2012 ACC Preview - Atlantic Team Breakdowns
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 3, 2012


Preview 2012 - CFN ACC Atlantic Team By Team Quick Looks and Predicted Finish


Preview 2012

ACC Atlantic Team By Team

 

ATLANTIC
- 2012 Boston College Preview | 2012 Clemson Preview
- 2012 Florida State Preview | 2012 Maryland Preview
- 2012 NC State Preview | 2012 Wake Forest Preview 
 
COASTAL
- 2012 Duke Preview | 2012 Georgia Tech Preview
- 2012 Miami Preview | 2012 North Carolina Preview 
- 2012 Virginia Preview | 2012 Virginia Tech Preview 

- 2012 ACC Preview
- 2012 ACC Unit Rankings
- 2012 CFN Schedules & Picks
- 2012 CFN All-ACC Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 ACC Atlantic Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2012 ACC Coastal Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish  

Predicted ACC Championship: Florida State over Virginia Tech

Note: Predictions based on team talent and schedules.

1. Florida State
Predicted Conference Record: 8-0
Predicted Overall Record: 11-1

Offense: Success is still built from the lines out. Just ask the Seminoles. Florida State is flush with skill position talent, yet you might not know if the youth front wall is unable to grow up in time for the opener. The unit, banged up and littered with rookies, was a main reason why the program fell short of its 2011 goals. Now those freshmen, like LT Cameron Erving and C Austin Barron, are a year older and theoretically better prepared to help those around them flourish. Obviously, all eyes in Tallahassee will be on senior QB EJ Manuel, who is still looking for his breakout moment as a ‘Nole. He’s been close, and he’s physically gifted, but fans—and NFL scouts—are looking more production and more consistency. Manuel will have no qualms about the athletes who’ll be helping him reach his potential in 2012. The backs are deep and loaded with upside. Florida State needs to run the ball better this fall, and will have all kinds of viable options, such as senior Chris Thompson and heralded underclassmen James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman and Mario Pender. The corps of receivers, including up-and-coming TE Nick O’Leary, is only going to emerge with more reps. Rodney Smith is the elder statesman, while Rashad Greene and Christian Green are looking to build on impressive freshmen debuts.

Defense: Mark Stoops’ coaching plus Jimbo Fisher’s recruiting has Florida State on the short list of top defensive units in the country heading into the summer. From a unit that ranked no lower than No. 8 nationally in run defense, scoring defense, sacks and total D, the ‘Noles return just about every one of last year’s starters. Each level boasts an all-star caliber defender, and the rotation is SEC deep. Up front, Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Cornelius Carradine form a downright scary trio of pass rushers for opposing tackles to handle. Athletic linebackers Christian Jones, Telvin Smith and Vince Williams are poised to step outside of the shadow of Nigel Bradham, who has graduated. And the secondary is virtually air-tight. SS Lamarcus Joyner and corner Xavier Rhodes are ball-hawks, with a nose for the ball on running downs. Not only does Stoops have no holes on this side of the ball, but his kids have now had the time to fully digest and adopt his coaching philosophy. The potential is there for this to be the kind of vintage ‘Noles D that builds a bridge to the glory days when coordinator Mickey Andrews was a coaching icon in Tallahassee.

2. Clemson

Predicted Conference Record: 6-2
Predicted Overall Record: 8-4

Offense: Dabo Swinney’s hands-down best move of 2011 was the hiring of coordinator Chad Morris, who deftly transformed the attack with an up-tempo, no-huddle system. Stale in previous years, Clemson was suddenly potent, averaging 33 points and 440 yards a game. Last season also marked the coming-out parties for WR Sammy Watkins and QB Tajh Boyd, who along with RB Andre Ellington and WR DeAndre Hopkins, helped transform the Tigers into the fastest offense in the ACC. With that first season under Morris in the rear view mirror, the coach expects his kids to be even more efficient and high-scoring this fall. Making life even more confusing for defenses will be the installation of some Pistol formations designed to ignite the team’s power running game, and confuse the other guy’s linebackers. Defenses aren’t likely to slow down Clemson this fall. Its own offensive line, though, might. The Tigers will be injecting three unproven starters into the Dalton Freeman-led front wall, the single biggest concern entering the new year.

Defense: Shortly after getting embarrassed by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, 70-33, head coach Dabo Swinney knew his D needed an entirely new direction. He went big-game hunting, luring longtime Oklahoma assistant Brent Venables away Bob Stoops’ staff. The coach has been brought east to do what his predecessors couldn’t, maximize the gobs of blue-chip talent that Clemson perennially attracts from the local region’s high schools. Venables will begin by simplifying his approach to defense so that his best athletes can do more reading and reacting, and less thinking. The Tigers harbor a talented mix, such as S Rashard Hall and DE Malliciah Goodman, but the results must be markedly better in all phases. That means a reduction in the blown assignments that caused so many of last year’s long plays allowed. There was an air of competition in spring camp, most notably at defensive tackle, where four sophomores will continue battling for two spots.

