It also had 12 go in the first round, including the No. 1 overall pick and seven of the first 15.

More telling was that the ACC led the draft in the number of defensive players taken at every position. No wonder that not one ACC offense ranked in the top 50 in the country last season, while seven defenses ranked in the top 25.

With Miami and Florida State again loaded with defensive talent, they appear to be the favorites to make it to the ACC championship game. However, Clemson and Virginia Tech are not far behind, and everyone in the conference except Duke looks strong enough to have an impact on the final outcome.


Florida St. 1. Florida St. Seminoles Team page | Schedule | Roster | preview

Ranked 10th in Terry's Preseason Sweet 16

For the first time since 2000 the Seminoles seem comfortable at the quarterback position, with sophomore Drew Weatherford. Last year he broke the freshman passing record in the ACC with 3,208 yards passing. The most important thing this year, however, is for the 'Noles to establish a running attack to add some balance to the offense. Last year’s average of 94 yards per game was the worst in 30 years under Bobby Bowden. Running backs Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith have big-play capabilities if the improved but shallow offensive line can stay healthy.

Reloading on defense will be a slightly tougher assignment. FSU lost six of its top seven tacklers, including three to the NFL draft in the first round. Middle linebacker Buster Davis is the talented and vocal leader of this unit, and because defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews plays lots of people, there will be plenty of experienced talent to spread around. Keep your eye on sensational true freshman Myron Rolle at safety as he looks to be a future star.

The Seminoles may need a little luck to get by Miami in the opener down in the Orange Bowl, but if they do they could run the table going into their final game against Florida.

Clemson 2. Clemson Tigers Team page | Schedule | Roster | preview

Everybody is pumped up for the season down in Clemson and for good reason. Last year’s four losses were by a combined 14 points, and most of the significant players from that nearly great team are back. The offense is loaded with eight starters returning, including ACC Rookie of the Year running back James Davis. He will have his entire line back, too. The only question will be the play of new quarterback Will Proctor, who replaces 3½-year starter Charlie Whitehurst. Based on his playing time last year he looks to be more than adequate.

Defensively, the Tigers showed just how good they could be over the last seven games of the season in 2005 by giving up a measly 11.4 points per game. Gaines Adams is a stud up front and Anthony Waters leads a nasty group of linebackers. Without injuries there shouldn’t be a drop-off on the defense.

Playing at Boston College, at FSU and at Virginia Tech is the only thing that scares me about this season for Clemson.

Boston College 3. Boston College Eagles Team page | Schedule | Roster

No ACC team gets less respect than Boston College. Not only did the Eagles go 9-3 in their first ACC season and earn a sixth straight bowl victory (the longest streak in the nation) but also they led the league in total offense and had the No. 7 scoring defense in the nation. This year the Eagles return starting quarterback Matt Ryan, a strong running game and seven defensive starters. They should not fall off one bit.

The biggest personnel concern will be replacing sack specialist Mathias Kiwanuka at defensive end. Also, their conference schedule is a bear with Clemson, Virginia Tech, FSU and Miami.

Maryland 4. Maryland Terrapins Team page | Schedule | Roster

Head coach Ralph Friedgen has been known throughout his career as an offensive genius. However, he found himself without a quarterback last year, and all the genius in the world was not going to solve that problem. Add that Maryland had one of the worst turnover margins in the country, and the Terps were destined to have a bad season. Look for whoever plays quarterback this year to be a vast improvement over last.

The defense lost a ton of players to graduation, but as long as they have middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson they won't be too bad. This guy is a hitting machine. Most importantly, in the offseason, Maryland was able to work on regaining the confidence that is a Friedgen trademark. Don't expect miracles this year, but expect to see a much better Terp football team.

N.C. State 5. North Carolina State Wolfpack Team page | Schedule | Roster

Chuck Amato has failed to find an adequate quarterback to fill the shoes of All-American Philip Rivers, who left after the 2003 season, and because of that the program has suffered through two mediocre seasons. This is unfortunate because the Wolfpack continue to play some of the best defensive football in the land, and just a solid effort on the other side of the ball would go a long way. Sophomore QB Marcus Stone will be called on to lead the way, but with an improved running game, led by tailbacks Andre Brown and Toney Baker, Stone will not have to do it all himself.

