2012 Spring Preview
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2012 ACC Pre-Spring Preview
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Why Every Team Should Be Excited
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Preview & Thoughts
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The Blue Devils are a year older, but are they going to be a year better? Although the program returns a slew of starters on both sides of the ball, progress in Durham needs to start showing up in the standings. It's been 16 years and running since Duke last appeared in a bowl game, heaping mounting pressure on fifth-year head coach David Cutcliffe to finally get this program over the hump. Last season's edition showed a glimmer of hope, jumping out to a 3-2 start, but failed to win any of its final seven games. The Blue Devils desperately need to take a noticeable step forward, because if it doesn't happen in 2012, it might not for a very long time.
- Having spent four seasons under the tutelage of Cutcliffe, senior QB Sean Renfree will be eyeing All-ACC honors and a shot at continuing his playing career on Sundays.
- Renfree will need a few receivers to emerge this offseason, and take a little pressure off primary target Conner Vernon. Brandon Braxton and Jamison Crowder will be first in line to handle the role.
- It won't matter how well the offense performs if the D can't at least make modest gains in 2011. Last year's unit was especially porous against the pass, yielding 23 touchdown passes and picking off just six balls.
- The exception to the rule on defense in Durham is junior LB Kelby Brown, who'd earn plenty more headlines playing for a different ACC team.
- Cutcliffe is eager to unleash Renfree's alter-egos behind center, Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone, gifted runners who entice the coaching staff to open up the playbook and mix in different packages.
The Yellow Jackets would like to figure out its identity before the start of another season. Are they the team that began 2011 6-0, rising deep into the Top 25, or the one that finished on a 2-5 slide? Head coach Paul Johnson is looking for improvement on a macro level, from his vaunted triple-option ground game to the play of a defense that frequently got bullied around the field last fall. The offense should once again be prolific, as it welcomes back a slew of starters , including the entire line. However, if Georgia Tech wants to get back to its 2009 level, when it won the ACC, it'll need a revival out of Al Groh's D. His kids allowed at least 30 points in each of the final four games, three of which were losses.
- David Sims and Orwin Smith form as dangerous a one-two punch in the running game as any backfield tandem in the ACC. Sims will pick up the tough yards between the tackles, while Smith operates as Tech's long ball hitter.
- Strange as it may sound, the Jackets aren't nearly as potent when the passing game isn't clicking. Reversing last season's results, one touchdown pass in the final eight games, got a whole lot tougher with the early departure of star WR Stephen Hill.
- If he can play with a little more self-control, LB Jeremiah Attaochu has the get-off and closing speed to be a terrific pass rusher in his junior year. If he can harness his skills and ignore his inner Vontaze Burfict, he could give Groh the tempo-changer he's after.
- Tech needs more from its front three on defense. More pressure. More big plays. More wins at the point of contact. Just more out of a unit that struggled in 2011, and must replace two seniors.
- The secondary on the Flats has the parts to turn the corner this fall. Yeah, it labored badly down the stretch, but there are a lot of underrated defensive backs for the staff to begin molding in the offseason.
Few programs wanted to hit the practice field this spring more than the Hurricanes, which had to deal with all kinds of off-field problems a year ago. The NCAA scandal that cast a shadow over Al Golden's first season as the head coach has gradually been displaced by a sense that the purging is entering its final stages. And the more indelible that the coach's fingerprints become, the better off the program will be in the long term. In the meantime, Miami is working hard this offseason to improve its overall depth, which has been chiseled by injuries and a slew of early departures to the NFL. Competition at just about every position on the depth chart is going to be fierce right throughout the summer, which is exactly the way Golden and his staff want to see the process unfold over the next five months.
- The quarterback battle won't truly get interesting until the summer. Memphis transfer Ryan Williams may be getting all of the first team snaps now, but Stephen Morris will have something to say about the race when he returns to full strength following back surgery.
- Whoever gets the ball from Golden will find it hard to miss junior Asante Cleveland. The Sacramento, Calif. product has bulked up to 6-5 and 270 pounds, and has taken a big step toward clearing up the mess at tight end.
- Try not to get too wrapped up in Golden's spring depth chart. It's as much about motivation and honoring those who've worked the hardest in the weight room than anything else. The two-deep will be a fluid document for the foreseeable future.
- Ray Ray Armstrong has millions of reasons to deliver the season of his life in 2012. The 6-4, 215-pound senior safety has boundless NFL potential, but needs to rebound after missing time and playing inconsistently last fall.
- The ‘Canes are in dire need of leaders—and playmakers—on defense. Two budding options, DE Anthony Chickillo and LB Denzel Perryman, are in just their second year on campus, and are ready to take off in 2012.