3. North Carolina State
Predicted Conference Record: 5-3
Predicted Overall Record: 8-4

Offense: Unlike this time last year, no one in Raleigh is talking about Russell Wilson, who went on to star for Wisconsin. The locals are too busy buzzing about the final year at quarterback of Mike Glennon, a top NFL prospect coming off an outstanding debut as the starter. He’s a prototypical pocket passer, and arguably the program’s best pure hurler since Philip Rivers was still on campus. Since the Wolfpack is going to be a little light on proven targets, save for WR Tobais Palmer, it’ll further fuel Tom O’Brien’s desire to grind the ball between the tackles. The head coach certainly has the parts to supercharge the 109th-ranked ground game that produced just three yards a carry. Last season’s top two rushers, James Washington and Tony Creecy, have yet to exhaust their eligibility, and 2010 leading rusher Mustafa Greene is trying to work his way back from injuries and legal problems. Next to Glennon, the best news on offense is that five of last season’s starting linemen are back in the fold. LT R.J. Mattes owns 30 career starts, the graybeard of a hard-working, blue-collar O-line. The one potential thoroughbred of the unit is RT Rob Crisp, a former five-star recruit poised to start playing like one now that he’s an upperclassman.

Defense: The Pack’s opposition might be content to run right at it this fall. And who would blame them? Not only will NC State be thin and vulnerable at defensive tackle and linebacker, but few quarterbacks will want to throw into the teeth of its secondary. The defensive backfield welcomes back all four starters from 2011, highlighted by CB David Amerson, an All-American thief with a bright future on Sundays. Plus, the Pack should generate a steady push into the pocket from the defensive end rotation of Darryl-Cato-Bishop, Brian Slay, Art Norman and Colorado transfer Forrest West. However, the run defense is likely to be a liability. The tackles are question marks, but it’s at linebacker where State is really concerned. Standouts Audie Cole, Terrell Manning and Dwayne Maddox are gone, as is suspended junior D.J. Green, who was supposed to provide a little relief. One bit of good news is that veteran Sterling Lucas appears healthy again after sitting out 2011 with a knee injury. While he’s closing in on the job in the middle, the two outside spots will be hotly-contested throughout the summer. At strongside, unproven Ricky Dowdy and Rodman Noel are duking it out. Weakside is a free-for-all involving Dontae Johnson, Brandon Pittman and Michael Peek.

T4. Maryland
Predicted Conference Record: 3-5
Predicted Overall Record: 6-6

Offense: The Terrapins are turning the page on last year’s debacle in every way possible. The offense, for instance, will have a new leader, Mike Locksley, and a new agenda. Maryland is switching from the spread to more of a pro-style look, while also trying to hasten the tempo. The transfer of Danny O’Brien to Wisconsin means that C.J. Brown is the lone experienced quarterback on the roster, and the heavy favorite to be the opening day starter. The junior was a force on the ground in 2011, yet was erratic through the air, so he’ll need to adjust to a system that requires far more consistency as a passer. In the aftermath of RB Davin Meggett’s graduation, the Terps are going to be very green in the backfield. Justus Pickett spent the spring bucking for the starting job, but he’s only in his second year on campus. And the level of his competition will increase dramatically when blue-chip recruits Wes Brown and Albert Reid arrive in the summer. Ditto receivers senior Kevin Dorsey and Kerry Boykins who’ll contend with the specter of mega-recruit Stefon Diggs in August. Maryland is going to struggle in the trenches this fall. It’s inevitable. Three key starters have departed, including tackles Max Garcia and R.J. Dill, who’ve since transferred to Florida and Rutgers, respectively.

Defense: The offense has a new coordinator and a new direction. So, too, does the defense. Head coach Randy Edsall hired Brian Stewart to correct a unit that ranked last in the ACC in run defense, scoring defense and total D. Stewart, in turn, is reworking the Terrapins to operate out of a 3-4 alignment in order to get more of his best athletes on the field. Now, the coach will have a full plate in the summer, but his cupboard in College Park is hardly bare. The nucleus is promising, especially in the front seven. All-ACC DT Joe Vellano is a sparkplug-type player, and one of the nation’s most underappreciated players. The senior commands double-teams, helping make those around him better. Fingers are crossed on campus that LB Kenny Tate can regain his old pre-injury form, when he was on the lip of the All-American. A healthy Tate plus Demetrius Hartsfield, Darin Drakeford and Lorne Goree will give Maryland one of the sneaky-good linebacker corps in the ACC. The secondary has just a single starter to replace, CB Cameron Chism. Someone, such as sophomore Jeremiah Johnson, will need to rise up and join Dexter McDougle in the lineup at corner. The safety position, on the other hand, has three returning starters, veteran Eric Franklin, sophomore A.J. Hendy and Matt Robinson, who exploded out of the gate last September before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