Wake Forest 6. Wake Forest Demon Deacons Team page | Schedule | Roster

Wake Forest hasn't had enough depth on either side of the ball to get through a tough season in the ACC. The Demon Deacons are 0-8 in games played after Nov. 1 over the last three seasons. The way the schedule lays out, it looks like the same story could be true this season. However, with eight starters back on both sides of the ball, I think this is the year the Demon Deacons hang on for at least a .500 regular season and a nice little bowl trip.


Miami 1. Miami Hurricanes Team page | Schedule | Roster | preview

Ranked ninth in Terry's Preseason Sweet 16

No program in America has expectations as high as Miami, and head coach Larry Coker can feel the heat after two “mediocre” 9-3 seasons. He brought in six new assistant coaches to provide some answers – especially on offense. If the offense just can do a better job of protecting the quarterback after 36 sacks last season, it will go a long way to solving last year's woes. That will be the biggest offensive challenge as the Hurricanes break in four new linemen. Quarterback Kyle Wright also needs to get more big plays out of the receiving corps. Tight end Greg Olsen will be another first-round draft pick.

Defensively, Miami will continue to be Miami. The 'Canes were fourth nationally last year, and there won’t be any drop-off. Miami should win the ACC title, and if it opens the season with a victory over FSU it will jump right back into the championship hunt.

Virginia Tech 2. Virginia Tech Hokies Team page | Schedule | Roster | preview

Ranked 14th in Terry's Preseason Sweet 16

Like Miami, Virginia Tech always seems to find a way to put a great defense on the field. Because of that the Hokies always are in the hunt for a conference championship. Last year they had the No. 1 defense in the country, and this year I don’t see any drop-off. They are deep up front and in the secondary, and junior linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall will be outstanding.

Offensively, Frank Beamer has named Sean Glennon as his starting quarterback to replace Marcus Vick. Glennon will have five veteran receivers to throw to if the rebuilt offensive line can give him some protection. Clemson and Miami are the biggest obstacles between the Hokies and another ACC championship game.

Georgia Tech 3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Team page | Schedule | Roster

Georgia Tech has an awful lot of offensive personnel returning around Reggie Ball, who enter his fourth year as starting quarterback. Ball has done a good job of cutting down on his interceptions each season, and the staff just has to find more ways to get the ball to all-world wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Offensive coordinator Pat Nix will take over the play-calling for Chan Gailey, and if he learned anything from his college head coach (that would be me) productivity should go up substantially.

The defensive front seven must make up for an inexperienced secondary if they are to remain a top-25 unit. Still, this looks like the year Gailey gets over the seven-win hump he has been stuck in his first four years.

North Carolina 4. North Carolina Tar Heels Team page | Schedule | Roster

Frank Cignetti was hired from Fresno State as the new offensive coordinator to breathe some life into an offense that was horrendous last season. The biggest need is to improve the running game, and senior running back Ronnie McGill should help in that area. The strength of the defense will be the return of six of the front seven from last year. Most importantly, the schedule is a little more manageable with seven home games and a realistic chance to have six or seven victories.

Virginia 5. Virginia Cavaliers Team page | Schedule | Roster

After four straight bowl seasons this looks to be a true rebuilding year for head coach Al Groh. Not only do the Cavaliers have to replace starting quarterback Marques Hagans but also both coordinators. There are a lot of holes to fill on each side of the ball, and if that isn’t tough enough the schedule ends with Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech.

Duke 6. Duke Blue Devils Team page | Schedule | Roster

I wish I could write something promising for Duke, but the opening game against Richmond is the only “W” I can find on the schedule without having to look for an upset. Coming off last year’s 1-10 season in which the offense was ranked 110th (out of 119), the defense ranked 111th and the turnover margin ranked 100th, it’s just going to be a long uphill battle to get close to a .500 record.