The season ahead will be a year of transition for Carolina, which has a new coaching staff and a new reality now that the NCAA has spoken. Following a 20-month investigation, the Heels were slapped with a series of penalties that include a postseason ban in 2012 and a reduction in scholarships over the next three years. The bad news is rather obvious. The good news is that uncertainty will no longer be hanging over the heads of the school and its players, who spent last fall looking over their shoulders. North Carolina now knows the exact size of the hill it's facing. Beyond implementing radically different systems, the objective for Larry Fedora and his collection of coaches will be to keep the players focused, especially the seniors, when a bowl game is no longer attainable this fall.
- The backfield in Chapel Hill is as good as any in the ACC. Plus, QB Bryn Renner and RB Giovani Bernard are young enough to still be motivated by a possible postseason return in 2013.
- Top-notch pass-catcher Dwight Jones may be preparing for a big NFL paycheck, but that doesn't mean the Heels will be destitute in the receiving corps. Erik Highsmith, Joshua Adams, Jheranie Boyd, T.J. Thorpe and Sean Tapley are capable of excelling in the new up-tempo system.
- James Hurst doesn't get nearly enough national attention. Chapel Hill isn't regarded as a hotbed of offensive line talent, but No. 68 is emerging as one of the nation's best left tackles that no one knows about.
- The Heels are at it again along the D-line. Ever after losing Quinton Coples, Tydreke Powell and Donte Paige-Moss, the front is stacked with the likes of end Tim Jackson and tackles Kareem Martin and Sylvester Williams.
- Above all else, Carolina needs to find a way to become a better team versus the pass this offseason. The bodies are familiar, but the results simply cannot be after the Heels yielded 24 touchdown passes and 61% of opponents' passes to be completed.
The Cavaliers are clearly trending north under head coach Mike London, but can they avoid a noticeable dip in 2012? Virginia is coming off its best effort in four seasons, and has recruited the fertile Commonwealth extremely well over the last two years. However, the program must replace a slew of key starters from that 8-5 squad, including two all-star offensive linemen, three defensive linemen and three defensive backs. If Virginia's unmistakable progress is going to continue showing up in the standings, a handful of underclassmen, even freshmen, will have to play above their experience level. London and his cohorts have proven that they're capable of attracting talent to Charlottesville. Now, they'll need to show that they can develop those young players, and transform them into every-down ACC contributors.
- Who'll be under center in Week 1? While the situation at quarterback isn't nearly as messy as it was last spring, that doesn't mean a starter has been anointed. Michael Rocco is the incumbent, but up-and-coming sophomore David Watford is closing the gap.
- The ‘Hoos need help at receiver. Kris Burd was an underrated blocker, and will be missed for more than just his hands. Veteran Tim Smith will be looking for help from some of the kids, like sophomores Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell.
- The ‘Ville is home to one of the most underrated tackle tandems in the country. Oday Aboushi is already a top-tier talent on the left side, while Morgan Moses is a 6-6, 335-pound beast who's poised to blow up into a mega-star among linemen.
- The little things, such as special teams, could dictate whether or not Virginia contends in the Coastal Division once again this year. Inconsistent in 2011, the unit must find replacements to handle punting, placekicking and kickoffs.
- CB Demetrious Nicholson is about to emerge from former teammate Chase Minnifield's long shadow, and begin blossoming into a household name in ACC circles. He played well as a rookie, and has added some much-needed weight to a wispy frame.
The Hokies didn't like the way last season ended, losing to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game and Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. Spring practice is the first chance to make sure that a similarly disappointing finish doesn't hound the team this fall. Virginia Tech will be in a very familiar position when the season begins, contending for a league championship and a spot in a BCS bowl game. Despite playing in five major postseason games over the last eight years, the program is still trying to reach a new level of prosperity—namely competing for a national title. Bud Foster's defense figures to hold up its end of the bargain, especially after so many sophomores were employed in 2011. The offense? It could take time since only a couple of starters are back from a year ago. The pressure will be on junior QB Logan Thomas to make the leap from RB David Wilson's complement in 2011 to the engineer of the attack in 2012.
- That defense in Blacksburg has the ingredients to be the nation's feistiest … including anything the SEC puts forward. There's an abundance of speed and tenacity at every level, a recipe for loads of turnovers and big plays.
- Thomas was on a tear as 2011 came to a close. He's literally an immense talent, but his growth could be stunted by the lack of sure-things surrounding him, particularly on the rebuilt O-line.
- The Hokies never struggle to develop quality backs, but this season presents a unique challenge. Wilson left early, the line has four new starters and vet Tony Gregory is still recovering from a knee injury. Strike a pose, Michael Holmes. Your time may already have arrived.
- CB Kyle Fuller deserves a lot more national recognition than he's receiving so far in the offseason. He's a rarity out of the secondary, a deft cover guy with the tenacity to lead his team in stops behind the line.
- It's not often that the Hokies need help on special teams, but they do, especially after last season's bouts with inconsistency. Rookie Hunter Windmuller hopes to solve the team's punting woes, and fill its void at placekicker since Cody Journell's legal problems are far from over.
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Preview & Thoughts