2014 ACC Preview: Coastal Breakdown & Picks
Miami RB Duke Johnson
Preview 2014 - CFN ACC Coastal Team By Team Quick Looks and Predicted Finish
ACC Coastal Team By Team
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1. Virginia Tech
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Last year was a big one for then-rookie coordinator Scot Loeffler. This season is downright crucial for the coach and his assistants. The Hokies were again dreadful on offense, slumping to 22 points per game, the third straight year that their output dropped. Of greater concern is the reality that the quarterback situation is on the verge of going from bad to worse. While Virginia Tech is adding Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer to holdovers Mark Leal and Brenden Motley, there’s little confidence any member of the trio can solve the program’s passing game woes. The running game, which produced 3.2 yards per carry in 2013, isn’t much better, though Trey Edmunds and Marshawn Williams bring powerful legs—and hope—to the backfield. And Loeffler is determined to run the ball better in 2014. The winner of the quarterback derby will have access to last season’s top three pass-catchers, as well as TE Ryan Malleck, who’s back from injury. All of the skill positions will be banking on the veteran front wall to leverage all of its experience and control the line of scrimmage for a change.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Hokies have lost a lot of talent from last year’s fourth-ranked defense. But as long as Bud Foster remains the coordinator, there’s a sense that things will be just fine on D. Foster is an institution in Blacksburg, with a track record of rolling out suffocating defenses that swarm all over the field. Even after losing most of the front seven to graduation, this season doesn’t figure to stray from the script. The coach will build around linemen Luther Maddy and Dadi Nicolas, and a secondary that will again stand among the stingiest in the country. Cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson both earned All-ACC recognition as true freshmen, and will continue to improve this fall. If Tech is going to approach last year’s results, it’ll need certain linemen and linebackers to flourish in expanded roles. Former role players, such as DE Ken Ekanem, DT Corey Marshall, LB Chase Williams and Whip Ronny Vandyke, hold the key to this unit’s 2014 ceiling.
2. North Carolina
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Now that Larry Fedora’s up-tempo, no-huddle spread is entering its third season in Chapel Hill, expectations include an uptick in production. First things first. The Tar Heels must decide on a triggerman. Marquise Williams was a revelation standing in for Bryn Renner last year, but redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky has mounted a challenge this offseason. Carolina has ample talent at the skill position to spread the field with size and speed. The backfield is deep, and Quinshad Davis is one of the ACC’s best pass-catchers. The Heels are also determined to get punt return man extraordinaire Ryan Switzer more involved with the offense in 2014. The attack’s biggest concern is up front, where its all-star left tackle and center are gone. There’s no way around the fact that the O-line will be green, with G Landon Turner likely to be the only upperclassman in the lineup. In fact, the quarterback’s blindside could be protected by a true freshman, early enrollee Bentley Spain.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Heels improved as 2013 unfolded, yielding no more than 27 points in each of the final nine games. The D wants to seize that momentum and carry it into a new year. While seven starters return to Carolina’s unique 4-2-5 alignment, graduating DE Kareem Martin, who had a team-high 11.5 sacks, will be difficult to replace. Bandit Norkeithus Otis is close to a sure thing in the pass rush, but he’ll need help, preferably from linemen. Four-star DE Jeremiah Clarke will get every opportunity to contribute in his first season with the program. The Heels are a little more confident about their back seven. From the team that allowed only six touchdown passes over the final eight games, linebackers Travis Hughes and Jeff Schoettmer, and safeties Tim Scott and Dominique Green return. Sophomore corners Brian Walker and Desmond Lawrence are set to go under the microscope as they close in on starting gigs.
3. Georgia Tech
What You Need To Know About The Offense: The Yellow Jackets are starting from scratch in the backfield, a precarious situation for a team that operates out of a triple-option. Starting QB Vad Lee has transferred to the FCS, last year’s top three rushers are also gone and emerging rookie RB Travis Custis has been declared ineligible. Making matters worse, three starting O-linemen have graduated, leaving All-American candidate Shaq Mason as the pillar of a rebuilding front wall. Lee’s successor will likely be Justin Thomas, who’ll be busy this summer trying to fend off the challenge of Middle Tennessee transfer Tim Byerly. Since the attack is predicated on the running game, Tech will need someone other than north-south bruiser Zach Laskey to emerge from the backfield. While Laskey is going to be an important part of the system in 2014, it’ll be incumbent upon the A-backs, Synjyn Days, Deon Hill, B.J. Bostic, Charles Perkins, Tony Zenon and Dennis Andrews, to inject some big-play pop into the offense.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Tech improved on defense under Ted Roof in 2013. Now the veteran coordinator is tinkering with new ideas to keep the momentum going. After shepherding the Yellow Jackets to a 4-3 alignment, Roof is now installing a 4-2-5 base that leverages the unit’s depth in the secondary. The defensive backfield not only returns athletic corners Jamal Golden and D.J. White, but is also welcoming back hard-hitting S Isaiah Johnson who missed all of 2013 to a knee injury. While Tech expects to improve upon a porous pass defense, the front six sticks out as a glaring concern. Three D-line starters, including All-American DE Jeremiah Attaochu, are gone, as is second-leading tackler Brandon Watts. Oh, and Jabari Hunt-Days, who was slated to supplant Attaochu, was declared ineligible in May. Roof and the rest of his assistants will spend the summer searching for playmakers capable of rushing the passer and stuffing the run. Quayshawn Nealy and Adam Gotsis are already proven commodities. But some of the younger linemen, like rookie KeShun Freeman and NC State transfer Kenderius Whitehead, will have to play as if this isn’t their first season of action with the team.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Coordinating the Virginia offense is a thankless job. And Steve Fairchild knows it all too well. His Cavs were one of just 15 teams to average less than 20 points per game in 2013, and a repeat of futility certainly can’t be ruled out this year. The offense is once again flush with concerns, from an untested quarterback and receiving corps to a line that’ll sorely miss Morgan Moses and Luke Bowanko on the left side. Sophomore Greyson Lambert is poised to replace ineffective David Watford, which could be more curse than blessing if the rest of the depth chart doesn’t pick up the pace. The running game will be in the capable hands of 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Parks and precocious sophomore gem Taquan Mizzell. Fairchild will go with size in the receiving corps to give Lambert can’t-miss targets with which to connect. Projected starters Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins are also listed at 6-3.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: If the Cavaliers are going to buck the recent slide—and save head coach Mike London’s job—the defense will likely be spearheading the charge. Nine starters return from Jon Tenuta’s crew, which has the ingredients of a much-improved unit. UVa boasts playmakers at each level; Eli Harold and David Dean up front. Henry Coley, Daquan Romero and Max Valles at the second level and Anthony Harris, Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady in the secondary. It’s that defensive backfield, with Harris and Nicholson hawking the ball, which could really give opposing quarterbacks fits in the fall. Virginia had a rough season in 2013, yielding at least 45 points on five separate occasions. There’s too much veteran talent in Charlottesville for Tenuta’s defense to be even remotely as generous as it was a year ago. If the two new starters up front emerge, and rookies Andrew Brown and Quin Blanding contribute, the D is going to win a couple of games on its own in 2014.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: The Hurricanes are one player away from being really, really exciting on offense this season. Unfortunately, that one player is a quarterback. Stephen Morris has graduated, and successor Ryan Williams suffered an ACL tear in the spring. Yeah, Williams’ recovery is going very well, but how much can the attack expect from him in 2014? For better or worse, Miami will lean on a very young hurler this fall, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen or possibly rookie Brad Kaaya. The only silver lining? The offense is littered with playmakers and enough experience at the line of scrimmage to get past a shaky performance in the Champs Sports Bowl. The electrifying tandem of RB Duke Johnson, who’s returning from an ankle injury, and WR Stacy Coley is as lethal a pair as there is in college football. Plus, there is depth at both positions, and Clive Walford is about to become one of the more dangerous pass-catching tight ends in the ACC.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Head coach Al Golden believes in his good friend Mark D’Onofrio. But that faith has an expiration date that’s quickly running out of time. D’Onofrio and his kids have to deliver after disappointing once again last season. When the level of competition improved in the second half of 2013, the Canes were run out of town, especially on the ground. The D is long on potential, yet short on results and proven stars after LB Denzel Perryman and CB Tracy Howard. If Miami is going to be a more complete team, while saving its coordinator’s job, it’ll need the D-line, in particular, to become more visible and disruptive throughout the year. It’s imperative that sophomore Al-Quadin Muhammad and juniors Tyriq McCord and Ufomba Kamalu generate a level of edge pressure that absorbs some heat from the back seven. The development of the defense will be as important as the play of the new quarterback for the Hurricanes this fall.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Quarterback and the O-line. Common, nagging question marks that’ll follow the Panthers into the 2014 season as well. One-and-done Tom Savage is now a Houston Texan, creating an opportunity for sophomore Chad Voytik to lead the attack. The latter is a better athlete than his predecessor, but he lacks similar arm strength. The front wall is a perennial headache at Pitt. Yeah, four starters are back, and head coach Paul Chryst has recruited the unit rather well, but it all means nothing until they prove something on Saturdays. The Panthers will ride the backs of a pair of sophomores this season, WR Tyler Boyd and RB James Conner, who were terrific in 2013. Boyd was a revelation in Year 1, laying the foundation for what could be an All-American career. Conner is the kind of battering ram that nicely fits the type of offense Chryst hopes to showcase to the rest of the ACC.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Panthers were soft when Aaron Donald was ripping through the interior of opposing defenses. Now that No. 97 is a St. Louis Ram, by way of the first round, Pitt will be even more vulnerable in 2014. Where’s the star power on D? FS Ray Vinopal is the closest thing to a returning all-star, and he was beatable in coverage. The Panthers are going to have problems versus the run and the pass this fall, depending upon the opponent their facing. Since the pass rush will be a particularly big problem, the secondary will again struggle to limit the long ball. Donald accounted for 11 of the team’s 25 sacks in 2013, and 28.5 of its 86 stops behind the line. As if the situation wasn’t dire enough, second-leading sacker, Bryan Murphy, decided in March to leave the program. Pitt will take its share of lumps this year, as it prepares to build toward 2015 and beyond.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Scottie Montgomery has some of the biggest coordinator shoes to fill in 2014, those of new Florida assistant Kurt Roper. Roper was David Cutcliffe’s right-hand man in Durham, so it’ll be interesting to see how the players react to new leadership. The Blue Devils will also be without change-of-pace QB Brandon Connette, who transferred to Fresno State after accounting for 27 touchdowns a year ago. Starter Anthony Boone will no longer be sharing reps this fall, which isn’t such a bad thing for the attack. Boone to prolific WR Jamison Crowder promises to be one of the ACC’s best pitch-and-catch combos, and the ground game has the depth to survive the academic casualty of RB Jela Duncan. One of the underrated areas of Duke’s recent success has been the play of the O-line, which has yielded fewer than 20 sacks in three consecutive years. Stout veterans Laken Tomlinson, Takoby Cofield and Matt Skura are about to be joined in the lineup by up-and-comers Lucas Patrick at left guard and Tanner Stone at right tackle.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Blue Devils giveth and the Blue Devils taketh away. Duke has one of the ACC’s softer defenses, especially up front, where NG Jamal Bruce is the lone returning starter. But coordinator Jim Knowles’ unit was able to compensate for its generosity in 2013 with an attacking collection of defenders that accounted for 26 takeaways, including 18 interceptions. Plenty of those thieves return, particularly in the back seven. Even with the graduation of CB Ross Cockrell, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Buffalo Bills, the Devils are littered with exciting talent on the back end. Linebackers Kelby Brown and David Helton are run-stopping seniors, who combined for 247 tackles last season. And the DBs are a bunch of young ball-hawks, led by next-level S Jeremy Cash, precocious S Deondre Singleton and rising corners DeVon Edwards and Breon Borders. Yeah, Duke will have its share of defensive problems, especially if a pass rusher doesn’t emerge. But it’ll also have those games in which the D lights the fuse with a couple of picks and pick-sixes.