T4. Wake Forest
Predicted Conference Record: 3-5
Predicted Overall Record: 5-7

Offense:
As the line goes so go the Demon Deacons offense in 2012. If Wake Forest thought its front wall was ineffective last fall, just wait until it starts adjusting to four new starters. The new leader in the trenches will be senior C Garrick Williams, who’ll need to take on more of a vocal role now that he’s the unit veteran. The staff appears comfortable with RT Colin Summers and LG Antonio Ford, but left tackle and right guard could cause some sleepless nights in Winston-Salem. More than anything else, the Deacons need to put QB Tanner Price in a position to make plays if the offense has any hope of improving on last year’s middling showing. The junior is the catalyst, a deft distributor who limits his mistakes. If he’s not protected and given time to operate, the attack will grind to a screeching halt. RB Josh Harris has shown flashes in the past of being a feature back, but has also labored to stay healthy for an extended period of time. If the junior suffers any setbacks, slippery sophomore Orville Reynolds will be asked to pick up the slack. The early departure of current St. Louis Rams WR Chris Givens leaves a gaping hole in the passing game. Michael Campanaro is ready to become a go-to guy, but he’ll need at least one more receiver to step up and command a larger role.

Defense:
There’s cautious optimism in Winston-Salem about a defense that’s been feeble the past few seasons. The Demon Deacons return a solid enough core of playmakers to believe that progress is possible in 2012. The three-man line will again be sparked by squat NG Nikita Whitlock, whose frame doesn’t look the part, but production does. He’s scary quick off the snap, commanding double-teams, and notching 24.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons. The linebackers lose Kyle Wilber to graduation, but return seasoned veterans Joey Ehrmann, Justin Jackson, Mike Olson and Riley Haynes. The linebackers may not be electrifying, but they’re steady, and will make a ton of plays against the run. The secondary is going to be a mixed bag for Jim Grobe and the coaching staff. Wake Forest lost a talented pair of safeties in Cyhl Quarles and Josh Bush, who was drafted by the New York Jets. The corners, though, are underrated. Merrill Noel was a revelation as a rookie, earning Freshman All-American recognition. Kevin Johnson has a high ceiling once he adds some weight and gets more snaps. Kenny Okoro, assuming he’s unable to crack the lineup, is a terrific vet off the bench, and an ideal option in nickel packages.

6. Boston College
Predicted Conference Record: 4-8
Predicted Overall Record: 2-6

Offense: The hot potato that is the necrotic Boston College offense is now in the hands of first-year offensive coordinator Doug Martin. His objective? Light a fire under an attack that pulled up the ACC rear in both total offense and scoring in 2011. He plans to employ an up-tempo, fast-paced attack that’ll also include a bunch of shifts and different motions. The blueprint won’t matter a lick if QB Chase Rettig can’t evolve in his third season as the starter. He’s been no better than mediocre as the starter, fueling the whispers that sophomore Josh Bordner could be closing the gap. Rettig will need more support from his teammates, especially now that star RB Montel Harris was dismissed from the team in May 1. Rolandan Finch and Tahj Kimble have helped pick up the slack in the running game so far, while WR Colin Larmond will be bucking to impress NFL scouts in his final year of eligibility. Boston College would be wise to give more looks to Chris Pantale, a tight end who’s going to play on Sundays. The line needs to do an about-face after underachieving last fall. Four starters return, with veteran tackles Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel looking to become the senior leaders.

Defense:
The Eagles defense did all it could a year ago, but was unable to compensate for the program’s moribund offense. While the 2012 edition has the unenviable task of replacing All-American LB Luke Kuechly, a first round pick of the Carolina Panthers, Boston College is fortunate that it returns a lot of talent on the second level of the D. Steele Divitto, Sean Duggan and Kevin Pierre-Louis may not be household names, but they’re going to make a ton of big plays this season. After ranking 114th nationally in sacks last year, the unit’s biggest concern will be to generate more of a pass rush. Kasim Edebali and Brian Mihalik grabbed the starting end jobs following spring, and DT Kaleb Ramsey is back in the lineup after receiving a medical redshirt, but none of the linemen are sure-fire threats to pressure the pocket. The secondary will need all the help it can get, especially with the graduation of top CB Donnie Fletcher. The sophomore-laden cornerback position has Manuel Asprilla at boundary and Al-Louis-Jean and C.J. Jones still battling it out at field corner. The Eagles yielded just eight touchdown passes last fall, remarkable considering the team had just 11 sacks.

ATLANTIC
- 2012 Boston College Preview | 2012 Clemson Preview
- 2012 Florida State Preview | 2012 Maryland Preview
- 2012 NC State Preview | 2012 Wake Forest Preview 
 
COASTAL
- 2012 Duke Preview | 2012 Georgia Tech Preview
- 2012 Miami Preview | 2012 North Carolina Preview 
- 2012 Virginia Preview | 2012 Virginia Tech Preview 

- 2012 ACC Preview
- 2012 ACC Unit Rankings
- 2012 CFN Schedules & Picks
- 2012 CFN All-ACC Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 ACC Atlantic Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2012 ACC Coastal Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish